(Polyphemus; The Autopsy and Other Tales; The Dark Descent ed. David Hartwell)
Dr. Winters stepped out of the tiny Greyhound station and into the midnight street that smelled of pines. The station’s window showed the only light, save for a luminous clockface several doors down and a little neon beer logo two blocks farther on. He could hear a river. It ran deep in a gorge west of town, but the town was only a few streets wide and a mile or so long, and the current’s blurred roar was distinct, like the noise of a ghost river running between the banks of dark shop windows. When he had walked a short distance, Dr. Winters set his suitcase down, pocketed his hands, and looked at the stars – thick as cobblestones in the black gulf. (first paragraph)
Bailey is a small, isolated mining town surrounded by woodland. When a series of gruesome murders culminates with the suspect trying to hide in a mine and causing an explosion that kills several miners, Dr. Winters, a pathologist for Fordham County, travels to Bailey. Shea takes us step by step through the doctor’s briefing by his friend, Sheriff Craven, and to the small ice house on the outskirts of town, the only place where the bodies could be kept, where the exhausted sheriff leaves Dr. Winters to his work of examining the bodies. Only, one of the bodies isn’t exactly dead.
This is not a typical vampire story. I would call it a s.f. vampire story, but it might be argued that it isn’t a vampire story – I’ve never seen it included in a vampire anthology, and frankly anthologists are always looking for something no one else has wedged into a previous vampire anthology (see also, recent zombie anthologies) – so as you read the story, you decide. It is also a story that honors the Lovecraft tradition of cosmic awe without tapping into Lovecraft’s mythos directly; if anything, it reminds me more of John W. Campbell Jr.’s “Who Goes There?” Shea does not call on Lovecraft or his mythos, but like HPL he crafts his story carefully, setting the scene and building our anticipation, creating a sense of the imminence of the dreadful. And he does this simply by following the actions and internal monologue of the pathologist as he tries to find the truth and as he decides how to deal with the circumstances in which he finds himself.
Michael Shea is one of those writers admired by other writers, who gets some attention now and again, then seems to fade back into the woodwork for a while. He drew attention at first by writing a novel about Cugel the Clever which was authorized by Jack Vance. He won a World Fantasy Award for Nifft the Lean, and his short stories often show up in best of the year anthologies. He also occasionally writes Lovecraftian fiction, including the novel The Colour Out of Time (which I’ve not read), “Copping Squid” (The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror: 2010, ed. Paula Guran; solid story with an interesting perspective on meeting a Lovecraft entity), “Fat Face” (The Book of Cthulhu ed. Ross Lockhart; good but not a favorite) and “Tsathoggua” (New Cthulhu ed. Paula Guran, to be published in November; looking forward to this one, especially since I recently read “The Tale of Satampra Zeiros,” the Clark Ashton Smith story that introduced Tsathoggua), but of the stories of his that I’ve read, “The Autopsy” is the only one that sucked me in so fully, chilled me, and left me mouth open on first reading. If I were building a general horror anthology, this would be among the first stories I chose, if not the first.
Similarly ruminative stories: “The Call of Cthulhu” by H. P. Lovecraft (H.P. Lovecraft: The Fiction; Black Seas of Infinity ed. Andrew Wheeler; The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories; American Supernatural Tales ed. S. T. Joshi); “Black Man with a Horn” by T. E. D. Klein (Dark Gods; Cthulhu 2000 ed. Jim Turner; The Book of Cthulhu ed. Ross Lockhart); “The White Hands” by Mark Samuels (The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror, Volume 15 ed. Stephen Jones; The Mammoth Book of the Best of Best New Horror ed. Stephen Jones); “A Colder War” by Charles Stross (Wireless; The Book of Cthulhu ed. by Ross Lockhart; New Cthulhu: The Recent Weird ed. Paula Guran)
Other s.f. horror stories:
“Killdozer” by Theodore Sturgeon (A Touch of Sturgeon; The Mammoth Book of Golden Age SF: Ten Classic Stories from the Birth of Modern ed. Martin H. Greenburg, Charles Waugh, Isaac Asimov); “The Twonky” by Lewis Padgett (Henry Kuttner & C. L. Moore) (Two-Handed Engine; The Last Mimzy: And Other Stories [reissue of The Best of Henry Kuttner]; Adventures in Time and Space ed. Raymond Healy and J. Francis McComas); “The Little Black Bag” by C. M. Kornbluth (His Share of Glory; Eight Worlds of C.M. Kornbluth: Classic Stories; The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume I ed. Robert Silverberg); “Sandkings” by George R. R. Martin (Dream Songs; Foundations of Fear ed. David Hartwell; Masterpieces: The Best Science Fiction of the Twentieth Century ed. Orson Scott Card; The Reel Stuff ed. Brian Thomsen & Martin H. Greenberg); “Bloodchild” by Octavia Butler (Bloodchild and Other Stories; Foundations of Fear ed. David Hartwell; The Locus Awards: Thirty Years of the Best in Science Fiction and Fantasy ed. Charles N. Brown & Jonathan Strahan); “The Singular Habits of Wasps” by Geoffrey A. Landis (Parameter and Other Quantum Realities; The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes ed. John Joseph Adams); “A Colder War” by Charles Stross (Wireless; The Book of Cthulhu ed. by Ross Lockhart; New Cthulhu: The Recent Weird ed. Paula Guran)
A list I was sent today from Penguin Books, so admittedly all Penguin publications (!) but not a bad list:
Top Ten Scary Reads for Halloween
1. Shirley Jackson - The Haunting of Hill House
2. Henry James - The Turn of the Screw
3. Mary Shelley - Frankenstein
4. Bram Stoker - Dracula
5. Ann Radcliffe - The Mysteries of Udolpho
6. Edgar Allan Poe - The Masque of the Red Death
7. M. R. James - The Haunted Dolls' House
8. H. G. Wells - The Door in the Wall
9. Ambrose Bierce - The Spook House
10. H. P. Lovecraft - The Dunwich Horror
Last edited by Randy M.; October 21st, 2011 at 09:24 AM.
The black thing walked from the forest and took the shape of a man. Wilhelm watched it through the window, from his sickbed. (first paragraph)
Lewis “Bull” Ingram served in WWII, saw the deaths of several friends and comrades-in-arms, and was especially shaken by the loss of Captain Haptic, who had become a mentor. Since the war, Ingram has drifted; without family attachments he has felt distanced from the people around him, not a part of the daily routines of others, but somewhat protective of the routines of others. Only slightly smaller than a brick wall, Ingram uses his size and strength to collect money due a Memphis crook. The crook occasionally sends other business Ingram’s way, and so Bull meets Sam Phelps, record producer, a man dedicated to putting the best rhythm & blues musicians on vinyl. Phelps has two assignments for Bull: first, find Earle Freeman, Phelps' talent scout, who has not contacted his wife or Phelps in some time and who the police have not been able to locate; second, track down Ramblin’ John Hastur, a legendary blues musician whose songs are said to inspire extreme emotion in his audience and which, unknown to Phelps and about to learned by Bull, can raise the dead.
Laird Barron’s blurb on the cover says Southern Gods is part H. P. Lovecraft and part William Hjorstberg; I’d add that it’s also part Davis Grubb and maybe flavored a bit by William Peter Blatty. Jacobs takes advantage of the novel’s Southern location – events mostly take place in Arkansas; from a plantation, to long stretches of fields of tobacco and cotton, to river, to bayou, Jacob’s sun-drenched descriptions show places so remote and unpopulated that it’s little wonder a Lovecraftian god can stride across them mostly unnoticed, working up plans for opening our world for his elders. During his journey Bull adopts a priest and a young mother and her daughter as allies, and it comes down to them to stop the plans of Hastur.
I may have gone into this novel with my expectations set too high. I thought it would be more complex, but instead it is a fairly straight-forward story, the first half the strongest as Jacobs establishes the characters of Bull and, among others, Sarah and Franny, the mother and daughter who aid him at a critical time. Once Father Andrez, appears like a Van Helsing substitute and clarifies the reality the others have only just become aware of, the novel seems to become a bit like clockwork, hitting the requisite points needed to satisfy the plot mechanism Jacobs has put in place: Attraction between Bull and Sarah? Check. Franny likes Bull? Check. Villain in place? Check. An event signaling the approaching confrontation? Check. …
In fairness, Southern Gods is Jacobs’ first novel and he shows promise. His writing, especially early on as he establishes his story, is atmospheric and shows the kind of phrasing and imagery that makes so much fiction from the American South flavorful. Further, Bull and the other characters, while not deep, are believable and pretty much avoid the frequent horror story trap of doing something stupid because the plot requires it. And, too, there are scenes that work well in and of themselves, in particular the scene in which Bull first meets Hastur, the scene in which Bull finds a dead man in an otherwise deserted radio station and listens to the record still on the turntable, and the violent, gruesome scene in a roadhouse as Hastur plays his song.
If you don’t mind taking a chance on the first book by a beginning novelist, this is a decent read that indicates better could be coming.
Other Southern Gothic: Twelve Tales of Suspense and the Supernatural by Davis Grubb; Wormwood by Poppy Z. Brite; Threshold & The Red Tree by Caitlin Kiernan; Twilight by William Gay; No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
Hastur: “An Inhabitant of Carcosa” by Ambrose Bierce (Ambrose Bierce: The Devil's Dictionary, Tales, and Memoirs; The Fantasy Hall of Fame ed. Robert Silverberg; The Hastur Cycle [2nd edition] ed. Robert Price); “The Yellow Sign” & “The Repairer of Reputations” by Robert W. Chambers (The King in Yellow; The Hastur Cycle [2nd edition] ed. Robert Price); “The Whisperer in Darkness” by H. P. Lovecraft (H. P. Lovecraft: The Fiction; Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H. P. Lovecraft) [The Bierce and Chambers tales can also be found on-line.)
Zombies galore: “Lazarus” by Leonid Andreyev (Zombies: Encounters with the Hungry Dead ed. John Skipp; A Whisper of Blood  ed. Ellen Datlow – oddly enough, a vampire anthology); “Calcutta, Lord of Nerves” by Poppy Z. Brite (Wormwood; The Living Dead ed. John Joseph Adams; Darkness: Two Decades of Modern Horror ed. Ellen Datlow; Zombies: Encounters with the Hungry Dead ed. John Skipp); “On the Far Side of the Cadillac Desert with Dead Folks” by Joe R. Lansdale (Electric Gumbo; Zombies: Encounters with the Hungry Dead ed. John Skipp; Crucified Dreams ed. Joe R. Lansdale); “This Year’s Class Picture” by Dan Simmons (The Living Dead ed. John Joseph Adams)
Zombie TV: The Walking Dead – the first season was strong.
Zombie film: White Zombie (1932 – one of Lugosi’s best); I Walked with a Zombie (1943 – a Val Lewton production reimagining Jane Eyre on Haiti – yeah, combining zombies with classic novels isn’t an entirely new concept); The Night of the Living Dead (1968); Dawn of the Dead (1978); Slither (2006) [Disclaimer: I admit I am not strong on zombie fiction.]
Other Lovecraftian stories: “Bringing Helena Back” by Sarah Monette (The Bone Key; New Cthulhu: The Recent Weird ed. Paula Guran [out in November 2011]); “Shoggoth’s Old Peculiar” & “Only the End of the World Again” (the latter in Werewolves and Shapeshifters ed. John Skipp; both in Smoke and Mirrors) & “A Study in Emerald” by Neil Gaiman (Fragile Things; Shadows Over Baker Street ed. John Pelan & Michael Reaves; The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes ed. John Joseph Adams); “The Shadow at the Bottom of the World” by Thomas Ligotti (Grimscribe: His Lives and Works; The Nightmare Factory; The Shadow at the Bottom of the World); “The Voice of the Beach” by Ramsey Campbell (Cold Print; Alone with the Horrors; Poe’s Children ed. Peter Straub)
Music related horror stories: "The Music of Erich Zann" by H. P. Lovecraft (H. P. Lovecraft: The Fiction; Necronomicon); "Black Country" by Charles Beaumont (The Howling Man [a.k.a. Charles Beaumont: Selected Stories; American Fantastic Tales [vol.2] ed. Peter Straub); Koko & "Pork Pie Hat" by Peter Straub (Magic Terror; October Dreams ed. Richard Chizmar; Halloween ed. Paula Guran)
Last edited by Randy M.; December 6th, 2011 at 09:57 AM.
just a quick post to thank Randy for his research, and to assure him I pay attention to the thread, take notes and hope he will continue.
Southern Gods sounds interesting, mostly for the blues angle. I've been listening for years to everything from Lonnie Johnson and Elmore James to Koko Taylor or Peter Green.
You reminded me that I'd meant to add another group of stories to the post, one of stories dealing with music. So I done did that. I know I've read more than the ones I listed, but those are the only titles I've been able to come up with so far. Still, the Beaumont and Straub stories might be of interest to you if you don't already know them.
Just read Straub's Pork Pie Hat in the Paula Guran Halloween collection: very good it is, too.
(The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2010 ed. Paula Guran)
The crate arrived at the Parrington on a Wednesday, but it was Friday before anyone mentioned it to me. Anything addressed from Miss Griselda Parrington, the younger of Samuel Mather Parrington’s two daughters, was automatically routed to Dr. Starkweather’s office, regardless of whose name she had written on it. I was, in truth, intensely grateful for this policy, for Miss Parrington most often addressed her parcels to me. She felt that we were “kindred spirits”; she considered me the only employee of the museum with the sensitivity and intelligence to appreciate her finds. Considering that she had inherited all of her father’s magpie-like attraction to the outré and none of his discernment, her opinion was less flattering than one might think. I endured some teasing on the subject, though not nearly as much as I might have; in general, the curators’ attitude was one of ‘there but for the grace of God.’ They were even, I think, rather grateful, if not to me precisely, then at least for my existence. (first paragraph)
This is one of the latest in a series of stories about Kyle Murchison Booth. Booth has a broad knowledge of the occult, the supernatural, the macabre and the outré, and neither wants nor wants to use that knowledge, but keeps finding himself in situations calling for such expertise, several of which are collected in The Bone Key. According to Miss Parrington, the package she sent contains a few slightly charred rare volumes of occult lore that she has purchased for the museum’s collection. Unfortunately, the box contains something else, as well. In discovering what else is in the box and how to cope with it, Booth comes to realize there are different kinds of education and even an educated man still has lessons to learn.
Booth as reluctant hero is sympathetic and sometimes funny, as are his co-workers, eccentrics who could only survive in a hermetic and tolerant world of scholarship. In the introduction to her collection of stories about Booth, The Bone Key, Monette says that reading the works of M. R. James and H. P. Lovecraft inspired her to try and write stories that merged their strengths with stronger characterization and without the misogyny that appears in their works. To a large degree, Monette succeeds, though her precise and witty writing may be the strongest attraction of these stories. Her prose fits and evokes the time period the stories occur in, the late 1920s and early 1930s, carrying a lightness of tone similar to the mysteries written then that could make the experience of murder and mayhem seem adventurous (“The Wall of Cloud,” for instance, echoes the set-up of mysteries like Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None). Monette also knows when to darken the tone, when to delve into character and how to subvert the usual expectations of genre and still be entertaining, as in this story.
While both Caitlin Kiernan and Ramsey Campbell have merged James and Lovecraft to stronger effect, Monette’s stories about Booth would make entertaining and convivial company during the lengthening nights of October. I certainly look forward to more of them.
Other works of similar interest: Ancient Images by Ramsey Campbell; The Red Tree by Caitlin Kiernan; lost boy lost girl by Peter Straub; Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill; The Mall of Cthulhu by Seamus Cooper; “Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad” & “A Warning to the Curious” by M. R. James (Ghost Stories of an Antiquary; Complete Ghost Stories; “A Warning …” also in Haunts: Reliquaries of the Dead ed. Stephen Jones); “The Big Fish” by Kim Newman (The Secret Files of the Diogenes Club; Dead Travel Fast; Cthulhu 2000 ed. Jim Turner); “Only the End of the World Again” by Neil Gaiman (Smoke and Mirrors; Werewolves and Shapeshifters ed. John Skipp); “The Coon Suit” by Terry Bisson (Bears Discover Fire and Other Stories; The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror: Fifth Annual Collection ed. Terri Windling & Ellen Datlow)
Occult investigators before Garrett, P. I. and Anita Blake: The Complete John Silence Stories by Algernon Blackwood; Carnacki, the Ghost Finder by William Hope Hodgson (many, if not all of the stories in these can be found on the Internet) [There are actually many more than this, including Seabury Quinn’s Jules de Grandin and Alice and Claude Askew’s Aylmer Vance; additionally, several of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s ghost stories are presented as coming from the case files of Martin Hesselius.]
Last edited by Randy M.; October 22nd, 2011 at 01:05 PM.
A link that might be useful: Prime Books are counting down to Halloween and putting something up every day until then.
I completely forgot The Witches when I suggested movies for kids last year. It's a great recommendation. Anyone with kids should look into it, though it might scare very young kids.
And Robert Louis Stevenson's "The Body Snatcher" is a terrific story. It's based on the exploits of Burke and Hare. It was filmed in the 1940s by RKO Studios, Val Lewton producing, Robert Wise directing, and starring Boris Karloff and Henry Daniell, each putting in a performance that was among the best of their respective careers. [That was Robert Wise's first movie as a director, by the way; he later went on to direct one of the great horror movies, The Haunting, based on Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House.)
(Collected Ghost Stories; My Favorite Horror Story ed. Martin H. Greenberg & Mike Baker; Haunts: Reliquaries of the Dead ed. Stephen Jones; Project Gutenberg)
The place on the east coast which the reader is asked to consider is Scaburgh. It is not very different now from what I remember it to have been when I was a child. Marshes intersected by dykes to the south, recalling the early chapters of Great Expectations; flat fields to the north, merging into heath; heath, fir woods, and, above all, gorse, inland. A long sea-front and a street: behind that a spacious church of flint, with a broad, solid western tower and a peal of six bells. How well I remember their sound on a hot Sunday in August, as our party went slowly up the white, dusty slope of road towards them, for the church stands at the top of a short, steep incline. They rang with a flat clacking sort of sound on those hot days, but when the air was softer they were mellower too. The railway ran down to its little terminus farther along the same road. There was a gay white windmill just before you came to the station, and another down near the shingle at the south end the town, and yet others on higher ground to the north. There were cottages of bright red brick with slate roofs... but why do I encumber you with these commonplace details? The fact is that they come crowding to the point of the pencil when it begins to write of Seaburgh. I should like to be sure that I had allowed the right ones to get on to the paper. But I forgot. I have not quite done with the word-painting business yet. (first paragraph)
[Thanks to http://www.litgothic.com/index_fl.html for saving me some typing.]
Two gentlemen take the intrusion of a third in stride. That gentleman, nervous and in want of company, in turn tells them a remarkable story. It appears he has found an artifact of uncommon historical as well as monetary value. It also appears the artifact has a guardian.
M. R. James had his rules: He wrote about men rather like himself, scholarly and with an interest in the antiquarian; the spirits he invoked he insisted be malign – no humorous or helpful ghosts for James; and the ghost or entity should be attached to some object or place. He then took the simplest notions and crafted wonderful ghost stories around them. In this story he adopts the tone of a reasonable and good-natured man – not an unusual voice in his work – who has known the town of Scaburgh since childhood. He sets the scene, describing the little town briefly so the reader may settle in there. His two companions, visiting to play golf and enjoy the seaside off-season, are not averse to company or to listening to someone’s story, and they also are not averse to offering their help. Perhaps, if the artifact is replaced, …
In the history of the English ghost story, M. R. James stands nearly alone as the defining force. While he had numerous imitators, he had few true peers: Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, who James cited as an influence, editing a collection of Le Fanu’s work at a time when Le Fanu was out of print; E. F. Benson, a near-contemporary of James, who is better known for his comic works; and Robert Aickman, whose “strange stories,” as he called them – and a better appellation would be hard to imagine – has a devoted, but small audience. Le Fanu’s work remains in print sporadically, Benson is occasionally added to anthologies still, but his supernatural tales go out of print for long periods of time, and Aickman’s idiosyncratic work struggles to gain an audience outside a relatively small coterie; it’s M. R. James we mostly remember for ghost stories, and James whose collections are rarely out of print.
M. R. James’ collections: Ghost Stories of an Antiquary; More Ghost Stories of an Antiquary; Collected Ghost Stories of M. R. James
Other stories of interest: The Woman in Black & The Mist in the Mirror by Susan Hill (the former has been filmed starring Daniel Radcliffe; an intriguing trailer shown at Fright Night said it will be released in February 2012); The Night Country by Stewart O’Nan
Other places of which to be wary: The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson; Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock; Pet Semetary by Stephen King; Cold Skin by Albert Sanchez Pinol (I recently heard this is being adapted to film); Dark Harvest by Norman Partridge; “The Wailing Well” by M. R. James (The Collected Ghost Stories of M. R. James; The Vampire Archives ed. Otto Penzler; Project Gutenberg); “The Willows” by Algernon Blackwood (Ancient Sorceries and Other Weird Tales; Three Supernatural Classics: The Willows, The Wendigo and The Listener; The Dark Descent ed. David Hartwell; Project Gutenberg); “Novel of the Black Seal” by Arthur Machen (The Three Imposters; Tales of Horror and the Supernatural; Project Gutenberg); “The End of the Story” & “The Tale of Satampra Zeiros” by Clark Ashton Smith (The End of the Story; “The End…” also in The Vampire Archives ed. Otto Penzler); “The Room in the Tower” by E. F. Benson (The Collected Ghost Stories of E. F. Benson; Gothic Short Stories ed. David Blair; The Vampire Archives ed. Otto Penzler); “The Shadowy Street” by Jean Ray (a.k.a. “The Tenebrous Alley”; My Private Spectres; Foundations of Fear ed. David Hartwell; Don’t Open This Book! ed. Marvin Kaye; The Weird ed. Ann and Jeff Vandermeer); “It’s a Good Life” by Jerome Bixby (The Science Fiction Hall of Fame ed. Robert Silverberg; The Weird ed. Ann and Jeff Vandermeer); “The Summer People” by Shirley Jackson (Come Along With Me; The Dark Descent ed. David Hartwell)
Fine stories with similar themes and/or conceits: “Green Tea” & “Mr. Justice Harbottle” & “Schalken, the Painter” by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (Best Ghost Stories of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu; “Green Tea” is also in Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural ed. Herbert Wise and Phyllis Fraser and The Penguin Book of Ghost Stories: From Elizabeth Gaskell to Ambrose Bierce ed. Michael Newton; all also available on the Internet); “The Monkey’s Paw” by W. W. Jacobs (The Monkey's Paw and Other Tales of Mystery and the Macabre; Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural ed. Herbert Wise and Phyllis Fraser; The Penguin Book of Ghost Stories: From Elizabeth Gaskell to Ambrose Bierce ed. Michael Newton; also available on the Internet); “The Beast with Five Fingers” by W. F. Harvey (The Wordsworth Book of Ghost Stories [no editor listed]; can be found also on the Internet); “The Portobello Road” by Murial Spark (The Ghost Stories of Muriel Spark; The Collected Stories of Muriel Spark); Our Lady of Darkness and “Smoke Ghost” by Fritz Leiber (Night's Black Agents; Fritz Leiber: Selected Stories; The Dark Descent ed. David Hartwell); “The Hospice” (Cold Hand in Mine) & “The Inner Room” (Sub Rosa; The Wine Dark Sea) by Robert Aickman (both also in The Collected Strange Stories)
Last edited by Randy M.; October 26th, 2011 at 07:59 AM.
(The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror. 21 ed. Stephen Jones)
Two elderly persons sat reading and smoking in the library in a country house after tea on an afternoon in the Christmas holidays, and outside a number of the children of the house were playing about. They had turned out all the lights and were engaged in the dreadful game of “Bear” which entails stealthy creepings up and down staircases and along passages, and being leapt upon from doorways with loud and hideous cries. Such a cry and an answering scream of great poignancy were heard just outside the library door. One of the two readers – an uncle of the young things who were disporting themselves there – leapt from his chair and dashed the door open. “I will not have you doing that!” he shouted (and his voice was vibrant with real anger); “Do you hear? Stop it at once. I can’t stand it. You – you – why can’t you find something else? What? … Well, I don’t care, I can’t put up with it … Yes, very well, go, and do it somewhere where I can’t hear it.” He subsided into a growl and came back to his chair but his friend saw that his nerves were really on edge, and ventured something sympathetic. “It’s all very well,” said the uncle, “but I cannot bear that jumping out and screaming. Stupid of me to fly out like that, but I couldn’t help it. It reminded me of all that business –you know. (first paragraph)
The uncle’s companion does not know, which leads the uncle to relate the story of his friend, Purdue. Purdue is a gentleman and when he inherits his family’s home and fortune does what he can to assuage the envy and malice of a cousin. His efforts fail, their relationship suffers and then, when she dies shortly after, he inherits a gift from her, a package of books.
The set-up for this story resembles the set-up for Sarah Monette’s “White Charles” and, not surprisingly, James’ “A Warning to the Curious”; it is pure M. R. James: Take a reclusive man, mix with an artifact that has some connection with the supernatural, and see what happens. As in Monette’s story, a book takes pride of place in this posthumous collaboration. The story also bears the misogyny that Monette reacted against. The female cousin is as thoroughly dislikable as anyone can be, but there’s no real depth there: She’s mean, stubborn and implacable because the story needs it. Still, like all James’ stories, the flow of narrative can carry you past criticisms while reading that may appear upon finishing, drawing us in, making us wonder what poor Purdue will have to face and how he will deal with it.
According to the notes ahead of the story in Best New Horror 21, Reggie Oliver met the great nephew of M. R. James after watching a rendition of one of James’ works. When James died, this story was still on his desk, incomplete. James’ great nephew kindly allowed Oliver to finish and publish the story, and this is just: Oliver has been writing short fiction for around ten years, though he’s anything but a beginning writer. This is only the fourth story I’ve read by Oliver, but the others, not in collaboration with M. R. James, still have a distinctly Jamesian feel. While earthier than James – for instance, willing to use gangsters and their vocabulary in “Mr. Pigsny” – Oliver has a similarly elegant informality of style and sense of humor.
Other paper products: “Casting the Runes” & “Canon Alberic’s Scrapbook” by M. R. James (Collected Stories; Count Magnus and Other Ghost Stories: The Complete Ghost Stories of M. R. James, Volume 1; Project Gutenberg); “Revelations in Black” by Carl Jacobi (Revelations in Black; The Vampire Archives ed. Otto Penzler); “The Dunwich Horror” by H. P. Lovecraft (Tales of H. P. Lovecraft; H.P. Lovecraft: The Complete Fiction); “The End of the Story” by Clark Ashton Smith (The End of the Story; The Vampire Archives ed. Otto Penzler); “The Adder” by Fred Chappell (More Shapes than One; Cthulhu 2000); Our Lady of Darkness by Fritz Leiber
Still more fine ghost stories: “Amour Dure” by Vernon Lee (Hauntings; Fantastic Tales: Visionary and Everyday ed. Italo Calvino); “Caterpillars” by E. F. Benson (The Collected Ghost Stories of E. F. Benson; Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural ed. Herbert Wise & Phyllis Fraser); “Afterward” & “Pomegranate Seed” by Edith Wharton (The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton; “Pomegranate Seed" also in, Nightshade: Twentieth Century Stories of the Uncanny ed. Robert Phillips; “Afterward” also in Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural ed. Herbert Wise & Phyllis Fraser, The Dark Descent ed. David Hartwell, The Penguin Book of Ghost Stories: From Elizabeth Gaskell to Ambrose Bierce ed. Michael Newton, and American Gothic Tales ed. Joyce Carol Oates); “Four Ghosts in Hamlet” by Fritz Leiber (Fritz Leiber: Selected Stories [coming in paperback in December 2011]; Masters of Fantasy ed. Martin H. Greenburg, Terry Carr); “Where the Woodbine Twineth” by Davis Grubb (Twelve Tales of Suspense and the Supernatural; American Fantastic Tales ed. Peter Straub); “Hand to Mouth” by Reggie Oliver (Haunts: Reliquaries of the Dead ed. Stephen Jones)
“Mr. Pigsny” by Reggie Oliver (The Best Horror of the Year: Vol. 3 ed. Ellen Datlow)
It was, I suppose, a typical gangster's funeral. There were the extravagantly insincere floral tributes: TO REG, A DIAMOND GEEZER in white carnations; there was “My Way” played by the reluctant organist; there was the coffin bourne by six burly, black-coated thugs into a church which Reg would never have entered in his lifetime except to marry or to bury. (first paragraph)
Professor Chibnall, a former in-law of the deceased gangster, is deputized by his sister to take her two sons, the gangster’s nephews as well as the professor’s, to the funeral. While there he meets a friend Reg made near the time of his (natural) death: Mr. Pigsny. During the funeral, Mr. Pigsny shows the Professor and Reg’s brother, Den, a … well, the Professor isn’t quite sure what it is, a lithograph, an engraving or what, of a frozen lake on which Reg is standing. Mr. Pigsny assures them it is not a naturalistic picture, since Hell cannot be depicted that way.
The story begins with a quietly amused and bemused air, the professor perhaps wary of the gangsters but also appreciative of a culture and behavior different from his own, an amusement Reg seemed to share when regarding the professor. The introduction of Mr. Pigsny slides us into M. R. James territory – for instance, the lithograph is reminiscent of James “The Mezzotint” – though Oliver’s story is earthier in some ways than a James story; James would never have written about gangsters and certainly would not have mimicked their language in one of his stories.
Reggie Oliver has worked on the British stage and in the entertainment industry since 1975 as actor, theater director and playwright. About a decade ago he began to publish short stories. Three of his first four story collections are sold out, the other, Masques of Satan from Ash-Tree Press, is still available. Oliver seems to be revisiting and reconfiguring the Jamesian ghost story for the 21st century, opening up the stage for a broader range of character and experience, while maintaining a level of elegant, assured prose and phrasing that is, even when earthy, precise.
Demons and Imps: “The Imp of the Perverse” by Edgar Allan Poe (The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe; also available on the Internet); “Green Tea” by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (Green Tea And Other Ghost Stories; The Haunted Baronet and Others: Ghost Stories, 1861–70; The Penguin Book of Ghost Stories: From Elizabeth Gaskell to Ambrose Bierce ed. Michael Newton); “The Devil and Daniel Webster” by Stephen Vincent Benet (The American Fantasy Tradition ed. Brian Thomsen; Demons: Encounters with the Devil and His Minions, Fallen Angels, and the Possessed ed. John Skipp); “Thus I Refute Beelzy” & “Bird of Prey” by John Collier (Fancies and Goodnights; “…Beelzy” also in Sympathy for the Devil ed. Tim Pratt); “Enoch” by Robert Bloch (The Early Fears); “The Man in the Black Suit” by Stephen King (Everything’s Eventual; Sympathy for the Devil ed. Tim Pratt)
School horror: The Perils and Dangers of This Night by Stephen Gregory (not for the faint of heart); “The School Story” by M. R. James; “The Interloper” by Ramsey Campbell (Demons by Daylight; Alone with the Horrors); “Boobs” by Suzy McKee Charnas (Stagestruck Vampires; Urban Fantasy eds. Peter Beagle, Joe R. Lansdale)
“Bird of Prey” by John Collier (Fancies and Goodnights; The John Collier Reader)
The house they call the Engineer’s House is now deserted. The new man from Baton Rouge gave it up after living less than a month in it, and built himself a two-room shack with his own money, on the very farthest corner of the company’s land. (first paragraph)
Edna and Jack are happy in their new house, settled in with their pet parrot. One night the parrot, chained to his perch on the porch, squeaks and squawks and sounds like it’s being killed. The husband arrives on the porch in time to see the parrot struggling back onto its perch and something huge flying away. A few weeks later, the parrot lays an egg, and when it hatches the hatchling does not look like a parrot. And it seems clever. Far too clever.
In some ways “Bird of Prey” is very much of its time, the married couple distinctly of a vintage from around WWII, hopeful for the future, touchingly innocent in their concern for the parrot and their conversations with each other. But Collier creates a force of malignance and spite that overcomes the indicators of time period. The hatchling doesn’t do much, but it is a presence in the house, a reflection, really, of a flaw in the marriage.
I think of John Collier as a literary descendant of the outré aspects of Saki, employing the eerie and macabre with a dry, mischievous sense of humor, and a perhaps skewed but clear view of his contemporary society and the individuals who populated it. Although Collier wrote during the time of the pulps, he published in slick magazines like The New Yorker, his work possessing an urbane quality, a leisurely (but not slow) story-telling pace wherein he selects those details that add to the story, that push the story along to a fitting and often ironic conclusion, all of which must have appealed to editors and publishers trying to please a sophisticated audience. Note that not all of his stories use the supernatural to create their effect; for instance, “Back for Christmas,” a crime story with an ending that made it ripe for adaptation to TV drama by Hitchcock (you can find it on hulu), “The Touch of Nutmeg Makes It,” and “Evening Primrose,” a story that starts with an infectious jauntiness and ends with a sharpness that cuts.
Other stories of interest by John Collier, all in Fancies and Goodnights: “The Lady on the Grey”; “Bottle Party”; “De Mortuis”; “Thus I Refute Beelzy” (also in Sympathy for the Devil ed. Tim Pratt)
Note: Fancies and Goodnights is not only a horror collection, it’s a significant 20th century collection of short fantasy that would reward most any reader, particularly those interested in the roots of the recent urban fantasy boom.
Other birds of ill-omen: “The Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge; “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe (both the Coleridge and the Poe are available on the Internet); “Pigeons from Hell” by Robert E. Howard (The Black Stranger And Other American Tales; The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard); “The Nightcharmer” by Claude Seignolle (The Nightcharmer and Other Tales of Claude Seignolle; as “Ghoulbird” in The Weird ed. Jeff & Ann Vandeermeer); The Cormorant by Stephen Gregory
(Haunted Legends ed. Ellen Datlow; The Best Horror of the Year: Vol. 3 ed. Ellen Datlow)
They had come from a Halloween party, having long shed the masks they’d worn. No one but Harold had been drinking, and he wasn’t drivin, and he wasn’t so drunk he was blind. Just drunk enough he couldn’t sit up straight and was lying on the back seat, trying, for some unknown reason, to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, which he didn’t accurately recall. He was mixing in verses from “The Star-Spangled Banner” and the Boy Scout oath, which he vaguely remembered from his time in the organization before they drove him out for setting fires. (first paragraph)
And Harold isn’t drunk enough he can’t moon a passing car filled with nuns. Except it’s not a car, they’re not nuns or even human, and they have a nifty collapsible mechanical servant that is one helluva hunter. Hijinks ensue, that is, hijinks mixed liberally with body parts.
As unappealing as that summary may sound, the story jauntily skips along, dragging the reader with it, as the cost of meeting up with the not-car loaded with not-nuns mounts. Joe R. Lansdale imbues story after story with irreproachable, relentless logic from a slanted perspective that has amused and bemused many, and probably even scandalized some readers since the 1970s. His story-telling pace is usually fast, his prose direct, his figures of speech earthy, his humor frequently scatological and most often genuinely funny. While probably best known for his Hap and Leonard mysteries and the Edgar-winning novel, The Bottoms, Lansdale gained new fans with the release in 2002 of Bubba Ho-Tep, a movie based on his horror short story of the same title, featuring Bruce Campbell and Ozzie Davis as a couple of inhabitants of an old-folks home fighting off their own delusions. And a mummy. If the pacing isn’t quite as even and quick as the short story, the script and the fine performances by Campbell and Davis capture the flavor of Lansdale’s writing quite well.
Other fine stories by Joe R. Lansdale: “Tight Little Stitches in a Dead Man’s Back” (High Cotton; Lightspeed: Year One ed. John Joseph Adams [out in November 2011]); “By Bizarre Hands” (High Cotton); "Night They Missed the Horror Show" (High Cotton); “Drive-In Date” (High Cotton); “Bubba Ho-Tep” (Writers of the Purple Rage); “On the Far Side of the Cadillac Dessert with Dead Folks” (Electric Gumbo; Zombies: Encounters with the Hungry Dead ed. John Skipp; The Urban Fantasy Anthology ed. Peter Beagle & Joe R. Lansdale)
Other horror mechanisms and creations: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley; “The Sandman” by E.T.A. Hoffman (Foundations of Fear ed. David Hartwell; Fantastic Tales: Visionary and Everyday ed. Italo Calvino); “Moxon’s Master” by Ambrose Bierce; “The Monster Maker” by W. C. Morrow (The Monster Maker and Other Stories) [all stories to this point can be found on-line]; “In the Penal Colony” by Kafka (The Complete Stories); “The Steel Cat” by John Collier (Fancies and Goodnights); “The Traveling Grave” by L. P. Hartley (The Complete Short Stories of L. P. Hartley; Night Fears and Other Supernatural Tales; The Collected Macabre Stories); “Window” by Bob Leman (The Feesters in the Lake and Other Stories; The Weird ed. Ann and Jeff Vandermeer); “The Mohave Two-Step” by Norman Partridge (The Man with the Barbed-Wire Fists; Crucified Dreams ed. Joe R. Lansdale)