Tag Archives: Short Stories (single author)

Mysterious and Horrific Stories

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Mysterious and Horrific Stories [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu.

Le Fanu Mysterious and Horrific Stories

This book collects more than a dozen stories by the 19th-century Irish writer Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. None of the individual stories are published here for the first time, and I suspect that most or even all of them are available for free online. The apparatus of this edition is limited to a table of contents, an appended single-paragraph “Note About the Author” and a similarly short self-promotional “Note from the Publisher.” Just two of the stories have leading editorial notes (227, 255) with a modicum of bibliographic information, but these notes are unsigned and the collection credits no editor. Publisher Mint Editions instead credits a “Project Manager.” The book is a glue-bound hardcover, comfortable in the hand, not ugly, fabricated through a print-on-demand process. I certainly found it more pleasant to read than I would have to scroll through the stories on a screen.

The stories are good. More than half of them are set in Ireland, and nearly all of them involve the supernatural. Although the note to “Stories of Lough Guir” says, “It differs from the other stories in this volume in being apparently a record of stories actually told to Le Fanu and not invented by him” (255), many of the other stories have a very strong aroma of the folkloric, especially the ones about menacing fairies and those ghost stories that lack a moralizing agenda. Even the many vivid Gothic fictional tropes concerning old houses and cursed families are typically hedged about with documentary conceits, including imputed sources and variant tellings.

Le Fanu’s strong influence on writers like Bram Stoker and M. R. James makes many of his techniques seem familiar to readers of older horror fiction, but he was doing this work earlier and every bit as well. This collection does not include the tales for which he is most famous, but they are a solid assortment nonetheless.

Lull

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Lull by Kelly Link, which can be found at Weird Fiction Review and in Magic for Beginners: Stories [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Kelly Link, illo Shelley Jackson, with an exclusive conversation between Kelly Link and Joe Hill.

Link Magic for Beginners

I really groove on the sort of nested narrative that this story supplies, and the complicating elements of time travel, phone-sex oracle, diabolical magic, and possible extraterrestrial involvement make it a real doozy. I have read this story twice: from its original published version in the Peter Straub-edited 2002 volume Conjunctions 39: The New Wave Fabulists and the later anthology Sympathy for the Devil. Since 2014 it is also available online from Weird Fiction Review.

The biggest laugh item for me on my second read was probably the description of Ed’s latest game release: “The one with the baby heads and the octopus girlies, the Martian combat hockey.” But I thought the tone of the story was impressive for bringing together that sort of comedy with genuine pathos, in a sort of matrix of overdetermined absurdity.

Kalle was burdened with an intense pain located about a hand’s breadth below his right collar bone. No, there was no tumor or anything of the sort there, he had had it checked, but it was exactly there that it started to hurt whenever life got to him. A black heart pumping despair into his body.

John Ajvide Lindqvist, trans. Ebba Segerberg, Let the Old Dreams Die: Stories [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library]

Hermetic-quote Lindqvist Let the Old Dreams Die burdened intense pain no tumor exactly started hurt whenever life got him black heart pumping despair into body

Cosmogramma

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Cosmogramma: Short Stories [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Courttia Newland.

Newland Cosmogramma

The “speculative fiction” of this collection is not hard sf by any stretch; it is not even very scientifically competent. Page 21 in the first story “Percipi” says that rebels living on the dark side of the moon “had survived five years of constant darkness.” This howler left me dubious when later stories offered wormhole-based propulsion and other technological leaps. These are also not generally stories with “big ideas” that are breaking conceptual new ground. There are an android uprising, zombie apocalypse (with an Invasion of the Body Snatchers inflection), a cyborg circus, robots tending a generation starship, and other well-worn themes that will be familiar to science fiction readers.

The jacket copy says that the book “envisages an alternate future as lived by the African diaspora.” But the individual stories aren’t clearly part of any sort of integral future history, and it wasn’t until the fifth story “Buck” that there was any clear indication of a principal character’s race. There’s no question that some of these stories do leverage author Courttia Newland’s perspective as a Black Englishman, and two of them use the Nommo spirits of the African Dogon people to characterize what seem to be extraterrestrials. Still, the science fiction element is definitely more consistent through the various stories than racial concerns are.

The title story “Cosmogramma” was all right, but it–like many of these–was little more than a vignette. In any case, I preferred the descriptive snapshot pieces like this one to the chronicle style evident in “Percipi.” Since the stories are typically quite short, there are a lot of them, and some of them really are notably strange and interesting. I best enjoyed the ones that incorporated significant elements of weird horror and/or were set closest to our contemporary situation, such as “Dark Matters” and “Link” that have city-dwelling youth encountering some sort of alien intelligence.

I really wanted to like this book, but I found it altogether a mixed bag, and it wasn’t one I returned to eagerly story after story.

Night-Gaunts and Other Tales of Suspense

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Night-Gaunts and Other Tales of Suspense [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Joyce Carol Oates

Oates Night-Gaunts and Other Tales of Suspense

This relatively recent collection from Joyce Carol Oates offers a half dozen “tales of suspense.” They are not supernatural horror, despite the title’s allusion to the monstrous phantasms of H.P. Lovecraft. Although all written in the third person, each is thoroughly psychological, tracking the thoughts of villains and victims on the cusp of horrible events. There is a lot more person than plot in these stories, and the substance of them is the interaction of character with circumstance.

The first story “The Woman at the Window” was (according to its prior publication) inspired by an Edward Hopper painting, and I’m sure the painting in question must be 11 A.M. (1926).

These tales tend toward novella length, typically on the long side of what can be read in a single sitting, but often subdivided into chapters. The longest story in the collection is “The Experimental Subject,” which is trained on the interior world of a scientific researcher seducing an undergraduate student into being unwittingly inseminated with chimpanzee sperm. Strangely, it is probably the closest of any of the stories in the book to having a “happy” outcome.

The title story that concludes the book is an account of “Horace Love, Jr.,” a fairly transparent fictionalization of the biography of Lovecraft. It takes for its premise the same thesis set forth in this bit of criticism from Kenneth Callaghan:

“Lovecraft was masquerading, for the purposes of fiction, as both the son and as his own father, thereby giving himself permission to use his own father’s madness for fictional purposes, and informing both himself and us, the readers, of the secret facts of his pathology that his own father was unfortunately unable to provide to him. In his fiction, if not in his life, Lovecraft was able to assume the mask, and the role, of the father, and with none of the messy aftereffects of STDs, wives, or possession by an all-consuming and all-destroying sexuality.” (Lovecraft’s Dark Arcadia, 86)

There is a bit of thematic resonance between “Night-Gaunts” itself and the other pieces of the collection, particularly “Sign of the Beast” and “Walking Wounded.” All of these stories have vivid characters with their subjectivities unravelled in engaging prose. The endings are sometimes like a song finishing on a suspended chord–you know where the story might go, and Oates allows you to do the work of taking it there.