I picked up this book for the cover. I mean look at it. There’s a story in that artwork. Unfortunately that story isn’t in this book. Not even tangentially. There are other disappointments. It is haphazardly edited and printed. The introduction (which opens the book for a page at the front, then is continued at the back for the final few pages) promises a Ramsey Campbell story that fails to appear. But perhaps the contents could make up for the shortcomings. Did they? Read on.
The Next Glade. Robert Aickman. This is a pointless, meandering tale of a dithering, faithless British housewife. It’s all setup, no payoff. It is as if Neil Gaiman started writing a story, forgot what it was supposed to be about, and decided to just type “The End.” It is New Yorker Magazine fantasy fiction — everyone is apparently between the lines, sine nothing revelatory made it into the lines themselves. Or, perhaps, I”m merely an uncommonly dim, clueless philistine.
Crocuses. Charles Sheffield. A step in the right direction. We get a complete narrative, albeit one trafficking in some tiresome tropes. It is a weird tale of the horror variety (get used to that.) What sinks it in my estimation is the deliberately ambiguous ending. I prefer a bit more clarity. Hard to find the horror in a piece if I don’t know what I’m supposed to be horrified of.
The Belfry. James Anderson. Comparatively straight-forward action/horror with a supernatural twist. Competently written, though the setting could have been more clearly detailed.
There Are No Ghosts in Catholic Spain. Ray Bradbury. A bit of charming poetry. Fluff, perhaps, but Bradbury fluff.
Homecoming. Frank Belknap Long. 1980s New England gothic. It is a tale of psychic vampires, mystic backwoodsmen, and temporal horror. Much more is suggested and implied than explained, but sufficient hints are laid out to create a less irksome degree of ambiguity than some other entries in this anthology. I generally liked it. It has a whisper of Poe and of Chambers that resonated.
Compliments of the Season. John Brizzolara. Solid 1980s supernatural horror meets American Psycho. Seems almost too much a mainstream piece of horror fiction to belong in Weird Tales. But it is entertaining.
The City of Dread. Lloyd Arthur Eshbach. Commences with a classic adventure tale set piece of the sort recreated in Indiana Jones. There is a lost world vibe, enhanced by plot-driving supernatural elements. Then there is a definite heroic fantasy feeling. I can’t help but be reminded of my own Blood and Jade, as if I’m reading a distant, shadowy precursor. This is old school weird fiction, A. Merritt territory. Good stuff, building in intensity — though unfortunately that momentum is marred by having two pages of the climax reversed (pages 194 and 195) which rather spoils the impression. Still, my favorite so far. Objectively, I probably wouldn’t have liked it so much had it been printed along with a stronger line up. But in this context it worked for me.
The Doom Chant of Than-Kul. Robert E. Howard. Poetry in a Cthulhu Mythos vein. Or so I gather. Perhaps some Howard scholars could shed some light on this.
Save the Children. Steve Rasnic Tim. An odd piece of psychological horror. Again, too ambiguous for my tastes.
The Sea-Gods. Clark Ashton Smith. Moody poetry.
Ooze. Anthony M. Rud. Classic hackneyed monster fun. A curiosity, mostly, but worth the read.
Late Night Final. Stuart H. Stock. Unquestionably a “weird” tale. The story is about a man who notices strange, malevolent entities in New York City. It ends rather predictably and suffers to an extent the ambiguity that weakens all to many of the other entries.
The Vengeance of Yig. Lin Carter. An engaging entry in the Cthulhu Mythos cycle. At least for readers who are not Lovecraft purists. Carter, as usual, shows his gift for stylistic mimicry.
Overall then, Weird Tales #4 is rather a disappointment. I got my three dollars worth, but just barely.
You’d get good value for money with any of my own books. Give Under Strange Suns a try. I think you’ll like it.
And now for the penultimate entry in Magnus Stoneslayer’s diary. Next week will see the last. Sigh, they grow up so fast.
A savage is used to a certain perspective in battle, dear diary, and that is right in the thick of it, vision clouded by a mist of blood, viscera, sweat, and rage. The responsibility of generalship enforces a wholly different perspective, distanced, detached. A shift in perspective: just one of the many changes I’ve undergone since linking my destiny to Yaslina’s.
We faced the decisive battle today. Months of inconclusive skirmishes and evolving alliances have led to two armies facing each other across a shallow valley.
I’ve learned much from Yaslina’s uncle Ancus these grueling weeks, adding the benefit of the old campaigner’s experience to the innate martial talents of the barbarian. So it was with bone deep confidence that I arrayed my forces – left, center, and right – set screening cavalry on the flanks, calculated lanes of advance and withdrawal, and established rally points. My confidence remained unshaken when the two bodies finally clashed in a thunderous collision of flesh and steel. I sat my horse, stoic as a mountain, waiting and watching.
To all practical extent the armies were an even match. In such a case the deciding force can be the commander. What choices will he make? When will he commit the reserves? Is he impatient? Will he move too soon? As I believe I’ve mentioned before, dear diary, one thing the savage possesses in abundance is patience.
Our left was hard pressed, giving ground – grudgingly, but giving way nonetheless. My opposite number saw this as his opportunity and ordered forward his reserves to bolster the attack of his right. My sub-commanders urged me to reinforce our left with our reserve. I told them to hold their water; our men were not yet in danger of breaking. They were put hard to it, falling as they backed away, but taking a toll on the enemy for every step lost. So the Zantian general withdrew the rear ranks of his left, marching them along the rear of the battle to join his right for a decisive push with overwhelming numbers.
I ordered, “Send the reserves. Against his left.”
Our left would hold, their fighting retreat would bring them up a low rise, a knoll studded with man sized boulders, a natural fortress, offsetting the enemies’ numerical advantage. Our reserves would roll up the depleted contingent of the enemy left. This battle was effectively over. This war was over.
And then I saw him, to the rear of the reinforced Zantian right. Even at this distance the gleaming armor of that self-important popinjay Gaius was unmistakable. All decisions I needed to make as general had been made. I needed no longer remain aloof. So I spurred my warhorse into a downhill, momentum building charge, not sparing a glance to see if my staff and bodyguard followed. I found a seam and plowed through the enemy, bodies flung left and right from glancing blows delivered by the armored chest of my heavy, snorting charger. Gaius saw me coming and tried to wheel away. Too late. My charger caught his lighter racing steed amidships, bowling horse and rider over in a tangle of human and equine limbs. Gaius pulled free of the wreckage just in time to catch my descending sword blade between his eyes, his decorative helmet parting like gold foil, his skull with the satisfying pop of a roasted nut.
As I prepare for sleep, with the cries of “Imperator” still ringing in my ears, I reflect that even with the weight of responsibility, there comes a time, dear diary, when all duties required of a man have been discharged, and he can release his inner savage. I take no small comfort from that.