Category Archives: Male Author

Reading Notes, 7/1/21

Finished Reading

The Reason for the Darkness of the Night: Edgar Allan Poe and the Forging of American Science by John Tresch

One of my favorite things about mid-19th/early 20th century fiction is the inclusion, even in works of “literary” fiction, of lots of science. Or rather, natural philosophy, as it was referred to during the period. Poe was no exception, but I hadn’t considered just how science-leaning much of his personal philosophy was. I’d read Peter Ackroyd’s Poe: A Life Cut Short back in 2019 when I was reading through my “unabridged” Poe collection, but Ackroyd’s book is a very basic telling of Poe’s life. The Reason for the Darkness is a biography specifically looking at Poe’s education (at UVA and West Point in mathematics and engineering) and other connections to the burgeoning science community in the United States.

Throughout his writing Poe was striving to find the system behind what makes a good and affecting piece of poetry or fiction. This wasn’t any different to him than trying to discern a system of the universe—which he had his own thoughts on. My “unabridged” collection doesn’t include Poe’s version of a grand unified theory: “Eureka” which is subtitled “An Essay on the Material and Spiritual Universe.” In the way of an imaginative 19th-century man-of-science, some of Poe’s ideas in “Eureka” seem to foretell later theories in astrophysics and quantum physics. “Eureka” was presented and published the year before his death, to generally unfavorable reviews from both the literary and scientific communities. Poe seemed to consider it his master work, though perhaps he always considered his last work his master work.

All in all, I really enjoyed The Reason for the Darkness of the Night, bot as a Poe biography and as a history of science in the United States.

Book #4 for 20 Books of Summer!

Currently Reading

#Trekathon kicks off today! I’m starting out with Zhiguai: Chinese True Tales of the Paranormal and Glitches in the Matrix by Yi Izzy Yu & John Yu Branscum (Translators and Editors). This will fulfill my “a book either set somewhere you’ve never been” prompt and beam up Scotty. Still reading a chapter-a-day of Heretics of Dune by Frank Herbert and Green Shadows, White Whale by Ray Bradbury.


Review ~ The Hypno-Ripper

This book was provided to me by the editor in exchange for an honest review.

The Hypno-Ripper: Or, Jack the Hypnotically Controlled Ripper; Containing Two Victorian Era Tales Dealing with Jack the Ripper and Hypnotism, edited by Donald K. Hartman

This is the second anthology in a series looking at the use of hypnotism as a fiction device in Victorian/Edwardian fiction. I reviewed the first volume, Death by Suggestion, back in 2019. (Which, yes, seems like a decade ago…)

As the extended title says, The Hypno-Ripper includes two tales, one on the longer end for a novella, the other on the longer side for a short story: The Whitechapel Mystery by Dr. N. T. Oliver and The Whitechapel Horror by “Charles Kowlder.”

Most of the stories in Hartman’s first anthology were mystery/crime stories in which hypnosis was often used to control someone into committing a horrible act, rather than as an information gathering device (as I would have expected). The Whitechapel Mystery (and Horror) are no different.

The protagonist of Mystery, an American detective investigating a bank robbery in New York, falls under the influence of nefarious Dr. Westinghouse. He follows Westinghouse back to London and they (maybe together, maybe only under Westinghouse’s influence) perpetrate the Jack the Ripper murders. That the tale starts in New York and involves an American is interesting; this might be because the author is American. The last fourth of book, in fact, is a biography of Dr. N. T. Oliver, or as he was more commonly known, Edward Oliver Tilburn. Tilburn is quite a character and his life as a con man is well worth the time. Oliver/Tilburn’s writing starts a little dry. The bank robbery stuff goes on a little long. In the style of news coverage of the time, the telling of the Ripper’s crimes gets pretty lurid.

The premise of The Whitechapel Horror is nearly the same. This time our protagonist is Charles Kowlder, an American who goes to London and, while there, has a mental breakdown. Kowlder self-hypnotizes into being a maybe partial/maybe full participant in the Ripper murders. This story is much shorter; it made the rounds of newspaper syndication under the guise of an unknown author. Hartman conjectures that Tilburn might also be the author of this piece as well. It would not be beyond Tilburn to self-plagiarize and publish this anonymously. I think it’s just as likely that, in the wild-and-wahoo world of 19th century copyright law, another writer could have adapted the longer work and pawned it off on newspapers wanting a sensational tale.

In writing quality, I wouldn’t say that either of these stories is particularly outstanding for the era. They are worthwhile for their subject matter, both as tales of hypnotism and as Jack the Ripper fiction that is contemporaneous to the events. If you’re a fan of Victoriana, do check it out.

Reading Notes, 6/10/21

Finished Reading

God Emperor of Dune by Frank Herbert

According to my blog archive, I finished my first reading of Children of Dune in 2006. I then tried to read God Emperor of Dune. Eric had warned me that it was a tough read. I don’t know when I gave up on it, but it made a reappearance on my 2011 TBR. I don’t think I ever got to it in 2011. Around the internet, the general advisement for God Emperor was, read the Wikipedia entry and the Fandom article and move on. When I set up my Dune “challenge” for this year, I allotted one month each for the first three books (these were rereads) and two months each for the last three. Which meant that I needed to finish God Emperor around the end of May. I decided that if I didn’t finish it by then, I’d give in and read the summaries. I planned a chapter a day; classic “eating the elephant” strategy. And it worked! So, fifteen years after my first try:

God Emperor of Dune is sort of an awkward book. Without delving into too much research about the matter, it feels like Frank Herbert had a good idea for the first three books, which were marketed as a trilogy at the time. The books were successful and Herbert had more ideas—why not write more Dune books? Well, the next phase of the story really required some set up. More set up than could be handled in exposition. So, God Emperor ends up being this weird bridge book. All the characters that you’ve come to know in the first three books are gone or very changed. Except for Duncan Idaho, who has really been more of a background character until now. Things happen, there are some important events that set up Heretics of Dune, but there is also a lot of philosophy and a lot of people scheming in rooms to not much avail.

I’m glad I got through it, but I probably didn’t gain a huge amount by reading the book instead of reading the summaries.

All the Flavors by Ken Liu

All the Flavors was a novella originally published by GigaNotoSaurus. I ended up with a copy of it on my Kindle and, while cataloging titles, I decided to impulse read it. I haven’t read much of Ken Liu’s works though The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories is very well regarded among people I know.

This story is subtitled “A Tale of Guan Yu, the Chinese God of War, in America.” It’s sort of a take on the Yellow Peril stories that became a thing in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in America. Based on history, somewhat, it involves Chinese workers in Idaho. Very good; I liked it a lot. Also, my first Book of Summer!

Currently Reading

  • The Hypno-Ripper: Or, Jack the Hypnotically Controlled Ripper; Containing Two Victorian Era Tales Dealing with Jack the Ripper and Hypnotism, edited by Donald K. Hartman – So far, it’s a little slow. To be fair, Hartman warns of this.
  • Heretics of Dune by Frank Herbert – I’m reading a chapter a day.
  • Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity by Ray Bradbury – A book I keep mis-titling. Reading an essay or so a day.

Reading Challenge Check-In

The Classics Club
Goal: 10 Books by 12/14/21
Progress: 5/10
✅ Read Mosses from an Old Manse by Nathanial Hawethorn

#ShelfLove
Goal: Abstain from acquiring books; read at least 21 books from my shelves.
Progress: 1 pre-order, 3 free books, 2 very cheap books, 4 ARC/review copies; 5/21+
⭕ On one hand, I’ve read a few of my own books. On the other, I’ve still acquired a few too many ARCs/review copies…

I Read Horror Year-Round
Goal: Read 6 books from 6 categories.
Progress: 2/6
⭕ No progress here at the moment, yet I don’t feel behind.

Nonfiction
Goal: Read at least 30% nonfiction.
Progress: Currently 35%
✅ Back up after The Haunting of Alma Fielding and finishing up some nonfiction “morning” books.


Reading Notes, 6/3/21

Finished Reading

The Haunting of Alma Fielding: A True Ghost Story by Kate Summerscale

Heard about this book from What’s Nonfiction’s fabulous blog.

I’ve read quite a few books about magicians and, tangentially, spiritualism due to the vocation of many magicians to debunk (or, alternatively, learn from) mediums. As a skeptic myself, I find mediumship curious. So much of it is a con, but there is also often an aspect of self-delusion. Even magicians who have done mind-reading or séance type acts—professionals who know they are not communing with spirits or guides—have reported the feeling of working beyond what they’re capable of. But they also realize that this is a feeling and not reality.

The Haunting of Alma Fielding begins in 1938 when a normal British housewife begins to be harassed by poltergeist activity. Nandor Fodor, a “ghost hunter” for the International Institute for Psychical Research, investigates. Fodor believes in psychic phenomena, but he wants badly to have scientific proof of it. When we begin this story, he’s in some hot water with the IIPR because he has, disappointingly, proved several mediums to be frauds. He is desperate to find a true case of a haunting, but has also begun to theorized that these poltergeists might be manifestations (still psychic in nature) of trauma. As Alma begins to get attention, from the press and the IIPR, the poltergeist activity shifts to being apports (manifested objects) and mediumship, things that Fodor wants to see of her. There is an interplay between the expectations of Alma and Fodor. Their relationship becomes maybe too co-dependent. And Fodor eventually finds out that Alma isn’t as simple as she seems. This is all against the backdrop of a Britain under increasing pressure as WWII become immanent. Summerscale mentions that there was an increase in news-worthy cases of poltergeist activity during this era, which is a interesting detail.

At times, the book was maybe a little repetitive and there were a few too many a names. I had a tough time remembering who everyone was after putting the book down for a day or two. For me, this is a good addition to my framework of magic and spiritualism. It brought me further into the 20th century than my usual reading.

Mosses from an Old Manse by Nathaniel Hawthorne

This was my May Classics Club Spin book, which I did finish in May. Barely.

I forget sometimes that Hawthorne, Melville, and Poe were contemporaries. What wonderful dinner parties those would be… Anyway. Like Poe, I’m not a fan of Hawthorne’s straight-up allegories. We’ve talked about this before when I touched on “Egotism; or, The Bosom-Serpent” during Deal Me In. To me, the only way a writer should present allegory is if they can do it with a level of actual story. So, a few of the stories in Mosses (“The Celestial Rail-road ” & “The Procession of Life”) were rather torturous for me to get through. But so many others are such wonderful, if cynical, stories. I’m still a Hawthorne neophyte, so I’m still surprised by the very dim view Hawthorne takes of humankind. I’m not used to that from authors. Ironically, while I am not a fan of allegory, I am a fan of speculative fiction genres and the two go hand in hand, especially in the pre-pulp days. “Young Goodman Brown” and “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” and even “Feathertop” and “Egotism; or, The Bosom-Serpent” have gooey horror fiction cores.

Deal Me In

4♠️ – “The Cold Embrace” by Mary E. Braddon
Speaking of early horror fiction… Ever read a story where you say, “Oh, you naive boy. You don’t know what kind of story you’re in”? Yeah, I did that here and enjoyed every second of our main character’s comeuppance.

Currently Reading

Started on my summer reading and then was quickly sidetracked my an impulse read, All the Flavors by Ken Liu, while I was cataloging the books on my Kindle. Next up is The Hypno-Ripper: Or, Jack the Hypnotically Controlled Ripper; Containing Two Victorian Era Tales Dealing with Jack the Ripper and Hypnotism, edited by Donald K Hartman and then back to Journey to the Center of the Earth.


Review ~ A Master of Djinn

An advanced reading copy of A Master of Djinn was provided to me by Macmillan-Tor/Forge via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark

Cairo, 1912: Though Fatma el-Sha’arawi is the youngest woman working for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities, she’s certainly not a rookie, especially after preventing the destruction of the universe last summer.

So when someone murders a secret brotherhood dedicated to one of the most famous men in history, al-Jahiz, Agent Fatma is called onto the case. Al-Jahiz transformed the world 50 years ago when he opened up the veil between the magical and mundane realms, before vanishing into the unknown. This murderer claims to be al-Jahiz, returned to condemn the modern age for its social oppressions. His dangerous magical abilities instigate unrest in the streets of Cairo that threaten to spill over onto the global stage.

Alongside her Ministry colleagues and her clever girlfriend Siti, Agent Fatma must unravel the mystery behind this imposter to restore peace to the city—or face the possibility he could be exactly who he seems…

Summary via Goodreads

When I reviewed The Haunting of Tram Car 015 last year, I stated that I would definitely be willing to spend more time in Clark’s supernatural/steampunk Cairo. I didn’t realize at the time that a novel was forthcoming!

A Master of Djinn scores high in my three fields of “what makes enjoyable fiction according to Katherine”: setting, characters, and plot.

Obviously, I think very highly of the setting. I love the notion of steampunk, but I think it requires a light touch, especially when magic is also involved. Perhaps 1912 is a little late to be honest-to-goodness steampunk. We have, I suppose, entered the “cog age” by then. The magical elements end up giving the era a technological boost. I’m also a fan of mythical entities that don’t get a lot of play like djinn. (This is what led me to Clark’s fiction in the first place.)

Agent Fatma is possibly one of my favorite characters in fiction. She’s smart, tough, and has a very particular fashion sense. She’s also not perfect and knows when to ask for help, which is kind of important for an investigator. The supporting cast of character are fun and competent but also have their flaws.

The plot is a solid police procedural, though one with trips to djinn-run libraries and interviews with deity-touch informants. There are a few twist and turns (one of which I saw coming) and the conclusion is much bigger than the inciting incident, which is fine. There are of course themes of Fatma being a woman in a man’s world, though for the most part she’s proven herself. More vital to the plot is the casual hypocrisy that happens when an institution says “we’ve hired *a* woman; we’re progressive now!” and how that leads to people in power who believe that their society too is so progressive that there are no more problems of race or class. These aren’t issues that are harped on; Clark doesn’t preach at his reader. But these are issues that are in play and direct certain aspects of the story.

A Master of Djinn is set in the same world as Clark’s A Dead Djinn in Cairo, “The Angel of Khan el-Khalili,” and, aforementioned, The Haunting of Tram Car 015. While events from those plots are referenced and there are shared characters, they are not needed to enjoy A Master of Djinn. But then, I’ve read all of them, so it might be hard for me to tell. (The links above will take you to Tor.com where those stories are currently available for free. A no-risk taste, if you are still undecided.)

{Book} The Parasite

The Parasite

The Parasite by Arthur Conan Doyle

Mesmerism (or animal magnetism, or hypnosis) was quite the thing during the 19th century as scientists wildly conjecture about what was within its bounds of possibility. Writers of fiction took the chance to speculate as well. In fact, I reviewed an anthology of hypnosis-based crime stories just last century year. Arthur Conan Doyle (author of “The Refugees” and “Micah Clark,” as the title books title page reminded me) had his own hypnosis tale to tell.

The Parasite is written in diary-form by our narrator, Gilroy, a skeptic. Gilroy begins the novella thinking that hypnosis is just an entertainment based on deception. He is made a believer when Miss Penclosa, the celebrity hypnotist of the moment, puts his beloved fiancee in a trance and has her (briefly) call off the wedding. Gilroy changes gears and decides he’d like to study Miss Penclosa by being put into trances by her.

From the beginning, Gilroy assures the reader that Miss Penclosa, who has a crippled leg, is kind of creepy and not at all good-looking. He is absolutely not interested in her. But after a few sessions with her, he is strangely drawn to her. And soon, he’s experiencing periods of missing time. Obviously, Miss Penclosa is a very dangerous woman.

Gilroy talking about women, both his fiancee and Miss Penclosa, is a bit cringe-worthy in a late 19th century kind of way. Plot-wise, Doyle’s written better. Skip this one, read Richard Marsh’s The Beetle instead.


I read The Parasite during Readers Imbibing Peril and Something Wicked Fall. I also read it as a part of the Sherlockathon for the “The Scot” prompt and as part of my Classics Club list.

{Book} Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell

Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell

Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell by Paul Kane

“What up with all the Hellraiser?” my husband asked me the other day.

‘Tis the season, I guess.

I do rather like Hellraiser, the movie and the Clive Barker story, “Hellbound Heart,” that it’s based on. I believe I’ve watched the second in the series as well, but haven’t further followed the franchise. The mashup of Sherlock Holmes and Hellraiser lore seemed intriguing to me.

How much Hellraiser is in this novel? Quite a bit. This more than a wink-nudge-nod. I don’t think it’s explicitly necessary to be familiar with the movies or additional literature, but I did find the protracted mention of various Cenobites from other sources to be a little tedious.

Similarly, there are a lot of mentions and allusions to the extended Holmes universe, which I enjoyed more since I’m more familiar with that. I am a little leery of non-canon Holmes fiction, especially when it runs along the lines of “Sherlock Holmes Meets [insert famous historical/fictional character]”, but the conceit of Holmes being drawn to the Lament Configuration after his near-death at Reichenbach was plausible. I thought the personality traits of Holmes and Watson were well-represented, but many of the plot points originated from character other than the duo. It wasn’t *quite* deus ex machina, but close in a couple cases.

It was a fun enough book, especially for an October read.