Ah, Stephen King. I am one of his Constant Readers. I used to rely on him for great novels and stories, but he's veered into hit-or-miss territory, wiAh, Stephen King. I am one of his Constant Readers. I used to rely on him for great novels and stories, but he's veered into hit-or-miss territory, with the misses coming more frequently than the hits. King's last short story collection was like that, but when he did hit it just right ("N."), it made up for all the other lackluster stories.
King put a small foreword at the start of each story, telling a little about how he came up with the story. I like seeing how different people approach the creative process, so I enjoyed these little behind-the-curtain glimpses.
"Mile 81" -- I didn't re-read this one. I read it earlier this year as an e-book, and thought it was one of King's more pointless stories. In a short foreword to the collection, King suggests that the stories reprinted here have been changed somewhat, but I thought so little of the first read that I didn't see the point in subjecting myself to it again. You can read that review here if you'd like.
"Premium Harmony" -- King notes in the foreword to this story that it came about after reading a lot of Raymond Chandler. That's an author I haven't read, so I can't speak to how well King imitates that style, but I didn't see the point to this story. It was perfectly readable (King!), but nothing special.
"Batman and Robin Have an Altercation" -- Finally, a story with a point! It wound up being a little too neat and tidy for my tastes, and probably wrapped up too quickly, but it had an interesting narrative. It was sad and poignant.
"The Dune" -- This story is reminiscent of old Richard Matheson stories. That's certainly a good thing, even if King can't quite reach the summit that Matheson reached so often.
"Bad Little Kid" -- It's interesting how King's horror has developed over the years. What started with Carrie and The Shining became something a little more cerebral, and less explained. "Bad Little Kid" is a good example of that latter kind of story. It's very easy to get wrapped up in this jailhouse confessional story.
"A Death" -- This is an unassuming story about someone accused of murder. What makes it special, though, is how King clearly and distinctly sets in the Old West without writing about shootouts, saloons, and the Pony Express. His setting skills are deft.
"The Bone Church" -- King writes poetry. I sort of forgot about that. Poetry doesn't do much for me. Despite this one being more narrative than poetry, I still didn't get a good sense of it.
"Morality" -- King released a book five years ago called Blockade Billy. It included a bonus story called "Morality". Why include a story that's already been printed in one of your collections? I didn't re-read this, but I did read and review Blockade Billy several years back.
"Afterlife" -- Here we have an interesting look at the afterlife through King's eyes. I'm not sure that I'd call it thought-provoking, but it was a little humorous to see his take on Purgatory.
"Ur" -- This is another story where I'm a little peeved that it's in the collection at all, since I was under the impression that this was an OMGKINDLEEXCLUSIVE. I read it earlier this year after buying it as an ebook, and didn't think enough of it to re-read it, despite the fact that it's been updated to reflect newer technology. You can see my original thoughts about it here, if you choose.
"Herman Wouk Is Still Alive" -- The tie to Wouk is tenuous, but two of the characters in the story are poets. Though, the story really isn't about them. This story is kinda weird. And depressing as hell.
"Under the Weather" -- This story, however, is a nice inclusion. It was an additional story included in the paperback printing of Full Dark, No Stars. I don't like cheap tactics to get folks to buy a book more than once, so being able to read it here is nice. It's a nice story that hearkens back to what you might find in Skeleton Crew, even if the ending telegraphs itself about four pages from the end.
"Blockade Billy" -- See my comments on "Morality", above. I didn't re-read this, either.
"Mister Yummy" -- King writes a lot about old age. I get it -- you write what you know, and he's in his late sixties, and has survived a pretty near-death experience. Also, this is the second story in this collection to feature Alzheimer's.
"Tommy" -- More poetry. I still don't get it.
"The Little Green God of Agony" -- King channels his own rehabilitation after his accident here, but puts his own little twist on it. It seems to end a little too abruptly, but it was an interesting read.
"That Bus Is Another World" -- Most of the stories in this collection feel more like vignettes than actual stories. This is another one. I'm always amazed at how well King can pull the reader in to one of his stories without much visible effort.
"Obits" -- This reads a little bit like earlier King, especially "Word Processor of the Gods". This one isn't quite as hokey as its predecessor, and it's certainly darker, but it still doesn't quite reach what he used to do.
"Drunken Fireworks" -- This story, for me, is the big winner of the book. It doesn't presume to be anything deep or meaningful, but that might be why it works so well. It's a humorous look at a fireworks battle that goes on for three years, and it has a solid start, middle, and finish, complete with some palpable tension over how it's going to end. I'm not sure it's worth the entire collection, but it's a great story.
"Summer Thunder" -- King also has a knack for poignancy, which exists in all of his stories, but is present in some more than others. This is one where it's much more present.
So, I'm a little bummed that four out of the twenty stories -- a full 20% of the stories, and 1/3 of the entire length of the book -- were material I'd already read. I wouldn't feel as ticked about the two e-books if I hadn't been led to believe that they were e-exclusives, but why he included the stuff that had already been anthologized is beyond me. The writing in the stories is clear and compelling, as always, but there weren't any stories that made me say, "This is the King I remember." As I've said in previous reviews, you just can't go back to what you used to do....more
I've always been curious as to why Grant dropped the "L." out of his name later in his career. You can't see it on the cover for this edition of the bI've always been curious as to why Grant dropped the "L." out of his name later in his career. You can't see it on the cover for this edition of the book, but on the print edition you can see that he's just "Charles Grant" there. I noticed this on Robert R. McCammon's I Travel by Night, as well, and wonder what drives that sort of thing. Too much of a mouthful? Or are the authors trying to separate their careers using the slightly different names?
With The Black Carousel, Grant wasn't deviating from anything he had done previously; if anything, he returned to familiar ground. By the time this collection was originally published, Grant hadn't written anything about Oxrun Station for six years, and not only did he return to his familiar town, but he also wrote a book comprised of four novellas, like he did with Nightmare Seasons, The Orchard, and Dialing the Wind. And yet he still left out that "L.". Curious.
Anyway, this is another re-read for me, and I was looking forward to this one because I remembered liking this one a lot, even though I didn't recall many details about any of the stories. I remembered the feeling I had while reading it, and even recommended the book to some others folks I knew who were into horror. Plus, the theme of the dark carnival is reminiscent of Ray Bradbury and Something Wicked This Way Comes, so the collection had a lot to live up to just by association.
"Penny Tunes for a Gold Lion", the first story in the collection, was a little predictable, but effective nonetheless. The main character wasn't completely sympathetic due to his being a little pathetic, but still, he wasn't someone you wanted to see done wrong. Once things started going down a dark road, though, I could feel the mood of the story change. That's another one of Grant's skills, though -- how he can change how you feel about a story with a short turn of phrase.
The second story, "Will You Be Mine?", is the story I remember the best, because it's just so chilling. Grant was an expert at creating genuinely creepy moments, like the one from this story that actually made me shudder. He didn't use shock or graphic violence to convey that feeling; he just knew how to create the atmosphere and characters and set the scene to elicit the right response. And that ending . . . man, he sticks it like an Olympic gymnast.
"Lost in Amber Light", the third story, was odd in its imagery and its theme, but it used the idea of the carnival to full effect. It hit a little too close to home for me, for various reasons, which made it even more disturbing, which in turn made the story successful, but I'm not sure it would resonate with other readers with different life experiences. Regardless, it was an effective story for me.
"The Rain Is Filled with Ghosts Tonight", the last story, is a melancholy story of ghosts. Maybe. It's also a story about a man dealing with the onset of Alzheimer's, so it's hard to say whether the ghosts are real (in the sense of the story) or just old memories. That question alone makes this story unnerving, which is just the right mood for it, ghosts or otherwise.
I continue to get frustrated with these e-books, too, since little care was put into proofreading them. It's clear that these were created by scanning in a printed book, since there are a lot of OCR errors scattered about the book: "dose" instead of "close"; "mom" instead "morn"; and so on. Plus, paragraphs are created at the wrong place, or aren't indented properly. When I pay money for a file, I expect that file to be accurate, you know? The errors just take me out of the story.
Regardless, this is the best Grant book I've read thus far. I'm glad to see that my memories of this book hold up some twenty years later. I can see how Grant's skills developed over time, and how his style developed into something smoother and more accessible, and I'm happy to say that I would still recommend this book to someone looking for "good horror"....more
The next volume in Grant's Oxrun Station novellas series is Dialing the Wind, a collection with an inscrutable title. The first story in the collectioThe next volume in Grant's Oxrun Station novellas series is Dialing the Wind, a collection with an inscrutable title. The first story in the collection is also called "Dialing the Wind", and after reading it, you'll understand the title, but whoever selected this as the title of the book must not have been thinking straight. It doesn't really tell you anything about the book, and it's about as evocative as dry toast.
Each of these collections has had a central theme: Nightmare Seasons was about obsession; The Orchard was about madness; and Dialing the Wind is about alienation. Each theme is common in the horror genre, and they work well as a framing point for the entire collection. Each collection also has a framing vignette that bookends the four novellas, each one suggesting that Grant himself lives in Oxrun Station, and is just there to tell the stories. In a way, I suppose that's actually true.
The story "Dialing the Wind" is an odd story of a woman whose isolation leads her to receive a radio preacher show on her radio that's not accessible from other radios. She runs into another woman who is also receiving the show, and she has let it drive her a little off kilter. I'm quite sure of the point of this story, to be honest.
The next story, "The Sweetest Kiss", is about a man who is married with children, but suddenly becomes obsessed with an old girlfriend of his. His daydreaming conjures her up, and he starts to pursue her again, but in true Grant fashion, she's not what she appears. In this story, the alienation is self-prescribed by the main character, but when he chooses to be unfaithful to his wife, he becomes unsympathetic. I'm not sure if that was Grant's intent, but the story didn't engage me because of that.
"As We Promise, Side by Side", the third story, is about a woman and her house. She's a divorcée who received the house in lieu of any alimony, and over the last four years, she's taken care of it and made it her own. When her ex-husband threatens to return, the house decides to protect her, but at a cost higher than she expected. It's a neat idea, but I felt like the execution was a little lacking, simply due to the lengths the ex-husband went in his revenge; it didn't feel believable to me. Plus, the story echoes "The Last and Dreadful Hour", from The Orchard, only it's not quite as interesting.
That bring us to the last story, "The Chariot Dark and Low", where instead of focusing on how alienation brings horror, it uses the theme as the horror. A young man finds himself suddenly alone in the same town that has always been populated, and it traces how that sudden isolation affects him, and why it happened at all. It's a well-told tale, and highlights what makes Grant's stuff so good when it works.
So, the entire collection is a bit of a mixed bag, but at least one of the stories here is definitely worth reading. "As We Promise, Side by Side" is an effective story, even if Grant doesn't quite stick the landing, but "The Chariot Dark and Low" is the real winner here. Fans of horror -- quiet or otherwise -- should definitely make an effort to read that one....more
Like Nightmare Seasons, this book is a collection of loosely connected novellas, bookended by a vignette of sorts that is intended to be Grant himselfLike Nightmare Seasons, this book is a collection of loosely connected novellas, bookended by a vignette of sorts that is intended to be Grant himself, learning more of the history of Oxrun Station. And like most collections of shorter works, there are some good stories, and some bad ones. The Orchard is split almost in half between the two.
The first novella, My Mary's Asleep, is pretty terrible. It features an unsympathetic protagonist who may not be the source of the horror in the story, but is still pathetic enough to be unlikable. That Grant tries to pull in a "fat man's revenge" theme into it makes the story that much less interesting. It could be said that the story establishes the orchard as the source of the supernatural for this collection, but that was already done in the prologue. Besides, what, exactly, was the supernatural element here? I felt more lost than anything else in this story.
I See Her Sweet and Fair, the second novella, had a good build-up, but the payoff for it was ridiculous. It's worth reading just to see how well Grant can create tension and keep you guessing, but goddamn if the ending didn't just make me laugh. This is horror, folks, not some kids' story, and if your big reveal just makes the reader laugh, then you're not doing it right.
It wasn't until the third novella, The Last and Dreadful Hour, that things started to show more promise. Here, Grant's abilities shine through, as he tells a slow, fateful story of people confined in a theater and slowly going missing in the dark. And unlike the previous story, this one has a conclusion that makes perfect sense without being obvious.
Screaming, in the Dark, was totally lost on me. It's about a guy in a hospital, possibly going crazy, but there are a lot of unanswered questions relating to the story to have a firm grasp of what the story was supposed to be about. I mean, I have a sense of the events, but I couldn't tell you what they were supposed to mean.
I'm not sure if the entire collection is worth reading, but the middle two stories are both winners, even if the first of the two has a ridiculous ending. I'm not sure if the shorter form works for or against Grant here, but either way, there are a couple of good, atmospheric horror stories here, bookended by a couple of terrible ones....more
It's been a while since I've read a short story collection that wasn't by Neil Gaiman or Stephen King, but when I realized The Long Night of the GraveIt's been a while since I've read a short story collection that wasn't by Neil Gaiman or Stephen King, but when I realized The Long Night of the Grave was the last Oxrun Station novel, I figured it would be a good time to go ahead and read the Oxrun Station collections. There are four of them, each with four interrelated stories, and Nightmare Seasons is the first of them. In this case, the four stories are each centered on one season, and each story is set ten years apart from the previous one. Surrounding these stories is a vignette to tie them together, though it doesn't carry the importance of the stories themselves.
Thou Need Not Fear My Kisses, Love, the 1930 Spring story, is a supernatural story of obsession and murder. Obsession stories are easy to come by, and usually done a lot better than this (which could partly be due to the brevity of the story; the obsession doesn't really have enough time to get convincing), and the supernatural element is a little cheesy. The story is still full of Grant-isms, but his trademark slow build-up seems to be more a hindrance than a benefit here. Reducing the story to a quarter of its length lessens the impact of an intentional build-up of suspense.
Strangely, this doesn't hold true for Now There Comes a Darker Day, the 1940 Summer story. Here, Grant tells a slow, casual story of a mysterious woman and the death that follows her, and from start to finish, the tension and atmosphere grows until something as innocuous as a rainstorm portends something significant. In the case of this story, the brevity enhances the story, as if it had been drawn out any further, the events would have been strained, and the story forced.
Night's Swift Dragons, the 1950 Autumn story, feels like it was Grant's first attempt at Raven, a book that came later in his career. In it, a group of people is isolated in a restaurant while something begins picking them off; in this novella, a group of people is locked inside a post office while a motorcycle gang with sinister motives waits for them outside. The story was eerie and effective, but then in the last couple of pages, Grant had to go and tack on an ending that came out of nowhere.
The last story, The Color of Joy, the 1960 Winter story, follows in the theme of obsession and stalking, though from a different perspective as the other three stories. Here, instead of the stalker being potentially harmful to the stalkee, the stalker is a threat to those surrounding the stalkee. It's not a new twist by any means, but Grant still tells his tale in such a way as to make it unique.
My appreciation of the individual stories depends on whether or not I was able to read the stories uninterrupted, which suggests that these stories might be better read all in one sitting. I think interrupting the story damages its potential, since the stories slowly creep higher into a sense of dread and inevitability. The whole book doesn't have to be read in one sitting, but it helps to be able to read each story without distraction. Under those circumstances, the stories work very well....more
A collection of short stories by Neil Gaiman is always an event for me. I mean, sure, any Neil Gaiman release is an event for me, but the short storieA collection of short stories by Neil Gaiman is always an event for me. I mean, sure, any Neil Gaiman release is an event for me, but the short stories are always the most fun. They remind me of the time when I had a collection of Ray Bradbury stories (the huge one; you know which one I'm talking about), and I could open up to any one of them and find some hidden treasure inside. One of the things I liked about his stories is that I could depend on them to give me just the right amount of wonder and chills in equal measure, without being graphic and without being long-winded. Novels can be spooky, but tend to lose impact the longer they go, as the reader becomes insulated by the reassurance that the heroes will win in the end. Short stories offer no reassurances; oftentimes, they end horribly for the main character. Usually the stories ends at a shock, leaving you to wonder what the long-term story around it would be.
The first story in the collection, "The Lunar Labyrinth," is a perfect example of that kind of story. One could cover the entire plot of the story, giving everything away, but the reading of the story would still be effective because of the way Gaiman ends it. In a novel, this story would be an opening scene, which would trigger the remaining 300 pages, where we could see the full trial of the protagonist over the course of the narrative. In a short story, though, we're presented with an opening scene and then asked to take it to its logical conclusion. Without the lengthy exposition and development of a novel, sometimes that logical conclusion takes us to bad places.
Not all of Gaiman's stories end that way, but, like Bradbury's, many of them do. The stories are ones of revenge and darkness, underworlds and secrets, fantasies and mysteries, and stories like that aren't without their own little spooks and twists. It's no surprise that there's an homage to Ray Bradbury hidden among the stories, and now that I think about it, having been such a fan of Bradbury as a child, it's no wonder I like Neil Gaiman as much as I do. The similarities in style, voice, and theme are hard to miss once you make that connection.
Trigger Warning isn't strictly a collection of scary stories, but neither were any of Bradbury's collections. Consider "The Veldt" or "Dark They Were, and Golden Eyed"; those stories weren't really horror stories, but that little spook was a large part of making them effective. Many of the stories in Trigger Warning fall into that same category....more
This story continues (precedes? I'm unclear enough on the Marquis' physiology to know where this would fall in the timeline) Gaiman's Neverwhere, giviThis story continues (precedes? I'm unclear enough on the Marquis' physiology to know where this would fall in the timeline) Gaiman's Neverwhere, giving us further insight into this cold-blooded villain and his coat. The coat is important because of its pockets, but I'll let you figure out why. I was glad that I had revisited Neverwhere last year in audio format, since without it I might have been a little lost as to some of the details. The story was a well-told tale, with the usual Gaiman mysticism and craft, so if you're a fan, you should check it out....more
Questions for a Soldier was initially a chapbook (that is, a short story published in a minimally bound book format) that was released by a small presQuestions for a Soldier was initially a chapbook (that is, a short story published in a minimally bound book format) that was released by a small press to further the story of Old Man's War. I'm not sure exactly when it was released, but its chronology in the universe of the series is between books one and two. I didn't know about it until I finished book three, and I'm glad that I read this book after finishing that one, since an event that happens in this story is relevant to what happens in book three. I won't spoil it for you if you want to check it out for yourself, but if you get it in your mind to read it, look for it in an e-book format instead. If you buy it that way, you're out a buck; if you try to get it in the chapbook format, you'll be out one hundred bucks.
The story isn't really much at all. It's written as a transcript of an interview with John Perry, who's taking questions from an audience that wants to know more about him and the CDF. Much of the story references events that take place in Old Man's War, and foreshadow what's going to happen in The Last Colony, so if you've read those books, then a lot of what's here is just restating what you already know. It's not essential by any means, but you still get a bit more about the events that happen to John Perry, and more insight into the CDF. It's a curiosity at best, and I would only suggest it to completionists like me....more