Weird Tales: 32 Unearthed Terrors edited by Stefan R. Dziemianowicz, Robert Weinberg & Martin Greenberg
Though hardly a runaway success in its day, and a publication that faced financial hardships for much of its existence, the pulp magazine known as Weird Tales is today remembered by fans and collectors alike as one of the most influential and prestigious. Anthologies without number have used stories from its pages, and the roster of authors who got their start therein reads like a “Who’s Who” of 20th century horror and fantasy literature. During its 32-year run, from 1923-1954, and in its 279 issues, Weird Tales catered to a select readership that could not help but be impressed by early efforts from the likes of Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, C.L. Moore, Henry Kuttner, Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson and dozens of others. Weird Tales: 32 Unearthed Terrors, unlike some of the other books that have cherry-picked the best from the magazine’s pages, takes a slightly different approach. Its editors have selected one story from each year of the magazine’s run; not necessarily the best story of that year, but the one that the editor felt has been the most under-appreciated, or too rarely anthologized, or simply most in need of a reappraisal. The result is 655 pages of some of the finest imaginative writing that any reader could ask for. Simply put, this is one helluva collection.
Several of the stories here are fairly well known. H.P. Lovecraft‘s complete posthumous novel, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, an offshoot of his Cthulhu Mythos, has generously been offered as the tale from 1941. Fredric Brown‘s “Come and Go Mad,” a gripping tale of paranoia; “Dust of Gods,” a C.L. Moore story featuring spaceman Northwest Smith; and Robert E. Howard‘s “The Shadow Kingdom,” featuring the first appearance of King Kull, are all here, and are welcome presences, always.
But there are also lesser-known works from writers who would one day become quite well known. Weird Tales was as much an incubator and proving ground for horror and fantasy writers as Astounding Science Fiction was for the science fiction author. Thus, we have stories here such as 1946’s “Let’s Play Poison,” an eerie tale of some devilish children, by a bloke named Ray Bradbury. Richard Matheson, in what can almost be seen as a warm-up for his later, terrific novel Hell House, here gives us “Slaughter House” (one of the scariest stories in the whole collection, I might add). Isaac Asimov and Frederik Pohl appeared only once in Weird Tales, in 1950, with their very amusing tale of a ghostly court case, “Legal Rites,” and that story is here, too. Other well-known names in this volume include Edmond Hamilton, with a wonderful story of evolution run amok, “Evolution Island”; Jack Williamson, telling the story of a scientist’s matter materialization experiments gone horribly wrong, in “The Wand of Doom”; Fritz Leiber, and his very humorous story of a supernatural firearm, “The Automatic Pistol”; and Robert Bloch‘s hilarious tale of a witch, a mermaid, a werewolf, a tree nymph and a vampire, “Black Barter.”
Even nicer than encountering unknown works from old friends, however, is making the acquaintance of new ones. This anthology should serve as an introduction to many readers of some terrific authors whose reputations died with the demise of Weird Tales. C.M. Eddy‘s notorious story, “The Loved Dead,” with its creepy necrophiliac protagonist, should long linger in the memory (it caused a scandalous sensation back in 1924). Nictzin Dyalhis contributes here a science fiction tale of the Venhezians saving the men of Aerth from some particularly nasty Lunarians, and pulpy and primitive as “When the Green Star Waned” is…well, I just loved it. C. Hall Thompson, in his 1947 story “The Will of Claude Ashur,” attempted a Lovecraft pastiche that, if no Lovecraft, is still awfully darn good. Seabury Quinn, the author who appeared in more issues of Weird Tales than any other (165!), is of course represented here, with one of his wildly popular Jules de Grandin adventures, “Satan’s Stepson,” a tale of demon things and the Black Mass. Another new author here (for this reader, anyway) is Gans T. Field, whose 1938 story “The Hairy Ones Shall Dance” (a modern-day werewolf thriller) made me an instant fan. H. Warner Munn provides an unforgettable story of atrocious torture, “The Chain,” and Robert Barbour Johnson, in his story “Far Below,” tells a tale sure to chill the bones of anyone who has ever ridden the N.Y.C. subway. (I, unfortunately, do so every day!)
And there are many other wonders to be found in this generous collection; I haven’t even mentioned the excellent contributions from August Derleth, Theodore Sturgeon, Henry Kuttner, Clark Ashton Smith and so many others. The book is indeed a treasure trove of fantastic literature, with concise introductions and fine illustrations for each story.
There is only one quibble that I would like to register here, and that is the inordinate number of typos — hundreds of them — scattered throughout the book’s almost 700 pages. As a proofreader and copy editor myself, I find it deplorable that such a wonderful collection was so carelessly composed. Had I known, I would have volunteered my services for free back in 1988, to help guarantee that this tribute to such a legendary magazine could have received the immaculate presentation that it so well deserves. Still, the presence of these regrettable printer’s errors should in no wise deter any potential readers. The book is still amazing, and remains a very fine introduction and tribute to Weird Tales.