Mini Reviews, Vol. 8

MiniReviews
Sometimes, I don’t have a lot to say other than, “Man, I liked this.” So, here are some things I’ve liked recently.

alt text The Janus Tree by Glen Hirshberg

Two stories from this anthology that are going to stick with me: “You Become the Neighborhood” and “Shomer.” “You Become the Neighborhood” has a rather ambiguous path and maybe a zigger ending, but, man, the ending is enough to make any arachnophobe uneasy. “Shomer” is a more direct tale and more indicative of Hirshberg’s ability evoke creepiness. In both cases, Hirshberg takes what is “normal,” points out the shadows and uncertainty, and then populates those places with… well…

Interestingly, this collection also includes “Like Lick Em Sticks, Like Tina Fey,” which would seem to be the short story jumping off point for the novel Motherless Child. This is a great place the get a taste for that in-progress trilogy.

alt text “Kindred Spirits” by Rainbow Rowell

A charming tale about…waiting in line. Okay, waiting in line for the Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but it’s also about expectations and assumptions. Elena loves Star Wars and expects to be part of a celebration of that love. Instead, she faces that embarrassment that sometimes occurs when you love something deeply and slightly irrationally—even when among other fans of that thing. The notion of the “true fan” is handled lightly along with how we casually judge others without knowing anything about them.

alt text “Mystery of Asgina Lake” by Caren Rich

It might be the end of the summer vacation for many, but it’s just the beginning for Ella and Lena. This is a solid monster tale from Caren Rich with a great action climax that left me wondering, “What was that ting?!” I also loved that Ella and Lena were just casually tomboyish geek girls. Ella is gung-ho for adventure and Lena goes along, but with a good stock of comic books to keep boredom at bay. Originally included on the Fantastic Creatures Fellowship of Fantasy anthology.

The Janus Tree is 5.5/10 Books of Summer!

Deal Me In, Week 32 ~ “The Gateway of the Monster”

(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 Gateway of the Monster” by William Hope Hodgson

Card picked: A
From: Carnacki, the Ghost-Finder by William Hope Hodgson

The Story
For some reason I was under the impression that there was a short story entitled “Carnacki, the Ghost-Finder,” which is what I originally had as my ace of spades story. Apparently there is not(?) and I therefore substituted the first story in the anthology of that name: “The Gateway of the Monster.”

This is the first Carnacki story I’ve read (and maybe my first Hodgson) though he’s been on my TBR list for quite awhile. Carnacki is maybe the quintessential paranormal investigator. This story (the first?) showcases his MO perfectly with a blend of occult know-how and technological invention. I wasn’t expecting that last part. I’m not sure there’s anything more 1910 than the notion of an electric pentacle.

I also enjoyed the allusion to M. R. James’ “Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You My Lad.” Both hauntings involve moving bedsheets, but Hodgson gives them a rather interesting provenance where James doesn’t bother explaining his ghost at all. While Hodgson gives some closure to the matter, I think James’ is the scarier story.

A thought that crossed my mind: I’m guessing that Shirley Jackson did not have a very solid grounding in the pulp/genre fiction. Carnacki takes more scientific control precautions in this short story than Dr. Montagu does in the entirety of The Haunting of Hill House. For the literary world, was Jackson bringing something new to the table with her paranormal investigator? For the genre world, did Hill House read as very weak horror?

Deal Me In, Week 31 ~ “In the Memory Room”

(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?

“In the Memory Room” by Michael Bishop

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

The Story

Gina Callan is dead. Her relatives, especially her adopted son Kenny, are not happy with the work the hostess of the Memory Room has done to their loved one. Gina’s glasses and earrings are missing and Kenny claims that the body can’t possibly be that of his mother because his mother had been beautiful. Mrs. Dennis, the hostess, is trying her best and does a little more work on the corpse as the Gina’s family takes a break in the parlor. While she works, Mrs. Dennis overhears family stories and eventually Gina chimes in with her side of things as well.

I’ve read quite a few speculative fiction stories lately that are very light on the “speculative.” This is one of them. There wasn’t much indication of Gina being a ghost or the titular Memory Room being particularly important. Easily, this story could be about a slightly unbalanced funeral home worker who is having trouble dealing with the stress of her job. I was waiting for a little twist, or some more sinister aspect of the Memory Room to reveal itself. Sadly, that wasn’t to be.

♣ ♣ ♣

Shin Lim’s latest appearance on Fool Us is not related to this story and only slightly to the card picked. But for Deal Me In purposes, I figured I’d link to this a masterful bit of cardistry.

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