H.P. Lovecraft’s Magazine of Horror, #1

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"Envy, the Gardens of Ynath, & the Sin of Cain" by Darrell Schweitzer
"The Bath" by Jean Paiva
"Business is Business" by Arlene F. Marks
"Johannes Cabal & the Blustery Day" by Jonathan L. Howard
"Memory?" by Brian Lumley
"Extreme Denial" by Nicholas Knight
"In the Palace of Repose" by Holly Phillips
"Xoanon" by Tanith Lee
"Ex Oblivione" by H.P. Lovecraft
"Helljack" by Tim Pratt and Michael J. Jasper

The first issue of H.P. Lovecraft’s Magazine of Horror features some very good stories. There is quite a bit of variety in this selection, from funny to scary to elegant, and even though some of the stories did not satisfy, the rest more than made up for those.
"Envy, the Gardens of Ynath, & the Sin of Cain" by Darrell Schweitzer starts off this issue with an appropriate Lovecraftian feel. I am rarely impressed with the Mythos stories, but this one defied my expectations. The storyline is typical–a young man, Brian, becomes very taken with a talented and brash college friend, to the point of worship. Brian learns that his friend Justin gets hereditary visions of the places far beyond the stars, and the two spend much time trying to find the way to the beautiful, haunting gardens of Ynath. But when the creatures come for them, Brian is not ready to follow, and only Justin is carried off by the winged apparitions. Brian works hard to build a normal life, and succeeds, until the day Justin reappears.

What made this story stand out was the language–beautiful, fluid prose, reminiscent of Lovecraft’s style, but more than mere imitation. Contemporary yet dreamlike, and even the second-person narration did not prevent me from being absorbed in the story.

"The Bath" by Jean Paiva is a short story that details the small lives of two neighbors who live in neighboring apartment with a shared bathroom. Everything goes well until a small dark spot appears around the drain of the bathtub. The cause of the spot is a specter with very sinister habits. I felt that the brevity of the tale prevented any deep exploration of the theme–where was the specter coming from? Was he Jack the Ripper, or some other infamous killer? The character development was also lacking, due to the same limitation. However, I found the writing enjoyable.

"Business is Business" by Arlene F. Marks describes a computer salesman who is visited by the devil. Satan needs a computer, apparently to deal with piles of paperwork that is burdensome even in hell. This story did not do it for me, mostly because the themes of bureaucratic realities of afterlife and the inherent evil nature of the computers have been dealt with before. I did not think that this tale brought anything new to the table.

"Johannes Cabal & the Blustery Day" by Jonathan L. Howard is a pure delight–clever, well-written, and extremely entertaining. Johannes Cabal is a necromancer, who lives in a house filled with all sorts of interesting objects (like a box that sings quietly to entertain itself) and creatures (like the Skirtingboard people.) The Skirtingboard people often wake Johannes up to tell him various and sometimes valuable things. This time, they warn him of an impending disaster. Johannes is pitched against a malevolent force, and battles for his life using his wits.

I am hoping for more Johannes Cabal stories–he is a very appealing protagonist, despite some of his unorthodox practices and vengeful nature. The story is full of wonderful tangential tidbits, such as accounts of obscure cults, which, while making the story meander a bit, are always amusing and welcome.

"Memory?" by Brian Lumley describes a man who experiences accounts of his past and future lives. Nothing happens, but in the end it is revealed that the man is in the insane asylum. While it offered some interesting descriptions, the story was too brief and too plotless for my taste.

"Extreme Denial" by Nicholas Knight is a Lovecraft-themed feghoot. In my opinion, these are a lot more fun to write than to read.

"In the Palace of Repose" by Holly Phillips is the star of this issue, and one of the best stories I’ve read this year. It is haunting, beautiful, funny, sad, imaginative, profound, and satisfying. Edmund Stonehouse is a Minister whose task is to make sure that the sleeping King is contained with his palace. Unfortunately, this is a modern world, and most people do not believe in the four-hundred-year-old legend; they do not feel the need to contain the chaos, the magic that has been dreaming in its prison palace for centuries. But things are changing in the palace–the King claims he had recently had a visitor, and soon Edmund finds the intruder–a young woman who has no memory of who she is.

The clash between vivid, imaginative sequences in the palace and cold, sober accounts of the life outside of it is incredibly well done. This story is truly a gem, and I am certainly buying Ms. Phillips’ collection.

"Xoanon" by Tanith Lee details the daily life of a small fishing village, which appears to be a true paradise on earth–people are humble and respectful of all religions, races, and sexual orientations. The main plot however deals with a series of strange wooden carvings that tell a story that all locals regard as truth.

The story is beautifully written, but I didn’t think that the second person worked very well. While the main story is beautiful and dreamy, the build up and the descriptions of the village were a bit too long for my taste. Nonetheless, a worthwhile read.

"Ex Oblivione"by H.P. Lovecraft is a prose poem, impossible to summarize but beautifully written.

"Helljack" by Tim Pratt and Michael J. Jasper is great fun–bloody, scary kind of fun. The protagonist, Janis, is a nurse, who is traveling by train to administer the estate of her eccentric and recently deceased aunt. But the things go very wrong as the train starts changing shape–soon, Janis realizes that the train is traveling downwards, through an unfamiliar and unearthly landscape, and that it is run by a gang of cannibalistic demons.

I enjoyed this story quite a bit, mostly because it manages to be gruesome and entertaining, yet never takes itself too seriously.

Overall, a very good first issue. Diverse enough to appeal to many different kinds of readers, yet focused on the eerie and mysterious.