"The King Of Rhythm And Blues" by William Michael McCarthy
"Gifts" by Nini Kiriki Hoffman
"Never Look Back" by Sarah Hoyt
"Small Town News" by James Van Pelt
"Dreams Of The Stone King's Daughter" by Darrell Schweitzer
This issue of Weird Tales has five tales of wonder along with the usual mix of poetry and articles usually found in this venerable publication.
The first tale is an updated version of an old myth entitled "The King Of Rhythm And Blues" by William Michael McCarthy. A young man living in the New York ghettos recruits the help of the King of Rhythm and Blues, the magical spirit of contemporary music, to rescue his girlfriend. She has fallen under the influence of a local drug dealer and is trapped in a cycle of substance abuse and violence. And so Howie and the King must intercede, using the King's special magic. This is a wonderful tale of contemporary times mixed with old-fashioned fairy magic.
"Gifts" by Nina Kiriki Hoffman is an entertaining short short about two middle school kids who express their special friendship for each other in a unique way. Ben is different from most of the other kids, but this makes him special for the narrator. As Christmas approaches, Ben gives his friend a magical ball of Anything clay. It literally becomes anything he can imagine for a brief time. And so the narrator reciprocates with the magical clay, confirming for Ben his uniqueness and sealing their friendship.
"Never Look Back" by Sarah A. Hoyt is a dark retelling of the Greek myth of Orpheus, who entered Hell to rescue his bride, Eurydice, from death. He fails because of his lack of faith. Ms. Hoyt takes this ancient myth and updates it, but in the process shows us the other side of this tragedy. Here, Hell is a greasy- spoon all-night diner run by a grumpy old Greek. His waiters all seemed to have a sad life story. And then redemption comes for one of them in the form of his lover from the other side of death. And while this leaves the other residents behind to contemplate their unending fates, it also raises the question of what kind of love would cause such sacrifice and devotion. And in the end, isn't that the point?
"Small Town News" by the always entertaining James Van Pelt reminded me of nothing so much as the old TV show Northern Exposure. The editor of a small town paper in a back woods Northern town struggles to put the next day's edition to bed so he can visit his girlfriend before she leaves on an extended trip. But everything seems to conspire against him. It all sounds very ordinary, right? But as our hero moves about the town, the magical nature of the place reveals itself as time unhinges, sliding loosely back and forth. And so the story rolls on, as our hero struggles with the wording for his society column as neolithic folk and dinosaurs parade down Main Street.
The last story, and best, is an unfocused allegorical tale entitled "Dreams Of The Stone King's Daughter" by Darrell Schweitzer, co-editor of Weird Tales. The poet laureate of the barbarian Emperor's court has been exiled by the Emperor for failing to please. And so the poet undertakes a journey seeking a judgment on his soul from the King of the Stone People in the high mountains. They are a race of demigods who live apart from mere humans and the poet believes that he will either be damned by them or justified for his actions. His journey becomes stuck in an odd sort of time loop, where he repeats his actions until he earns the right to intrude on the solitude of the Stone People. And then he performs his verse and awaits the Stone King's judgment. Was his art true or mere flattery?
Overall, this issue is another fine issue of Weird Tales. I recommend you pick up a copy if you haven't had the opportunity as yet. Until next time, enjoy.
Jim Reichert has been a reviewer for Tangent for many years on such periodicals as Analog, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Weird Tales, Dragon, and Talebones. He's a government lawyer specializing in the field of child abuse prosecutions, and lives with his wife and family in a rural area of southern Delaware. He's been an avid fan of speculative fiction all his life, and has been writing short stories and novels for 5-10 years on a sporadic basis. His fiction has been published in the e-zine Dark Matter Chronicles, Nova SF magazine and Nth Degree magazine.