Category Archives: Darrell Schweitzer

A Look at Weird Tales #361

Weird Tales #361
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Before we get started, I’d like to thank Doug Draa for the review copy.  Doug, who blogs at Uncle Doug’s Bunker of Vintage Horror Paperbacks, is a new contributing editor at Weird Tales, and we wish him a successful run in that capacity. 

Weird Tales has adopted the policy of giving each issue a theme.  The previous issue was Cthulhu Returns, and according to the ad in the present issue, the next issue’s theme is the Undead.  There are rumors of a sword and sorcery issue in the works as well.  In addition to having stories around a specific theme, each issue will also have unthemed stories.  As you can see from the cover, the present issue has the theme of Fairy Tales.

Fairy Tales as a theme is pretty broad.  That can encompass retellings or deconstructions of established fairy tales, new stories which read like fairy tales in they way they are structured and/or the themes they address, and stories in which (often contemporary) characters interact with the realm of fairy.  All of those and more are included here.

I also need to say a few words about personal taste.  One of the things I try to do, although I’m not sure how successful I am, is to distinguish between what I consider flaws in a work I’m reviewing and what simply isn’t to my taste.  There’s quite a bit of fiction in this issue, and I’ll try to distinguish between what doesn’t work for me and what I think isn’t very good by more objective standards.  I have to admit that I’ve never cared much for the elves/fairies/fae in the modern world type of story (unless the author has the last name of de Lint).  I prefer my fairy tale oriented fiction to be either variations on established tales or stories with fairy tale sensibilities, like the Beagle story herein.  I especially like them if they are dark, have a strong element of horror, and/or don’t always end happily.  Think the Datlow/Windling original anthologies from the 90s, and you’ll have a good idea of where my tastes run. 

By far the standout of the issue is the lead tale by Peter S. Beagle, “The Queen Who Could Not Walk”, in which a queen learns the meaning of sacrifice and forgiveness along with a lesson about love.  This one clearly falls into the new fairy tale category, like so much of Beagle’s work does.  In the last decade, give or take a few years, Beagle has been one of the top practitioners of the short story form in the field.  This story is an excellent example of why that is.

Tanith Lee follows Beagle with a twist on an old fairy tale with “Magpied”  Close scrutiny of the title should give you a clue as to which tale she’s dealing with.  Many of the old fairy tales are fairly short, and this one was no exception.  The story she works with is one of my favorites, and Lee does an excellent job with it.

One of the longer stories is “Fae for a Day” by Teel James Glenn.  It’s a modern-human-encounters-the-fae-in-a-bar-and-proceeds-to-have-adventures kind of story.  This one was well written, and people who like this subgenre will probably like it.  I’ve seen the cop wounded in the line of duty, discharged from the force, and crawls into a bottle scenario enough that I had a hard time warming to this one.  It didn’t help that much of the attempted humor fell flat for me, such as referring to Titania as Titty.  Still, there’s a good audience out there for this type of thing, and I’m sure a number of readers will like it.  As for me, while I wasn’t crazy about it, I didn’t think it was the worst story of the lot, either.

“I am Moonflower” by Nicole Cushing and “Blind Alley” by Morgan Llewellyn are both short.  Of the two, I think I prefer the Cushing, which concerns the life of bees and flowers.  That may not sound appealing, but I liked the ending.  Llewellyn’s tale describes how the world will end.

The next story was “Suri and Sirin” by Court Merrigan.  It’s a story within a story, in which a father tells a tale to his children on a Christmas eve.  It’s a variation of a folk tale from Thailand, and as such had a different rhythm to it from the European folk tales I’m more familiar with.  Even though the twist at the end was no great surprise, it was a nice, sweet story, and I liked it.

J. R. Restrick’s “The Flowers of Tir-na-nOg” takes us into Dunsany territory.  A young man wanders through the lands of the fae hoping to find the girl who jilted him.  It’s a bittersweet story reminiscent of an earlier era and provided a good contrast to most of the other stories.

The one story I absolutely hated was Caitlin Campbell’s “The Miracles of La Guardia Airport (Delta Terminal).”  In this one a guardian angel seduces a man so that she won’t be promoted to a more important assignment.  I found it distasteful on more than one level.

“A Gnomish Gift” by Alex Shvartsman is a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin from Rumpelstiltskin’s point of view.  While this one was neither dark nor horrifying, I really liked the way Shvartsman’s interpretation of the story placed a positive spin on things.

Jane Yolen gives us “Enough” insight into a sect of Judaism that is both educational and entertaining.

Lauren Liebowitz provides a sequel to Rumpelstiltskin with “Gold” that is completely incompatible with the interpretation in “A Gnomish Gift”.  This maintains the tragic air of the original and carries it one step further.  Short, sharp, and to the point. 

We’re back to longer works with “The Brown Man of Glen Gardens” by Frank Aversa.  A biologist revisits his childhood home and discovers something about one of the homeless people he feared as a kid.  This one didn’t end up the way I expected it to.

The next group in the Fairy Tale section were pretty short.  I liked Mark Bilgrey’s “The King’s Enemies” and found it to be a good example of a new fairy tale, although the ending was a little weak.  “The Crimson Cloak” by Zach Shephard had some good ideas, but the twist wasn’t very surprising.  Dick Baldwin’s “The Lute Player and the Mask” had a nice punch, although you could see it coming as well.  “Payment”  by Alfred J. Vickers III was flash fiction, dealing with a fairy tale we’d seen in an earlier story.

“Out of Time” by Manny Fishberg closes out the fairy tale section.  It’s a longer story, and offers a chilling twist on what a mother would do for her dying daughter.  It was one of the stronger stories in the issue.

There were two nonthemed selections.  Both were disappointing.  “As Fleas” by John Koons is a preachy little vignette that hits you over the head with the message.  Coming in a what would probably be considered short story length is “Black Poppy” by David W. Amendola.  Set in the 1920s or thereabouts, it concerns a brilliant professor of history who gets his hands on some dried and ground black poppy and tries to recreate a series of experiments described in one of his grimoires.  Of course he comes to a bad end.  Although competently written, there was nothing here that we haven’t seen multiple times before and certainly nothing original.  The most interesting character to me was the shop keeper who procured the poppy for the professor.

Additional features included some mini-interviews about fairy tales with Ramsey Campbell, Jessica Amanda Salmonson, Elizabeth Bear, and Orrin Grey, full interviews with Tessa Farmer and J. David Spurlock (this one concerning Margaret Brundage), and poetry by Carole Bugge`, Jill Bauman, Andrew J. Wilson, and Arinn Dembo.  I enjoyed the poetry, but because the poems were all short, I won’t comment on them individually.  There was an editorial, a book review column, a look at how the cover design for this issue evolved (a feature that should be kept), and a brief history of the magazine by Darrell Schweitzer that probably won’t appeal to fans of Ann Vandermeer.  Many of the stories were illustrated, by a variety of artists.  The only complaint I had about the illustrations was I couldn’t resize the font on my ereader without it freezing up when I came to an illustration, forcing me to read on a backlit screen.

So how do I rate this issue of Weird Tales overall?  It’s certainly worth reading, even if I did find aspects of it disappointing.  I expect Peter Beagle’s story to be included in some of next year’s Year’s Best anthologies.  The nonfiction and poetry are good and should be kept, but they aren’t why most people read the magazine.  With that in mind, please indulge me the liberty to make a few comments in general.

Weird Tales # 360

First, I preferred the previous issue to this one.  A large part of that is a matter of personal taste.  Not all of the fairy tale treatments were my cup of tea, although there was only one I completely disliked.  I also thought a couple of them stretched the definition of fairy tale a bit, but that’s a minor quibble.  I realize that any fiction publication has to appeal to a broad base of readers, and as a consequence needs to have a diverse selection of fiction.  I consider an editor to have done his/her job if that’s the case regardless of how many stories I personally like.  For the most part I think that’s the case here.

However, I hope the high number of short-shorts and flash fiction is a function of the fairy tale theme rather than an indication of the direction Weird Tales is going.  This many in one place, they start to feel gimicky.  I thought most of the stronger stories were the longer ones.

Second, while I like the idea of each issue having a theme as well as containing unthemed stories, it’s a pretty tricky tightrope act to pull off.  On the one side, a particular theme may cause someone to buy the magazine who wouldn’t otherwise.  On the other, the editor risks alienating some potential readers if the theme isn’t to their tastes, especially if this is the case for more than one issue.  This is where a strong selection of unthemed stories comes in, to provide that balance.  I don’t think this issue succeeds in the balance.  There were only two items in the unthemed section, and really, only one of them was an actual story with things like characters.  In my opinion, for what little it’s worth, the number of stories that relate to the theme and those that don’t should be about equal.  That way if a particular theme doesn’t appeal to some readers, they will still feel they are getting their money’s worth.  The same for those who are drawn to a particular theme but aren’t fond of some of the unthemed tales. 

I think the fantasy field needs a publication like Weird Tales. The magazine has always defined itself as the place where fiction that couldn’t find a home anywhere else could be published.  Some people have accused it of straying from that to publish the type of fiction it published during its heydey while ignoring some of the more innovative work being done now.  I submit that while there is some truth in accusation, there aren’t many major markets carrying on the tradition begun in the classic issues of Weird Tales.  There’s room for stories in the vein of Lovecraft, Howard, Smith, and Quinn, and there’s room for new and innovative weird fiction as well.  The key, as I said earlier, is balance.

I haven’t agreed with every decision Marvin Kaye has made since taking the editorial reigns, but I still support the magazine.  I want it to survive and prosper and thrive.  To that end, I will speak up when I think it isn’t up to the level it should be.  As I will when I think it is. This issue falls in the middle.  By and large, I think the magazine is heading in the right direction with its theme approach.  Hopefully the business side of things will improve to the point that we’ll be able to read it more often.

In Defense of Marvin Kaye: A Review of Weird Tales # 360

Weird Tales # 360
print $7.95, various ebook formats $2.99 available here
edited by Marvin Kaye

There was a great deal of bitchin’ and moanin’ wailing and gnashing of teeth last year when it was announced that Marvin Kaye was buying Weird Tales and replacing editor Ann Vandermeer with himself.  The way some people carried on, you would have thought Sauron had managed to get his claws on the One Ring. 

When Kaye announced, and later retracted, his plans to publish an excerpt of the science fiction novel Save the Pearls, a book many considered to be racist, I expected to see reports of mobs marching on Kaye’s location with torches and pitchforks.  Haivng read a number of Kaye’s anthologies for the SFBC, and portions of others, I have great respect for him as an editor, but I have to say this was not one of his better choices.  Nor was his essay defending that choice well conceived.  I didn’t bother to give this particular novel much attention; the descriptions of it, even if they were only half accurate, made it clear to me the novel was not a good thing to serialize in the magazine.

Outrage was so great that Mary Robinette Kowal subsidized Shimmer magazine so that publication would be able to pay pro rates.  Editor-in-Chief Beth Wodzinski stated on the magazine’s blog that she wanted to continue in the vein Ann Vandermeer.

Why am I going into this bit of recent history?  Because the situation as I see it is this:  Expectations on Kaye to succeed are extremely high, so high that it can be argued he’ll never be able to meet those expectations.  Furthermore, there are those who are waiting with sharpened knives for him to stumble, or if you prefer, stumble again after the Save the Pearls debacle. 

Well, now the first issue edited by Kaye is out, and it has the theme of The Elder Gods.  Kaye is taking the magazine back to its roots.  This was part of what caused the controversy when he replaced Vandermeer as edtior.  Many saw this as a step backwards.  It’s become fashionable in some circles to bash Lovecraft for a variety of reasons, and a number of those reasons showed up in the vitriol that followed the announcement.

So, let’s look at the stories, and then I’ll attempt to answer the question of whether or not Kaye succeeding in getting his incarnation of The Unique Magazine off the ground. 

“The Eyrie” is the first item past the ToC.  In his introductory essay Kaye assures readers he is open to all types of genre fiction, from the type that made the magazine’s reputation to new and innovative types of storytelling.  He lists a number of established authors who have expressed interest in appearing in the magazine, and if he gets stories from all of them, he will succeed in taking the publication to new heights.

There follows some reviews of Lovecraft themed anthologies and a poem by Jill Bauman.

After that, comes Brian Lumley‘s novella “The Long Last Night”.  This was a slow building, disturbing story.  While the general ending was pretty obvious to me, the details were original and disturbing.  Next, another poem, “In Shadowy Innsmouth” by Darrell Schweitzer.  We return to fiction with “Momma Durt” from Michael Shea, about the goings-on at an allegedly abandoned mine shaft that is being used to illegally dump toxic waste.  Michael Reyes introduces us to the drug induced “Darkness at Table Rock Road”, and Darrell Schwietzer returns with a fiction piece, “The Runners Beyond the Wall”, in which a young man finds himself with a very deadly guardian after being orphaned.  “The Country of Fear” by Russell Brickey is another poem.  Matthew Jackson’s “Drain” is an effective lesson in why you should clean your drain frequently, teaching us that no good deed goes unpunished.  “The Thing in the Cellar” by William Blake-Smith is a tongue-in-cheek tale about a teenager who’s read a little too much Lovecraft.  It’s a delightful change from the dark and grim tales preceding it and easily my favorite in the issue.

The Weird Tales website lists “Found in a Bus Shelter at 3:00 a.m., Under a Mostly Empty Sky” by Stephen Garcia.  I’m not sure if this is an error or not.  This piece isn’t included in the electronic version of the magazine, at least not the epub format.

After this are four unthemed stories:  “To be a Star” by Parke Godwin, “The Empty City” by Jessica Amanda Salmanson, “The Abbey at the Edge of the Earth” by Collin B. Greenwood, and “Alien Abduction” by M. E. Brine.  Except for the Greenwood piece, I found all of these to be slight, hackneyed even, and not very interesting.  Certainly not up to the quality of the Lovecraft inspired selections.

After this was another Lovecraft piece, an essay by Kenneth Hite entitled “Lost in Lovecraft”.

Finally, there is a Ray Bradbury tribute with its own cover.  To an extent, I wish this had been saved for the next issue, simply because I wanted more and the tribute was added just before the magazine went to press.  While not one of the authors who first comes to mind when one thinks of WT, Bradbury had some important work appear here over the years.  The tribute is fitting, and the second cover is a nice touch.  I just wish it had been included in the electronic edition.

The Bradbury pieces are the original version of “The Exiles” (there’s a Lovecraft connection), Bradbury’s ending of the film version of Rosemary’s Baby, a poem, a remembrance by Marvin Kaye, and a review of Shadow Show:  Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury edited by James Aquilone.

So how does the first issue of WT Kaye has edited hold up?  While the unthemed stories are mostly disappointing, overall this is a good issue.  The Elder Gods section has some strong work, including what will probably come to be regarded as a major novella by Brian Lumley.  There’s quite a bit of variety and diversity in these stories.  And like I said, it was good to have a Bradbury tribute.

I think Kaye has a good format for success.  Each issue will contain themed and unthemed stories.  Next issue’s theme will be fairy tales.  If he can find some stronger stories for the unthemed section, and I have no doubt he can, then this incarnation of Weird Tales will be a success.  It won’t please some, even most, of its detractors, but that’s to be expected.  The direction Kaye is taking is too different from Ann Vandermeer’s. 

I only read one or two issues of Vandermeer’s WT, and what I read didn’t really knock my socks off.  In fact, none of the stories have stuck with me.  I recall not caring much for what I did read, so I for one welcome the changes Marvin Kaye has brought to the magazine.   While I’m sorry her departure from the magazine was painful to her, as well has her many fans and friends, I’m glad Kaye is keeping a strong focus on the magazine’s past while being open to new voices. 

I’m sure there will be plenty of people who will disagree with my assessment of this issue, and Kaye’s editorship in general, who will lament that he isn’t pursuing the same direction Vandermeer did.  That’s fine.  As I mentioned at the top of this post, Shimmer is going to attempt to fill that niche.  I think that’s a good thing, and I wish Beth Wodzinski all success.  I intend to take a look at that publication at some point.  In the meantime, I’m looking forward to the next issue of Weird Tales