“The Haunted and the Haunters: Or the House and the Brain”

Arguably, this story, the subject of this week’s discussion by the Deep Ones group over at LibraryThing, is an early occult detective story. I don’t recall ever seeing it talked about in that context, but I may have missed it, and I don’t read a lot of history about that sub-genre.

Review: “The Haunted and the Haunters: Or the House and the Brain”, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, 1859.

You know Bulwer-Lytton, or, at least, some of the phrases he coined: “pursuit of the almighty dollar”, “the great unwashed”, and “the Watcher at Threshold”. He’s also mocked for the line “It was a dark and stormy night”.

Anyway, this is a ghost busting story before that term was invented. It goes on too long. It has too many coincidences, but it has its good points. Continue reading ““The Haunted and the Haunters: Or the House and the Brain””

“This Is Not For You”

Last week’s piece of weird fiction being discussed at LibraryThing is from Gemma Files, a writer I should read more of given that I’ve liked the few stories of hers I’ve read.

Review: “This Is Not For You”, Gemma Files, 2014.

This Is Not For You
Illustration by Shelby Nichols

This is an interesting play on the feminist myth of an old, female centered religion suppressed by the patriarchy. Except the Goddess in this case demands sacrifices of males.

When the story first opens, you think it’s in the past or in some post-apocalypse future. Continue reading ““This Is Not For You””

Velocities

Yes, I  do sometimes review books before they’re released.

Review: Velocities: Stories, Kathe Koja, 2020.

velocities
Cover by Rick Lieder

The stories in Kathe Koja’s second collection move from “At Home” to “Downtown” to “On the Way” to “Over There”, and, finally, “Inside”. Where many of them don’t end up at is in the land of complete and satisfying endings. Instead, they get stranded in the “Is that it?” place.

By no means are all the stories fantastic, but “Velocity” is, or, at least, it’s origin in Ellen Datlow’s The Dark: New Ghost Stories would hint it is. But it’s unclear if the “artist” is really haunted by the ghost of his dead father, a famous architect, or just memories of his father. Likewise, it’s not clear if the father’s Red House, where the artist lives, is really haunted. Koja’s stories are full of artists and would-be artists, sometimes producing “art” of very questionable value. Here the art is all the bicycles crashed into trees by the artist, a recreation of the fatal accident (or suicide) of his father. There is frequently an ambiguity, intended or not, about artists in Koja’s work. Is the obsessive, even self-destructive, pursuit of artistic creation (here the stupidity of riding bikes into trees) to be applauded, mitigated by moderation, or foolish – especially when it involves crashing into trees?

The collection’s sole foray into science fiction is “Urb Civ”, a rather standard issue future dystopia of rich and isolated elites and artistic dissidents. Here the latter work on disabling government surveillance drones. The only thing of interest here is how a government agent’s attempt to infiltrate such a group works out. It has, at least, a conclusive ending. Continue reading “Velocities”

“The Essayist in the Wilderness”

Last week’s weird fiction being discussed at LibraryThing.

Review: “The Essayist in the Wilderness”, William Browning Spencer, 2002.

New Cthulhu
Cover by Rafael Tavares

This is a gem of a story, a rare combination of horror and humor. It doesn’t have any explicit references to the Cthulhu Mythos despite being included in New Cthulhu: The Recent Weird anthology.

It starts with an improbable event. The narrator and his wife win the lottery, quit their jobs as English professors, and move to the country.

Naturally, being an ex-English professor, he has pretensions of finally becoming a writer to fill the time. So does his wife.

He realizes he has no talent for fiction or poetry, so he decides he’s going to become an essayist.

One night his wife has some kind of attack and can’t breathe. So, it’s off to the local doctor, one Dr. Bath and his nurse wife because they’re the closest ones for tens of miles. Continue reading ““The Essayist in the Wilderness””

“The Ice Man”

More weird fiction recently discussed over at LibraryThing.

Review: “The Ice Man”, Haruki Murakami, trans. Philip Gabriel, 1991.The Weird

This is a strange story that I’m not sure has any symbolic significance. The introductory notes in The Weird say it’s based on a dream by Murakami’s wife. It’s long on details and emotion and short on plot.

A woman, our narrator, is intrigued by an Ice Man she meets in the lounge at a ski resort. What does an Ice Man look like? Pretty much like a human except his hands are frequently covered in frost, and he’s always cold. He’s also always reading in the lounge but that, as far as I can tell, has no significance.

She falls in love and marries the Ice Man against the wishes and advice of family and friends. Continue reading ““The Ice Man””

“Bells of Oceana”

Still catching up on recent Deep Ones discussions over at LibraryThing.

This one is in H.P. Lovecraft’s Favorite Weird Tales. Now, you might think that a tale of a menace lurking under the vast realms of the Pacific Ocean may have influenced Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu”. However, the latter story was written in the summer of 1926 according to S. T. Joshi’s Nightmare Countries: The Master of Cosmic Horror, and Burke’s story appeared in the December 1927 issue of Weird Tales.

Review: “Bells of Oceana”, Arthur J. Burks, 1927.

HP Lovecraft's Favorite Weird Tales
Cover by Daniel Govar

This is an engaging weird fiction sea story. (I wonder, on reading this the second time, if David Hambling might have read it and been inspired to write his “The Devils in the Deep Blue Sea”.)

Our narrator is Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps and is on a troop ship bound for China. (Presumably, though this is unstated, this was for service in the American naval forces in China in the interwar period. Burks, incidentally, served in the Corps in both world wars.) The ship is taking an unusual route west, traveling between the usual sea lanes.

One night, around midnight, after making the inspection of the onboard sentries, he retires to his stateroom. He’s gripped by a sense of unease. He thinks someone has been in his stateroom.

He knows he has the only key to the room. He even opens the porthole window and looks, but he sees nothing. But he still is uneasy and keeps an eye on the porthole.

Then, after undressing, he sees a strange, “dead-white” face with a “thin and ironic smile”, for a moment, at the porthole. Continue reading ““Bells of Oceana””

WHH Short Fiction: “The Sharks of the St. Elmo”

Review: “The Sharks of the St. Elmo”, William Hope Hodgson, 1988.

NSB 3
Cover by Jason Van Hollander

This is a very peculiar and interesting story that put me in mind of German agent Arnold Deutsch who, before World War One, was allegedly involved in smuggling Chinese bodies back to China from America so they could be buried.

This story is told by a Captain Dang, but, despite there being another Hodgson story with a similarly named captain, there seems no connection to that story.

Captain Dang recounts an earlier voyage of his on the St. Elmo running between San Francisco and China.

The ship’s engines broke down, and it was surrounded by thousands and thousands of sharks, some gigantic. The sharks seemed almost intelligent and were attracted to the ship.

Eventually, the ship got its engines running but at a slower speed. The sharks still followed, rubbing against the ship. Continue reading “WHH Short Fiction: “The Sharks of the St. Elmo””