Read Recently — July 2016 — Fantasy

The Wildings: book one of the Hundred Names of Darkness by Nilanjana Roy

Ever since Watership Down, I’ve looked for other books that tell that same kind of tale; I’ve found some that succeed in doing so and a lot of others that approach it but fall short. The central question is, do these animals feel like the animals they are supposed to be, or are they just humans in animal suits? It’s a nice bonus if the story has a slight tinge of magic, like Fiver’s visions, but that’s not absolutely necessary.

Roy presents us with a colony of feral cats in Delhi, India. Proud, wild hunters, for the most part, their peaceful existance is shattered by the arrival of a powerful new Sender, a cat able to project her thoughts into the mind of any other cat (and many other creatures as well) at great distance and with greater presence (as though she was actually there). She is disrupting things and upsetting the local wildlife and so must be brought under control: educated or eliminated.

The situation becomes complicated when it turns out that the Sender (perhaps the most powerful ever) is a tiny kitten, and a housecat to boot, named Mara. She can be trained to use her powers properly, but will she be interested enough to learn? A powerful sender also usually only emerges when there is a threat to the local cat population coming. Has this anything to do with the mysterious Shuttered House?

There’s a decent adventure here, with a large cast of characters of a variety of species. Mara’s powers are clearly drawn for us, making her solution to the danger almost ingenious. While Roy seems to have put some thought and research into how the cat society works, though, she doesn’t seem to have done the same for cat hunting, which is unfortunate as there is a “teach the kitten how to hunt” scene that falls flat as a consequence.

All that being said, this is a medium-weight contender for the Watership title. Mildly recommended.

We Will All Go Down Together: stories of the Five-Family Coven by Gemma Files

Files writes dark-fantasy/horror and has produced a number of absolutely brilliant stories down through the years. This volume brings together a group of those stories, related to each other by dealing with the sub-titular group: the Glouwers, Rusks, Devizes, Druirs and Rokes. And normally I would spend some time telling you about the various stories herein and how they add up to a total much greater than their individual parts — a story of betrayal and revenge from far, far beyond the grave, with witches and fairies and angels that did not exactly fall — but anything I say would be spoilerous and if you’re going to read this you should get to discover it the way I did.

Be warned: this is dark, dark stuff with occasional bursts of light; not for everyone. If you’re interested in horror, though, this is highly recommended.

Hunter’s Death by Michelle West

Hunter’s Death is the sequel to Hunter’s Oath (here), and part two of the Sacred Hunt Duology.

As Gilliam and Stephen make their way to Essalieyan, led by the seer Evayne and hunted by demons along the way, in that state’s capital city of Averalaan Jewel “Jay” Markess lives in poverty in one of the worst sections of the city. Like many in that area of the city Jay has assembled a “Den” (gang) that serves as her family now that her blood family is gone. Jay’s Den is small and not particularly violent, so they rely on a series of tunnels beneath the streets that few people know about to avoid the more violent Dens and the officers of the law. Unfortunatly, the tunnels have lately become dangerous, several members of the Den having recently vanished in them recently. Everyone hopes they are all okay, but Jay is sure that they are not.

She can be certain because Jay is a nascent Seer. She needs safety for the survivors of her Den, though, so she goes to see the man who taught her about the tunnels and, when it seems he has been replaced by a superpowered evil version of himself, is forced to flee. The Den barely escape from him and Jewel has nowhere to go (he knows all their hideouts) so she goes to deliver his final message, to the leader of House Terafin, one of the greatest of the great noble houses of the Empire. There is no real reason why the Terafin should even see Jay, never mind help the Den, but aside from the message from a dead man Jay can offer her seership (once she figures out it’s something valuable) and her knowledge of the tunnels, but the value of those is limited: everywhere she goes the tunnels are just gone. Someone seems to be just erasing them from below the city.

It soon becomes apparent that demons, who are not supposed to be active in the world, are up to something beneath the city. Something which Jewel and the Huntbrothers* are uniquely suited to deal with . . . if they can reach it in time.

I’m having a hard time summarizing this book; it’s where the Essalieyan cycle really launches and so it’s not only thick but big. It originally, as I noted with the first book, wasn’t one of my favourite West books; that started with the next series, The Sun Sword (which we will get around to, eventually), but this re-read really helped me appreciate it more. Highly recommended, but you have to read Hunter’s Oath first.

*Jewel and the Huntbrothers is the name of my Jem and the Holograms cover band

Read Recently — July 2016 — Briggs

Dead Heat: an alpha and omega novel by Patricia Briggs

Possible trigger warning for child endangerment.

Charles and Anna head to Arizona, trying to kill two birds with one trip: Charles wants to see an old friend who has never met Anna, and he wants to buy Anna the perfect birthday present. In this case, both can actually be killed at once because the old friend, Joseph Sani and his father Hosteen breed horses and Anna should have the perfect horse (they do a lot of riding in Montana). Charles hasn’t seen Joseph in a long time because, unlike Hosteen, Joseph isn’t a werewolf and that means he’s aging while Charles (and his own father) isn’t. It’s hard for Charles to see his old friend slowly fade, but Joseph won’t consent to changing and it’s against the rules to change him against his will (also a really, really bad idea). Charles’ refusal to change the old man is causing tension between him and Hosteen as well.

But, before things can really get going on the horse-buying end of things, Joseph’s son Kage (Hosteen’s grandson, not a werewolf) comes in and, collecting his cellphone, finds four increasingly frantic messages from his wife, Chelsea, who is suffering from headache pain and the worry that she his trying to kill their children. Kage, Hosteen, Charles and Anna head immediately to Kage’s house, and find the children safely locked in a bedroom while Chelsea has been hurting herself to keep from hurting them. She’s so badly hurt, in fact, that the only way to save her (and also find out what’s going on) is to Change her to a werewolf (there is a spell on her, compelling her to kill the children and then herself; if the children are safe she should also kill herself. It’s a complicated spell, and fae).

It turns out some bad things have been happening at the daycare that Kage and Chelsea’s kids go to; a teacher committed suicide, and a family was killed in a head-on crash (one of the parents swerved into oncoming traffic, though it was raining so it could have been an accident). When Charles and Anna go investigate the daycare itself, they find a child has been replaced by a fetch, which admits to putting the spell on Chelsea before turning into its true form, an inanimate mannequin.

The Fae have turned one of their darker members loose, a creature that hunts human children, a fae serial killer. Charles and Anna, along with Hosteen and his pack (and an FBI agent we met in Fair Game and the local CANTRIP agents) must find and stop him before he kills again.

Throughout these books and the Mercy Thompson novels there has been an ongoing plot of the supernatural creatures (werewolves, fae, vampires, witches) dealing with the day-world. The Fae came out of the broom closet first, and then the werewolves. For most of that time, both cultures cooperated closely with humans, because there’s so many of us. But then a human jury set a human serial killer free because his victims (people he captured, tortured, raped and killed) were fae and werewolves (for years before the werewolves even came out of the broom closet); compounding the error was the fact that the second-last victim (the last victim was Anna, which is why he was caught) was the half-fae daughter of one of the Grey Lords, who was in the position to do something about it. So now the thing that’s got me guessing is whether we’re heading towards a “the fae are mostly monsters and the werewolves stand with the humans against them” storyline (because, let’s face it: the fae are a large percentage monstrous, both in the background to the series and in folklore (though, to be fair to the Fair Folk, all the folklore we have is centuries old; we have no idea how they might have changed in the time since, if they were real)) or if we’re heading into “humans were the real monsters all along” (because, let’s face it: humans turned loose a killer because he was preying on a race/two races they dislike/fear; but the background to this story makes clear that the fae lock up/depower their serial killers who prey on humans, a race they fear/dislike, so the fae come off as better people than the humans do). Time will tell, I guess.


Silver Borne: a Mercy Thompson novel by Patricial Briggs

It is important to note that this is a re-read and also that it occurs some time before the above novel. At this point the werewolves are only just out of the broom closet, the fey are still around.

Things aren’t going well for Mercy at the start of the book. She and Adam go on a date and end up in a fight. Mercy behaves atypically for her, only to realise later that someone in the Pack is using her new magic link to the Pack to control her (werewolves in a pack are mystically linked together. When Adam and Mercy finally committed, she became part of the pack and received those links (sort of like being added to the email lists and such). However, no one thought to teach her the standard defenses that would prevent someone from doing exactly what they did to her), and some members of the Pack don’t like her because she’s not a werwolf.

Then Samuel tries to commit suicide (Samuel was Mercy’s oldest love and for the first few books of the series was the third leg of the romantic triangle Mercy/Adam/Samuel. The resolution of that triangle was one of the better done approaches to that problem I’ve encountered) and in order to keep him alive his wolf-side has taken over, leaving Sam in wolf form most of the time. Mercy has to keep him from Adam to keep Adam from having to kill him; most werewolves whose wolf takes over go mad and kill as many people as they can before dying. Samuel, as both the Marrok’s son and one of the oldest werewolves in North America Samuel is the exception to a lot of rules). This means she takes him to work with her, which leads to a different problem as her assistant Gabriel’s family is there to clean the office . . . that is, Gabriel’s mother and his younger siblings. A bunch of kids and a normal woman. And Mercy is walking around with a dangerous and unstable werewolf.

Fortunately, the kids mistake Sam for a dog and Sam is willing to play along, so everything goes well until a TV bounty hunter busts in and points a gun at Sam, proclaiming that he’s defending a kid from a vicious werewolf. Of course, Mercy takes him down and they call the police; it seems that he thinks Sam is Adam and that the local cops have a warrant out on Adam and called in the hotshot to take him down. Of course, there are no warrants on Adam; though the bounty hunter has a warrant it’s an obvious fake. Things are even more complicated by the fact that (only the werewolves realise) a hidden fae is waiting across the street during the face off; she takes off rather than be caught by one of the werewolves, leaving behind a gun which can fire pistol bullets from a longer distance: silver bullets, like those in the bounty hunter’s pistol. Someone was supposed to get shot and the Bounty Hunter blamed. But who was the target and why?

As the story goes on it becomes clearer that one of the fae is up to something. But who and what? Add to that the problems with Adam’s pack and Samuel’s trouble, and Mercy is caught in the middle of everything. A good addition to a good series, and highly recommended.

Read Recently — June 2016 — I am running out of humourous headlines pertaining to witches

Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon

Castle Hangnail is in some trouble. A magic castle, it is without a master or mistress and if the situation goes on it will be decertified and sold off. Fortunately, a new Mistress is about to arrive: a wicked witch. Quite short. Quite young. A school-girl named Molly, actually.

Molly may be lying about a few things. She is a little wicked (she’s the evil twin of her family (well, not evil as such, but her sister is definitely the good twin, sooo)) and she is a witch, though she can’t do much magic. And her presence here could save the castle’s inhabitants: Majordomo, who isn’t a hunchback but makes up for it by walking bent-over, Lord Edward von Hallenbrock, an animated suit of armour with bad knees, Cook, a minotaur who hates the letter Q, Pins, not so much a voodoo doll as a small burlap figure who likes to knit, and Serenissima, a steam genie (child of a jinn and a shopkeeper who had some mermaid ancestry) who lives in a teakettle and cleans the castle by walking around it. And it isn’t as if there’s anyone else, someone wickeder and more powerful, likely to show up. All Molly has to do is a few simple Tasks . . .

This reminded me a little of Martinez’s Too Many Curses, only kid-friendlier. And that is the thing: it’s for Young Readers. And in hardcover. But it’s a fun story, well-written, and marvelously illustrated by Vernon herself. Highly recommended.

Read Recently — June 2016 — Non-fiction

Krakatoa: the day the world exploded: August 27, 1883 by Simon Winchester

After Tambora gave us the Year Without A Summer, the next big thing was Krakatoa. Somewhat more famous because more people saw it happen, Krakatoa’s violent eruption was eventually made into a movie (Krakatoa, East of Java which, as Winchester points out, puts the Volcano on the wrong side of Java) but as of late has mostly been forgotten in the west.

Winchester gives us a thorough grounding in the history of the area, including the fact that Alfred Wallace came to his understanding of Evolution here. The science of plate tectonics, vital to any understanding of volcanism, is also presented. And of course, since no volcano only erupts once, the history of Krakatoa itself is looked at, though some of it has to be inferred, as some eruptions were not observed directly.

When we finally get to the main event, it is well worth the wait. Winchester presents the destruction calmly; there is certainly no need for histrionics as the volcano itself provides more than enough excitement and the people who wrote about it at the time provided enough exclamation points.

I’m not selling this very well, but it’s a good book, well-written and well-edited, and recommended.

Emperor of the North: Sir George Simpson and the remarkable story of the Hudson’s Bay Company by James Raffan

You grow up in Canada, you learn about the Hudson’s Bay Company. At the very least, you learn where the store is and what kind of products they sell. But originally, the Company was formed to exploit the economic resources of the Canadian Northwest, for the economic benefit of rich investors in Britain. That it succeeded well enough to become a Canadian institution is mostly due to the drive of Sir George, a clerk and trader originally from Scotland, turned business magnate and, eventually, Canadian success story.

This isn’t really a biography, since it focuses not only on Simpson but also on the company at large. And what enjoyment you will draw from the story depends to a large extent on how much you care about Canadian economic history. The prose is good and the editing acceptable; I myself am always astounded at how ignorant I am of my own country’s history and delighted to find out new things about it: I had no concept of George Simpson at all and found him very interesting to meet. Mildly recommended, unless you are a history buff in which case, highly recommended.

Read Recently — June 2016 — Mysteries

Arsenic and Old Books: a cat in the stacks mystery by Miranda James

When last I wrote about the “Cat in the Stacks” mysteries (here) I said that the series was basically over because the whole cast except for the cat was going off to France (for reasons I have forgotten). Well, I guess they’re back.

At the start of the book, Charlie and Diesel are in Charlie’s office, waiting on the arrival of the Mayor of Athena (the Mississippi town they live in), who has some family documents that she wishes to donate to the College Library Archives (Charlie’s department). In fact, what she has are several volumes of an ancestor’s diary; a many-times great-grandmother who lived through the civil war and the occupation of the city by the Union Army. The volumes were found just recently and she wants them stored properly and made available to others (especially students). Her son is planning to run for her husband’s state senate seat when the husband retires and she feels that people knowing what an amaxing woman her great-great etc grandmother was will make them appreciate the family more, and vote for her son (or something. Charlie isn’t exactly sure what she means).

Charlie needs a few days to prepare the books and make sure they are in good enough shape for people to handle, so he’s a bit disconcerted to get two demands for access to them immediately: one from a student (or a woman claiming to be a student) who claims to be studying the mayor’s family, and one from a professor who’s so unpopular a Straw Feminist that she is on the verge of losing her job, never mind ever getting tenure. She wants exclusive access! Charlie turns them both down, but the professor, Marie Steverton, says that she has an in with the Mayor and will get that access! No one thinks that she can actually do it, but it turns out she can. However, before Charlie can make the diaries available (procedures have to be followed to make sure the old documents can be safely loaned out) they are stolen from his office and Marie Steverton is killed. Run over by a car. It might be an accident. It might not . . .

Charlie’s investigation leads him into local politics, but the story as a whole is fairly gentle. It’s a good mystery, and a nice time hanging out with friends.


What Angels Fear: a Sebastian St. Cyr mystery by C. S. Harris

A re-read. First mentioned, briefly, here. The start of an interesting series set in the Regency period of British history. Still recommended.

Garrett Takes The Case: Old Tin Sorrows, Dread Brass Shadows, and Red Iron Nights by Glen Cook

The second Garrett omnibus includes the second three novels of the series.

Old Tin Sorrows starts with Garrett’s old sergeant dropping by the house to collect on an old favour: down in the Cantard, when Garrett was badly injured, Sergeant Peters carried him to safety. Now that Peters is retired and working for retired General Stantnor, who had been their Colonel back in the day, he needs Garrett to come out to the estate and find out who is stealing from the old man — if in fact anyone is; the Colonel may be mistaken on that. But one thing Peters is sure of: someone is trying to kill the old man. Possibly by poison. The killer is the one Peters really wants caught, though if Garrett finds a thief as well, fine.

What Garrett finds on the General’s secluded estate outside of Town is a nice collection of suspects, the General’s sexy daughter, and another woman, a blonde, who only Garrett seems to be able to spot. It soon becomes apparent that there is a killer on the scene, though neither Garrett nor any of the experts he brings in can identify what poison is being administered to the General, nor how; but the cast of live suspects is quickly exchanged for a pile of dead suspects, not all of whom stay lying down. In the end it’s a dark, grim story, lightened only by the arrival of Maya to cheer Garrett up (I was mistaken last time, by the way, when I said that this would be the last appearance of Maya in the series. She reappears several times after this, though only in the background and never, so far, with a speaking role).

Dread Brass Shadows begins with Garrett finally deciding to get some exercise, jogging around the block. Tinnie Tate has been on the outs with him for a while, but it looks like she’s ready to make up–but before she can get through the crowd she’s knifed from behind by a stranger. Garrett and Saucerhead catch the guy, but before they can interrogate him he’s killed by a sniper–one of a group of snipers who nearly kill our heroes as well.

Fortunately, Tinnie seems likely to recover. Whoever sent the attacker out is not only going to have to face the wrath of Garrett and his friends, but also of the Tate family.

A couple of days later, as Garrett is getting ready to do his running again, a frightened, naked red-head stumbles through his door and collapses on the floor, unconscious. She later vanishes from the house without a trace.

Then a third red-head shows up. A former chambermaid from the house of an out-of-town baron, she wants to frustrate the plans of a witch known as “The Serpent”; no one knows what the Serpent looks like (at least, no one who doesn’t work for her) but she was working on a “book of dreams or book of shadows” (which Garrett eventually learns is a thing from dwarfish lore: a book of brass pages, each of which describes a being and allows the holder of the book to take on the form of that being, with all its abilities. This leads to the dwarfs adding a side to the many seeking the book). It is apparent that Tinnie was stabbed because she was taken for this girl.

Things get really complicated when Chodo Contague, Tunfaire’s kingpin of crime, also gets involved in the hunt for the book. Chodo has been paralysed for years, exerting his will through his right- and left-hand men, Sadler and Crask. Now it is apparent that he sees the book as a way to get out of his wheelchair, and Sadler and Crask see their hopes of taking over his empire on his death fading. This leads them to turn against Chodo, and Chodo decides Garrett must be with them . . . which means that Garrett has to join them, if only in self-defense.

Adding to all the confusion is a new ongoing character, Winger. A tall, statuesque blonde from the country, Winger sees herself as a fellow tough-guy and has the skills, if not the brains, to back it up.

Less dark than the previous one, though not without its moments, this one is a bit like the Maltese Falcon, albeit they actually do, in fact, find the bird.

Red Iron Nights has Garrett stopping in to the Joy House, Morley’s restaurant, to visit with his friends when a lovely young woman dressed entirely in black (in our world and time, we’d call her a Goth) comes in, pursued by a badly-scarred man and a couple of thugs, along with an old man in a coach. Having pursued the girl into the worst possible bar, they also chose the worst possible girl to pursue: she’s Chodo’s daughter, Belinda.

Though the events of the last book should have taken Chodo out of the game, in fact he’s still nominally kingpin. Now totally paralysed, he’s a near-literal puppet for Sadler and Crask. Belinda will eventually want Garrett to help her rescue her father. Just mentioning that a bit out of order.

Garrett is eventually approached by Captain Westman Block, commander of the Watch, who wants his help catching a serial killer. There are probably a few of those around Tunfaire, but this one is ritually killing young rich women. Young, rich black-haired women.

Turns out, no surprise, to be the guy in the coach who was after Belinda. Garrett and Morley catch him. Tons of evidence. No question about it. But two weeks later, another girl dies. Same ritual. Same evidence. The Watch is spooked. Garrett’s spooked. The Dead Man is somewhat concerned. This is more than just a killer. This is some kind of communicable curse. Can Garrett stop this before the curse gets to Belinda? Can he help Belinda take down Sadler and Crask? Will the Dead Man get religion?

For a story about a serial killer who can’t be stopped this is not as dark as it could be, though it helps to have Old Tin Sorrows starting the collection off. Block and the reformed Watch become recurring characters as the series goes forward.

The whole series continues to be highly recommended.

Read Recently — June 2016 — The Horror! The Horror!

The Haunter of the Ring & Other Tales by Robert E. Howard; compiled and introduced by M. J Eliot

With Howard and Lovecraft being apparently in the public domain, their work is being put back into print by a variety of publishers. Since I am reviewing specific volumes with specific stories in them, and other publishers might have volumes with the same or similar titles but different selections of stories (selections ranging from some of the same to nothing in common but the title story), I think it’s worth mentioning that the volumes I am dealing with right now are published by Wordsworth Editions (of Great Britain), and edited by M. J. Eliot. If different publishers come up, I’ll make sure to mention it.

Robert E. Howard, a close friend of Howard P. Lovecraft even though the two of them never met (the internet hasn’t really changed anything except the speed of communications) and, with Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith, one of the “three musketeers of Weird Tales“, the magazine which published all three of them and did very well off of it, is probably most famous for creating Conan O’Brien, sword-wielding talk-show host who trampled the kingdoms of late-night television under his sandals–what? Oh, all right, he created Conan the Barbarian. Spoilsport. But like all pulp writers, he branched out into as many subjects as he could handle, trying to make a living wage at a penny or less a word. Mostly he wrote adventure but sometimes those shaded over into horror and sometimes he wrote explicit horror.

The first story of this volume, “In the forest of Villefore” finds our first-person narrator wandering lost through a forest in medieval France, late at night, seeking the road to the titular village. The local who offers to guide him turns out to be a werewolf. It isn’t a particularly scary story, especially since the werewolf thing is introduced pretty late . . . and the story is only a few pages long.

The next story, “Wolfshead”, is the direct sequel. Our narrator, a different man, tells the story of how he was invited by a friend to a house party at his estate in Africa, and how the horror of being locked in with a werewolf eventually takes second place to the fear of an attack by the natives . . .

“The Dreamsnake” has a man telling his friends about a serial dream he’s been having all his life . . . which, as you might guess from the title, has him being stalked by a snake which each time gets a little closer . . . and of course he screams in his sleep and his friends find him dead, looking like he’s been crushed by a giant snake! I make this sound not very interesting, I’m afraid, and that’s because it isn’t.

“The Hyena” has our narrator, a white man ranching in Africa, becoming increasingly upset with an uppity shaman who, it eventually turns out, can turn into a hyena. But not, please note, a bullet-proof hyena. The peak of horror comes when he tries to abduct the white woman our hero is interested in. This is frankly a bad story, neither horror nor adventure, and I don’t think Howard’s reputation as a writer is enhanced by re-printing it.

“Sea Curse” has a couple of fishing-village bullies getting some supernatural come-uppance. It’s a much better story than “The Hyena”, though far from Howard’s best.

“Skull-Face” is Howard ripping off Fu Manchu. The villain here, though, isn’t the yellow peril, but rather a sepulchral Egyptian who may, in fact, be an Atlantian (keep this character in mind when we get back to Lovecraft, later). Our hero is an American drug-addict who starts the story becoming the creature of our titular villain, and eventually fights his way free. Elliott, in writing about this story in the introduction, notes that Howard gives in to a bad habit of reusing names for heroes in story after story even though they are probably (or even clearly) different characters. This is a good adventure story with a background similar to horror (things from out of the depths of history, not to mention the depths of the sea, return to bedevil us–though in this case, they seem to want to run our crime cartels and rule, rather than ruin, our civilization), though not itself scary.

“The Fearsome Touch of Death” has a nervous man sitting up with a dead man (local custom) on the first night after his death. He comes to an ironic end himself.

“The Children of the Night” is a bizarre type of story that I have so far only encountered Howard writing: a story of racial memory. The narrator and his friends are gathered in someone’s study discussing racist theories (Howard, Like Lovecraft and indeed, like a lot of western white men of the time, believed in the Aryan Fallacy, and its attendant sub-fallacies involving, say, the Picts and some of the other peoples of the British isles) when one of the men introduces a strangely small flint mallet. When one, who the narrator has referred to as looking strangely Asian for a pure Anglo-Saxon, takes the mallet he accidentally (or is it accidental?) hits the narrator on the head, sending his consciousness back in time to when he (or one of his ancestors) was a man of “The Sword People”; while out raiding he and some of his friends were set upon by the “Children of the Night”, strange hardly-human (in his view) people whom the Picts had driven underground; tiny, squat people with Asiatic features, who gave rise to the myths of the fae. When he awakens from dreams of pointless slaughter he realizes why his friend looks so unusual, and plans his murder. This is a weird and unlikable tale; it might pass as adventure but it’s only horror in that it mentions Von Juntz, whose book, translated as Nameless Cults, was Howard’s contribution to the collection of weird books in the Cthulhu mythos.

There is one point here which I find myself driven to address, as it calls into question Elliott’s . . . I guess the word I want is trustworthiness as an editor. In the introduction, she mocks Howard for having a character mention reading the Necronomicon “‘in the original Greek’ when, as any Mythos addict will tell you, it was written by the Mad Arab Abdul Alhazred”. Sadly, the line she quotes continues for another, important, word: “translation”. And indeed, any Mythos addict can tell you that the first translation of the Necronomicon was from the Arabic into Greek. Stopping one word short of a full quote is not something a good editor does by accident.

Sorry, that just really pissed me off.

Von Juntz plays a more central role in “The Black Stone”, whose narrator travels into eastern Europe to see a strange monolith and the nightmarish vision it brings. Much more pure horror, and one of the better stories in this volume. Also widely printed elsewhere.

“The Thing on the Roof” has the narrator being called by an old academic enemy to get hold of an original German Nameless Cults, which he hopes will lead him to a long-lost treasure . . . but will the treasure be all he brings back?

“The Horror from the Mound” has Howard, as Lovecraft also famously would, visiting the Mound culture of the American southwest. A cowboy, driven by thoughts of treasure, plans to dig into a local mound. His neighbour, a Mexican, tries to stop him first with vague warnings and then with a long story of evil from the past. But he can’t tell the tale because of oaths he’s sworn, so he has to write it out. But he can’t write fast enough to stop the greedy American from grabbing his shovel . . . . This one’s a little disappointing in terms of what the horror actually turns out to be, but it’s a well-told tale with less racism than you’d expect.

“People of the Dark” is an oft-anthologized story, and another one like “The Children of the Night” where the narrator takes a hit on the head and finds himself re-living an important event in the life of one of his ancestors, once again involving the diminutive people of the hills. In this case, the narrator intends to kill his romantic rival, but remembers a life when the three of them (the two men and the woman they both want) met before: he an Irish reaver named Conan and they young British lovers. They fled to a cave — the very same cave where our modern-day narrator was planning his ambush — and there they ran afoul of the People of the Dark. The young lovers wound up leaping from a high ledge to their deaths in the river below rather than be taken by the People. But surely after all these centuries there is no threat left in the caves, other than the narrator himself?

“The Cairn on the Headland” is a tale that has “Latin” Ortali ignoring the “Nordic” superstitions of the people of Ireland and particularly the narrator he has blackmailed into working for him and excavating the titular cairn. There’s also a ghost, but she’s not particularly scary. Nor is the story as a whole, to be honest.

“Black Talons” is more mystery than horror. Who killed Jim Reynolds in his old cottage down by the sea? Who or what clawed him to death? And why? Howard usually played fair when he stooped to mysteries; he wouldn’t introduce a sudden supernatural element just to make the crime harder to figure out. On the other hand, he didn’t feel he had to give you all the clues up front, either. What I’m saying is, don’t feel bad if you can’t solve this one before the answer is given to you.

“Fangs of Gold” has a detective trailing a murderer into a swamp, only to run afoul of a feud between Voodoo priests. What makes this story stand out is how prejudiced Howard isn’t; though he won’t let a Black character be the hero, he has no problem letting one assist the white hero (albeit, her motives are purely selfish). And while the killer is Chinese, so was his victim, and the detective classifies that victim as “a fine, honest old Chinaman”, which given the early 20th century was high praise indeed.

“Names In the Black Book” is kind of hard to sum up. An “oriental” crime lord named Erlik Khan has seemingly returned from the dead and is killing those who defeated him last time. The whites are last on his list (which he has helpfully sent to one of them, as a means of psychological warfare); with the help of the Afghan warrior Khoda Khan, can they strike back?

One might expect “The Haunter of the Ring” to have something to do with a stone circle,or something like that (well, I certainly did); instead it’s a haunted ring that is apparently causing a young bride to try to kill her husband, perhaps in revenge for his look-alike great-grandfather’s murder of his wife. The ring in question once belonged to an infamous Stygian sorceror . . .

“Graveyard Rats” has a family feud come to a –heh– head, with the titular beasts playing a part. It’s not a very good story, failing totally as horror and less than interesting as a mystery.

“Black Wind Blowing” has a young woman quickly married off to a neighbour in an effort to avoid the vengeance of a secret cult . . . but instead the neighbour is just drawn into the whole mess. And who, really, is meant to be protected? It’s a weird story and of course, evil is a group of dark-skinned foreigners.

“The Fire of Asshurbanipal” has American adventurer Steve Clarney and his companion, the Afghan Yar Ali (who, in the first line of the story, is referred to as “Yar Am” (I seriously hope it’s a typo)) fighting their way through the Arabian deserts to find the titular gem in an ancient, abandoned city mentioned maybe in the Necronomicon. But they aren’t the only ones seeking the gem, and legendarily it has a guardian . . . again, we have a better adventure story than horror.

The final story is “Pigeons from Hell”, a popular tale whenever Howard’s horror is anthologized. Griswell (no first name given) and John Branner are driving across the country on vacation and arrive at an old, abandoned house somewhere in the south (if the story ever gives a state I can’t find it) from which a huge swarm of pigeons launch as they approach. They bed down in the empty living room and Griswell is awakened in the middle of the night by a low whistling sound that draws Branner upstairs; a few minutes later he comes back down carrying a hatchet with which he tries to hit Griswell but fails, probably due to having been killed with the same hatchet while he was upstairs. Griswell flees the scene, pursued by something with glowing eyes, and nearly runs right into the local sheriff. The two of them investigate and find a case of voodoo vengeance on the former owners of the house, whose spirits are locally believed to occasionally be released from hell as the titular pigeons . . . this is a better than average story, with a nice ending twist.

Overall, the collection suffers from the fact that Howard was better at writing adventure than horror, but benefits from the fact that Howard was less prejudiced than his good friend — though he still had his issues. Horror fans should certainly give Howard a look; others, even fans of Howard’s adventure tales, could safely skip it.

From a Buick 8 by Stephen King

King has never had a problem with using America’s love affair with the car as a source of horror; Christine and “Trucks” (the short story that gave rise to the film Maximum Overdrive) stand out as examples (the truth is King has no problem turning anything America is addicted to into a source of horror), and you could be excused for thinking that From a Buick 8 has the titular car stalking victims on America’s highways . . . but that isn’t the case. In fact, the car doesn’t go anywhere much past the point where it’s introduced; it spends most of the book locked in a shed outside D-Troop House of the Pennsylvania State Highway Patrol. Also, it’s not a car.

See, the story is being told to Ned Wilcox, whose father, Curtis, was a Patrolman killed by a drunk driver in the line of duty — Curtis stopped a truck with a bad tire and was hit by the drunk as he approached the truck driver (there is some similarity between Curtis’ accident and the famous one that involved his author). Ned has been working part-time around the station since his Dad’s death, and in his last summer before college he works there full-time and, passing the shed, sees the car. Sandy Dearborn, the Sergeant-in-Charge in the present, tells him the story. We move back and forth between the present, when the story is being told, and the past, 1979 and later, when the story is set.

In brief, then, the car pulls up to a gas station (manned by, in what Sandy hopes is a coincidence, the very man who a couple of decades later would kill Curtis Wilcox) and the driver heads around the back of the station to apparently use the restroom . . . and never comes back. The attendant calls the cops, thinking that the man may have fallen into the river in back of the station (said river being in flood at the time), but he is never found. The car is towed away; though it appears to be a 1964 Buick Roadmaster in mint condition a few minutes of checking reveal that it is nothing of the kind: not only not a Buick, but not even a car at all. It could not have driven up to the gas station because while it has something looking vaguely like an engine where its engine should be it isn’t hooked up right even if it had all the right parts (which it doesn’t).

The Cops store the car in a shed and look in on it every now and then. And then things start happening. Every so often, the temperature in the shed falls far more rapidly and further than the temperature outside. Sometimes there are displays of odd flashing lights (really bright lights. We see one of these displays during the story). And every now and then the trunk of the car opens and something comes out (a collection of leaves from no earthly plant. A fish from no earthly sea. A bat-like creature from no earthly cave). Usually it dies and dissolves quickly in Earth’s toxic atmosphere but once . . . And Curt Wilcox, who is sort of obsessed with the car, insists on dissecting the “bat”, which is a truly wrenching experience for Sandy, who gets roped into filming the event.

And the thing is, there is no pattern to these events. The temperature may or may not fall before a lightshow. There may or may not be a lightshow before something comes out. There’s no real way to predict; except that if the temperature drops or a lightshow starts it is dangerous to go into the shed . . . because sometimes, perhaps as a payment for the things it sends out, the car takes something — or someone — away. To what fate, no one ever learns (though we get at least one hint).

King’s dealing with two of his favourite themes in this book: one is Lovecraft, and his influence on the field of horror, because despite having almost none of Lovecraft’s tropes this is a very lovecraftian book, a story of cosmic horror . . . disguised as a car locked in a shed. There’s a very nice description of the bat creature . . . not what it looks like, but how looking at it made one of the cops feel. It’s a powerful description of the truly alien.

The other theme, dealt with most explicitly in The Colorado Kid, is that stories don’t always have a tidy theme. The kid is hoping for an explanation of his dad’s death, basically, and the car isn’t going to provide one. The things the car does are random, or follow alien logic that just doesn’t make sense to us, and you’re not going to get closure from it.

The writing style is typical King, so if you haven’t liked his other books you’re not going to find this to be the one that changes your mind. On the other hand, the story is kind of atypical in that it’s quieter than most King books, if you get what I mean. Its greatest flaw is in the final section, a short chapter where something bad happens and King tries to fake us out by implying that something different, and in some ways worse, happens. And of course it’s obvious what he’s trying to do and that just makes it worse. I hated this when Guy Gavriel Kay did it in The Lions of Al-Rassan, and I hate it here.

Overall, though, this is one of King’s best books, and it’s highly recommended.

The Horror In The Museum & Other Stories: collected stories, volume two by H.P. Lovecraft; selected, and with an introduction, by M.J.Eliot

This is another Wordsworth Editions.

When last we spoke of Lovecraft (here) we discussed his racism and I mentioned that the book in question contained some of his less racist tales. We’re not so lucky this time; this volume contains one of his most disturbingly racist stories, one I (something of an aficionado for many years) was not even aware existed until quite recently. So, if you’re going to skip a volume, this might be the one you want to skip.

In addition to his racism, Lovecraft suffered from a peculiar (but sadly not rare) belief that the world owed him a living (in Lovecraft’s case, this is at least partly the result of believing he should have been an 18th century landowner (due to having lived the early part of his life on his grandfather’s farm. The old man had been well-off; but his death and the loss of his land resulted in the family trying to support itself on a slowly decreasing investment income)), Which meant that he was terrible at applying for actual work and as a result, had to support himself by writing fiction and doing editing/revisions/ghost-writing for a series of clients. He rarely charged what he was worth, and disliked chasing down the money he was owed when clients didn’t pay, so he managed a life of what might be called genteel poverty. He often inserted Cthulhu Mythos notes into what were at least nominally other people’s stories, so they were often collected into volumes such as this one.

Elliott annoys me by leaving out details such as who the co-writer (or client) was or when the story was written or published from the stories themselves; the client’s name is only given in the introduction. Where there are multiple stories by the same client, they are often broken up by other stories; dates are not given for all or even most stories. This information can be looked up, of course, but it shouldn’t have to be.

The first story, “The Green Meadows”, with Winnifred Virginia Jackson, is a short, lightweight piece, in which a notebook made of stone is found inside a meteorite. On the pages of the strange book is written, in classical greek, the short tale of a man who awakens alone on a floating island containing the titular meadow, a frightening forest, and nothing else of any interest. It’s good that it’s short, because it’s otherwise boring.

“Poetry and the Gods” with Anna Helen Crofts is another short, horror-less story. It’s about, well, poetry and the gods.

“The Crawling Chaos”, again with Jackson, has the narrator overdosing on Opium and seeing a vision of the end of the world. All three first stories are quite short and low on tension.

“The Horror at Martin’s Beach” is a collaboration with Sonia Haft Greene, from 1923. Sonia Haft Greene would shortly become Sonia Greene Lovecraft, which is probably why they never worked together again. A fishing crew, led by Capt. James Orne, kill a strange fish-like creature which they put on display on their ship. It’s of an unknown species and, though huge, is declared by experts to be juvenile. Unfortunately, the specimen and the entire ship are lost in an unexpected storm (the ship is in port at the time, Capt. Orne having given up on fishing in favour of displaying the specimen). Shortly after the ship is lost, Captain Orne is one of a large crowd of people enjoying the day at the titular beach when the lifeguards hear a strange scream; they throw out a life-preserver on a rope but find that whoever or whatever they’ve hooked is too heavy for the pair of them to pull out of the water. Several people on the shore (including Captain Orne) jump in to help pull, and then whatever’s on the other end starts pulling back. As the men are pulled into the water they find that they cannot let go of the rope . . . this is a chilling and effective piece of horror, and it’s a pity that these two never worked together again.

“Imprisoned with the Pharoahs” was ghost-written for Harry Houdini (yes, that Harry Houdini); the original typescript was lost and Mr. and Mrs Lovecraft spent their honeymoon retyping it (which at least paid for the trip). Basically, on a trip to Egypt Houdini accidentally pisses off some of the locals who send him (as the title used in the magazine puts it) “under the pyramids” to confront the mystic past of Egypt. It’s a tense story, very good even allowing for Lovecraft’s writing quirks being out in full force. Not a lot of racism, either, possibly due to Lovecraft’s affection for Egypt’s ancient civilization.

“Two Black Bottles”, with Wilfred Blanch Tallman, finds the narrator going to the small Appalachian village of Daalbergen to learn the true fate of his uncle, who he recently learned was dead. But is he? And if so, is death the worst thing that could happen to him? Not a bad little story; more weird than horrifying but that’s not a big problem for a story selling to “Weird Tales”, is it? Warning for those who are bothered by phonetically=spelled out dialect.

“The Thing In the Moonlight” is really short and really isn’t either a collaboration or even a story; a friend lifted a section from a letter Lovecraft wrote to a different friend, describing a dream he (Lovecraft) had, stuck on a framing-device, and published it after Lovecraft died.

“The Last Test” with Adolphe de Castro, is . . . weird for Lovecraft. It’s got a lot of dialogue (though Lovecraft’s stereotypical lack of dialogue is overstated), a strong(ish) female character who is as competent as any man, and a California setting (Lovecraft never went to California, though he traveled pretty widely up the US east coast whenever he had the money; as far south as Florida and as far north as Quebec City, both of which he loved). The basic story is that the Governor of California, one James Dalton (presumably no relation) hires an old friend as the new medical director of San Quentin. The friend, one Dr. Alfred Clarendon, is known to be a genius, but it’s a little hard to tell what, exactly, he’s planning to do:

[he] would soon enrich the world of medicine with an antitoxin of revolutionary importance — a basic antitoxin combating the whole febrile principle at its very source and ensuring the ultimate conquest and extirpation of fever in all its diverse forms

The story focuses on a disease called “Black Fever” but looking at the lines above one must take into account that fever per se isn’t a disease as such but a reaction by the body to disease and that saying one intends to extirpate (eliminate) “fever in all its diverse forms” is like saying that one intends to eliminate blood clotting. Lovecraft clearly has something specific in mind, but it’s really hard to guess what.

Anyway, the Doctor sets up a household with his sister, who runs the placefor him while he works his clinic with the help of a crew of reed-thin Tibetans and Surama, an Egyptian described as

a man of great intelligence and seemingly inexhaustible erudition, . . . as morbidly lean as the Tibetan servants; with swarthy, parchment-like skin drawn so tightly over his bald pate and hairless face that every line of the skull stood out in ghastly prominence . . . lustrelessly burning black eyes set with a depth which left to common visibility only a pair of dark, vacant sockets . . . he carried about an insidious atmosphere of irony or amusement, accompanied at certain moments by a deep, guttural chuckle like that of a giant turtle which has just torn to pieces some furry animal and is ambling away towards the sea.

This description caused me to put a post-it into the book contain the words, “Turtle? WTF?”. ‘Nuff said. Note the similarity of Surama’s appearance to that of Howard’s “Skull-Face” above, especially since it turns out that Surama is in fact an Atlantean pretending to be an Egyptian.

Of course there is medical skullduggery; is Dr. Clarendon curing the Black Fever, or creating it? (Hint: when your resurrected-Atlantian-pretending-to-be-an-Egyptian assistant says you’re going too far, you may in fact be a mad scientist) And a final confrontation that ends in Clarendon’s death and Dalton marrying his sister, Dalton’s long-lost love. It’s an okay pulp melodrama with some minor Mythos connections (don’t blink or you’ll miss them).

“The Curse of Yig” was written with/for one Zelia B. Reed. Set in Oklahoma, its narrator is looking for snake-god lore and finds a tale involving the titular god (entirely made up by Lovecraft, so far as I know). Basically a settler with a fear of snakes moves into the area and when his wife kills a few snakes to protect him from freaking out on seeing them he freaks out even more because he’s heard that Yig watches out for his children, the local rattlesnakes. Things of course go horribly, horribly wrong for them, but what and who is the half-human/half-snake-looking creature that the narrator sees in an Oklahoma asylum in 1925? A surprisingly effective story, with Native Americans on the side of the light.

“The Electric Executioner”, again with de Castro, has as its narrator an auditor/investigator for a Los Angeles-based mining company that has a number of mines in Mexico. From one of these mines a supervisor has left, taking with him all the papers from the office. Our hero immediately heads south by train, but in the dark of the night finds his private car is also occupied by a lunatic who, unsatisfied with the electric chair, has invented a new form of execution machine and intends to demonstrate it . . . on our hero. Only a vague Mythos connection again. More of an interesting story than a great one.

“The Mound”, again with Reed, takes us back to, as you might expect, the Mound-builders of Oklahoma. Our narrator is possibly the same one as in “The Curse of Yig” (he mentions an earlier incident involving “the snake-god myth”). Basically, locals living near a large Mound report two spectral figures who take turns pacing on the top of it: an old man, and a headless woman, both presumed to be Natives. People who go investigate the mound don’t find the figures, and those who dig into the mound sometimes disappear . . . and then sometimes reappear, horribly changed. Our hero goes and digs anyway, and finds an ancient manuscript allegedly written by a rogue conquistador who found a path into the Mound, and what he found underneath. Which is a series of ancient Lost Worlds, as interpreted by Lovecraft. Eventually, he decides to try to escape, which is forbidden . . . Editing error: at one point we are told “it is heedless to mention”. I suppose it is. The Mound is one of the longer stories in the collection.

“Medusa’s Coil”, again with Reed, is that story. Basic plot: narrator is driving through Southern Missouri when it starts getting dark and he realizes that he needs directions if he’s going to get where he’s going before night, so he stops at an old, overrun plantation house and eventually a very old man lets him in and tells him the story of how the house ended up as it is (as there is now no chance of him making it to town before dark). Basically, his son went to Paris to study medicine at the Sorbonne, fell in with occult influences, and met a woman (Marceline) who briefly led a small cult-group that worshiped–I think–her as the proto-Medusa, the woman around whom (in a previous incarnation, of course) the legend of Medusa formed. Her tenure leading the cult was brief because she married the son and came home with him. She was lovely, and had long black hair that she kept braided and which hung down below her knees (while braided!). While she seemed well-behaved at first, most of the servants seemed afraid of her and left. One exception was an old black woman who lived on the estate and basically worshiped the girl.

One of the son’s artist friends from Paris eventually came to visit and convinced Marceline to sit for him. This went on even while the son was away on business, though the artist seemed to be well-behaved the old man says that Marceline was basically panting for him. The old man suffered from a bad back and it was really bad one day, so he took his painkillers and went to sleep and when he awakened in the evening the house was silent and when he looks at the ceiling of his room he sees a great red stain seeping through from the room above — Marceline’s room. He breaks down the door and finds her lying dead and scalped on the floor in a puddle of blood. Bloody footprints lead away, and also some kind of broad brush-stroke-like trail that he can’t explain. He follows the trails and finds the son, looking crazed and holding a bloody machete, and the painter, dead and apparently tied up in Marceline’s braid. Son says that he sneaked back because he was suspicious that Marceline was up to something with the painter and when he saw the painting itself–he had to knock out the painter to look at it–he knew he had to kill her, so he did, chasing her back to her room and hacking her to death with the machete. Then her hair began to move on its own so he decided the smart thing to do was to set it free and when it was off it crawled off and killed the painter like a python. Then the wailing of the old black woman who basically worshiped Marceline distracts them both, and the son kills himself.

The old man buries the corpses in the basement and cleans things up before the servants get back (the son gave them the day off and sent them into town–totally a coincidence that he went on a murderous rampage while they were away) and spread the story that the three young people went away. Of course, the hair didn’t stay in the impromptu grave, but crawled out and haunted the estate, driving away the servants. It’s still out there! But the story isn’t over. The old man shows our narrator the painting, and even warped by age and moisture it still freaks him out and he shoots it, destroying it. The old man freaks out himself; the painting has been telling him secrets and he believes that if it’s destroyed Marceline is going to climb back out of the grave with her freakish hair and kill him. Our narrator makes it to his car and gets away, the house burning behind him since the old man panicked and dropped a candle when the painting was destroyed. A few miles down the road he meets another farmer, who tells him that the house he just saw burn down was burned down five or six years ago! Gasp!

Lovecraft had a habit–not indulged in all the time, by any means, but common enough to draw comment–of ending a story with the narrator observing a horror and then capping it at the end with a crowning horror, often in italics to give it emphasis. You wouldn’t think a further horror would be needed in this case, but he provides one: the painting made it plain to the observer that Marceline was black, passing for white, the whole time! Gasp again! Yes, that’s where Lovecraft went for his final, deepest horror.

The funny thing is that if you took that out, the story could work in one of two possible ways. One is the literal, cosmic horror, the stuff Lovecraft did so well elsewhere. I mean, the concept of the being whose life and powers gave rise to the myth of Medusa living among us is one of great power and a lot of things could be done with that. Of course, in order for it to be scary, the monster would have to do something, you know, monstrous . . . and marrying your white son doesn’t quite cut it. The other approach would be a sort of southern gothic, in which we mostly take Marceline’s view: young woman, bastard child of French nobility, supporting herself by running a fake cult, falls in love with one of the members, marries him and moves to his home in America. Finds herself isolated and often alone with the jealous father slowly poisoning his beloved son’s mind against her. Add in the arrival of the artist, a former member of the cult, himself jealous that Marceline chose to a) leave the cult and b) not with him, and while she hangs out with him because it’s so nice to see a friendly face, not realizing that he’s playing up the husband’s jealousy . . .

Anyway, let’s move on.

“The Trap”, written with the Rev. Dr Henry St Clair Whitehead, is set in a private school in Connecticut, where our narrator is a tutor. A student notices a strange blemish on an antique mirror that our hero picked up in the Virgin Islands, and feels like it was trying to pull his finger into it. Later, the student vanishes completely and our hero begins to dream that the kid is trying to contact him, trapped inside the mirror exactly as you might expect from that set up. This isn’t a very interesting or scary story. Dr. Whitehead died before he could get any better at it.

“The Man of Stone”, with Hazel Drake Heald, has to do with the discovery of a collection of strange statues in the Adirondacks, and the discovery of a strange tale of backwoods vengeance involving a love triangle, a missing sculptor and a petrification formula. Not great, but not bad either — though a small amount of dialogue in dialect that could annoy those who dislike that.

“The Horror In the Museum”, again with Heald, has for once a third-person protagonist, visiting a wax museum (of horrors!) whose figures are impressive and impressively real-looking. No, the owner isn’t waxifying people. Not people. An impressively nerve-wracking “I dare you stay in there overnight” scene is the high point of the tale, not the “I saw that coming” ending.

“Winged Death” (still Heald) is one of the dumber stories. Our villain protagonist, in Africa, murders a man he hates by sending to him in America a strange new fly, a relative of the tsetse, with a spectacularly lethal bite and a legend that if the fly survives it takes the soul of the one it killed. He ignores this, of course, and then the fly somehow gets back to Africa (one cannot help picturing it buying a ticket on an ocean liner), finds him, and starts counting down to his death. I mean, if both men had been in Africa the whole time I wouldn’t have so much trouble with this, but as it is it just kinda sticks in my craw.

“Out of the Aeons” (still Heald!) is set in a museum museum. A mummy found on a mysterious newly-risen island in the South Pacific (along with an indecipherable scroll wrapped up in a mysterious cylindre) is put on display by a Boston museum and sits quietly for decades until 1931, when a story in a trashy paper brings strange cultists and attempts to tamper with the display, attempts that eventually succeed . . . to the horror of those who tried it. Not a bad little story, but somewhat spoiled by giving the backstory of the mummy in the middle. Lovecraft thoughtfully uses Howard’s Nameless Cults as the source of the uncomfortable information.

“The Horror In The Burying Ground” (and, having recently listened to Great Big Sea, I’m now getting earworms of “General Taylor”), again with Heald, is a story of untimely death and vengeance not so much from beyond the grave as from within the grave itself. I’m torn on this one . . . kind of a twist but you can maybe see it coming.

“Till A’ The Seas”, with Robert Hayward Barlow, is a science-fiction story in which the far-future sun has swollen or drawn the Earth closer to it; the practical affect is to have dried up all the water and the last man on Earth is searching for some. Elliott refers to this tale in the introduction as a “disturbingly prescient global warming dystopian fantasy”, of which one word is actually true (“disturbingly prescient global warming dystopian fantasy” is, however, a good description of the film Soylent Green, though).

“The Disinterment”, with Duane W. Rimel, has our narrator tell us of how he got leprosy in the Philippines while tending to his brother (who also had leprosy) but didn’t realize it until he got home. He hides out in the castle home of his friend Andrews, a great doctor, who at one point in the affair makes a visit to Haiti. There, he discovers a drug that mimics death so well that if he hadn’t seen the whole process gone through he himself would have ruled a man under its influence as dead. He proposes to the narrator a plan: he will administer the drug to the narrator and have him declared dead and then later dig him up and bring him back to the castle. Now that has happened, but the narrator is strangely paralyzed from the neck down. Andrews can’t or won’t explain that, nor can he explain the strange way he’s looking at the narrator, like a successful experiment of some kind . . . any horror that might be found in this story is overwhelmed by the strange, unanswered question: what’s the point of this plan? Faking the narrator’s death won’t cure his leprosy (he knows that) so why bother? What does the narrator gain from this? The story not only doesn’t answer, it doesn’t even consider the question.

“The Diary of Alonzo Typer”, with William Lumley, is a document found in a village near the site of a collapsed mansion in the woods. The house formerly belonged to a much hated family and Typer, a kind of occult investigator, went there to find out what happened to them. He finds a strange vault in the basement, and mysterious hands materialize out of nowhere to try to attack him. He can’t flee because the house is surrounded by now-impenetrable woods, though the supplies he arranged for the delivery of are still arriving when he isn’t looking.

To some extent, this is the equivalent of a “found footage” film, but unlike a film the use of a diary limits the ability to show things like, say, giant hands appearing and dragging Typer off to the basement without making it sound really stupid. Which is a pity, because the build-up to that point is quite good.

“Within The Walls Of Eryx”, with Kenneth J Sterling is pure SF. Set on Venus, it has a prospector for energy crystals found only on Venus making his way through the hot jungles and finding a crystal in a strange, transparent maze. At first, it seems like an easy entry/exit but when he finds he can’t mark the walls . . . he’ll run out of clean water and air filters soon if he makes even a simple mistake . . . The problem of the last one is avoided here by giving the narrator a mobile transcription device (sort of a proto-tape recorder) to speak his story into. It’s a great story, bolstered by the narrator’s realization that the Venusian natives he looks down on in fact know things he does not . . .

“The Night Ocean”, again with Barlow is a story more of atmosphere than horror. A man rents a cottage near the sea and almost sees things outside his windows. Not very scary, and not the tale I would have chosen to end the volume on.

The volume as a whole is recommended only to Lovecraft completists.

Read Recently — June 2016 — I am running out of ways to express that my mind is blown

Akira volumes 3 & 4 by Katsuhiro Otomo

The military has fired SOL at Tetsuo, with, shall we say, mixed results. Kei and Kaneda escape with Akira, and take shelter in a safe-house run by a woman named Chiyoko, who turns out to effectively be the Terminator dressed like a maid. Lady Miyako, a throw-away character in the movie, here takes on a larger role: she runs a temple that is staffed by monks and minor psychics. She sends one of those psychics, a young girl named Sakaki, after Akira. Nezu, the rat-like character behind Ryu, is a follower of Miyako, but he also has his own agenda. While Nezu, Sakaki, and Kei/Kaneda/Chiyoko play a three-sided game of “who’s got the button?”, with Akira as the button, the Colonel sends his three psychics out to find Akira for him (and also for themselves; they knew him in the old days). The third volume ends with Nezu doing the stupidest thing he possibly could, Akira awakening, and on the last page of the volume, the last meeting anyone wanted to see take place, does.

At the start of volume 4, Neo-Tokyo is in the same condition old-Tokyo was in after the first Akira incident. A search-and-rescue helicopter that lands to drop off supplies and pick up injured citizens is attacked and captured by the rag-tag forces of the Greater Tokyo Empire, nominally led by Akira with Tetsuo as the power behind the throne. Actually, Akira seems to spend most of his time spacing out and Tetsuo alternates between freaking out over his inability to understand and control his own powers, partying, and trying to boost others to psychic ability; the real work of running the Empire is done by a guy with real 80s hair; I haven’t been able to find out his name. Kei and Chiyoko team up with Lady Miyako. Kaori, who in the movie was Tetsuo’s girlfriend at the school, here makes her first appearance as a girl chosen to entertain Tetsuo in an early scene; she hangs around and becomes a sort of confidant to him and Akira. One character notable by his absence is Kaneda, who was a bit too close to the “blast” last time. He makes his reappearance at the end of Volume 4. Mild T&A requires a content warning, as does the implication that the girls chosen to “party” with Tetsuo don’t really want to be there (while the actual scene is not shown, the girls’ body language as they wait is telling).