{Book} Death by Suggestion

This book was provided to me by the editor for review consideration.

Death by Suggestion: An Anthology of 19th and Early 20th-Century Tales of Hypnotically Induced Murder, Suicide, and Accidental Death

Death by Suggestion: An Anthology of 19th and Early 20th-Century Tales of Hypnotically Induced Murder, Suicide, and Accidental Death, edited by Donald K Hartman

DEATH BY SUGGESTION gathers together twenty-two short stories from the 19th and early 20th century where hypnotism is used to cause death-either intentionally or by accident. Revenge is a motive for many of the stories, but this anthology also contains tales where characters die because they have a suicide wish, or they need to kill an abusive or unwanted spouse, or they just really enjoy inflicting pain on others. The book also includes an introduction which provides a brief history of hypnotism as well as a listing of real life cases where the use of hypnotism led to (or allegedly led to) death. (via Goodreads)

Why Was I Interested In This Book?
The late 19th and early 20th century was awash in periodicals. A wealth of literature is tucked away, nearly forgotten, in these magazines. It always surprises me how modernly “genre” some of these stories are, especially since they aren’t from the pulp magazine that appear by the 1920s. It’s fun to see what gems can be mined, especially on a particular theme.

In the case of Death by Suggestion, Donald Hartman has pulled together over twenty tales of hypnosis and mesmerism from the Victorian and Edwardian eras  in which death also plays a part. Hypnosis was quite the fad topic at the time and Trillby, the novel that spawned the character of Svengali, was a bestseller.

What Did I Think?
This was an entertaining collection. Appropriately, I read it during October and enjoyed all the perilous situations. There are murders; there are suicides; there are accidents. As is often the case for me, though, (maybe it’s my aging brain) I wish I wouldn’t have read it straight through. The stories tend to start feeling the same when I read too many in a row. It’s not the fault of the stories.

The anthology has some recognizable names (Ambrose Bierce, Arthur Conan Doyle) and some rather unknowns, as you might expect. In all cases the quality of the writing is pretty good, which is not always the case when delving into old magazines. I do wish the stories had been placed in chronological order, but that’s probably my over-want for order kicking in. I’ll probably eventually reread this anthology, but reorder the stories.

But, I’d also unreservedly recommend this anthology for Deal Me In, if one might start thinking about the 2020 edition of that challenge already. The story choice and stories themselves are far better than the Hitchcock anthologies I’ve been reading this year…

Original Publishing info: Createspace Independent Publishing Platform, 2018
My Copy: Kindle edition provided by the editor
Genre: mystery/crime

The Black Cat, No. 12, September 1896

Welcome to the September 1896 issue of The Black Cat and the Black Cat Project!

Over the last month or two, I’ve wondered if continuing with the Black Cat Project is worthwhile. Some issues have been…not so great. But then there are issues like this one with two really interesting stories and one that’s pretty fun.

Stories

“The Reapers” by Batterman Lindsay

A man and woman on the run settle in a deserted Boom Town. Their crimes are never enumerated, but they have a good-sized box of money. Their plan is to lay low in this town for a year and then head to South America. Everything is fine for a while. The couple obviously love each other and enjoy the freedom of having a whole town at their disposal. But when they are forced to move into the old hotel, the woman starts hearing a small voice asking, “Mama?”

This is perhaps the most well-written story I’ve read in The Black Cat. I couldn’t find much biographical information on (Annie) Batterman Lindsay, but she does have a novel Derelicts of Destiny that I’m interested in reading

“A Kindergarten Hold-Up” by Mabell Shippie Clarke

Young career criminal Sam Murphy coincidentally meets up with this sister who was put into a foster home after he left home and their mother died. And it turns out he’s not such a bad guy after all.

Was Clarke’s other tale this sentimental?

“The Guardian of Mystery Island” by Dr. Edmond Nolcini

An old salt, Tom, tells Sam (Lenartson, this time) of a treasure on Mustery Island (in Maine, according to Google). It’s guarded by a dorg, in Tom’s words, which Sam assumes to mean “dog,” but said with a really bad accent. After braving a squall to reach the island, Sam does encounter a dog, a fairly friendly one, that leads him to a dilapidated mansion. There he finds a invalid  woman with dimentia. She believes she’s a refugee from the French Revolution and goes on about some devil-weed on the island, protecting the treasure. It all seems too fantastical to Sam…until he meets the devil-weed…

There are a lot of things in this story that I would consider Jamsean or Lovecraftean if this story were written 40 years later. According to Urban Dictionary, which I’m not sure is reliable, there is a thing called a dorg. It “bears similarities to both a plant and a canine animal.” There’s no other information though.

“A Mental Mischance” by Thomas F. Anderson

One day Albert Reeves finds that he can read minds. What does one do with that ability? Crime fighting? Journalism? Stock trading? It’s always good to remember that sometimes thoughts are fancies.

“The Barber of the Alpena” by J. Harwood

J. Harwood provides a harrowing little tale. A barber, with a very strange visage, attends a dissection class and becomes a little obsessed with the potential to flay a client’s face instead of giving them a nice close shave. He confesses this tale to a group of travelers, one of whom meets the Barber of the Alpena again… or does he?

Like many of the horror stories in The Black Cat, this one doesn’t really “pay off” but it gives plenty of chills in the meantime.

“Which Was Like a Woman” by William Albert Lewis

This is another one of those inconstant women stories. Dorothy Moore’s husband is in prison for life. With three kids to support, she takes in a male boarder, which is unseemly. So, Dorothy procures a divorce (or rather the legal status of widow) and marries her boarder Brian Lett. Brian’s a good guy. Her kids like him. Everything is going well. Until her first husband is pardoned. And Dorothy is made to feel bad—how horrible that she should have sought a secure future…

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The ad is for Mellin’s Food, which was a infant formula.

Want to read for yourself?
Here’s the link to Issue No. #, Month, Year

Or find out
More about the Black Cat Project

{Book} The Two Sams

The paperback The Two Sams and a bookmark.
My copy of The Two Sams along with a bookmark made from a birthday card sent to me by my friend Tania.

The Two Sams: Ghost Stories by Glen Hirshberg

With this unique collection, acclaimed author Glen Hirshberg breathes new life into an age-old literary tradition. In the title story a husband struggles with the grief and confusion of losing two children, and forms an odd bond with the infant spectrals that visit him in the night. “Dancing Men” depicts one of the creepiest rites of passage in recent memory when a boy visits his deranged grandfather in the New Mexico desert. “Struwwelpeter” introduces us to a brilliant, treacherous adolescent whose violent tendencies and reckless mischief reach a sinister pinnacle as Halloween descends on a rundown Pacific Northwest fishing village. Tormented by his guilty conscience, a young man plumbs the depths of atonement as he and his favorite cousin commune with the almighty Hawaiian surf in “Shipwreck Beach.” In “Mr. Dark’s Carnival,” a college professor confronts his own dark places in the form of a mysterious haunted house steeped in the folklore of grisly badlands justice. (via Goodreads)

Why Did I Read This Book?
‘Tis the season, but as I was reading some of the other books on my #RIPXIV and #SomethingWickedFall pile, I kept thinking about these stories. The Two Sams is a reread for me. I first read it in 2015, but I believe I’ve read “Struwwelpeter” separately since then.

What Did I Think?
These stories are so good.

I had forgotten the endings of “Mr. Dark’s Carnival” and “The Two Sams.” They are shocking and discomfiting by turns. I had more appreciation for the two stories I considered weaker during my the first read-through (“Shipwreak Beach” and “Dancing Men”), but I haven’t put my finger on exactly why. Maybe I’m a little more accepting of these “warm weather” horror stories, one set in Hawaii and the other in New Mexico. Each story is set in a different place and Hirshberg goes out of his way to make the settings distinct. Plus, there is such wonderfully creepy subtlety to character motivations.

Hirshberg has become one of my favorite writers and The Two Sams is probably in my top 10 books of all time.

Original Publishing info: Carroll & Graf, 2003
My Copy: paperback, acquired via PaperbackSwap
Genre: horror


Readers Imbibing Peril | Something Wicked Fall

The Black Cat, No. 11, August 1896

Welcome to the August 1896 issue of The Black Cat and the Black Cat Project!

I will admit, I’m a tiny bit disappointed in this issue of The Black Cat. Usually, I can rely on the magazine to provide at least one creepy story or one with a speculative fiction bent. This issue does provide the solution to “The Mysterious Card,” but as the second part of a bigger story, it’s not entirely satisfying.

Stories

“The Mysterious Card Unveiled” by Cleveland Moffett

Remember “The Mysterious Card” from issue 5? Yeah, me either. I had hoped the original story had to do with a magic trick, but it did not. Instead, the plot involved a man, Richard Burwell, who was given a card by a mysterious, beautiful French woman. Burwell can’t read French. Everyone he shows it to who can read French immediately shuns him. The beautiful woman dies before he can find out from her what it’s all about. We, the readers, are never told what is on the card and apparently Burwell doesn’t have access to a French to English dictionary… Which brings us to “The Mysterious Card Unveiled.”

We catch up with Burwell a decade later. While the first story was narrated by Burwell, this one is from his doctor’s point of view. It seems that Burwell has had blackouts in the past, has some sort of weird color blindness that leads to hallucinations, and has some very strange lines in his palm. But generally, Burwell has led a philanthropic life in New York. Therefore, the doctor is surprised that Burwell is shot in an altercation. On his death bed, he tells the doctor about the card, but when he does die, a mysterious Indian prince shows up and tells the doctor what has been going on this whole time. One one hand, I was kind of impressed with the occult twist of story. On the other hand, I still feel like there was some literary shenanigans.

“Mrs. Bilger’s Victory” by Emma S. Jones & Geik Turner

Geik Turner is a veteran Black Cat writer with two zinger stories in the past, both involving solitary people standing up against big, bad industry. This story is similar. “The railroad had killed her muley cow, and the railroad had got to pay for it…” Mrs. Bilger is a very resourceful woman and this story is much funnier than the others. I can only guess that Ms. Jones had something to do with that.

“A Defender of Faith” by John D. Barry

George Bird is having lady problems. Or maybe it’s religion problems. His girl, Alice, believes that his literature should have some moral lessons to it. (Or maybe she just doesn’t like him all that well since she used to write scientific articles…?) Bird and his friend go for a walk in Hyde Park and see an atheist on a soap box haranguing Christianity. While Bird isn’t very religious, he does think it unfair that no one steps up to defend God and Christ. He does so, pointing out the comfort and charity that Christianity provides. George thinks he made an ass of himself, but Alice thinks otherwise… So, I guess she likes him after all.

Barry is new to the magazine. A Google search reveals a John D. Barry, who was a Confederate officer and newspaper editor, but he died in 1867. Another John D. Barry is, at the time of this blog post, the CEO of Jesus’ Economy.

“Tim’s Vacation” by L. E. Shattuck

This was a maudlin, sentimental story about a poor young man named Tim who works as the elevator operator in the building of the Morning Post. Everyone love Tim and shows it by giving him extra work to do. Alas, tragedy befalls Tim before he’s able to take the vacation granted to him. And that’s the story.

“Wet Horses” by Alice MacGowan

After setting two eagles free, a cattle man in the Texas panhandle recounts his time as a horse rustler and a prisoner in a Mexican jail. And that’s that story. I was pretty surprised about a horse rustler not really getting his just deserts, especially considering he really wasn’t particularly remorseful of those acts.

Alice MacGowan collaborated with her sister Emma to write over two dozen novels and about a hundred short stories. According to Wikipedia, they lived for a time in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, a literary enclave populated by Jack London, among others. Tantalizingly, though well-liked, she also had several attempt on her life…

Want to read for yourself?
Here’s the link to Issue No. 11, August, 1896

Or find out
More about the Black Cat Project

Review ~ The History of Soul 2065

This book was provided to me by Mythic Delirium Books via NetGalley for review consideration.

History of Soul 2065 Cover via Goodreads

The History of Soul 2065 by Barbara Krasnoff

Months before World War I breaks out, two young Jewish girls just on the edge of adolescence—one from a bustling Russian city, the other from a German estate—meet in an eerie, magical forest glade. They are immediately drawn to one another and swear an oath to meet again. Though war and an ocean will separate the two for the rest of their lives, the promise that they made to each other continues through the intertwined lives of their descendants.

This epic tale of the supernatural follows their families from the turn of the 20th Century through the terrors of the Holocaust and ultimately to the wonders of a future they never could have imagined. THE HISTORY OF SOUL 2065 encompasses accounts of sorcery, ghosts, time travel, virtual reality, alien contact, and elemental confrontations between good and evil. Understated and epic, cathartic and bittersweet, the twenty connected stories in Nebula Award finalist Barbara Krasnoff’s debut form a mosaic narrative even greater than its finely crafted parts. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
I am auto-approved on NetGalley to review books offered by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, so I occasionally make an effort to pick a few of their titles. I read quite a few short stories as a part of Deal Me In, the Black Cat Project, and in the course of my random reading. Therefore, I’ve lately been hesitant to add short story anthologies to my list of obligations. This one, though, piqued my interest.

What Worked
Mixing genres can go horribly wrong.  That these intertwined stories included “accounts of sorcery, ghosts, time travel, virtual reality, (and) alien contact” attracted my attention, but I figured that these stories would be very loosely connected. I figured this would just be, well, a short story anthology; maybe with some wrap-around element at the beginning and end. Otherwise, how could Krasnoff possible glue all those genres together? Pleasingly, the tales were more interconnected than I expected, jumping form family member to family member and generation to generation. And jumping from genre and genre. It works because the characters are always in the forefront; the genre elements never overshadow.

The long-term story of Chana and Sophie, the two girls whom we meet in the opening story, is told in the reflection of their families. Each story is told from a different family member’s as focus: spouses, children, grandchildren, in-laws, and occasionally friends that are like family. The structure is very well done. The concluding story is “The History of Soul 2065.” The number is a joking reference to a chapter number, like Laborers Local 151. The concept is that there are only a certain number of souls in existence and each has been shattered apart. Certain people end up with parts of the same soul. The interconnectedness of this idea is the theme of the entire work.

What Didn’t Work
Krasnoff writes with a very light touch, but sometimes settings feel very generic. Places and times all flow together. Maybe that’s on purpose, but without notes at the beginning of the chapter, I wouldn’t necessarily know if a story was set in the past or the future. I feel like a few telling details would have grounded the stories better.

Overall
The History of Soul 2065 was very enjoyable, though often times sad. No family escapes heartache, but also no family is without hope.

Publishing info: Mythic Delirium Books, 6/11/19
My Copy: Kindle ebook via NetGalley
Genre: speculative fiction

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 Ramshead Algorithm and Other Stories

This book was provided to me by the author in exchange for an honest review. (And trust me, if he knew about the extended metaphor in this review, he probably would have thought twice about asking…)

Cover via Goodreads

The Ramshead Algorithm and Other Stories by K.J. Kabza

Ramshead Jones has a billionaire father, a dysfunctional family, and a shocking secret nestled in the hedge maze in his backyard: Earth’s only portal to hundreds of other realities. When Ramshead’s unwitting father decides to rip the hedge maze out, Ramshead is forced to use dangerous magic to move the portal before it’s destroyed, too—unless the deadly maze of other family secrets that come to light destroys him first.

In THE RAMSHEAD ALGORITHM AND OTHER STORIES, sand cats speak, ghost bikes roll, corpses disappear, and hedge mazes are more bewildering than you’ve ever imagined. These 11 fantasy and science fiction stories from KJ Kabza have been dubbed “Sublime” (Tangent), “Rich” (SFRevu), and “Ethereal” (Quick Sip Reviews) and will take you deep into other astonishing realities that not even Ramshead has discovered.

Cover design and interior illustrations by Dante Saunders. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
Ages ago, I reviewed a Best Horror of the Year anthology that included Kabza’s “The Soul in the Bell Jar” (also included in this collection). I’ve been a fan ever since.

What Worked
Short story collections are like a box of chocolates. Sure, looking at the glossy bonbons, you don’t know which is going to be coconut cream and which one is, uh, pink, but you do roughly know what you’re getting when you buy a box of Whitman’s or Russel Stover. Such is the case when you pick up a collection or anthology—a certain quality author or editor is going to provide certain quality stories, despite inevitable pink cream equivalent. The way to avoid that is to buy a better box of chocolates. The Ramshead Algorithm, my friends, is a box of top-end Godiva.*

Every story in this collection is excellent. I had read over half of them in the past between Kabza’s self-pubbed collection Under Stars and some of his more recent publications. I decided to reread them in order to have the full experience of the collection. I noticed certain details (gardens, hedge mazes, ruins, and oceans) that repeat throughout as well a theme of searching and finding which I might have missed if I had only read the new-to-me stories.

I believe in my review of Under Stars I mentioned how well-done the world building is and I want to reiterate that. The short story form necessitates brevity, but every detail in these stories creates the world, whether the flash fiction-sized “All Souls Proceed” to the novella “You Can’t Take It With You.”

What Didn’t Work
My one and only beef was that I had scheduled out the stories from this collection not realizing that the final one in the collection “You Can’t Take It With You” was indeed a novella of a hundred pages. My entire reading schedule was messed up and it was basically my own darn fault.

So, there is nothing that didn’t work.

(Btw, “You Can’t Take It With You” is what Ready Player One would be without the nostalgia nods every .5 seconds. And this story is the better one.)

Overall
Readers might be interested to know that Kabza is a LGBTQ+ writer and some of his characters are LGBTQ+ as well. If your doing a diversity-in-reading challenge, sure, go ahead, this is a great collection to add to your pile. But, please, don’t let that be the only reason you decide to read The Ramshead Algorithm. Read it because who doesn’t want a box of Godiva?

* Okay, I’ll admit it, I have pretty middle class tastes and Godiva is what comes to mind when I think of classy chocolates. With a little googling, Godiva does make it to many “luxury” lists. Plus, most people have heard of Godiva while many of the other Swiss/French/etc. chocolatiers don’t really roll off the brain. But if you have a favorite high-end chocolate, go ahead and substitute it.

Publishing info, my copy: PDF, Pink Narcissus Press, 1/16/18
Acquired: 10/10/17
Genre: fantasy, science fiction, a dash of horror