Sunday, July 16, 2017

Weirdbook #35 - Review by SE

Weirdbook #35Weirdbook #35 by Douglas Draa
S.E. Lindberg rating: 5 of 5 stars

Weirdbook is highly recommended; a menu of high quality horror tales that span most genres.

Weirdbook is one of a few Weird Fiction magazines that persist. Weirdtales is likely the most famous, which emerged in the Pulp Era of the early Twentieth Century and comprised horror, dark fantasy, and Sword & Sorcery; Weirdtales exchanged hands over the decades and was carried/edited in the late 1980’s by John Betancourt and Darrell Schweitzer who both play a role in Weirdbook (Betancourt as Publisher & Executive Editor via Wildside Press, and Schweitzer as an anchoring author). In 1967 W. Paul Ganley edited Weirdbook magazine, its compelling run ceased in 1997 (Back issues available via Ganley’s ebay store). A century from its origins, Weird Fiction still has followers, but its identity is split across myriad markets/venues; in 2015, editor Doug Draa partnered with John Betancourt of Wildside Press to reboot the magazine with Weirdbook #31 (review link). [Fanboy aside: I was able to meet Ganley and Schweitzer at the World Fantasy Convention 2016 that I was blessed to moderate and panel a bit]. 

Calling Weirdbook #35 a "magazine" seems to minimize this ~200page book which is more a quality anthology. It has 22 contributing authors (18 stories, and 4 sets of poetry) and there are no reviews/advertising/articles one expects in a magazine. Skelos comes to mind as a contemporary magazine (newly kickstarted) which has those non-story features (also worth subscribing to).

In any event, Weirdbook #35 is entertaining and a great value.  Douglas Draa continues to share myriad adventures by new & seasoned authors with milieus running the gamut of weird-dark fantasy. It promises that readers will experience some flavor of horror. Expect equal parts ghost stories, psychedelic trips, gory murders, thoughtful introspections, and battles with the unknown! My favorite is the last entry from Darrell Schweitzer’s The Take and the Teller, but I enjoyed most of these (I star/earmark the ones below that I can’t get out of my head and will reread).  I’m usually mired in Sword & Sorcery, and reading Weirdbook allows me to branch out. I encourage others to do the same. Get Weirdbook. Don’t trust my “stars/earmarks” but find your own amongst the menu.


TABLE OF CONTENTS:

1.     The Pullulations of the Tribe by Adrian Cole, is gothic noir tale in which the sleuths must free hostages; more fun than horrific

2.     Dead of Night by Christopher Riley; very weird and satisfying horror on the high seas; contemporary milieu

3.     Mother of my Children by Bruce Priddy: short and weird dose of arachnids

4.     John Fultz's Man Who Murders Happiness is accurately titled, poignant, and disturbing

5.     * English's Handful of Dust a natural engaging story; could be described as ghost story, but it is more than that … I hate wasps BTW

6.     Ken Opperman's series of gothic poems re: “Carpathia” are a nice touch.

7.     Poetry “translated” by Fredrick J Mayer called Taken from the Tcho Tcho People’s Holy Codex is Elditch/Lovecraftian verses that didn’t make much sense to me (but I’m no acolyte yet, more advanced students of the occult may understand)

8.     Revolution a' la Orange by Paul Lubaczewski has nice historical context (1672 Dutch republic and William III) but too many scene breaks

9.     Fiends of the Southern Plains by Patrick Tumblety reads as frontier family faced with night haunts that have more faith than the humans--very dark and satisfying.

10.  * Stanley B. Webb's Pyrrhic Crusade is unique Sword ‘n’ Sorcery; the pacing was jarring at first, but the tale came together really well and covers a lot of ground

11.  Charles Wilkinson's futuristic Migration of Memories is reminiscent of Philip Dick (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep) but a touch more realistic than trippy

12.  Maquettes by MacKintosh is WWII, Nordic sea horror. Fun variation.

13.  The Dinner Fly poem by James Matthew Byers could be paired with Priddy’s story above

14.  In the Shadows by JS Watts, offers a new perspective on being depressed (contemporary horror)

15.  * "Lagillle's The Spot starts as a well-done, but typical, zombie apocalypse.... but then shifts into a weird trippy horror. Great stuff.

16.  Donald McCarthy's Schism in the Sky has a hermetic pastor encountering his god on an alien planet

17.  Janet Harriett's To Roam the Universe, Forgotten and Free is a heart wrenching, contemporary ghost story"

18.  Lily Luchesi's Rejuvenate is a short circus horror, which felt like a great outline for a larger novel

19.  * Crescentini's Vigil Night is dark fantasy at its finest; enough necromancy and madness for an entire army of knights

20.  Dead Clowns for Christmas by L.J. Dopp – mashing up the movies “Killer Clowns form Outerspace” and “Chuckie” yields something like this

21.  Jessica Amanda Salmonson offers Strange Jests four fable-like poems with fish/water themes

22.  * The Tale and the Teller , by Darrell Schweitzer read like a Lord Dunsany masterpiece. This one is worth the price of the book by itself.



The Tale and the Teller – Darrell Schweitzer, opens this way:

Who is the teller and to whom is the story told? Listen: there are voices, and the wind, and the sighing of the sea. Listen.
If you make your way a hundred miles up the Merimnian coast, you come to the Cape of Mournful Remembrance, and, beyond that, pass into a curious country, where high tablelands reach to the edge of the sea, the drop off sharply, revealing black, granite cliffs.

Now white ruins protrude out of the earth like, old, broken teeth, but once a great city stood there, called Belshadihphon, a name which means “City of a Thousand Moons.” So it was: in the days of the Empire of the Thousand Moons, it was the capital of half the world. Yet there remain only ghosts, and wisps of wind; and, of nights, when the tide rushes into the caves that honeycomb the whole landscape, you can hear millions of souls crying out, all those who died in the wars that brought the place glory. Not for sorrow, not for vengeance. Just crying, wordlessly, faintly, like tide and wind. 
It was called the City of a Thousand Moons because, in the great times, the very gods appeared on brilliant nights, rising out of the sea in their luminous robes, wearing masks like full moons, drifting up the cliffs and onto the tabeland, to walk among the pillared palaces of the great city, some of them even, or so it is claimed in stories like this one, to give counsel to the emperor on his throne.
You can still see the moon-masks. They have turned to stone and lie across the beach and the tableland like so many scattered coins.



View all my reviews

Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Book of Paradox by Louise Cooper -

The Book of ParadoxThe Book of Paradox by Louise Cooper
S.E rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Book of Paradox by Louise Cooper
“An occult odyssey through the Tarot to an inner world beyond the portals of Death”

Aloethe’s life is taken by a jealous prince; Aloethe’s love, Varka, serves as a scapegoat to the murder. Sentenced to sacrifice at the temple of the Darxes, Lord of the Underworld, Varka awakens and is encouraged to find Aloethe in Limbo … if he can find the place. Varka is also empowered with the Book of Paradox, a magical book with pages/verses are cryptic, dynamic, and crucial to understand.
“You are indeed a thing of paradox,”[Varka] muttered under his breath, addressing the Book. “When I need you most, you tell me nothing, and when you are useful your words are impossible to understand.”

The actual Book of Paradox has 22 chapters, each named/influenced by the Major Arcana of the Tarot. A forward by the author’s first husband Gary Cooper explains the design: “The Book of Paradox represents the journey of the Fool through the initiations of the various cards. This is Varka’s fated quest, and one which leads him and the reader through many strange lands, into contact with many strange people, as will the Tarot itself.”

Louise Cooper was only twenty years old when her debut novel came out, and she was graced with a breath-taking Frank Frazetta cover (called “Paradox”). Each chapter has a frontispiece with an illustration by Barbara Nessim of the card influence in the current chapter along with a paragraph explaining the interpretation. Many mini-stories span 2-to-3 cards/chapters; for instance, the cover of Varka approaching vampire women is a scene from a story spanning (a) Chapters VII: The Chariot (Reversed) and (b) VIII: Fortitude.
Frazetta Paradox

This is a trippy adventure into an underworld that is more dream-like than it is horrifying. It is short and reads fast. The pacing and style is reminiscent of Michael Moorcock (known for his Elric novels) and there are some echoes of Jack Vance (1926-2013) and his Dying Earth series--iconic in RPG/D&D history since the naming of Items and Spells was simple: Magic Items such as Expansible Egg, Scintillant Dagger, and Live Boots...and Spells such as Excellent Prismatic Spray, Phandaal's Mantle of Stealth, Call to the Violent Cloud, Charm of Untiring Nourishment. There is an echo of Vance flare here, in that Louise Cooper offers location and titles similarly: Castle Without parallel, Queen of Blue, the Cave of Souls Passing, and the titular Book of Paradox.

The Tarot design is interesting but not obviously crucial/integral for the story; i.e., the Book of Paradox carried by Varka begged for a stronger connection to the Tarot cards, but the connection, if any, was not obvious. Nonetheless, it is a fun tale. Louise seems better known for her Time Master and Indigo series, which I plan to read.
The Initiate and Nemesis


View all my reviews