Friday, July 19, 2013
When We Was Weird
The Valley Was Still (1939) by Manly Wade Wellman; A Weird Prophecy [It Happened to Me] by Ken Gary; Winter Night [It Happened to Me] by Alice Olsen; San Francisco [It Happened to Me] (1940) by Caroline Evans; Heart of Atlantan (1940) by Nictzin Dyalhis; The Phantom Slayer (1942) by Fritz Leiber; The Beasts of Barsac (1944) by Robert Bloch; Bang! You're Dead! (1944) by Ray Bradbury; Cellmate (1947) by Theodore Sturgeon; The Familiars by H. P. Lovecraft; The Pigeon-Flyers (1943) by H. P. Lovecraft; Roman Remains (1948) by Algernon Blackwood; Displaced Person (1948) by Eric Frank Russell; To the Chimera (1924) by Clark Ashton Smith; From the Vasty Deep (1949) by H. Russell Wakefield; The Shot-Tower Ghost (1949) by Mary Elizabeth Counselman; Take the Z-Train (1950) by Allison V. Harding; The Little Red Owl (1951) by Margaret St. Clair; Ooze (1923) by Anthony M. Rud.
Peter Haining probably edited about a thousand anthologies in his lifetime. This, the second half of a hardcover collecting stories from pulp magazine Weird Tales' first iteration, which ran from 1923 to the early 1950's, is a very good one.
Weird Tales was the first true American pulp magazine devoted to fantasy, horror, and science fiction. Its heyday was the 1920's and early 1930's, but it still offered a viable market for short-story writers right up until its death during The Great Dying of the pulps in the late 1940's and early 1950's.
Haining does a nice job of finding stories from female writers, of which Weird Tales had more than a few, and of offering reprints of some of the non-fiction features of the magazine (It Happened to Me and the letters column The Eyrie), along with some decent poems from writers such as H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith (who really was a good poet), and Conan creator Robert E. Howard.
Haining also seemed to have an eye on what had been collected before, as the Fritz Leiber, Theodore Sturgeon, Robert Bloch, and Ray Bradbury selections are relatively little-known. Leiber's "The Phantom Slayer" is the strongest from one of those four stalwarts, an urban nightmare that characterizes Leiber's reimagining of the horror genre in the 1940's as something set in urban landscapes bleak and otherwise, where people try and sometimes fail to connect with one another.
Among the lesser known writers, the improbably named Nictzin Dyalhis offers an enjoyable lost-world story much in the vein of Clark Ashton Smith and A. Merrit. Margaret St. Clair, a fairly well-known genre author of the 1940's and 1950's, impresses with the childhood fantasy nightmare "The Little Red Owl," which essentially pits a psychopathic uncle against a fictional character. The anthology finishes with a story from the first issue of Weird Tales, "Ooze," a fun story of amoebas gone wrong. Or is that amobae? Recommended.