“Same Time, Same Place”

This subject of this week’s weird fiction over at LibraryThing.

Review: “Same Time, Same Place”, Mervyn Peake, 1963.The Weird

This is a rather sleight weird tale.

One night, the narrator, a 23 year old man, is particularly disgusted by his father’s appearance (his moustache with ashes in it) and that of his mother (the worn outside edge of her shoe). He goes out to a restaurant in Piccadilly Square and, by chance, meets a woman at a table, just abandoned by her companion.

He finds his true love instantly. He is particularly struck by her large, beautiful head and blonde hair.

After their first meeting, they agree to meet at the same place and the same time next day. And so they do for eight days.

The ending of the story is foreshadowed by the narrator being unable to find the woman’s feet underneath the table. Continue reading ““Same Time, Same Place””

“The New You”

This week’s topic of Deep Ones discussion over at LibraryThing.

Review: “The New You”, Kit Reed, 1962.9781598535808

This story is nominally sf. It was first published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Besides the main technology enabling a “New You”, there is a reference to an autochef. But it is appropriately weird too. The author of last week’s weird tale, John Keir Cross, seems to have had a philosophy that it is not events, per se, that makes a weird tale. It is human behavior.

This story has both kinds of weirdness. Essentially, it’s a doppelganger story with some odd behavior by its doubled character.

We start out with our heroine Martha. Martha is dissatisfied with her figure and weight and answers an ad promising a “New You” in “one of the glossier fashion magazines”. It promises you will “Watch the Old You Melt Away”.

And Martha would like the old her to melt away. She’s 40 pounds heavier and six inches shorter than the woman, whom she calls Marnie, she’d like to be. Continue reading ““The New You””

“The Glass Eye”

This week’s weird fiction to be discussed over at LibraryThing was nominated by me after coming across a John Keir Cross story in Scottish Stories of Fantasy and Horror which is in the large pile of books to be reviewed here.

I was impressed enough by it that I nominated this story which was published first in Cross’ seminal 1944 collection The Other Passenger which is quite good. This story, original and interesting as it is, is actually one of the lesser stories. But that I plan to discuss some other time.

As usual with these weekly postings about a piece of weird fiction, plenty of spoilers are ahead. That’s particularly relevant to Cross who seems to structure so many of his tales with a surprise ending.

Review: “The Glass Eye”¸ John Keir Cross, 1944.

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Cover by Henry Petrides

This has been referred to as the greatest horror story ever about a ventriloquist dummy.

I don’t know about that. It certainly has a unique spin, a complete reversal, on the usual direction such stories take. It also depends on what you mean by horror.

Our narrator opens the tale with a couple of items and a statement:

There are things that are funny so that you laugh at them, and there are things that are funny but you don’t laugh at them at all—at least, if you do, you aren’t laughing because they amuse you: you are doing what Bergson says you do when you laugh—you are snarling. You are up against something you don’t understand—or something you understand too well, but don’t want to give in to.

Our first item is a description of the narrator’s friend Julia, an ungainly woman of ungainly statements, possessor of a unique talent for stating the wrong things. Julia is a “lost, mad girl”. Her sexual initiation occurred at 18 from a man she never saw again. There’s a broken engagement in her past. Her love is bestowed on an unresponsive, crippled nephew she sees once a year. Continue reading ““The Glass Eye””

Best British Horror 2018

This one came to me as a review copy through LibraryThing. I asked for it solely because it had stories from Reggie Oliver and Paul Finch.

Review: Best British Horror 2018, ed. Johnny Mains, 2018.

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Cover by Daniel Serra

This could have been titled Best British Weird Stories 2018 because the anthology has some of the flavor of those Year’s Best Weird Fiction put out by Undertow Publications. Most of the stories are not horror of the visceral, gruesome, and frightening sort. They range from surrealism – mostly pointless – to well-done variations of old horror situations.

The Reggie Oliver stories did not disappoint even if one, “A Day with the Delusionists” is a satire on poets and Oxford University, wit and no horror though there is a murder. The Delusionists is an Oxford club of students, and, at one of their costume parties in 1973, an aging poet ends up dead.

The other Oliver story is decidedly something else. First appearing in a theme anthology built around Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, “Love and Death” reverses Wilde’s premise of a portrait that absorbs the moral and physical failings of its subject. Here the circus strongman, who stands as the model for Love in the titular painting, begins to weaken. Too late, the painter realizes that, John Keats to the contrary, beauty and truth are not the same as the figure of Death changes in the painting. Continue reading “Best British Horror 2018”

“Sredni Vashtar”

This week’s piece of weird fiction is from Saki, aka Hector Munro.

Review: “Sredni Vashtar”, Saki, 1910.

Saki’s tale is one of an unhappy child, Conradin.

He is under the guardianship of his cousin, Mrs. De Ropp:

in his eyes she represented those three-fifths of the world that are necessary and disagreeable and real; the other two-fifths, in perpetual antagonism to the foregoing, were summed up in himself and his imagination.

Where Conradin’s imagination ends and reality begins is what makes it a weird tale.

He is a lonely child. He escapes the domination of his cousin, whom he dubs “the Woman”, by hanging out in a tool-shed on the property. In it are two animals. The Houaden hen is recipient of all the affection Conradin cannot give elsewhere.

And there’s a pet ferret, kept secret from the Woman, and dubbed Sredni Vashtar. Continue reading ““Sredni Vashtar””

“The Monkey’s Paw”

This week’s subject of discussion over at the Deep Ones weird fiction group on LibraryThing.

Review: “The Monkey’s Paw“, W. W. Jacobs, 1902.

This story has been adopted so many times in so many media as well as parodied that’s there’s no point in discussing it in detail. You probably know the story and can guess the ending. (For some reason, the Deep Ones group has never discussed it. We just assumed we had given its such a well known story.)

It’s the three-wishes story, the three wishes being fulfilled in ways you really don’t want.

It’s a nicely done tale. Jacobs has a deft touch with how the idea of the monkey’s paw and its wishes are treated by the Whites who are given the paw by a family friend returned from army service in India. (He suggests they burn the thing. He got his wishes already.)

At first the Whites are skeptical about the idea and then, understandably, decide to test to see if it works. They even start by wishing for a smart and modest thing – enough money to pay off the mortgage on their home. But that money comes as an indemnity for their son’s death. The idea that the wishes would be granted in a way that could be interpreted as non-miraculous is a nice touch.

Of course, the climax – where the knocking of the dead son is suddenly stopped – shows that there really was something supernatural at work. Jacobs nicely conveys Mrs. White’s desperation to have her son back and Mr. White’s equal determination not to have whatever came up from the cemetary in the house.

 

More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

 

 

 

“No. 252 Rue M. le Prince”

This was last week’s piece of weird fiction being discussed over at LibraryThing.

Ralph Adams Cram, incidentally, was a very noted American architect who dabbled in fiction. I frequently pass by one of his churches in the Gothic Revival style.

Review: “No. 252 Rue M. le Prince”, Ralph Adams Cram, 1895.

I get the impression that there were many American “ghost stories” in the late 19th century that involved rich Americans in France, and this is one of them.

It’s also one of those weird fiction stories where a great deal is left unexplained. Sometimes, that can seem the writer failing to transmit an affecting vision. Other times, though, it works to create a memorable account of an odd incident. After all, what is weirder than us brushing against forces and events we cannot explain? Continue reading ““No. 252 Rue M. le Prince””