Deal Me In, Week 42 ~ “The Frolic”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“The Frolic” by Thomas Ligotti

Card picked: K

David felt his own words lingering atmospherically in the room, tainting the serenity of the house. Until then their home had been an insular haven beyond the contamination of the prison, an imposing structure outside the town limits. Now its psychic imposition transcended the limits of physical distance.

David is a psychologist at a prison hospital. Over after-dinner drinks, he tells his wife about one of his patients, a child killer known only as John Doe who claims to have let himself be caught.* Doe won’t give his real name and claims that he has many names, thousands even (or maybe legions?). While Doe’s case is interesting, David has decided he needs to leave the job, especially considering what John Doe said to him at the end of  the day’s interview.

I’m not sure this story really worked for me. The dialogue has a stilted, heightened feel to it that takes away some of the story’s tension. I haven’t read any Ligotti before despite his reputation in the horror community. I don’t know whether that’s indicative of his style or only this story.

* This was  six years before the movie Seven in which a serial killer known as John Doe lets himself be caught. As far as I can tell one was not an inspiration for the other. They are fairly different stories, but I found it interesting in light of the controversy over season one of True Detective: it seems possible that the writer of the show lifted some of Ligotti’s bleaker ideas.

This story counts for Peril of the Short Story!

Perilous Details
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Deal Me In, Week 39 ~ “The Limitless Perspective of Master Peek”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“The Limitless Perspective of Master Peek, or, the Luminescence of Debauchery” by Catherynne M. Valente

Card picked: 4
Found at: Beneath Ceaseless Skies

And thus was I left, Perpetua alone and loudly complaining, in the quiet dark of my father’s glassworks, with no one willing to buy from my delicate and feminine hand, no matter how fine the goblet on the end of that long iron punty.

The solution seemed to me obvious. Henceforward, quite simply, I should never be a girl again.

I went into this story thinking that Perpetua hiding her gender would be the linchpin secret of this story. Not so. Perpetua, left with her father’s glassblowing tools after her two older brother’s snatch up the riches and land that their father left them, becomes a very successful businessman in London. But it isn’t until after her brother sends a young woman in need of glass eyes to her that Perpetua’s, or rather Cornelius Peek’s, true abilities flourish. Her glass eyes become world-known. When she keeps the match to an jeweled eye she creates for a Dogaressa, she finds that she can see what the Dogaressa sees. Thus, Master Peek becomes a libertine and spy, among other things.

I’ve never read The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, but for some reason I can’t shake thinking of  Catherynne M. Valente as a YA writer. Therefore, I’m taken aback every time I read one of her stories which is very solidly “adult.” Actually, this story reminded me somewhat of E. E. Kellett’s anthology A Corner in Sleep (1900), which is very concerned with the business possibilities of fantasy situations.

Deal Me In, Week 35 ~ “The Enemy of All the World”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“The Enemy of All the World” by Jack London

Card picked: J
Found at: East of the Web

It was Silas Bannerman who finally ran down that scientific wizard and arch-enemy of mankind, Emil Gluck. Gluck’s confession, before he went to the electric chair, threw much light upon the series of mysterious events, many apparently unrelated, that so perturbed the world between the years 1933 and 1941. It was not until that remarkable document was made public that the world dreamed of there being any connection between the assassination of the King and Queen of Portugal and the murders of the New York City police officers.

I was intrigued by a Jack London story with a “sci-fi” designation. London doesn’t really spring to mind when I think of speculative fiction. But then I remembered, in the early 20th century *everyone* was excited by science and technology. It wasn’t until years later that “genre” fiction became an ill-regarded thing.

London presents us with Emil Gluck, mad scientist. But other than the introduction above, before we get to Emil’s crimes, we are given Emil’s background and London is definitely in the “nurture” camp when it comes to behavior. Emil’s parents died when he was young, he was sent to live with a cruel aunt, and his early scientific theories are lambasted by the press. Despite this, he has a multiple degrees and successful electroplating concern. After Emil is framed(?) for the murder of a woman who scorned him, he spends his time in jail plotting his revenge, the crux of which is reliant on a strange thing that once happened at his  electroplating plant.

Published in 1908, this story is set in the future relied on some scientific speculation on London’s part. It does remind me somewhat of Edward Page Mitchell’s “The Ablest Man in the World,” the protagonist of which was worried about the fate of the world when in the hands of a competent (not entirely human) genius. Neither story has a particularly optimistic outlook.

Deal Me In, Week 33 ~ “Dark Warm Heart”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Dark Warm Heart” by Rich Larson

Card picked: 8 – My horror suit.
Found at: Tor

Noel caught her wrist, the not-sore one, and folded both hands around it. “I’m sorry about last night,” he said. “I don’t know what’s in my head, sometimes.”

The Story
Kristine and Noel are newlyweds, but Noel’s work collecting the oral tales of the Canadian Inuits has kept him away for an extended time. When Noel returns, after being caught in a freak blizzard, he’s changed. He can’t eat and is obsessed with finishing the English translations of the stories he’s recorded. Kristine is haunted by the phone call she received from Noel after his rescue, of what he told her he saw in the blowing snow.

Larson is very strong with his use of color to evoke the cold throughout this story. I’m kind of glad I read it on a toasty summer day rather than a cold winter night (though the kind of cold and snow that is in this story doesn’t exist in Arizona). Also, I’ve started to think about Readers Imbibing Peril, which doesn’t start until September, and this story was a nice little taste of horror to tide me over.

 

Deal Me In, Week 32 ~ “A Lumberjack’s Guide to Dryad Spotting”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“A Lumberjack’s Guide to Dryad Spotting” by Charles Payseur

Card picked: 6
Found at: Flash Fiction Online

I’m always on the lookout for stories with fantasy critters that aren’t very common. Dryads fit that bill.

This story is structured with a back and forth, by paragraph, between the burgeoning relationship of a lumberjack and his tent-mate and the instructions for recognizing dryads, the sometime dangerous tree spirits. As the romance advances, we also learn that parts of a dryad can be sold for good money. And money can buy a lot freedom.

“Come away with me,” you say, and you whisper your dream, of a small home ringed by tall shadows. Not safe but safer. Not perfect but beautiful.

This is a fairy tale and it might even have a happy ending. (As long as you’re not a dryad…)

Deal Me In, Week 31 ~ “The Touch of Love”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“The Touch of Love” by Day Al-Mohamed

Card picked: K
Found at: Daily Science Fiction

The Story
There is a content warning at the top of this story and, yeah, it’s appropriate. Soft science fiction asks questions. If you can make companion robots, could you (or should you) make robots that are tolerant of abusive relationships? But what about machine learning, that “deep” knowledge gained by experience? What would a companion robot in an abusive relationship learn about love? All that in a flash fiction piece!

Deal Me In, Week 27 ~ “Secret Keeper”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Secret Keeper” by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam

Card picked: 3
Found at: Nightmare Magazine

The Story

A girl is supposed to be beautiful. A girl is supposed to have rosy red cheeks and a laugh that makes men wilt to think of her bright future. A beautiful girl will have a beautiful life. An ugly girl slips unseen through secret doors.

The ghost girl was born with a birth defect that, after many skin grafts, has left her face pale and featureless. She has managed through grade school and middle school by avoiding attention, by becoming a shadow, a ghost. Now in high school, she lives beneath the theater stage and dreams of singing. Alas, due to her  appearance, the best she can do is mentor Chrissie, the new girl with the beautiful voice. Their singing lessons are held in a remote girl’s bathroom, the stalls keeping ghost girl from being seen. When Chrissie is given a supporting role in the spring musical instead of the lead, ghost girl’s vengeance is visited upon the less talented, but prettier Aimee and Chrissie has to fill in. All goes well, for a while, until the toll of ghost girl’s mentorship—being completely focused and keeping ghost girl’s secret—becomes too high for Chrissie. And Chrissie also has secrets that the ghost girl is keeping for her.

“Secret Keeper” is an adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera, gender-bent and set in high school, and it works very well. By senior year, the ghost girl is a thing of legend. No one quite remembers the truth about her and every prank and misfortune is blamed on her. By being unnoticed and otherwise forgotten, the ghost girl has access to information and secrets that she uses judiciously to manipulate Chrissie and frame Aimee. But the ending does add a tiny bit of ambiguity to the situation. No one can really hear the ghost girl except Chrissie.