"The Man Who Killed Kew Gardens" by Brian Lumley
"The Hymn" by Brian Lumley
"Strange Wisdoms of the Dead" by Mike Allen and Charles M. Saplak
"Daddy" by Earl Godwin
"Exeunt Demon King" by Jonathan L. Howard
"The Paramount Importance of Pictures" by Lynne Jamneck
"The Class of 666" by Andrew Wilson
"Sugar Skulls" by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
H.P. Lovecraft’s Magazine of Horror is another publication saved by John Betancourt and Wildside Press. This is the first issue published in over a year, and I believe the first under Wildside Press. From what I’ve gathered, the delay was due to having to wait for the funds to rebuild after the buyout. Makes sense to me.
The magazine sports an attractive glossy cover with some nice artwork from Bob Eggleton. As with most of the Wildside Press periodicals, the layout is clean and simple, as it should be. For $5.95 you get 88 pages of H.P. Lovecraft-inspired fiction and nonfiction.
The first story of the third issue comes from one of the foremost masters of Lovecraftian fiction, Brian Lumley. In fact, he is the "Spotlight Author" of the issue. If you’re looking to relaunch your H.P. Lovecraft magazine off the back of one particular writer, there’s no better choice than Mr. Lumley. "The Man Who Killed Kew Gardens," originally published in 2004 as a 100-copy limited edition hardcover by Delirium Books, is Lovecraftian fiction at its finest.
"The Man Who Killed Kew Gardens" has a basic premise: a meteorite lands in the neighbor’s garden. We’ve all seen enough B-movie horror flicks from the 1950s to know how this will turn out. But, as great writers are wont to do, Lumley takes a simple plot and turns it into something magical. The story’s dual narrative bounces back and forth from the discovery of the meteorite to a general preparing himself mentally to give his small band of surviving fighters their morning assignments. You feel the sense of despair; it drips from the pages. There’s some wonderful philosophizing by the protagonist, particularly in relation to the parallel nature of his current crisis to that of the dinosaurs many millions of years ago. The conclusion to both narrative pieces is chilling and memorable. Any fan of Lovecraft-styled fiction will enjoy this story.
To my happy surprise, the next story was another Brian Lumley piece, "The Hymn." Told in a "memoir" style letter, it recounts an experiment some secretive government and cult performs on two men. In the aftermath of the American occupation of Iraq, a mysterious stone is discovered in the Iraqi desert. The stone is believed to hold mystic powers, perhaps in relation to beliefs held by a group called "The Mythose Investigation." TMI finds two men with latent psychic abilities and places them, with this stone, in an abandoned nuclear shelter deep in the heart of a mountainside. What follows is a well crafted documentation of two men falling apart at the seams with a whiz-bang of a conclusion that will leave you flipping to the next page looking for more.
Based on three previous stories and the two I just reviewed, Brian Lumley is turning into one of the masters of short horror fiction.
"Strange Wisdoms of the Dead" by Mike Allen and Charles M. Saplak takes us to a world where a great plague is ravishing humankind. One man, yet to be stricken with illness, takes on the job of casting a boatful of dead bodies out to sea for disposal. But the man has a darker plan for at least one of the bodies than simple burial at sea.
Allen and Saplak have written an effective mood piece layered with some truly cringe-worthy moments. But the crux of the story relies on that old standby, love, and falters, not so much from the cliché, but on the authors’ ineffective attempts to bring an emotional sense up to effective levels. This creates a bizarre experience for the reader, where you’re having a ball reading about the boat, the dead, and the protagonist, and at the same time rolling your eyes at the man’s attempts to find his love. Still, a solid read.
"Daddy" by Earl Godwin takes an old idea and turns it on its ear. We’re introduced to a photographer, who, let’s be fair, is a loser. One night while at his favorite local dive, he encounters a beautiful woman who has just broken up with her boyfriend. Inevitably, the photographer and woman end up back at his place, and they make beautiful, passionate love. Yep, this is the opening scene of hundreds of movies and stories. But what happens afterwards is unlike anything I’ve experienced as a reader. Godwin sets up a dilemma that will give you pause. Would your choices mirror those of our photographer protagonist?
"Daddy" is full of groan-inducing dialogue and an egregious abuse of adverbs, but it is a thoughtful study that brings to life the phrase "the lesser of two evils." An excellent read.
"Exeunt Demon King" by Jonathan L. Howard is the second story in the author’s Johannes Cabal universe. This time, we meet Cabal right before Christmas. He’s a necromancer of sorts, interested in avoiding death by being able to bring the dead back to life. The townsfolk dislike his dark arts, but the local police sergeant has a grudging respect for the old wizard and even agrees to sit and share a couple of beers with Cabal. As the sergeant and Cabal sit back and enjoy their beer, Cabal is asked why he chose to become a necromancer. This leads to the heart of the story, as Cabal describes what prompted him to turn to the profession in a lengthy flashback sequence.
Often witty and with a strong lead character in the form of Johannes Cabal, "Exeunt Demon King" is a good story. But it’s the type of piece that’s forgotten as soon as you flip to the next page.
"The Paramount Importance of Pictures" by Lynne Jamneck rides on the back of popular Hollywood clichés to become a semi-entertaining work of light horror. We’ve got the blonde bimbo movie starlet, the effeminate—presumably gay—make-up artist, and the artistically sapped director who’s life is circling the drain. Shall I go on?
The movie in progress catches the attention of a private cult of people/beings. The results are deadly. This is the type of story that, if it were a movie, you’d cheer whenever someone from the cast was killed. Jamneck’s contribution was one of my least favorite selections of this issue.
Andrew Wilson brings a jolt of life back to the magazine’s fiction with "Class of 666." This is Harry Potter meets The Class of Nuke’um High. At a reform school for misbehaving young boys, Wilson describes the cause, the lead up, and the climax to a deadly game of Blitzkrieg. The winners get to live. The losers die.
There’s some hilarious characters here. There’s Mister Wood, a homunculus professor in the body of a wooden ventriloquist dummy, the school’s head, who is literally, a head, and a P.E. teacher that will cause many of us to chuckle (or shudder) from recalled memories of past P.E. teachers. Parts of this story caused me to snicker in delight. It is a well told story, well written, and you’d be doing well to read it.
After such a high, I couldn’t wait to jump into "Sugar Skulls" by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. Yarbro is a master of horror, but the only thing she mastered in this story was the ability to put me to sleep. "Sugar Skulls" is essentially a lengthy character study of a Spanish grandmother and her eleven-year-old daughter. The day before The Day of the Dead celebration, they’re making sugar skulls. They talk. And talk. Until we’re mercifully brought to an anticlimactic conclusion.
Sure, there’s some literary things in play. We’re given a peek into the lives of a pauper village family. Daddy has gone to fight in a guerilla war, and mommy is dead, pushing the grandmother and daughter into their current situation. There’s also the message of how poverty gives many no other choice but to turn to dark, sinful, and evil ways. I can handle that. But please, entertain me while you do it.
Overall, the standout work in issue three of H.P. Lovecraft’s Magazine of Horror are the two Lumley selections. Add "Daddy" and "Class of 666" to the mix, and you’ll be pleased that you purchased a copy of this magazine.