The Ravine

Usually, I know exactly what I’m going to read after I finish a book. However, back last New Year’s Eve, I thought I needed a break.

A weird western was just the thing.

Review: The Ravine, William Meikle, 2013.

Cover by M. Wayne Miller

While this isn’t my favorite kind of weird western, I think the most inventive ones are science fiction stories that don’t use time travel or aliens, I still found this story gripping and fast moving. 

Meikle starts the action right away with a cavalry squad swept to another dimension where they are recruited in a fight to keep Satan imprisoned. Only one survives, Stevens, who is imbued with the weaponry and power of an angel and returns to our world. 

The second viewpoint character is Joe Clancy. He’s a rancher with his wife Jessie, son Tommy, and hired hand and family friend Paddy Doyle. His ranch is on the brink of being foreclosed on; there is a drought, and he needs the cattle in good shape to make his mortgage payment. Meikle really makes you feel the plight of the Clancys all through this story.

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The Black Throne

This one was read last October. I always try to make time for some Poe in October. I’m not quite that far behind my reviews, but this one got overlooked, so it’s a bit of a backtrack.

Review: The Black Throne, Roger Zelazny and Fred Saberhagen, 1990.

Cover by David B. Mattingly

This novel is a farrago of the life and works of Edgar Allan Poe and involves multiple worlds.

We open with Annie on the shore of a fog shrouded sea. She meets two identical looking boys:  Edgar Perry (Poe’s name when he was a sergeant in the US Army) and Edgar Allan (that would have been Poe’s name if he had been formerly adopted by his step family). They go out into the sea to look at a body. Edgar Allan is near it when he loses contact with this dream world but not before he hears the call of “E-tekeli-li” (from Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym). Next, we see Edgar Perry near Fort Moultrie (where Poe served and site of his story “The Gold Bug”). Perry sees Annie riding by in a coach. He has long seen Annie in his dreams. Annie, from the coach, seems to telepathically ask for him to rescue her, that she is being taken away to be done harm, and she is possibly drugged. Annie is, of course, the woman from Poe’s “Annabel Lee”.

And so, in the first chapter, we set the tone for what will be a story that works in many of the elements of Poe’s life and his works – some obscure, some obvious. (I’ll admit I recognized most of them, but, for a few, I had to resort to Dawn B. Sova’s Edgar Allan Poe A to Z to refresh my memory.)

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“The Prayer of Ninety Cats”

This is the piece of weird fiction being discussed this week over at LibraryThing.

Review: “The Prayer of Ninety Cats”, Caitlín R. Kiernan, 2013.

Cover by Elizabeth Story

Like a lot of Kiernan I’ve read, the plot on this one is rather obscure but the prose lyrical.

It’s more a meditation on movies and the experience of seeing them in the theater, of the compelling nature of light reflected from the silver screen, than about the fictional movie contained within the story. We even are invited to identify with an unnamed movie critic addressed as “you” throughout the story.

We don’t seem to ever get the title of this movie about Elizabeth Bathory von Ecsed, the famed Blood Countess of history. The movie recounts her descent into depravity and her predations on the local women sent to the castle including having one ground into sausage and fed to her unwitting parents.

However, the main part of the story is her relationship to a her lover, a “witch of the woods” named Anna Darvulia.

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“Mrs Midnight”

This was last week’s short story being discussed over at LibraryThing’s Deep Ones group.

Review: “Mrs Midnight”, Reggie Oliver, 2011.

Cover by Reggie Oliver

As seems to often be the case in the few Oliver stories I’ve read, this story is about showbiz.

Our narrator is the host of the tv show I Can Make You A Star, and the story is propelled by a woman, Jill Warburton, whom our narrator, Danny, fancies. He does not find her exceptionally beautiful, but he likes her personality. 

To be close to her, he agrees to help her on a restoration of the Old Essex Music Hall, a dump of a building in London that has a bad reputation and, says Danny, has only survived because “some nutter slapped a preservation order on it.” 

A lot of the story is Danny’s asides on various characters and his own life rising from humble beginnings. It opens with Danny going, for the first time, to the Old Essex with Crispin de Hartong and Jill. Danny does not like Crispin because he’s clearly putting the moves on Jill even though he admits Crispin is much closer to Jill’s age. Crispin is an architectural expert and hosts a minor house hunting show called Premises, Premises . . . .

The Old Essex is on Alie Street in the Whitechapel district. It was partly destroyed in a fire after the last Ripper murder in the area and has been a hangout for junkies and bikers for years. It’s a much larger building than Danny expects. 

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Myths & Legends of the First World War

Review: Myths & Legends of the First World War, James Hayward, 2002, 2010.

I would have thought the marketing department would have went with the title The Cult of the Clitoris and Other Myths and Legends of the First World War. Perhaps too long?

In a very concise, readable book with all the academic appurtenances of footnotes, bibliography, index and even some photos, Hayward looks at the fake news and rumors that circulated during the war and the false judgements afterwards.

Understandably, like a lot of British histography on the Great War, it focuses solely on the Western Front.

“Spy Mania” looks at the many reports of German spies and saboteurs during August 1914. They were poisoning water supplies and destroying rail bridges. Concrete tennis courts and pools and building foundations were waiting for secret German artillery installations. German spies kept homing pigeons, forbidden them by the Aliens Restriction Order. They signaled offshore German submarines. Winston Churchill even got into the act into hunting down the later. While staying in the Loch Ewe anchorage on the HMS Iron Duke, he thought a searchlight on the roof of a nearby mansion was signaling enemy submarines. Soon a party of Admirals and Commodores found themselves going ashore in an armed party to investigate. Lest we be smug about this in the 21st century, I will direct people to the many contemporary reports of non-existent terrorist actions in Washington, D.C. on Sept 11th.

Or, at least, those were the stories going around. Carl Lody’s execution on Nov. 6, 1914 pretty much ended German spying in Britain. But every German butcher, hairdresser, waiters, watchmaker, prostitute, and governess was under suspicion. Accusations of being German spies and sympathizers were made against several prominent members of the government or their spouses including Lord Haldane, Baden-Powell, and Margot Asquith, the Prime Minister’s wife.

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The Wandering Soul

I told you I wasn’t done with William Hope Hodgson.

With this post, I think I can claim to have blogged more about William Hope Hodgson than anybody else in the English-speaking world. Whether any of it was useful you will have to judge. But, as Joe the Georgian said, “Quantity has a quality all its own”.

Review: The Wandering Soul: Glimpses of a Rare Life: A Compendium of Rare and Unpublished Works, ed. Jane Frank, 2005.

Since I spent about $50 for this book, something I rarely do unless it’s a reference work, I guess I can now be considered a hardcore Hodgson fan. Considering that was the list price for this book when it was published by Tartarus Press and I got it new, I got a good deal – and there must not be that many hardcore Hodgson fans.

So, what did I get for my money?

131 of the book’s 365 pages is Hodgson fiction, specifically for a collection entitled Coasts of Adventure which was never published in his lifetime. In 2005, that might have been significant (frankly, I didn’t do my blogger diligence and check how many were anthologized before showing up here). But, now, you can get every one of these stories in Night Shade Books’s five volume The Collected Fiction of William Hope Hodgson.

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In Darkness, Delight: Masters of Midnight

Review: In Darkness, Delight: Masters of Midnight, eds. Andrew Lennon and Evans Light, 2019.

Cover by Mikio Murakami

I don’t know if it was accidental or deliberate, but the predominant theme of this anthology is grief.

Grief is a peculiar thing, not really horror but painful. But, in some sense, it’s often a sign you were lucky – lucky enough to know something or someone enough to grieve their passing. But, of course, grief can be the start of a more interesting story.

I bought this story for William Meikle’s “Refuge”, one of his Sigil and Totem stories, a series entirely built on grief and loss. Here, Meikle works another variation on that series’ central idea. The narrator is an Arab refuge living in London. He works at a pub where he catches the bad attentions of Wilkins whom he insults. Yes, this is yet another story centered on the modern obsession about racism and discrimination. Meikle conveniently does not make our protagonist a devout Moslem, so he retains our sympathy. There is a bit of invade-the-world, invite-the-world theme here when the narrator replies, to Wilkins’ insult, that he’s in London “Because ignorant fascists just like you blew my family out of their shoes.” The story will take both Wilkins and the protagonist to a Sigils and Totems house where the dead can, in some form, live again. I suppose Meikle is saying we are all bound together by grief, but, frankly, I’m always going to sympathize with the Crusader over the Saracen.

Angel Wings” from Paul Michaels, is another story dealing with grief. The horror is nothing supernatural just loneliness and isolation. Our 11-year old protagonist, Bobby Granger, has lost his mother. His father is distant and contemptuous of the notion, which his wife held, that people have souls. Bobby is a “soft atheist” warring with the need for belief. He comes across what is purported to be angel wings on a school trip to a museum of religious artifacts. He becomes rather obsessed with them with, of course, bad consequences.

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Halfway to Anywhere — Volume 1

I picked up this slender anthology solely because it had a William Meikle story in it.

Review: Halfway to Anywhere – Volume 1, 2017.

Cover by Zach McCain

William Meikle’s “Stars and Sigils” wrings a couple of variation on his Sigils and Totems formula. First, the sigils and totems “house” in this futuristic story is on a space station. Second, the narrator doesn’t use it an expected way to reconnect with his dead friend Johnny. It’s an unusual entry in Meikle’s series.

J. G. Faherty’s “Heroes Are Made” reminded me of Frederik Pohl’s “What Dreams Remain”. Both feature protagonists who are willing to sell out the future (the future of space exploration in the Pohl story, the future of humanity here) for comfort and safety. Barry goes to his summer cabin with his annoying wife and kids, and they are attacked by aliens which appear as duplicates of the family. The aliens are interested in taking over Earth and are impersonating humans to do it. They need help in perfecting their methods, so they make a proposition to Barry: teach them how to impersonate humans and he can have a better life – albeit under alien guard – than he does now.

Daedalus” from Jeremy Henderson takes too long to get to an obvious conclusion. The whole story is basically the officers of a starship discussing what to do after it’s been learned that their terraforming efforts to make a planet habitable have killed off a large portion of an unknown group of sentient aliens. The officers have to decide whether to turn around and surrender to the UN and be tried for genocide, kill the crew still in suspended animation, or carry on with the expedition and try to help the surviving native sentients.

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“The Truth About Pickman”

Originally, I was going to review this story at a much later date since I’m still catching up on reviews. However, after I reading it, I nominated it for discussion at LibraryThing’s Deep Ones group devoted to weird fiction.

I’m not really sure it qualifies despite originally being published in S. T. Joshi’s Black Wings of Cthulhu, but I’ll get to that later.

Review: The Truth about Pickman”, Brian Stableford, 2010.

This is an interesting story, actually a strong piece of science fiction which uses Brian Stableford’s extensive knowledge of biology to rationalize the existence of Richard Pickman from H. P. Lovecraft’s “Pickman’s Model”. It’s ends on something of a nasty joke.

Spoilers aplenty lie ahead.

This story has an underlying tone of menace almost from the beginning since it narrator, Eliot, makes it clear that he’s concealing information from Professor Alastair Thurber who has come to visit him from America.

Eliot lives in a rather odd house on the Isle of Wight in a chine, a wooded ravine at the edge of the sea, a place formerly used by smugglers.

Eliot lives by himself, and Thurber is a microbiologist who also has an interest in Pickman’s paintings. Both men are descendants of characters in Lovecraft’s story. (You probably should read it before this story.)

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