Friday, August 19, 2011

Arcane, Penny Dreadfuls for the 21st Century - Issue 1

Issue 1
The review is based on a bought copy of the magazine

For a period of time I drifted away from the short form of fiction, although I did enjoy it a lot before. As a matter of fact, plenty of the authors I favor today have been discovered through their short stories. After this period of time however I rediscovered the pleasure of reading short fiction and came back to it with renewed force. In one of my wanderings through the Internet in search of short fiction I stumbled upon a link that led me to the Arcane Magazine’s website. At that time I didn’t find much time to spend on the respective website though, but luckily the inspiration made me bookmarked it. And later on I thanked my inspiration, because I did come back and picked a copy of the first issue for a reading session.

“Hazards” by Justin Pollock – The narrator relates the strange events surrounding one of his attempts to help the passengers of a car pulled on the side of the road, with its hazards on. Told in the first person the story reveals a rather uncertain character, too eager to prove himself a good citizen, unsteady in his recounting and struggling for words on some descriptions. It gives him personality, but not a very sympathetic one. The main feature of “Hazards” doesn’t bring anything new or original, I’ve encountered the same idea in a form or another in a few occasions before. It is true that brings into attention some of the present social realities, but doesn’t save the story too much. Justin Pollock’s story being quite short it is suitable for a relaxed coffee break.

“Darnell Behind Glass” by Jeff Crook – Darnell Charles, who runs his small gas station and convenience store, finds in the hard way that the bums who frequent his business are more than what meets the eye. It is a character driven story, centered on Darnell Charles, a character successfully build by Jeff Crook. The atmosphere grows around the main character, as the plot gains momentum. Some of these elements reminded me, in the good way, of “The Sixth Sense” movie. The final touches of the plot are hinted in the beginning of “Darnell Behind Glass” and the finale comes with a philosophical conclusion. Overall, a well executed story.

“The Mine” by Jason V. Shayer – Two young men go to the local mine in hope of seeing some dead bodies, after one of them hears of a supposed gunfight between the local Sheriff and some outlaws hiding in the old mine. A western story backed by language, with a particular touch sustained by tension and atmosphere. Once Owen and Matt, the two young men in search of a thrill, step inside the mine I didn’t know what to expect next, Jason V. Shayer succeeding in keeping the tension at a high level. There are few surprises along the way and the story doesn’t end without a final, quite interesting twist.

“Ricky and the Elder Gods” by S.M. Williams – Ricky helps two elderly gods pickup people in their quest towards a special place and for a mysterious ritual only to find an unexpected obstacle at the last one. S.M. Williams offers a rhythmically balanced story, featuring mysterious books, secret societies and two elder gods with plenty of action scenes to keep it interesting. The end was a bit disappointing for me, because although it implies to future terrifying moments the reasons behind the story rivalry and the implied course of actions are ambiguous. Otherwise “Ricky and the Elder Gods” is a fast paced, entertaining story.

“Gingerbread and Ashes” by Jaelithe Ingold – When his sister disappears, Hansel goes back to the house of his notorious childhood tale, now found in a state of decaying, in search for her. It is one of the strongest stories of the debut issue of Arcane Magazine, if not the strongest. Jaelithe Ingold doesn’t reinterpret the Grim Brothers’ story, but follows its main characters long after it, at their elder age. I love it because it implies to some of the consequences that can result from the known fairy tale, because of its deep psychological aspects and because it centers on some human behavior and desires that are certainly more terrifying than any monster that can be spawned by the mind. Subtle and disturbing it also leaves a small sad feeling behind it.

“Dear Management” by Tom Wortman – A company’s new employee finds himself bothered by a strange smell in his new office and decides to investigate its provenience, only to discover a source as surprising as it is horrifying. The story is related through a series of letters that the new employed writes to the management of the company that offered him his job. It is an interesting choice for recounting the events of the story, although it might seem a bit misplaced in case of a couple of letters. There are also a few letters that seem repetitive and doesn’t help the story to advance. But it is a story that captures the attention of the reader, gathers momentum along its course for its climax and also comes with a humorous and light tone in some places.

“In the Place Where the Tree Falleth” by Michael Lutz – Henry Cudder is a bible salesman and he tries to make a last sale to the owners of a house surrounded by a strange looking gatherings of trees. Michael Lutz’s story is another personal favorite of mine from the current issue of Arcane Magazine. It has very good atmosphere, kept all the way to the final sentences. Every step, from the first word to the last, the atmosphere is filled with a strange and eerie sensation, leading to some uncomfortable moments as much for the story’s main character as for the reader. “In the Place Where the Tree Falleth” doesn’t reveal all of its mystery, insinuates aplenty, but in equal measure leaves the mind of each reader to take charge.

“Laundry Night” by Stephen Hill – Rita discovers that some of the clothes washed in the dryer room tend to disappear. One night Rita will discover the source behind these disappearances. I failed to engage with Stephen Hill’s story on any level. Actually, there was one aspect that did engage me, but in the end it was heavily underlined by the rest of the outcome. No terror or discomfort can result from such an ordinary source of meal, more so when it touches the disgusting. Not the disgusting or grotesque elements of horror, but of the unpleasantness for the reader. The end is predictable and drawn too much on the moral side to do the story any good. It is a shame though, because the tensed beginning and the condition of Rita’s marriage offer “Laundry Night” a good start, abruptly slipping on the downside for me though.

“Hello Operator” by Donny Waagen – The story’s protagonist finds himself in an unfamiliar neighborhood at night, but when he reaches a phone booth for a much desired call he’ll find himself in a totally different situation. Donny Waagen offers a few tensed moments for his story, a claustrophobic feeling and a fitting end. The fact that this is his first sold story might reflect on a few comparisons that felt awkward for me, but there are plenty of good things to compensate those and to keep the reader hooked to “Hello Operator”.

“Courting the Queen of Sheba” by Amanda C. Davis – When their circus acquires a new showing exhibit some of its performers will have a problem on their hands. The story induces the reader in a past period of time, it is truly evocative of that time and doesn’t falter in keeping it present through its entire course. Still, the apparent danger that threats the characters of the story doesn’t seem to be very serious at any point. The tone is a little too relaxed for the danger to be felt. As a matter of fact, the story has a different tone than the rest of the entries in the first issue of Arcane Magazine, it feels more like a pulp adventure. But this is more in the favor of “Courting the Queen of Sheba” than not.

“A Requiem for Tarsenesia” by William Knight – Tarsenesia must protect itself from the lurking monsters outside its gates through music. But when the master luthier Marcus finds trouble inside the city walls his daughter, Ishtra, discovers that Tarsenesia isn’t exactly the safe heaven it appears to be. William Knight creates a fantastic setting for his story and Tarsenesia is one of the main points of attraction for “A Requiem for Tarsenesia”. The setting is fantastical, but the conflict is not. It can be found throughout the history of the world or in the everyday life, but the fantastic setting takes it out of the ordinary and gives it strength. And as dangerous as it is the outside menace for Tarsenesia, it isn’t matched by the one born from the shake of hands between the sacred and profane when one part’s interest demands it. “A Requiem for Tarsenesia” is a tale of revenge, with a tint of poetical justice, and in the end the act of vengeance is as rewarding as it is cruel.

“The Hole” by Rob Errera – A hole deep in the ocean floor rises on land once the earth changes while it exercises its influence on everything that surrounds it. I am not exactly sure what to make of this story, but the truth is that it kept me reading until the end. It is also true that the humans in the story don’t behave in the most encouraging way, but that makes the story interesting. All in all “The Hole” is a nice way to draw the debut issue of Arcane Magazine to a close.

The short form of fiction struggles most of the times and I’ve seen at my time a good number of magazines dedicated to this form dying due to various reasons. “Arcane Magazine” is a new born and from the information I gathered it has a few difficulties standing on its feet. I believe that this piece of information is a sad thing to be learned, because although the first issue cannot be named a perfect start, “Arcane, Penny Dreadfuls for the 21st Century” offers plenty of quality fiction that would be a shame to see this magazine die after its first published appearance.


Bibliotropic said...

Good lord, that is one creepy cover!

I also hope the magazine can continue. A lot of new projects are shaky at first, but, well, that's what review blogs are for! You've already convinced me to buy a copy, at least!

Mihai A. said...

I must admit that I do love the cover :)
I love the magazine too and I hope you'll enjoy it as well. I will also buy the next issues if they'll come out :)