Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Review: Weird Tales, January 1949

In addition to my aforementioned work on comic strips leading me to delve into Captain Easy and Alley Oop, I've also spent some time admiring our library's collection of pulp magazines. Then, inspiration struck me: could I afford to own a few pulps? A quick check of prices online confirmed: if all I want is a reading copy, yes I can. Thus, I picked up three issues of Weird Tales which I'll blog about here as I finish them.

The January, 1949 issue of Weird Tales features these stories:

"Four From Jehlam" by Allison V. Harding leads things off with a fairly typical story; four men have their deaths prophesied by an old woman and the story goes about the business of their deaths without too many surprises. The manner of their deaths come as a surprise to the victims (the one supposed to drown doesn't fall in the ocean but rather has a build-up of fluid in his lungs), but once the reader figures out these are "ironic" deaths, it's not very interesting going through the motions.

"Food for Demons" by E. Everett Evans involves a professor who conjures up a demon which possesses his body and uses him to feed on others (it consumes intellect and feasts on highly intelligent people); the great bother with this story is the professor's love interest helps save him and guide the demon toward old men (rather than the young) to feed on, but why does this professor deserve a happy ending? Surely those who tamper in the Devil's domain have earned a horrific ending? Not in this instance.

"The Thirteenth Floor" by Frank Gruber is one of roughly four million stories about phantom "thirteenth floors," usually titled "the Thirteenth Floor." This one is set in a department store where a man makes a date with a clerk on the 13th floor, then when he's stood up finds out there is no 13th floor; like many of the stories in this pulp it follows a route plot, but the prose has pep.

"Open Season on the -Bottoms" by Snowden T. Herrick. Here's a frustrating one - it explains an odd mystery about people whose surnames end with "bottom" each disappearing but the tale seems to run out of space and never fulfills on this unusual premise. Boy, Nelson S. Bond could have made hay with this one!

"The Great Stone Death" by John D. MacDonald. A man finds a giant monster living amongst the rocks unnoticed because it seems to be like a rock itself. It opens with fairly Lovecraftian ideas about old things slumbering, but this particular monster turns out to be quite vulnerable.

"Lover in Scarlet" by Harold Lawlor. Another familiar story type, the old "expectant heir tries to force his uncle to an early grave, only to meet an ironic fate." At least it's brief.

"The Sorcerer's Apprentice" by Robert Bloch. Now here's the reason I bought this issue! This tale is well-known in Bloch's canon because of the notorious Alfred Hitchcock Presents adaptation; it concerns a simple-minded young man serving a stage magician; all too-easily made to believe in magic and unable to discern which people are trustworthy, it leads to a gruesome finish when he tries to saw a woman in half. This is much stronger in its original form than the TV adaptation - Bloch tells the story from the killer's perspective, which works very well - albeit, I wondered how someone with such a rough grasp of spoken English could faithfully reproduce the proper English read by other characters.

"The Big Shot" by Eric Frank Russell. A tough gangster dies and has to face the afterlife. It doesn't have much to say about the afterlife, it's more of a character study.

"Balu" by Stephen Grendon (aka August Derleth) concerns a boy and his cat, the titular Balu. Being an Egyptian cat, naturally Balu bears a terrible supernatural side.

"The Bonan of Baladewa" by Mary Elizabeth Counselman tells of soldiers stationed in Java during World War II and the commanding officer who despises the locals, crosses the line by killing one and meets with supernatural justice. Again, a pretty familiar tale.

Finally, "Our Fair City" by Robert A. Heinlein offers something quite unusual - a wind which is to all appearances sentient and can carry papers aloft for up to 50 years; when a newspaperman learns of this, he begins writing stories about the wind ("Kitten") and using it against his political enemies. It's definitely not "typical" or "route!"

There were also two poems: "A Curse" by Page Cooper and "The Heads on Easter Island" by Leah Bodine Drake. Both were designed just to fill space in the magazine and they do that part admirably.

It's easy to see why the names of Roberts Bloch & Heinlein live on while the others have mostly faded away (Derleth endures for appropriating Lovecraft later in his career). Most of the stories are too familiar - they don't shock, surprise or amaze.

On to the next issue!

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