Review ~ Wicked Wonders

This book was provided to me by Tachyon Publications via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Cover via Goodreads

Wicked Wonders by Ellen Klages

The Scott O’Dell award-winning author of The Green Glass Sea returns with her second collection: a new decade of lyrical stories with vintage flair.

Inside of these critically-acclaimed tales are memorable characters who are smart, subversive, and singular. A rebellious child identifies with wicked Maleficent instead of Sleeping Beauty. Best friends Anna and Corry share a last melancholy morning before emigration to another planet. A prep-school girl requires more than mere luck to win at dice with a faerie. Ladies who lunch keeping dividing that one last bite of dessert in the paradox of female politeness.

Whether on a habitat on Mars or in a boardinghouse in London, discover Ellen Klages’ wicked, wondrous adventures full of brazenness, wit, empathy, and courage. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
I almost didn’t read this book.

I saw it on offer at NetGalley from Tachyon Publications (the only publisher that I’m auto-approved with—why they put up with my grumpy reviews, I don’t know) and I was interested. But then I remembered that I had just purchased a Glen Hirshberg anthology, and I didn’t really need another short story anthology, and I have a never-ending TBR pile mostly because I request too many ARCs and…I let Wicker Wonders pass by.

But then I got an email from Tachyon about widgets or something, and I guess I clicked a request link, and BAM! Wicked Wonders was ready for download. So, I read it, as one does when books show up.

And I’m glad I did.

What Worked
Ray Bradbury is one of my favorite authors. I especially love his tales of childhood: adventures on bicycles to dark carnivals in the midst of summer thunderstorms. Great stuff, but it occurred to me sometime  in my 30s that all of Bradbury’s protagonists were boys. Makes sense since that’s his experience of the world, but I kind of wished that there were some of those kinds of stories with girl protagonists. Because, why not? Girls have adventures too.

Enter Ellen Klages and Wicked Wonders:

She intends to be a good girl, but shrubs and sheds and unlocked cupboards beckon.

Yep, Klages hooked me right there with that line.

The stories range across the spectrum of speculative fiction. “Singing on a Star” and “Friday Night at St. Cecilia’s” are strongly fantastical and “Goodnight Moons” is a straight-up sci-fi tale. On the other end, “The Education of a Witch” is only fantasy tinged and “Amicae Aeternum” is more of a bitter-sweet best-friends(who are girls!)-on-bikes story than space opera. There are even a couple of stories with no fantastic elements what-so-ever, including my favorite “Hey, Presto!” Had I known there was going to be a well-done historical fiction story with magicians I would have never hesitated to request this book!

What Didn’t Work
I am really picky about science fiction. For me, the most science fictiony story of Wicked Wonders, “Goodnight Moons,” was also the least successful. Happily, for me, science fiction is in the minority on this anthology.

Overall
I’m fairly sure that I haven’t read any Ellen Klages in the past. Coincidentally, I had also almost requested her latest novel Passing Strange from NetGalley when it was available, but had decided against it as well on the grounds that my TBR pile was too high. After reading Wicked Wonders…well, that TBR stack is just going to have to get stratospheric. Ms. Klages, you have a new fan.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle/Adobe Digital Edition, Tachyon Publications, May 23, 2017
Acquired: NetGalley, 3/13/2017
Genre: speculative fiction

Deal Me In, Week 20 ~ “Trust Me”

(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)
(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)

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

“Trust Me” by Joseph Lyons

Card picked: 7♠
From: The Architecture of Fear, ed. by Kathryn Cramer and Peter D. Pautz

The Story
A few weeks back I read a story in this anthology by a very famous horror writer, but I didn’t post about it. The story was quite long, involved a lot of back story, and really lacked any creepiness or tension. The prestige of the author probably sold copies of this anthology back in 1989 when the mall bookstore had a horror section that was at least a good two sections of shelves.*

I’m guessing that no one bought this anthology for Joseph Lyons’ “Trust Me.” Which is a shame. Weighing in at a mere two pages, it packs more punch than Mr. Big-Time author’s 26 pages. It begins with fed-up parents and a little girl suffering from nightmares…

“That’s right. I don’t believe you.” He glared at her until she looked down. “And I don’t think you were asleep, either.”

After doing some internet searching, “Trust Me” seems to be Joseph Lyons’ only writing credit. Anthologies are great for finding new authors, but sometimes a little depressing when you realize that the rare gem is actually singular.

The Architecture of Fear is available through Open Library.

*And only 33% of those shelves were taken up by Stephen King. He’s not the guy with the long, boring story, btw. King’s short stories are generally very solid.

 

Review ~ Infernal Parade

Cover via Goodreads

Infernal Parade by Clive Barker, illustrated by Bob Eggleton

This astonishing novella, Infernal Parade, perfectly encapsulates Barker’s unique abilities. Like the earlier Tortured Souls, an account of bizarre–and agonizing–transformations, Infernal Parade is tightly focused, intensely imagined, and utterly unlike anything else you will ever read. It begins with the tale of a convicted criminal, Tom Requiem, who returns from the brink of death to restore both fear and a touch of awe to a complacent world. Tom becomes the leader of the eponymous “parade,” which ranges from the familiar precincts of North Dakota to the mythical city of Karantica. Golems, vengeful humans both living and dead, and assorted impossible creatures parade across these pages. The result is a series of highly compressed, interrelated narratives that are memorable, disturbing, and impossible to set aside. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
This slim little volume caught my eye when I was browsing the new release shelves at the library. I’m a semi Barker fan; my favorite of his works being the also short The Thief of Always.

What Worked
This novella is a collection of shorter works that chain on to each other, as a parade might. Each focuses on a separate member of the Infernal Parade beginning with their leader Tom Requiem. In total, this all reads a little like an inky black and blood-red (and shorter) version of Ray Bradbury’s From the Dust Returned. These characters form a sort of tense family as they march into the world.

What Didn’t Work
Really, the parade just sort of passes by. There isn’t any real ending or conclusion, or much in the way of purpose to this group of stories. Each chapter is accompanied by an illustration, all very well done, by Bob Eggleton. Honestly, I feel like these vignettes would have been better as a series of comics. Rightly or not, I expect more open-ended storytelling from comics than hardback prose.

Overall
None of the “What Didn’t Work” takes away from the fact that the parade is a creepy good time while its there. I read Infernal Parade first during the readathon a couple weekends ago and it was a great choice to kick things off.

Publishing info, my copy: hardback, Subterranean Press, 2017
Acquired: Tempe Public Library
Genre: horror

Review ~ The Island of Dr. Moreau

Cover via Goodreads

The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells

A shipwreck in the South Seas, a palm-tree paradise where a mad doctor conducts vile experiments, animals that become human and then “beastly” in ways they never were before — it’s the stuff of high adventure. It’s also a parable about Darwinian theory, a social satire in the vein of Jonathan Swift (Gulliver’s Travels), and a bloody tale of horror.

As H. G. Wells himself wrote about this story, The Island of Dr. Moreau is an exercise in youthful blasphemy. “Now and then, though I rarely admit it, the universe projects itself towards me in a hideous grimace. It grimaced that time, and I did my best to express my vision of the aimless torture in creation.” (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
I’ve been reading my way through H. G. Wells oeuvre. I was going to read The Invisible Man next, but The Island of Dr. Moreau has a more horror reputation and I wanted an extra title for Spring into Horror.

What Didn’t Work
The science is, of course, dated. Changing the gross physiology of an animal cannot make it into a more man-like creature. Likewise, the practice of vivisection was very controversial at the time of the novella’s original publication (1896), but the depictions are perhaps less shocking in our era of PETA disseminated photos of animals in labs. So, what does science fiction with outdated science hold for a modern audience?

What Worked
Wells did believe, on some level, that the novel’s premise might be possible, though probably not in the way the novel depicts. The novel is a spinning what-if that begins in science and tumbles into philosophy. The story is more interested in how beasts might gain humanity (through fear of the law) and how human might lose humanity (through giving in to baser nature). Alas, when the Law is chanted, the refrain is “no escape.”

This Law they were ever repeating, I found, and ever breaking.

In a weird way, The Island of Dr. Moreau reminds me of a twisted version of The Tempest: a castaway ruins the tenuous calm of a genius’s retreat from the world. That work too muses on the nature of humanity.

But, also, The Island of Dr. Moreau has some pretty tense moments. Like many classics, the adaptations really aren’t spoilers for the original. I know I’ve seen the 1996 movie with Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer and probably the 1977 version with Burt Lancaster too*, but I really didn’t know what was going to happen next. I know from the literary frame that Prendick will make it off the island, but like the tagline to another horror classic, what will be left of him? What I enjoy most about Wells is that, yes, he’s presenting a lot of his views of the world in his fiction, but, unlike Swift (see the blurb), he also writes a good story. Preach at me if you want, but entertain me too.

* My running playlist includes House of Pain. Two of the tracks on their first album sample the 1977 movie. “Commercial 2” has been the projected 1.5 mile mark on many of my 3K playlists

Overall
I am three for three with Mr. Wells. Looking forward to The Invisible Man.

Publishing info, my copy: ebook – HTML & Kindle, October 14, 2004 [EBook #159]
Acquired: Project Gutenberg
Genre: Horror, Science Fiction

Deal Me In, Week 13 ~ “The Apparition”

(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)
(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)

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

“The Apparition” by Guy de Maupassant

Card picked: Q
From: The Literature Network, probably via The October Reading Club

The Story

The old Marquis de la Tour-Samuel, who was eighty-two, rose,and, leaning his elbow on the mantelpiece, said in his somewhat shaky voice:

“I also know of something strange, so strange that it has haunted me all my life. …”

Thus, in classic style, Guy de Maupassant begins this ghostly tale.

When the Marquis was a mere twenty-six years old and a brash soldier, he met an old friend who had obviously fallen on some hard times. While the Marquis hadn’t seen this friend in only five years, the man looked like he’d aged thirty. His friend asked a favor of him: to go to his estate and retrieve three packets of letters from a desk in his bedroom. Seemingly a simple task, the Marquis agrees (even though his friend admits that he never wishes to reenter the house and gives no reason). His friend provides him with a letter to give to the gardener to grant him access to the house. The gardener is rather confused by the letter and the request, but the Marquis is undaunted. The house is very run-down and he finds the bedroom dark and musty. The shutters are rusted shut so the Marquis must go about his search in near darkness. It is after the second pack of letters that the Marquis realizes that he is not alone in the room.

This is one of those ghost stories that doesn’t provide much background or explanation. The Marquis comes away from the experience badly frightened—he has been afraid of the dark for the past fifty-six years—but we’re never given the back story of his friend or the ghostly woman. When the Marquis returns to town, he sends the letters to his friend, but his friend then goes missing. What was in the letters? Or even in the letter that the Marquis gives to the gardener? We never know.

The ghost in this tale also bears some resemblance to the Japanese yūrei and I wonder how familiar Maupassant was with Lafcadio Hearn’s Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things (although I realize that the white-clad, dark-haired appearance of the yūrei might be more of a modern trend).

Still, a chilling tale for October or April.

 

Favorite Stories from Fantasy & Science Fiction, Nov-Dec 2016

Cover via ISFDB

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, November-December 2016

I purchased a subscription to The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction back in Sept. 2016 due to one short story. While the subscription only cost me $5, I decided that if I was going to justify this, I was going to actually read each issue…unlike every other time I’ve had a fiction magazine subscription.

My reviewing of issues might get better as the year goes on, but for Nov/Dec 2016 I’m just going to highlight what I found to be the outstanding stories. All of these authors were new to me.

“The Rhythm Man” by James Beamon – Would you make a deal with the devil? If could, what would you ask for? What is that thing in your heart of hearts that you’d sell your soul for? All that bluesman Horace wants from the Rhythm Man is a song… Great mythology and a marvelous sense of place in the setting.

“Lord Elgin at the Acropolis” by Minsoo Kang – The director of a museum is certain that paintings and sculptures are being replaced by forgeries. Except, there’s no evidence. The art is re-certified as original; the security tapes show no tampering. Is he going insane? Or is technology beyond current comprehension to blame? This is half story, half thought experiment, and all good.

“Special Collections” by Kurt Fawver

We only have two rules at the library. The first is that you don’t go into Special Collections without a partner.

I’m lying when I say I don’t like cosmic horror. My problem, I think, is one of scale. To abruptly see some grand transdimentional horror and claim that it is so incomprehensible that it inspires insanity—that doesn’t work for me. But show me the little things that get under a character’s skin, show me the creeping obsessions that lead to questionable moral choices. Then, I’m all in. “Special Collections” is a deliciously spooky tale.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle (the navigation is really nice!), Spilogale, Inc., Nov. 2016
Acquired: Sept. 2016
Genre: science fiction, fantasy, horror

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Deal Me In, Week 3 ~ “The Ghost-Extinguisher”

(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)
(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)

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

“The Ghost-Extinguisher” by Gelett Burgess

Card picked: Ace of Hearts
From: Introduced to me by Tim Prasil at The Merry Ghost Hunter. Published in Cosmopolitan in 1905, you too can read it online.

The Story

My attention was first called to the possibility of manufacturing a practicable ghost-extinguisher by a real-estate agent in San Francisco.

Our ghost-hunting narrator Garrish learns about an ancient Japanese* method of ridding properties of “ghosts” or rather the astral remains of the recently dead. Garrish sciences-up the ritual and devises a way to capture and store ghosts. When the ghost hunting business runs dry in his local area, Garrish takes a trip to England, thinking that the old country should be lousy with ghosts. Unfortunately, in England having a ghost in your house is sort of a status symbol, so no one wants their ghosts busted er, extinguished. Ever a capitalist, Garrish realizes he has a supply that is in demand. Not surprisingly, things don’t go as planned…

This is fun story. It brings to mind, of course, Ghostbusters, but also The Frighteners, in which hauntings are levied for fun and profit.

* Early 20th century racism alert!

The Author

Gelett Burgess was an artist, art critic, and humorist of some note. In addition to “The Purple Cow,” he also coined the term “blurb,” thus giving authors everywhere something to seek or be pestered for depending on which side of fame that author stands.