“Neithernor”

This week’s weird fiction.

Review: “Neithernor”, Richard Gavin, 2015.Dark

A strange, Robert Aickmanesque story (it appeared first in the tribute anthology Aickman’s Heirs) that was effective despite it’s many mysteries.

There are three themes in the story: parasitism, social isolation, and the idea of art being channeled by an artist from a mysterious force outside themselves.

The narrator, possesses a “holey” memory in great evidence in his description of his relationship with his fiancé Cara. He doesn’t even remember proposing to her.

The main story involves the narrator, Forrest, and his relationship with his cousin Vera.

He takes pains to emphasize he only met his cousin once, when he was ten at a Thanksgiving dinner. But she will become a central presence in the story when Forrest learns, when checking out a dingy art gallery run by a rather sinister old man (his chest is described as being like an overfed pigeon’s) to possibly get a story idea for his arts column in the local newspaper, that Vera has become a reclusive artist of strange collages made of copper wire and human hair. Continue reading ““Neithernor””

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“The Coffin House”

This week’s piece of weird fiction being discussed over at LibraryThing.

Review: “The Coffin House”, Robert Aickman, 1941.Compulsory-Games

This story was written in 1941, read on the BBC in 1976, and finally put into print in 2015.

Aickman liked the term “strange stories” instead of “weird fiction” or “horror fiction”. That seems appropriate for the handful of stories by him I’ve read.

But I have not become an admirer of his, and I thought this story woefully truncated.

The story —  it’s brief, around five pages — centers on two members of the Women’s Land Army, Bunty Baines and Jessica Yarrow.

It’s Christmas Day 1941 and they feel overworked and excluded from the festivities of the family they are staying with.

Walking in the rain, they see a dark cabin by the road. Standing in its doorway is

a very large elderly woman with grey hair drawn back in a bun, and strong bony features.

She isn’t very friendly looking, but she tells them “I should come in if I were you.” Continue reading ““The Coffin House””

“Herbert West in Love”

This week’s weird fiction selection.

Review: “Herbert West in Love”, Molly Tanzer, 2012.

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Cover by Victor Manuel Leza Moreno.

Not only is this one not very good. It’s annoying.

Editor Pete Rawlik notes in the introduction to Legacy of the Reanimator that this is a “subversive prequel” to H. P. Lovecraft’s “Herbert West: Reanimator”.

I’m going to be kind and assume that’s not true.

After all, surely subversion would involve something less puerile than giving a character created almost a 100 years ago a new “sexual identity”. Retroconning the sexual persona of an old character is not very groundbreaking. Continue reading ““Herbert West in Love””

“A Redress for Andromeda”

This week’s weird fiction.

Review: “A Redress for Andromeda”, Caitlín R. Kiernan, 2000.The Weird

I seem to recall, but am too lazy to verify, that I once heard Kiernan say on the Coode Street Podcast say that she wishes she could dispense with plot all together in her stories.

This story goes a long way in that direction.

It’s long on atmosphere and poetic prose. Kiernan does what I’ve long wished modern poets would do more of: use the beauty that can be wrought from scientific concepts and terminology. Specifically, she uses the language of geology and paleontology, the academic specialties she was trained in.

The story starts with Tara, a marine biologist, driving on Halloween night to an isolated house

where the land ends and the unsleeping, omnivorous Pacific has chewed the edge of the continent ragged.

On the porch are 111 lit jack-o’-lanterns, one for each year of the mansion’s existence. Continue reading ““A Redress for Andromeda””

“The River Styx Runs Upstream”

This week’s weird fiction being discussed over at LibraryThing is Dan Simmons’ first published story.

Review: “The River Styx Runs Upstream”, Dan Simmons, 1982.PTBS1992

This, like Robert Silverberg’s classic “Born with the Dead”, is a resurrectionist story. Whereas that story’s returned dead stick to themselves and are oddly changed and not interested in their former lives, the dead of Simmons’ story function at a much lower level.

The story opens with a thematic statement from Ezra Pound’s “Canto LXXXI”:

What thou lovest well remains the rest is dross

What thou lovest well shall not be reft from thee

What thou lov’st well is thy true heritage”

The story is narrated by a young man looking back to his boyhood, and it starts when he is eight.

His mother has died and been brought back by the Resurrectionist movement. They are somewhat like a church. The boy’s father will be tithing 25% of his income to pay for the resurrection and the group’s activities. Continue reading ““The River Styx Runs Upstream””

“The Shadowy Street”

This week’s weird fiction selection is from Belgium writer Jean Ray.

Review: “The Shadowy Street”, Jean Ray, translated Lowell Blair, 1931.The Weird

This story has a lot of detail I’m not going to get into.

There’s a nice opening frame with a bundle of junk paper bursting open on the docks at Amsterdam. We hear of paintings cut up by customs officials and various corporate bonds of bankrupt companies. It’s a junk collection of dashed dreams.

The story’s structure is interesting. In that junk pile are two manuscripts which we read, one in German, and one in French. Both are first person accounts of life in Hamburg, seemingly right before the city’s great fire of 1842.

The German account talks about a strange set of disappearances and murders throughout the city and concentrates on a group of women in a single house. All the women in the house are terrified of the unknown menace except for Meta who stalks the house – the disappearances seem to happen at night – with a sword in her hand. It is implied that she knows there is some invisible and sentient creature at work. Continue reading ““The Shadowy Street””

“The Snail-Watcher”

This week’s weird fiction selection comes from an unexpected place.

Review: “The Snail-Watcher”, Patricia Highsmith, 1964.

There’s a certain predictability to this story, a story more farcical than weird.

Our protagonist is Peter Knoppert. He’s a moderately successful financier who will become more successful during the story. He’s not your stereotypically gray and dull man of business, and he does have one strange hobby: snail-watching. He is obsessed with snails. He’ll bend the ear of anyone who cares to listen about snails. Even among amateur naturalists, snail watching is hardly popular. For Knoppert, though, there is the “piquancy of the esoteric” bound in the observation and study of the snail. Knoppert, through snails, has had his eyes opened to the “beauty of the animal world”. For others, it’s a “unusual and vaguely repellent pastime”. To them, snails are ugly and not even really animals.

When our story starts, the snail population in Knoppert’s study has already grown to thirty glass tanks’ worth in two months. I suppose the first foreshadowing of how things go is when Knoppert sees a couple of snails not in his study, where they are supposed to be, but in his kitchen. He observes them doing a strange dance, swaying side to side, tendrils connecting snail head to snail head. Continue reading ““The Snail-Watcher””