Archive for the 'Weird fiction' category

M.P. Shiel's Prince Zaleski

Dec 22 2009 Published by under Mystery/thriller

Valancourt Books continues to release fascinating literary treasures that have been buried and forgotten for ages!  The most recent of these is a collection of stories by M.P. Shiel about his character Prince Zaleski:

We've encountered Matthew Phipps Shiel (1865-1947) before on this blog, when I discussed his short tales of weird fiction, most recently collected in The House of Sounds and Others.  I found the quality of his writing to be a little uneven, but he does achieve moments of true horror.

Prince Zaleski (1895) represents Shiel's contribution to the mystery genre, and is his answer to Sherlock Holmes.  The 'compilation' is a rather short one -- only consisting of three stories -- but the stories are clever and even wonderfully creepy at times.

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The Beast with Five Fingers by W.F. Harvey

Dec 14 2009 Published by under Horror, Mystery/thriller

I've been trying to keep up with my weird fiction reading while I've been working on my physics textbook, though it's been pretty hard to read a major work considering I spend most of my evenings doing research for the text.   Under these circumstances, a collection of short stories was the ideal solution, and I recently received Wordworth's collection of the works of W.F. Harvey, entitled The Beast with Five Fingers, after its most well-known story:

It took a curious amount of time for me to receive my copy.  Although it was listed as available on Amazon for nearly a year, the order was continually delayed and I only got the book a couple of months ago.  Hopefully whatever issue they were having has been straightened out now.

The book blurb refers to Harvey as "an unjustly neglected author of supernatural tales", which is technically true, but a little misleading: though he did write a significant number of supernatural stories, the bulk of his work is better described as mystery/murder stories.  I found his work reminiscent of Edgar Allen Poe and Roald Dahl; though he does not quite achieve the darkness and creepiness of those masters, there are a number of great stories and genuinely unsettling moments (as I was reading Harvey, I kept referring to him in my mind as "Roald Dahl-lite").

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Giants From Eternity, by Manly Wade Wellman

Sep 27 2009 Published by under Weird fiction

Having recently worked  through Manly Wade Wellman's wonderful Silver John novels, I thought I would take a look at some of his other speculative fiction.  Thanks to all my Silver John purchases on Amazon, other Wellman novels have percolated up into my recommendations; the novella Giants From Eternity (1939) immediately caught my eye:


See if you can see what got my attention from the book blurb:

Scientist Oliver Norfleet and his college buddy Spencer DuPogue are called by the Board of Science, to investigate a mysteriously expanding red blight that is growing around the site of a meteor crash. With the help of the daughter of a famous scientist, they soon discover that the blight is not only alive, but that it consumes nearly everything in its path. When their own abilities prove inadequate, they are forced to turn to the greatest scientific minds that history has to offer. Can Norfleet and DuPogue and the Giants from Eternity stop the blight before the entire Earth is consumed?

Yeah, baby -- the "Giants" are some of history's greatest scientists, resurrected to kick ass and save the world!  Giants From Eternity is an exceedingly silly story, but is quite entertaining and not without its moments of genuine horror.

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Manly Wade Wellman's Silver John novels

Sep 17 2009 Published by under Weird fiction

A few months ago, The Ridger noted the birthday of weird fiction author Manly Wade Wellman, and introduced me to his character "John the Balladeer", also known as "Silver John" but typically just known as "John": an Appalachian mountain man and wanderer who faces off against supernatural evil using only his wits, his brawn, his goodness, and his silver-stringed guitar.  Wellman wrote 5 novels and a collection of short stories about John; I'm waiting to purchase an upcoming reprint of the short stories, but I couldn't wait to read about John's exploits!  I picked up all 5 novels and went through them in short order.  All of them  I believe are currently out of print; a photo of my used collection is shown below:


The five novels are:

  • The Old Gods Waken (1979)
  • After Dark (1980)
  • The Lost and Lurking (1981)
  • The Hanging Stones (1982)
  • Voice of the Mountain (1984)

Let's take a look at the wonderful character of Silver John and the adventures he has...

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Johnston McCulley's The Bat Strikes Again and Again!

Aug 14 2009 Published by under Adventure fiction, Mystery/thriller

Name this scene:

Yet he was one man working alone against the crooks and the corrupt politicians who went hand in glove with the evil forces of the underworld.  For that reason he must become a figure of sinister import to all of these people.  A strange Nemesis that would eventually become a legendary terror to all of crimedom.


He was still thinking.  Just what the character would be that he intended to assume was still vague in his mind.  He only knew that it would have to be some nubilous creature of the night that lurked in the shadows.

He glanced at the oil lamp burning on a table.  Then he swung around, suddenly tense.  In the shadows above his head there came a slithering, flapping sort of sound.


He reached up, tore at it with fingers that had suddenly grown frantic.  He flung the thing aside.  As he did so he saw that it was a bat.  An insectivorous mammal, with its wings formed by a membrane stretched between the tiny elongated fingers, legs and tail.

As the creature hovered above the lamp for an instant it cast a huge shadow upon the cabin wall.

"That's it!"

If you guessed "Batman", you're half right!  The scene is from "The Bat Strikes!", a serial published in 1934 in Popular Detective by an author using the pseudonym "C.K.M. Scanlon"; Batman would not appear in Detective Comics until 1939.  A total of four stories about "The Bat" were published in 1934, and then the character (and author) vanished as mysteriously as he appeared.  Recently, Altus Press reprinted the serials in the volume, The Bat Strikes Again and Again!:


Though I cannot say that The Bat is the most interesting or well-written pulp fiction I've read, it is a fascinating look at the almost completely unknown prehistory of one of comics' greatest character!

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The Time Axis by Henry Kuttner

Aug 03 2009 Published by under Adventure fiction, Mathematics, Weird fiction

The more I read of Henry Kuttner, the more ashamed I am that I didn't read all of his works long ago!  Henry Kuttner (1915-1958) was a versatile writer of pretty much every genre of weird fiction imaginable: science fiction, horror, fantasy, adventure, and things that defy ready classification.  His is undeniably one of the most influential science fiction writers of the early 20th century, and many of his short stories are beautiful and classic.

I've been using this blog as an excuse to read more of Kuttner's work, though I don't really need one!  I've previously written about his foray into sword-and-sorcery fiction, in his Elak of Atlantis stories, and his exploration of adventure stories, with Thunder Jim Wade.  All of these are short stories, however, so I finally got around to reading one of his novel-length works, The Time Axis (1948):


(picture of an early edition via Fantastic Fiction.)  The book is currently available in an excellent quality albeit rather plain edition by Wildside Press, and can also be read online.

It's great!  Like a lot of Kuttner's work, it manages to blend a pulp adventure tale together seamlessly with a science fiction story, and gives the reader a sense of awe and wonder that is altogether rare in fiction.

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Lord Dunsany's Pegana

Jul 21 2009 Published by under Fantasy fiction, Lovecraft

A bit over a month ago, I decided to read a few of Lord Dunsany's plays after reading Lovecraft's glowing review of them in Supernatural Horror in Literature.  The plays are wonderfully eerie and capture the spirit of ancient myths and folktales, in which people sin against the Gods, and the Gods, in a pissy mood, bring divine justice against the sinners.

Dunsany's most influential works relating to ancient myths are his Pegana1 stories, within which a complete fictional pantheon and its associated mythology are constructed.  Below is the cover of the Chaosium edition, which collects all of Dunsany's tales of Pegana:


The Complete Pegana combines three of Dunsany's collections: The Gods of Pegana (1905), Time and the Gods (1906), and three later stories grouped as Beyond the Fields We Know.

In a word, these tales are magnificent!  There have been plenty of authors who have created their own fictional mythos, but I can't think of any other who so perfectly captures the spirit of ancient myths and bends that spirit to his own purposes.

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Fletcher Pratt's The Well of the Unicorn

Jul 07 2009 Published by under Fantasy fiction

Though I'm quite well read these days with respect to pulp fiction of the early 1900s, I'm much less familiar with those genres which followed, namely science fiction and fantasy.  Occasionally, however, my literary wanderings cross my path with something of the later genres, and I take a look.

Last month, I read The Well of the Unicorn (1948), by Fletcher Pratt (1897-1956).  A colorful image of the 3rd Ballantyne edition is pictured below, though I read a more recent edition:


The novel is definitely a groundbreaking work: Pratt developed an entire fictional fantasy world and history, and it appeared before Tolkien published The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955), though not before The Hobbit (1937).   But is it as memorable?

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Francis Stevens' The Nightmare and Other Tales of Dark Fantasy

Jun 29 2009 Published by under Horror, Weird fiction

In my readings for this blog, I am constantly surprised by how many truly excellent authors and works of weird fiction have been (mostly) lost in the passage of time.  Fortunately, a number of publishers have valiantly taken up the cause of bringing these forgotten works back into the public eye, and I've talked a quite a bit about Valancourt Books, Wordsworth Mystery and Supernatural, and Paizo Press.  I should probably add to this list Bison Books, an imprint of the University of Nebraska Press, which a few years ago produced an edition of Francis Stevens' short stories, titled The Nightmare and Other Tales of Dark Fantasy:


Francis Stevens was the pseudonym of Gertrude Barrows Bennett (1883-1948), who wrote a number of novels and short stories between 1917 and 1923.  She is credited in the Bison Books edition as being "the woman who invented dark fantasy", and with good reason: though the tales in the book are uneven in their plot and character development at times, they present a truly dark vision of the world that has obvious influences on such luminaries as H.P. Lovecraft and A. Merritt, as we will see.

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Bertram Mitford's The King's Assegai

Jun 13 2009 Published by under Adventure fiction, Fantasy fiction

Those who have been reading this blog for a while know that I've become a really big fan of Bertram Mitford (1855-1914).  His novels, written in the late 1800s, are on the surface adventure novels which draw on his experiences living and working in South Africa.  Valancourt Books has been valiantly reprinting many of Mitford's novels, and I've discussed three of them here: The Weird of Deadly Hollow, Renshaw Fanning's Quest, and The Sign of the Spider.  All are excellent novels which possess much more depth of character and meaning than one would expect.  The Sign of the Spider, with its anti-hero protagonist and descent into darkness, both literal and metaphorical, is now one of my favorite novels.

Already some time ago, I picked up the first book in Mitford's tetralogy of Zulu novels, The King's Assegai, also published by Valancourt:


Curiously, I waited a long time before actually reading it, unlike Mitford's other books.  I suspect I had a little dread about reading a Westerner's fictional interpretation of "African savages", or perhaps I simply didn't think I could get into a novel about African warriors.  (I had a discussion to this effect on an earlier Mitford thread.)  In any case, I shouldn't have been worried -- though I didn't enjoy it as much as I did Mitford's other work, The King's Assegai is an excellent adventure story which gives a very human (and not stereotypical) view of tribal Africa.

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