What I’ve Been Reading: 2 issues of Weird Tales, and some H.P. LOVECRAFT’S MAGAZINE OF HORROR

I recently subscribed to Weird Tales (and you should too!) and along with my first issue, Summer 2010, I also got two old issues of H.P. Lovecraft’s Magazine of Horror. The Spring 2011 issue arrived in my mailbox a few weeks ago … I was feeling overdue for some seriously weird reading. The magazines include more than fiction, but it’s the fiction I’m concerned with, so I’ve left out the other bits (reviews, interviews, etc). There are 30 stories in this review, so I’ve put them after the jump.

H.P. Lovecraft’s Magazine of Horror, Summer 2004 (premiere issue)

“Envy, The Gardens of Ynath, & the Sin of Cain” by Darrell Schweitzer – A weak beginning to the issue. First person POV,  talking to someone who’s not in a position to actually hear/read it. Billed as a Cthulhu Mythos tale but could have been an alien abduction tale with a few imagined but never seen tentacles.

“The Bath” by Jean Paiva – (d. 1989) Published long after Paiva’s death, and originally written as an exercise in a genre fiction class, “The Bath” is a short ghost story that gets right to the point. Setup, ghost, macabre, done. I liked it.

“Business is Business” by Arlene F. Marks – Thought the beginning stuck me as being without subtlety, it went on to be a fun tale about Satan’s computer shopping.

“Johannes Cabal & The Blustery Day” by Jonathan L. Howard – By far the most Lovecraftian story of the bunch, and while more “smilingly clever” than frightening, it was also the best story in the magazine. Loved it!

“Memory?” by Brian Lumley – Very short, a momentary bit of rambling from someone who’s definitely been near one of Lovecraft’s stories. A side character, perhaps, or one of those chaps who lives out his days in Arkham after discovering his neighbor’s boy has gone terribly wrong. I think it works well as a flash fiction piece.

“Extreme Denial” by Nicholas Knight – Super short flash piece, a joke really, leading up to a punch line I’ve heard before. But if you haven’t, it’s cute.

“In the Palace of Repose” by Holly Phillips – Though I can’t help noticing all the bits lifted from C.S. Lewis (a Queen of Ice, an Edmund, and so on) it’s the other tale that seems to take Lovecraft seriously. I liked it.

“Xoanon” by Tanith Lee – a second-person POV tale, which don’t usualy come out so well as this, but the “telling a myth” feeling of the story lends itself to this kind of perspective. I like Tanith Lee’s work, and I like this tale. It’s got a warm and comfortable feeling to it, as if she’s leading you into a dream you will have, or telling tales to children.

“Ex Oblivion” by H.P. Lovecraft – a super-short story compared to his better-known pieces, it’s the typically Lovecraftian first-person POV recounting of a dream or hallucination (billed by the editor as “one of H.P. Lovecraft’s few experiments in prose-poem.”) Good if you haven’t read it, and a useful reminder of his style if you had come across it before.

“Helljack” by Tim Pratt & Michael J. Jasper – A nightmare on a train, and a nasty old aunt getting her due. Not terrible.

Overall, I’d suggest reading “In the Palace of Repose”, then “Xoanon” and then “Johannes Cabal & The Blustery Day”, in that order. Worth reading for those three stories alone, and the rest is decent enough though sadly lacking in the kind of grasp I was hoping for from the inagural issue of a magazine named after one of my literary heroes.

H.P. Lovecraft’s Magazine of Horror, Fall 2006

“The Man Who Killed Kew Gardens” by Brian Lumley – Wonderful story about mutating plants and our changing world. I could have lived without the allusion to Lovecraft, but I think it’s more noticeable because there were several such mentions in the other issue I read too. I don’t blame Lumley. Ed. note: “Originally published in 2004 in a 100-copy limited edition hardcover by Delirium Books.”

“The Hymn” by Brian Lumley – Another Lovecraft-referencing story, this one looked at the government reaction to alien artifacts. I thought Lumley did something clever by setting up a closed-circuit room and letting the reader “listen” to the occupants’ dialogue, interspersed with the narrator’s notes.

“Strange Wisdoms of the Dead” – by Mike Allen and Charles M. Saplak – Loved this story! Waking dead, lost loves, philosophical realizations … definitely recommend it.

“Daddy” by Earl Godwin – Creepy good story about a man choosing to do something terrible, and liking it.

“Exeunt Demon King” by Jonathan L. Howard – another Howard story which, like “Johannes Cabal & The Blustery Day” from the Summer 2004 issue, features his necromancer Cabal. Howard starts in third-person, lets Cabal take over for a first-person POV ghost story, then switches back to third for the conclusion. It works, and much like the first story, Cabal is charmingly clever fun.

“The Paramount Importance of Pictures” by Lynne Jamneck – Another story which reminds us, in the text, that the author knows who Lovecraft is. Some bad jokes about filmmaking, stilted language, a not terribly interesting story. I’d skip it.

“Class of 666” by Andrew J. Wilson – A darker version of Hogwarts with decidedly more monstrous pupils. This was quite good.

“Sugar Skulls” by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro – I love stories about kitchen magic, hearth magic, home-made spells, and Yarbro gently wraps her tale up in these things, and in Mexican traditions.

Overall, the magazine has a crisper look to it, with more content (though, sadly, they made up for by shrinking the type size instead of adding pages). The quality of stories is better too, though I still don’t feel scared by them. Either I’m incredibly jaded (and, maybe) or the fiction was much more “weird” than “horror”. Note: huge interview with Brian Lumley in this issue, if you’re a fan of his work.

Weird Tales No. 356, Summer 2010

“Secretario” by Catherynne M. Valente – Well, know I now what all the fuss is about. See, I’m not very familiar with Valente’s work, though I know of her, and if the rest of her writing is anything like this, she’s now one of my favorite authors. “Secretario” is brilliant, a hard-boiled detective story mixed with lust and magic and death, which is how it should be. The narrator is both the secretary and the detective, through the cunning use of diary entries, and if you pick up the magazine just for this tale, you won’t have wasted your money.

“A Concise and Ready Guide” by Ian R. Macleod – Wonderful and funny, a guide to being a Vampire written in the style of 19th century etiquette books.

“Beauty and Disappearance” by Kat Howard – a gruesome yet fascinating story about art, amateur surgery, and fashion. Thought provoking.

“Sisters Under the Skin” by L.L. Hannett – Oh what terrible trades we make when we have too much of one precious thing and not enough of another. Well-written.

“How Bria Died” by Mike Aronovitz – I’m not entirely sure why I didn’t love this story. It’s not bad, but didn’t move me.

“The Weakened Image” by Natania Barron – a sort of prose poem about three mythic women. The writing isn’t to my taste, and it’s not an original tale so much as it is restating oft-told fiction (again) but Barron knows her stories.

Overall: Though I want to focus on the fiction, let me just say that Weird Tales has beautiful covers! In fact, the layout and interior art are gorgeous as well. Even if I didn’t love everything, the magazine’s range and depth mean that there should be something in there for you to love.

Weird Tales No. 357, Spring 2011

“Fishwish” by Karen Heuler – A dancing, delightful reminder to be careful what you wish for.

“Portal” by J. Robert Lennon – Lennon mixes magical with the utterly mundane and I understood immediately what his narrator was missing (not in the sense that Lennon left something out, but that his character had a longing, a need, which was palatable). We all want a little magic in our lives, and we lose so much when we let it be forgotten.

“Augusta Prima” by Karin Tidbeck – Another tale about wanting the wrong things, and losing what you were neglecting while you chased a different answer. It’s very pretty, full of sensual detail, and has an interesting Alice-playing-croquet-with-flamingos sort of feeling to it.

“The Trojan Girl” by N. K. Jemisin – Oh, I am in love with this story. It’s delicate and fierce, mixing pack mentality with source code hacking and a people who exist outside of us. I am far too geeky to not be affected by a story like this, and it works so well.

“The Last Thing Said Before Silence” by Peter M. Ball – Ok, evil alien mimes? That’s kind of a new idea, new to me anyway, and while it was very odd, I’ve been waiting for odd. For weird. Probably the strangest story I’ve yet read in these magazines, and that makes it worth reading.

“A Short Trek Across Fala Moor” by Mark Meredith – I was wrong. “Short Trek” is definitely the strangest story I’ve yet read in these magazines. It’s good in a way that makes me want to tilt my head to the side to be sure that I’m seeing it properly, and even then I don’t quite get it all. But it has wanderings, and wonders, and a friendly dog, so I recommend it.

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