By Patrick R. McDonough
On Issue 363
From the beautiful cover—illustrated by Abigail Larson—to the back cover of a typewriter with a pair of bloodshot eyes, this issue is worth your time. The cover itself is a tribute to Margaret Brundage’s October 1933 cover of a mysterious woman, dressed in black and wearing a mask that, at the top, forms into a bat with stretched wings. The front-inside cover, with a quote from Stephanie M. Wytovich, underneath a black-and-beige illustration, further reassures the reader that, yes…this all feels so right.
The table of contents page, with its graphic of an alien, wraps it all up to say, lets begin Volume 68. Number 1. Issues 363.
Before we jump into the first story of the lot, we have a friendly message from one of Weird Tales’ editor (should be a familiar name, boys and girls), one Marvin Kaye! In it he brings us up to speed about Jonathan Maberry’s role as the new Editorial Director, who has served as nothing short of invaluable. Also, Mr. Kaye breaks down a few stories in this issue, as well as mentioning how H.P. Lovecraft would surely nod his cap to a few stories that are direct influences of his works. One last thing Mr. Kaye mentions, is how due to the amount of backlog material, this is a un-themed issue. Future issues will contain themes such as Fire and Ice, Swords and Sorcery, a special Theatre issue dedicated to his late friend Brother Theodore, and my personal favorite, a Nikola Tesla theme.
Victor LaValle’s story, Up With Slavery, knocks it out of the park. It sets the tone for the nth coming of Weird Tales, and it does it with the feel of the old stories set in the modern world. The title conjures up nasty images of the darker side of humanity. However, like any good weird fiction story, there’s a veil to this reality. Without giving anything away, its choice in familiar characters gets any Weird Tale fan excited and hopeful for the future. It would make previous readers as giddy as new ones.
Next up, By Post, by Josh Malerman. A guy gets a package with nothing in it. It’s from his friend. Totally normal, right? They’re both jokers, and lately, like many of us, as we grow up life gets in the way from hanging out with our buds as much as we once had. Sometimes that’s not such a bad thing. Sometimes it’s devastating. What Connor, our protagonist, soon learns is that some friends are worth keeping and others…not so much.
Lisa Morton’s A Housekeepers Revenge could have been published in the heyday of Weird Tales. You’re not too sure what to expect at first, yea we’re immediately sucked into the story of our protagonist, but…we don’t understand the why.
The why is the most important aspect of this story. It’s what drives our protagonist, Carmen, to do what she does. And she does it, for the most part, well. What I found to be the most exciting thing about this story were the gods controlling the major event, which creates the antagonists to do what they did. Which then forces Carmen to make a decision that brings us to the very beginning of the story.
The Shadows beneath the Stone by Jonathan Maberry is set in 14th century Scotland. I particularly enjoyed this story due to my love for history and it’s unique setting. This is a great example of how dark magic and historical fiction can compliment each other without being anything but original. I promise you, even if you aren’t interested in reading historical fiction, you won’t regret reading this one.
A couple secondary characters set up the story nicely. Everything happens in real-time where, at one point, the protagonist takes over. From that point on we go on edge and eventually…what we waited for comes to be. It’s gory in all the right places, full of action in all the others. Plus, it ends in a very satisfying way that creates a full picture.
This magazine is graced by Stephanie M. Wytovich’s poetry. The first time I read her was in this magazine. Five of her poems are scattered throughout the pages, and the one that blurred everything around me, magnetizing my entire focus, were the first two lines in A Woman Who Still Knows How to Die.
“My body is a full freezer of spoiled meat
My spirit, a bevy of leftover sobs”
I reread those two lines…I don’t know how many times. The rest of the poem, along with the other four are great, but those two lines alone made me say: “Whoa…this poet…this is a poet I need to learn more about.” Those two lines alone filled my throat, gut, and mind with morbidity and hypnotism.
I-O-U by Sherrilyn Kenyon is a quick story that leaves no room for loose ends. It sets up the scene and characters. You know who you like and dislike right away. And when it’s all said and done, we get what we want.
Pay Day, by Hank Schwaeble comes off as a fun story about a couple of school boys—our protagonist and a bigger schoolmate he owes money to for being his body guard. They’re conversation appears on the exterior to be one thing, but all the while, gears are turning in the background. What lies ahead for the two boys is something you’d read about…in a Weird Tales magazine or on the new Creepshow.
The last of the flash fiction is Distant Drums by Marc Bilgrey. I know I can’t be the only one feeling this way, but is there more of this world published anywhere? Honestly, this magazine covered many areas in the wonderful horror spectrum, and Bilgrey brings to this issue an incredible peek into a dark fantasy/horror set in lower Manhattan. He described just enough of well-known characters, while maintaining a well-paced story. It could be easily speculated that the ending was only a prequel to an even bigger plot.
One other poet, Tori Eldridge, graces three pages with her poem, Amelia Delia Lee. It was incredibly catchy with lines like:
“Oh how delicious these raw creatures are.
How they slip down so easy, like oysters on par.
I must have another or ten or fifteen.
I’m really that hungry, not greedy or mean.”
This poem had everything: comedy, a full story, and it ended in a way that there is no doubt about it, it’s a weird fiction poem. Just like Victor LaValle’s story, this had a lot of weight on its shoulders. In the sense that, had this been anything but a satisfying poem that fills (the belly, hehe, kidding!) you up, it would have been a bit disappointing. Wytovich and Eldridge have certainly set the bar for what to expect from future poets – a white noise of creepy macabre with subtle hints of horrible beauty.
Four pages await your eyes after Amelia Delia Lee. An ad for a Cthulhu Mythos anthology (I personally love it and think it adds a nice touch to the feel of the magazine), a beautifully colored illustration of Crom from Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian world, an open submission call for a 1500 word or less Weird Tale about the mysterious woman from Margaret Brundage’s October 1933 cover (window closed on September 2019), and another beautiful colored illustration by Abigail Larson.
Issue 363 is not only an exceptional magazine to read and excite weird fiction and horror fans, it demonstrates just how wide the spectrum of it’s author’s voices are today. It’s track record of talent (from Farnsworth, to Brundage, Lovecraft, Bradbury, Maberry, and LaValle) speaks for itself. It will leave you to bleed, wrap up the wound it inflicted, only to have you beg it for more.
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