Thursday, November 8, 2012

In Defense of Marvin Kaye: A Review of Weird Tales # 360

Weird Tales # 360
print $7.95, various ebook formats $2.99 available here
edited by Marvin Kaye

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


  1. I'm very excited for this return to roots sort of thing. I have a Kaye anthology and it is excellent, and your review of the themed section makes me want to get a copy and I will, just might be a few weeks.

    I'm also pleased because in my mind, the Vandermeer piloted ship was just not my cup of tea. I can only recall one story (flash fiction at that) that has stuck with me.
    It looked like a market that as much as I wanted to say, "I HAVE BEEN PUBLISHED IN WEIRD TALES!" would never ever happen, it simply was not the Weird Tales that published the stories I have loved, it was something else...and that's fine for something else, everyone has their own vision, but it wasn't my Weird Tales.

    When you take something with a communal history, and even use the old logo, you have some expectations to meet. But the Vandermeer era was not it, it was not a market I wanted to submit to.

    I do wish all parties in any capacity the best of luck with their projects.

    But this is one that I will actually aspire to be published in again, ever since I picked up a battered old Lancer and thought I should/need to write something this good.

    1. Thanks for the comments, David. I agree with your remarks about a communal history. While things do need to grow and change, there is such a thing as literary tradition. I think Ann took things too far for the tradition WT had established. It was similar to someone buying Analog and saying the magazine would no longer print hard sf, but rather would print sf of the political satire and social commentary variety. Such a move immediately alienates a core audience. Beth Wodnizski has an opportunity now to establish a different literary tradition at Shimmer and build a core audience there.

      While I don't entirely agree with her reasons, I'm very glad Ms. Kowal has subsidized Shimmer. The more markets the field has that pay pro rates, the healthier the field will be. Those markets will allow a greater diversity of fiction and satisfy a wider range of tastes. This is always a good thing. I intend to review Shimmer at some point, probably once its inventory consists of stories bought at the new rate.

      And good luck with your submission to WT. Considering how quickly Kaye closed the magazine to submissions after he opened it last year, I suspect the competition is going to be stiff.

    2. I have no doubt the competition will be severe. I just hope to throw my hat into the ring of consideration for the rumored S&S issue coming up.

    3. I haven't heard about that one. Given the rate at which WT has published in the last few years, there should be plenty of time to submit. Assuming they aren't so inundated that they close within a few days after opening.

    4. Ha! I probably best ought to have a piece ready to go at a moments notice - though I hate sitting on anything.

    5. So sit on it only so long as the piece you're working on isn't finished. When finished that becomes the new story you're sitting one, and the old one goes out the door. This approach has the advantage that you're constantly hustling to get something new done because you don't want to sit on anything.

  2. I think such a return might be just the thing to jumpstart the magazine. Sounds like a good start.

  3. This is a very encouraging review, and it sounds like this issue is absolutely packed with material.

    Like you & David, I prefer a traditional track with experimentation at the edges.

    Here's hoping the style continues and Kaye refrains from any more "foot-in-mouth" moments.

    1. "Here's hoping the style continues and Kaye refrains from any more "foot-in-mouth" moments."

      Yeah, no kidding.

  4. Living in New Zealand, I bought an electronic WF #360, too, choosing the pdf since I felt that would best convey the flavor of the print magazine ... for example, it includes the color cover for the Bradbury section. On screen, the magazine looks attractive and completely in tune with what Paul calls "a traditional track with experimentation at the edges."

    I've spent the past week away from home, mostly on long walks in the central North Island around Lake Taupo, so I haven't got far yet with my reading of the magazine beyond the first story, the Lumley novella. I agree with your review of that. (After all, the scope for plot surprises is limited when an author works basically with just two "on stage" characters and a heap of back story revealed in large part in dialogue.) I'm now looking forward to reading the rest of the contents.

    David, the S&S issue is probably more than a rumor, but it may be a while coming. Marvin Kaye accepted two stories from me last year. One was set in Clark Ashton Smith's Averoigne. The second, Mr Kaye said, had "a hint of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, though just a little. It may take some time to run it, especially since we already took your earlier story, but I'd certainly like to use it in Weird Tales." In August this year, Mr Kaye wrote, "We are trying to get the Elder Gods issue out this month, and after that there are two more issues before we start on the S&S number, so at a guess it won't be till after the turn of the year that we send contracts for that issue." He also said, "we're not accepting any submissions these days, the inventory is groaningly full."

    1. I'm not surprised the inventory is "groaningly full". Since the Bradbury cover is included in the PDF edition, do you know if the Stephen Garcia story is included?

    2. Keith, I haven't entirely figured that one out yet. Immediately after the William Blake Smith story, which ends on page 65, the PDF has a full-page ad for a Wildside Megapack ebook. After that comes a two-page piece presented without page numbers in the form of reproductions of typewriter-produced pages which have drawings and handwritten notes in the margins ... Which certainly puts the item in an "experimental" vein.

      The two pages contain no conventional typeset copy whatsoever; no introduction, not even page numbers. Could the pages be what Stephen Garcia purports to have "Found in a Bus Shelter at 3:00 a.m., Under a Mostly Empty Sky"?

      The hand-drawn heading above the typewriter script is "When I Dream, I See Strange Men," although empty skies are mentioned in the text. And it would probably be quite impossible to achieve quite the same effect on, say, a Kindle.

      The Parke Godwin story begins on page 69.

    3. Thanks. It sounds like the PDF looks exactly like a paper copy. There's no ad in the epub edition, nor any reproductions of typewritten pages. It sounds like that could be the Garcia piece. The Parke Godwin story in the epub edition starts on page 131.

    4. Chap, I have no doubts about groaningly full, but someday I'd sure like to be included.

  5. Since the above was written, including my comments, much has changed at the new WT.My own latest shock came in an email from Marvin Kaye earlier this month in which he welshed on his acceptance of the two stories he was going to run in his magazine. Once upon a time you could count on an editor's word, and his written word was as good as a handshake. The whole sorry tale is told in full in the introduction to my new Amazon Kindle eBook Witchery: A Duo of Weird Tales You might like to run the guts of it as a post in your new blog -- a salutary warning to all who rely on gatekeeper publishers! In fact, it gives my small ebook a third, very weird tale. Story is "excellent" but editor and co-publisher Kaye must put it aside so he can re-open his "submission portal" to other, unseen stories ... Huh? Has the man lost lost it?

    1. I hate to hear that. That's a pretty unheard-of thing to do. I hope he paid you a kill fee. I've bought your book and am looking forward to reading it.

    2. Thank you, Keith. I understand this situation affects several more writers, too. Kaye said, "I regret to inform you that the publisher of Weird Tales has decided to pass on quite a few stories, yours included. This is a measure to reduce our huge fiction inventory." Kaye owns the rights to the Weird Tales magazine title and is co-publisher, so there is little we can do about what, as you say, is a pretty unheard-of thing to do, except WARN OTHERS. Kaye has offered no fee, just a promise that "If you have not sold your submission elsewhere, try us again in 9 months. If we have room at that time, it will be an automatic sale." Note the "ifs"; note what his previous promises were worth.

    3. Chap,

      I reviewed Witchery over at Amazing Stories. The post went live this morning. Here's the link:

      I'm going to write a new post about this whole situation and will include the link to the review in it.

  6. For an update on this post, go to: