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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Weird Tales #345

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"Fugue" by Rae Dawn Carson
"Bagged Lunch" by Patrice E. Sarath
"Tom Edison & His Telegraphic Harpoon" by Jay Lake
"Kitty’s Zombie New Year" by Carrie Vaughn
"In the Company of Women" by Marcie Lynn Tentchoff & Mikal Trimm
"Strawberry Thief" by Ian Creasey

I’m always happy to see another issue of Weird Tales show up in my mailbox.  It’s been one of the more substantial and reliable publications in the genre for far longer than I’ve been alive.  This issue contains half a dozen short stories, an interview, some book reviews, a movie review, and a really good article on the life of Ray Bradbury (I’m a big fan).  Let’s crack open the pages and see what we find inside, shall we?

Wow.  Just wow.  "Fugue" by Rae Dawn Carson is a completely amazing story with which to start out this issue.  A prisoner in a dungeon has such limited contact with other people, all through the door of his cell, which apparently is never opened, that he reduces these interactions to what he hears from the world beyond.  There are whisperers and criers; he calls the jailors “keys” because that’s what he hears of them when they come near his cell.  The simple power of this descriptive approach is astounding.  There once was a prisoner in the next cell who sang softly, but the guards came and beat him to death, and for a long time there has been no one.  Now he has a new neighbor, and his rapturous joy at having someone else that he can communicate with, even if only in whispers, brings light and warmth to his existence as surely as the ray of sunshine that angles through the small window in his cell for a few hours each day.  There is a palpable beauty and richness to this story that is haunting.

As a guy who works in a cube farm, I can sort empathize with an office plagued by a lunch stealer like the one in "Bagged Lunch" by Patrice E. Sarath, but I’m not sure it’s worth a story about it, even if it turns out to be, not some officemate, but some supernatural projection of a succubus coffee machine.  I must admit that it scores highly on the weirdness scale, coming at the narrative from the perspective of a paranormal investigator brought in to solve the crime, and it successfully captures the day-to-day drudgery of the modern office dweller to a T.

In a cross between the Wild West and a Clive Cussler novel, "Tom Edison & His Telegraphic Harpoon" by Jay Lake introduces us to an intriguing little slice of an elseworld in which the United States' westward expansion has been hampered by the presence of demons and magic.  Enter a young Thomas Edison who, together with his faithful Negro assistant, Salmon, armed with science and reason take on a winged nightmare called a Nephilim armed with a really big gun.  While perhaps lacking a rousing “Hurray!” moment, it is nonetheless a satisfying swashbuckling adventure.

In "Kitty’s Zombie New Year" by Carrie Vaughn, a sometimes wallflower and loner grudgingly accepts an invitation to a friend’s New Year’s Eve party, if only to avoid another year of sitting in solitude in front of the tube watching the ball drop in Times Square while digging into a quart of ice cream.  The party is everything she was afraid it would be but takes a significant turn for the weirder when a zombie shows up at the door.  There is a certain awkwardness to the story in that the author’s world is like ours—one in which zombies per se do not exist—so what begins as a sort of horror story becomes instead an odd occult zombification mystery, complete with the police and the perpetrator being led away in handcuffs.  This peculiar horror story was interesting while it lasted, but the lackluster mystery is significantly less so.  Like watching a rerun of an '80s P.I. TV show, the solution is too easy, the criminal blathering a confession under the most unlikely of circumstances, the final conclusion positively reeking of a moral outrage we don’t feel and therefore cannot share.

Easily the shortest story in the issue, "In the Company of Women" by Marcie Lynn Tentchoff and Mikal Trimm is a disturbing piece of flash fiction about a guy who has trouble letting go.  Specifically, using some ancient bit of occult lore, he keeps his grandmother’s and his mother’s spirits captive in their bleached skulls which he talks to and carries around in a sack.  With the premature death of his beloved wife, he’s looking to add to his collection.  Appealing and with a certain cemetery splendor, my only complaint is that given how poorly he gets along with the imprisoned spirits of his mother and grandmother, just what would lead him to believe carrying more skulls around would somehow improve his life?

"Strawberry Thief" by Ian Creasey seems like a peculiar story to include in this issue for two reasons.  One, it’s long, as long as all five other stories combined.  Two, as a straightforward fantasy story, it just doesn’t seem to fit very well with the flavor of the other stories in the issue.  Please note that this doesn’t make it a bad story—it's actually a pretty good one—but it does come across as badly placed. 

Given its length, a short plot summary is almost impossible, but here goes: a mortal is kidnapped from our world and taken to an elven realm on the one day of the year when a gateway is open between them.  There he serves the Queen’s appetites for the span of one year, with the elves planning to return him when the gateway again opens.  As the year comes to a close, the mortal feels that he has missed out on much of the elven world, most specifically in that he has not been allowed to eat any elven food, which looks very appetizing.  On the way back to the gateway, he eats a single elven strawberry off a bush, a bush that is unfortunately owned by a goblin, who demands compensation. 

"Strawberry Thief" has almost an episodic feel to it, like an old serialized movie.  Each section ends with something of a cliffhanger.  The action scenes and the somewhat slower, plot-advancing scenes are interspersed to keep the story moving along nicely.  It’s full of intrigues and double-crosses and elven magic, most definitely not the kind that lead to delicious E.L. Fudge cookies.  The plot sustains the story easily throughout its length, keeping me curious as to where it was headed until the very end.