The Uncanny Cabinet of Curiosities

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In 2014, the editors of Uncanny Magazine told us about the (fictional) history of the publication, starting with its pulp magazine origins in the 1930s. Then in 2015, they shared the (probably fictional) future history of the magazine, traveling a million years into the future. Today they’re getting down to brass tacks, explaining what it’s really like working at an award-winning science fiction and fantasy magazine known for its literary quality and Space Unicorn mascot.

The curator ran their fingers over their newest acquisition—an uncanny cabinet of curiosities. A gorgeous work of many makers, the cabinet mixed ebony, oak, tiger maple, and mahogany—holding a cacophony of decorated drawers covered with gemstones, ivory, marble, bone, pewter, tortoiseshell, painted stone, enamel, and brass. The artwork of each drawer told its own story—unicorns, wolves, and jaguars travelling through forests and fields, or even amongst the stars. Though the cabinet of curiosities wasn’t outwardly particularly large, the curator marveled at the number of drawers and their contents. It was as if the uncanny cabinet was bigger on the inside and contained universes.

They slowly, carefully slid open a drawer. Would it be a fossil? A vial? What treasure existed within?

They withdrew a catalog of storms beaten into brass hinges, and read.

 

A Felrag: the summer wind that turns the water green first, then churns up dark clouds into fists. Not deadly, usually, but good to warn the boats.

A Browtic: rising heat from below that drives the rats and snakes from underground before they roast there. The streets swirl with them, they bite and bite until the browtic cools. Make sure all babies are well and high.

A Neap-Change: the forgotten tide that’s neither low nor high, the calmest of waters, when what rests in the deeps slowly slither forth. A silent storm that looks nothing like a storm. It looks like calm and moonlight on water, but then people go missing.

(From “A Catalog of Storms” by Fran Wilde, Uncanny Magazine #26)

 

The curator quickly returned the catalog, afraid of its power.

They slid open the next drawer. Laying on a nest of feathers was an intricate lighthouse carved in Lake Superior agate. As they lifted it, it pulsed with power, and a light projected words on the museum’s gray wall.

 

But the ships deserved not to run into the rocks, even if Val didn’t expect anything much of the world or the people in it. The new things coming out of the lake often came in the dark, and they couldn’t all see in it, and some of them—some few—deserved a light to crawl by. And where they would find another lighthouse keeper this late in the age of the world, Val could not begin to guess.

One fall afternoon, when the chill had bitten into the wind but the ice had not yet glossed even the small lake, much less the edges of the big one, a very small boat put in at the lighthouse pier. Val did not see it at first—fall meant longer nights tending to the light and more tasks to stock the lighthouse for winter. So instead of seeing the boat, she saw, at the very first, a pair of boots as she came out of the forest with her arms full of wood.

(From “The Thing, With Feathers” by Marissa Lingen, Uncanny Magazine #26)

 

The curator craved to know more, but there were so many drawers left in the uncanny cabinet. Their task was to check everything. They opened the next one and were greeted by very familiar objects– brushes and paint tubes jumbled with a rolled canvas. They unrolled the painting, and under the odd portrait, were words.

 

The lakeside painter is lying, but no one seems to care.

It’s a beautiful lie, even Elodie will admit that. There are two lovers on the pier with the painter, sitting for their portrait, and she’s honest about the way the light of the setting sun catches their hair, the way the breeze ripples their clothes, how they lean into each other. She gets so many details right that even Elodie doesn’t notice what’s missing at first.

The painter has left the lovers’ faces blank. She’s glossed over the tension in their shoulders. She’s included the families in the distance, trying to have a carefree night by the lake, but she didn’t include the long cracks in the ground.

Or the uprooted plants. Or the fallen lamp posts.

(From “Before the World Crumbles Away” by A. T. Greenblatt, Uncanny Magazine #28)

 

They felt the world’s sadness from the painting. After a moment, they opened a similar adjacent drawer. The curator made an audible, “oh,” in surprise, as it only contained an ordinary, but stylish, longchamp bag. As they opened it, though, they smelled bus fumes mixed with flowers. They pulled out a sheet of paper, and read.

 

Her face is a perfect oval. Thick brown lashes frame brown eyes that are neatly rimmed by dark brown eyeliner. She’s beautiful for sure, but what gets me is her fingernails. They’re cut short with just a centimeter of whites showing, filed smooth, and clean. Her cuticles speak to me of someone well cared for and well loved, someone not so stressed and worried and messed up that they’ve chewed their own away. She looks as if she’s stepped out of another world. In my mind I spin out a cozy, middle-class life for her where nothing bad has ever happened—the kind you see in old sitcoms. I imagine her as delicate, but not because she’s weak, just inexperienced. And I imagine putting her head against my chest and holding her as she discovers how cruel life really is.

(From “A Catalog of Love at First Sight” by Brit E. B. Hvide, Uncanny Magazine #28)

 

The curator hadn’t noticed the next drawer until they had already pulled it open. It seemed to have somehow just appeared, but also had always been there and opened. They wanted to slam it shut as soon as they looked at the contents– a mummified monkey’s paw. Still, curiosity won out and they read an attached tag.

 

An employee with dark circles under her eyes struggles to maneuver around shoppers to restock the shelves.

“Busy day, huh?” I worked retail in college, so I have sympathy.

“Yeah.”

“Must be nice, though, working around all this magic?”

She doesn’t even pause to look at me. “I make minimum wage. I work through most of my breaks. They cheat me on overtime.”

Ah, yes, I remember that. “But you get a good employee discount?”

Now she gives me a stare that could burn my cheeks with frostbite. She forces out a “Yeah.”

“So, what’s the price on these monkey paws?”

“The price is a world without monkeys.”

(From “Big Box” by Greg van Eekhout, Uncanny Magazine #29)

 

The curator opened drawer after drawer filled with daggers, rings, sheet music, magician’s hats, and hundreds of strange and wondrous objects. They were immensely happy with this uncanny cabinet of curiosities. But still, they wanted more.

 

 * * *

As editors, we love putting together an Uncanny cabinet of curiosities every issue for our readers. The readers make Uncanny possible. We wouldn’t have been able to publish all of these stories, and many more, without the generosity of our previous Kickstarter backers.

We’re currently running the Uncanny Magazine Year 6: Raise the Roof, Raise the Rates! Kickstarter. Our hope is to bring readers a sixth year of the three-time Hugo Award-winning Uncanny Magazine. We want to share more stunning cover art, passionate science fiction and fantasy fiction and poetry, gorgeous prose, and provocative nonfiction by writers from every conceivable background. Not to mention a fantastic award-winning podcast featuring exclusive content.

Many magazines have recently closed, but we want Uncanny to continue. We still feel what we do is important. And hopefully, we will reach all of our stretch goals and be able to pay our creators and staff a little bit more.

Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas are the Publishers and Editors-in-Chief of the three-time Hugo Award-winning Uncanny Magazine. Seven-time Hugo Award-winner Lynne M. Thomas was the Editor-in-Chief of Apex Magazine (2011-2013), and co-edited the Hugo Award-winning Chicks Dig Time Lords (with Tara O’Shea), Whedonistas (with Deborah Stanish), and Chicks Dig Comics (with Sigrid Ellis). Along with being a four-time Hugo Award winner, Michael Damian Thomas was the former Managing Editor of Apex Magazine (2012-2013), co-edited the Hugo Award-finalist Queers Dig Time Lords (with Sigrid Ellis), and co-edited Glitter & Mayhem (with John Klima and Lynne M. Thomas). Together, Lynne and Michael won the Best Editor—Short Form Hugo Award in 2018. Also, they solve mysteries.

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