Wednesday, October 17, 2012

LAUNCH REVIEW: Nightmare #1

Fans of Lightspeed rejoice, for editor John Joseph Adams has launched a new horror and dark fantasy magazine that, well, looks and feels a lot like Lightspeed. For the uninitiated, Lightspeed is a relative newcomer to the world of SF/F short fiction, but one that has quickly risen to the top of the heap. Its success is attributable to: 1) a simple, professional delivery model (online and via inexpensive, well-made ebooks); 2) interviews and/or biographical sketches about the authors in addition to fiction and non-fiction features; and, most importantly, 3) consistently high-quality stories.

Nightmare replicates #1 and #2, and I hope that, in a year's time, I'll be able to say it replicates #3 as well. The debut issue hints at the possibility, but also highlights why it may be a more difficult task in horror than SF/F.

The opening story, Jonathan Maberry's "Property Condemned: A Story of Pine Deep,” is a haunted house story that attempts to replicate the coming-of-age nostalgia of the Stephen King classic The Body/Stand By Me. Though Maberry is a good writer, the story feels clunky, dated and not all that scary. Next up is Laird Barron's "Frontier Death Song," in which an unnamed protagonist finds himself the quarry for the Wild Hunt. I thought it was nicely paced, but again, I didn't find it all that scary or horrifying. 

The third story, Genevieve Valentine's "Good Fences," is my favorite--the tale of a man suffering from insomnia who suspects a horrible crime has been committed. Valentine's terse writing matches the Hitchcock-like premise beautifully. Finally, there's "Afterlife" by Sarah Langan, which I also liked. It's ostensibly a ghost story, but like the best short genre fiction, is really about relatable, real-life problems--in this case, the dysfunctional relationship between a daughter and her overbearing, hoarder mother.

All in all, the debut issue was, for me, a bit uneven. That said, it's hard not to have faith in Adams and his track record. Over the long-term, I expect Nightmare to deliver consistent quality. If anything, the problems in the debut issue probably have more to do with structural differences between the horror/dark fantasy and SF/F genres. Unlike SF/F, there really isn't the same kind of established market for short horror fiction--and by that I mean short SF/F's relatively large readership pool, consequently large pool of established and aspiring authors, institutional awards, and so on. While there are some great short-form horror writers, great dark stories in magazines like Shimmer, and certainly a lot of interest at the moment in vampires, ghosts, werewolves, zombies, etc.--I feel that Nightmare, as a consequence of these different market dynamics, represents more of a challenge for Adams than Lightspeed or Fantasy before it. That is, to expand a small market rather than rise to the top of a relatively large one. I wouldn't bet against him.