fantasy and science fiction book reviewsWeird Tales celebrates “Uncanny Beauty” in the Summer 2010 issue (No. 356, and the most recent issue available as of this writing). The best story in the magazine, though, is one that is off-theme. “How Bria Died,” by Mike Aronovitz, is the tale of an unorthodox teacher who may well have taken his unusual teaching methods a step too far for the universe to abide.  This horror story is fresh, original and written from a position of real authority:  Aronovitz teaches English in a school much like the one in which his story is set.

Kat Howard’s “Beauty and Disappearance” is a surreal tale of disappearing bits of statues, soon followed by the disappearance – at first intentional, and later not so much – of other bits and pieces of other things. The reader is pushed to consider that beauty might lie in absence, and then precisely what that aphorism might really mean.

“A Concise and Ready Guide” is a lovely jest by Ian R. MacLeod. MacLeod’s conceit is that vampirism was already so common by the late 19th century that a pamphlet on the etiquette of the undead was written in traditional Victorian language and with typical Victorian sensibilities. As you might guess, the portion of the pamphlet “On Obtaining Sustenance” is particularly piquant.

It’s difficult to say anything about “Sisters Under the Skin” by L.L. Hannett that does not give away the point. The short Faustian tale is nicely written, and the specifics of the ending come as a surprise even to the long-time horror reader. This is my first exposure to L.L. Hannett, but I plan to keep an eye out for her in the future – this is good stuff.

Catherynne M. Valente writes with such elegance and panache that one would think that the “Uncanny Beauty” theme was right up her alley. Apparently Dark Scribe Magazine thought so, because it nominated “Secretario” for one of its 2010 Black Quill Awards. (Winners will be announced on February 1.)  I found the story, a mash-up of noir detection with dark fantasy, to be written with Valente’s characteristic lush prose and worth reading for that reason alone. The plot itself did not move me; I found it lacking in suspense or horror. But that writing! How lovely!

Amal El-Mohtar’s “Le Tarot de Gaga” is based on the peculiar concept of a deck of Tarot cards made up of images of Lady Gaga. Yet the life and art of the pop star are entirely irrelevant to the plot, leaving the reader wondering what the point is. Was this an excuse to showcase pictures of the songstress’s odd costumes? Structured as a Tarot reading, the story is less than compelling.

Natania Barron’s trilogy of poems based on myth, “The Wakened Image,” is competent but uninspiring.

Weird Tales contains a surprisingly strong mix of nonfiction. I was particularly taken by Theodora Goss’s “Strange Faces,” in which the writer reveals her opinion of her face: “strange,” she calls it, “all bones.” Her opinion seems odd to me, because I remember when I first saw Goss in person a few years ago, and thinking what a strikingly beautiful woman she is. I guess we all think that we’re unattractive, somehow, no matter the truth of it. Goss’s meditation on what beauty means to women, and especially this society’s image of the horrific woman, is fine reading. Other nonfiction includes book reviews, an exploration of Margaret Brundage’s 1930s Weird Tales cover paintings, a sculpture of a mascot for the issue, so to speak, by Callie Badorrek, and a nice bit of memoir by Rae Bryant about how she grew from an ugly duckling into a swan, and just what that meant to her.

Subterranean winter 2011Subterranean Online offers a special treat this week: a new Majipoor story by Robert Silverberg, “The Tomb of the Pontifex Dvorn.” The massive planet that was originally home to the Metamorphs now has a human-based civilization more than 12,000 years old, at least twice as old as human civilization. Two young scholars – Simmilgord, an historian, and Lutiel, an archaeologist – are given the opportunity to travel to Kesmakuran, where the tomb of the first Pontifex, Dvorn, is said to be. The only evidence for this, though, is an epic poem written 5,000 years after Dvorn allegedly unified the planet under his rule, so no one is entirely sure whether it is myth or truth.

The scholars make amazing discoveries at the site, discoveries that should be the foundation of wonderful careers for both of them. But Hawid Zakayil, the Superintendent of Antiquities for the region, gets wind of the find and descends on the site with plans of his own. I hope it doesn’t give too much away to say that the story had me thinking about the management of the cave paintings at Lescaux in France, and the philosophical questions that arise from the treatment of that historical site on our own planet. Apparently some things never change, no matter what planet you’re on in what epoch.


  • Terry Weyna

    TERRY WEYNA, on our staff since December 2010, would rather be reading than doing almost anything else. She reads all day long as an insurance coverage attorney, and in all her spare time as a reviewer, critic and writer. Terry lives in Northern California with her husband, professor emeritus and writer Fred White, two rambunctious cats, and an enormous library.

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