Arcane: Penny Dreadfuls for the 21st Century Issue #1
edited by Nathan Shumate
Cold Fusion Media Empire (2011)
Available via: Amazon
There is a new dog in the hunt for short horror fiction and its name is Arcane. I finally got a chance to read the inaugural issue, which was made available in late spring. With a subtitle of Penny Dreadfuls for the 21st Century, the tone is made readily apparent, which is a welcome change over some of the ambiguous titles of magazines and other short fiction markets.
Issue #1 contains a brief introduction by its editor, Nathan Shumate, as he lays out the format of the book is irrelevant compared to the subject matter. From there, readers are treated to twelve short stories from various authors. Rather than long established authors, Arcane features new voices, up-and-coming and a couple brand spanking new. As for the horror, there's a hodgepodge of styles and intensity. Where one story holds nothing back and reveals a visceral scene, another story takes a more lighthearted approach even revealing the absurdity of the situation.
When it comes to the more visceral side of things, there's Stephen Hill's "Laundry Night" with its shadowy laundry room in the lower ranks of a condominium. It's not a splatter-fest, but it's one of the more--if not the most--graphic stories in the collection. For lighter fare, there's Tom Wortman's "Dear Management", which is told via memos from a new employee to his superiors as he contends with a foul stench in his office. Most stories, however, offer a creepy vibe with varying levels of suspense and intrigue. A couple of my favorites come from Amanda C. Davis, whose "Courting the Queen of Sheba" offers a historical piece set in the early 20th century as a traveling carnival--I'm a sucker for stories involving carnivals and sideshows--and its latest attraction, a mummified corpse heralded as The Queen of Sheba. Another especially enjoyable story was S.M Williams' "Ricky and the Elder Gods", which offered two points of view in nearly real time, as one character hunts the other only to have the tables turned midway through the tale.
Like any periodical, it's a matter of hit-or-miss as you read each story, some resonating more than others, and invariably coming across one or more that fall flat. It's the nature of the short story collection. For an upstart magazine like Arcane, it's nice to see one more home for the pulpy goodness that comes from speculative fiction. There's a nostalgic quality to some of the stories, while others offer a taste of the present. While there isn't anything within its pages I would say advances the horror genre, the authors highlighted show that they are deftly carving out their own niche with some entertaining spine-tinglers.