Randy M's Horror Reads for October 2010

Discussion in 'Fantasy / Horror' started by Hobbit, Sep 13, 2010.

  1. Hobbit

    Hobbit Administrator Staff Member

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    To be opened soon, in preparation for October.

    NOW OPEN!

    Mark
     
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2010
  2. Shayna

    Shayna Greyscale

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    Excited here!!!!!

    I am so excited!!! Randy M. ...... get that list of yours out! lol I am so dying to see what is on your mind for reading during in this wonderful month of October!! :D I believe i always look forward to this time of year more and more!

    The fall leaves, raking....cemetaries and ghouls!! hahahah!

    Awesomeness!!!

    After your list...I have a few things to mention, but shall wait and see!!


    Buuuaaaahhh! :eek:

    Please begin!! Can't you just feel it!!!;)
     
  3. Shayna

    Shayna Greyscale

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    Oh and



    PS: Thanx Hobbit!! I was waiting for you to let the ghouls out!!! :)
     
  4. Hobbit

    Hobbit Administrator Staff Member

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    LOL. Can I tell you're excited about this, Shayna? :)

    Randy will be along in a bit.... he's just hauling the tomes from the catacombs!

    Mark
     
  5. ensignoftheunit

    ensignoftheunit Registered User

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    Delicious! :)

    I'm starting the season out right by starting Dark Harvest tonight; I've heard alot of good things about it.
     
  6. Randy M.

    Randy M. Registered User

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    Standard Disclaimer

    Hi, all.

    Before I start I thought I should issue the standard disclaimers:
    1. I'm not an expert, I've just read a lot.
    2. I look forward to comments and discussion.
    3. Oddly enough, I also look forward to corrections. Sometimes I start typing and just get carried away. If I say something less than bright, let me know; the sound you hear will be me smacking my forehead.
    4. You will see a ton of short stories mentioned because I think the form suits the genre. But I won't ignore novels.
    5. You'll see titles repeated for two reasons:
      • Stories are more than just one thing;
      • I've read a lot, but not everything!
    6. I'm probably weakest with newer works, so you'll see a lot of older works mentioned. Still, there will be some newer books and stories mentioned.

    And I think that's it. I need to make a couple of corrections to some of what I've written about ... Ray Bradbury, and I'll send it off the first list as soon as I can.


    Randy M.
     
  7. Randy M.

    Randy M. Registered User

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    Evoking October and Halloween: Ray Bradbury

    1. The October Country (1955)
      • “The Crowd”
      • “The Small Assassin”
      • “Homecoming”
    2. Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962)
    3. The Halloween Tree (1972)

    The plaudits earned by The Martian Chronicles (1950) – particularly the praising review by Christopher Isherwood – followed by the success of Fahrenheit 451 (1953) propelled Ray Bradbury’s career to a level beyond that of any other writer who came to maturity in the s.f./fantasy pulps: Best-seller status and critical acclaim. At the height of his renown, Bradbury was thought of as one of America’s premier s.f. writers.

    Which seems a bit odd now considering a good deal of Bradbury’s early work was published in Weird Tales magazine and his first book, Dark Carnival, appeared from Arkham House, the small publishing house best known for preserving the works of H. P. Lovecraft. Bradbury himself has said that he was a fantasist and over the years this view has become more prevalent among readers. Certainly the science in his writings is thin, the technology mainly the furnishings around which he wove his true stories which were about aspects of love, about family, about growing up and what is lost and what is gained in the process.

    While other writers have written about autumn and even about Halloween, for 3 generations of readers Ray Bradbury’s name has been indelibly linked to the season. Starting with the story “Homecoming” – my nomination for the great American short fantasy of the 20th century – Bradbury returned time and again to the season, to the sense of aging and mortality that the season inspires, and to the theme of loss. The October Country incorporates several of the stories from Dark Carnival and pulls in others, and hovering over all of them like the shadow of Uncle Einar is that melancholy, that apprehension of decay and of loss of the fecundity and energy of summer; there is in these stories a sense of turning inward.

    The three stories mentioned above are among the most well-known of the stories in The October Country, itself a true cornerstone of 20th century American fantasy. “The Crowd” is a rather (Fritz) Leiber-esque story observing something we’ve all seen in cities and finding the sinister in it – where do the crowds at accidents come from? Who are they? What do they want? “The Small Assassin,” arguably Bradbury’s most effective horror story, concerns what should be the happiest time in a married couple’s lives, the birth of their first child. “Homecoming,” not really horror but a story that uses the furniture of the horror story as backdrop, recounts events leading to and during a family gathering, a family composed of werewolves and vampires, men with wings and great-great-etc grandma, who is a mummy, and Timothy, who is none of those things, and in the process evokes the nature of family and familial love, the sense of belonging or not, the feeling of late Fall, the magic of Halloween, and the curse and blessing of mortality like no other story I know.

    I’ll add some thoughts on Something Wicked This Way Comes presently, but first a brief note about The Halloween Tree: I read it about ten years ago and no longer recall details. I do remember thinking it was a variation on Something …, but with less emphasis on the truly scary and greater emphasis on the weird and eerie and the adventure of it. As with most of Something… it is written from the viewpoint of young boys, or more precisely of the young boys of Bradbury’s mid-west youth. Like, say, Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea books, it was a Young Adult title before there was a Young Adult category, and for me it seemed like a drawn-out short story that pulled its punches a bit for the perceived audience. Which is not to say I disliked it. I would recommend giving it a try.

    Something Wicked This Way Comes is, arguably, Bradbury’s greatest achievement at novel-length, a story about coming of age, of facing mortality, of love between friends and between father and son. The catalyst for this is the arrival of Mr. Dark’s carnival in town. The carnival is supernatural, battening on the souls and hopes and dreams of unwary and gullible townspeople, using their desires and needs and vanities against them.

    While the narrator is anonymous, the narrative voice is exuberant and aware of the vistas of possibility before the two young boys who are the center of the story. The narrative voice is also aware of the misgivings and fears of the father of one of them, and that discordance is what gives the book much of its power: The worries and frets of an aging man contrasted to the joy in life of his son, which in turn is contrasted to the worries and needs of his best friend, all held together by their mutual love and respect.

    Something Wicked This Way Comes
    is part The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and part The Circus of Dr. Lao but it is mostly pure-quill Bradbury, flawed by lapses into sentimentality, descriptive passages that go over the top (often connected to pitch perfect passages), and moments where the consequences of decisions and actions or inactions are not quite as rigorously worked out as maybe they should be. Yet the essential optimism of the work, its celebration of friendship and of the energy and possibilities of youth, its careful detailing of an older man’s coming to terms with decay and mortality, its recognition of what is bad in the world and the power evil can exert over us raise it above its flaws. I know of nothing quite like it in American literature and though my critical faculties rebel at parts of it, that I’ve read it at least five times must mean it speaks to me at some level beyond the intellectual, even if I can’t quite figure out what level that is.


    Lastly, even in old age Bradbury hasn’t abandoned autumn and Halloween. From the Dust Returned (2001) gathers together his stories about the Family, first depicted in “Homecoming.” I haven’t read it yet because I’ve heard he rewrote the stories and I’m not sure I like that. Those stories are old friends and I’m not sure I want even their author messing around with them. Still, I expect I’ll give in and read it eventually.


    Next Monday, Evoking Bradbury
     
    Last edited: Sep 2, 2011
  8. Shayna

    Shayna Greyscale

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    my pick also!!

    Oh! yes!! I have it by my bedside ready for this week-end!!:eek:
     
  9. Luke_B

    Luke_B Diamond Dog Staff Member

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    Randy - I read a lot of Bradbury's short stories when I was younger. Only a couple have stayed with me and "The Small Assassin" is one, but unfortunately because I remember thinking it was was ridiculous to the point of hilarity. I'm not sure that Bradbury achieves the suspension of disbelief necessary to get the reader to accept a newborn might be trying to murder its parents. And the doctor's acceptance of this idea based on what, I recall, to be flimsy evidence also beggared belief. Now I'm the father of a 3 month old maybe I should read it again - or maybe not - It would be horrible to think I could empathise with the story more now!

    Another Bradbury story that I remember vividly is "The Man Upstairs", and I think this one is much more effective. This is probably one of my favourite short stories. Bradbury's wonderful descriptive powers are at their height in this tale and used to create an atmosphere of growing suspense and terror. The opening description of the chicken being gutted is so beautiful and disturbing it really has stayed with me since I was a kid.
     
  10. Randy M.

    Randy M. Registered User

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    Fair 'nuff, Luke. But that is one thing to remember about horror stories, what scares one person will cause guffaws in another. For me -- and for a lot of anthologists -- Bradbury sets the scene well enough and manages to gain willing suspension of disbelief.

    I haven't read that one. I'll have to see if it's in one of my collections. Thanks.


    By the way, another story I meant to mention (not in TOC) and didn't was "Black Ferris" (believe that's the correct title; I'll double-check when I can) which was an early run at Something Wicked This Way Comes.

    Randy M.
     
  11. Luke_B

    Luke_B Diamond Dog Staff Member

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    I'm pretty sure "The Man Upstairs" was in The Small Assassin short story collection if you have that.

    EDIT: Oh, and to be fair, "The Small Assassin" is one of Bradbury's better known and loved short stories, so your opinion is probably more relevant to others than mine.
     
    Last edited: Oct 1, 2010
  12. Randy M.

    Randy M. Registered User

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    Well, I was completely wrong in my earlier estimations to myself: It didn't take me a full week but only part of a day to say something embarrassing. Another indication to me, as if I really needed another one, that I should always double-check my memory.

    Before writing about Bradbury I pulled TOC out and reread a few stories, but not this one. I'll reread this one before much longer.

    I wouldn't go that far, especially after the gaff I just made. But this is one of the aspects of horror that parallel humor: Some people find certain things funny or scary, and the person next to them wonders what the fuss is about. Wait until I start discussing Lovecraft -- some readers are mesmerized by his writing, others can't stop laughing long enough to get scared (Brian Aldiss, for one).

    Randy M.
     
  13. raggedyman

    raggedyman Registered User

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    My favorite Ray Bradbury story is "Pillar Of Fire". It's perfect reading for this time of year. You can find it in his collection " S Is For Space".
     
  14. Randy M.

    Randy M. Registered User

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    Evoking Bradbury

    On Halloween
    a. The Night Country by Stewart O’Nan (2004)
    b. Dark Harvest by Norman Partridge (2007)
    c. A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny (1994)
    d. “Mr. Dark’s Carnival” by Glen Hirshberg

    Not specifically Halloween
    e. Blind Voices by Tom Reamy (1978)
    f. Coraline by Neil Gaiman (2002)
    g. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (2008)

    A mostly non-horror title of possible interest
    h. Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman (1996)

    Ray Bradbury’s influence has been widespread, and his October and Halloween stories have inspired works by many other writers in and out of genre.

    Stewart O’Nan’s The Night Country recounts the events on Halloween one year to the day after a car accident killed several high school students; it is told from the perspective of the students’ ghosts as they revisit the town in which they lived and died. While O’Nan dedicates his novel to Bradbury, neither the concept of the novel nor O’Nan’s prose seem particularly Bradbury-like. Even so, as in Bradbury, O’Nan instills the quiet winding-down of autumn with a pervading melancholy, a growing sense of something dire soon to happen, and even a Bradbury-esque empathy from the narrator for the living characters being observed. O’Nan’s novel leisurely reveals the actions and motivations of his characters, and gradually unveils the mystery surrounding the accident and the reasons for the return of the ghosts.

    By contrast with O’Nan’s novel, both Roger Zelazny in A Night in the Lonesome October and Norman Partridge in Dark Harvest approach Bradbury-like material with an adventure story sensibility, but diverge drastically from there. Zelazny takes an idea similar to Bradbury’s the Family: What if the monsters we know from books and movies, and even one from real life, were conspiring to either save or destroy the world? Like most of Zelazny’s work that I’ve read, the narrator is the protagonist and while not flawless, he is intelligent, knowledgable, loyal and courageous. Unlike those other Zelazny works, the narrator is also a canine, the companion of a man simply known as Jack. Zelazny, completely aware of the not-so-latent silliness of his premise, draws the reader in mainly through making his hero sympathetic and with writing that is sharp, concise, straight-faced and mischievously funny. And it is that sense of humor and having fun with genre materials that most distinguishes Zelazny’s novel from Partridge’s.

    Partidge’s Dark Harvest posits a mid-west town with an unbroken streak of fine weather, good crops and great yield at harvest. And the secret for this success is revealed as the novel follows a young man transformed into … well, that would be telling; Partridge’s depiction of young people in their late teens trying to break away from the conventions and expectations of their particular town is convincing. While the setting and some of the description is Bradbury’s mid-west, Partridge’s view of small town life is closer to that of Thomas Tryon in Harvest Home, and his narrative voice is drawn from noir, less akin to Bradbury than to Dashiell Hammett or Fred Brown. This is the only one of the novels listed above that I would call an outright horror novel, and a well-constructed, entertaining one.

    Arguably a bit closer in tone, theme and setting to Bradbury, the title of Glen Hirshberg’s novella, “Mr. Dark’s Carnival,” (The Two Sams; 2003)) refers directly to Something Wicked This Way Comes. In this story a professor and his lover visit a recently arrived carnival and learn things about themselves they hadn’t known. The story is distinguished by loving, longing and loss.

    I cannot recommend these three novels and novella strongly enough. While not Bradbury, they take us near Bradbury territory and do so to some effect.

    Not set on Halloween, Blind Voices is a first novel by by Tom Reamy, who died before seeing it in print. Reamy evokes a similar mid-west setting to Bradbury’s; his characters would not seem out of place in a Bradbury story, and early on Reamy’s well-phrased descriptive prose brings a similar flavor to the novel. As in Something Wicked This Way Comes a travelling carnival comes to town, exciting the townsfolk with its acts: a Snake Goddess, a gorgon, a minotaur, and others. These aren’t quite Mr. Dark’s soul-sucking entertainments, though, and Reamy’s attempt to explain them in a science fictional manner undermines the book’s overall effect; further, since his plot does not spring as fully from character as Bradbury’s does, a good deal of narrative energy is lost in just getting the plot to work. All-in-all, this is a good first novel, but it’s still only a shadow of the book that inspired it.

    More successful, I think, and great fun are Neil Gaiman’s two Bradbury-esque Young Adult novels, Coraline and The Graveyard Book. The former tells of a young girl who feels neglected and ignored by her mother and father as they move to a new house and try to balance working from home with raising a precocious and inquisitive daughter. The latter tells of a young boy lost in a graveyard and brought up by ghosts and a vampire. Again these are adventure novels of a sort, Coraline Gaiman’s attempt, I believe, to provide his own daughter with something to read like Bradbury, in whose books young girls seem noticably scarce, and The Graveyard Book another attempt to write something along the lines of Bradbury’s Family stories.

    Lastly, Alice Hoffman’s prose in Practical Magic is the most like Bradbury’s in tone of any of these works, flowing ebulliently and springing on the reader appropriate and sometimes startling, sometimes delightful imagery in this story about two sisters, witches, and how they nearly destroy themselves and how they fight for each other. I think, like Gaiman, Hoffman was looking to give female readers the heroines Bradbury did not in a story like those Bradbury wrote for boys and men. Certainly, when writing about love, particularly familial love, approaching it like Bradbury seems to work. (One note: avoid the movie based on Practical Magic; good cast, but the filmmakers went for a lowest common denominator plot.)


    Next: Not sure you like horror stories? A sampler for beginners to choose from...
     
    Last edited: Sep 2, 2011
  15. jamieem

    jamieem weightless astronaut

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  16. Randy M.

    Randy M. Registered User

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    Anything is fair game, Jamieem. And "The Emissary" was originally part of The October Country.

    Randy M.
     
  17. Banger

    Banger Staff

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    I loved "The Jar" and "The Scythe" in The October Country.
     
  18. Randy M.

    Randy M. Registered User

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    Not sure you enjoy horror short stories? 13x3 stories that might decide you

    • Early formative stories
      1. “The Sandman” by E. T. A. Hoffman
      2. “The Black Cat” by Edgar Allan Poe
      3. “Young Goodman Brown” by Nathanial Hawthorne
      4. “Mr. Justice Harbottle” by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
      5. “The Monkey’s Paw” by W. W. Jacobs
      6. “The Damned Thing” by Ambrose Bierce
      7. “The Great God Pan” by Arthur Machen
      8. “The Wendigo” by Algernon Blackwood
      9. “The Yellow Sign” by Robert W. Chambers
      10. “The Judge’s House” by Bram Stoker
      11. “Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad” by M. R. James
      12. “The Voice in the Night” by William Hope Hodgson
      13. “The Penal Colony” by Kafka
    • From the pulps and slicks and digests
      1. “The Rats in the Walls” by H. P. Lovecraft
      2. “Shambleau” by C. L. Moore
      3. “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper” by Robert Bloch
      4. “Evening Primrose” by John Collier
      5. “The Foghorn” by Ray Bradbury
      6. “The Tenebrous Alley” by Jean Ray
      7. “They Bite” by Anthony Boucher
      8. “The Girl with the Hungry Eyes” by Fritz Leiber
      9. “The Mind-worm” by C. M. Kornbluth
      10. “Vintage Season” by C.L. Moore & Henry Kuttner
      11. “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson
      12. “Where the Woodbine Twineth” by Davis Grubb
      13. “The Howling Man” by Charles Beaumont
    • Contemporary
      1. “The Distributor” by Richard Matheson
      2. “Ringing the Changes” by Robert Aickman
      3. “Roaches” by Thomas Disch
      4. “The Mist” by Stephen King
      5. “The Tugging” by Ramsey Campbell
      6. "River of Night’s Dreaming” by Karl Edward Wagner
      7. “Bubba-Ho-Tep” by Joe Lansdale
      8. “The Panic Hand” by Jonathan Carroll
      9. “Calcutta, Lord of Nerves” by Poppy Z. Brite
      10. “This Year’s Class Picture” by Dan Simmons
      11. “Out of the Night, When the Full Moon is Bright...” by Kim Newman
      12. "The Wall of Clouds" by Sarah Monette
      13. “Northwest Passage” by Barbara Roden

    No real commentary for this list since many of these stories are considered classics, including a few in the "Contemporary" section. Included in the list are stories with ghosts (Le Fanu, Stoker, James, Grubb), a werewolf (Newman), a mummy (Lansdale), vampires (Moore, Leiber, Kornbluth – sort of), ghouls (Monette), a zombie (Simmons), a few Lovecraftian nasties (Lovecraft, Campbell, King), at least one unequivocally s.f. story (Moore & Kuttner) and one proto-s.f. story (Hoffman), two fantasies (Wagner, Phillips), several where man or men or society are threatening; some are less easily categorized.

    A few possible pairings:
    • “The Girl with the Hungry Eyes & “The Panic Hand” (if you can find it, you might throw in Karl Edward Wagner’s “The Kind Men Like”)
    • “Mr. Justice Harbottle” & “The Judge’s House”
    • “Evening Primrose” & “The Lottery”
    • “The Penal Colony” & “The Lottery”
    • “The Wendigo” & “Northwest Passage”
    • “Young Goodman Brown” & “Ringing the Changes”
    • “The Rats in the Walls” & “The Mist”
    • “The Tenebrous Alley” & “The Tugging”

    Anyone interested in sources for these titles, contact me. It will probably be the weekend before I can pull that list together, though.


    Next: Fritz Leiber
     
  19. Randy M.

    Randy M. Registered User

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    Fritz Leiber

    [I fell behind yesterday, so I hope to send out two lists tomorrow.]


    When I started to read s.f. Fritz Leiber was one of the first writers I read. Gather, Darkness and The Book of Fritz Leiber (1974) and The Second Book of Fritz Leiber (1975) were early favorites and at that time, in the late 1970s or early 1980s, he was as well-known for his s.f. as for his fantasy. Even so, it wasn’t until later that I read some of his most famous s.f. stories from the 1950s and early 1960s, like “A Pail of Air” and “Coming Attraction,” and then I found Conjure Wife around the time Leiber first published Our Lady of Darkness and read them together.

    I also bought, at one of the first s.f. conventions I ever attended, the Gregg Press edition of Night’s Black Agents, having already read, somewhere, “The Girl with the Hungry Eyes” and thinking it some sort of classic. Still, I didn’t read the entire collection for some time because my interests moved away from s.f., fantasy and horror for a number of years.

    When I came back to sf/f/h among the earliest books I dipped into was Night’s Black Agents, rereading “The Girl with the Hungry Eyes” (which I still consider some sort of classic) and finally getting around to “Smoke Ghost,” “The Dreams of Albert Moreland,” “The Hill and the Hole,” “The Inheritance,” and the other fine stories in that collection (although I have yet to read the Fahfrd and Gray Mouser stories in there; I want to read them in the context of the other stories about that pair).

    Leiber was a prolific writer of fantasy, science fiction and horror, probably the only one of his generation known as a major writer in all three categories. While most contemporary readers are aware of his fantasies about Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, and some know of his s.f. works like The Big Time, Gather, Darkness and The Wanderer and his even more influential short stories, his impact on horror, and especially the kind of horror that led to contemporary urban fantasy, doesn’t seem as widely known.

    Novels
    i. Conjure Wife (first serialized in Unknown in 1943; as a book, 1953)
    ii. Our Lady of Darkness (1977)​

    Conjure Wife is one of the precursors of urban fantasy. In it a young, untenured professor learns that his wife is a witch. As a modern male of the 1940s he doesn’t believe in such things and demands that she stops her spells and incantations and, reluctantly, she does. The consequences, of course, are far worse than anything the young professor could have imagined. (This has been filmed at least three times and somehow I’ve managed to miss all of the filmed versions.)

    In Our Lady of Darkness a writer sees something from his window that tickles his curiosity and spurs him on a search through San Francisco. He also comes across a book on megapolisomancy, essentially a grimoire centering on the power to be found in cities. What he learns from the book and his searches have a profound and even dangerous effect on his life. Our Lady of Darkness is both autobiographical and a culmination of one part of Leiber’s career as a writer and that began in the 1930s in the magazine Unknown.

    Leiber would probably be remembered for these novels, but what cements his importance for the modern horror genre are his collections, notably his first collection:

    Collections of interest
    i. Night’s Black Agents (1947; expanded, 1978)
    ii. Heroes and Horrors (1978)
    iii. The Ghost Light (1984)
    iv. The Black Gondolier and Other Stories (2000)
    v. Smoke Ghost and Other Apparitions (2002)
    vi. Horrible Imaginings (2004)​

    I haven’t yet read every relevant story in these collections except Night’s Black Agents, but I’ve read a large percentage of them. The last three were published in small-ish print runs by Midnight House and probably constitute the most comprehensive collection of Leiber’s horror/urban fantasy stories so far published. The others, all in paperback editions, are somewhat easier to find and less expensive. (PS Publishing put out a trade paperback edition of The Black Gondolier and Other Stories but I’m not sure how widely they distributed the title.)

    Following are some of the stories from these collections that make Leiber important:

    Stories of importance
    i. “Smoke Ghost”
    ii. “The Girl with the Hungry Eyes”
    iii. “The Dreams of Albert Moreland”
    iv. “Four Ghosts in Hamlet”
    v. “Belson Express”​
    Lesser known but very good stories
    i. “You’re All Alone”
    ii. “The Hill and the Hole”
    iii. “The Inheritance” (a.k.a. “The Phantom Slayer”)
    iv. “The Button Moulder”
    v. “Black Glass”
    vi. “Dark Wings”
    vii. “A Bit of the Dark World”
    viii. “Diary in the Snow”​

    Leiber came to specialize in portraying cities and the odd, dark corners of cities where the weird, the eerie, the outré, the supernatural or the paranormal lurked and gathered and sprang at the unwary passerby. He began this specialization with “Smoke Ghost,” first published in Unknown magazine in 1939. Almost every anthology of ghost stories that purports to represent a history of the genre includes “Smoke Ghost” …

    But first a short tangent: In the late 1930s John W. Campbell Jr. decided to do for fantasy what he had done previously for s.f., shake it up, streamline it, bring it into the present century. No more Cabell-esque imaginary settings, no more exquisite formal writing, tell stories in the times, of the times, in the vernacular, and his stable of writers, including Heinlein, Sprague de Camp and Kuttner and Moore responded for several years with fine short fantasies written in everyday language. Campbell, in spite of this aim, published some of the early Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories because they were too good to let pass, even though they were not exactly what he wanted. Then, in 1939, he published “Smoke Ghost,” and Leiber in essence recreated the horror genre. “Smoke Ghost” was transformative.

    In “Smoke Ghost” a former psychic notices something moving along the rooftops when he’s on the train to work, feels watched at home and at the office, is being followed, pursued – haunted – but he doesn’t know by whom or what. The ending of the story, when he confronts his pursuer, is one of those moments in prose fiction when the reader feels the stakes being raised, the author pushing the story beyond what it had been, a well-constructed ghostly story notable mainly for its then contemporary city-scape, and intentionally or not creating a statement about his time and place. From “Smoke Ghost” and other Leiber stories spring the work of Richard Matheson and Stephen King. (In fairness, the stories of Robert Bloch appearing about this time were moving in a similar direction, but not until 1943 and “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper” did he publish a story that, for readers of the time, felt as important as Leiber’s story.)

    Much the same said about “Smoke Ghost” could also be said about “The Girl with the Hungry Eyes,” in which a young woman, not at all prepossessing, somehow becomes a sex symbol, a media darling, seemingly gaining greater power to hold the public’s attention with every moment she is in the spotlight. The story felt prescient when I first read it in the 1970s and perhaps even more so in these reality-show, Internet-personality times.

    While I recommend all the stories listed above, besides “Smoke Ghost” and “The Girl with the Hungry Eyes,” I would especially draw your attention to “A Bit of the Dark World” and “You’re All Alone.” The former feels like an early run at Our Lady of Darkness: a couple meet with a friend who begins telling them of his discovery of a gap between the material and the unconscious world, but they aren’t prepared for what they find there. In “You’re All Alone” there’s a different sort of gap: The protagonist finds the hidden clockwork of the world, learns to enter it and negotiate it, and then meets the other people who inhabit it. (Leiber later expanded this novella into The Sinful Ones, which I have yet to read.)


    Next: A Novel Experience
     
    Last edited: Aug 18, 2011
  20. Randy M.

    Randy M. Registered User

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    A Novel Experience … 13x3 fine novel-length October readings

    Some of the Usual Suspects
    • Dracula by Bram Stoker
    • The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells
    • The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
    • The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
    • Psycho by Robert Bloch
    • The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
    • The Other by Thomas Tryon
    • The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
    • Interview with a Vampire by Anne Rice
    • Red Dragon by Thomas Harris
    • The Shining by Stephen King
    • Pet Semetary by Stephen King
    • Ghost Story by Peter Straub

    Of all of these fine novels, I would most strongly recommend Jackson’s, Straub’s, and King’s Pet Semetary.

    Jackson’s novel is the quietest, gradually revealing character, not just of the four explorers of Hill House, but of the house itself. Perhaps the scariest moment in the novel sneaks up on the reader, so that we’re not really aware how frightening it is except in retrospect. Eleanor, the main character, remains one of the most developed and sympathetic characters in horror fiction.

    Straub’s Chowder Society and their stories are compelling as he reveals the truth in bits, the reader having to piece together the full story as the novel continues. This might be even better reading for winter.

    King’s novel gives us one of his best family portraits, showing the care and love the family members have for each other, and then … What the father does is something most fathers, in that position, would do, and the consequences are heart-wrenching.


    Some Less Usual Suspects
    • The Werewolf of Paris by Guy Endore
    • Night Has a Thousand Eyes by Cornell Woolrich
    • The Land of Laughs by Jonathan Carroll
    • Voice of Our Shadow by Jonathan Carroll
    • Perfume by Patrick Susskind
    • Our Lady of Darkness by Fritz Leiber
    • The Cormorant by Stephen Gregory
    • Finishing Touches by Thomas Tessier
    • Midnight Sun by Ramsey Campbell
    • Anno Dracula by Kim Newman
    • The Course of the Heart by M. John Harrison
    • Threshold by Caitlin Kiernan
    • The Red Tree by Caitlin Kiernan

    There’s a lot to enjoy in this group, from Victorian vamps (Newman) to a 17th century werewolf (Endore), from noir creepiness (Woolrich) to Southern Gothic (Kiernan’s Threshold), from the threat of an intense winter (Campbell) to the debilitating effects of summer heat (Kiernan’s The Red Tree), from monsters of the mind (Carroll) to monsters manifest (Leiber, Harrison) to human monsters (Tessier).

    I especially recommend Perfume, a historical novel that somehow manages to make one man’s sense of smell seem sinister, The Course of the Heart, which was influenced by Arthur Machen’s “The Great God Pan,” and tells of a small group of college students who experienced something supernatural, or paranormal, or certainly beyond their worldly experience, and how the experience shapes their later lives and still haunts them, and Finishing Touches, a truly disturbing novel of one man’s descent into perversity.


    Unusual Suspects: Maybe not horror, but dark … oh, yes, most certainly dark
    • Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
    • Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
    • Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West
    • The Bride Wore Black by Cornell Woolrich
    • Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
    • The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh
    • A Prayer for the Dying by Stewart O’Nan
    • Beloved by Toni Morrison
    • In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O’Brien
    • Mary Reilly by Valerie Martin
    • No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
    • Twilight by William Gay
    • The Red of His Shadow by Mayra Montero
    These are novels that sit on the fringe of the horror story.

    Beloved is the only one of these novels with a true supernatural occurance when a mother feels the presence of her daughter who had died years before, and I would argue it is a horror novel, although Morrison’s literary reputation stops most readers from acknowledging that.

    Wuthering Heights, Twilight, The Red of His Shadow and No Country for Old Men all feel as though something supernatural could happen, even though, arguably, it does not. The first is an acknowledged classic of the Gothic mode, and the last features one of the most ruthless men in literature. The other two, relatively recent novels, are not well-known but would repay reading, the first with a story of a chase through a forest that seems alive with the imminence of fairy tale, the other with a story of the Dominican Republic and the Haitians who live there and their practice of voudun.

    Ethan Frome reads like an extend conte cruel, an exercise in a sort of poetic justice and unsettling because it seems so vastly unjust. Miss Lonlyhearts is an existential nightmare, a portrait of a man falling apart. The Bride Wore Black follows a detective trying to solve a series of murders, and the woman committing them. The ending is still potent, even after years of other mystery writers cribbing from the novel. The Loved One is a pitch-black satire of the American mortuary business (Twilight also features what may be the most twisted mortician in literature as one of its highlights) and is sometimes funny in an uncomfortable way. The story in A Prayer for the Dying proceeds with a relentless, ruthless logic that still allows for compassion and empathy in its characters.

    In the Lake of the Woods may be about a murder or may not, it may be mostly illusion but that’s not likely, though the main character was once a magician. Lastly, Mary Reilly and Wide Sargasso Sea spring from past classics, the former following the experiences of Dr. Jekyll’s maid, and the latter following the early life of a mostly off-stage character from a different Bronte’s classic, Jane Eyre.

    If your autumn interest lies not in the horror novel, but in works that deal with the darker side of human nature, I believe these would appeal to you.
     
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2010