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Book review

Book review: Strange Tales V edited by Rosalie Parker, Tartarus Press
June 23, 2015 | 11:39 am

Strange Tales VThe fifth in an award-winning series of speculative fiction anthologies from Tartarus Press, Strange Tales V contains some outstanding instances of dark, strange, bizarre, and disturbing writing. No surprise when you see that they were chosen by Rosalie Parker, who, as her Wikipedia entry states, is an "author, scriptwriter and editor who runs the Tartarus Press" with Ray Russell, and who "jointly won the World Fantasy Award 'Special Award: Non-Professional' for publishing in 2002, 2004 and 2012." The first volume in the series, Strange Tales, won the 2004 World Fantasy Award in the Anthology category, and this one is a...

Book review: The Unquiet House by Alison Littlewood, Jo Fletcher Books
June 13, 2015 | 5:21 pm

getImageYorkshire-based UK horror and dark fiction writer Alison Littlewood has already produced some very fine horror novels, and this, her third, has been nominated for Best Novel in this year's Shirley Jackson Awards. The Unquiet House could be considered a brave choice for the Shirley Jackson Awards, because much of it is not only written with dialogue in a rich Yorkshire dialect, but also is initimately, palpably woven into its Yorkshire setting, so much so that parts of it are very effective period pieces. As a Brit, I have no idea how much American or other non-British readers are going...

Book Review: Writing into the Dark by Dean Wesley Smith
June 6, 2015 | 11:49 pm

coverA couple of months ago, StoryBundle offered a writing workshop bundle—a number of how-to guides covering different aspects of writing and publishing. I apparently didn’t see fit to mention it on TeleRead at the time; I wish I had. Regardless, today I had the opportunity to read one of the included books, and found an interesting guide that might help new novelists overcome some of their worst writer’s block problems. The book in question is Writing Into the Dark: How to Write a Novel Without an Outline by Dean Wesley Smith. Whether to outline stories or not has long...

Book review: After the People Lights Have Gone Off, by Stephen Graham Jones, Dark House Press
June 6, 2015 | 2:03 pm

After People Lights Have GoneThis collection by Stephen Graham Jones has been cropping up on slate after slate for this year's awards, with Best Collection nominations in the Bram Stoker Awards and Shirley Jackson Awards, and a win as Best Collection from This Is Horror. After the People Lights Have Gone Off comprises 15 very diverse stories, quite a few of which will already be familiar from other highly regarded anthologies. Dark House Press have done their usual sterling job with excellent production values, including some superb chapter heading illustrations by Luke Spooner. Which is quite something for a collection where you'd hesitate to describe some stories...

Book review: Things that go Bump in the Night, selected by Douglas Draa and David A. Riley, Parallel Universe Publications
May 31, 2015 | 4:35 am

Bump coverIn these ebook days, compilations of public domain material can be a waste of money if they carry a price tag, or a great value add. Certainly, Things That go Bump in the Night: A Treasury of Classic Weird is one of those volumes of classic reprints whose contents you (mostly) could put together for free by looking at the contents list, and searching Project Gutenberg and other copyright-free sites for the stories inside. But it also brings some extra editorial value by unearthing some genuinely weird gems which will be new to many, including me. (Before we begin, note that David A....

Book review: The Rhesus Chart, by Charles Stross, Little, Brown
May 26, 2015 | 7:42 am

contentSuccessors to the Lovecraftian legacy are many and variable, but Charles Stross's Laundry Files cycle is among the most distinguished. Scientific rigour combined with bleak pessimism would surely appeal to HPL himself, especially when seasoned with the same genre spice as Weird Tales days - updated to espionage potboilers and Tom Clancy. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, though, because Stross manages to play off the grubbiness of a UK civil service department (the dirty-linen-festooned Laundry) against the grim horror of its raison d'etre and the Kafkaesque irony of bureaucracies stacking card indices against annihilation, in a way...

Book review: We Are All Completely Fine, by Daryl Gregory, Tachyon Publications
May 19, 2015 | 12:25 pm

51V0BoyQk4LThe July 2014 publication We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory is one of the nominees in the Novella category for this year’s Shirley Jackson Awards nominations, and comes fairly well garlanded already with recommendations and plaudits. Are they justified? The answer is a polite "FUCK yeah!" The plot briefly is that  Dr. Jan Sayer gathers together a therapy group of five - literally - scarred, maimed and traumatized survivors of very unique and untypical ordeals, from cannibal holocausts to quite unique child abuse, and finds weird and horrible revelations erupting in the collision between their fractured and...

Book review: Unseaming, by Mike Allen, Antimatter Press
May 18, 2015 | 12:25 pm

22472298This year's Shirley Jackson Awards nominations have produced a particularly distinguished slate in almost every category. In fact, Laird Barron, himself one of the aces in the current pack of horror and dark fiction writers, does a particularly fine thumbnail sketch of the strength of the contemporary genre in "A Stitch in Darkness," his introduction to this particular nominee in the Single-Author Collection category, Unseaming by Mike Allen, who, he says, "has, with this debut collection, immediately made a case for his inclusion at the forefront of the New New Wave. Unseaming is representative of the finest work being done today." These fourteen stories show a...

Book review: Arthur Symons: The Symbolist Movement in Literature, Archive.org
May 16, 2015 | 12:25 pm

redon.cyclops  This is another review of a long-extant book (originally published in 1899), but a new digitization of this hard-to-find work over at Archive.org made a good case for this. The Symbolist Movement in Literature, by the English sometime poet and critic Arthur Symons, has not been made available via Project Gutenberg, though many of his other works have, but Archive.org has made up the difference. For such a supposedly vague, cryptic movement as Symbolism, Symons pins down exactly what was going on "in this revolt against exteriority, against rhetoric, against a materialistic tradition; in this endeavour to disengage the ultimate essence, the soul,...

Book review: Resonator: New Lovecraftian Tales From Beyond, edited by Scott R. Jones, Martian Migraine Press
May 4, 2015 | 2:25 pm

Considering how famous he is for the tentacles, mad gods, and assorted Yog-Sothothery of the Cthulhu Mythos, H.P. Lovecraft produced some of his best and most evocative shorter tales quite outside that sub-genre. One such is "From Beyond," which inspires and kicks off this volume, and which introduces the now-notorious Tillinghast Resonator, a device which takes a wrecking ball to the doors of perception, and opens puny human minds to "whole worlds of matter, energy, and life which lie close at hand yet can never be detected with the senses we have." Needless to say, Lovecraft being Lovecraft, those minds -...

Book review: The Black Spider, by Jeremias Gotthelf, New York Review Books
April 22, 2015 | 6:25 pm

One of the more interesting recent translated titles from New York Review Books, The Black Spider by Jeremias Gotthelf, translated by Susan Bernofsky, resurrects a classic tale of horror from a Swiss pastor and sometime author who in his lifetime was one of the most popular German-language novelists of the Biedermeier period. The story concerns a village in a Swiss valley once ruled by the Teutonic Knights, which (literally) houses mementos of an unearthly plague centuries ago, when a Satanic black spider persecuted and poisoned most of the inhabitants. The story is renowned as one of the scariest and most horrific...

Book review: A Mirror of Shalott, by R.H. Benson, Archive.org
April 21, 2015 | 2:25 pm

English Catholic priest and author Robert Hugh Benson was one of the more eccentric and gifted scions of the family that also produced E.F. Benson (of ghost story and Mapp and Lucia fame) and A.C. Benson (author of "Land of Hope and Glory"). Son of an Archbishop of Canterbury, he left the Anglican priesthood to become a Catholic in 1903, and was appointed a supernumerary private chamberlain to the Pope in 1911. A prolific author, he published numerous novels and devotional works after his conversion, including the early dystopian science fiction/horror novel Lord of the World. He also produced ghost...

Book review: Engines of Desire: Tales of Love and Other Horrors, by Livia Llewellyn, Lethe Press
April 20, 2015 | 6:25 pm

Livia Llewellyn has quickly established herself as one of the most prominent female voices of the current New Weird/nouvelle strange renaissance of dark and weird fiction. Much of that is on the strength of the stories contained in her first collection: Engines of Desire: Tales of Love and Other Horrors, from Lethe Press. "I also write about gender and sexual fluidity and inter-species relationships, mostly in stories and novels that haven’t been queried or published yet," she writes, so presumably there's quite a few more coming [no pun unintended] where these came from. I can't wait. The stories in this collection run...

Book review: Aickman’s Heirs, edited by Simon Strantzas, Undertow Publications
April 14, 2015 | 4:25 pm

The influence of Robert Fordyce Aickman continues to grow as part of the current renaissance of strange/weird fiction  - perhaps because he offers something more adult and sophisticated than the tentacular effusions of Lovecraftian horror; perhaps just because of how good he was. As Peter Straub wrote in his introduction to the writer's work, "Aickman at his best was this century’s most profound writer of what we call horror stories and he, with greater accuracy, preferred to call strange stories." Aickman's Heirs, edited by Simon Strantzas, is an ambitious, and mostly successful, attempt to reflect just how influential his writing has...

Book review: The Lost Stradivarius, by John Meade Falkner
April 11, 2015 | 12:25 pm

This is a review of quite an old title, in fact one dating from 1895 and freely available on Project Gutenberg. But The Lost Stradivarius, by John Meade Falkner, has been described as the novel that M.R. James never wrote, and as an ardent Jamesian, I'm naturally going to want to read such a work. Perhaps I wasn't as impressed as I hoped to be from such a description, but I was sufficiently diverted. The Lost Stradivarius, for one thing, shares the same collegiate setting that James loved, unfolding much of its action in Magdalen Hall College, Oxford, where the possessed...

‘Gatsby: My Story': A book review
April 11, 2015 | 10:10 am

GatsbyCoverBetterNick Carraway and your English lit professor got it all wrong. A madman's gunshots did not kill the hero of The Great Gatsby, published 90 years ago on April 10, 1925. The corpse inside the coffin was someone else, a clever ruse. With a “heavyweight team” of FBI men about to nab him, the real Jay Gatsby fled to Havana to grow still richer off illicit booze---closer to the source in the distribution chain. Gatsby got in on the casino action, too. If alive today, he would be thrilled by the bonanzas that the recent thaw in U.S.-Cuban relations might eventually...

Should authors respond to positive reviews?
April 7, 2015 | 10:25 am

reading There have been plenty of stories over the years of authors who have gone a bit off the deep end when reacting to negative reviews. However, what should authors do when a good review comes along? Some have thanked the reviewer for their opinion, while others say nothing. Being thankful or silence. Personally, I enjoy when an author leaves a comment on one of my reviews. A simple ‘thank you’ can go a long way, especially if the remarks don’t feel spammy. Rather, the author seemed to appreciate that you took the time to read their book and write a review for...

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