#DealMeIn2018, Week 52 ~ “Shape Without Form, Shade Without Color”

“Shape Without Form, Shade Without Color” by Sunny Moraine

Card Selected: 10♠️
From: Tor.com

The window is slightly open, admitting the cold. I hear the starlings whisper. Don’t you love us? Don’t you want us anymore?

The blurb of this story is “Haunted by starlings in the dark, a young woman spirals into an altered state of consciousness.” And I wonder if “altered state of consciousness” is our twenty-first century way of saying “madness.” Both of these terms are void of diagnosis, though I suppose that the more modern term has less baggage and prejudice associated with it. In a 19th century Gothic sense though, this young woman spirals into madness, which has a certain amount of romance. In 20th century parlance, I suppose one might say “psychotic break.”

It’s a beautifully written piece and, once again, a story that would probably provide more rewards with a second or third reading. This feels to me very much like a fall or winter story. It was a nice way to finish up Deal Me In for 2018.

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#DealMeIn2018, Week 51 ~ “Uncle Abraham’s Romance”

“Uncle Abraham’s Romance” by Edith Nesbit

Card Picked: 2♣️ – WILD card
Found at: Grim Tales @ ProjectGutenberg

“There’s nothing to tell,” he said. “I think it was fancy, mostly, and folly; but it’s the realest thing in my long life, my dear.”

Since this was a WILD card, I figured I’d continue with my reading of Edith Nesbit’s Grim Tales.

Our narrator, age eighteen, sits at her uncle’s knee and waits for him to tell her about his one single romance. While he never married, he often sits and gazes at the miniature of a beautiful woman. Despite what he says, she knows there’s a story there.

Finally, he tells her of a lovely young woman that he used to speak to over the churchyard wall, who didn’t care about his lame leg. Of course, this being a Edith Nesbit story with a churchyard and a mysterious portrait, we can assume that the woman isn’t exactly what she seems (well, if you assumed she was just a lovely, understanding you woman in the first place).

Predictable, but in a satisfying way

Deal Me In, Week 47 ~ “John Charrington’s Wedding”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
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“John Charrington’s Wedding” by Edith Nesbit

Card picked: Q
Found at: Grim Tales @ ProjectGutenberg

May was sitting on a low flat gravestone, her face turned towards the full splendour of the western sun. Its expression ended, at once and for ever, any question of love for him; it was transfigured to a beauty I should not have believed possible, even to that beautiful little face.

Edith Nesbit’s Grim Tales collection has been on my TBR-eventually list for quite some time. Without even realizing it, I’ve now read the first two stories in order from Grim Tales! I read “The Ebony Frame” back during Gothic September and now I’ve read “John Charrington’s Wedding” for Deal Me In. Both were suggested by different sources.

Nesbit’s style is fairly straight-forward and both of these tales are on the domestic relationship side of horror. In “The Ebony Frame,” the protagonist becomes enamored with a woman in a painting. In “John Charrington’s Wedding,” John is so devoted to May that he promises to return from the dead if she wants him to. We all know how that’s going to turn out, don’t we?  I’m now wondering how the next grim talein the collection will play out: “Uncle Abraham’s Romance.”

Deal Me In, Week 44 ~ “Abraham’s Boys”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
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“Abraham’s Boys” by Joe Hill

Card picked: 9
Found at: Fifty-Two Stories

“Do you believe in vampires, Max?”

Rudy was on his knees in front of an ottoman across the room. He had hunched over to collect a few papers which had settled there, then stayed to look at the battered doctor’s bag tucked underneath it. Rudy tugged at the rosary knotted around the handles.

When it came time to read Dracula during my senior year of high school, it was a reread for me. So, while still following along with the class, I decided to read Dracula and pay attention to how insane Dr. Van Helsing is. If there weren’t vampires, zealous Abraham Van Helsing could almost be a villain.

In “Abraham’s Boys,” Joe Hill plays a what if game. What if Mina marries Van Helsing after Johnathan dies? (No details on how *that* happened.) What if they have two sons? What if they move to America before Mina’s also unfortunate end? What if… maybe… there are no vampires even though the old man teaches his sons that there are?

Oh, that this story would have been picked last week, but hey, who says the Halloween spirit can’t continue on? The ending is pretty hair-raising and offers no answers. I haven’t read much Joe Hill; this is definitely my favorite of his works thus far.

Deal Me In, Week 43 ~ “The Fish of Lijiang”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
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“The Fish of Lijiang” by Chen Qiufan, translated by Ken Liu

Card picked: 4
Found at: Clarksworld

It’s the fault of that damned mandatory physical exam. On the last page of the report were the words: PNFD II (Psychogenic Neural-Functional Disorder II). Translated into words normal people can understand, they say that I’m messed up and I must take two weeks off to rehabilitate.

Our narrator is sent to Lijiang to “rehabiliate.” While he is there he is not allowed to have his personal electronics, not even a watch. He’s left to laze about, maybe take in some traditional Nixi music (now played by robot bands), and theorize about the strange, ubiquitous stray dogs. That is until he meets a mysterious woman, a special care nurse who is also doing mandatory rehab.

The science fiction elements in this story are very light. Robots, holograms, time dilation and compression: they’re all used in a sort of depressingly mundane way. I’ll be honest, I’m pretty lukewarm about this story. With an unsympathetic narrator, not enough setting, and an only okay plot, I’m glad it wasn’t longer.

Deal Me In, Week 42 ~ “The Frolic”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
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“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

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

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
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“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.