A love letter to books: Fav Re-reads – The Book of Lost Things by John Connelly

the-book-of-lost-thingsIt’s been about 8 or so years since I first read The Book of Lost Things. What this re-read has nicely demonstrated is that memory plays tricks on you. I remember this book as being a sad story which incorporated fairy tales and aspects of World War II. In fact, it is a heart-breaking, beautiful and brutal love letter to books that subverts fairy tales to show how complex humans are.

When I was reading Connelly, I was struck by how beautiful his writing is (“She was night without the promise of dawn, darkness without hope of light” – has the Big Bad ever been described thus?) and how there is so much packed into the 348 pages of my edition. Almost every other page there was something I wanted to make note of. Either a phrase or a passage or idea. The story begins with the horrible premise of a young boy, David, trying to save his terminally ill mother from leaving him by modifying his behaviour; making sure he does everything in even numbers, for example. Connelly shows how the strong their relationship is during the early pages through both their love of books. “…although both were lost in their own individual worlds, they shared the same space and time”. Of course, when she dies David’s father finds love elsewhere. Before long, a grieving and guilt-ridden David has a half-brother getting all the attention. He finds solace in whispering books. (I love the way the books mock David’s doctor when he’s wrong. And Connelly’s description of how a child feels on dealing with a academic is awesome). When he’s transported into a world of fairy tales, he must battle some familiar foes and makes some interesting alliances in order to get back home.

What I especially liked is Connelly’s subversions. In the magical kingdom, a new breed of half-wolves half-men are the result of Red Riding Hood’s sexual perversions (“’Lovely wolf’, she whispered. ‘You have nothing to fear from me.”). Meanwhile, ‘Hansel’ is a little boy who cries while his sister provides – and they punish the woman in the candy house, before ‘Gretel’ abandons her brother. However, these subversions also bring about Connelly’s only real misstep. After the heart-break of David’s real life, he meets a Woodsman. It appears that the adult is torn apart by wolves. David then meets a collective of dwarves and a mean, obese Snow White. The novel descends into a darkly comic treatise on the oppression of the worker. But David is soon back on his journey and witnesses a Huntress slay a deer-girl. The Huntress then gets her comeuppance in the creepiest manner imaginable. The tonal shift from brutal horror and back again for the diversion into Snow White’s world sits uncomfortably with me. But maybe the horrors throughout the book were a bit too much and some levity was required.

I’d also mis-remembered Connelly’s novel as being more of a young adult story. So while it features the emotional growth of a 12 year old boy, this is no book for kids or even young adults. This is an adult book with adult themes and some nasty scenes.

When I first read this book, I hadn’t read all of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series. I have now, and I hadn’t equated the character of Roland here with King’s tale. Both are a tribute in a way to Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came by Robert Browning. Which I’ve not read. In this story, Roland is almost unbearably lonely and has little faith in humanity. Maybe he’s right…There is a theme of the nastiness of war that runs through The Book of Lost Things: in our world it is WWII, while in the magical world, it is the gathering of the wolves (“So you left behind one war, only to find yourself in the midst of another”). Death is unbelievably horrendous in all its forms here. Even the bad guy – the Crooked Man – is only trying to stay alive (although is also incredibly evil). Only the death of a missing girl, Anna, has any real positivity.

I felt the end was a little rushed. The Book of Lost Things isn’t a long novel, but when brave David defeats his enemies and his lessons are learned, the Woodsman unexpectedly reappears and before we know, David is back in ‘our’ world. It was also fairly obvious who the king was and how it reign came to pass. The end of the magical journey happens to quickly without the weight it earned from the rest of the novel.

There is real melancholy and depth and sorrow here. Pain is real and is felt, demonstrably, by the characters here. When David finds Roland’s body, he bends over in agony. Heart-wrenching. Much more than I recalled. However, the title should give it away. The things lost as a child when we finally must grow up. Life is almost unbearably tough at times, and not at all fair. When David’s story concluded, pretty much as the Crooked Man had foresaw, I had a lump in my throat.

I’m very happy that I re-read The Book of Lost Things and I hope that my memory of it remains true. Life is hard. Death is horrible. But Connelly loves books and stories and maybe they are what we need. This ain’t no kids book of fairy tales, but a brilliant, beautiful and brutal work of magic.

82 Weird stories in 93 days

young_daphne_du_maurierSo, in the 93 days since 31 October I’ve managed to read 82 stories from weird fiction compendium The Weird. So odds are that I won’t read the remaining stories in the next 7 days. But hey, I’ll keep ploughing on. There’s actually 110 anyway, so I think they’ll be done by end of February. I’m a little disappointed, to be honest. I thought the process would affect me more. The stories themselves haven’t penetrated me the way I thought they might. Sure, I’ve been inspired and I’ve wrote a short story myself, one that I’d hope would be classified as weird.

I’d kinda hoped that weirdness might infect my dreams and my waking thoughts. I’d wondered if imaginations of ghosts and aliens, strange cities and nightmare futures would creep into the corners of my vision. But nada. Nothing. Not a peep. Not a nightmare. Not a strange dream or an odd occurrence. Damn fiction for promising so much and delivering so little.

I’ve not really ‘discovered’ potential new authors yet. There’ve been a couple who’ve piqued my interest enough to investigate further. Elizabeth Hand and Kathe Koja among them. I enjoyed the imagination and description of Hand’s story, and her prose style generally and the passion and oddness of Koja’s. I’d already planned to read some more Robert Aickman.

But still, as a collection of short stories, there’s been plenty to enjoy. So with 28 stories remaining, here are some of my favourites thus far:

Algernon Blackwood, The Willows, 1907

Daphne Du Maurier, Don’t Look Now, 1971

Donald Wollheim, Mimic, 1942

Elizabeth Hand, The Boy in the Tree, 1989

Paul Wilson, Soft, 1984

Garry Kilworth, Hogfoot Right and Bird-hands, 1987

George R.R. Martin, Sandkings, 1979

Karen Joy Fowler, The Dark, 1991

Kathe Koja, Angels in Love, 1991

M.R. James, Casting the Runes, 1911

Ryunosuke Akutagawa, The Hell Screen, 1917

 

Image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Young_Daphne_du_Maurier.jpg

On activist fiction: Everything Belongs to the Future by Laurie Penny

everything-belongs-to-the-futureEverything Belongs to the Future is the debut fiction novella by renowned author and journalist, Laurie Penny. As well as her non-fiction books exploring gender, sexism and capitalism, she writes The Guardian, The Independent, Salon, The New Inquiry and many more. She is a loud voice who I follow on Twitter. I agree, generally speaking, with her politics, although I haven’t read her non-fiction books, only some of her articles.

Penny crams a decent amount of plot into not so many pages. We’re almost 100 years hence and the rich can almost literally buy time. Or rather an extension of life from the moment they take the medicine; a kind of ‘Fountain of Youth’ wrapped up in a blue pill. We’re in a divided England. The gaps between the haves and have-nots is wider than ever. Specifically, we’re in Oxford. A group of activists are living in a co-op house and are plotting against those who’ve been ‘fixed’. You see, the scientist inventor of this remarkable technology has fallen in with our perfectly representative house-mates. Nina and Alex, Margo and Fidget are the kind of activists that you’d imagine Penny might know in real life. Scruffy, punky, gender fluid and sexually diverse. Which is a good thing in theory but a little obvious from Penny. I’d have liked a little more stereo-type mould-braking.

It was the four of them, Nina and Alex and Margo and Fidget, and they were off to rob the rich and feed the poor. An exercise, as Margo put it, as important for the emotional welfare of the autonomous individual as it was for the collective.

Inventor Daisy, who is all but a child in an old body, has had enough. She wants to fight back and so when she meets our anarchists at a party they’ve crashed, she joins their cause. And they invent a timebomb. And they plan to set it off at the Big Event! But, one of their number is not who they seem and despite falling in love, must betray the group.

Pretty good story but to be honest, I’d have preferred it fleshed out into a full-length novel. I felt that that character development and the reveal of the betrayal plus consequences was a little rushed and quite under-developed. Without giving anything away, too much happens too quickly and like a cheap burger, left me wanting something more substantial after the initial hit.

There is a lot to like about Everything Belongs to the Future but the brevity of the story means that there’s no room for subtly or metaphor. This feels like Penny’s fantasy activist future. A cause that she’d like to fight. She would like our current situation of the power in the hands of the rich elite to escalate so she can be one of her characters and dramatically bring about revolution. It might be a bit too zeitgeisty for its own good, and might date quickly. I’ve not read much other science fiction where early 90s crusty-types persist into the future…but who knows, I guess. Science fiction isn’t about prediction, as such… And yet I admire and agree with the message of the story. It’s really good science fiction. A plausible premise. A divisive technology. A warning about our times. A little dystopic.

The group of activists represent Penny. Clearly. The betrayer should have been a stronger voice in opposition, which would have brought more depth to the story. Again that calls for a longer book. Daisy is the best character, of course, with the most depth. She has so much riding on her moral choices. She knows her choices are monstrous. Penny shows how people can be pushed over the edge:

“I realize it’s an escalation,” said Nina, “and I realize it’s the kind of escalation we’ve never considered before…I hate these people. I hate the suits and I hate the scholars and I hate the state…”…Her voice was flat and a little frightening.

So what about the message? The rich have power and the poor have nothing? It is of course a truism and this might be a plausible extrapolation. Penny is right to highlight it, because in these troubled times, people need to understand the choices they make. People in power never represent the ordinary person, whatever they might promise. The problem with books like this is that they inevitably speak within an echo chamber. Despite being a fine piece of writing, I’m not convinced many outside the choir will be interested in the hymn sheet.

Activist fiction is a difficult trick to master. Dangers of being overly polemic and just being plain shouty are obvious. The author needs to strike a balance between story, characters and message. There’s nothing wrong with Penny’s writing. Her voice is strong. Her prose is enjoyable, well written and very readable. She can tell a story. I think Penny almost gets it, but misses. Probably due to a combination of the strength of her personal convictions and the length of the story. I wish she’d taken more time and written something at least twice the length. I imagine anyone who didn’t have sympathy with Penny’s viewpoints would really take against this book. I enjoyed it for what it was, but would have preferred something greater.

On reading thrillers: Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

behind-her-eyesThis is not a review. Maybe. This is not a critique. Probably. This contains spoilers. (Lots of spoilers!) This is a reflection on how Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough made me feel as a reader. I’m not a fan of a thriller. Not that I’m read (m)any. Straight thrillers that is. Not involving the future or horror or supernatural, anyway. I wasn’t going to read this book, because of my prejudices; but I’m a fan of Pinborough’s work (although not everything she writes is of interest) and there was a buzz around that #WTFthatending on Twitter. So I thought I’d give it bash.

After about 80 or so pages I thought I was wasting my time.

This is the story of Louise, David and Adele. And Rob. Very ordinary sounding people. The kind you might meet. Louise is a single mother. Her ex ran off and is having a kid with another woman. She is bringing up her son on a part-time wage. David and Adele are a married couple. She’s a lady who lunches, and does the gym. He’s a head doctor. Louise works for him at the clinic. Rob is Adele’s old friend from more troubled times. All very normal. All very ‘not my cup of tea at all’. And how to make an interesting thriller out of all this? Is it going to be about just relationships?

Obviously, not all is what it seems. Louise and David met in a bar before David joined the clinic where Louise works. They’re having a thing. Adele knows about it. She had a troubled childhood, from which David saved her. She spent time in a clinic where she became best friends with Rob. Rob who went missing. David is very unhappy in his marriage. Louise doesn’t have many friends and is a little overweight, and befriends Adele. OK, so some elements of a thriller there.

I wouldn’t say Behind Her Eyes typifies my problem with thrillers (and mysteries and crime novels), but it shines a light on them. Which makes me glow as a hypocrite. I love metafiction. I enjoy the concept of the author and the book playing games with the reader. I love it when the fourth wall breaks. When the characters are aware that they are fiction. All these elements hold true with thrillers of this type, but the pretence of being ‘real’ remains. My spot-lit issue. In Behind Her Eyes the story is told mostly from the first-person perspective of both Adele and Louise, alternating chapters. Occasionally, a chapter called ‘Then’ comes in, which is a third-person view of Adele’s old relationship with Rob. If this was metafiction, Adele and Louise would be aware that they are fiction. In this, they are not, but they still talk to the reader. But who are they really talking to? This isn’t epistolary fiction. So. They play games with the narrative, only revealing small clues about what they know, or in Adele’s case, her manipulation of the characters. Especially in the last paragraph or sentence of a chapter. Which is all fine, by the way. Just not a style I’m comfortable with.

And yet. And yet I fully engaged with their stories, by Chapter 18. By this point Adele (therefore Pinborough) was being more open with the reader that she was indeed playing both Louise, and us. It is interesting, following an author on social media. You get the occasional glimpse into their life. And then when you’re reading their book, you wonder…I’ve seen that Pinborough enjoys a glass of wine. As does Louise here. There is more reflection on social media and fiction required… Another time. Anyway. Pinborough really engaged me with her characters. Her writing is fluid and lacks complication or pretention. Very readable. But it is deliberatively manipulative. I’m not sure I like that, outside the realms of metafiction.

It was Chapter 18 when hints of supernatural are dropped in the story. My pique rose. Not such a straight thriller after all. I now couldn’t wait to keep reading this story. I was being sucked in by the breadcrumb trail. Is this because I knew it was about supernatural or because of the story? After all, if it wasn’t supernatural, I might not have been interested in the marital and psychological games being played out. Throughout, Pinborough drops hints and clues, which at the time, seem incidental or simply setting up characters. Early on, Adele insists in seeing Louise’s little flat. Does she think she’s better than Louise and wants to prove it? Later, it is revealed that for the supernatural elements to work, the dreamer must be able to picture the place that they want to visit. Nicely done.

So to the #WTFthatending of Behind Her Eyes. Can a whole book be a deliberate ploy to sell an ending. Is it a cop out? I know a lot of people were bummed out by the film version of The Prestige. They felt like they’d been played. When the end came, here, I’d already sort of got, and it made a whole lot of sense. Almost like the scene at the end of The Sixth Sense when all the clues are laid out for Bruce Willis’ Malcome Crowe, I could picture all the moments that led to the reveal. I liked it. But then the coda. Less obvious, and much less sign-posted. It felt almost tacked-on. Not really necessary. The conclusion of Louise’s story was enough of pleasing #WTFthatending for me.

Thrilling, no? Manipulative, yes. Is that a good thing? I felt I’d been played a little, from the start. Maybe if I read it again, I’d see more evidence of the coda being set up. I remember the feelings Rob had around David when they first met, but as this was the third-person perspective, it didn’t read as a clue.

I can’t decide if I loved this book. Probably not. Just liked. Not as much as I’d loved Pinborough’s The Death House. I think had Behind Her Eyes ended without the coda, that would have been enough and I would have enjoyed it more. I’m sure others will love it. After all, it is so very well written; engaging and interesting and yes, a page-turner. It isn’t enough to make me want to pick up another thriller, but I was very happy that it became a supernatural story. Otherwise I doubt I’d have cared. The dreaming elements gave the story more heft for me. Although Louise and David were empathic characters of course. I suppose I don’t like being played. If someone – the author – is messing with me as a reader, I prefer the characters to let me know they’re in on the game. But that’s just me. Enjoy Behind Her Eyes; if nothing else, if you take away my prejudices, it’s a damn fine read.

 

I read an eARC for Behind Her Eyes kindly supplied by Net Galley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

 

Update: Several hours after finishing reading Behind Her Eyes it occurred to me that this is a better book than I give it credit for, as it has made me think about the nature of fiction and what it means to me. So that’s a good thing and important too. Books should make you think and so Pinborough has achieved a vital service to me, and I hope to others too.

Reflections on what I liked in the 31,536,001 seconds of 2016

Time for the annual reflection on all things geekery that occurred to me in the previous 31,536,001 seconds. 2016 was a bleak year for sure, but there was much joy to be had from the creation of fiction. As ever, I’m always on the look out for something a tad different and unusual, so before the top books, honourable mentions should go to: Making Wolf by Tade Thompson (looking forward to reading Rosewater soon), Arcadia by Iain Pears and The Race by Nina Allen.

In total I read 39 fiction novels, listened to 10 audio books, read 6 nonfiction books and 3 novellas and half a book of short fiction (The Weird – my Winter of Weird shall continue). Plus some graphic novels. According to GoodReads, my year looked like this: https://www.goodreads.com/user/year_in_books/2016/6304958

Thusly, in order:

The Thing Itself (2105) by Adam Roberts. I thought that this was smart and funny and creatively unique. It had me gripped and interested in both the characters and story from the outset.

the-thing-itself

Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future (2014) by A S King. How can I relate to a teenage girl in the USA? King’s genius characterisation and story telling! Bonkers and brilliant and heart-warming and bleak and reaffirming.

glory-obriens-history-of-the-future

All the Birds in the Sky (2016) by Charlie Jane Anders. A refreshing mash up of science fiction and fantasy that was engaging and funny and I can’t wait to read what Anders comes up with next.

all-the-birds-in-the-sky

Signal to Noise (2015) by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. See Glory re: Meche; only in Mexico in the 1980s. Mix tapes! Magic. Complex teenagers being wonderful and difficult.

signal-to-noise

A Closed and Common Orbit (2016) by Becky Chambers. There is more humanity in Chambers’ pages than in most other science fiction and the mind-body dualism is a great story-telling device.

a-closed-and-common-orbit

Christie Malry’s Own Double-Entry (1973) by B S Johnson. Metafiction. Raging against the machine. Why this isn’t a classic along the lines of Nineteen Eighty-Four I have no idea.

christie-malrys-own-double-entry

Europe in Autumn (2014) by Dave Hutchinson. A prescient look at politics and people dressed up as a science fiction spy thriller. What’s not to love about Hutchinson’s wit and verve! (Also, currently reading the final book in the series.)

europe-in-autumn

I think there’s some pretty damn fine books there!

My history of science fiction challenge continued. Slowly. As usual. What? There are lots of books to read. I spent a while trying and failing to get a hold of an English translation of Ravages (1943) by René Barjavel but my favourite wot I read was Swastika Night (1937) by Murray Constantine. I also finished reading all of Vonnugut’s novels in order too. I might try that again. I’ve been thinking about Philip K Dick, but that’s a lot of books…

Moving on.

I saw 31 films for the first time. My favourites in no particular order were: Midnight Special, Doctor Strange, Captain America: Civil War, The Lobster, Tale of Tales, Rouge One: A Star Wars Story, Crimson Peak, High-Rise, Arrival, Deadpool, 10 Cloverfield Lane. Meanwhile, the absolute stinkers were: Batman V Superman, Independence Day: Resurgence and Jurassic World.

And some TV I’ve enjoyed: Stranger Things, Luke Cage, Black Mirror, Daredevil, Agent Carter, Better Call Saul, Penny Dreadful, iZombie, House of Cards, Preacher. Yes, I like things bleak and funny and nostalgic when I’m chilling in front of the telebox.

Finally, some comic series I’ve enjoyed are: The Wicked and the Divine (although I’m getting a bit bored of it now – why can’t these things just have shorter runs? – I’m looking at you, Saga), Injection, Black Widow, Captain Marvel, Scarlett Witch, Kill or Be Killed, Monstress, Paper Girls, Negative Space, Deadpool Max and Ms Marvel.

Shout out to a couple of podcasts too, that mean my to-read list is ever expanding: Robin and Josie’s Bookshambles (must read some Steve Aylett) and Backlisted (where I heard about the Johnson).

So there. Thank you to all the creatives, artists, writers, directors and others whose vision and talent have brightened by life while the world crumbled.

The History of Science Fiction Literature Challenge – Swastika Night by Murray Constantine (1937)

swastika-nightKatharine Burdekin wrote Swastika Night under the pseudonym of Murray Constantine after hearing Adolf Hitler claim that Nazism would create a “Thousand Year Reich”. Amazingly, it was published in 1937 and talks about a Twenty Year War. After its conclusion, Germany and Japan divide the global spoils. This was two years before the Second World War broke out. Science fiction shouldn’t be seen as predictive, but its warnings sometimes come to pass. In 2016, Swastika Night seems as prescient as ever.

The edition I read was the 2016 SF Masterworks edition from Gollancz (Victor Gollancz published the first UK edition in 1937). As usual, I didn’t read the introduction so my reading of Swastika Night was untainted.

This is the story of an Englishman, some Germans and the truth. It is mostly told through a series of dialogues, as the world is explained to the reader, and Burdekin’s feminism is revealed. We’re 700 years into German dominance of much of the world. Alfred – no surname – is the Englishman. He’s a mechanic for the German Empire and based in Salisbury. He visits Germany on a holy pilgrimage despite being antagonistic towards his masters and their religion. The German protagonists are Hermann, Alfred’s friend, who is a farmer, and an old Knight called Friedrich von Hess. Knights are the priests of the Hitler religion. In Burdekin’s future, Hitler is portrayed as a 7-foot-tall, long-blonde haired god who single-handed won the Twenty Years War (by heroically flying to Moscow). It is said that Hitler wasn’t born of woman but “exploded” from the head of God the Thunderer.

Alfred and von Hess become friends, up to a point. The main section of the novel is the latter explaining the German philosophy to the former. He does this by revealing that at the age of 21, his father gave him a book of ‘real’ history and a photograph of the small, paunched Hitler. There is also a beautiful young woman in the photograph. Von Hess has an ancestor who knew Hitler and this truth has been the curse of his family. Alfred understands the lies the German Empire is founded on and determines to do something about it.

In this future, men are everything and women are barely animals. Men don’t spend time with women, and are mostly homosexual. They take wives, but the women are kept in baby-making factories, where they must produce sons. Christians are worse still than women, with Christian women at the bottom of the pile.  Children have rights until they are taken from them at a certain age. Once they are the age of submission, men can take advantage of them, perfectly legitimately. This is a truly horrendous that has been built up on re-writing history and suppression of lies. In an allegory with Christianity, the Hitler religion was written a hundred plus years after the events (as the Gospels were). This is a completely made-up religion and history to keep up the fascist rule and oppress the ordinary worker. The world has not moved in any technological sense. Fixed telephones are still in use. Farming is a major industry, but food is limited for the underclasses. The German Empire has stagnated, because its oppression of others. There is no development. No evolution of thought. No art, no creativity, no drive. This explains why Burdekin has not moved society forward.

Von Hess gives the book and photo to Alfred who takes it back to England with the desire to return women to their places beside men. He where he hides it, while teaching his son its truth. Britain has been crushed, despite an attempted rebellion 100 years in the past from the protagonists’ perspective. The male population was been culled and a mighty German occupying army ensconced. He befriends a Christian and in further dialogues, we learn more of how this religion now works underground.

Swastika Night is a remarkable book in many ways. Not only is it superbly written, and for the most part, utterly engaging (the latter chapters not so much), it speaks of fascism, oppression of minorities, and the worth of women. It does this in a way that isn’t preachy. Of course, it’s not subtle. Almost all the world-building and future history is described via the dialogues, but it never feels forced or didactic. Although it is a very clear message from a British woman’s perspective following the rise of fascism in Germany in the 1930s. In Swastika Night, women have their rights taken from them by men. They are to have “no will, no character, and no souls” (p70). Women submit. Men also dictate what beauty is. This is a scathing attack on society, were women were only just getting suffrage (1928 in the UK). Burdekin shows that men are fallible, and their mistakes lead to oppression. Men can be dominated by a woman’s sexuality and this emergence was an affront to maleness. Keenly, she shows that the suppression of women was not a Nazi ideal, but was always happening.

Burdekin also brings up British Imperialism, showing how awful that was, and suggesting it was Germany’s jealousy of Britain that led to their behaviour. The Germans erased history which showed that empires fell so that they keep their ideology in focus. Von Hess tells Alfred that socialism was smashed, but Alfred realises he must be a socialist, and that it is a just path.

A brilliant and clever and engaging science fiction novel which shows a horrific future also comments onto today, despite being written 80 years ago. Burdekin explains the rise of fascism towards the end of the book which is scarily familiar. Individualism – as also shown in Rand’s Anthem – means government is difficult. We live in an entitled and selfish world. True democracy breaks down and authoritarian rule takes over, where strong-personality male-types manipulate everything including the truth. What you end up with a Fuehrer (Hitler) or an oligarch (Trump). Swastika Night is a nightmare vision of the past and future and present.

From Lovecraft to Kafka, from Akutagawa to Walpole – the first month of weird

fox_spiritI wondered if reading the amazing compendium of The Weird would have an effect on my mind, memory or dreams. I decided to read an average of 1 story per day over winter. These stories are tales of ghosts and gods, supernatural and preternatural and I thought that reading so many might infect me in some way.

So, with the first 30 days over with I’ve read 25. Which I think is ok. Not great but not bad. The authors haven’t particularly leapt out at me, other than James, Lovecraft and Kafka. I guess there’s a reason why they’re so well known, in the west in any case. I have to say, however, that with only a couple of exceptions, I haven’t found them particularly weird. They generally have traditional short story structures, be they long or short, and are all written in the style of the times – the early 20th century. Most are dry narrations.

So, my favourites so far are probably Blackwood’s The Willows, Merritt’s The People of the Pit, Irwin’s The Book, and Sakutaro’s The Town of Cats. I also enjoyed the stories by Akutagawa (The Hell Screen), Walpole (The Tarn) and James (Casting the Runes).

As I mentioned, only a few have been genuinely weird in my eyes. I guess Kafka’s In the Penal Colony has an oddness about it, especially the premise if not the style. The stand outs are probably the aforementioned Hagiwara Sakutaro’s story of a town fully inhabited by the spirits of cats which bends reality effectively, and Bruno Schulz’s Sanatorium at the Sign of the Hourglass. In this tale, you’re never sure of what is happening and why. It is an unsettling story of a man visiting his father in a sanatorium, where time seems to run differently for different people, and everyone sleeps most of the time.

But no oddities in my reality thus far. 25 tales of the weird in 30 days and not a dream or thought out of place. Is that a good thing? I’m a tad disappointed, but I’m cracking on…

Winter of (not so) Weird – Initial impressions

I don’t know if my expectations are skewed or my definition of weird is different to most, but 6 stories in (in 10 days, I know, I’m already slacking) and I’m barely getting the weird. Only Lord Dunsany’s very short story comes close to what I think is weird.

So, what do we have so far?

Alfred Kubin’s The Other Side is the utterly forgettable opener. In fact, without looking back at it I can barely remember what it was about. Some kind of sleeping sickness and maybe a plague. Or is it a dream? A bit Lovecraftian I suppose, but not at all what I would have hoped for to get my winter of weird under way.

Algernon Blackwood.jpgThe Screaming Skull by F. Marion Crawford is a much better and more memorable tale of a revenge from beyond the grave with a suitably grizzly conclusion. And this followed by Algernon Blackwood’s The Willows is a terrific one two. The latter is a genuinely creepy tale of two men lost in a flooded river surrounded by who knows what. Some great supernatural set-pieces and characterisation of terror. However, they are both – in my eyes – just great ghost stories. The mysterious creatures in The Willows might well be unknown inter-dimensional beasts, but ghosts would equally fill the role.

However, Saki’s Sredni Vashtar is a nicely odd little tale of a personal god, and revenge. Which I liked a lot, especially the idea that a deity would understand a vague prayer. Both this, and Lord Dunsany’s How Nuth Would Have Practiced his Art are the shorter stories and all the weirder for it. In fact, having on read the later yesterday, I’m still not sure what it was about. Suitably odd and although I preferred Saki’s, this was the kind of thing I expected.

Sandwiched in between these oddities is the brilliantly classic Casting the runes by M.R. James. However, it is just a devilish tale, nothing too weird or different. Just a delicious read.

I’d heard of all the above authors except Saki, and had some expectations. The next batch from 1912 up to Kafka’s 1919 In the Penal Colony are all completely new names to be. Bring on the weirdness.

Image credit: Algernon Henry Blackwood By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31294059

A Kurt Vonnegut Reader – Vonnegut’s novels ranked and rated

vonnegutWhile Vonnegut’s individual novels are not amongst my absolute favourites, as a writer, he reflects my politics more than any other. I’m not sure why that is. As a collected body of work, I feel it’s pretty much spot on; matching my own world view. Last year, I decided to read all his novels in publication order, so I can see how his style progressed and why his writing resonates so much with me.

Was Vonnegut a cynic? He was cuttingly critical of many aspects of society for sure, and found failings in most aspects of humanity. Wealth, democracy in particular and politics in general, war (of course), art – both writing and painting – and the very nature of existence came under his critical glare. He wouldn’t have been surprised at the events of 2016, but I think he’d have been horrified all the same. So it goes.

Previous to this little adventure, I’d read The Sirens of Titan, Cat’s Cradle, Slaughterhouse-Five, Breakfast of Champions, Timequake and his non-fiction book A Man Without a Country (2005).

And so to his novels:

Player Piano (1952)

Player PianoSynopsis: In the near future, all labour is carried out mechanically, so that humans don’t need to work. However, there is conflict between the higher classes who are the designers and engineers and managers, and the lower classes, who no longer have a place in the world. Set after a third world war, Dr. Paul Proteus is a middle manager type who is becoming deluded with his factory and life. Meanwhile, the Shah of Bratpuhr – a kind of future Dalai Llama – is having a tour of America, trying to understand how it works.

Comment: Written not long after WWII, where Vonnegut served, this debut novel has classic SF tropes, while not really written in the style of science fiction of the time. Is a life worth the cost of war? Where’s is humanity’s place in a world of increasing mechanisation? Prescient themes even today. An average man finds himself increasingly at odds with the world he’s forced to live in. Vonnegut is struggling to find himself in post-war America. As I said in my review, “Vonnegut presents a seemingly perfect utopia…and tears it down with well-observed satire and effortless prose fiction.”

This is a startlingly brave piece of debut fiction, with wit and bite. It is fairly different in style to much of his later work, interestingly, having an almost traditional prose style, and none of the characters feature in subsequent books. It harks back to the likes of We (1921) and even Brave New World (1932). We now live in the future that Vonnegut feared!

3/14

The Sirens of Titan (1959)

Synopsis: Despite being a fairly short novel, a lot of plot is crammed into The Sirens of Titan. A lucky and rich man – Malachi Constant – is involved with a potential interplanetary war, and travels to Mars, Mercury and Titan. This is the story of his downfall at the hands of Niles Rumfoord. Another wealthy man, and another space explorer, Rumfoord enters a phenomenon called a chrono-synclastic infundibulum: “those places … where all the different kinds of truths fit together.” He exists as a quantum wave and can appear in multiple places in both space and time. When earth crosses his existence, he appears. He also meets a Tralfamadorian on Titan.

Comment: This was my first ever experience of Vonnegut, many years ago. I figured at the time that he was just a SF author. I didn’t really ‘get’ the book as more than just a bonkers space adventure. This time around, I enjoyed it less as a tradition science fiction adventure but a whole lot more as a satire on wealth and power. Of course, it was written during that golden age of SF when not much was known about the planets of the solar system and therefore aliens were often found living on planets such as Mars and Mercury. Most of the characters are pastiches of the rich, but don’t have a free will of their own. They are clearly puppets of Vonnegut’s and perhaps his first dalliance with metafiction, albeit disguised as a traditional SF adventure.

There is so much to admire about Vonnegut’s imagination here, especially his embracing of the burgeoning field of quantum mechanics and his bleak vision of free will. Some might say he is a misanthrope, but what liberty do we really have? I say he’s onto something here. The Sirens of Titan also marks the debut of reoccurring characters and ideas.

4/14

Mother Night (1961)

Mother NIghtSynopsis: Vonnegut finally nails his signature style in this complete turnabout from his previous works. This book is the story of Howard W. Campbell Jr. and is presented as a fictional memoir, edited by Vonnegut. This literary trick dates back to early gothic novels which were purportedly lost texts found by the author. Campbell is awaiting trial for war crimes in an Israeli prison, and he is recounting his last days in America after the war, before he came to be arrested.

Comment: What is it about bleak I like so much? Or is it only when utterly black but clever metafiction comes into play that it resonates? Campbell is a terrific character and the classic unreliable narrator. You sympathise but are sceptical. We never really know how truthful his accounts are. After all, he was a propagandist.

Vonnegut is now into the full swing of his re-occurring themes and motifs. He understands both writing as an art, and what it takes to keep the reader interested. He is a student of humanity and that’s why his misanthropy works throughout his oeuvre. “So it goes” makes its first appearance; his famous phrase – a musing on fate. Campbell reappears in Slaughterhouse-Five. War is a major theme, and harks back to Vonnegut’s own service. War is stupid (my naïve opinion). War is horrendously stupid (Vonnegut’s more learned opinion). It is a fake autobiography, as many of his later works will be. Vonnegut isn’t shy about telling the reader that this is metafiction as he deconstructs his characters from his ‘editors’ point of view.

6/14

Cat’s Cradle (1963)

Cat's CradleSynopsis: Author John wants to write a book about what some significant Americans did on the day Hiroshima was bombed. Felix Hoenikker is a fictional Nobel laureate physicist who helped develop the atomic bomb. John contacts Hoenikker’s children to interview for the book. John finds out about something called ice-nine, created by Felix and now secretly in the possession of his children. Ice-nine can turn water into ice on contact. If it ever gets into the planet’s ecosystem, all rivers and oceans will freeze. Meanwhile, John ends up on a fictional island of San Lorenzo, which has a nihilistic faith and a very unusual society.

Comment: Back into a more traditional narrative plot here, Cat’s Cradle still managers to rings all Vonnegut’s literary bells. And boy is it bleak. It is an incredibly complex novel – probably Vonnegut’s most challenging in terms of concepts and plotting despite its short length. Hence why I love it. It pushes all my buttons. A proper narrative, delightfully satirical prose and all of Vonnegut’s themes. I love the idea of the researched book as a plot driver and the characters are all cool. Vonnegut’s confidence in his ability and his handle on his beliefs are fully formed and that’s why this is such a delight. Discussions on free will (the artificial religion that delights in the inevitability of everything) and the nature of humanity’s relationship with science (the development of the apocalyptic Ice-9) make this proper science fiction satire.

While Slaughterhouse Five is a better book, Cat’s Cradle is a more complete work of fiction.

2/14

God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (1965)

Synopsis: Eliot Rosewater is a millionaire who develops a bit of a conscience. He establishes the Rosewater Foundation “where he attempts to dispense unlimited amounts of love and limited sums of money to anyone who will come to his office.” He is, of course, a veteran of WWII. He basically spends the novel trying to help people while a lawyer tries to prove that Elliot is insane so he can take a cut of the Rosewater fortune by diverting it to a distant relative. Eliot spends a year in a mental institution after having a proper breakdown. He is then visited by his father, the lawyer and Kilgore Trout, his favourite science fiction author.

Comment: And now it’s time for Vonnegut to savage the rich and their class. Or more importantly, the difference between the haves and the have-nots, and the damage wealth can do to both the individual and society. Greed corrupts, obviously.

And welcome to Kilgore Trout, Vonnegut’s fictional alter-ego. And the lawyer visits the Rumfoords in Newport, from Sirens of Titan. However, there’s not much else about this novel that stands out for me. It has all the satirical bite and humour that you’d expect, but the plotting is a little uninteresting and the theme, while important, is as one-dimensional as Vonnegut gets. Not saying it’s bad, but not his best in terms of story and ideas. The characters are interesting enough, with altruistic Elliot being a particular standout across all Vonnegut’s fiction (and indeed features again as we shall see). I suspect Vonnegut sees his as the human ideal; generous, incorruptible and compassionate.

9/14

Slaughterhouse-Five (1969)

Slaughterhouse 5Synopsis: The greatest of Vonnegut’s novels. Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death to provide the full title is the story of Billy Pilgrim. But it’s really the story of Vonnegut’s experiences during WWII in Dresden. Although Billy might be an unreliable narrator as he also recounts the time he was kidnapped by aliens and held in a zoo with a film actress named Montana Wildhack. He also claims to have travelled in time; or at least experiences flashbacks of his life as a prisoner in the Dresden slaughterhouse. While under psychiatric care he meets the aforementioned Eliot Rosewater, who introduces him to the novels of Kilgore Trout. It is a this point that Vonnegut introduces the alien Tralfamadorians, who experience all time simultaneously and see death as nothing particularly important.

Comment: So it goes. Mortality, war, free will, metafiction, re-occurring characters (Rosewater, Campbell from Mother Night, a relative of the Rumfoords, Kilgore Trout), humour, death, satire, religion, American life. This is peak Vonnegut. But throwing everything at this story isn’t the dog’s dinner it might have been. Vonnegut skilfully takes the reader on a journey through the horrors of war and been held against one’s will. Having really been beaten in a Dresden slaughterhouse, it is remarkable that he writes this tale with such humour and verve. It must have been painfully difficult to fictionalise the horrors he went through. Yet…Vonnegut’s fatalistic ‘so it goes’ brings both a wry smile and a shiver of bleak inevitability regarding existence – in an entertainingly witty science fiction romp.

1/14

Breakfast of Champions (1973)

Synopsis: Described as the story of “two lonesome, skinny, fairly old white men on a planet which was dying fast”, Breakfast of Champions, or Goodbye Blue Monday puts Kilgore Trout front and centre for the first time. Not the success he’d hoped to be, Trout is invited to speak at an arts festival where businessman Dwayne Hoover is kingpin of the city. Hoover might be losing his mind but takes an interest in Trout. After reading one of his novels, Hoover believes he is the only person in the universe with free will, thinking the novel to be factual and goes on a rampage! The book has a typically Vonnegutian piece of metafiction as a code, with the narrator bestowing freedom on Trout.

Comment: This is another complexly plotted satire from Vonnegut that dabbles in his many familiar themes. It is a dark as they come, with death and mental health at the forefront, along with of course, the idea that humans are not as free willed as they think. Are we nothing more than biological machines destined for nothing more meaningful than death? Probably. In previous novels, there has been a focus on bigger picture stuff (war, the universe, big business, wealth, etc) while Breakfast of Champions is a more personal story.

As it essentially features a couple of white men, this is as close to Vonnegut’s viewpoint portrayed in characters as you’ll find. Oddly, I found it less engaging than many of his other works because of this. While the themes resonate, and its ace to read a story with Trout as the main character, I was less interested in Hoover and his family than many of Vonnegut’s characters. Trout is an optimistic trier…always writing and always hoping for that great science fiction novel. More re-occurring characters pop up, including Francine Pefko, who was a secretary in Cat’s Cradle.

7/14

Slapstick (1976)

SlapstickSynopsis: Slapstick, or Lonesome No More! might be described as science fiction but only in the loosest sense of the term. Set in a near future when New York City is somehow in ruins, this follows Vonnegut’s now traditional style of being a fictional autobiography. This time it is by Dr. Wilbur Daffodil-11 Swain. He lives in the collapsed Empire State Building with his pregnant granddaughter and her partner. Swain is cut off from the rest of society due to his ugliness. He has a twin sister, and they have an unusually creative bond; as if they were two halves of a superior brain. Eventually, Dr. Swain becomes the President, devolving the government as global oil runs out, while the Chinese miniaturise themselves.

Comment: I didn’t really warm to Slapstick and I’m not sure why. I didn’t buy the science fiction elements, especially the Chinese plans, even though I like that Vonnegut depicts society collapsing as oil runs out. I found this one a bit too scattershot, and failed to engage with the characters. Maybe that’s the point, however, as the main themes are loneliness and isolation.

The religious satire elements are fun, however. The Church of Jesus Christ the Kidnapped is a nice creation and allows Vonnegut to explore is fatalistic view of life with no afterlife.

11/14

Jailbird (1979)

Synopsis: Walter F. Starbuck had recently been released from prison after serving time for his “comically” small role in the Watergate Scandal (1972). It follows Vonnegut’s standard fictional autobiography trope. There’s not a whole lot of plot in this one. Starbuck spends the whole novel pontificating on both American history and on how he ended up in prison in the first place, talking about paranoia and politics in the 1950s and 1960s.

Comment: Jailbird was as close as I’ve come to losing patience with Vonnegut. There is almost no story here and I felt little sympathy for the character of Starbuck. Of course, Vonnegut’s ideas and rants and gags still make this a worthwhile read, but I just wish that like his earlier novels, he’d stuck to the idea of exploring them here with a decent narrative and interesting characters. His exploration of big business – exemplified through his fictional corporation, RAMJAC, which owns almost every other business in the book – is as cutting as ever. And there’s not enough bite in the buttocks of the Watergate affair either. It needed more comment and criticism of the whole debacle.

Interesting, a character in prison with Starbuck claims to be Kilgore Trout. But it probably isn’t, just someone claiming to be him. However, many of Vonnegut’s other traits are missing here. There is no science fiction or absurdism. In Vonnegut’s other novels, Trout is a great storyteller with wondrous ideas, but you never get any exerts of his writing – almost the opposite of Vonnegut here. There aren’t any characters of note that can be seen in other works. There’s a lack of black humour in the prose. It is, perhaps, simply not Vonnegut enough.

12/14

Deadeye Dick (1982)

Deadeye DickSynopsis: Poor Rudy Waltz. Having committed accidental manslaughter as a child – he kills a vacuuming, pregnant woman by shooting a shotgun into the air – he lives his whole life feeling guilty and trying to make amends. Perhaps as a result of the guilt, he spends his life sexually neutral. Now, as a middle-aged man, he tells of how his hometown, Midland City, has been destroyed by a neutron bomb.

Comment: At least Vonnegut is back to storytelling and sympathetic characters here. There’s a lot to like about Deadeye Dick but the sympathy you feel for Rudy is perhaps the standout. It’s rare in a Vonnegut novel that the main character is more memorable than Vonnegut’s themes or satire.

Midland City is the place were Trout and Hoover meet in Breakfast of Champions and represents the blankness of middle America. Not a place Vonnegut has a lot of faith in. Or maybe it’s American society as a whole. I suspect you need a relatable character (not that we’re all accidental murders) if your sub-text is that society is so pointless we may as well nuke it. I do think that the plot gets a little meandering in places and loses its way towards the end, but I enjoyed spending time with Rudy as he tries to make up for his mistake.

10/14

Galápagos (1985)

Synopsis:  This is the story of a motley crew of souls collected in Ecuador, about to go on a cruise to the famous islands. The narrator is the million-year-old spirit of Leon Trout, Kilgore’s son. Having died on a ship that is converted into a cruise liner, he has unique viewpoint as a global financial crisis sends everyone into a panic. The mismatched band of travellers eventually end up shipwrecked on the island of Santa Rosalia as a pandemic renders Earth infertile. Their descendants evolve into seal-like creatures.

Comment: An odd one this, and my least favourite, although still with plenty of merit. Most of the novel, in which the characters are introduced and come together before the fated cruise, reads like a farce, or a series of blackly comic misadventures. None of the characters are particularly sympathetic, so when various tragedies strike, they have little impact on me as a reader.

Of course, it is the main theme that is the redeemer. Vonnegut’s main issue throughout his career might be called the stupidity of humanity, despite the big brain of the species. Here he addresses it directly. The last remaining humans evolve into swimmers, who have a suitably small brain. Nice. Kilgore Trout makes an appearance again. He tries to get his dead son into the afterlife (he fails, which leads to the narration), an unusual role for the elder Trout. Less is made of his writing career than in his other appearances in Vonnegut’s novels.

There is an interesting literary device which again elevates this book above the ordinary. Vonnegut puts an * before any character’s name if they are about to die. So it goes.

14/14

Bluebeard (1987)

BluebeardSynopsis: Fictional abstract expressionist Rabo Karabekian describes his later years while writing his autobiography, at the insistence of a strange woman who inserts herself into his life some time after his wife dies. Karabekian sees himself as a failed artist, although with great talent, after an incident with some paint that faded to nothing. He describes his apprenticeship as he’s writing his autobiography, while defending his secret project from Circe, his new and annoying house guest.

Comment: Vonnegut versus art. Something a bit different and all the more enjoyable for it. Bluebeard goes all meta on meta. Not only is this a fictional autobiography, but it’s about the writing of a fictional autobiography. What’s not to love? Vonnegut is his usually forthright self, but unusually focused. While he touches on war and death, this is Vonnegut’s change to critique the art of creation; both painting and writing. How important is perspective when judging talent? And what about commercial or other success? The relationships between characters are perhaps Vonnegut’s most inciteful too.

This is also Vonnegut’s statement that it is men who have screwed everything up, and now maybe the women should have a go.

Rabo Karabekian previously featured in both Breakfast of Champions and Deadeye Dick, keeping up the traditional through-thread, tying all Vonnegut’s work into a complete piece of fiction.

5/14

Hocus Pocus (1990)

Synopsis: Hocus Pocus, or What’s the Hurry, Son? is the non-linear story of Eugene Debs Hartke who is a Vietnam War veteran. After being recorded being jokily un-American by the daughter of a right-wing commentator, Eugene is sacked from his job as college professor. So he gets a job in a prison. There is a breakout and the inmates take over his former college. The college becomes a new prison, Eugene becomes warden and then an inmate. These events occur mostly because of serendipity, or by hocus pocus.

Comment: The usual themes of Vonnegut’s earlier works all come together in this oddly unengaging non-linear narrative. Through Eugene’s ponderings and wanderings, the Vietnam war, class, prejudice, sexuality, freedom and social exclusion are all covered. This is really Vonnegut speaking in this fictional autobiography (again, Vonnegut is editing the notes and writings from Eugene for this text). Vonnegut tries to make it interesting by using some familiar meta elements, such as talking to the reader, repetition of phrases, and the adding of coughing noises, as Eugene has tuberculosis as he writes. Perhaps Vonnegut was sensing his own mortality.

13/14

Timequake (1997)

timequakeSynopsis: From the outset, it appears that this is the story of a timequake, when the universe decides to have a moment and sends everyone back in time 10 years. Forcing everyone to relive their lives again but having no control over the actions until the moment time catches up with itself in 2001. In reality, it is a thinly veiled autobiographical polemic. There is no plot, other than Vonnegut describing events leading up to, and resulting from, a celebration that features his fictional alter ego, Kilgore Trout. Apart from that, there’s nothing to describe. He alludes to many of his other novels and the first draft of this book, which appears to have more of a plot.

Comment: While this is as sharp and black as most of Vonnegut’s books, it lacks any coherence. As there’s no true plot, it is much harder to engage with it than any of this previous novels. There is no thread to follow as such, other than Vonnegut’s own life. The fun is to spot the themes and smile knowingly when he mentions is previous works in particular contexts. His playful language and running gags are a joy as ever. In lesser hands, this would have been a terrible book. Obviously, free will is the key theme, as everyone must live 10 years again, and then deal with their actions as the first moment of free will kicks in. People are forced to watch their bad choices again, which is as black as it gets! This is an intriguing idea, but I wish it had been carried though with an actual narrative or characters you’d cared for. I think that this is a lost opportunity for another masterpiece.

8/14

 

Final thoughts

As a body of work, these 14 novels are remarkable in their consistency of thought and voice. The themes of social injustice and the futility of human exist resonate strongly with me, which is an odd dichotomy. Life is pointless, Homo sapiens are stupid (or at least the male half of the species), and we don’t have the free will and liberties that we think we do, but while we’re at it, can we all be nice and fair to each other and stop having wars?

While I love the reoccurring characters, themes, gags and phraseology, I feel that towards the end of his career, the fictional autobiography trope becomes a bit tired. The brilliance of Cat’s Cradle shows that a decent narrative works well for the messages Vonnegut has.

His reputation is deserved, of course, and I shall be returning to most of these books again, later in life. And again.

So it goes.

 

kurt_vonnegut_1972The books in order:

  1. Slaughterhouse-Five (1969)
  2. Cat’s Cradle (1963)
  3. Player Piano (1952)
  4. The Sirens of Titan (1959)
  5. Bluebeard (1987)
  6. Mother Night (1961)
  7. Breakfast of Champions (1973)
  8. Timequake (1997)
  9. God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (1965)
  10. Deadeye Dick (1982)
  11. Slapstick (1976)
  12. Jailbird (1979)
  13. Hocus Pocus (1990)
  14. Galápagos (1985)

Image credit By WNET-TV/ PBS – eBayfrontback, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38530410

Welcome to my Winter of Weird

the-weirdSo this is the plan. Read 110 short stories from The Weird over a period of about 100 days, which should lead to mid-February. Why? Well why not! It’s Halloween and I fancy setting myself a challenge. I’ll be blogging about it as I go, occasionally reviewing a story, occasionally commenting on the experience.

What is The Weird? I was given it as a gift a few years ago and I’ve dipped into occasionally, but not read the whole lot. Edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, it contains 110 short stories covering just over a century (1908 to 2010) of weird fiction. Lots of ‘deca’ notation going on here. Weird fiction might be described as a bit indescribable. Apparently, Lovecraft himself came up with the term, but I guess it really is that area of speculative fiction that can’t be described as horror, science fiction or fantasy. It is something ‘other’.

I’m hoping to discover, amongst all other considerations, a few new authors to explore from this collection. If read a few of the stories here, such as the Lovecraft, Gaiman, Miéville, Barker, Carter and others, and I am of course, familiar with many of the writers presented in this glorious collection. There are other authors that I know but have not read (Michael Chabon, Karen Joy Fowler, Lucius Shepard, Robert Bloch and Daphne Du Maurier – looking forward to reading Don’t Look Now especially – for example) but there are dozens of authors that I’ve not come across: Jerome Bixby, T.M. Wright, Kelly Link, Donald Wollheim, Reza Negarestani, Marc Laidlaw, Fritz Leiber…the list goes on.

I won’t be reading a story every day. Some are short enough to get a couple in on any given day (H.F. Arnold’s The Night Wire is only 4 pages long for example). However, I will be reading them in chronological order. So, it’s Halloween. Time to cosy on up on the sofa with a glass of whiskey and enjoy, the Winter of Weird.