Occult Detective Quarterly Presents

Longtime readers of the blog may wonder what I have against occult detective stories since this is the second anthology of such stories I haven’t done a complete review of.

Nothing really. I’m contemplating restricting the focus of this blog. In any case, I’m not looking to expand the type of books I cover. While I occasionally like to read occult detective tales, I’m not a big fan of them. Usually, I don’t really consider them science fiction or weird fiction, so I won’t be covering them.

Low Res Scan: Occult Detective Quarterly Presents, eds. John Linwood Grant & David Brzeski, 2018.

occult detective quarterly presents
Cover by Sebastian Cabrol

The only reason I bought this story was for William Meikle’s “Farside”. And a good decision that was.

This story combines his Derek Adams occult detective series with his Sigil and Totems series.

And one of the Seton clan shows up, one Alex Seton, the granddaughter of the protagonist of Meikle’s The Concordances of the Red Serpent. She’s being stalked – by Andrews, an old classmate of hers – in mirrors. Everywhere there are mirrors, Andrews watches her. He thinks, being a Seton, she has the secret to immortality. But Adams finds out the stalker is in fact dead by his own hand in a Sigil House. It’s a trail that will take Adams into the mysteries of the Sigil Houses and their unexpected uses and the choices offered by the “rainbow eggs” that are a feature of the Meikle Mythos, and hear talk of the Sleeping God. He’ll also find himself growing close to Alex. Surprisingly, given Adams’ origin story involving screwing around in his apartment for ten minutes while his despondent girlfriend bleeds to death in the bathtub from slit wrists, he won’t take advantage of the Sigil Houses ability to reconnect with the dead.

Also of note in this issue is Mike Ashley’s very informative essay on the history of occult detectives, “Fighters of Fear”. Editor Dave Brzeski adds some notes to Ashley’s article since it was last updated in 1994. Ashley starts his history in 1830 and, amongst other things, talks about the two great types of occult detective stories: “predominately detective stories with a supernatural background” and “supernatural stories involving detection” Ashley casts his net wide to include some authors I’d never heard of.

Each story in this anthology gets an original black-and-white illustration near its end (to prevent spoilers).

 

 

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

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Green Grow the Rashes and Other Stories

Review: Green Grow the Rashes and Other Stories, William Meikle, 2015.Green Grow the Rashes and Other Stories

This collection succeeds as a sampler of Meikle’s work. There is science fiction-horror, a post-mortem fantasy, humor, magic, and a gothic tale.

My favorite story, partly because of its background of Scottish music, was the title story. It has a burned out folk singer from Scotland, his audience and his voice fading and his wife dead and too much liquor poured down his throat, seeing a shadowy figure in the crowd one night. Somehow, after singing it thousands of time, he finds new life in the Bobbie Burns’ song. A nice tale of rebirth, rededication, and optimism that uses well the lyrics of Burns’ “Green Grow the Rashes”.

Also gentle, if not so hopeful, is “In the Spring”. Its 78 year old heroine is a widow tired by her family fussing over her and complaining about, compared to her earlier life, rather paltry “hardships”. To be honest, this story was a bit too subtle for me. I’m not completely sure what happens at the end to the widow.

Too Many” is a straight up “so now you’re in Hell” story. As an Assistant Deputy Demon goes through Sheila Davidson’s sins with her, he thinks there may be a mistake. Then again, maybe not. Humorous and short enough not to wear the joke out. Continue reading “Green Grow the Rashes and Other Stories”

The Wanting Seed

This novel first came to my attention on the MPorcius Fiction Log and, recently, it was the subject of a discussion by Kevin Michael Grace on the Luke Ford YouTube channel.

Could two such sources be wrong in telling me it was worth a look? No.

So, before I dropped in on the Luke Ford discussion, I thought I’d read it.

I’ve been going back and forth about not reviewing everything I read, but there were some things I wanted to say on this one.

But I’d have to do at least a plot synopsis and explicate some of the major themes.

And then I realized I could just leech off MPorcius work.

Thus was born a new category of post: the parasite review.

Which means, in this case, you need to read MPorcuis’ post first.

Wanting SeedParasite Review: The Wanting Seed, Anthony Burgess, 1962.

In 1959, Anthony Burgess was wrongly diagnosed with brain cancer and given a year to live. Not wishing to leave an impoverished widow, he wrote five novels in the next year. One of them was this novel.

That may explain some of its faults and, for me, a somewhat inconclusive ending. Burgess himself said, “it needed to be longer in the oven … but I needed money”.

Like MPorcius, I think this a satire and not a serious effort at extrapolative prediction.

According to the Science Fiction Encyclopedia, it stands near the beginning of science fiction novels about overpopulation. My favorite overpopulation novel is Harry Harrison’s extrapolatively dishonest Make Room! Make Room!. Oddly, Burgess accused Harrison of lifting the cannibalism theme of The Wanting Seed for the film adaptation of Soylent Green. In fact, according to Harry Harrison’s essay “A Cannibalized Novel becomes Soylent Green” in Omni’s Screen Flights, Screen Fantasies, says cannibalism was put in the script by the film’s producers and his contract forbid him having any input with it.

So what is Burgess satirizing? Continue reading “The Wanting Seed”

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”

Caliphate: Propaganda and Prediction

Essay: Caliphate: Propaganda and Prediction

Caliphate, Tom Kratman, 2008.

Kratman
Cover by Kurt Miller

There is a thought in some quarters today – Castalia House and some of its bloggers, for instance, come to mind — that science fiction is too politicized.

I sympathize. If someone believes that “everything is political”, that the totality of everything is political, then they are a totalitarian with everything in the world on the agenda to be promoted or destroyed or altered.

On the other hand, politics is baked into science fiction’s literary genes. Half of its forbearers, the satire and the utopia, are inherently political genres.

No science fiction reader would disagree. We can all think of dreadful warnings about what will happen if our society doesn’t stop something or other. And we all know about the utopian schemes of many a science fiction writer.

Every once in a great while one of these political books does achieve something of its goals. More often they are ignored. Sometimes, when reading a utopian work, one thinks “Can you just send me the policy abstract, please?” Continue reading “Caliphate: Propaganda and Prediction”

Samurai and Other Stories

Review: Samurai and Other Stories, William Meikle, 2018.

Samurai and Other Stories
Cover by Ben Baldwin

If you’re curious about the William Meikle’s work and don’t mind short fiction, this is a proper introduction to it. You’ll find him operating in his usual modes and some new ones I hadn’t seen before.

Meikle the Cthulhu Mythos writer has a couple of works that are some of the best in the book.

The Havenhome” was probably the first Meikle I read when it appeared in High Seas Cthulhu, and it was good enough for me to remember his name. On re-reading it, I was struck by how there are no explicit references to the Mythos in it. In the year 1605, the Havenhome travels to the New World to find a European settlement wiped out, the bodies mysteriously frozen. Staying for the night, they realize something malevolent is at work and not just freak weather. I suppose you could see this as a takeoff on Clark Ashton Smith’s “The Coming of the White Worm” or August Derleth’s Ithaqua. Meikle often ends his stories with violent action which sometimes breaks up the mood he’s established, but here he definitely gets the balance right.

I’d also read “Inquisitor” before in Historical Lovecraft put out by Innsmouth Free Press. In it, a Dominican inquisitor interrogates a shoggoth brought back by Spanish sailors in 1535. But he isn’t prepared for the answers he gets. I was happy to revisit this one which I also remembered favorably from before. Continue reading “Samurai and Other Stories”

The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg, Vol. 8: Hot Times in Magma City, 1990-95

Review: The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg, Volume Eight: Hot Times in Magma City, 1990-95, ed. Robert Silverberg, 2013.41deGp06PaL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_

The penultimate book in Subterranean Press’s Robert Silverberg series has what you would expect from him: tales of history (alternate and straight), time travel, and urbane protagonists. This time around there’s also alien invasions and fantasies.

As always, a large part of the book’s appeal is Silverberg’s introduction and notes even if you can find all of the stories elsewhere.

Here he ruminates on the difficult birthing of some stories and how only “sentimental oldsters”, beginners, and part-timers bother to practice the art of the science fiction short story these days. The pay rates for short fiction are worse now than when he started his career.

One new motif here is the drug addict as protagonist.

Alcohol was the original drug of choice for the main character of the fantasy “It Comes and It Goes”. Playboy made him change that before publication. He’s back to being an alcoholic of the recovering variety here and keeps seeing a house come and go in his neighborhood, an alluring blonde woman in its doorway. And the males of all ages who go in it don’t come out. He develops an obsession with the house to match his old one with liquor. It doesn’t help when he sees the house in more than one town. Continue reading “The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg, Vol. 8: Hot Times in Magma City, 1990-95”