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.