Like many readers, I was blown away by Susanna Clarke’s debut novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, which won both the Hugo and the World FantasyLike many readers, I was blown away by Susanna Clarke’s debut novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, which won both the Hugo and the World Fantasy Award upon its publication in 2005. I was a bit late to the party, not getting to Jonathan Strange until 2013, but within 24 hours of finishing it I was on my way to the library to pick up this short story collection, Clarke’s only other published work. The Ladies of Grace Adieu is a collection of eight stories set in the same universe as Jonathan Strange, and all eight have something to offer:
The Ladies of Grace Adieu: Clarke's first published story (1996), this tale is set in the early 19th century and describes how three young women use magic to “flip the script” and exert some much-needed power in a patriarchal society. I don’t know how much editing (if any) Clarke did when she included the story in this 2006 collection, but I thought this was a pretty incredible debut and a very memorable short story.
On Lickerish Hill: Clarke does Rumplestiltskin. The 17th century Suffolk prose takes a bit of getting used to, but I thought it was a nice touch. A familiar story, but well told.
Mrs Mabb: Maybe my favorite story of the entire collection, featuring a 19th century woman trying to win her fiance back from a mysterious lover. Very strong.
The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse: Another excellent short, this one starring the Duke of Wellington who wanders into the realm of Faerie by mistake. Readers familiar with Jonathan Strange (which featured the Duke as a supporting character) will get a kick out of this one.
Mr Simonelli, or the Fairy Widower: Mr. Simonelli must choose a wife while battling a strange Faerie aristocrat. Some very cool details surrounding Faerie magic, but this was not my favorite story of the bunch.
Tom Brightwind, or How the Fairy Bridge was Built at Thoresby: Clarke is praised so often for her razor-sharp prose, her inspired characterization, and her other merits that it’s easy to forget how funny she can be. That dry, understated humor is on full display in this short story, featuring a Jewish doctor and his flighty Faerie friend. I really enjoyed this one.
Antickes and Frets: A reimagined version of the detention of Mary, Queen of Scots. Some cool magical elements, but one of the less memorable stories in the collection for me.
John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner: Another story that will please Jonathan Strange fans. This short piece of pseudo-folklore tells the legend of how the great Raven King was outwitted by a humble charcoal burner. Another example of Clarke’s gift for humor and a very fun read.
Conclusion Clarke is one of the finest talents in fantasy today, and this collection shows why. Clarke modifies her writing style from story to story, depending on the voice she is trying to craft, but all eight are superbly written (especially if you have a taste for 19th century prose, which many of these stories mimic). If you’ve read and enjoyed Jonathan Strange, you should get your hands on this collection. 4.5 stars, highly recommended!...more
The Dunwich Horror is one of H.P. Lovecraft’s more famous stories and a key piece of the Cthulhu Mythos. A very weird little boy, one Wilbur Whateley,The Dunwich Horror is one of H.P. Lovecraft’s more famous stories and a key piece of the Cthulhu Mythos. A very weird little boy, one Wilbur Whateley, is born in an isolated, creepy little town in New England. Ol’ Wilbur’s parentage is something of a mystery, and even in a strange town like Dunwich he stands out from the crowd. I won’t attempt to summarize the plot any further, as this is a short story that moves pretty fast. Suffice to say the usual litany of “unspeakable horrors” are involved, including the Necronomicon and terrifying cosmic entities.
This story (along with The Call of Cthulhu and At the Mountains of Madness) is considered to be one of Lovecraft’s strongest works. I didn’t think it was as gripping as Call of Cthulhu, but it was still an entertaining read. The standard caveat applies with a Lovecraft story – his idiosyncratic style is part of his charm for some readers, while others will find it off-putting. Lovecraft really struggled with writing dialogue, and some of the exchanges in this book are nearly as scary as the actual Dunwich Horror:
”Then fur ahead where Bishop’s Brook goes under the rud he heerd a awful creakin’ an’ strainin’ on the bridge, an’ says he could tell the saound o’ wood a-startin’ to crack an’ split. An’ all the whiles he never see a thing, only them trees an’ bushes a bendin’. An’ when the swishin’ saound got very fur off…”
You get the idea.
But the dialogue aside, I like the Lovecraft style, and if you do too I would recommend this story. This is definitely one of H.P.’s stronger efforts, if not among the very best he has to offer. 4 stars. ...more
This excellent short story describes a utopian society with a cost: the happiness of its inhabitants depends on (view spoiler)[the terrible sufferingThis excellent short story describes a utopian society with a cost: the happiness of its inhabitants depends on (view spoiler)[the terrible suffering of a single child (hide spoiler)]. A quick read but it packs a heavy punch, and you don't need to be a lover of traditional fantasy/sci-fi to appreciate it. This was my first experience reading Le Guin and I'll definitely be revisiting her in the future. 5 stars, highly recommended. ...more
This superb short story is justly famous. The Call of Cthulhu is presented as a series of journal entries from the late Francis Thurston. Poor Franny,This superb short story is justly famous. The Call of Cthulhu is presented as a series of journal entries from the late Francis Thurston. Poor Franny, as the executor of his uncle’s estate, stumbles across some disturbing papers that lead him on a worldwide hunt for answers as to just what the hell this is:
Hmmm perhaps this isn’t properly conveying the terror this story instills…let me try again:
That’s better! This story is pretty short so I don’t want to go much further into the plot. But it is well structured, letting the terror slowly build up to a horrifying climax. I have read about 18 of Lovecraft’s short stories by now and Call of Cthulhu is probably the best of them. The only word of warning I will give regards Lovecraft’s language. As noted in other reviews, Lovecraft’s writing is very unique and kind of verbose. I love his style, but I can see how people find it hammy.
But if, like me, you enjoy Lovecraft’s lugubrious language and daemonic descriptions, then you’re going to love this story. I can’t believe I waited this long to read it and urge others not to make the same mistake. If you enjoy horror stories or just weird stories in general this is a must read. 5 stars. ...more
Very short (1,255 words), disturbing story by Kij Johnson. This takes literally minutes to read and is well worth your time. 4 stars. Available for frVery short (1,255 words), disturbing story by Kij Johnson. This takes literally minutes to read and is well worth your time. 4 stars. Available for free (at least for now) at http://www.tor.com/stories/2010/11/po.......more
Stories of Your Life and Others contains the first eight stories written by Ted Chiang. It's a pretty extraordinary debut. The stories in this collectStories of Your Life and Others contains the first eight stories written by Ted Chiang. It's a pretty extraordinary debut. The stories in this collection are:
Tower of Babylon: A twist on the story of the biblical Tower of Babel, where the builders actually manage to reach the heavens.
Division by Zero: The story of a professor of mathematics who discovers a proof that shakes her profession to its core, which causes her husband to rethink some truths of his own.
Understand: A comatose man is given experimental drugs to revive his brain. These end up giving him superhuman intelligence, drastically changing the way he sees the world.
Story of Your Life: A linguist seeks to communicate with a mysterious alien species. The linguist has to learn a radically new language in order to communicate with the aliens, one that causes her to rethink not only her perspective on language, but her relationship with her daughter and time itself.
Seventy-Two Letters: This story is set in an alternate version of Victorian England where humans have the power to animate golems using strips of paper imbued with kabalistic writing. This power becomes critical when all of humanity is faced with an unexpected threat.
The Evolution of Human Science: A very brief snapshot of what human science might look like in a world where superintelligent beings have provided us with information & technology so far beyond human capacities that we can’t even fathom them.
Hell is the Absence of God: This story is set in a fictional world where angels, both heavenly and fallen, are real. That doesn’t mean they’re comprehensible to mortals though: the arrival of the non-communicative angels results in an inexplicable pattern of miracles and disasters. This superb short story tells the story of three different mortals and how these “acts of God” have affected their lives.
Liking What You See: A Documentary: When scientists discover a method to modify the human brain and turn off the ability to recognize human beauty (or at least superficial, physical beauty), a political debate explodes regarding the implications.
My favorites were Story of Your Life, Hell is the Absence of God, and Tower of Babylon. But all eight stories are interesting in their own way, and there's really not a dud in the bunch. This book will make you think long after you've read the final page. 5 stars, highly recommended. ...more
This was my introduction to science fiction, and I'll always have a soft spot for Asimov in my heart. I, Robot is a collection of chronologically ordeThis was my introduction to science fiction, and I'll always have a soft spot for Asimov in my heart. I, Robot is a collection of chronologically ordered short stories describing the development of robotics over the course of several centuries. Asimov's prose isn't inspired, but it's to the point and he moves the stories along well. The real selling points are the book's ideas, which are always fascinating and extremely well-developed. FWIW, this book has next to nothing in common with the Will Smith movie of the same name. 4.5 stars, highly recommended....more
I learned about Steven Millhauser after the New York Times selected Dangerous Laughter as one of the best books of 2008. I loved that book so much thaI learned about Steven Millhauser after the New York Times selected Dangerous Laughter as one of the best books of 2008. I loved that book so much that I scooped up The Knife Thrower the second I saw it at the used bookstore. The Knife Thrower is a bit more uneven than Dangerous Laughter, which had at least one novel concept that really engaged me in each story. However, I think that the best stories in The Knife Thrower actually surpass Dangerous Laughter: two of the short stories in this collection are among the best that I have ever read. The 12 stories in this collection are:
The Knife Thrower: A fantastically entertaining description of an unorthodox travelling magician. 5 stars.
A Visit: A man visits an eccentric friend he hasn’t seen in almost a decade, with surprising results. This concept was a bit of a miss for me although Millhauser does a good job in spinning out the story. 3.5 stars
The Sisterhood of Night: A disturbing account of a town where teenage girls join a mysterious and inexplicable cult. 4 stars.
The Way Out: A man finds that his affair has unforeseen consequences. Not the strongest story in this book, but not bad. 3 stars.
Flying Carpets: A look at a world where flying carpets are a real commodity and marketed as children’s toys. 3.5 stars.
The New Automaton Theater: The story of a village where clockwork automatons are admired as entertainment and the secretive manufacturers that create them. 4 stars.
Claire de Lune: This short, dreamlike story of a young boy’s nighttime adventure was probably my least favorite in the collection, but still intriguing. 3 stars.
The Dream of the Consortium: A spectacular short story about a mysterious department store designed to cater to our every desire. This was quite simply one of the greatest short stories I have ever read. Thought provoking and incredibly entertaining. 6 stars.
Balloon Flight, 1870: Journalistic account of a 19th century balloon flight during wartime. 3.5 stars.
Paradise Park: The story of a bizarre and mysterious theme park. I don’t want to give anything away, but suffice to say this is probably my favorite short story of all time. It features a mind-blowing concept, a perfectly designed structure, and Millhauser’s usual top notch prose. It is worth buying this book just for these 41 pages. 6 stars and I cannot recommend this story highly enough.
Kaspar Hauser Speaks: A man who grew up in bestial isolation addresses his adopted city after assimilating to human life. 3.5 stars.
Beneath the Cellars of Our Town: The description of a town that has an extensive (and seemingly pointless) series of tunnels beneath its soil. Fascinating and classic Millhauser. 4.5 stars.
There was not a single story in this collection that didn’t offer something to think about, even if I thought some were weaker than others. And the highpoints are amazing. Steven Millhauser really is one of the most talented writers in the business right now and I wish he was more widely read. While I have reservations with some of the stories in this collection, they are outweighed by how incredible the top ones are and I would recommend this book to anyone. 4 stars....more
An interesting and extremely well-written collection of short stories. I liked some better than others (The Dead being my personal favorite), but overAn interesting and extremely well-written collection of short stories. I liked some better than others (The Dead being my personal favorite), but overall the whole collection is worth reading. Much more accessible than Joyce's novels. 4.5 stars, highly recommended....more
Deserves its status as a classic of Magical Realism (and literature in general). Delightfully bizarre and deeply affecting. Borges was a fascinating pDeserves its status as a classic of Magical Realism (and literature in general). Delightfully bizarre and deeply affecting. Borges was a fascinating person and an extraordinary creative writer. This book will make you think long after you've placed it back on the shelf. 6 stars, highest possible recommendation!...more