“West of Arkham the hills rise wild, and there are valleys with deep woods that no axe has ever cut. There are dark narrow glens where the trees slope fantastically, and where thin brooklets trickle without ever having caught the glint of sunlight. On the gentler slopes there are farms, ancient and rocky, with squat, moss-coated cottages brooding eternally over old New England secrets in the lee of great ledges; but these are all vacant now, the wide chimneys crumbling and the shingled sides bulging perilously beneath low gambrel roofs.”
-H.P. Lovecraft, The Colour Out of Space
These are the opening lines to H.P. Lovecraft’s 1927 short story The Colour Out of Space. It is said to be the author’s personal favourite out of all his stories.
Set in 1870, the story begins with the reporting of a meteorite that “fell out of the sky and bedded itself in the ground beside the well at the Nahum Gardner place.” Miskatonic University sends three professors to investigate the fallen rock. When they arrive at Gardner’s place, he insists that the rock has shrunk overnight, a claim which the learned men laugh off as impossible.
They take a small fragment back to the university to investigate. This piece of the meteorite produces some strange effects in the laboratory where we learn “it displayed shining bands unlike any known colours of the normal spectrum”. These “bizarre optical properties” provoke much excitement among the “men of science” as they speculate about possible new elements and discoveries.
“When I’m online, Aksha keeps me company. Anyone who says cats can’t go online is an idiot. Twenty years ago, people said humanity couldn’t go to Mars. Ten years ago, people solemnly swore that there was no way to connect a human mind to the network. Five years ago, people said that cats and dogs couldn’t speak.”
Xuejiao is a “Master Hacker”. She lives in a small apartment with a cat called Aksha. The cat joins Xuejiao online as backup guarding her against “government surveillance programs.” Master Hackers dive into the Net, searching for “ancient abysses” to “excavate data from and turn them into cash.” The author likens it to “spelunking” and makes it clear there are dangers involved in the process:
“Some abysses absolutely must not be tested. Hiding there are vast existences beyond our comprehension. All the jackholes who go there are drawn into a vortex of data, forever gone. They leave behind stiff bodies, lying comatose in hospital ICUs.”
I posted a review of J.G. Ballard’s short story “Chronopolis” yesterday, so I thought I would show some photos of the HUGE book I read it in. The Complete Stories of J.G. Ballard (2010) was a present from my brother a few years back. I’ve only dipped into it occasionally, so I want to make an effort to read more of the stories this year. It’s also a good chance to read more Ballard–a writer whose work is reckoned to be essential reading for any fan of the science fiction genre.
This book contains 98 short stories written between 1956 and 1996. That’s one thousand one hundred and ninety-six pages! I think this will take me a few years to complete, as I’ve been advised not to read too much Ballard in quick succession. I can understand why. His writing is well-known for being “thought-provoking and unsettling,” his stories “eerie and melancholy.”
‘In the bottom compartment of her jewellery case he came across a small flat gold-cased object, equipped with a wrist strap. The dial had no hands but the twelve-numbered face intrigued him and he fastened it to his wrist.’
-J.G. Ballard, Chronopolis
In a world where timepieces have been abolished, Conrad Newman is in jail, waiting to stand trial for murder.
The story opens with the protagonist Conrad Newman in jail awaiting trial. We learn that he has fashioned a sundial in his cell which he uses to keep track of the “daily roster.” It’s clear that Conrad is obsessed with time, as he worries about “going mad” if he is unable to tell what time it is “at any given moment.” There are no clocks in the prison.
*This is my review of the novelette published by Lucius Shepard in 1985. The Jaguar Hunter is also the title of Shepard’s 1987 collection of short stories, a book I’m very interested in after reading this novelette.
This is the story of Esteban, a retired hunter living with his wife in Honduras. His wife gets into debt with a local businessman and Esteban agrees to hunt and kill a black jaguar to settle the debt. After entering the jungle on the jaguar’s trail, he meets a beautiful woman who begins to question him about his intentions toward the jaguar.
This was my first experience reading Lucius Shepard (1943-2014), an American writer whose work was first published in the 1980s. The Jaguar Hunter was nominated for a Nebula Award in the Best Novelette category in 1986. I read it in “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Third Annual Collection” (1986) edited by Gardner Dozois. At only 22 pages, the story can be read in one sitting.
Another year draws to a close, so it’s time to publish my Top Reads of the year. These are the stories that stood out for me over the past 12 months. They are listed in no particular order; just the ones I enjoyed reading the most during this crazy year of 2020. If you click on the title, it will take you to my review.
I’m currently working on a longer review of Stephen King’s Night Shift, but I wanted to post a review of a horror story today, Halloween 2020. So here is a brief review of King’s A Good Marriage. It was published in 2010 as part of the novella collection: Full Dark, No Stars. The story was adapted for the big screen in 2014.
What happens when, on a perfectly ordinary evening, all the things you believed in and took for granted are turned upside down?
When her husband of more than 20 years is away on one of his business trips, Darcy Anderson looks for batteries in the garage. Her toe knocks up against a box under a worktable and she discovers the stranger inside her husband.
How well do you really know someone? Could a close member of your family be hiding an incredible secret? In “A Good Marriage”, Stephen King explores these ideas with the skill of a truly gifted writer.
“Gray Matter” first appeared in the magazine Cavalier in October 1973. It’s taken from Stephen King’s first collection, Night Shift (1978), which contains twenty of his earliest short stories. These stories were originally published between 1970 and 1977. This collection includes Children of the Corn, Quitters Inc., The Lawnmower Man, Trucks, The Ledge, Jerusalem’s Lot, and more.
My Summary & Thoughtson “Gray Matter”
A young boy runs into a 24-hour convenience store during a heavy snowstorm. He looks terrified and asks the owner, Henry, to sell him a case of beer for his father. Henry and the two locals in the store know the boy well. He is Richie Grenadine’s son Timmy, and his father often sends him to buy his beer, making sure it’s the cheapest beer in the store. Richie used to come and buy it himself until fairly recently.
‘Outsiders visit Dunwich as seldom as possible, and since a certain season of horror all the signboards pointing toward it have been taken down.’
Lovecraft wrote The Dunwich Horror in 1928 and it was first published in the April 1929 issue of Weird Tales. He is said to have rated it highly and described the story as being “so fiendish” that his editor at Weird Tales“may not dare to print it.” It is now considered one of the core tales of the Cthulhu Mythos.
The Private Life of Elder Things (2016) is a collaborative collection of new Lovecraftian fiction by Adrian Tchaikovsky, Adam Gauntlett and Keris McDonald.
“From the wastes of the sea to the shadows of our own cities, we are not alone. But what happens where the human world touches the domain of races ancient and alien? Museum curators, surveyors, police officers, archaeologists, mathematicians; from derelict buildings to country houses to the London Underground, another world is just a breath away, around the corner, watching and waiting for you to step into its power. The Private Life of Elder Things is a collection of new Lovecraftian fiction about confronting, discovering and living alongside the creatures of the Mythos.”