This novella opens with a classic Mad Scientist explaining his plan to use neurosurgery so that a person can see the unfiltered mysteries of the univeThis novella opens with a classic Mad Scientist explaining his plan to use neurosurgery so that a person can see the unfiltered mysteries of the universe, embodied in the Great God Pan. It proceeds in a series of episodes involving a handful of protagonists and testimonies. The fragmentary telling adds to the mystery, in which only glimpses, hints and shadows of events are revealed: Machen shrewdly provides only enough detail to trigger the reader's own imaginings. The form also places the reader in the same predicament as that of the protagonists, seeing little but fearing much.
It's justly seen as a classic horror tale, its economical, guarded narrative more like the mannered tales of M R James than the full-on experience of a Stephen King. Still, for me the beginning chilled more than the end, as the high-handed scientist blithely experiments on the young woman who dotes on him. From this terrible act, coolly described, all else flows....more
This pleasingly presented hardback is a Graham Joyce novel in disguise: the look and the pseudonym are forgery conceits in keeping with the book's theThis pleasingly presented hardback is a Graham Joyce novel in disguise: the look and the pseudonym are forgery conceits in keeping with the book's theme. The gimmick must surely have impacted sales though; at any rate, it seems to have been later republished under Joyce's own name as How to Make Friends with Demons.
Our narrator is a lobbyist with a little antiquarian forgery business on the side. As his latest con inches along, we learn of his strange ability to see demons and the dark episode in his past that brought this about. These 'demons' appear as chilling companions to ordinary people who are oblivious to them.
Joyce is strong on character, dialogue and creepiness. Here he's concerned with the knots we tie ourselves into, the hang-ups we construct for ourselves: Heaney's fake first editions are the least of his forgeries. The novel is solid, sharp and clever. It didn't grip me quite so much as did The Tooth Fairy or The Uses of Enchantment, but none of his novels disappoint....more
This story takes the form of a sailor's account of an increasingly spooky voyage, around the end of the nineteeth century. On watch one night a boy thThis story takes the form of a sailor's account of an increasingly spooky voyage, around the end of the nineteeth century. On watch one night a boy thinks he sees a figure hiding in the shadows, and then our narrator himself glimpses an unnatural stranger crossing the deck. The incidents escalate in frequency and significance, horrifying in due course the entire crew.
Two of Hodgson's four novels eschew dialogue entirely, so it's surprising to find that this one is built around the worried conversations among the sailors, and that the author actually has a very good ear for this stuff. If anything, there is too much naturalistic dialogue, as the repetitions and hesitations of the sailors occasionally hold back the story. Another cavil is that Hodgson's nautical experience leads him to include a great deal of ship-board detail, such as:
It was much as I had supposed; the spectacle was all right, but the pin had gone out of the shackle, and the shackle itself was jammed into the sheavehole in the yard arm.
Although this stuff adds to the authentic seafaring flavour, Hodgson rarely 'throws any rope' to the reader, leaving this one sometimes a little 'at sea'...
However, Hodgson's disturbing and very original imaginings are at play and the gradually rising menace is very effective, though I found the climax just a little abrupt. (The epilogue, added for realism, is more of a nuisance than a boon.) In Hodgson's books, it is the lot of humanity to pit their resources against forces that can never be perfectly understood, and his refusal to dispel the mysteries he weaves leaves them haunting the reader's mind like ghosts on a ship......more
The Glen Carrig is a ship that has foundered before the book begins, and the adventure concerns the survivors in two large rowboats, led by a capableThe Glen Carrig is a ship that has foundered before the book begins, and the adventure concerns the survivors in two large rowboats, led by a capable bosun. First the boats find a low-lying wasteland of mud and peculiar bushes, cut across by meandering creeks and strange wailings. Later, a mighty storm leads them to a sea choked with weeds for scores of miles. Hostile creatures and ancient trapped ships lie within.
This is probably Hodgson's most straightforward and accessible novel (I haven't tried The Ghost Pirates yet). Although his trademark weird horror is ever present, the tale is linear and unusually optimistic - a tribute to human resourcefulness and ingenuity. His depiction of a still chaste and ordered micro-society on a long-isolated ship seems a tad naive, but also good-natured. Look elsewhere for complex characters and cunning plots, but for creepy monsters on the high seas, you can't go wrong!...more
This novella famously concerns Gregor Samsa, who wakes up to find he is a giant beetle. No explanation is offered by the tale, nor sought by anyone inThis novella famously concerns Gregor Samsa, who wakes up to find he is a giant beetle. No explanation is offered by the tale, nor sought by anyone in it, so that kind of thinking would seem to be missing the point. The action never moves outside of the claustrophobic flat where Gregor lives with his parents and sister, and the story focuses on the diminishing sense of his humanity - his own perception and that of his family and others.
This is the first Kafka I've read that made me laugh! It's happy to play on the sense of the ridiculous that it creates:
...his food soon stopped giving him any pleasure at all, and so, to entertain himself, he got into the habit of crawling up and down the walls and ceiling.
Simultaneously, it's a depressing tale. The early part, in which Gregor's employer visits to find out why he's not in work, is dense with the oppressive bureaucracy of The Trial, the prison of society; whilst later it settles into tragedy as our verminous hero weakens, body and mind.
You could read it as an allegory, in which the good and dutiful son is actually a burden that prevents his family from flourishing; but that would be to ignore that most of the story concerns a GIANT BEETLE. As I tend to find with Kafka, the work confronts, compels and challenges, without reducing to any simple summary: it's a question that can't be answered.
(I read the e-book translation by David Wyllie.)...more
While I'm a big fan of Joyce's novels, these short stories didn't do much for me. His trademark is edgy, creepy entities subtly protruding into everydWhile I'm a big fan of Joyce's novels, these short stories didn't do much for me. His trademark is edgy, creepy entities subtly protruding into everyday life - like a shark's fin glimpsed too close to the beach. In these tales, it's as if the shark is floundering in a puddle: the short form means that the fantastic elements are foregrounded, and at the same time there isn't the space to slowly and meticulously develop them.
For instance, the story The Pylon concerns a group of children who play beneath an electricity pylon that seems to have some spooky power of its own. But in so brief a tale this is barely more than flatly stated, with neither its cause nor its consequences clear. One unresolved mystery like that might serve to spice a collection; but several of these tales follow a similar formula.
I am perhaps over-harsh, having expected stories more pointed from the author of books like The Tooth Fairy. But if I wasn't entirely satisfied with the resolutions, Joyce's other trademark, razor-sharp characterisation with dialogue that bleeds off the page, is much in evidence; so the collection is never less than enjoyable....more
This is a collection of tales, each told by Carnacki to the narrator and friends after dinner. All of the adventures have an air of real spookiness, oThis is a collection of tales, each told by Carnacki to the narrator and friends after dinner. All of the adventures have an air of real spookiness, often tending to the disturbing, although not all turn out to be genuine hauntings. Carnacki is called in to investigate old houses wherein are strange happenings, and he pursues the putative spirits with courage and meticulous methods (such as the carefully constructed Electric Pentacle!).
The stories make for a good read, although the frame tale is irritatingly formulaic: the narrator and his companions get no more characterisation than a surname each, and little is added by the manner of recounting. I wondered if Hodgson was being paid by the word... Nonetheless, Hodgson's dark, monumental imagination is unique, and some of these spirits haunt not only their ancient manors but the reader's mind....more
The schtick here is that Charles Dickens, helping victims at a train crash, encounters a cadaverous and mysterious 'gentleman' called Drood, who seemsThe schtick here is that Charles Dickens, helping victims at a train crash, encounters a cadaverous and mysterious 'gentleman' called Drood, who seems to have a hand in hastening death among the injured. Fascinated and repelled by this creature, Dickens confides in his friend and fellow writer Wilkie Collins, and the two of them set out to search for Drood in the labyrinth of crypts and sewers beneath London.
The gothic yarn, itself a dark labyrinth, is narrated by Collins, who does not emerge well in this portrait: the reader sees an envious, vain, misogynistic and drug-addled little man, seething in Dickens' shadow. (If you've seen Amadeus, Collins plays Salieri to Dickens' Mozart.) Dickens too is presented warts and all, but since everything is seen through the laudanum-drenched and gout-ridden eyes of Collins, the reader must be careful in judgement. Indeed, atop the unreliability of the self-serving narrator are layers of hallucination and hearsay, opium and mesmerism: the reader is aware that the narrative can't be trusted, but it is fiendishly difficult to tease apart the fiction and the phantasms, both deftly woven in amongst the facts of these two writers' latter years.
Simmons' fulsome research here suffuses the book without hobbling it, as has sometimes happened in some of his earlier novels. The narrative voice of Wilkie Collins, self-revealing yet blind to his own faults, is an excellent piece of mischief, and Simmons ingeniously provides for the reader a denouement that neither of his protagonists can fully understand. For all its colourful horrors, intricate thrills and wild delirium, this is finally a book about writers - artists - enslaved by their work: the burden of genius, and the tragedy of knowing you aren't one. It's a treat for fans of either writer, and among Simmons' best....more
I hardly need to explain the plot of this one, but therein lies the problem: not just that the book’s central idea is now mundanely familiar to us, buI hardly need to explain the plot of this one, but therein lies the problem: not just that the book’s central idea is now mundanely familiar to us, but that even the book itself chews over it doggedly. In the first half Mr Utterson the lawyer gathers information and observes events, leading him to worrying conclusions and decisive action; and all this, in crisp prose and economical narrative, has the drive and excitement of a detective yarn. But whilst the second half, Jekyll’s confession, explains and describes his transformation efficiently, it does so after all the action of the book has already finished, so that it feels more like an appendix or a behind-the-scenes documentary than a continuation of the story.
The book is well-written and not long, so this structure doesn’t ruin it, but to my mind Stevenson misplaced the excitement. Nonetheless, this is one of that select handful of books that has turned into myth, and it certainly deserves its fame for that creative leap. Plus, it’s better than Dracula. (Though not as good as Frankenstein.)...more
Caz and Lucy enliven their mid-teens by breaking into houses at night and creeping up on the sleeping inhabitants. But one such trick goes sour when aCaz and Lucy enliven their mid-teens by breaking into houses at night and creeping up on the sleeping inhabitants. But one such trick goes sour when an old woman wakes and clamps a strange bracelet on Caz. The next morning Caz finds the bracelet replaced by an unwanted tattoo, and from there on it seems that Caz's luck has taken a turn for the worse: she is pursued by a frightening woman who no one else can see, her appearance and schoolwork decline, and her mother takes up with a maths teacher! Has Caz deserved this curse, and can she get rid of it? And is it really a curse?
This is Graham Joyce's second novel for Young Adults, and he's careful not to undermine credibility by talking down: expect a bit of swearing, drunken men groping and hitting young girls - all human life is here. He throws in a disturbing evangelical church, but avoids damning the believers with the belief. While our heroine is forced to engage with distressing and sometimes seedy aspects of life, she also discovers that she can cope with it all and even help others along the way. Despite the title, it's not as creepy as some of Joyce's stuff, but nor does it airbrush away the difficulties of teenage life. Perhaps because of how quickly I read this, I wanted more middle: solutions to Caz's problems seemed to be emerging even before the problems were fully understood; but this was still very enjoyable and sharp....more
The Nazgûl were the rock band that had it all, but their career was extinguished at its peak when their singer was shot dead at a concert in '71. NowThe Nazgûl were the rock band that had it all, but their career was extinguished at its peak when their singer was shot dead at a concert in '71. Now it's 10 years later and their erstwhile promoter has been ritually murdered in a manner that connects with that earlier killing. Sandy Blair, a failing novelist and ex-journalist, finds himself embarking on a quest to get to the bottom of the murder.
The journey takes him across America, interviewing the remaining members of the Nazgûl and meeting up with his old friends from the '60s. In everyone he meets he sees the disillusion and dissolution of the '60s dream, and he struggles to reconcile his life now with the idealism of his youth. Meanwhile he discovers that Edan Morse, suspected years ago of social agitation that verged on terrorism, is trying to engineer an unlikely reunion of the Nazgûl, for some dark and disturbing purpose.
The novel is a requiem for the 1960s: its hopes, its liberation, its friendships and most of all its music. I found myself wishing I was at the concerts Martin so thrillingly describes, and that I could go on amazon and order the Nazgûl's albums! But a bigger ambition than nostalgia becomes apparent, as the book edges into supernatural territory and Sandy Blair's fight to maintain his ideals becomes crucial to the future of the world.
Like everything George R R Martin writes, the novel is smoothly engineered, peopled with richly sympathetic characters, deeply felt and boldly imagined. A powerful and satisfying read....more
This is a straight-up ghost story for teens. Sophie befriends the geeky James when they both see an ominous, quickly-vanishing message on a wall: "TheThis is a straight-up ghost story for teens. Sophie befriends the geeky James when they both see an ominous, quickly-vanishing message on a wall: "The time has come." Their smart but decrepit old friend, Mrs Royston, explains that they are 'savants', gifted(?) with the ability to see what others can't. Weird dreams lead them to explore an abandoned house, where unquiet spirits roam. The demonic climax is dark and exciting.
This is all very atmospheric and creepy, but it also holds the reader with its compelling characters: Sophie and James are very believable teenagers, fun to read about, and indeed the novel sets up the possibility of 'psychic detective' sequels.
(The title, however, is wildly irrelevant to the book, which barely features a ladder, and when it does it's just that: a ladder. Doubtless dreamt up by the publisher's marketing department!)...more
I can't recall the details, but the story depends on not-one not-two but three improbable coincidences in its setup, which rather soured the suspensioI can't recall the details, but the story depends on not-one not-two but three improbable coincidences in its setup, which rather soured the suspension of disbelief for me. Then I found the whole thing to be okay rather than great - not a patch on Frankenstein, for instance. A more ordinary read than I was expecting....more