I feel like Nothing But Blackened Teeth has been on my TBR list for years, but it was only published this year. More likely, after reading Khaw’s Persons Non Grata novellas, I’ve been meaning to read more of her works.
I liked Nothing But Blackened Teeth well enough. I read Edgar Allan Poe’s “Ligiea” recently and Khaw’s use of architecture in Teeth is very comparable, and I love architecture in stories! In many ways, this story reads like a J-horror film, full of vengeful ghosts and yokai just at the edge of sight. In fact, our narrator Cat often refers horror tropes as events unfold.
Famous Modern Ghost Stories, ed. by Dorothy Scarborough
“Modern” is, of course, a relative word. This anthology was published in 1921, so Scarborough’s picks are from 1830-ish on. Included are many stories that very much have survived the test of time: “The Willows” by Algernon Blackwood, “Lazarus” by Leonid Andreyev, “The Shadow on the Wall” by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, “The Bowmen” by Arthur Machen, and “Ligeia” by Edgar Allan Poe. If I hadn’t read these stories before, I knew of them.
There are also a couple gems with modern touches: “The Shell of Sense” by Olivia Howard Dunbar is written from the ghost’s point of view and “The Beast with Five Fingers” by W. F. Harvey could easily be Thing’s great-grandfather.
Glen Hirshberg introduced the Nadine and Normal adventures in the anthology The Ones Who Are Waving. There, he published three “Collector” stories with a brief forward. Nadine and Normal are Hirshberg’s take on the occult detectives with a nod toward the differences in story-telling rhythms between that mystery subgenre and straight-up ghost stories.
In the anthology Infinity Dreams, Hirshberg takes those stand-alone stories (“His Only Audience,” “Hexenhaus,” and “Pride”), adds two others (including origin story “The Fossilist”), and wraps them in an over-arching plot which climaxes in the novella length “Infinity Dreams.” Nadine is an Irish ex-pat with a knack for research and Normal is neurodivergant who finds things for clients. The stories are experienced through Nadine’s point of view with Normal being a charming black box. The characters are the strong point and that’s something I’m not used to in Hirshberg’s works.
The stories themselves are semi-mysteries. Mysteries aren’t solved; mysterious things aren’t explained. That is actually part of the overarching plot. Nadine and Normal are weirdness magnets, but don’t question why. Generally, they go back to quiet life when the weirdness subsides. Until one job shakes all of that up.
Hirshberg is one of my favorite authors, but these stories are not my favorites of his. They are fine, but lack some of the immersive setting details that make “Mr. Dark’s Carnival” or “Struwwelpeter” special.
I don’t remember how, but at some point in college, I watched “The Cormorant,” an 88 minute episode of Screen Two, which is a British anthology TV series. I think it was probably on PBS and caught my eye because it starred Ralph Fiennes. Knowing that it was based on a book, I kept an eye out.
A few years later, the book was republished by White Wolf. A double win for me since I wanted to support White Wolf’s fiction publishing venture. (White Wolf is better known for RPGs like Vampire: The Masquerade.) And then, as is my MO, I didn’t read the book for 20 years . . .
It’s been nearly as long since I saw the TV version, but there are a few scenes that I’m pretty sure weren’t included in the adaptation. The story set-up is this: when misanthropic Uncle Ian dies, he leaves his cottage in Wales to his nephew, with the proviso that the family continue to take care of Uncle Ian’s cormorant. The cormorant is capricious, as any wild animal is. The year-old son of the protagonist is fascinated by the bird. Additionally, maybe Uncle Ian hasn’t quite moved on and is influencing little Harry.
Gregory’s writing is very sleek and raw. The tone of the novel reminded me of Joyce Carol Oates. Discomfiting, being an apt word for both. There is a somewhat incestuous scene that occurs. Many other reviewers see this as gratuitous and out of place, but I read it as Uncle Ian almost possessing Harry. This doesn’t make it any less squicky. There is also not surprisingly a bit of animal cruelty; be aware.
According to LibraryThing, I no longer own Gregory’s The Blood of Angels. I’m not sure that’s accurate, which would mean I have a box of books somewhere that I didn’t catalog. (This is not beyond the realm of possibility.) If I do still own it, I’ll probably read it at some point. If I don’t, I probably won’t go out of my way to read more Gregory.
Channeling past summer blockbuster fun, I decided that I’d kick off 20 Books of Summer with Caribbean adventure and undead pirates: On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers.
Yes, the book was loose inspiration for the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean film. I haven’t seen the movie. I jumped ship on that franchise after the third film (I think), after very much enjoying the first one. That I can’t remember whether I’ve seen At World’s End is indicative of my philosophy here: I can forgive many sins for undead pirates, but even I run out of grace.
On Stranger Tides starts out pretty well. Jack, a young man bent on avenging wrongs to his father, is waylaid during a trip to Jamaica by pirates and pressed into their service. He also becomes wrapped up in the doings of a father taking his beautiful daughter to the Fountain of Youth for nefarious purposes. The first half of the book is concerned with traveling to the Fountain and avoiding the ghosts and insanities that plagues the path. It’s creepy and reminded me somewhat of Hodgson’s “The Boats of the ‘Glen Carrig'”. Unfortunately, the second half of the book is mostly a chase with Elizabeth becoming everyone’s McGuffin. It’s repetitive and, after giving Elizabeth a personality earlier in the book, disappointing. (I will admit that, while this is definitely not the Elizabeth of the films, my opinion of the character is probably colored by the movies.) There are also some instances of thick exposition and twist coincidence at the end that didn’t feel very earned.
Beat the Backlog: I purchased On Stranger Tides on Aug. 22, 2017 as a Kindle ebook. 20 Books of Summer: This is book #1 of (hopefully) 20.
Card Picked: 2♠️ – a wild card already! Story:“The Bottomless Martyr” by John Wiswell List: Since deuces are wild, I had my choice of stories. I decided to pick one from Uncanny magazine’s 2020 reader’s choice list.
Thoughts: Rang is a young woman with a special relationship with Life and Death. Her sacrifices, often horrendous fates befitting a martyr, can cause miracles for others, but can’t save herself. What can she be if not a martyr? John Wiswell has a light touch when it comes to world building. This is a story that is going to hit hard if you’re one of those people who always does for others, especially if it feels like duty.
Thoughts: This is a magical realism revenge tale set in Bengal during the era of Churchill’s denial policies—in an effort to curtain the Japanese invasion of India in 1942, food and transportation methods were removed from Bengal, despite, you know, the needs of the people living in Bengal at the time. This is obviously not a happy story. In fact, it’s rough going because the horror here is based reality. This is a corner of history I was ignorant of.
I chose/happened across several works this week that fit the prompt of necromancy about as well as the magician Joseffy fit the title. But then again, Joseffy’s most famous trick was Balsamo, the Talking Skull.
I chose this story because it won this year’s Eugie Award and all the nominees are on my short fiction TRB lists. It’s not exactly a tale of necromancy, but sort of a remix of necromantic ideas with a little bit of far-fetched science thrown in. And at the heart of the story is a mother-daughter relationship that isn’t going too well…
Initial: Decided to try out one of Netflix’s original series, especially since it fit R. I. P. (because I need more reason to watch horror…).
Production Notes: Based on a book by Todd Grimson, which is pretty much out of print. You’d think everyone involved would want an available tie-in, but what do I know?
What Did I Think: This series is full of the reanimated dead, so it reasonably fits the “necromancy” category. I’m not sure I can say anything else very definite about Brand New Cherry Flavor.
Comparisons have been made to the works of David Lynch and, yeah, I can see that. I don’t really consider that a good thing. Lynch always feels a little too random and chaotic to me. BNCF isn’t quite as annoying as a David Lynch film, but there are definitely a few cases where what I assume to be rules of this world are inexplicably violated. The other comparison is to David Cronenberg’s works; that’s mostly because there is a pretty strong body horror aesthetic going on. I don’t mind body horror.
Story-wise, I don’t mind a morally ambiguous protagonist, but there is a moment of change-up that seemed false to me. Maybe it’s because we’re not given much hint that there’s something bad in Lisa Nova’s past until that’s important or that the parallel between her past and current circumstances is never fleshed out.
Not very necromantic at all despite the title. In fact, it’s sort of libromantic, since our protagonist reading a book sets off a chain of events that is side-tracked by reminding himself that he’s reading a book. Nice and creepy though.
This book was provided to me by Empress Wu Books via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Zhiguai: Chinese True Tales of the Paranormal and Glitches in the Matrix, edited and translated by Yi Izzy Yu & John Yu Branscum
In this collection, award-winning writers and translators Yi Izzy Yu and John Yu Branscum share paranormal and glitch in the matrix tales from across present-day China. Confided by eyewitnesses, these true stories uncannily echo Western encounters with chilling dimensions of reality and supernatural entities. At the same time, they thrillingly immerse the reader in everyday Chinese life and occult beliefs.
Zhiguai is an anthology of short, sometimes very short, uncanny tales, or “zhiguai.” These are different from ghost stories, being more personal and more reliant on wrinkles in reality. Time slips, doppelgangers, quick jaunts to parallel realities, glitches in the matrix, if you will, are the sort of strange phenomena covered here.
These are true narratives related by the people who have experienced these things. Most of the storytellers seem quite young. While some of the stories are disturbing, this anthology feels like the type of scares that I would have absolutely loved in high school. For me now, I wish these stories were paired with some from Yi Izzy Yu and John Yu Branscum’s other translation project The Shadow Book of Ji Yun, a collection of traditional zhiguai. I’m definitely interested in comparing the more traditional (which I’m unfamiliar with) and the modern.
That being said, this would be an absolutely perfect autumn readathon book: a spin-tingling fast read.