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Showing posts from 2023

The Smell of Waiting

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Kaaron Warren, "The Smell of Waiting" in  Screams From the Dark , ed. Ellen Datlow (Tor Publishing Group: 2022). This story has a different take on returning the dead to life. Life isn't something to be restored, but rather, death is a thing or a presence that can be taken away. Of course, once you've taken it away, you've got to store it somewhere! What did you think about the role that Andrea played in the process as opposed to the role that the dog played in the process?

Children of the Night

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Stephen Graham Jones, "Children of the Night" in  Screams From the Dark , ed. Ellen Datlow (Tor Publishing Group: 2022). This is a story involving the literal collision of subculturesㅡbigfoot hunters, truckers, and monsters.  Tol's theories and speculations about monsters are wonderfully absurd, but the truth is stranger and even more ridiculous. When monster kinds cooperate with one another, we don't have a chance against them.

Crick Crack Rattle Tap

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A. C. Wise, "Crick Crack Rattle Tap" in  Screams From the Dark , ed. Ellen Datlow (Tor Publishing Group: 2022). Rattle Tap is a wonderfully frightening monster! And if we discover that this monster isn’t hiding behind the curtains, that might actually be scarier than the alternative, for we might be Rattle Tap. I love the thoroughgoing ambiguity of this story. It is not uncommon for horror stories to play up ambiguity, inviting the reader to provide an interpretation of the story’s events. But here, something deeper is going on. The ambiguity itself is used to reflect the protagonist's own state of mind or point of view. Kiersten is in the same epistemic state regarding what is really happening (and what happened in the past) as we, the reader.

Devil

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Glen Hirshbert, "Devil" in  Screams From the Dark , ed. Ellen Datlow (Tor Publishing Group: 2022). Sometimes, we go looking for monsters; we seek adventure and ". . . that delicious before-we-had-brains dread of being stalked." The story is about creating such an adventure, the nature of memory, and storytelling itself. We shade our experiences through the context of our surroundings and create monsters from things that are bigger, hidden, and not fully understood. This feels like memories! 

The Special One

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Chikodili Emelumadu, "The Special One" in  Screams From the Dark , ed. Ellen Datlow (Tor Publishing Group: 2022). You don't have to be a Victor Frankenstein to create a monster. Parents (helped by oppressive institutions) can do it without the need for all of that science. With that said, the responsibility for Joy's actions doesn't fall only at the feet of her parents. After all, when it came to Joy's upbringing, ". . . in billions of households around the world, other parents were telling their offspring the exact same thing." And, she did realize greatness; however, it came in the form of the ill-famed and notorious. 

Strandling

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Caitlin R. Kiernan, "Strandling" in  Screams From the Dark , ed. Ellen Datlow (Tor Publishing Group: 2022). We are beings that are in the process of dying. For a brief time, we are strandlingsㅡfish out of water that have breached for one awe-filled glimpse of the sun, a brief momentary peek, and then we will return to the dark loneliness of non-existence.  "I was alone before we met. I'll get the hang of it again."  

Flaming Teeth

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Garry Kilworth, "Flaming Teeth" in  Screams From the Dark , ed. Ellen Datlow (Tor Publishing Group: 2022). I always appreciate subtly strange stories; it is why I like Aickman and Murakami so much. In "Flaming Teeth," Kilworth gives us a few small signals that the world in which the story is set is not quite the one you and I are familiar with, but it is close enough that you might not notice at first glance.  The manner in which giants are acknowledged to exist by the world at large is one of the details that makes this world different. The light touch with which this departure is handled works well. This sets up an additional element that makes the story strange; readers come to expect that when characters encounter a monster, part of their shock and horror is them coming to grips with the fact that the thing can exist at all. But a setup that avows the presence of giants subverts that expectation.  Another strange touch to this particular story is just how noncha

The Island

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  Norman Partridge, "The Island" in  Screams From the Dark , ed. Ellen Datlow (Tor Publishing Group: 2022). This story impressively wrings effective horror from iconic monsters that you might have thought so familiar as to have lost their potential as vehicles of engaging fiction. The personification of the island is brilliantly handled, and the unfolding of the island's story within the story of imprisoned monsters, shipwrecked vampires, crustaceans from space, and many other creatures works to pace revelations that fuel the reader's imagination. The story is fun, violent, and full of action while maintaining a severe sense of deep weirdness delivered through wonderfully expressive prose. 

What is Love but the Quiet Moments After Dinner?

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  Richard Kadrey, "What is Love but the Quiet Moments After Dinner" in  Screams From the Dark , ed. Ellen Datlow (Tor Publishing Group: 2022). Being a monster can be lonely─struggling with feelings of isolation, rejection by others, and trying to navigate a world not made with you in mind. Monsters may make bad dates, but this is a monster love story; this is a story of two (very different) kinds of monsters discovering something in one another that they can connect with.  Kadrey does cool stuff in this story, and he does more than just turn expectations on head by playing with the dichotomy between monster and human. The moral valence of Caleb's actions, contrasted with Patti's, pervades the story. The reader's moral sensibilities tend toward uncomfortable identification with Caleb. But his lack of outrage at what Patti is up to is quite bothersome, but on the other hand, understandable. Questions about how one's nature paints the moral status of one's ac

Siolaigh

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Siobhan Carroll, "Siolaigh" in  Screams From the Dark , ed. Ellen Datlow (Tor Publishing Group: 2022). The folk atmosphere of the island community sets the stage for this ecological sea monster story. The moral compass just spins as the interconnected ecologies are such that "[e]ven our mercy brings death." The pessimism implied by the claim can only be rejected at the cost of ushering in futility. This is a horror story! Oudemans, A. C. / Wikimedia Commons

Here Comes Your Man

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Indrapramit Das, "Here Comes Your Man" in  Screams From the Dark , ed. Ellen Datlow (Tor Publishing Group: 2022). Even the nice monsters are still monstrous! And in a monster's world, the nice guys still worship the god of masculinity and fundamentally misunderstand even their own emotions, not to mention others. See, I even made the story about him .  There are plenty of other paradoxes and tensions that feed the horror of being human on full display in this story. Two that stand out: Aditya's weakness is that he doesn't want to be weak. And in the end, we see that Megha fears that the man she fears isn't there.  

"The Father of Modern Gynecology": J. Marion Syms, M.D. (1813--1883)

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Joyce Carol Oates, "'The Father of Modern Gynecology'": J. Marion Syms, M.D. (1813–1883)" in  Screams From the Dark , ed. Ellen Datlow (Tor Publishing Group: 2022). The delusion, cruelty, madness, and sick, twisted self-righteousness that the monsters of this story use against human beings is horrifying. The story is told from the perspective of one of the creatures, and we realize that these monsters falsely believe they are doing nothing wrong. They justify their actions to themselves with the most absurd theories and carry on in cruel and self-serving ways. The narrator, too, is beyond redemption; he is discovered to be all the more monstrous when we realize that there are parts of him that could overcome his detestable delusions, but he, nonetheless, gives into his cowardice and wallows in the praise of his superiors.

The Atrocity Exhibitionists

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  Brian Hodge, "The Atrocity Exhibitionists" in  Screams From the Dark , ed. Ellen Datlow (Tor Publishing Group: 2022). This story is packed with monsters! With that said, there aren't any fangs, shaggy fur, or shambling gaits here. In fact, some aren't even individuals but are constituted by large groups of people that come together in specific patterns. This activity creates social monsters and monstrous movements that aren't reducible to the individuals that comprise them. Regarding this kind of monster, it isn't necessarily the case that any person who is part of the social creature is a monster in and of themselves or at an individual level. But the behemoth comes alive (often online) due to the spontaneous activity of individuals fueled by passion. This all ends up making the monster nearly impossible to bring down. Many of the monsters in Hodge's story can create other monsters in reaction. One example of this is the atrocity exhibitionist, who is v

The Ghost of a Flea

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Priya Sharma, "The Ghost of a Flea" in  Screams From the Dark , ed. Ellen Datlow (Tor Publishing Group: 2022). Not only set in the early 19th century, the story reads like gothic fiction of the period, which very much adds to the story’s atmosphere of dread and horror. Chock full of historical characters (and even offers up a Jack the Ripper theory by way of his origin story), the protagonist is the Romanticist William Blake, who, along with his wife Catherine and the painter/astrologer John Varley, face down a terrible monster. Arguably, the monster they must face is the original monster—original on two different levels. And given the end, you cannot help but wonder if Blake must now suffer the curse sevenfold. Given that one recurring theme of these murmurs is the horrifying nature of paradox, it is interesting to note that the characters become entangled in something similar to the contradiction in which Oedipus finds himself. John, Kate, and Varley believe in the prophet

The Virgin Jimmy Peck

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Daryl Gregory, "The Virgin Jimmy Peck" in  Screams From the Dark , ed. Ellen Datlow (Tor Publishing Group: 2022). When you suddenly have something to care for in the world, when that thing depends upon you for its very existence, aspects of your personality and character are revealed that are surprising. This is true even if that which you are caring for is a tentacled murderous spawn of an interdimensional elder god ripping itself free from your abdomen or you are caring for the young man who is undoubtedly ushering in the end of the world as we know it. We learn something important and endearing about both Jimmy and Mrs. Yogovich when they are put in such a circumstance, and we have a lot of laughs along the way. 

Wet Red Grin

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Gemma Files, "Wet Red Grin" in  Screams From the Dark , ed. Ellen Datlow (Tor Publishing Group: 2022). This pandemic story gives us a different model for interpreting the spread of infection. A nice wet, bloody red one that smells like vinegar! It is odd to think about the bloody red skeleton that lives inside each of us and horrifying to think that someday it will get out. Luckily, most of us won't die from it trying to get out; we'll die from something else before our skeleton does make its external debut appearance.

The Midway

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Fran Wilde, "The Midway" in  Screams From the Dark , ed. Ellen Datlow (Tor Publishing Group: 2022). The horror theme of "human beings are the real monsters" may be an old one, but here we get something more一we get what it is that makes human beings WORSE than monsters. Oma’s insight into monsters:   They are different from us.  We don’t communicate in the same ways.  Monsters don’t know anything beyond their own wants, nor that what they want may keep you from being alive.  They may all be gone now, like everything else good. Neither Alan, Mr. Lloyd, Pops Staley, nor Mora are monsters; they are much, much worse. For they do know things beyond their own wants—they know yours. And unlike monsters, they interact through manipulation. The horror is, these characters aren't different from us. The good ones of us step into the sea and become monsters.  "Now I ride with the mocking and friendly ghouls on the night-wind, and play by day amongst the catacombs of Nep

You Have What I Need

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  Ian Rogers, "You Have What I Need" in Screams From the Dark , ed. Ellen Datlow (Tor Publishing Group: 2022). The hospital is a strange place. Apart from a war zone, you are unlikely to be physically closer to horror than when sitting in the ER waiting room of a hospital. There is nasty shit going on all around you—from blood, viscera, and death to injustice, psychological trauma, and financial ruin. It is a place where strange things happen, a place where both lives are saved and tragedies occur.  But people (and monsters, disease, and contagion) show up at the hospital thinking they are going there because it has what they need . It can feel like the last hope; the hospital can fix it. Most of the time, what you think will happen differs from what really happens. It is a place that often frustrates expectations and sometimes delivers pleasant surprises.  “You Have What I Need” takes up this weirdness of the hospital from the perspective of those who work there, those who v

The King of Elfland's Daughter

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Lord Dunsany, The King of Elfland's Daughter (G.P. Putnam Sons: 1924). There are many reasons to read this book, and while it is primarily thought of as an early influence on the fantasy genre, it also packs some classic weird fiction themes. If there is such a thing as an essential feature of weird fiction, one candidate for such a feature is the impingement of the unfathomable into our world. Elfland is not only strange and beautiful but also completely alien; it is, in principle, not understandable. The conceptual scheme of the beings that inhabit that world doesn't translate into our conceptual paradigm, thus rendering them unintelligible in many, if not all, respects. An idea developed in  The King of Elfland's Daughter  is that weirdness can be a symmetrical relation. When Elfland impinges on our reality, we encounter something impossible to understand; likewise, when "the fields that we know" impinge on Elfland, it is our world that defies the bounds of un

Vastarien

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Thomas Ligotti, "Vastarien" in  Songs of a Dead Dreamer  (Silver Scarab Press: 1986).   As far as cursed books go, neither the Necronomicon , nor the play  The King in Yellow has anything on the pale gray bound Vastarien . There are features unique to this tome that I particularly like. First, the book itself picks its own readers. It does this by simply appearing blank to most would-be readers. Second, it is a book “that is not about something but actually is that something.” At a first stab, the mad Victor Keirion describes the book as a dream chronicle, but it becomes clear that it isn’t just a recollection of weird dreams; instead, the book is the dream一it composes the world and is not just a description of the world. Ligotti turns many a notion on its head in this one: dream versus veridical experience, representation versus represented, and the dreamer versus the dreamed. But the big one in the story is the inversion of the real/unreal dichotomy in such a way that

The Rider

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  Art by Dan Rempel Brian Evenson, "The Rider" in Weird Horror, Issue 5,  Fall 2022, Undertow Publications. Read the story here on Weird Horror Magazine's website I am an admirer of Robert Aickman's style of strange stories. His voice is one-of-a-kind, and his unique sense of the weird can unsettle in delightful ways. I rarely read a story by another author that gives me that kind of experience. Evenson's "The Rider" captures my mind like an Aickman story does. If you are ever on the road needing petrol or you are having some car trouble, there are two places you don't want to end up: stay away from The Hospice and steer clear of the town of ... I can't remember what it's called... the name is just on the tip of my tongue...    

True Detective, S1E2, "Seeing Things"

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SEEING THINGS "I closed my eyes and saw the King in Yellow moving through the forest."                                                     -  from the diary of Dora Lange In fact, there is much to see in this second episode, and plenty of yellow references to keep your juices flowing. Aside from the imagery that we’ll come to below, we get our first direct references to Carcosa and the King in Yellow, most notable in the discovery of Dora Lange’s diary. In the glimpse of the diary shown on screen, we see that Dora has handwritten excerpts of Cassilda’s Song. Readers of Chambers will recognize the verse that opens the book The King in Yellow :                Along the shore the cloud waves break,                The twin suns sink behind the lake,                The shadows lengthen                           In Carcosa.                Strange is the night where black stars rise,                  And strange moons circle through the skies                But stranger still is   

An Inhabitant of Carcosa

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  Ambrose Bierce, "An Inhabitant of Carcosa," in Tales of Soldiers and Civilians  (E. L. G. Steele: 1891). Read the story here on Gutenburg There is a common view that when writing The King in Yellow , Robert W. Chambers simply borrowed a few names that he liked from Ambrose Bierce, and that is where the influence stops. For example, Chambers uses the names "Carcosa", "Hali," and "Hastur," all of which were first in the Bierce. The consensus is that the use of those names doesn't signal any deeper connection to Beirce's work. That view is worth reconsidering, particularly in light of the story "An Inhabitant of Carcosa." I hope that interpretations of The King in Yellow  benefit by recognizing a deeper connection and the influence that Bierce's work had on Chambers and the King in Yellow mythos.      I'll mention two general ways that these story connect. First, Chambers adopts some of Bierce's eerie visual descripti

True Detective, S1E1, "The Long Bright Dark"

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INTRODUCTION It has been several years for me since first watching season one of HBO’s True Detective , and it's time to revisit the series with an eye toward bringing out some of the themes and issues prevalent in much of the weird fiction considered here on Weird Murmur. I’ll take each of the episodes in turn, drawing out ties to the series’ inspirational roots found in Thomas Ligotti, Karl Edward Wagner, H.P. Lovecraft, Robert W. Chambers, and others. These murmurs will assume familiarity with the episode under discussion and so I won’t provide much in the way of summary. Diving right in, the name of the series, “ True Detective ,” sounds like a title fit for a newsstand pulp sitting alongside magazines like Amazing Stories, Dime Detective, Doc Savage , and Weird Tales . As it turns out, there was just such a true crime pulp using that title, and it had quite a long run. It will be interesting to see whether the story shares much in common with the style popular in the heyday

This Place is Best Shunned

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   Illustration by Dave Palumbo David Erik Nelson, "This Place is Best Shunned" Tor.com, July 27, 2022. Read for free on Tor.com Here's the church, here's the steeple . . .  You'll never think of that nursery rhyme along with its associated hand motions in quite the same way! This is a great bit of cosmic horror set in Appalachia. With a mind bending use of scale and the notion of the inside being out and the outside being in, David Erik Nelson's descriptive detail of the impossible and unreal gives your imagination a warping jolt. The story's exploration of the concept of the shunned place  brings attention to several cool things from the difficulties marking  places of danger to the possibility that  the shunned place may be MUCH bigger than we think. Originally published July, 2022 on Tor.com, it is now available as an e-book.

The Door in the Wall

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  H. G. Wells, "The Door in the Wall" in The Door in the Wall and Other Stories  (1911). Read the story here on Gutenburg Raised on Thomas Ligotti’s brand of horror has taught the eye to spot the miserable paradoxes of being this thing we call human. H. G. Wells’ "The Door in the Wall" is, in part, a study on the paradoxes associated with desire . In the story, Wallace, like a Lovecraftian character, is both drawn to and repulsed by the weird, in this case, an enchanted garden behind a green door discovered as a child. Now 40, Wallace has had this strongest of desires his whole life to find and re-visit the garden, but, at the same time, when confronted with the opportunity, he chooses the mundane over the fantastic time-and-time again. The paradox that begins to take shape: what he most desires is not really what he desires most! Desire is a strange thing. By their very definition, we want our desires satisfied, but at the same time, we would not desire a life with

The Long Rain

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  Ray Bradbury, "The Long Rain." Originally titled "Death-by-Rain," in Planet Stories , 23 September 1950. This story is reprinted in The Illustrated Man , R is for Rocket , and several other collections of Bradbury's work. It is worth tracking down if you enjoy gritty science fiction horror. What is pleasant can be maddening when taken in excess. Bradbury turns the rain into something relentlessly horrifying. But that’s not all; I struggle to think of a story that better illustrates that monsters of horrendous scale are, in fact, real! Bradbury’s craft is on full display, when he gob smacks the reader with the monster of a “ thousand electric blue legs.” What was your favorite part of the story?