Monday, November 26, 2012

Review: "Asimov's Science Fiction" - December 2012 - Vol. XXVI, no. 12, Issue 443

Being awfully late in my reading queue I started reading December's edition of Asimov's with a worrying amount of delay. As a matter of fact I already got my January 2013 issue before I was half through with December's so I read it in a rush. In addition a banana I forgot in a backpack damaged the digest sized magazine irremediably (I won't go into detail, but you can imagine my happiness when I found about it).

Issue 443 gives us a beautiful novella by Steven Popkes and a few other good stories. I enjoyed reading most of this issue and I would suggest buying it for the cover price.

  • "Sudden, Broken, and Unexpected" by Steven Popkes is the only novella in this issues and it's worth reading it. This story uses Artificial Intelligence and music to serve the purpose of making the answer to the question "What is human?" a little bit closer to being answered. I think this story is well written, Dot is characterized wonderfully and most readers will find Popkes's work enjoyable.
  • "The waves" by Ken Liu is a novelette and is pleasant to read. If your "self" could go surfing through the universe, sharing a sort of Borg-like knowledge (but keeping individuality), than this would be the perfect adventure. It's a tale of immortality and I recommend reading it.
  • "The Caramel Forest" by Chris Beckett is a short story and it is the cover story. It's a nice tale in which two children will discover that not everything looks like what it is. I found peculiar that the goblins could speak to the human's minds.
  • "The wizard of the 34th Street" by Mike Resnick will remind most readers of the TV series "The booth at the end" starring Xander Berkeley. I enjoyed reading it, especially the final twist, but I found it too similar to its TV show counterpart to think of it as a truly original work. Don't get me wrong, it is darn good so if you haven't seen the TV series you will find much pleasure in it.
  • "The Black Feminist's Guide to Science Fiction Film Editing" by Sandra McDonald. In a partially dystopian future movies are edited so that women are the heroes of the movies. "Total Recall" star is not Arnie but Sharon Stone. In such society all the 1980s macho movies must be revised which is not an easy task. In this story the main character finds the last copy of the movie "The Ginger Star" and will start thinking deeper about her job. What I found of particular interest is the fact that the first part was quite funny, while the second part was quite serious. 
  • "The Pipes of Pan" by Robert Reed. Ok, don't bring this story to any Creationist's Museum. Interesting read, but in my opinion too obsessive.
As I said previously, this issue is quite enjoyable and I recommend it to you.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Review: Weird Tales - Fall 2012 - Issue 360 - Vol.66 No.4

I could not expect a better gift for Halloween than Weird Tales. And so it was: on October 31st 2012, while preparing the kids for trick or treating, the mailman delivered the magazine. Unfortunately, I failed to notice if his eyes showed the unmistakable empty look of a cultist who just read a small portion of the Necronomicon. He probably did.
With such excitement I started observing the creepy cover picture by Danielle Tunstall. Good news: the old WT logo is back.

Before I proceed in the analysis of Issue 360, some warning is due:

  • This is the first issue edited by Marvin Kaye and his gang. Ann VanderMeer's involvement is now officially over. Thank you Ann for your amazing work in being the Herbert West of such a niche magazine.
  • This issue contains an important tribute to late Ray Bradbury. I will not review it, but I suggest everyone to take a look at it. I loved the back cover by David Hartman.
  • Although I generally enjoyed most of the stories, I have serious issues regarding two subjects. I will discuss them in the "Philosophical Issues" section of this post.
The Stories.

Issue 360 is packed with stories. There are no interviews or any other distracting material. I do not know if there were any originally intended for Issue 360 and later removed because of Bradbury's tribute, but I admit that at least quantitatively this is a packed up magazine, with seven stories related to the Elder Gods and four non-thematic stories. In addition there are four poetry pieces. I will try to keep the spoilers to a minimum.

  • "The Long Last Night" by Brian Lumley is quite enjoyable. London is overwhelmed by the usual monstrosities we would expect in a strange tale and is also towered by a weird twisted structure. In this story there are two characters, one is the narrator and one is an old guy; they are trying to reach the evil tower by using the subway (ok, tube!) tunnel system. The plot and setting are interesting, but the narrator seems like an idiot during the whole story except at the end. He is seriously too passive and this gave away the ending. This is a story themed around the Elder Gods.
  • "Momma Durtt" by Michael Shea is another enjoyable story about small-time criminals, real human monsters and toxic environments. In this story we learn what a dude, Lazarian, is up to. This is a story themed around the Elder gods.
  • "The Darkness at the Table Rock Road" by Michael Reyes. This is a dream-like state story in which two veterans meet after being together in a campaign located in the middle-East. One of the two, Robert Blake, claims to have become rich. Is he hiding something? Hell, yeah! This is a story themed around the Elder Gods.
  • "The Runners Beyond the Wall" by Darrell Schweitzer. A poor kid dies in the XIX century when his ship, with his parents on it, wrecks on the Cornish coast. In his afterlife the kid will meet Lord Blessingleigh, an evil son of a bitch which expects the kid to accept him as father. This story is twisted enough to be probably the most enjoyable among the various works in this issue. This story has an aftertaste of "Dante meets the Elder Gods" and is quite well written. This is a story themed around the Elder Gods.
  • "Drain" by Matthew Jackson. Have you ever feared that something might crawl from the drain hole in the bathtub? Well, if you do, this story will creep you out enough to pour gallons of acid in it, just for safety. Not that it would work. Read, sit back and enjoy even thou the story itself is pretty dumb. I admit I felt much pleasure in reading about the whole situation around the thing crawling in the narrator's house. This is a story themed around the Elder Gods.
  • "The thing in the Cellar" by William Blake-Smith. Funny! Yes this flash-fiction story is quite funny and makes fun of all of us, the lovecraftian idiots that secretly wish that the Necronomicon was true and that Cthulhu was as sweet as the plushes. This exchange between the narrator and his stepfather was quite epic:
"Sir, I think that some dark spawn nameless terror has torn its way into our cellar seeking to swallow the living souls of the innocent." I spoke clearly and slowly.
He looked at me and winced. "What?" he moaned.
"Shapeless horrors are loose in the cellar. Mankind may be in danger." I said, rephrasing to correct for his ignorance of the proper nomenclature.
"You've been reading that Lovecraft crap again, haven't you?" he said.
"Uh, no Sir," I lied. "Just trying to keep you informed of the house's little quirks."
"Your mother and I told you not to read that junk," he said.

  • "Found in a Bus shelter at 3:00AM, Under a Mostly Empty Sky" by Stephen Garcia. At first the strange editing looks cool, but it distracted me too much. Honestly I do not really understand the meaning of the whole concept other than "looking cool". This is a story themed around the Elder Gods.
  • "To be a Star" by Parke Godwin. When you prepare your Christmas tree you feel that someone is telling you... something. Well, this story explains why. Very enjoyable.
  • "The empty city" by Jessica Amanda Salmonson. This is more fantasy than anything else, it is a nice voyage in a forgotten city. Will you get stuck in there?
  • "Abbey at the Edge of the Earth" by Collin B. Greenwood. Flash-fiction. There isn't much to say other than it's a trip in someone's doomed destiny.
  • "Alien Abduction" by M.A. Brines. Another piece of flash fiction. I will just say it's not exceptional and it is very very short.
Philosophical Issues.
While I certainly enjoyed reading WT360, I have some issues with two concepts that have been introduced with the new management: 
  1. The anthological idea
  2. Lovecraft (I can't believe I am saying that).
According to the editors, from now on WT will have one theme which will differ from issue to issue. For example, WT360 was "The Elder Gods Issue" and WT361 will be the "Fairy Tales Issue". This might lock WT writers from releasing new interesting material and, especially, new ideas. The editors claim to be available to publishing every sort of genre, but putting such a limit - leaving complete freedom to just a few stories - might damage irremediably the freedom that is necessary to an "out of the boundaries" magazine. I could understand two "locked" issues in a six-issues a year magazine, but I really can't accept that all the four issues are bounded so tightly. I personally think that this move will remove good parts of the necessary imagination that made Weird Tales the important pulp magazine it is. In other words, I think anthologies exist already and I am not sure the public needs an anthological magazine. If I want several works related to the Elder Gods, I simply go to my local library or B&N and I get it. If I want several works related to Fairy Tales, I just go get it. A magazine, such as Asimov's SF, Analog, Ellery Queen and so on contain variety. That's their strength. In Ellery Queen I read a story inspired by Agatha Christie and the next story is completely different. How beautiful is that in a magazine? I might be wrong - I hope I am, and it wouldn't be the first time I am; just ask my wife! - but I think that in the long term this will be a move that will be regretted.

The second issue, is Lovecraft. Disclaimer: I love HPL. I love Cthulhu, I think Azathoth is quite cool. I play Arkham Horror and I love reading HPL's epistolary. However, Lovecraft is not Weird Tales and Weird Tales is not Lovecraft. The editors affirm that HPL will be an integral part of the magazine and I dread this decision. I do not even get the meaning of their idea. Okay, HPL is cool and made WT what it is today. So does R.E. Howard (his Conan is more famous than Cthulhu and any of the Elder Gods). So does Seabury Quinn that published in WT more than HPL and any other author (see S. Connors in "The Weird Fiction Review", Number 1, Fall 2010). So, why HPL over Howard? Why HPL over Quinn? I don't see why Lovecraft's shadow should be all over Weird Tales, why should we expect the readers to read lovecraftian horror? I strongly suggest reading Jeff VanderMeer's article about Lovecraft on his Weird Fiction Review ( I completely agree with him. One day I will explain how R.E. Howard liberated me from the tentacular fiction of H.P.Lovecraft. WT editors claim that one of the reason is that they have a lot of material intended for H.P.Lovecraft Magazine. Well, then publish that magazine and leave WT free of any chain. Do not hold readers and writers accountable of the apparently sinful idea that Lovecraft is necessary to Weird Tales. He is NOT. The weird tale used Lovecraft, he was merely a tool. A darn good tool, nonetheless a tool. Lovecraft's spirit will always live in one form or the other on Weird Tales, and he will always affect strange tales writers anywhere. He will always be somewhere in any writing even from new masters such as Stephen King. It doesn't need any push from the editors. Listen to Mr. VanderMeer, and listen to Lovecraft: Cthulhu doesn't need the cultists and so Weird Tales doesn't need Lovecraft.