Scottish Stories of Fantasy and Horror

When I came across this book at a local bookstore, it seemed just the thing to read before visiting Scotland.

Review: Scottish Stories of Fantasy and Horror, ed. Peter Haining, 1971, 1988.

Scottish Tales of Fantasy and Horror
Cover by Hector Garrido

Besides including some good stories, this is a nice primer on the Scottish tradition of supernatural stories. In 288 pages, in manages to pack in a fair survey on the subject from several centuries ao to 1971. (And it also has a glossary for the Scottish dialect.) It was first issued under the title Clans of Darkness. Haining includes not only stories set in Scotland but work from authors of a Scottish background. Angus Wilson’s “Foreword” notes that faerie stories are a prime element and that the borderlands between England and Scotland and the Orkney Islands contributed more tales than the more well-known Highlands.

Thomas the Rhymer” is a legendary figure in Scottish history. Not only is he credited with the first poetry we have written in English but also with the gift of prophecy. This anonymous tale has him encountering a beautiful woman who may be the Virgin Mary but her accoutrements of expensive saddle, dress, bow and arrow, and three greyhounds suggests Diana. Thomas is smitten with her and proposes marriage. But she tells him he has to be her slave first. And she changes into a hideous woman. But Thomas is faithful and goes on a quest that will include a tree of forbidden fruit and a trip to Elfland. It’s an interesting mix of Christianity, faerie legends, and an historical figure.

Robert Kirk’s “The Secret Commonwealth” is an excerpt from his famed book of the same title. That 17th century work was a book of faerie lore, and this excerpt tells us about the nature and deeds of the Sith or Good People. Continue reading “Scottish Stories of Fantasy and Horror”

Walking the Night Land: Sherlock Holmes and the Vampires of Eternity

I’ve been reading Brian Stableford recently – the “fruits” of which you won’t see in for a while. However, when prowling around on The Brian Stableford Website, I actually looked at the description for this luridly titled book with a cover not up to Black Coat Press’ usual standards. (I often prefer to buy paper editions of Black Coat Press works because of the covers.)

Since William Hope Hodgson plays a part in the story, I immediately ordered it and read it.

And, when I found out that Stableford also puts The Night Land to use in the book, I put it at the head of the review queue as another installment in the series.

Sallystartup, over at her Reviews of Brian Stableford, which, as you would expect reviews only Stableford, provides reviewer parallax on this one. I didn’t indicate that in the title because of space and because nobody should have two colons in the title of a blog post.

Essay: Sherlock Holmes and the Vampires of Eternity, Brian Stableford, 2009.

Sherlock Holmes and the Vampires of Eternity
Cover by Danielle Serra

‘I had not expected to travel 12 million years,’ I said, before the android could ask another question, ‘but I suppose that I have come as far before, and even further. I have seen the final act of the story of mankind played out against the backcloth of the Night Land, and the death of the Earth itself as it spiraled into the dying Sun.’

‘Yes’, said the metal man, after another brief hesitation. ‘We know something of your previous visions.’

It is Hodgson’s story that begins (after a brief prologue) the novel and ends it. His “Soldier’s Story” is interspersed with accounts of four other men: Count Lugard (reputed to be a vampire) who gives us, of course, the “Count’s Story; the “Explorer’s Story”; the “Writer’s Story”; and the “Detective’s Story”. Hodgson is summoned to a secret mission, leaving his identification disks behind, just before his Forward Observation Post is blown up and, so our history says, he is killed on April 17, 1918.

This is not only a masterful science fiction novel but a conte philosophique that combines many of Stableford’s interests and characteristic themes: an interest in literary decadence; a future history (seen in his emortal series and Tales from the Biotech Revolution series) that includes severe environmental degradation and nuclear and biological warfare in the early 21st century followed by a massive die off and then a heavy use of genetic engineering to create an near utopia on Earth; vampires; sympathy with the Devil’s Party and literary Satanism; art for art’s sake, the value of artifice, and the related ideas of personal myth and the power of the imagination; the stance to take when facing an uncertain future (also seen in his “Taken for a Ride” which also deals with questions of destiny, predestination, and free will), and an interest in early British and French science fiction. Continue reading “Walking the Night Land: Sherlock Holmes and the Vampires of Eternity”

WHH Short Fiction: “The Fifth Message”

Essay: “The Fifth Message”, William Hope Hodgson, 1907.

“The Fifth Message” is the title of this one in The Complete Works of William Hope Hodgson. However, it was actually published as “More News from the Homebird” and later as “From the Tideless Sea (Second Part)”. It was published in August 1907, eighteen months after its prequel and the same year as Hodgson’s The Boats of the “Glen Carrig”.

 The story opens with sort of a frame summarizing the events of the first story and telling us that the second, third, and fourth messages from the Homebird have not yet been received.

Arthur Samuel Philips wrote this message too, and it describes events on the Homebird in 1879. Like the previous messages, it has been sent out on Christmas Eve.

We hear about how Philips, his wife, and their daughter have gotten on and how they are threatened with a new menace besides the giant octopi which threatened them in the first story. Continue reading “WHH Short Fiction: “The Fifth Message””

“The Murders in the Rue Morgue”

No, I haven’t given up blogging. I’ve been on a rare vacation and am catching up on the weird fiction readings over at LibraryThing.

Review: “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”, Edgar Allan Poe, 1841.Annotated Edgar Allan Poe

Yes, it’s the story with the razor-wielding orangutan. As I did with my review of Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart”, I’m not going to bother summarizing or reviewing such a well-known story. Rather, I’ll summarize some observations on the tale made by others and talk about some of its oddities.

I’d forgotten that it takes awhile for Poe to get to his story. The first two pages of a 26 page story in the Stephen Peithman annotated version are taken up by Poe discussing the superiority of analysis (its original etymology deriving from disentangling elements) to mere calculation (which derives from combining elements). Analysis, which Dupin is the epitome of, requires reason, imagination, and observation.

This leads to Poe arguing that checkers and whist are games requiring the successful player to have greater intellect than chess. Whist, in particular, he argues, requires skills more applicable to general application in life – observation of players to know when they are bluffing, deducing what they are concealing, and memory – than life. I’m half convinced by this argument. I’m sure there have been some men (and, yes, virtually all the top players are men) who are expert chess players and who have been, as they say, well-integrated socially, but, having recently read a biography of Bobby Fisher, I know that’s not always the case. In any case, I’m, at best, a mediocre player of all three games, so I can’t claim any great personal insight. Continue reading ““The Murders in the Rue Morgue””

“The Parasite”

This week’s piece of weird fiction being discussed over at LibraryThing was Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Parasite”. It’s a somewhat unsatisfactory tale – Doyle omitted it from later editions of his collected works, but it sounded interesting after reading Paul M. Chapman’s “The Dark and Decadent Dreams of Doctor Doyle” in issue 31 of Wormwood magazine. So I nominated it for discussion.

Review: “The Parasite”, Arthur Conan Doyle, 1894.

This is a story told through the journal entries of Austin Gilroy, a self-described “materialist”, even a “rank one” according to his fiancé Agatha Marsden. He lectures on blood and circulation at a medical university.

Chapman speculates that one reason Doyle came to dislike this story was because he regarded it as too erotic and decadent. It’s pretty tame by modern standards, but there is an element of sexual desire in the opening entry from March 24 where springtime and its “work of reproduction” is implicitly linked to Gilroy’s eagerness to marry Agatha and have sex with her. Continue reading ““The Parasite””

The Ghost Club

This one got downloaded to my Kindle because it contains several stories using the Meikle Mythos of Sigils and Totems.

Review: The Ghost Club: Newly Found Tales of Victorian Terror, William Meikle, 2017.

theghostclub
Cover by Ben Baldwin

Recently the Criterion Club in London found itself placed in receivership and selling its assets off. In a hidden bookcase, this journal, a collection of lost literary works by club members and visitors transcribed (and perhaps touched up a bit) by Arthur Conan Doyle was found.

The quality of Meikle’s imitations of those writers I can’t, for the most part, speak to. I haven’t read all these authors, and some I have only read a few works by. (I’ll put the putative authors of each story in parentheses next to the relevant title.)

I do think I’ve read enough of H. G. Wells to say that “Farside” is a convincing imitation in style and theme. Its narrator tells us about a demonstration of a Chromoscope, a machine of spinning colored plates that light is passed through and projected onto a wall. It’s a creation of his inventor friend, Hoskins. Hoskins and friends find out, by putting their hands between the projector and the wall, that they have rainbow auras about their hands. Well, all except Dennings who has a “sickly glow, all green” around his. Perhaps its no coincidence that he dies three days later. But why is that green glow now around Hoskins’ hand? Being a Wells’ fan, I was inclined to like this.

I enthusiastically liked so many stories (nine out of 14) that I can’t really call them favorites. Continue reading “The Ghost Club”

Home From the Sea

I think I got this one free in a giveaway from Meikle’s newsletter.

It’s way cheaper than Meikle’s novels on kindle which, I suppose, means my preference for short stories over novels is not shared. It serves as a good sample of a major strain in his work.

Review: Home From the Sea, William Meikle, 2017.Home From the Sea

Unlike Meikle’s collection Samurai and Other Stories, this story has only one type of story: entities and creatures that don’t know their place. There’s boundary breeching, lockpicking, and mangled spacetime membranes. Things are roused that shouldn’t be and invade our earth from the ether, the briny depths, and the spaces between atoms.

Surprisingly, for such a tightly focused collection, none of it was stale or boring when reading it straight through. There was only one story I had a very minor gripe about.

The Doom That Came to Dunfeld” is the one original tale here and quite an effective horror story. Its narrator tells us what happens when the British government tries to repeat the legendary Philadelphia Experiment off the coast of Newfoundland post-WWII. They want to make a warship invisible. What they get is a dissolving warship and a killer fog.

Meikle has a real knack for the sea horror story and shows it even better with “Home From the Sea” which has a group of Irish men on a rescue mission to take men off a whaler floundering off shore. But they’re already dead, and their killer still on board. Continue reading “Home From the Sea”

Stealing Other People’s Homework: “Literature’s Arctic Obsession”

In my part of the world, the temperature has gone below 0 degrees Fahrenheit.

And that means it’s time to do some polar reading.

This year, I’ll probably read Jules Verne’s The Adventures of Captain Hatteras, and, maybe, Ernest Shackleton’s South.

However, given how far behind I am in reviews, it will be awhile before I talk about them.

In the meantime, you get this from Kathryn Schulz. There’s a lot of famous writers who mentioned the poles in their work: the Brontes, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Mary Shelley, Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Allan Poe, Wilkie Collins, and Charles Dickens.

Stealing Other People’s Homework: “Literature’s Arctic Obsession“, Kathryn Schulz.Arctic Obsession

“In the Vault”

H. P. Lovecraft gets mentioned a lot here — but in relation to other people’s works. I haven’t talked about Lovecraft’s own fiction.

Part of that is that I’ve read a lot of his work multiple times and often — but not always — made notes on each reading. I’ve talked a bit about my reading history with Lovecraft in “Yog-Sothothery“.

Putting those notes together in a coherent form is time-consuming. And I have to do multiple index entries each time.

However, some regular followers of this blog are interested in weird fiction and Lovecraft, so I’m going to start covering individual Lovecraft stories between reviews of new and mostly unrelated books.

All these entries on Lovecraft’s fiction will use S. T. Joshi’s corrected texts.

Raw Feed (2005)eview: “In the Vault“, H. P. Lovecraft, 1925.Dunwich Horror and Others

This 1925 story is a biter-bitten tale.

A cheap, but not malicious, undertaker is maimed by the man whose ankles he cuts off to put him in a cheap coffin.

The story is set in New England, and I find it interesting that Lovecraft not only adopts a characteristic framing device — the story is told by a narrator in contemporary times and related second-hand by the doctor who treated the protagonist’s injuries after he was accidentally locked in a burial vault — but that Lovecraft’s antiquarian interests cause him to set the story in 1881 — nine years before he was born.

The beginning two sentences

There is nothing more absurd, as I view it, than that conventional association of the homely and the wholesome which seems to pervade the psychology of the multitude.  Mention a bucolic Yankee setting, a bungling and thick-fibred village undertaker, and a careless mishap in a tomb, and no average reader can be brought to expect more than a hearty albeit grotesque phase of comedy.

reminded me of Sherlock Holmes admonitions about the crimes committed in lonely rural areas in Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Copper Beeches”.

It is also a self-conscious opening by a horror theorist who is deliberately going against what he regards as common prejudice.

 

More Lovecraft related entries are indexed on the Lovecraft page.

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

Scientific Romance

Being a fan of Stableford’s work, I immediately requested a review copy when I saw it on Netgallery.

Review: Scientific Romance: An International Anthology of Pioneering Science Fiction, ed. Brian Stableford, 1917.Scientific Romance

Before America colonized science fiction with its conquistador John Carter in 1912 and made it into a genre concerned with space and adventure, it was something different. It was, argues Stableford, a stream of literature interested in “the adoption of the scientific outlook and the attempt to employ the scientific imagination as a springboard for speculative fiction”.

Just as the Vikings colonized the New World before Columbus’s voyage, Francis Bacon and Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac discovered new frontiers for literature when they wrote scientific romances. And, just as the Viking colonization inspired no immediate imitators, no writers imitated Bacon and de Bergerac for a while. Bacon’s New Atlantis was unfinished and published posthumously in 1627. De Bergerac’s L’Autre Monde ou les Etats et Empires de la lune [The Other World] wasn’t published until the 1920s.

It wasn’t until the 19th century that authors in France, America, and England began producing work that was noticeably something different and that stuck in the public mind. These were stories about the drama to be made out of new scientific discoveries, new technologies, and the peculiar psychologies of inventors and scientists. Continue reading “Scientific Romance”