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Weird Tales: Seven Decades of Terror Hardcover – 1997
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From the review - This book, "Weird Tales:'Seven Decades of Terror", is a handsome hardbound collection of some of the best selections from all of the various incarnations of Weird Tales. There are four yarns from each decade, starting from the 1920's and up to the 1990's.
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And now, "Weird Tales: Seven Decades of Terror" (1997), another generous hardcover, of 460 pages, whose M.O. is to give us four stories from each of the magazine's seven decades of existence (including its latter-day incarnations), for a total of 28 marvelous tales of horror, fantasy and sci-fi. Preceded by a knowledgeable introduction by editors John Betancourt and Robert Weinberg, the collection is a highly pleasing one, and practically every single one of the stories therein manages to impress. Many familiar authors are highlighted--authors whose initial fame came as a result of their appearance in the magazine; authors such as Lovecraft, Howard, Moore, Kuttner, Bradbury, Bloch, Quinn, Derleth, etc.--as well as some names that might be less familiar. Like those other anthologies mentioned up top, this one is most assuredly a must-have for all readers of the fantastic, the supernatural, the macabre and the outré. Personally, I loved it!
As for the stories themselves, the 1920s are represented by voodoo expert Henry S. Whitehead's grisly ghost story that transpires in a Mississippi hotel, "The Fireplace." This is followed by one of H.P. Lovecraft's most famous and oft-anthologized stories, "The Rats in the Walls," which tells of the prehistoric horrors to be found beneath the English abode known as Exham Priory. In "Bells of Oceana," former Marine Arthur J. Burks writes of a troopship, in the middle of the Pacific, that becomes the prey of a very murderous, Lorelei-type of creature. Finally, in 'The Eighth Green Man," British author G.G. Pendarves writes of the Sons of Enoch cult in the Connecticut countryside, and of the strange fate that befell two men who ventured into its clutches.
The 1930s was the so-called Golden Age for "Weird Tales"; its heyday as regards quality and the finding of fresh talents. This period is here represented by Clark Ashton Smith, for starters, an author widely known for his lushly written fantasies, but who here gives us a more science-fictiony-type of tale with "The Seed From the Sepulcher," and its hypnotic parasite plant in the upper Orinoco. Mary Elizabeth Counselman is up next, with her tale--"The Accursed Isle"--of seven men who are shipwrecked on a very small island, one of whom has gone bonkers and turned into a night killer. But which one? One of Henry Kuttner's most infamous pieces, "The Graveyard Rats," is up next. Kuttner's very first published work is a truly claustrophobic and gruesome story that deals with Masson, a cemetery caretaker and part-time ghoul, and his underground battle with a veritable army of rodents. The future Mrs. Kuttner, C.L. Moore, next gives us one of her more well-known stories starring Northwest Smith (who had also figured in one of "Weird Tales"’s most famous pieces, "Shambleau"). In "Lost Paradise," Smith and his longtime companion, Yarol the Venusian, learn just how Earth's moon became the wasteland it has been for untold millennia; another beautifully written story by this great author.
Sales for "Weird Tales" declined in the wartime years of the '40s, although the magazine continued to discover fresh new authors to maintain its high quality. This decade is represented here first by Fritz Leiber, whose tale, "The Hound," gives us a protagonist who is continually haunted by the modern-city supernatural being of the title. Next up is another story of modern-day urban paranoia, Ray Bradbury's "The Crowd," in which a man learns the hard way that those people who magically seem to appear at the site of auto accidents might have more on their minds than idle curiosity. August Derleth's "Pacific 421" is a straightforward ghost story mixed together with a homicide plot, centering around the spectral arrival of a wrecked locomotive, and concluding on a highly ironic note. And then there is Manly Wade Wellman and one of his many adventures starring John Thunstone (a supernatural investigator, of sorts). In this one, "The Dead Man's Hand," Thunstone goes to the assistance of a father and daughter who have run afoul of an ancient North American race, the Shonokins, a race that would figure in many later Thunstone tales.
As mentioned earlier, 1954 would be the final year for "Weird Tales"'s first incarnation, yet this curtailed decade is still represented by four wonderful selections. Utilizing gorgeous, dreamlike language, Frank Owen's "The Three Pools and the Painted Moon" tells the story of the Chinese porcelain maker Tang Ling, and his efforts to place himself into one of his own creations. Seabury Quinn was the author who appeared more than any other in "Weird Tales"; no fewer than 165 times, actually, with 93 of those involving the occult sleuth Jules de Grandin. Here, we have one of the very last de Grandin tales, "The Ring of Bastet," which sees the Frenchman giving aid to a young fiancée who has come under the influence of an ancient Egyptian artifact. Robert Bloch had long maintained that his short story "Lucy Comes to Stay," a tale of deep and troubling schizophrenia, was a formative influence on his later novel "Psycho," and a reading of this disturbing story here will surely show why. Finally, in "The Rhythm of the Rats," Eric Frank Russell, an author usually associated with science fiction, updates a German legend (I wouldn't dream of revealing which one) into modern times, and with haunting results.
The new "Weird Tales" of the 1970s was not above the utilization of an occasional reprint, and thus, to start off the section dealing with that decade, we have "Sea Curse" by Robert E. Howard, the Conan creator who suicided in 1936. In this wonderfully atmospheric story, a witch puts a curse on the two boisterous seamen who had murdered her niece, with both ghastly and ghostly results. The oft-reprinted story "The Dead Smile" is up next. Written by F. Marion Crawford (who had passed away in 1909, actually), this is a deliciously Gothic affair that transpires inside an old Irish estate, and one that features banshees, a sentient and headless corpse, and an ancient family secret. Morbid great fun! "Playboy" editor Ray Russell is featured next, in the story "Lethal Labels." Here, a young, hate-filled man uses those ubiquitous, self-sticking mailing labels to exact vengeance on his enemy, but with boomerang results. And next, we have another terrific reprint, this one by William Hope Hodgson, the wonderful British author who had died in WW1 action in 1918: "The Finding of the Graiken." Here, two men search for a lost ship in the weed-befouled Sargasso Sea and battle giant octopi after finding it; another great tale of life at sea, by a man who knew the milieu well.
The 1980s saw "The Magazine That Wouldn’t Die" revived no fewer than three times. From these reincarnations, this generous anthology gives us "The Dead Man," written in typically oddball fashion by Gene Wolfe, and telling of an Indian peasant who is killed by a crocodile...but whose spirit continues to witness subsequent events. Next up, Brian Lumley offers us a wondrously atmospheric story, "The Pit-Yakker" (you've got to love that title!). Set in a grimy colliery town in northeast England in the mid-'50s, this tale mixes romance, insanity, murder...and quicksand to winning effect. In Steve Rasnic Tem's "Save the Children!," a husband/ad exec who had earlier lost his own baby (in childbirth? Tem doesn't make this clear) feels an obsessive urge to help all the children in the world. Brief and undeveloped as this story is, it is the sole offering in this entire collection that just did not work for me. But things rebound rather quickly with Robert Sheckley's "Love Song From the Stars," in which a young archaeologist exploring a small island in the Aegean learns (the hard way) how inadvisable it can be to have sexual relations with the women of planet Andar. One of the more sci-fi-oriented tales in this anthology, this one builds to a memorable conclusion.
The "Weird Tales" incarnation started by the Terminus Publishing Company in the late '80s lasted well into the '90s, and from these issues have been drawn this volume's final four stories. In the truly haunting "Welcomeland," by British horror master Ramsey Campbell, a man returns to his old hometown, which has now been partially transformed into an amusement park, with nightmarish results. Next up, another British master, Tanith Lee, give us "The Lily Garden," in which a young student, in what seems like medieval times, trespasses into an alchemist's walled-in garden and falls in love with the strange young woman he finds there, leading to tragedy. And then there is Nina Kiriki Hoffman's "The Pulse of the Machine," in which a catlike shapeshifter, now in human form and attending a college in rural Idaho, hunts for a local serial killer along with his only friend, a young woman and fellow student named Anitra. Told from Terry the shapeshifter's point of view, this suspenseful story could easily have been the launching pad for a fresh, new series of interesting works. All of which leads us to this collection's final offering, Nancy Springer's "Turn, Turn, Turn," in which a Martha Stewart-like, neglected housewife, with a genuine gift for turning useless household junk into works of art, finds a new and decorative use for her recently deceased hubby. A story in equal parts humorous and morbid, to round out this terrific collection.
So there you have it: 28 assorted tales from one of the greatest of all pulp magazines. As I write these words in early 2017, the latest incarnation of "Weird Tales" is going very strong...along with its website and very active Facebook presence, I'm happy to report. Wouldn't it be a wonderful thing if the magazine could survive to see its 100th anniversary in just six more years? To quote the Bard, "tis a consummation devoutly to be wished...."
(By the way, this review originally appeared on the Fantasy Literature website ... a most ideal destination for fans of any of the authors mentioned above....)
This book, "Weird Tales:'Seven Decades of Terror", is a handsome hardbound collection of some of the best selections from all of the various incarnations of Weird Tales. There are four yarns from each decade, starting from the 1920's and up to the 1990's. Some, like Lovecraft's "The Rats in the Walls" and Bradbury's "The Crowd" are probably familiar to anyone considering picking up this title. Others, like Arthur J. Burks "Bells of Oceana" and Robert Sheckley's "Love Song from the Stars" are not so famous, but chilling reads and are exactly why an anthology like this is such a treasure. We all have plenty of Lovecraft in our libraries, but it is nice to explore his descendants and to see his influence.
There are plenty of authors here, like Manly Wade Wellman, Robert E. Howard, Robert Bloch, Brian Lumley, Tanith Lee, William Hope Hodgson, August Derleth, each showcasing the best they have to offer. Now out of print, and able to be picked up used very cheaply, "Weird Tales: Seven Decades of Terror" is almost possible to disappoint. Highly Recommended.