The Magazine of Dark Fiction
Published by: Elder Signs Press, Inc.
Editor: William Jones
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
The summer of 2007 found me impatiently awaiting the arrival of the eleventh issue of Dark Wisdom. I was looking forward to this issue as I had been given a very small inkling of what might be expected – werewolves, vampires, ghosts! Oh my! By August, I was itching to get my hands on the magazine, but as fortune would have it, I was forced to wait until I returned from vacation in the middle of the month. I arrived at the post office moments before I had to report for my day job, happy to discover Dark Wisdom: Issue #11, seated amongst a pile of other mail awaiting my perusal. One guess as to what was opened first. Unfortunately, I had only a few minutes to skim the magazine before I had to start work, but a few minutes was all I needed to know how much I was going to enjoy this issue.
As always, the issue opens with an editorial by William Jones. Although it is a tad shorter than what I am used to reading from the magazine’s editor, it is still a noteworthy piece as Mr. Jones draws our attention to the rise of the paranormal in 21st century entertainment. From witches to ghosts to vampires, the world is slowly turning away from extra-terrestrial tales and back toward those of the supernatural kind. I, too, have noticed the numerous ghost hunter television programs, the vampire novels, vampire and other supernatural characters getting their own television series, haunted house tales lining the bookstore shelves and thus, agree with his analysis in full. But how long will the world’s fascination with the supernatural last? Well, since this fascination has been evident since the dawning of time, I can probably say that it may wane a tad, but that it most certainly will not die.
Burning Bright, the graphic tale by Jason Whitley and William Jones continues in this issue, with our lead character going on a murderous rampage throughout the laboratory while oblivious scientists perform an autopsy on the brain of one of their “specimens.” Four pages simply were not enough for me – this section deserves a couple pages more to whet the appetite.
This issue found most of the poetry kept to one page and all of very dark. I especially enjoyed Horror Writer Makes Headlines by Cathy Buburuz about a horror writer whose tales become his reality: “…he was forced to assume / those merciless tales / that darken a man’s soul / are best left untold.” To one with an intense sense of imagination, those words can conjure spine-chilling scenes of horror.
What would a “Magazine of Dark Fiction” be without its fiction department and happily, there were many great stories to choose from. I was overjoyed to see The Eccentric by Alan Dean Foster. I had previously read his works of science fiction, but I had no idea that the writer dabbled with dark fiction as well. The Eccentric is four pages of exquisite scariness with a twist at the end as a thrill-seeking journalist becomes a part of the biggest story of her career. I have to admit that I saw the end coming a mile away, but I can easily forgive this less-than-surprise ending. Alan Dean Foster’s detailed descriptions made me feel as if I was there, watching the events of the story unfold. Of course I would know the ending – it was there painted masterfully by Foster’s talented pen. The tale of Calphais and the Demon Malchance by John Shirley was a bit of a harder read in that it was especially painful. Another very descriptive author, Shirley had me squirming with graphic tales of intensely excruciating pain inflicted by a jealous demon upon a faith-filled human with a pure soul. Mal de Mer by Robert Dunbar was a bit of a mystery to me. I may be wrong here, but I believe that there is a dual meaning behind this story…that the young woman may actually be…nah, I don’t want to ruin it for you! Charles Richard Laing’s Welcome Wagon may take up less than half of a page, but it is no less enjoyable than the tales that take up multiple pages. I actually found myself laughing sinisterly at the end.
Folly by C.J. Henderson bothered me a tad. It’s a thinking man’s fiction to say the least, but I found myself growing annoyed as I read it. Then again, the author was able to make me feel the characters’ increasing frustration at the futility of their mission, so I guess it was at least a little successful. I can honestly say that I could have passed on this tale and not felt as if I had missed much. The Wind by Edward Willett brought back memories of another ghostly tale by none other than Edgar Allen Poe, entitled The Tell-Tale Heart. At first you feel some sympathy toward this man who, once happily married and at home in his childhood home, finds himself alone, his wife gone and his house seemingly working against him. Sympathy, that is, until you discover just why the house seems to be falling apart around him. Out of the Light by Douglas Smith is a creature-hunter tale that kept me guessing until the very last paragraphs. I was on edge throughout the whole story! I found Paradigm Wash: A Cassie Barrett Story: Part II, by Ann K. Schwader to be a tad boring and very predictable. I was actually happy when the story ended and I could move on to the rest of the magazine. The final dark fiction piece, Thomas Breunig’s The Strange Death of a Stranger, was a bit unsettling – especially for someone who has often seen some rather strange things on subway train rides. Although the story is fairly short, I found myself so deeply entrenched that I was actually yelling at the main character for his mistake of entering the bar. If I tell you more, I’ll spoil the story, but just know that you will definitely enjoy this one. As always, the artwork accompanying each tale is exquisite, whetting the appetite without ever revealing too much of the story.
In reading the interview with Jack Ketchum, I discovered a similarity to the author. Although I can write reviews no matter what is going on around me, writing fiction can only be done when I am in complete solitude. I love that Ketchum uses childhood fears when writing his novels. Those same childhood fears will elicit spine-tingling chills in adult readers. Needless to say, I found the interview with Jack Ketchum to be very informative.
This issue’s Film Vault discussion was about The Jacket, starring Adrien Brody and Keira Knightly. This pleased me because I had wondered about this movie for some time. The previews for the film were rather vague and I could never put my finger on what the film was about. I think the best review came from Jeff Edwards who was so analytical about the whole thing that he could actually cite the “minute-marks” at which certain tell-tale imagery takes place throughout the movie. However, I did enjoy reading the differing opinions by each of the three Film Vault participants, each of whom in their own way has persuaded me to make The Jacket a part of my rental list.
The subject of Strange Happenings, Captain John Stone’s Haunted Inn, was no surprise to me. In fact, I had actually watched a television show (I can’t remember which one) about the strange events that take place on a daily basis in the “haunted” inn located in Ashland, Maryland. I had even heard of the bloody dress located in the attic of the inn. As always, I was happy to see that there were a great many pictures to accompany the story – the inn’s exterior in various angles, the interior, and even one shot of the dress, the subject of many a haunted tale.
This issue’s Writer At Large was interesting. In this edition, Richard A. Lupoff states that one should not set out to be a missionary when telling a tale. In other words, your story does not have to teach a lesson to its readers in order to be great. Now, while I agree that many a good read has been life-lesson-lacking, I have read quite a few excellent novels in which an important lesson is taught in a rather subtle way. That being said, I have read a few novels in which that lesson is annoyingly pounded into one’s psyche. So, I guess I can both agree and disagree with Lupoff’s statements in this article. Best quote from the article is one supplied by Edward Elmer Smith: “Here’s my formula for anyone who wants to be a writer: Apply seat of pants to seat of chair and write!”
Whispers From the Librarian was basically an in depth review of the novel, The Terror by Dan Simmons complete with a history of actual events surrounding those fictional ones that take place in the novel. I’m not complaining – it actually made me want to read the book! This was followed by reviews of ghost stories, werewolf tales, and vampires (a close look will reveal that one such review was penned by yours truly – special thanks to the staff of Dark Wisdom for that). I especially enjoyed the Rare Archives section which focused on The Ghost Ship and Other Stories by Richard Middleton. I find it sad that he found so little by way of recognition for his writing until after his suicide. How unfortunate that many an artists’ works go unappreciated until after they are gone.
The Wickedly Entertaining section of Issue # 11 contained a review of Sjofn, a Nordic folk music album, which somewhat surprised me as it seemed a tad out of place with the other items reviewed in this issue – one horror film and two collections of horror films. One such collection, Grindhouse, was reviewed for G-POP.net by Ismael Manzano and I can see that the author of the review John C. Hay shares Ismael Manzano’s views of the film collection.
Once again, the powers that be at Dark Wisdom have put forth a thoroughly entertaining issue from cover to cover. I can’t wait until the next issue finds its way into my mailbox. My only regret is that the magazine is only published quarterly. This just means I have to wait that much longer to get my Dark Wisdom fix!