The Other Passenger

Impressed by his story in Scottish Stories of Fantasy and Horror, I picked up this collection by John Keir Cross.

Low Res Scan: The Other Passenger, John Kier Cross, 1944, 2017.

Cover by Henry Petrides

This collection is not entirely horror or weird stories. Many of them deal with people in the arts, particularly music, and they are often written by a narrator claiming to be untutored in the art of writing an account of their experiences. The stories often seemingly digress and move back and forth in time, but Cross always ends his stories by satisfyingly tying everything together.

The collection has a quite deliberate order of stories, and there are links between some of them, so I’ll be looking at them in order. All of these stories first appeared in this volume.

J. F. Norris’ “Introduction” to the Valancourt Books edition is useful. This was not Cross’ first book, but his previous ones were children’s books under the name Stephen MacFarlane – the man “now dead” that Cross dedicated the collection to. Cross was an influential figure. Arthur C. Clarke said Cross was the first professional writer he knew. Ramsey Campbell credits Cross’ Best Horror Stories anthology as shaping his view of the genre. After this book was published, Cross was a scriptwriter for the BBC and adapted many other author’s stories to acclaim.

I’ve already looked at “The Glass Eye”.

Petronella Pan” is a creepy story about a vain woman that, to remain the center of attention, has chemically kept her daughter in the physical (though not mental) state of an infant for 30 years via chemical means. Like many Cross stories, it’s a twice-told story, and the narrator, who doesn’t like babies and goes on a riff about how innocent seeming babies grow up to become grotesque moral or physical monsters, gets the story from his sentimental German-Scottish friend Konrad who has been judging baby contests for thirty years. There is a nice bit with the baby seemingly reading Proust in her baby carriage. The mother’s former husband was a brilliant chemist, and she learned enough of his job to make the necessary formula.  Cross wrings some horror out of Christ’s line “unless you become as children” line by Christ.

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The Watcher at the Threshold, Part 5: Amazon and Aegean

Low Res Scan: The Watcher by the Threshold, eds. Christopher Roden and Barbara Roden, 2005, 2012.

My multi-part look at this John Buchan collection concludes.

Buchan took a cruise to the Aegean in 1910 and that’s the setting of “Basilissa”. This 1914 story is my least favorite in the collection. It mixes precognitive dreams with a standard damsel-in-distress romantic plot.

Every April since boyhood Vernon has had a dream where he enters a house with many rooms and senses a danger. On each repetition of the dream, the danger draws closer.

In Greece, Vernon will later rescue a beautiful woman from a local warlord.

Once again, the issue of racial heritage comes up. Vernon, you see, is not of pure English blood. He’s part Greek through his grandmother and that made him susceptible to those dreams and their terrors.

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The Watcher by the Threshold, Part 3: Mountains

Low Res Scan: The Watcher by the Threshold, ed. Christopher Roden and Barbara Roden, 2005, 2012.

My multi-part look at this collection continues with Buchan’s fantastic fiction with a mountaineering connection.

Buchan took up mountain climbing in 1904, and some of his fiction is set in the milieu of climbers, and the stories were often published in specialized magazines. “The Knees of the Gods” (1907) was first published in the Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal. As you would expect from a story written for his fellow climbers, Buchan doesn’t explain much of the terminology or geographies of the listed locations. Oddly, it’s a political satire and science fiction albeit with a vision of the future provided in a dream.

We have another twice-told story with the narrator hearing about the dream of a fellow climber, Smith. We are presented with a view of the future where railroads and electric elevators take people to the tops of several mountains. You can walk up on heated carpets to the summits of others. Scotland’s mountains don’t have railroads to their top, but they’re reserved for “tourists and artists and people out of training”. Serious climbers can still go to the untamed Himalayas.

Alcohol is a prescription only item, and only obese Germans smoke cigars.

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Flower of Scotland Volume 4

Review: Flower of Scotland Volume 4, William Meikle, 2020.

Cover by William Meikle

This is the final volume in Meikle’s Flower of Scotland chapbook series.

The Silent Dead” is one of Meikle’s Augustus Seton stories, a series I particularly like. Seton is often a troubleshooter for King James I, and this time he’s sent to investigate some unholiness around Loch Leven – which happens to be where the king’s mother, Mary Queen of Scots, was imprisoned.

Sandy, of “Sandy Says So”, is the imaginary playmate of Sheena, young girl stuck with an obnoxious stepmother. Said stepmother is obnoxious to not only Sheena but her husband and father-in-law. She’s adulterous too. Naturally she gets a comeuppance.

Captain’s Log” is a jokey environmental story with “spaceshit” coming out a “sub-space anomaly”.

Leisure” is another jokey story about a man turning into a book. It all shares some imagery with Meikle’s Sigils and Totems series.

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Flower of Scotland Volume 3

Low Res Scan: Flower of Scotland Volume 3, William Meikle, 2020.

Cover by William Meikle

It’s a Low Res Scan because I’ve already reviewed the following stories: “The Just One” and “The Inuit Bone”.

The Flower of Scotland chapbooks show Meikle at his most varied and into areas you wouldn’t expect if you just read his novels..

For instance, “Out with the Old” is a post-apocalypse story set in 2062. It’s a rather feudal world. No surprise there. That’s not uncommon in such stories. But what if your feudal lord is a vampire? Should you really honor your obligations to him? This one ends on a memorably grim note.

Meikle’s work generally does not have a lot of explicit sex in it. (I’m not applauding that or objecting to it. I’m just noting it.) “A Siren’s Song”, set on the island of Skye, is a definite exception. A man meets a mermaid on the beach and has sex with her. The consequences are not good though the story was not clear enough for me.

Paved with Good Intentions” is a thematic companion to “Too Many” I reviewed in the previous post. This time it’s a writer, author of Best Tales of the Apocalypse 2 no less, who goes to Hell and ends up reliving his life’s unpleasant events. There’s a nice bit about bureaucrats and accountants in Hell.

Smarter” is Meikle’s takeoff on alien abductions. The aliens in this one aren’t particularly bright.

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Flower of Scotland Volume 2

Review: Flower of Scotland Volume 2, William Meikle, 2020.

Too Many” is an amusing story about a woman receiving a unique punishment in Hell. The relevant sin is hinted by the title.

Unlike a lot of the stories in the Flower of Scotland series of chapbooks, “The Worst Sound” really is short enough to be called flash fiction. A priest gives last rites to a dying and despicable man.

Phantom Payment” is a clever ghost story whose verisimilitude springs, I suspect, from Meikle’s days working in IT. A network administrator has to figure why a business’s computers are having memory problems. One of the best stories in the collection.

The First Silkie” seems to be mostly an excerpt from the Derek Adams novel The Skin Game.

Lucidity” was one story I didn’t much like. As the title hints, it’s about lucid dreaming and is sort of a man-who-dreams-he’s-a-butterfly-or-butterfly-dreaming-it’s-a-man story.

The World of Illusion” is essentially one of the pivotal chapters in Meikle’s vampire novel Eldren: The Book of the Dark.

There’s no reason you can’t have a story of possession and with a ghost on a golf course, and that’s what you get with the interesting “Just a Par to Win”.

Bait and Switch” is an alright story of generational conflict and bonding. Hoping to get his young son’s eyes off his phone, a father takes him fishing. There’s more than one way to fish, though, and fish aren’t the only game. This monster story seems set either in Canada or Maine.

Fairy tales aren’t really an interest of mine and that’s what “Jack and the Cat’s Paw” is, but I still enjoyed it and thought it well done. It’s a tale of a drifter taking a job at a town’s mill.

I’m fond of Meikle’s stories centering on music, and that’s kind of what “Total Mental Quality” is. An obsessive hi-fi enthusiast gets a hold of an experimental bit of technology, a computer chip using both microcircuity and protein chains, from the local university. It turns out it does a lot more than just record music. It creates its own media and not just music. An amusing story of artificial intelligence and the media mashups it creates.

Flower of Scotland Volume 1

The book I actually read last September on the plane to Glasgow was Flower of Scotland; Forty Flash Fictions, but Miekle seems to have withdrawn that from the market and chopped the contents up into four of his 99 cent chapbooks, so it’s the latter I’ll be reviewing. They collect work of his from the 1990s to 2014.

Flower of Scotland Volume 1

Review: Flower of Scotland Volume 1, William Meikle, 2020.

As Meikle’s followers on Twitter know, he likes his Twitter and knows how to use it. In “Twitterspace”, we follow Dave as he learns the truth behind the Twitter handles @weegreenmen and @saucerzus. We see, via Twitter, the world descending into chaos meteorological and economic. Given the green snow, it’s possible this story is linked to Meikle’s The Invasion which I haven’t read yet. On the other hand, Meikle does like to do variations on an image or idea.

In “Supply and Demand”, a psychiatrist talks to a patient who has the notion that, starting about thirty years, staring, blank-eyed children starting being born. And now their in charge of things. This is a nice, disturbing story about generational change and moral decay.

The vacation reading of a schoolteacher “At the Beach” is disturbed by an old man who wants to talk about his life and deliver some unsolicited advice: “save up your memories … because ye never ken when ye might need them”. You might see the ending coming, but you probably won’t see all of the ending coming. This is a moving story with a new twist on an old idea.

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