The nonfiction in the Summer 2011 issue of Weird Tales is interesting and informative, telling readers a good deal about a number of diverse topics. Genevieve Valentine offers “A Sweet Disorder in the Dress,” the title taken from a Robert Herrick poem, about the fashion of Alexander McQueen, and especially his Spring 2010 collection, Plato’s Atlantis. This collection was famous, or perhaps infamous, for the huge shoes — a foot high! — that looked like lobster claws, and much of the fashion on display fell into the “who would wear that?!” category (the answer: Lady Gaga, but almost no one else). Seen through the lens of fantasy, however, the collection begins to take on an intellectual shape and texture to match that of the garments. Valentine calls McQueen “an artist who left his mark as a master of the uncanny,” and she proves her point nicely, something difficult to do with a bare minimum of pictures. It takes some strong writing to do that.
Robert A. Kowal is the author of “Weird Cinema: Through the Lens Darkly,” about how to tell weird cinema when you see it. Of particular interest to me is Kowal’s discussion of David Lynch’s “Mullholland Drive,” which I thought deliciously surreal. Kowal explains how Lynch was able to make “Mullholland Drive” work, when others he has directed, especially “Inland Empire,” failed.
Cynthia Ward‘s “The Library: Books, Tomes & Grimoires,” discusses the new science fiction and fantasy imprint, Angry Robot Books, which is targeting the “brand-savvy post-modern fan and the ever changing world in which s/he lives,” and making a success of it. It is its intent to publish only “genre-bending novels and WTF fiction” from authors from the UK, US, France, Israel, Australia and South Africa. It has taken an unconventional approach, enlisting an army of reviewers and genre lovers as its Robot Army to spread the word. A number of the Angry Robot offerings are discussed in brief following the article, making it possible for you to consider for yourself whether this imprint is something to look for.
Carrie Ann Baade, an artist, is interviewed by Ann VanderMeer. Baade’s cover for this issue, “The Angel Maker’s Daughter,” is not attractive or even particularly interesting to my eyes, but other examples of her work offer an insight into her classical heritage that is altogether strange and sometimes wonderful. It’s a surprisingly frank interview, which is starting to become a hallmark of Weird Tales’ asthetic for me; the interviewers somehow get the interviewees to open up further than I’ve seen elsewhere, including in interviews of the same figures.
Many of the stories in this issue take place in or around Hell, and yes, that includes a “deal with the Devil” tale, “A Contract without Loopholes” by Eric Lis. In Lis’s tale, we’re rooting for the demon (who, by the way, isn’t all that sure there really is a Satan) to come up with a contract that the human selling his soul can’t wriggle out of at the last minute. Apparently, this human has read everything that fantasists have to tell about this sort of deal, and between C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters and the Neil Gaiman/Terry Pratchett book, Good Omens, he’s got all the angles figured. But our demon friend Nolth finds a way. Once you read it, you’ll slow down at executing contracts yourself.
“The Diner on the Edge of Hell” by Ramsey Shehadeh, is about the ongoing war between angels and devils, between Heaven and Hell. It quickly becomes difficult to see a distinction between the good guys and the bad. Nik Houser’s “A Beginner’s Guide to Sandcastle Alchemy” is a sad story of the transition from boy to man, in a world where the transition takes a special ceremony. “Look at the Jam I’m In” by Richard Holinger is a fine short joke, perfectly set in a subway. “The Hand” by Gio Clairval is another short tale that seems based on Jesus’s stricture that, “If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out,” though the offending organ is the hand of the title; the story explains the offense.
“Jagannath,” by Karin Tidbeck, is a story that is weird — seemingly for the mere purpose of being weird, and not to serve any plot or idea. In this tale, children are “born” when they are excreted from a tube protruding from the Nursery ceiling; it all sounds very mechanical. And it is, indeed, mechanical, as we learn later in the story, for Mother appears to be a cross between a biological organism and a century ship, one intended to keep the race alive, though for what purpose is unstated. If this is intended as a metaphor, a cautionary tale, or anything besides a portrait — essentially, “Hey, look at this weird thing I wrote!” it escaped me entirely. I’m happy enough to read the occasional piece that is simply strange, but I generally prefer there to be a point to the strangeness, if only to point out a beauty that I might otherwise have missed. Nothing of the sort is available here.
But “Jagannath” is an ideal of considered thought and careful plotting in comparison to “Beelzebub’s Messiah” by Brant Danay. I see no point to this story whatsoever save to induce the utmost disgust in the reader. Why would an author choose to do that? Who is the audience for this sort of fiction? It is vile. It presents us with a picture of a priest of one religion who is crucified by the adherents of another religion in the most hideous way possible, described in morbid detail. I’ve been looking for a sentence to quote for you to give you the flavor of this story — a word I use loosely — but my gorge is rising just skimming to find something appropriate. Try this one: “The enteral device hooked into his flank continued to churn and vibrate and gurgle all the while, and his wounds began to fester in the rancid swampwater that bubbled and dripped like liquid vomit from his mouth.” Charming, no? No. Why was this story published? There is no humor to it, no lesson to be learned, no frisson of fear runs down one’s spine; it is just repulsive. Beware.