“An Itinerant House”

Never having read any Emma Frances Dawson, a literary associate of our friend Ambrose Bierce, I was looking forward to this week’s weird fiction story over at LibraryThing.

This “Deep One” turned out to be disappointing, so disappointing I’m going to spoil everything about it.

Review: “An Itinerant House”, Emma Frances Dawson, 1878.FanTales1

This one started out promising.

Mexican housekeeper Felipa is absolutely devastated to find out her employer, Mr. Anson, who runs a boarding house, actually has a wife, and she’s shown up in town, town being San Francisco, site of all of Dawson’s fiction.

It’s pretty clear that Felipa has been more than just an employee. She’s been Anson’s lover. We don’t hear what promises he may have whispered into her ear. Continue reading ““An Itinerant House””

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Prophecies and Dooms

I discovered Mark Samuels about a year-and-a half ago on his blog in his role as social and genre critic. I went on to read and review a couple of his works.

This one came to me courtesy of subscribing to Samuels’ Pateron account.

Review: Prophecies and Dooms, Mark Samuels, 2018.Prophecies and Dooms

This is Samuels in critic mode, cogent in presentation and never failing to say something interesting about his subjects no matter how familiar I was with them. Between the lines, something of Samuels’ own criteria for good weird fiction peeps through.

There were plenty of material new to me about writers I have a very peripheral knowledge of.

Samuels’ “The Root of Evil: Hanns Heinz Ewers and Alraune” certainly did not have to work hard to educate me. I only knew Ewers through his much reprinted “The Spider” and about his espionage work on behalf of Germany in World War 1-era America. Samuels looks at Ewers’ persona as a drug addict and a bisexual predator (allegedly aided by hypnotism) on men and women and his greatest work, Alraune. Ewers, in that novel, becomes the “Master-Artist Braun” who alone can control the destructive force he has created, the “mandrake-woman” Alraune.

It’s the opening essay, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it ends with a metaphor of an artist in control of his material. Continue reading “Prophecies and Dooms”

“Schalken the Painter”

This week’s weird fiction is …

Review: “Schalken the Painter”, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, 1851.

Like Vernon Lee’s “Prince Alberic and the Snake Lady“, a work of art is at the center of this story. It shows a woman robed and partly veiled in white confronting a shadowy figure drawing a sword.

The painter was Schalken. The scene, the narrator tells us, was drawn from life.

Le Fanu presents a simple plot but with mysteries not completely answered.

When he was an apprentice painter, Schalken, an apprentice painter, was in love with Rose Velderkaust, the ward and niece of his master Gerard Douw. She is the woman in the painting.

One day a mysterious visitor shows up (and mysteriously leaves since Schalken doesn’t spot him in the street afterwards) and asks to talk to Douw. The stranger is curt, impatient, and unrevealing of his station, but he wants to make a deal to marry Rose and will pay a large some of money to do so.  Continue reading ““Schalken the Painter””

“Lord of the Land”

Review: “Lord of the Land”, Gene Wolfe, 1990.

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Cover by Bob Eggleton

This week’s weird fiction is from Gene Wolfe and, unlike the few other works I’ve read by him, relatively straight forward. (I’m not much of a Wolfe fan.)

Evidently, after its first appearance in Lovecraft’s Legacy, edited by Robert E. Weinberg and Martin H. Greenberg, it had an afterword that I’m told, by the LibraryThing group, was rather apologetic for writing a Lovecraft pastiche. Here the main Lovecraft inspiration is his collaboration with Harry Houdini “Imprisoned with the Pharaohs”. And we’ve got tentacles and a concluding science fiction rationale.

Wolfe doesn’t have any nested tales here. He almost has an unreliable narrator, but there’s a reason for his false detail.

That narrator – and narrator only for a story that he tells the protagonist Dr. Samuel Cooper, a folklorist, and often called “the Nebraskan” in the story – is the elder Thacker. (Incidentally, I suspect Wolfe is having some fun in alluding to the film The Virginian with Gary Cooper, but, no, nothing else of that story is used unless there’s a Colonel Lightfoot in the novel or movie since there’s one here.)

Thacker tells Cooper of an odd story from his youth when three boys shot an old mule and then engaged in a shooting competition using all the crows that showed up for targets. In the gathering darkness and to better his score, one of the boys, Creech, shoots a strange figure “like to a man, only crooked-legged an’ wry neck … an’ a mouth full of worms”. Continue reading ““Lord of the Land””

“.220 Swift”

Review: “.220 Swift”, Karl Edward Wagner, 1980.b9f74979ed59af559386d615377434f414f4141

Yes, it’s a story named after a rifle cartridge. It’s got guns and a monstrous narrative with literary DNA from Milton and Machen, Lovecraft and Greek myth, and a substantial bit of North Carolina folklore. I did not fact check for the existence of cited works, but the Dark Crusade Podcast has, and they do exist.

Our story starts with Morris Kenlaw, a rather obnoxious archaeologist seeking out, in the mountains of North Carolina, evidence of early Spanish mining. As he wedges his bulk down a hole which local Dell Warner was told by his father might be evidence of old diggings, he’s described in rather bestial terms.

Tagging along and helping Kenlaw with the locals is Eric Brandon, a folklore student collecting materials for his master’s dissertation. He’s also an albino and an orphan. He’s the one carrying the Model 70 Winchester chambered in .220 Swift, at the time the world’s fastest load and ideal for the varmint hunting Brandon likes in his summer stays in the area. Continue reading ““.220 Swift””

“Larger Than Oneself”

Review: “Larger Than Oneself”, Robert Aickman, 1966.Late Breakfasters

Aickman’s tales are famously obscure and this, the third of his I’ve read, is no exception.

There are certainly odd events and odd people. But plenty of stories with no fantastic element have those. That doesn’t make a story weird.

The description Aickman favored, “strange tales”, is apt — not ghost stories, not supernatural tales, not weird fiction.

And nothing supernatural or mystical may happen in this story though there is suggestion it does.

Aickman, according to a documentary I watched on him, was famously at odds with the modern. He regretted the passing of a world he just caught the tail end of with his birth in 1914: an aristocratic England of less mechanization. The latter, for instance, manifested in his involvement in reviving the disused canals, “inland waterways”, of England.

That dis-ease shows itself in the opening paragraph where we are introduced to Vincent Coner, a man who cashed out of his inherited mining operations and bought into “popular journalism with himself as editor in chief”. His publications find a market, which we’re told they wouldn’t have in any other place or time, selling “the sweet things in life . . . smeared and contaminated with envious guilt”. Continue reading ““Larger Than Oneself””