“Professor Pownall’s Oversight”

This week’s weird fiction selection.

Review: “Professor Pownall’s Oversight”, H. R. Wakefield, 1928.They Return at Evening

Wakefield’s story is a startling and memorable mix of a ghost story, shadow identities, and a doppelganger of sorts. The locus of the weirdness and menace, its symbol of awful knowledge, is not an old magical tome or religious relic or a place. It’s something quite mundane: the game of chess.

Professor Pownall is a man of “virulent and brutal wit” and a man with no friends. So Dr. Cary, the man who presents us this tale, tells us.

Pownall was a patient of his a few times, so, being the nearest to a friend, he entrusts a story to Cary. The instructions are to wait 15 years to print it and not to bother looking for him since he’ll be disappearing.

Pownall tells us his life began at age 12 when he met Hubert Morisson at Flamborough College. Continue reading ““Professor Pownall’s Oversight””

“The Big One”

The James Gunn series continues.

Review: “The Big One”, James Gunn, 1996.c87e19c4f9c12b7596945497167434f414f4141

This was Gunn’s 45th story. Like “Jackpot for Julie” and “The Man with One Talent”, it was an attempt to break into the “slick”, higher paying magazines. It seems to have been written in 1953 or 1954.

It is not at all science fictional.

It’s a boxing story.

It’s the classic setup: our narrator Champ – and that’s all he’s ever called, but, at 34, he’s an over-the-hill champ vs. Johnny, a 23-year old up and coming fighter with a contract and the chance to make a reputation. Continue reading ““The Big One””

Legends of the Dragon Cowboys

Yes, it’s time for another weird western, two of them in fact, as I work my way through the backlog of reviews.

Riley and Givens are familiar names to this blog since they appear in several of the publications put out by Riley’s Science Fiction Trails. This book, however, is published by David Lee Summers’ Hadrosaur Productions, and his own fiction has shown up in Science Fiction Trails publications.

Review: Legends of the Dragon Cowboys, 2017.

Cover by Laura Givens

As you can tell by the cover, this book hearkens back to the days of Ace Doubles.

It doesn’t exactly give you two novels. Both of them have an episodic feel to them though David B. Riley’s The Venerable Travels of Ling Fung seems to be all new while Laura Givens Chin Song Ping and the Long, Long Night is mostly reprints assembled around a frame.

Both books have Chinese immigrants, men on the make, in the American Old West.

I’ve long thought that weird westerns could do more with the Chinese. Even though I prefer the science fiction variety of the weird western, I’d like to see it use more Chinese mythology and history even it that means a fantasy weird western.

Ling Fung is kind of a Shaolin monk (obvious shades of the old tv show Kung Fu) and kind of a Jesuit though he didn’t complete training with either before a death sentence by the Chinese Emperor forced him to flee to America. There Riley puts him in the same fictional universe as his Miles O’Malley books, and Ling possibly solves the problem of Ah Puch, Mayan God of Death, for good.

He also learns the practicalities of bounty hunting (it’s not the gross, it’s the net), runs across a cannibal and a yeti, investigates the mystery as to whom is buying all the .40 caliber Purdy ammunition, and gets enough guns and knives from people trying to kill him to stock his own store with them. Continue reading “Legends of the Dragon Cowboys”

“The Watcher by the Threshold”

It’s time for this week’s weird fiction.

Yes, that is the same John Buchan remembered these days for the espionage thrillers The Thirty-Nine Steps and Greenmantle. But he wrote enough weird fiction to make up an entire collection, and, in 1911, he wrote an introduction to Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination, so he had a definite interest in that type of story.

Review: “The Watcher by the Threshold”, John Buchan, 1900.

Watcher by the T
Cover by Keith Minnion

A successful story that I wish was longer and more detailed.

It’s almost what Darrell Schweitzer calls an “old school chum story” except the narrator is not an old school chum of the afflicted Robert Ladlaw. Ladlaw is his cousin-in-law. The narrator wanted to marry Robert’s wife Sybil, whom he deeply cares for, but he acknowledges she wisely chose Robert, and he likes Robert.

The narrator’s vacation in the Scottish Highlands is interrupted by a written plea from Sibyl. There is something seriously wrong, what she won’t say, with Robert, and she would like him to visit her.

The Ladlaws live in the House of More. The narrator finds the surrounding country and its red rocks and dirt, melancholy and peat-covered hills, landscape scarred from coal and iron mining oppressive. He calls it “a sullen relic of a lost barbarism”.  It’s called the land of Manaan (which suggests “Canaan” but, as far as I know, the name is an invention of Buchan’s). There he finds a distraught Sibyl and Robert a strange dinner companion. He is twitchy, spasmodic, and fearfully clutches at Sibyl.

Robert has brought a sinisterly suggestive bust of the Emperor Justinian (the anthology notes it seems to be based on a real bust). Continue reading ““The Watcher by the Threshold””

“The Man with One Talent”

And the James Gunn series continues.

Review: “The Man with One Talent”, James Gunn, 1996.c87e19c4f9c12b7596945497167434f414f4141

This was Gunn’s 42nd story. I’m not sure when it was written, seemingly in 1953 based on Gunn’s autobiography Star-Begotten.

Like “Jackpot for Julie”, it was an attempt to do a light romantic story for the higher paying “slick magazines”. And, like that story, it works just fine for what it is.

This one is borderline science fiction, and I can almost see it as an episode of The Twilight Zone though I suspect Rod Serling would have rejected it for being a bit too happy in its ending.

Essentially, it’s a story of two people, one cursed by money, one cursed by a freakish talent, and how love solves their problem. Continue reading ““The Man with One Talent””

“The Crimson Weaver”

This week’s weird fiction is a bit of stylish fin-de-siècle decadence.

Review: “The Crimson Weaver”, R. Murray Gilchrist, 1895.a9948fe272e6c96636a62457241434b41716b42

Gilchrist’s tale is one of those bits of weird fiction that is an airy filigree of a plot bejeweled with dark stones of language that flash darkly and intermittently and are cut in odd shapes.

Short, essentially a femme fatale tale of a creature beyond our world, Gilchrist puts us in his odd world with the first line:

“My Master and I had wandered from our track and lost ourselves on the side of a great ‘edge’.”

Is the narrator an apprentice? A servant? An acolyte?

Whatever the relation of the two, they enter a sort of dark wood of error after wandering about the countryside, eating at nearly empty inns, and sleeping rough. Continue reading ““The Crimson Weaver””

Horsemen of the Sands

No, I have not suddenly developed an interest in modern Russian literature.

Review: Horsemen of the Sands, Leonid Yuzefovich, trans. Marian Schwartz, 2018.41GoWkUhEXL._SX421_BO1,204,203,200_

This anthology has but two stories.

“The Storm” is a rather pointless, meandering story that seems that takes place on one rainy October day. The main point of interest is Dmitry Petrovich Rodygin, a tedious man who shows up in the classroom of Nadezhda Stepanovna.

He’s there to teach the kids about “traffic safety rules” and what follows is a tedious afternoon discussing braking distances of cars (including faking some measurements after the students unexpectedly get an answer right) and upsetting a young girl whose dad was arrested recently for drunk driving. All the while, he’s congratulating himself on his skillful presentation which eventually veers off to discussing the merits of various national punishments for driving while drunk.

I suppose, given his ultimate fate and his being compared to a stuffed crocodile, we’re supposed to see him as a symbol of the Soviet man who is going to disappear in a couple of decades. Continue reading “Horsemen of the Sands”