Stories 16 – 22

I fell behind in writing, not in reading, and so, just because I’m anal about such things, I’m going to catch up with my ratings, but not my summaries and comments.

Story 16: “The Dead Sexton” by J. Sheridan LeFanu

Writing: 6/10

Personal Fright: 4/10

General Horror/Oppressiveness: 6/10

Story 17: “The Transfer” by: Algernon Blackwood

Writing: 8/10

Personal Fright: 1/10

General Horror/Oppressiveness: 2/10

Story 18: “The Colour Out of Space” by H.P. Lovecraft

Writing: 9/10

Personal Fright: 6/10

General Horror/Oppressiveness: 10/10

Story 19: “The Jar” by Ray Bradbury

Writing:  6/10

Personal Fright:  3/10

General Horror/Oppressiveness: 6/10

Story 20: “The Tutor” by John Langan

Writing: 4/10

Personal Fright: 2/10

General Horror Oppressiveness: 2/10

Story 21: “Rest Stop” by Stephen King

Writing: 10/10

Personal Fright: 3/10

General Horror/Oppressiveness: 5/10

Story 22: “A Warning to the Curious” by M.R. James

Writing: 10/10

Personal Fright: 6/10

General Horror/Oppressiveness: 8/10

And that does it, wraps up my October short story reading marathon.  By the end I was getting more and more familiar with the tropes and styles or each author, which, while it contributed to my overall enjoyment, reduced the level of fear and terror.  It was a heck of a lot of fun though and I am thrilled I found authors the likes of M.R. James – who write about things that actually frighten me and aren’t afraid to invoke Christianity and its tenets in their writing.  That idea has fallen away in more modern times and what is it they say about that, “the greatest trick Satan ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”

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Story 9: “Schalken the Painter” by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

Best story of the nine I’ve read so far, hands down!  This was the most scary, if not the most well written then close to it, the best paced, the most oppressive, and the downright creepiest.  Granted, a lot of the fear factor here is rooted in 19th century values that us more modern folks might consider abhorrent, but still!  The final scene will definitely stick with me for a long time.  I have to wonder, too, if H.P. Lovecraft had read this story and if so, to what extent if any did it influence his story “Pickman’s Model”?

 

Summary:  A mysterious, heavily cloaked and clothed gentleman of some apparent wealth and standing calls upon the home of a modest artisan to propose his marriage to the artist’s daughter.  The only problem is, the man is completely unknown to the artist or his daughter, not to mention because of his clothing, it is impossible to tell just exactly what he looks like.  But the artist isn’t paying attention to who the man is so much as he is to how much the man is offering for his daughter’s hand and in the end, he agrees.  But this arranged marriage doesn’t turn out to be all that the marital life ought to be.  Indeed, it takes a rather foul turn.

 

Writing:  10/10

Personal Fright: 8/10

General Horror/Oppressiveness: 10/10

Story 2: “Green Tea” by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

Le Fanu was a bit more difficult to read than James; he is an older writer, writing in the mid 19th century, and I think that contributes to some of it.  His sentences, while well constructed and with excellent diction and syntax, were less fluid than James and so sometimes made for clunky reading.  This story was quite good, despite those difficulties, and yet I think it would have been far scarier in the time in which it was written.  The pay off depended upon a scientific, medical explanation, which nowadays sounds ridiculous.  But if one did not know any better, as say one might not in the mid 19th century, then the result would likely be downright terrifying.

Summary:  A man is called upon, because of a certain expertise, to attend to a Reverend who has been having trouble lately of a most peculiar nature.  He cannot complete his prayers or say the Mass without suddenly stopping and praying fervently and quickly to himself.  The cause, it turns out, is a demon is tormenting him, a demon in the shape of a monkey.  It will not leave him alone, waking or sleeping, and is with him always.  From time to time it will disappear for weeks on end, but it always returns right at the most inopportune time.  In the end, he can stand it no longer.

Writing:  7/10

Personal Fright:  2/10

General Horror/Oppressiveness: 6/10

Finshed 2 out of 3 of Chronicles of The Raven

After finishing up Noonshade, the Chronicles of the Raven are still pretty good, but only just this side of mediocre.  I also thought of another Gripe:  Don’t have characters say things like, “By the gods!”, or “The gods won’t like that…” if those are the only references whatsoever to divine beings.  If you want a deity or a pantheon in your story, do the work and create one.  Weave it/them into your tale.  Have them interact with characters or have characters pray to them but don’t just throw a god line in there because it sounds good.

I think part of the reason I have so many pet peeves about Barclay’s trilogy so far, yet still enjoy reading it, is that there is just so much potential here!  The characters are interesting, but a bit one dimensional sometimes.  The world is fascinating, but underdeveloped.  The writing is ok, but sometimes a bit flat.  It’s like I keep waiting for something really cool to happen or a particularly good line to come up and when I think I’ve waited all I can, it happens!  And I keep reading!  Only to start to get disappointed again.  And then it happens again!  Incidentally, this is also how I play golf.

Anyway, I am not moving on to the final book of the trilogy just yet – in part because the story was resolved at the end of the second and I have no idea what the third will be about.  But the main reason is we are now in the month of October and I find myself in the mood for horror once again.  So, remember all those old horror authors I picked up a while back?  Now I’m going to read them.  One story from one author at a time as I cycle through the various books I have until Halloween.  On tap is:

  • M.R. James
  • J. Sheridan LeFanu
  • H.P. Lovecraft
  • Algernon Blackwood
  • Ray Bradbury
  • Stephen King

A Temporary Solution

Unable to make a decision about what book I wanted to be reading when I leave for vacation on Thursday, I have found a temporary solution to delay deciding: the short story.  I know which books I am going to be taking, just not which one I want to read first.

But in the meantime, at least I have something to read.  A few weeks ago I was reading a post on sffworld.com about a collection of horror stories someone had found.  While that particular collection didn’t interest me much, one of the commentors talked about several authors of whom I had never heard.  Older horror authors, and when I looked them up, the giants of the genre upon whose shoulders folks like Stephen King now stand.  Men with names like:  M.R. James, J. Sheridan Le Fanu, Algernon Blackwood, Arthur Machen, and others.  I was fascinated by this discovery because I’ve always enjoyed a good ghost story and I’ve wondered forever how they got to be popular and did anyone of letters actually write any or were they all just campfire tales for kids.  I had no idea that in the early 20th century (Lovecraft’s time) there were others out there writing about the supernatural and paranormal.  So, I did some digging and found out some more about these authors and the kinds of stories they had written – stories that sounded exactly like what I have been wanting.  Half.com is my friend and for the low, low price of like $23 I ordered a whole bunch of these old books.  Several have arrived now, one by accident and as a bonus!

I ordered a collection by Le Fanu and when it arrived it turned out to be a collection by Blackwood that I had not ordered.  I alerted the seller who apologized, refunded my money, and told me to keep the book!  It was the first and only one that had arrived by the time I needed something to read, so last night I picked it up and read the first story in it, apparently a very famous one of which Lovecraft himself said that it might be the finest ghost story ever written in the English language.  It was called, “The Willows,” and may I just say, wow!  Very suspenseful, excellent command of English diction and syntax, great sense of awe and terror, and he doesn’t commit the sin of showing the “scary thing”!  I have read that he is known for his writing about nature and the outdoors, of which “The Willows” definitely was an example, but I look forward to some of the James’ stories that take place in libraries and giant houses and such places.  As well as I look forward to the others!  Plus, I remembered King came out with a new short story collection not too long ago, Just After Sunset, so I ordered it too in hardback on half.com for $0.75  Love that site!  So, these fellas outta hold me over til Thursday when I can begin my next novel on the plane.

So bad

When I’m 396 pages into a 600 page book and I have no idea what is happening, how the characters got to where they are, how they can do the things they are doing (a helpless 16 year old orphan suddenly gets a knife and a pair of pistols and he can take down  ten or twelve trained killers without breaking a sweat?!), or really anything about the characters, then I begin to get a bit tired, a bit weary, and I want to put down the book.

But I also have this fundamental problem stopping a book in the middle.  I’ve written about these struggles before, but I am getting better at doing it.  There is just too much good writing out there to waste time reading the bad.   And, Stephen Hunt, I’m sorry to say, but The Court of the Air is so bad. 

Before I decided to put it down I went to my friends over at sffworld see if maybe I was being unfair or hasty.  I wanted to see what other readers had written, as I knew that this book was the Book of the Month for June.  Well, only fourteen of the multitude at sffworld even replied to the June thread, all uniformly panning the book, but offering hope for Hunt’s future endeavors.  I’ll reserve judgment, but most likely Hunt has lost me as a reader.  And so, with disappointed resolve, I’ll remove my bookmark from The Court of the Air and turn to my to-be-read shelf just in time for vacation.  I am excited!  There have been a couple of books I’ve been reserving for my vacation time coming up because I know they will be good.  The only question is, which shall I read first??

The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart by: Jesse Bullington

Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

Under the Dome by Stephen King

Uncle Silas by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

I don’t know what I’m going to pick…