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What books are you reading right now that don't have a narrative driven by images as well as words?

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I've just finished my third play for the year (not counting the very funny parodies in Mr. Punch's Pocket Ibsen by F. Anstey, which I listened to at Librivox.) This was Thunder (Grozá) by Alexander Ostrovsky, in the collection Four Russian Plays, translated by Joshua Cooper. The play is also known in English as The Storm. It is set in a town on the Volga where custom allows women freedom before marriage but confines them to their new home, under the domination of their mother-in-laws, after it. A woman does not love her husband, is oppressed by her mother-in-law, and has conceived a passion for another man. Her sister-in-law encourages her to embark on an affair when her husband is away, and she can't help herself. Later her guilt forces her to confess and the play comes to an unhappy end. The play depicts the people of the town well and evokes sympathy for the female protagonist.

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Just finished The King in Yellow, by Robert W. Chambers was a writer whose horror stories were admired by H. P.Lovecraft. The book itself contains 10 stories, about half of which are horror stories, and the rest are tales of the more-or-less romantic adventures of young American students living in Paris.   Of the horror stories, only three deal with the titular subject. The King in Yellow is a fictional play which is said to be brilliantly written, but which drives anyone who reads it insane.  Reading these stories, one can certainly see how our Howard could have been influenced by them.  The other stories are interesting, too. Chambers isn't a bad writer. From what the introduction says, he did not think of himself as a "horror writer", and ended up writing stuff that might be comparable to today's Harlequin romances, more than anything else.  If you haven't read this already, LB, you may want to give it a look if you get the chance.

Horror writer Steve Niles recommended this in a recent Facebook posting. It's in the public domain, so I downloaded a copy onto my Kindle. I've got a couple of books in line ahead of it, but I'll have to get to it sometime soon. Thanks for the review, Baron!

The Baron said:

From what the introduction says, he did not think of himself as a "horror writer", and ended up writing stuff that might be comparable to today's Harlequin romances, more than anything else.  If you haven't read this already, LB, you may want to give it a look if you get the chance.


Thanks, Baron. I listened to it a few years ago. I thought it a strong set of stories. I think I particularly liked the first two and the Franco-Prussian War one. Internet Archive has an archived version of a page which had a bibliography of his horror/fantastic work and notes on The King in Yellow's stories here.

I read the same author's The Tracer of Lost Persons last year via Project Gutenberg, and found it much less impressive. Some of its stories also have fantastic content, but they aren't horror stories and don't have the same kind of impact. I kept a note on it as follows (plot spoilers):

-Five stories about a private detective named Mr Keen who acts in the stories as a matchmaker. 1.A man hires Mr Keen in the hope that he might find his ideal woman and falls in love with the agent assigned to help him. 2.A man has been having visions of a woman he only saw once and fell in love with. These turn out to be telepathic communications. The man’s photograph of one of them contains a cypher that leads them to the woman. 3.Mr Keen arranges for a man to be mistaken for a burglar by his lost love. 4.A man has fallen in love with the perfectly preserved body of a woman from ancient Egypt, who turns out to be in a state of suspended animation due to a hypnotic trance. 5.An artist, the inventor of the “Carden girl” [this is likely a play on the Gibson Girl], has hired Mr Keen to find a woman who matches the one he draws so he can marry her. Mr Keen sets him up with a lady doctor who fits the bill by tricking her into believing the artist has “Lamour’s disease”.
-The first story has a nice comic scene where the man, asked by the lady agent to describe the woman he is looking for, describes her. The last story is silly but fun.

I'm pretty sure I remember the Old Man talking about a radio show that was based around the "Mr. Keen" character, but I've never heard any episodes.

At the start of the year I made a resolution to read a story (short story or novella) a day. Initially I posted on what I'd read every week, but that was too self-indulgent and thread-smothering, so I took all but the first post down. I thought I'd post a half-year report.

At first I tried to read one story most days, but this got in the way of other reading I wanted to do, so I changed my standard to one a day on average. This has destroyed the discipline of the project, but it's also meant I've stopped reading short, insubstantial items to catch up. At this point I've read about 308 stories, not counting the items in The Thurber Carnival by James Thurber. I haven't included them in the count because I don't want to have to figure out which of its items count as stories.

So far this year I've finished the following collections. The complete contents of the SF, fantasy and horror ones are listed at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database.

Asimov's Mysteries by Isaac Asimov.

Asimov also wrote straight mysteries, such as his Black Widowers stories, but this is mostly a collection of SF stories (there is one exception, a murder mystery set in an academic library). Some, such as the Wendell Urth stories, are SF/detective tales. Others are SF stories involving murder and/or criminals getting their comeuppances. Several are humorous. My favourite is “Pâté de Foie Gras” which draws on Asimov's knowledge of lab research techniques and which I can't describe without giving away the joke.

Library of The World’s Best Mystery and Detective Stories vol.5: German Russian Scandinavian ed. Julian Hawthorne

This is a collection of 19th century stories and novellas. It can be found at Internet Archive, so I won't list the complete contents. I listened to the Librivox version. Most of the stories aren't detective tales in the narrower sense. Some are stories of crime or murder, others involve events that may be supernatural but need not be, or which seem supernatural but turn out not to be. "The Amputated Arms" by the Danish writer Jørgen Wilhelm Bergsøe has a particularly strong hook. "Andrea Delfin" by the German writer Paul Heyse is a novella set in Venice in the later 18th century. It depicts it as an oppressive police state and conveys the atmosphere of oppression well. Heyse won the 1910 Nobel Prize for Literature. "Knights of Industry" is a novella by the Russian writer Vsevolod Krestovski that depicts the methods of criminals who prey on the rich. It made me want to see more of his work, but Wikipedia tells me he became strongly antisemitic in the latter part of his career. "The Safety Match" by the famous Anton Chekhov concerns the investigation of a man's disappearance and gently parodies Émile Gaboriau's work, which featured detectives who make use of deductive reasoning and influenced Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories.

Solomon Kane by Robert E. Howard (Centaur Books)

This collection has cover painting by Jeff Jones and interior illustrations by Dave Wenzel. One of the stories, "Blades of the Brotherhood", pits Kane against a gang of buccaneers. I think this is an anachronism, as Kane is reportedly supposed to be an Elizabethan and "buccaneer" only became a term for pirate in the course of the 17th century. Wikipedia's page "Buccaneer" implies it only came into use in this sense some time after 1630. The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary dates the sense as late 17th c.

The Second Target Book of Horror ed. Kurt Singer

The best stories in this collection are "Legal Rites" by Isaac Asimov and James MacCreagh, in which a ghost bring a court case to establish it possesses squatter's rights, and Malcolm Jameson's “Not According to Dante”, in which a man has a non-traditional vision of Hell, and the section he goes through turns out to be largely empty due to over-expansion.

Howard Pyle's Book of Pirates by Howard Pyle

Pyle is famous for his work as an illustrator. This is a collection of his art and writing on the piracy theme. I don't want to overpraise his stories, but they aren't bad. The first item in the collection is a historical survey of piracy. "Jack Ballister's Fortunes" is an extract depicting the death of Blackbeard from Pyle's historical novel The Story of Jack Ballister's Fortunes. 

Detective Stories from The Strand Magazine ed. Jack Adrian

The Strand Magazine was a top British magazine of the late 19th/early 20th century, in which the Sherlock Holmes short stories first appeared. The collection features stories by G.K. Chesterton, Agatha Christie, A.E.W. Mason, E.C. Bentley, H. Warner Allen, Somerset Maugham, Will Scott, Sapper, Seamark, Augustus Muir, Richard Keverne, Aldous Huxley, A.J. Allan, D.L. Murray, J. Macclaren-Ross, W.W. Jacobs, Edgar Wallace, Hylton Cleaver, Marguerite Steen, Quentin Reynolds, Loel Yeo, Arthur Conan Doyle and Ronald Knox. I thought the standard of the stories unusually high. The ones by authors I didn't know weren't overshadowed in quality by the ones by names familiar to me. Adrian also edited a companion volume called Strange Tales from the Strand Magazine, which I don't have.

The three stories by Doyle in the collection all feature Holmes. In his introduction to the section Adrian notes that an anthologist selecting Holmes stories can "either print the best, or the least known". He took the latter route. In "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton" Holmes (mild spoiler) plans a burglary to obtain evidence held by a blackmailer, and Watson insists on going along. This reminded me of E.W. Hornung's Raffles story "Wilful Murder", in which Raffles decides to murder a blackmailer. Hornung was Doyle's brother-in-law. I think his story story predates Doyle's tale. According to Adrian Milverton was based on a real-world blackmailer named Charles Augustus Howell. "The Adventure of the Lion's Mane" is set after Holmes's retirement to Sussex, and is one of two Holmes stories by Doyle in which Holmes narrates his adventure himself. "The Adventure of the Creeping Man" is mainly of note for how poor it is.

Knox's story, "The Adventure of the First Class Carriage", is a dead-on Holmes pastiche. Knox is known for his semi-serious set of Ten Commandments for detective story writers.

Mason's story, "The Ginger King", features Inspector Hanaud, a French detective character who may have influenced Christie's later-created Hercule Poirot. I followed this story up by reading Mason's Hanaud novella "The Affair at the Semiramis Hotel", and I think Mason may also have influenced her literary methods and treatment of drugs. Mason was the author of The Four Feathers.

Bentley's tale, "The Ministering Angel", is a Philip Trent story that appeared too late to be included in Trent Intervenes.

Between the Dark and the Daylight by Richard Marsh

I became a fan of Richard Marsh's as a result of listening to his collection Amusement Only. His best-known work is probably his supernatural horror novel The Beetle, which appeared the same year as Dracula and has similarities to it. It left me a bit cold, but he's sometimes very good as a writer of stories with elements of comedy and romance, although sometimes his stories are ordinary. His better vein shows up in some of the stories in this collection, but not all. My favourite was the humorous "The Irregularity of the Juryman".

The Dolphin and the Deep by Thomas Burnett Swan

This is a collection of three novellas that mix fantasy elements with historical settings. In "The Dolphin and the Deep" an Etruscan and his friends, who include a Triton boy, search for Circe. "The Manor of Roses" is set in Britain during the Crusades and involves ambulatory Mandrakes that sometimes substitute their babies for human ones. In "The Murex" a young Amazon woman becomes the new queen of a tribe of ant people.

(cont.)

Tales of Witchcraft ed. Richard Dalby

A while back I noticed the prevalence of the witch theme in Silver/Bronze Age comics, as with DC's title The Witching Hour. It made me wonder if there was a tradition of scary witch stories I didn't know about (but it may be their prevalence was partly due to the Comics Code, which forbade depiction of vampires and werewolves until 1971). If anyone has any classic witch story nominations, I'd be interested in hearing them.

With one exception ("The Hollow of the Three Hills" by Nathaniel Hawthorne) this is a collection of 20th century tales. Some are straight horror stories, others mix humour and horror. Some involve witches, others are stories of amateurs who come to grief through attempting witchcraft. A couple are psychological stories, and a couple are ghost stories. The line-up is a mix of authors I knew and authors I didn't, but the stories are all well-written. By the end of the volume I felt I'd seen a number of the same ideas come round several times, as one does with ghost stories. I don't know I had a favourite. I recommend "The Peace of Mowsle Barton" by Saki, one of the humorous ones. I didn't care for "Gramma" by Stephen King. "The Fenstanton Witch" by M.R. James was unpublished during his lifetime and recently discovered when the anthology was published. It's typical of his work. Robert Bloch's "Catnip" is a set-up for a pun. In Manley Wade Wellman's "The Witch's Cat" a witch and her cat fall out.

 

The Giant Book of Science Fiction Stories ed. Martin H. Greenberg, Charles G. Waugh and Jenny-Lynn Waugh
This is a collection of 101 short SF stories. The cover says it was edited by Asimov, but he only wrote the introduction. The standard of the collection is mostly high. Many of the stories are humorous, as is often the case with shorter stories. A few play on Jewish/Christian beliefs. The stories are arranged in alphabetical order by title.

The majority of the stories were published after WWII, but there are some older ones, including several from the late 19th century. These are "The Damned Thing" by Ambrose Bierce (a hunter is killed by an invisible creature), "The Dancing Partner" by Jerome K. Jerome (a man constructs a mechanical dancer), "The Dead Valley" by Ralph Adams Cram (two boys walking home through a forest at night find a valley in which nothing lives; this one particularly impressed me), "The Fear of It" by Robert Barr (not SF; a shipwrecked man finds a Pacific island community takes its Christianity more seriously than the people back home), and "A Thousand Deaths" by Jack London (a man becomes the guinea-pig of his father, a scientist who has learned how to restore the dead to life). Don Mark Lemon's "The Manson of Forgetfulness", from 1907, has a similar premise to The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

There are three stories from the 30s: "The Exterminator" by A. Hyatt Verrill (spoiler warning: about the life of a white blood cell, from its perspective), "The House of Ecstasy" by Ralph Milne Farley (a man is lured to a house so the master of the house can psychically experience life through him vicariously), and "The Last Men" by Frank Belknap Long (in the far future, humanity is dominated by insects).

Of the rest, the standout stories include Thomas Easton's "The Chicago Plan to Save a Species" (a paper discusses a plan to establish a colony of Loch Ness monsters in Lake Michigan), Barry Longyear's "Duelling Clowns" (a newsteller describes a pun battle between top clowns), Philip K. Dick's "The Eyes Have It" (a very funny send-up of secret alien invasion premises), Tom Godwin's "The Harvest" (beings who live in space have an unexpected diet), Alexei Panshin's "Now I'm Watching Roger" (tension among men in a moonbase), Leo P. Kelley's "Teaching Prime" (a computer teaches a future class about life on Earth), and Sharon Webb's "Threshold" (a gorilla which has been taught to communicate with humans learns the concept of death). But there are other good ones.

West Indian Stories ed. Andrew Salkey

This is an anthology from 1960 of stories by contemporary West Indian writers. Some are set in the Caribbean, others among West Indian expatriates in London. The volume doesn't look large, but the print is small and there's a lot in it. It includes stories, and a couple of novel extracts, by Edgar Mittelholzer, George Lamming, John Hearne, Samuel Selvon, Jan Carew, Geoffrey Drayton, Wilson Harris, A.L. Hendricks, Jan Williams, F.A. Collymore, Roy Henry, Karl Sealey, Barnabas J. Ramon Fortuné, Roger Mais, Stuart Hall, V.S. Reid, Michael Anthony, E.R. Braithwaite, and John Figueroa. A number of the stories are written in dialect, or depict people who speak in dialect. All have contemporary settings except Jan Carew's "The Coming of Amalivaca", which is a retelling of a Guianese myth about the birth and childhood of a culture hero. The other items with fantastic content are Geoffrey Drayton's "Mr. Dombey, the Zombie", which is about a zombie in London, the slave of a voodoo priestess, that no-one realises is a zombie, and an extract from Wilson Harris's magical realist novel The Far Journey of Oudin, which begins with the title character's realisation that he has died. (I found Harris's writing particularly hard to follow.) My favourite story was "At the Stelling" by John Hearne, in which the tension between the new head of a government survey team and one of his men ultimately results to violence. It can be read here. Many of the other stories are slice-of-life tales.

(cont.)

This post displaced the thread Godzilla 2014 from the home page.

The Reluctant Shaman and Other Fantastic Tales by L. Sprague de Camp

This is an enjoyable collection of 7 humorous stories. "Ka the Appalling" is a satire of Conan-type tales. The others involve the intrusion of the fantastic or supernatural into the modern world. In "The Hardwood Pile" a tree spirit causes trouble at a lumberyard. In "Nothing in the Rules" a mermaid is entered as a ringer in a ladies' swimming contest. In "The Wisdom of the East" yoga instructors have supernatural powers.

The Second Pan Book of Horror Stories ed. Herbert van Thal

First published in 1960, this is a strong collection of horror stories, with some grisly entries (three involve cannibalism). In some of the stories the source of the horror is supernatural, in others human cruelty or madness. The series was a long-running one: it continued to 1989, running a total of thirty volumes. Van Thal edited them up to vol. 25. In 2010 Pan reissued the first volume with a new introduction to mark its fiftieth anniversary (although apparently it was first published in 1959).

George Langelaan's "The Fly" was the basis of the 1958 movie. As far as I can tell - the book doesn't have biographical information - Langelaan was of British extraction but spent much of his early life in France. The movie followed the story fairly closely, but there are a couple of differences. It struck me as written in a French narrative style.

I skipped Carl Stevenson's "Leiningen Versus the Ants", as I've read it previously. This was the basis of The Naked Jungle. The author was German, and the story appeared in Germany in 1937 before being published in English in Esquire in 1938. It was adapted by the radio show Escape in the later 40s: possibly that led to the movie. The story, and more information, can be found here. Links via Wikipedia. The Straight Dope message board has threads discussing the dangerousness of ants here and here. If I follow these correctly African driver ants come closer to the dangerousness of the ones in the movie than South American kinds, without getting all the way there.

My favourites of the remaining stories are "The Inn" by Guy Preston, in which a stranded traveller stops at an inn with an innkeeper who has no eyes, and Philip Macdonald's "Our Feathered Friends", in which a young couple are lured into a wood by an unusual chorus of birds. "Piece-Meal" and "Boomerang" by Oscar Cook form a pair, and are particularly grisly. They both involve infidelity and revenge, and draw on his knowledge of Borneo. "Boomerang", was reportedly adapted as "The Caterpillar" for Night Gallery. Vernon Routh's "The Black Creator", original to the collection, is about a mad doctor obsessed with the destruction of beauty, and comes to a Grand Guignol-style climax.

There are three 19th century stories in the collection: Edgar Allan Poe's "The Black Cat", Bram Stoker's "The Judge's House" (a ghost story), and H.G. Wells's "Pollock and the Porroh Man" (in which a man falls foul of an African witchdoctor).

I also read stories in three collections intended for children, The Faithless Lollybird and Other Stories by Joan Aiken, which I started years ago, Tales from Moomin Valley by Tove Jansson, and The Last of the Dragons and Some Others by E. Nesbit. Jansson's stories have a slightly off quality and some good characterisation, but I prefer Aiken's. Nesbit's didn't charm me.

Of the miscellaneous items I read I'll only mention ones that can be found online. In "The Metal Moon" by Everett C. Smith and R.F. Starzl the first Earth expedition to Jupiter in 200,000 years learns that descendants of the colonists there have become divided into a ruling race and a slave race. While the Earthmen are visiting Jupiter's capital the descendants of the survivors of a slave revolt, who have deformed bodies due to their parents' exposure to radiation, initiate a genocidal war against the ruling race. This story, from Wonder Stories Quarterly, Winter 1932, is worth mentioning because of its origin: apparently, the magazine held a contest promotion that invited readers to send in a plot, and Mr Smith won fourth prize. I assume the plot was given to Starzl to write up. It can be found at Project Gutenberg. I read two of Randall Garrett's Lord Darcy stories at Baen Books's website, here. I read "Grayling: or, "Murder Will Out." by William Gilmore Simms here. Simms was a leading Southern writer before the Civil War (and a defender of slavery). Edgar Allan Poe thought well of his work, but "Grayling" didn't tell me why, as it's an unexceptional 19th century ghost story. A man is murdered on the road and his ghost tells his friend of this and where the murderer is. The tale is set in the aftermath of the Revolutionary War.

Via Project Gutenberg or Librivox I also read or listened to stories by Henry Kuttner, Murray Leinster, Fredric Brown, Robert E. Howard, John. W. Campbell, Jr., Henry James ("The Beast in the Jungle") and Edgar Allan Poe ("The Casque of Amontillado"), and a few others. I particularly enjoyed Leinster's "The Hate Disease", from his Interstellar Medical Service series, and Campbell's "The Last Evolution", in which an invasion of the solar system by aliens results in the end of humanity and its replacement by a successor species. Fredric Brown often wrote short-short stories with a sting in the tail, and there are several of his tales in this vein at the two sources. In "Happy Ending", by Brown and Mack Reynolds, a Hitler-like dictator of the far future flees to Venus and comes a cropper.

Folk Religion in Japan, by Ichiro Hori.

I recently finished Zanoni by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, which I mostly listened to. This is partly an esoteric novel, partly about the French Revolution. The Librivox audio version omits some of the footnotes and the 'book' titles. Spoilers follow.

The novel is set in the later 18th century, mostly in Italy and France. The title character is a rich man of mystery who is gradually revealed to be an immortal and an adept of esoteric knowledge. He becomes the protector of a Neapolitan actress and marries her, although it means losing the ability to commune with and command higher spirits. An Englishman named Glyndon becomes the pupil of Zanoni's co-adept Mejnour, but fails his initiation test and is afterwards haunted by a malignant spirit called the Dweller at the Threshold.

No longer able to command his former familiar, Zanoni resorts to the Dweller's aid to save Viola and their child when they nearly perish during the latter's birth (this reminded me of Revenge of the Sith). This places him, and them, in some manner in its power. Meanwhile Glyndon has sought to escape the Dweller by dissipation and commitment to revolutionism, but this hasn't worked. At Glyndon's prompting Viola leaves Zanoni for fear his powers are diabolical and a threat their child. The final part of the novel depicts Paris during the Reign of Terror, the intellectual sources of which the novel has previously examined, and the fall of Robespierre. The work is sometimes named as a possible influence on Charles Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities.

The novel has a number of appearances by historical figures. One of the best chapters is a retelling of Jean-François de La Harpe's Prophétie of Cazotte, of which I hadn't previously heard. La Harpe's work is a brief piece that depicts a dinner party attended by many historical figures at which the bulk of those present pronounce their enthusiasm for the coming revolution. Cazotte, a French esotericist, tells those present what their fates will be, revealing that their ideals will actually result in terror and their own destructions. There is apparently a tradition among esotericists of taking the account as a genuine reminiscence, rather than, as it more probably is, a historical fiction. A footnote explains the story has been drawn from a posthumously published work of La Harpe's and that "it is not for me to enquire if there be any doubts of its foundation on fact", which I think implies Bulwer-Lytton knew it was fiction. As far as I can tell his version adheres closely to the original (plagiaristically so, actually; but in Bulwer-Lytton's defence, he does give his source). He places Zanoni at the dinner, and later has him contribute to the organisation of the overthrow of Robespierre.

Ivanhoe, I wonder if it will be like the movie.

...STATIONS OF THE NIGHTMARE , Philip Jose Farmer .

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