The Black Cat, No. 1, October 1895

Welcome to the first issue of The Black Cat and the first post of the Black Cat Project!

Something that I find interesting about 19th and early 20th century fiction magazines is that most of them were not “niche.” While there were plenty of specialized nonfiction periodicals, genre magazines don’t seem to gain traction until the late 1910s. So, a short story magazine of the this period might include stories of different genres. What we’d now classify as mysteries, adventures, romances, horror, and science fiction might all be included in one magazine that a subscriber might read cover to cover.

Stories

“In Gold Time” by Roberta Littlehale

A western-ish story set in Gold Rush era California. While a contractor and an civil engineer ride through the desolation of Northern California, one tells the tale of two men vying for the hand of the most/only eligible woman in San Francisco. More of an anecdote than a solid story, but Littlehale does a nice job setting the stage with a night-time ride. Robetra Littlehale will appear again as a Black Cat author, but I wasn’t able to find any other information about her.

“The Unturned Trump” by Barnes Macgreggor

Oh, 1895, your prejudices are many… In this story, while adrift on the foggy and iced-over East River one morning, several men sit down to an impromptu game of euchre. Before the trump is turned though, the supplier of the cards goes on a tangent about a story he heard of an American who was travelling in Syria and ended up being taken captive by a group of blood-thirsty (and not too bright)  “Mohammedan” robbers. Turns out he was the American. Macgreggor will be a return author as well, but also otherwise did not have much of a writing career.

“The Secret of the White Castle” by Julia Magruder

Julia Magruder was known outside of the pages of The Black Cat. The Virginia author had a fairly successful career as a novelist and children’s writer. “The Secret of the White Castle” is a nice piece of gothic literature. Our unnamed narrator rents the Chateau Blanc in hopes of curing his melancholy. The house appealed to him due to the strange picture of the previous owner that hangs in the bedroom and the stuffed pet swan that somewhat floats on the lake. He’s sure there is a mystery to these objects…and there is!

This was my favorite of the issue. I might even seek out some of Ms. Magruder’s novels.

“Miss Wood,—Stenographer” by Granville Sharpe

“Miss Wood,—Stenographer” is a nice little mystery too. Miss Wood’s story is related by Detective Gilbert as a story she told him bout a job she was hired to do. Abruptly, she was from her stenography school classes because she is proficient in sign language (her little sister is a deaf mute). She is sent to take down the dying words of a metallurgist. Since his sister-and-law and nephew believe  Miss Wood is deaf as well, they freely discuss their plan to gain the old man’s secret formula for smelting steel-hard copper. I’m going to assume that the author, Granville Sharp, is not the same Granville Sharp as the abolitionist who died in 1813…

Runner-up for favorite story of the issue.

“Her Hoodoo” by Harold Kinsabby

This is actually a rather sweet story about “a real Rocky Mountain cow-girl, in all her glory”. Our narrator is a tender-foot who goes to Colorado to “hunt ozone” for his bad lungs. He gets lost in the wilderness and is found by the cow-girl, a woman educated at Wesleyan, but type-cast locally due to her soft heart and affinity for animals, especially a naughty, spotted heifer.  Kinsabby has a couple stories in future issues, but I find no other biological references to him.

“In a Tiger Trap” by Charles Edward Barns

“The royal Maylay tiger is no gentleman” begins this adventure anecdote, which seems to be a general form of story in this era. And it pretty much details a story of attempting to retrap a tiger that had already been captured and let loose once. Thankfully, this story isn’t too cringe-worthy toward the peoples of Malaysia. Charles Edward Barns was a writer, journalist, astronomer, and publisher. He has at least one more story included in a future issue of The Black Cat.

“The Red-Hot Dollar” by H. D. Umbstaetter

A newlywed accidentally misses his train (is bride sent on without him) and ends up becoming obsessed with a silver dollar he is given as change. Why? We don’t know until the last page. Actually, “The Red-Hot Dollar” could have been a really nice mystery if it had been told a little better…maybe through the wife’s point of view. I suppose the reader is meant to wonder and try to puzzle out what’s going on, but we’re not really given enough information. H. D. Umbstaetter is the editor of The Black Cat as well as being a contributor.

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Not many ads in the first issue. American Hair Cloth Company had pretty much the entire last page. Click to read all about their “light as air” crinoline.

Want to read for yourself?
Here’s the link to Issue No. 1, October 1895

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Review ~ Frankenstein Dreams

Cover via Goodreads

Frankenstein Dreams: A Connoisseur’s Collection of Victorian Science Fiction edited by Michael Sims

Long before 1984, Star Wars, or The Hunger Games, Victorian authors imagined a future where new science and technologies reshaped the world and universe they knew. The great themes of modern science fiction showed up surprisingly early: space and time travel, dystopian societies, even dangerously independent machines, all inspiring the speculative fiction of the Victorian era.

In Frankenstein Dreams, Michael Sims has gathered many of the very finest stories, some by classic writers such as Jules Verne, Mary Shelley, and H.G. Wells, but many that will surprise general readers. Dark visions of the human psyche emerge in Thomas Wentworth Higginson’s “The Monarch of Dreams,” while Mary E. Wilkins Freeman provides a glimpse of “the fifth dimension” in her provocative tale “The Hall Bedroom.’

With contributions by Edgar Allan Poe, Alice Fuller, Rudyard Kipling, Thomas Hardy, Arthur Conan Doyle, and many others, each introduced by Michael Sims, whose elegant introduction provides valuable literary and historical context, Frankenstein Dreams is a treasure trove of stories known and rediscovered. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
At the beginning of last year, I noticed that many of the “literary” writers of the late 19th and early 20th century seemed to have a real enthusiasm for science that spilled into their works. In that time period, there seems to be a fuzzier boundary between literary and  genre.

What Worked
Frankenstein Dreams is chronological survey of science fiction starting at the publication of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein in 1818, which can arguably be considered the beginning of the genre. All types of science fiction are included: bats on the moon, a tale of mesmerism (which was thought to be a science), high-tech submarines, augmented humans, augmented dinosaurs, time travel, future societies, and more!

Included are some of the “genre” authors you’d expect (like Edgar Alan Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, H. G. Wells, and Jules Verne) along with some classic authors I don’t think of as having genre connections (like Rudyard Kipling and Thomas Hardy) and many authors I wasn’t familiar with at all.

A surprise favorite was “The Senator’s Daughter” by Edward Page Mitchell. The introduction made me worry that it was going to be a very scattershot view of the future world of 1937 (it was published in 1879). I was further worried that about the premise of the US having been conquered by “the Mongolians.” If you read enough Victorian Era stories, you’ll come up against cringe-worthy Yellow Peril propaganda every-so-often. Mitchell’s story is thoughtful though, dealing with an interracial relationship that, while isn’t approved of, exists! Mitchell has two stories in the anthology. The other, “The Clock that Went Backwards,” is a time-travel tale. (I also recently read Mitchell’s “The Ablest Man in the World” for my automaton anthology. Definitely an early name in SF.)

What Didn’t Work
There were a few excerpts. In fact, the anthology starts with a series of excerpts from Frankenstein, which I would think a reader would be somewhat familiar with if they’re reading this book. Other excerpts are from Wells’ Island of Dr. Moreau, Vernes’ Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the SeaStrange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, and Two on a Tower by Hardy. The excerpts work more or less as stand alone stories, but I wish Sims would have stuck to short  stories only.

My other sort of half-problem was that some of the stories weren’t really science fiction. “The Monarch of Dreams” by Thomas Wentworth Higginson involves the attempt by the narrator to control his dreams, but it’s more fantastical than science-based. The same goes for Mary E Wilkins Freeman’s very good “The Hall Bedroom.” While there’s speculation of a fifth dimension, what occurs could as easily be called a haunting.

“Monsters of Magnitude” by Thomas Hardy (what Sims decided to call the excerpt of Two on a Tower) isn’t really science fiction, but is more like science *in* fiction, which is part of what I find interesting about a lot of literature in the Victorian era. As I also noted on Twitter, this excerpt makes me want to read the novel; I had sworn to forever hate Thomas Hardy since an unfortunate circumstance of being made to read him in the 7th grade. Similarly, Kipling’s “Wireless” involves science, but with a speculative fiction twist. Despite that, it too was one of my favorites of the anthology.

Overall
This was a solid set of short stories and a great taster of Victorian science and speculative fiction.

Publishing info, my copy: trade paperback, Bloomsbury, 2017
Acquired: Tempe Public Library
Genre: science fiction

Review ~ The Best Horror of the Year, Volume Seven

This book was provided to me by Night Shade Books via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.
Cover via Goodreads

The Best Horror of the Year Volume Seven edited by Ellen Datlow

 

For over three decades, Ellen Datlow has been at the center of horror. Bringing you the most frightening and terrifying stories, Datlow always has her finger on the pulse of what horror readers crave. Now, with the seventh volume of this series, Datlow is back again to bring you the stories that will keep you up at night.

With each passing year, science, technology, and the march of time shine light into the craggy corners of the universe, making the fears of an earlier generation seem quaint. But this “light” creates its own shadows. The Best Horror of the Year chronicles these shifting shadows. It is a catalog of terror, fear, and unpleasantness, as articulated by today’s most challenging and exciting writers.
(via Goodreads)

In The Best Horror of the Year, Volume Seven, Ellen Datlow once again skims the cream to introduce fickle readers like me to some of the shining stars of the horror lit world. There are twenty-two stories in this collection, two less than last year’s volume though I don’t remember so many longer works included in Volume Six. Not quite half are by female authors.

There seemed to me to be several board categories of stories:

For example, quite a few serial killers as narrators with Angela Slater’s “Winter Children,” Gemma File’s “This is Not For You” (which includes the conceit of a murderous virago cult), “Interstate Love Song (Murder Ballad No. 8)” by Caitlin Kiernan, and my personal favorite of the group “Wingless Beasts” by Lucy Taylor for desert gross-out factor. (Hadn’t realized that this group contained so many female authors…)

A couple of stories involved crime with law enforcement or detective involved. “The Atlas of Hell” by Nathan Ballingrud features an occult investigator named Jack Oleander, whose further adventures I would happily read. Rio Youers’ “Outside Heavenly” had a lot of True Crime feel to it, though with a much more supernatural conclusion.

I’m always a sucker for horror comedy and I got a kick out of Stephen Graham Jones’ “Chapter Six,” which asks the question, what would a pair of academic rivals do after the zombie apocalypse?

There were also a bunch of cosmic horror/forbidden knowledge tales. “Allochton” by Livia Llewellyn provides a semi answer to my question about the intersection of domestic and cosmic horror as a company wife is wooed by strange qualities in the geography around her. Laird Barron’s “The Worms Crawl In” also takes us out into the forest to meet doom.

Rhoads Brazos’s “Tred Upon the Brittle Shell” and John Langan’s “Ymir” both pull from ancient mythologies and both involve physical decent as well, although Dale Bailey’s “The Culvert” doesn’t go as deep into the earth, but leaves us as lost in a shifting labyrinth.

Two stories that I really enjoyed involved a more historical touch. “A Dweller in Amenty” by Genevieve Valentine involves the ins and outs of a sin eater and Keris McDonald takes us back to academia as a museum worker learns about Innocent Coats in “The Coat Off His Back.”

One last stand-out: “Depertures” by Carole Johnstone, creepy and gory and set in an airplane terminal. It excellently combines the mundane with the uncanny.

Publishing info, my copy: eARC in Kindle and ePub formats
Acquired: via Edelweiss
Genre: Horror

10-books

Review ~ Shadow Show

Shadow Show: All-New Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury by Sam Weller (Editor) & Mort Castle (Editor)

Cover via Goodreads

“What do you imagine when you hear the name” . . . Bradbury?

You might see rockets to Mars. Or bizarre circuses where otherworldly acts whirl in the center ring. Perhaps you travel to a dystopian future, where books are set ablaze . . . or to an out-of-the-way sideshow, where animated illustrations crawl across human skin. Or maybe, suddenly, you’re returned to a simpler time in small-town America, where summer perfumes the air and life is almost perfect . . . “almost.”

Ray Bradbury–peerless storyteller, poet of the impossible, and one of America’s most beloved authors–is a literary giant whose remarkable career has spanned seven decades. Now twenty-six of today’s most diverse and celebrated authors offer new short works in honor of the master; stories of heart, intelligence, and dark wonder from a remarkable range of creative artists. (via Goodreads)

According to Goodreads, it took me two years to read this book. This is why Deal Me In is helping me get through anthologies…

This anthology was published a month after Ray Bradbury’s death, but that was just a scheduling coincidence. I think I’d had it on my wishlist since December. I had been rather keen to buy it, but like most anthologies, it took me a while to get through it.

Previous Highlights:

I had three stories left and all of them were horror stories. “Hayleigh’s Dad” by Julia Keller and “Who Knocks?” by David Eggers both fell into that area of “bad things happening to girls who have adventures.” I hadn’t realized that Bradbury had set a precedence for this in his story “The Whole Town’s Sleeping.” While that’s a tense story, I’m disappointed that girls in Bradbury stories and Bradbury-esque stories are doomed to horrible fates.

I really enjoyed Kelly Link’s “Two Houses.” It’s a great combination of sci-fi and horror. It reminded me a little of Event Horizon. What makes a haunted house? Can you conjure a ghost by replicating a house perfectly? It’s not the last story in the book, but it was a great ending for me.

Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Publication date: July 10th 2012
Genre: short stories, horror, fantasy
Why did I choose to read this book? I like Ray Bradbury

Review ~ The Best Horror of the Year, Volume Six

This book was provided to me by Night Shade Books via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.
Cover via Goodreads

The Best Horror of the Year, Volume Six by Edited by Ellen Datlow

 

With each passing year, science, technology, and the march of time shine light into the craggy corners of the universe, making the fears of an earlier generation seem quaint. But this “light” creates its own shadows. The Best Horror of the Year, edited by Ellen Datlow, chronicles these shifting shadows. It is a catalog of terror, fear, and unpleasantness, as articulated by today’s most challenging and exciting writers.

The best horror writers of today do the same thing that horror writers of a hundred years ago did. They tell good stories—stories that scare us. And when these writers tell really good stories that really scare us, Ellen Datlow notices. She’s been noticing for more than a quarter century. For twenty-one years, she coedited The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, and for the last six years, she’s edited this series. In addition to this monumental cataloging of the best, she has edited hundreds of other horror anthologies and won numerous awards, including the Hugo, Bram Stoker, and World Fantasy awards.

More than any other editor or critic, Ellen Datlow has charted the shadowy abyss of horror fiction. Join her on this journey into the dark parts of the human heart . . . either for the first time . . . or once again. (via Goodreads)

Short fiction is a great way to keep up with writers and trends. I’ve often read the Hugo and Nebula nominated short stories to see “what’s up” in the world of science fiction and fantasy. Those stories are often available online. Horror is more difficult to keep tabs on for free. Usually, none of the Stoker nominated stories are available. I’m not sure what that says about the respective genre markets… Therefore, I am left with the occasional horror anthology.

Things that surprised me about this anthology:

  • Few zombie stories. I’m not complaining, I’m not a fan of zombies. Are zombies on the way out as a trend? I can only hope.
  • How many UK writers are in this anthology (at least 9 of 24). Again, not complaining; just an observation.
  • No overlap between this anthology and the Stoker nominations. I would have thought that maybe one or two stories would overlap, but nope. None.

The stories were all pretty solid, though varying in the amount of “horror” present. Of course, that’s a double whammy of subjectivity in a horror anthology. What are the “best” stories that define “horror.”

Stories that stood out for me:

On the severely creepy end of the spectrum, “Apports” by Stephen Bacon and  “Bones of Crow” by Ray Cluley.  Apports are “little gifts from elsewhere.” But sent by whom? Ray Cluley’s story probably wins for the goriest of the anthology. Both these tales feature people who are just trying to get by in life and find no help from the supernatural.

There were three stories with particular Victorian flair and were obviously up my alley. “Mr. Splitfoot” by Dale Bailey is written from the point of view of Maggie Fox, one of the young girls behind the founding of the spiritualist movement. Maybe they weren’t entirely charlatans…  “The Soul in the Bell Jar” by K. J. Kabza is sort of a Frankenstein tale in overdrive in a horror/fantasy world where souls are routinely sewn back onto bodies. Tim Casson’s “The Withering”introduces us to Miss Appleby, a Victorian heroine with a peculiar machine for contacting spirits. I’d read more of Miss Appleby if there was more to be had.

Two stories took horror on from a movie angle. “The House on Cobb Street” by Lynda E. Rucker is a solid haunted house story told in a found-footage kind of way, partially using blog posts and forum comments. Kim Newman’s “The Only Ending We Have” tells the story of Jayne Swallow, a body-double for Janet Leigh in the famous Psycho shower scene. Familiarity with the movie certainly helps in this story.

Speaking of Hitchcock, “Jaws of Saturn” by Laird Barron has a very noir, hitchcockian feel to it that reminded me strongly of Curse of the Demon even though the two stories have little in common.

Other stand-outs: “Call Out” by Steve Toase for using a bargest in his story. An underused creature if ever there was one. And to Neil Gaiman for “Down to the Sunless Sea” which was the only reread for me.

Publisher: Night Shade Books
Publication date: June 3rd 2014
Genre: Horror
Why did I choose to read this book? Haven’t read much good horror in a while.


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Review ~ The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories, Vol. 1

The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories, Vol. 1 edited by Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Cover via Goodreads

From hitRECord, the immensely popular open collaborative production company, and its founder, Golden Globe-nominated actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, comes The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories: Volume 1.

The universe is not made of atoms; it’s made of tiny stories.

To create The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories: Volume 1, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, known within the hitRECord community as RegularJOE–directed thousands of collaborators to tell tiny stories through words and art. With the help of the entire creative collective, Gordon-Levitt culled, edited and curated over 8,500 contributions into this finely tuned collection of original art from 67 contributors. Reminiscent of the 6-Word Memoir series, The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories: Volume 1 brings together art and voices from around the world to unite and tell stories that defy size (via Goodreads)

I nabbed this little volume at San Diego ComicCon. I’ll be honest, I purchased it to get at a free Sherlock tote, but the book honestly intrigued me. It was different, small and red and hardback, in a world of door stoppers, overpriced paperbacks, and electronic files. Previous to it, I had no idea about Joseph Gordon-Levitt and HitRECord, though it doesn’t surprise me. Gordon-Leavitt seems to be the type to parley his fame into projects he wants to do. (I imagine his continued career will be a bit like Clint Eastwood’s–does what he likes and, generally, you’ll like it too.)

The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories is what it says on the tin. Slim and smaller than a mass market paperback, the stories are very short, just a few evocative sentences at most, and quirkily illustrated. You can consume this book all at once, or maybe just nibble at a time, but you can definitely come back for seconds.

There are two other volumes which I haven’t read yet. And they’re stocking-stuffer sized!

Genre: Super Short Stories
Why did I choose to read this book? Intrigued
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) Yes
Format: Hardback
Procurement: Booth at ComicCon

Review ~ Sons of Moriarty

This book was provided to me by F+W/Adams Media and Tyrus Books via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Sons of Moriarty and More Stories of Sherlock Holmes ed. by Loren D. Estleman

Cover via Goodreads

A follow-up collection to well-received “The Perils of Sherlock Holmes”! Award-winning author Loren D. Estleman has curated a collection of Sherlock Holmes stories from some of the finest authors in “Sons of Moriarty and More Stories of Sherlock Holmes.” This is the first time that these stories appear together in one anthology, including “Sons of Moriarty,” a Sherlock Holmes novella, appearing here for the first time.

Estleman’s last Holmes collection, “The Perils of Sherlock Holmes,” was authorized by the Estate of Arthur Conan Doyle and was met with rave reviews. It was dubbed “an excellent collection of short stories and essays” by the “New York Review of Books,” “an entertaining and diverting read” by Bookpleasures.com, and was said to transport readers “to another place and time during the series of short stories that pay homage to the legend that is Sherlock Holmes” on the Pop Culture Guy Blog. (via Goodreads)

The cover copy says a lot about Estleman’s previous collection and absolutely nothing about *this* anthology, Sons of Moriarty, and that’s a mistake. I had three preconceptions going into this anthology:

  1. These were all new stories. (They’re not.)
  2. These stories were, maybe, Moriarty-centric. (They’re not.)
  3. These stories are all classic pastiches. (They’re not.)

Looking at a few other reviews, I’m not the only reader whose expectations have been slighted.

This anthology is held together by an interesting thread: they all involve Holmes dealing with more modern crimes or Holmes written into a post-WWI setting. But it’s a very tenuous thread that bind loosely and not always successfully.

The anthology starts with “The Infernal Machine” by John Lutz. This story was a reread for me. Set late in Holmes’ career, Holmes and Watson encounter the Gatling gun. The duo, of course, meditate on the horrors that could be wrought by the titular infernal machine. It’s a good start and a great bookend to the final story of anthology. Unfortunately, it’s a rocky road between the first tale and the last.

“The Adventure of the Double Bogey Man” by Robert L. Fish is not a pastiche, but a parody. Personally, I have a pretty liberal love for Sherlock Holmes, but I really dislike parodies. Holmes need to be the smartest man in the room, arrogance and all. Yes, this story involves Holmes and something utterly new to him, but sticking a parody story in the middle of a serious anthology is not a great move.

Likewise, “The Case of the Bloodless Sock” by Anne Perry is another sort of fiction that I don’t entirely understand. Holmes is a man of expertise and experience. If you’re writing a young Holmes, he doesn’t have all of those things. Writing teenage Holmes, smarts intact, into a completely modern setting is simply pandering to a YA audience.

“Sherlocks” by Al Sarrantonio is an even further extension of Sherlock in the future. The story is SF noir and sherlocks are an information gathering technology. There is not a true Sherlock in sight.

There are no Sherlocks in “The Adventure of the Frightened Baronet” by August Derleth either, but this is more of a Holmes story than the previous three. Solar Pons was a character created to bring Holmes into the 1920s and 30s (as Wikipedia notes). The change of setting did not seem obvious to me, but this character and the story are as good as Doyle could have written. It’s a very good pastiche. I have been meaning to read some of Derleth’s stories and I was pleased to find one here.

Until I started writing this review, I had forgotten about “Before the Adventures” by Lenore Carroll. It is a fictional letter from Doyle to the editor of Strand magazine about the origins of Holmes & Watson. The inspirational Cockney personality of Budger not only provides Doyle with his character, but puts the entirety of Doyle’s life in order. I have no idea why it’s included in this anthology or why I’d find it more interesting than what might have factually been Doyle’s inspirations.

All of the stories in this anthology should be in service to Loren D. Estleman’s novella, “Sons of Moriarty.” Comprising the last 40% of the book, it is the show piece and it certainly could have withstood better companions. It is also the only previously unpublished work. While it runs a little long and is maybe little light on the deductive reasoning, it’s a pretty good pastiche. Holmes and Watson are older and encounter the Mafia. Organized crime is something that traditional Holmes never dealt with.

Despite it’s very good points, this anthology felt padded out for the purposes of making it appropriately book length. Hopefully, readers will skip the stories that don’t really belong and still join author and editor Estleman for his fine tale at the end.

Genre: Mystery, mostly.
Why did I choose to read this book? Got me with the Moriarty, who is not in evidence.
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) Yes, but it was touch and go for a while.
Craft Lessons: Don’t pad for padding’s sake.
Format: Kindle ebook
Procurement: NetGalley