Deal Me In, Week 34 ~ “The N Auntie”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“The N Auntie” by Anne McCaffrey

Card picked: Eight of Hearts

From: David Copperfield’s Beyond Imagination

Review: Set in Ireland, during a minor outbreak of whooping cough presumably in the 1990s, Ciara and a group of other mothers discover a troubling trend. Children are dying of illnesses that they might recover from after a visit from a little old lady who passes herself off as a distant great-aunt. This great-aunt always takes an N name, like Nellie or Nora or Naomi. The N Auntie has been around for decades. The oldest member of their community, a woman in her nineties, remembers a visit from the same “aunt.” The women use some amateur detecting skills to figure out where the aunt will strike next and confront her.

The majority of this story lays out the background of the narrator and how this menacing old lady is discovered. There is a genuinely creepy aspect to this woman because she gains entrance into people’s lives through the trust we extend to family. (I’m reminded of when a distant cousin stopped to visit on his way through Nebraska. None of us had ever met him. He could have been nearly anybody!) Unfortunately, this story falls down at the end. As supernatural entities go, the N Auntie turns out to be rather mundane and dealing with her comes down to an accidental event. Considering some of the top bar writing I’ve encountered lately, this story was somewhat disappointing.

About the Author: Anne McCaffrey is one of the heavy-weights of fantasy literature with her Dragonriders of Pern series. Having said that, I will admit that I’ve never been much of a fan.

Deal Me In, Week 33 ~ “Alice, Falling”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“Alice, Falling” by Steven Millhauser

Card picked: Eight of Diamonds

From: The Barnum Museum (only one more story left in this anthology!)

Review: Confession time: Along with Peter and Wendy and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, I haven’t read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I seem to have skipped many of that era’s children’s literature in favor of Poe and Conan Doyle. What I know of Alice is, indeed, the Disney version.

Millhauser’s Alice falls with seemingly no hope of ever reaching a bottom. She falls past cupboards with raspberry jam and ginger beer. She falls past maps and mirrors and statues of cherubs. She wonders if she is falling toward adventure, or if she’s already taking part in the adventure, or if this is only a dream. And if it’s only a dream, is the Alice asleep by the lake while her sister reads (a book without pictures or conversations) any more real than the Alice that followed a white rabbit down a rabbit hole? And Millhauser subtly leads the reader to wonder if the Alice of the book is more real than the Alice that the story was told to and written down for.

This is the second to last story of The Barnum Museum and I think I’m going to miss Millhauser. At least until I pick up another of his anthologies.

Deal Me In, Week 32 ~ “Diamonds Aren’t Forever”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“Diamonds Aren’t Forever” by S. P. Somtow

Card picked: Five of Spades

From: David Copperfield’s Tales of the Impossible

Review: Marvin is a procurer of objets de’art visiting Thailand. Incongruously, Marvin’s very wealthy business partner has business somewhere else and leaves Marvin in the company of his wife, Midge. Nearly every day, a particular scene plays out. Midge loses a pair of very expensive earrings. She accuses the staff. She calls the police. The police find the staff innocent, and then Midge calls a shamaness of Shiva who manages to locate the earrings. This happens so often that the staff has the events down to a schedule.

Marvin sees opportunity in this diviner of lost things. Can she find the missing piece of a collection of tiles depicting Buddha? What about the Holy Grail? Or the Ark of the Covenant? But, as with any dealings with a god, there is a catch. Keeping the items relies on more than simply having them. After all, Midge can’t seems to keep those earrings around for more than a day or two…

“Diamonds Aren’t Forever” is solidly told, maybe one of the more complete short stories I’ve read in a while. Marvin is forced to really consider what he wants to find, and it isn’t just priceless artifacts.

About the Author: I was vaguely familiar with S. P. Somtow as a horror writer. Indeed, he was president of the HWA back around the time I was a member of that organization. I had no idea that he is Thai and also a musician/composer. If anything, these Copperfield anthologies (and Deal Me In) have more formerly introduced me to many multifaceted writers.

Deal Me In, Week 31 ~ “The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of” by Tad Williams

Card picked: Three of Hearts

From: David Copperfield’s Beyond Imagination

Review: For the first half of the year, I was a little disappointed that these David Copperfield edited anthologies didn’t have more stories with magician characters in them. It seemed that it was pretty much the “luck” of the draw. The last few stories have been enjoyably full of illusionists.

In Tad Williams’ “The Stuff that Dreams are Made Of,” Dalton Pinnard (aka Pinardo the Magnificent) is called upon to help the daughter of a deceased colleague. The story is told in a semi-hard-boiled style (soft-boiled?) with a touch of parody. You see, Charlie Helton died while practicing the Basket and Sabers trick. You know the one. A magician or his assistant scrunches into a wicker basket barely big enough to hold a person, then the magician (or his assistant) sticks sabers through the basket. After the sabers are pulled out, the magician (or his assistant) emerges unharmed. Only Charlie died while practicing this trick, alone, in a locked room. Was it murder? The reader says, “Of course!” The characters mainly ridiculously debate whether it was an accident or suicide. And somehow, this works giving what would be a fairly average locked room mystery a silly edge.

The magicians of this story are rather blue-collar. No big-time Las Vegas stages for them. Pinardo has been working birthday parties. Other magician’s questioned about Charlie’s “accident” are working nightclubs and children’s wards at hospitals. If you believe his stories, only Charlie Helton seems to have had a career, but that too might just be an illusion.

About the Author: Tad Williams is a fantasy author best known for his Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series. Though a mere three books, I’ve only read 1.5 of them, not due to the quality of the writing, but because I’m crap at reading series. In fact, Tad Williams is one of the few writers I’ve read where I’ve stopped after a paragraph and marveled at the beauty of the writing. “The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of” went down easy, but isn’t quite at that level.

Is This Your Card?

Though not a video of the saber & basket trick, it is somewhat apropos considering the parody nature of the story.

#COYER ~ Short Reviews of Short Works

And, they’re all free online! Yes, I know #COYER is supposed to be about cleaning out your ereader, but who doesn’t love free fiction?

“Abigail Abernathy: All-Night Analytical Engine Analyst” by T.R. Goodman

Cover via Goodreads

All Abigail Abernathy wants is a respectable job where she can put her knowledge of analytical engines to use. The Royel Trading Company of Bristol provides her with just such an opportunity, but not everyone is pleased to have her aboard. Between incompetent management, clients helpless beyond her imagination, and a disgruntled former analytical engine analyst who will stop at nothing to take back the job she unknowingly took from him, will her credulity, not to mention her sanity, be up to the task? It’s going to be a long night. (via Goodreads)

While I’m not much of a fan of the “improper” female Victorian character that spends time thinking about how improper she is, this was a fun story. This quick introductory tale is sort of what it might be like to be sys admin in a steampunk world.

“Abigail Abernathy: All-Night Analytical Engine Analyst” at Amazon

“The Rose of Fire” by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Cover via Goodreads

Set at the time of the Spanish Inquisition in the fifteenth century, “Rose of Fire” tells the story of the origins of the mysterious labyrinthine library, the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, which lies at the heart of Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s novels The Shadow of the Wind, The Angel’s Game, and now The Prisoner of Heaven. (via Goodreads)

Zafón’s Cemetery of Forgotten Books series has been on my TBR list for a while now. “The Rose of Fire” was written between the second and third books, but is a prequel of sorts for the whole series. It’s a nice slice of background and doesn’t require any knowledge from the other books. My only disappointment is that the file on my Kindle includes an excerpt from The Prisoner of Heaven and I was looking forward to the story being much longer than it was.

“The Rose of Fire” at Amazon

“Strigoi” by Lavie Tidhar

Cover via Goodreads

First published in Interzone #242, September 2012. Cover artist, Warwick Fraser-Coombe

Lavie Tidhar is another author I keep meaning to read more of due to intriguing concepts. “Strigoi” takes the concept of the Romanian vampire and the shambleau from C. L. Moore’s story of the same name and sends it into space. The story focuses on Carmel, the turned victim of a strigoi. She left earth to see the universe and returns to Central Station in search of fitting in somewhere. I really liked the mash up of science fiction and traditional supernatural elements, but the story seemed to lose focus near the end.

“Strigoi” at Lavie Tidhar’s website

COYER SUMMER VACATION

Magic Monday Review ~ Spirit Slate Writing and Kindred Phenomena

MagicMonday

I like Mondays. On Monday, I am refreshed from the weekend and exhilarated by the possibilities of the week ahead. I also like magic. I like its history, its intersection with technology, and its crafty use of human nature.  I figured I’d combine the two and make a Monday feature that is truly me: a little bit of magic and a look at the week ahead.

Spirit Slate Writing and Kindred Phenomena by William E. Robinson

Magicians and spiritualists have pretty much been at odds since the spiritualist movement began. Contrary to popular belief, Houdini wasn’t the first to butt heads with fraudulent mediums. Not even close. William E. Robinson’s Spirit Slate Writing and Kindred Phenomena was published in 1898 and it isn’t the first.

Before writing his treatise, Robinson (known later in his career as Chung Ling Soo) had dabbled in mediumistic performances. Notably, he was almost arrested in Chicago during the 1893 World’s Fair when his collaboration with magician Zanzic took a turn for the worse. They had built a sensational seance parlor with effects so realistic that it was impossible to convince sitters that no spirits were involved, not that Robinson or Zanzic were terribly interested in telling the truth. It was maybe a sense of guilt that later prompted the writing of Spirit Slate Writing, but more likely it was an opportunity to make a last little bit of money off some tricks that Robinson was no longer interested in.

The book covers various methods of slate writing and billet tests as well as some mentalism and a few more “magician” oriented tricks. The methods are broad, but not as in depth as David Abbott’s Behind the Scenes with the Mediums. That’s okay. Robinson’s text is much more accessible to a common reader.

There are occasions while reading this sort of book that I wonder if the author is putting me on. I know that part of magic is going to a ridiculous amount of effort for an effect, but… For example, there’s the Head Telegraph through which a confederate would signal the medium with answers to questions. The line ran to a device hidden in the mediums hair that would tap on her head in Morse code. This almost seems like a comedic parody method.

HeadTelegraph

SmallAce

What Am I Reading?

  • “Strigoi” by Lavie Tidhar – the third in a set of short works which I’ll review Thursday for #COYER
  • Continuing Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  • Started last week even though I’m in the middle of Great Expectations: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
  • “The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of” by Tad Williams for Deal Me In

On the Blog

I’m moving my review day to Thursdays (from Tuesdays) to even out my posting schedule. I’d also like to find a way of adding some posts related to Eric’s & my books, but I haven’t decided how to gracefully do that.

So, what are you reading? Any magic to share?

Deal Me In, Week 30 ~ “Rain”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“Rain” by Steven Millhauser

Card picked: Seven of Diamonds

From: The Barnum Museum

Review:

“Rain” is a short vignette. There’s not so much a plot as a series of what-happens-to Mr. Porter when he comes out of a movie theater to find it raining. I know I’ve said it before, but I love the visual quality of Millhauser’s writing. A rainy night in the city is a beautiful thing and it’s captured so well in this story. It is an interesting companion to “The Sepia Postcard” which was full of daytime rain in wash-out tones of white and gray.

Mr. Porter is a very plain man. He’s well-dressed. He has an okay car and a cat at home. And if his life isn’t worth anything, he might just melt in the rain.

Is This Your Card?

Now You See Me was my favorite movie of last summer. This clip introduces each of the Four Horsemen with a signature trick. I had kind of assumed that a little movie magic had been used to isolate the seven of diamonds, but actually it’s an easy trick. Well, aside from the use of a building in the reveal. In fact, unlike a few other scenes in the movie, each of these four tricks is within the realm of what can be done.

(This is a fairly PG-rated clip. You’ve been warned.)