Julie's Short Story Reading

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Julie's Short Story Reading

1Julie_in_the_Library
Jun 11, 2023, 9:29 am

I've been getting into short stories the last year or so. I post my reviews on my CR thread, but it would also be nice to have all of my short story reviews in one place. I'll start with my reviews from my 2021 reading and move on from there.

2Julie_in_the_Library
Jun 11, 2023, 9:31 am

To start off, my review of the short story collection that kicks off Andrze Sapkowski's The Witcher series, The Last Wish:

The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski, translated by Danusia Stok: 3.5 stars

The Last Wish, a collection of short stories centering on the monster-hunting "witcher" Geralt, is the first book in the series from which both The Witcher video games and Netflix's 2020 series The Witcher are adapted.

Overall, I really like this collection. A few things stood out to me as particularly good: the book's clever and well-executed structure, the rich and immersive worldbuilding, and the portrayal of moral complexity.

Unfortunately, there were also some things in this book that made me very uncomfortable, and kept me from rating it a full four stars, notably the text's attitude toward sexual assault.

The book is structured around one longer story set in the present whose chapters are interwoven with shorter, self-contained stories set in Geralt's past. The events of the shorter stories serve to illuminate, explain, or give further context to the chapters of the longer story with which they are juxtaposed. This structure is amazingly effective, especially as an introduction to Geralt and the world he inhabits.

Which brings me to the next attribute of this book that really stood out to me: the worldbuilding. The Last Wish and the rest of the Witcher series are secondary world fantasy, and Sapkowski renders that secondary world for the reader with tremendous skill. By casually peppering the narrative and dialogue with place and political names and references to religious practices, gods, historical incidents, and politics, Sapkowski creates a world that feels deep and real and lived in - a world that feels like it exists beyond the borders of the page, and continues to go on when we close the book.

Another thing that makes the world of the The Last Wish feel so real is the way that the morality of the situations portrayed in it are invariably complex and impossible to boil down to a simple right vs wrong binary. Nobody in this book is perfect, and even the worst of characters has an argument that's difficult to simply dismiss out of hand. Like all of us, Geralt is trying to do the right thing in a world where 'the right thing' is rarely obvious or unambiguous, and nearly every choice involves compromising some ideal in favor of another.

Another aspect I find interesting about this book, and the series as a whole, is as a response to the worlds of rpgs like Dungeons and Dragons. Now, I love D&D. I play in a weekly game. I've read some of the official tie-in novels, and enjoyed them. But the world of Faerün makes absolutely no sense at all.

And the world Sapkowski created in the Witcher series feels very much, to me, like a pointed response to gaming settings like Faerün, which work well enough for play but break down the minute you give them any actual, logical thought.

In the Witcher books, Sapkowski has created a world inhabited by both monsters and many of the traditional rpg fantasy races (elves, dwarves, humans, etc), with professional monster-hunters (witchers) and bards and sorcerers, but he's done so in a way that actually stands up to critical thinking. The monsters exist for reasons, and they're not just 'always evil obstacles to be killed without thought or guilt.' The world has a history, technology and society that changes over time. It has political mechanations and movements that fundamentally change the setting going forward. It has internal logic. It's possible to imagine regular people living there, in a way that you, or at least I, really can't with gaming settings like Faerün.

I don't know if Sapkowski was actually trying to respond to rpg fantasy settings when he wrote these books. I haven't read anything he's said about his work yet. But I wouldn't be surprised if something like this had at least been on his mind while writing.

All in all, well worth a read, and I definitely recommend it, with the caveat that those particularly sensitive to topics like sexual assault might want to skip both this book, and this series.

3Julie_in_the_Library
Editado: Jun 11, 2023, 9:34 am

Next, my very brief review of Kwaidan, a book of Japanese folktales written in the early 20th century by European/American Japanophile Lafcadio Hearn:

It was interesting, albeit tinged with more than a little exoticism, and an easy, entertaining enough read, up until the end, when Hearn went off topic and off the deep end into social-darwinist theory.

At some point, I'd like to read a collection of Japanese folktales written and translated by a Japanese author and translator, both for comparison and for a look at the folktales without the Western Christian lens and framing.

4Julie_in_the_Library
Jun 11, 2023, 9:35 am

M.R. James' short story collection Ghost Stories of an Antiquary:

I enjoyed the collection overall. I thought the stories were interesting, well constructed, and in a few cases even eerie, if not actually frightening, and the humor worked for me.

Unfortunately, I found the running thread of...I'm not even sure what to call it, Christian supremacy, maybe? Pro-Christian propaganda? Anti-non-Christian bigotry? Well, whatever it was, I found it incredibly off-putting.
It noticeably detracted from my enjoyment of the stories, enough so that it brought my rating down from 4 stars to 3.5.

For anyone not bothered by that sort of thing, this collection will probably be a solid read. I will note that I was able to read several stories by phone on my balcony after dark without trouble, and I've gotten spooked watching Criminal Minds alone on sunny afternoons, so those looking for the truly frightening should probably look elsewhere.

5Julie_in_the_Library
Jun 11, 2023, 9:37 am

Ghostly: A Collection of Ghost Stories edited, illustrated, and introduced by Audrey Niffenegger: 3 stars

As the title indicates, this is a collection of ghost stories. This was an impulse browsing pick.

There are sixteen stories in this collection, one by Niffenegger herself, along with an introduction. I had already read two of the stories in the collection - The Black Cat by Edgar Allen Poe and The Mezzotint by M. R. James - but the rest were new to me.

I was not hugely impressed by Niffenegger's introduction. I found her illustrations (there was one per short story, opposite the title page) very charming. I also appreciated Niffenegger's introductory blurb for each story, which gave context and explained why she chose each story. I also enjoyed her short story, Secret Life, with Cats, though I had some quibbles with it.

As for the other stories, I disliked more than I liked. I really enjoyed only four of the stories, liked two more well enough, and actively disliked the rest, though I did finish all of them. I will say, though, that my dislike was entirely a personal preference thing, rather than any real belief that the stories in question were bad, or badly written - I just didn't enjoy them. It is clear, having read this, that Niffenegger and I have different taste in stories.

On the whole, I am glad that I picked this book up and read it. I really enjoyed reading some of the stories, and I don't know if I would have encountered them somewhere else in the normal course of things. It was also interesting to see which stories Niffenegger chose for the collection. There were certain repeated elements that I noticed - lots of writer characters, hardly surprising given that Niffenegger is an author herself; a lot of ghost children, which was surprising.

The fact that I didn't enjoy most of the stories, or think much of the introduction, was balanced out by the elements and stories that I did enjoy, and I rated Ghostly three stars.

6Julie_in_the_Library
Editado: Jul 8, 2023, 9:26 am

As an addendum to my review of Ghostly: A Collection of Short Stories above, here are my (very brief) reviews for the individual stories collected in it:

The Black Cat by Edgar Allen Poe: 2 stars. This story doesn't really do anything for me. It feels like all tell and no show.

Secret Life, with Cats by Audrey Niffenegger: 3 stars. well written, nice prose, but I wanted an explanation to what had happened, and the story did not provide that. Also, I kind of wanted the narrator to stay with the ghost and the cats.

Pomegranate Seed by Edith Wharton: 3 stars. The writing was good, but the ending felt abrupt. I wanted an explanation. The story also felt incomplete. I also did not see any connection to the Persephone story referred to by the title.

The Beckoning Fair One by Oliver Onions: 3 stars. Oliver Onions is an excellent name. The story was a bit too surreal for my taste, but genuinely unsettling at times. I thought it was too long for a short story, and was really more of a novella. The narrator was a well crafted character. Well rendered descent into what read mostly as depression, with a hint of hallucinations, up until the end when it turned out he’d murdered a woman without noticing, which felt abrupt

Honeysuckle Cottage by P. G. Wodehouse: 4 stars. Funny, charming, fun to read. I enjoyed the gentle fun Wodehouse was poking at literary/genre conventions. I really liked this one.

Click-Clack the Rattlebag by Neil Gaiman: 4 stars. This one was genuinely creepy. Very well-written. Ominous. Very good. (No surprises there, of course - it's Neil Gaiman)

They by Rudyard Kipling: 2 stars. too surreal for my taste, which made it difficult to follow actual plot events at times. I was annoyed that the actual secret was never explained – it was all implications and unspoken understandings. I felt like I was missing something. I was also super uncomfortable with the racist language used, though that is to be expected with Kipling. Effective rendering of grief, though, the mood definitely came through. Not sure I would have gotten as much without the intro from Niffenegger which mentioned Kipling’s loss, though, which is a point against it – it should stand on its own. Was the narrator meant to be Kipling himself? Unclear.

Playmates by A. M. Burrage: 4 stars. I enjoyed this one. Well-written. Felt complete.

The July Ghost by A. S. Byatt: 2 stars. I did not like this one. The lack of names and the writing style made it difficult to follow in places. I do not like explicit sex scenes and I was particularly uncomfortable with the specific sex herel. This felt weird and a little unfinished. Not for me.

Laura by Saki: 1 star. Read more like a long joke than a real story. Very flat characters. Did not like.

The Open Window by Saki: 1 star. Same as above.

The Specialist's Hat by Kelly Link: 2 stars. I did not like this one. Difficult to follow plot. Not sure what actually happened in the story.

Tiny Ghosts by Amy Giacolone: 2 stars. not to my taste. Not sure what was going on. Weird, but not in a fun way. No indication of what really happened, who or what the tiny ghosts were or where they came from or why they came then. Solution comes out of nowhere and is nonsensical.

The Pink House by Rebecca Curtis: 1 star. I really did not like this one. It was vulgar and ugly and not interesting. Almost all monologue but enough interruptions from the frame story to be annoying. I did not like or feel sympathy for a single character in the frame or the ghost story. Also, stylistically not to my taste.

April 26: There Will Come Soft Rains by Ray Bradbury: 2 stars. This is a very interesting premise but I found the actual story incredibly boring and thus difficult to focus on. I think it would have worked a lot better as a single image, like a painting or some other visual medium.

7Julie_in_the_Library
Jun 11, 2023, 9:39 am

The Jewish Book of Horror edited by Josh Schlossberg: 4 stars

This is a collection of 22 Jewish short horror stories put out by the Denver Horror Collective in 2021. Most, but not all, of the authors are themselves Jewish. All of the stories feature Jewish characters, themes, history, and/or culture. There is also a frame narrative by the editor, Josh Schlossberg, a forward by Rabbi John Carrier, and an introduction by Molly Adams. Following the final story, there are small biographies of all of the contributing authors, including Schlossberg, Rabbi Carrier, and Adams.

I first learned about this collection from a zoom interview with one of the contributing authors, Richard Dansky, put out by a Jewish organization whose name I can't remember. I learned about the interview from MyJewishLearning's daily email of online Jewish events.

I originally ordered it from the library, but very quickly realized I wanted a copy of my own, which I promptly ordered.

This review will be of the collection as a whole. I will post my thoughts on the individual stories in a separate post, as I did with the last short story collection that I read.

The quality of the stories in this collection varied - some were excellent, some were average, some were really, really bad, and some were just not to my personal taste. That last is to be expected in any short story collection, and especially in one where the genre is horror, of which there are many, many types, many of which are not for me.

I was thrilled to see a collection of Jewish themed genre fiction, largely by Jewish authors, and even more thrilled that it was not all, or even mostly, Holocaust related. The discussion in Rabbi Carrier's forward of what makes a story Jewish was interesting, as was Molly Adams' introduction. The framing device written by Schlossberg tied the collection back to the larger horror tradition, which is a nice touch. I also really appreciated the inclusion of the author biographies at the end.

There are many types of horror represented in this collection, some supernatural and some not. In some, the supernatural element was not the part that made it horror. That variety means there's something to interest all different sorts of horror fans. It also makes it great collection for new horror readers not yet sure of where their tastes lie within the genre.

I could not figure out while reading what, if any, logic lies behind the order in which the stories are presented, with the exception of the last story, which is absolutely the right one to end with. And the first, I suppose, which is one of the best in the book, and definitely provided a strong opening to the collection.

I do wonder why a few of the stories - those that were objectively bad in terms of grammar, narrative structure, POV consistency, and basic prose, rather than just not to my taste - were included in the collection at all. My best guess is that there was a length they needed to hit, and of course, the pandemic couldn't have helped. The collection came out near the end of 2021. Writers contracted to included stories may have found their writing quality suffering under the emotional stress of writing, and just living, for that matter, in the nightmare that was 2020 and 2021, and I can't imagine that the editing process wasn't also affected.

Despite the duds, and the stories that I just didn't enjoy, I am glad that I read and bought a copy of The Jewish Book of Horror. I enjoyed reading at least the bulk of the stories, and there were a few that were stunningly, breathtakingly good.

It was really nice to see Jewish characters, themes, and culture, especially in a genre fiction collection, and really fun to have so many Jewish POV characters and protagonists. It's not that often, in the grand scheme of things, that I see that aspect of my identity represented in for-fun fiction. In some cases, that extra bit of relate-ability actually served to enhance the horror.

Given all of that, I rated The Book of Jewish Horror four stars. In this case, the whole really is greater than simply the sum of its parts.

8Julie_in_the_Library
Jun 11, 2023, 9:40 am

my short reviews of the individual stories in The Jewish Book of Horror. I have done my best to cover any spoilers that would ruin the reading experience, but if you're fanatical about avoiding spoilers, you might want to tread carefully.

There are 22 stories, so I'm breaking this into two posts, 11 stories in each.

On Seas of Blood and Salt by Richard Dansky: 3.5 stars. interesting, liked the narrative style. Read very much like a folktale. Felt a bit brief, and I wanted more of an explanation of the supernatural phenomena. Glad there are more stories about these characters. (Dansky mentioned as much in the interview I attended.) Jewish pirates! Not actually frightening, which for me is a plus, not a minus. No narrative transport*, which is what keeps it from a full 4 stars.

The Last Plague by KD Casey: 5 stars. So gut punching. So effective. The opening vignette, immediately familiar and relatable, enhances both the believability and the horror of what follows. The structure is perfect. The slow, gradual, but inexorable progression is pitch perfect horror. The POV and the ending are also perfect. Definitely achieved narrative transport. One of the best stories in the entire collection, possibly the best story in the entire collection.

The 38th Funeral by Marc Morgenstern: 3 stars. evoked no emotions in me. Did not achieve narrative transport. Ending worked. Believable. As a whole, okay

Same as Yesterday by Alter S. Reiss: 5 stars. clever, subtly effective. Horror is in the ending, which is absolutely perfect. I liked the protagonist, Danny. The setting is vivid, real, well rendered. The characterization is all round, believable. Excellent job creating a complex mood/atmosphere of melancholy, regret, wistfulness, sorrow, and despair all at once. Great details. Want to read more from this author. Magical worldbuilding is well done - well weaved in, no infodumping. The idea of hell as stagnation, even in a beautiful setting is fantastic and I love it.

How to Build a Sukkah at the End of the World by Lindsay King-Miller: 2.5 stars. weird. Very surreal. Couldn’t get a handle on what was happening on a minute to minute plot level. Vivid imagery. Creepy feeling, very atmospheric. Wanted to know what was happening. Definitely “achieved an affect” per Poe**. Impressionistic. Eerie. This is one of the ones that was clearly well written, just not to my personal taste.

Demon Hunter Vashti by Henry Herz: 2 stars. Writing is clunky and awkward. Very amateurish. Ending is too pat. Especially Vashti’s survival and “demotion.”. Characters are flat and cliché. Not very good. Interesting idea, though.

The Horse Leech Has Two Maws by Michael Picco: no rating. not sure how I feel about this one. I’m definitely missing some context – the postscript was clearly meant to make me realize something but I’m not sure what. Not sure that I can really decide how I feel about this story since I’m clearly missing important context.

The Rabbi's Wife by Simon Rosenberg: 3 stars. well rendered, believable, if not really likable, first person protagonist. Foreshadowing and figurative language points to reveal long before it comes, which is well done. Events all feel grounded in real everyday reality – both the campus Jewish stuff and the antisemitism. Interesting take on golem folklore. All of the other characters were also well rendered and believable, though I didn’t like any of them, except maybe Sora, but she was filtered through the protagonist's pov so much it was hard to tell. Definitely achieves unsettling tone. Multifaceted look at the concept of dehumanization and woman as object (of desire, as literal object, as tool). Not my kind of story – the horn-dog pov is off-putting for me – but definitely well written.

Ba'alat Ov by Brenda Tolian: 1 star. really gross body horror. Very surreal. Not for me, and did not enjoy the reading experience. May work well for other readers. Not badly written, just not for me.

Eight Night by John Baltisberger: 1 star. did not enjoy. Gross. Unpleasant reading experience, and also a bit too surreal for me. Another one that was well written, but not for me.

Bread and Salt by Elana Gomel: 3.5 stars. vivid imagery and excellent metaphoric and figurative language. Great prose style. Ending felt right for character and story, but also rushed and abrupt, like it should have taken more words/time to get there. Really liked, except for abruptness of ending. So close to 4 stars!

The second 11 stories will be in the next post.

*narrative transport is that phenomenon when you get so swept up in a piece of fiction that the rest of the world falls away as you sink into the story.
**Edgar Allen Poe believed that the goal of a short story was to "achieve an affect." He wrote an essay on this idea, which I read back in college.

9Julie_in_the_Library
Jun 11, 2023, 9:41 am

My reviews of the second 11 stories in The Jewish Book of Horror:

In the Red by Mike Marcus: 3 stars. why are so many authors (generally, not in this collection specifically) allergic to the pluperfect tense? No narrative transport. Setting vague, though probably meant to be NY. Plot (Jewish protagonist harvests organs for money) makes me uncomfortable due to similarity to blood libel. Ending worked. Lack of use of pluperfect for events in narrative past really bugged me. Biggest issue was lack of narrative transport, which was down to prose style that just didn’t work for me. Ending did give me chills though.

A Purim Story by Emily Ruth Verona: 4 stars. excellent. Definitely achieved narrative transport. Characters all felt round and believable. Tension is handled well. Ending was right. Story felt complete and right length, even though I wanted more.

Catch and Release by Vivian Kasley: 1 star. inconsistent mixed use of perfect and pluperfect tenses made timeline difficult to parse. Prose is awkward and choppy. Definitely no narrative transport. Bad grammar, including tenses and less/fewer error. Really badly written, both on a basic prose level and on a narrative and structure level. Amateurish. Spoon-fed readers details that should have been left for us to figure out – doesn’t trust readers to think and understand. The premise could have been good but the really terrible execution ruined it entirely.

Pinechas the Zealot by Ethan K. Lee: 2 stars. didn’t get whatever reveal the ending was meant to spark. Needed another pass through and general editing. POV was muddy, especially in Ben’s sections. Certain procedural plot holes – wouldn’t the lead detective have gotten a background on the family, and thus already know that they were Jewish before talking to Ben? Why were they interrogating a minor without at least a social worker there to look out for his interests? How were they allowed to interrogate a child all night at all? - bugged me throughout. Disappointed that the ending didn’t explain or otherwise make clear what had happened. Not a satisfying read, definitely needed another draft or two, though it has potential.

The Wisdom of Solomon by Ken Goldman: 1 star. no narrative transport, no sense of satisfaction after reading. Oddly stilted prose – maybe attempting to emulate folktale feel, but missed. No clear narrative structure – protagonist Antagonist? Conflict? Everyone is passive, and the dybbuk and the narrative act on them. Also, how does removing Aviva’s vocal chords even purportedly “solve” the love triangle or issue of Aviva dating? Ableist. People who can’t speak out loud can still communicate, date, marry, and live full lives. Not only ableist, but also sexist – does not even pass the sexy lamp test*. The narrative treats Aviva as an object, only important in terms of her relationships to the male characters, as a prize that only one of them can possess, and worse, one which is only valuable for her voice, without which she loses all value.

Welcome, Death by J.D. Blackrose: 4 stars. nice little tale. I liked the ending and thought that it fit. Very short, but felt like the right length. Protagonist felt well rendered and believable, fully human. Well written. Achieved some degree of narrative transport, but not full immersion/transport. Felt almost fable-like. Only quibble: it didn’t feel like an inherently Jewish story. The supernatural element came from Christian lore, specifically the book of Revelation. It felt like the story could have been edited to fit any ethnic cleansing and still worked – not grounded in Judaism or in the specific setting. Contributed to fable feel, but made it feel like an odd choice for this particular collection.

Forty Days Before Death by Colleen Halupa: 2 stars. No emotional response, no real narrative transport. Characters, including protagonist, felt flat. Everything that happened felt plot-driven rather than character-driven, like characters were making the choices they did because they had to to move the plot forward. Protagonist falling for Mave felt informed rather than shown. Ending was too pat. Also unfortunate sexism by implication that women like Mave are bad and women like Reva are good. Interesting enough premise, but not executed very effectively.

The Hannukkult of Taco Wisdom by Margaret Treiber: 1 star. prose was amateurish, awkward. No narrative transport. Too surreal for me. Nonsensical. Jewish aspects felt false, tacked on – no one calls latkes ‘potato pancakes’ unless they’re explaining to gentiles, to give one example. I can imagine a Jewish cult, but not one worshiping a second or alternate god. structure??? characters were all flat. Everything felt random and pointless.

The Divorce from God by Rami Ungar: 1.5 stars. POV is muddy throughout. We’re in Rabbi Horowitz’s POV in 3rd person limited, but the exposition on Jewish law, custom, and tradition don’t make any sense in that context. They pull the reader out and break any narrative transport or immersion. Also, in the Rabbi’s POV, he should be using the Hebrew plural when he’s using Hebrew words, not just adding an ‘s’ to the Hebrew singular. Otherwise, he'd just use the English. That mix feels weird and unrealistic/inauthentic. Characters were flat, entirely one-dimensional. Didn’t believe that someone doing what Horowitz does wouldn’t be doing any background research or checking up on the women and their stories. Could have been made believable with more characterization, but as it is, it didn't work. All tell and no show. Interesting premise, I suppose, but very poorly executed.

The Hand of Fire by Daniel Braum: 3.5 stars. Well-written. Effective. Definite narrative transport. Ending felt right for the story. Chilling, goosebumpy. Wanted more background on Jeffrey’s parents and how they came to be raising him, etc. I wanted more about what the actual situation was, how it came to be, ect. A bit too vague for me. Also not quite my genre. vibe was not classic horror, not really creepy, per se, but definitely dreadful in the sense of full of dread.

Bar Mitzvah Lesson by Stewart Gisser: 3.5 stars. not terribly well-written on a prose level. In fact, the prose is rather clunky and awkward – but the ending gave me chills. Liked the ambiguity re Ha-Satan>'s motives. Achieved narrative transport by the end despite fighting against clunky prose. Definitely the right story on which to end the collection – very timely. If the author were better at the prose end of things, this could have been excellent.

*the sexy lamp test goes like this: can the main female character be replaced with a sexy lamp (or other object of value) without changing the rest of the plot? The movie The Sand Pebbles fails this test with every female character in it, and actually one of the male characters, too, if you'd like an example.

10Julie_in_the_Library
Jun 11, 2023, 9:46 am

Some reviews of stories from 100 Creepy Little Creature Stories:

Father’s Vampire by Len Moffatt and Alvin Taylor: I quite enjoyed it, and rated it 4 stars.

"The Feather Pillow (El almohadón de plumas)" by Horacio Quiroga, translated from the Spanish in 1976: I did not enjoy or think highly of this at all. My notes for this one read "dumb. All tell no show. No characterization, so no investment in fate of characters. 1.5 only because it wasn’t actively offensive." It's possible that some of this is the fault of the translation. But quite frankly, I doubt I'd have thought any more highly of it were I able to read it in the original Spanish.

The Fisherman’s Special by H. L. Thomson, on the other hand, I noted was "not bad" and "entertaining enough" despite the predictable ending, and rated a solid 3 stars.

"The Frog" by Granville S Hoss: 3 stars. According to my notes, "not too long. Prose is fine. Ending imagery is creepy."

"Frogfather" by Manly Wade Wellman: 3.5 stars. I enjoyed this one. I noted that it had "good prose" and "good characterization." The plot and ending were also satisfying. I probably would have rated this one a full 4 stars out of 5, if not for the fact that Wellman's use of the Wise Native trope detracted from my enjoyment some.

"The Gargoyle Sacrifice" by Tina L Jens: 2.5 stars. In this case, the rating says more about me and my personal taste than the quality of the story. I was very excited to see a woman author, as the editors of this collection seem to favor men. This is a more modern story than many in the collection, written in 1994. Jens did a good job of establishing character and setting, especially in so short a story. That takes real skill and effort. The story is well plotted and well written. There isn't anything actually wrong with it, per se. But it is not my type of story at all, and I did enjoy reading it. I was uncomfortable the whole way through. In my notes, I described it as "sordid," "grimy," and "grubby." Many horror fans will likely enjoy this a lot, but I'm not one of them.

"Ghouls of the Sea" by J. B. S. Fullilove: 3.5 stars. As far as I can tell from some cursory googling, this is the only piece of fiction the author ever published, which is a shame. This story did not create narrative transport, due to the now-archaic, stilted prose style, but in a story like this, I actually prefer that. This way, I can read the whole thing without getting freaked out. I can't watch or read modern zombie stuff, but the level of detachment and lack of verisimilitude in a story like this makes it safe for me to enjoy. It won't be everyone's cup of tea, but it works for me.

11Julie_in_the_Library
Jun 11, 2023, 9:47 am

Some more brief reviews of short stories from 100 Creepy Little Creature Stories:

"The Gray Wolf" by George MacDonald (1864): left me wanting to know more, including what was going on. I noted that it would have worked better as a TV episode or short film than it did as a short story - the story struck me as better suited to visual media than prose. Additionally, the prose style of this one was not for me. Not bad, though. 3 stars

"The Green-and-Gold Bug" by J. M. Alvey (1924): The thing that struck me the most with this one was the weird tone, which read almost more like someone telling a joke than a story. The last paragraph, especially, reads like a punch line. I also noted the abrupt ending. The dialogue is stilted and bizarre. Also, whole thing is obviously and inescapably racist. 2 stars

"The House on the Rynek" by Dermot Chesson Spence (1936): This one was difficult for me review and rate in the way that stories that unexpectedly touch on personal subjects often are. Overall, the prose style works for me. The story is immersive and achieved narrative transport. The creature bit is weird, and it took me a few reads of that paragraph to understand what was being described as happening, but that's not that uncommon for me with weird fiction. The frame is very, very thin, and could stand to be more substantial, but that was not a huge drawback.

As to the role that antisemitism played in the story and how it was handled, my feelings are much more mixed. On the whole, the subject seemed to be treated pretty respectifully. On the other hand, the use of a murdered Jew as plot device in this type of story is uncomfortable at best, espeically from a gentile author, especially in 1936. The way the plot resolves also complicates matters. No star rating on this one.

"I'll Be Glad When I'm Dead" by Charles King (1946): My notes for this one were "fun. Enjoyed story. Narrative voice fit content. No real depth or anything, but a nice bit of fun without any real detractions. 3.5 stars."

"Indigestion" by Barry N. Malzberg (1977): This one was not for me. I didn't like it at all. My issues were not with writing, story structure, or prose quality, but simply personal taste. 1 star

"The Inn" by Rex Ernest (1937): fine little story. Nothing to dislike, but nothing special either. Ending was predicatable. 3 stars.

12Julie_in_the_Library
Jun 11, 2023, 9:53 am

That brings me up to date with my posted short story reviews, I believe. There are some I never reviewed in 2022 (specifically those in Neil Gaiman's Fragile Things anthology), and if/when I write those reviews up, I'll post them here. I'll also be cross-posting my short story and short story collection reviews here going forward.

13Julie_in_the_Library
Jun 14, 2023, 12:23 pm

Bloody Scotland ed. by James Crawford: 4 stars

This is a collection of crime fiction stories that a friend brought back for me from Scotland this past October. The collection comprises twelve short stories, each inspired by and centering in some way around a different Scottish landmark. There's an introduction by Crawford at the begninng, and a map of all twelve locations followed by brief descriptions and visiting information for each location at the end. Finally, there are bios for each contributing author.

I enjoyed most of the stories. There were a few I didn't care for, and a few that were just okay, but more that I actively liked.

I like the concept of having each writer submit a piece inspired by a specific Scottish landmark, and that each story was prefaced with a picture. I do think it would have been even better had the pictures been in color, but I also recognize the likely practical reasons why this wasn't done. I really appreciate the map and brief information on each location at the end of the volume.

I’m not sure what the rationale was behind the order of the stories, especially the first and last, which are not among the strongest in the collection. I'm not sure that changing the order would have done anything to or for the overall effect, though, so it's mostly just idle wondering rather than a true complaint.

I'll be posting my reviews of the individual stories in a separate post.

14Julie_in_the_Library
Jun 14, 2023, 3:20 pm

As promised, reviews of the short stories in Bloody Scotland:

"Orkahaugr" by Lin Anderson: 3 stars. This one didn’t suck me in. The prose was clunky on a sentence-level. There was no narrative transport or immersion. The story itself wasn't bad. It would have worked better with better sentence-level writing. The ending worked for me. The presence of the supernatural in this type of collection surprised me. All in all, just okay.

"Ancient and Modern" by Val McDermid: 4 stars. The use of the setting felt natural, not forced or wrenched. The story pulled me in from the beginning and kept me in through the end. The sentence-level prose is good. The ending was satisfying. Good pacing, structure, length. The tension is handled well. I liked this.

"Kissing the Shuttle" by E S Thomson: 5 stars. This one had immersive prose and was great on a sentence-level. The structure works, and the tension is well handled. The setting is integral to story, and doesn’t feel forced or tacked on. The POV and characterization are believable and well rendered. The story pulled me in and kept me in. Nothing felt extraneous; the length is just right. The topic of rape is handled well, treated seriously and with respect, and without reveling in any gory details or depicting it on page at all. The setting feels real and well fleshed out and vivid. The use of sensory detail, especially sound, is very good and works well with theme. Really really good.

"Painting the Forth Bridge" by Doug Johnstone: 3.5 stars. Too much tension, not enough relief for my personal taste. The tension just keeps mounting inexorably until the end. Very interesting play on points of view – the last scene, especially, makes it very clear how different the situation looks from the POV character’s perspective vs everyone else’s perspectives. The POV and main character are well done – the protagonist is round, believable, and nuanced. Very technically good, just too tense for me personally. The way that the tension is handled is clearly deliberate and done to great effect.

"The Last Siege of Bothwell Castle" by Chris Brookmyre: 4 stars. This one starts a bit slow, but gets much better once the actual plot kicks off not far in. Fun, and at many points funny. Plot holds together well. Structure works. Ending was good. Made me smile. I enjoyed reading this.

"Sanctuary" by Sara Sheridan: 4 stars. This one features immersive prose and a well done, very deep character perspective. Well constructed and well written. The ending fits.

"Stevenson’s Candle" by Stuart MacBride: 2 stars. characters are one-dimensional, flat. The story is disjointed and difficult to follow. The twist comes out of nowhere, and does not make sense in hindsight. There is no foreshadowing, just wham. It felt less like a constructed story and more like a series of incidents. Too random. Too much coincidence. Felt pointless, if that makes sense.

"History Lesson" by Gordon Brown: 3 stars. This feels almost like the beginning of a story more than a complete story itself. Too obvious/overt with the themes. Sentence-level prose is clunky. Doesn’t really feel like there’s much point or impact.

"Come Friendly Bombs" by Louise Welsh: 4 stars. Reads less like crime fiction and more like horror. Also feels like lit fic, almost. Not quite sure what we’re meant to think happened, but for once I’m not put off by the ambiguous ending. It works for the story. Prose worked for me, as did tone and characterization.

"The Twa Corbies of Cardross" by Craig Robertson: 3.5 stars. Very stylized, but I like it. The prose does feel forced in places – it works best where there’s just narration and no dialogue. Interesting conceit, and done well, I think. I enjoyed it, but definitely not for everyone. Read a bit like a folk story.

"Nemo Me Impune Lacessit" by Denise Mina: 2.5 stars. The characters felt flat, especially Jake. The story felt unbelievable - it lacked verisimilitude. It also made me really uncomfortable as someone with a pervasive developmental disorder– real disabled, mentally ill, or even just misbehaving children aren’t just evil like this. This feels like a demonizing of mentally ill/developmentally or otherwise disabled kids, and an excuse for the caregivers and parents who abuse and even murder them. Obviously that's me pulling in personal context, but every reader brings their personal context to everything they read. In this case, I just couldn't enjoy the story. I think it would have worked better for me with a supernatural or horror conceit of posession or something like it, to explain Jake's behavior, but not like this. From a technical standpoint, the prose feels detached, but it isn't bad. The pacing and structure are fine. This one is not badly written, just not for me.

"The Return" by Ann Cleeves: 3 stars. All tell and no show. Too detached. Too reliant on the narrator just knowing or figuring stuff out and then relating it to us. The protagonist is too perfect, and the ending is too pat. Not uncomfortable or off-putting to read, just not very good.

15rocketjk
Jun 15, 2023, 2:41 pm

>4 Julie_in_the_Library: I read Ghost Stories of an Antiquary many years ago and enjoyed the stories a lot. I don't think I noticed the pro-Christian slant in the stories that you mention, or else maybe I was just expecting that sort of thing to the degree that finding it didn't elicit a particular reaction. Anyway, I had fun reading those tales.

16Julie_in_the_Library
Jun 16, 2023, 8:16 am

>15 rocketjk: I tend to be particularly sensitive to that sort of thing, so it may have been pretty subtle. I also tend to react to things even when I'm expecting them to be there, so there's that. I did enjoy reading them, though. I like the prose style of that era, especially for horror.

17Julie_in_the_Library
Jun 17, 2023, 10:22 am

I'm saving my reviews of the stories from The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2019 for once I've finished the whole volume, since there are only 20 stories.

For now, some more brief reviews of stories from 100 Creepy Little Creature Stories:

"Itching for Action" by Charles Garofalo: 3 stars. The prose is stilted. That keeps the reader at a remove from the story, even as the dialog tries to be naturalistic and slangy. On a prose level, not well written. There is POV jumping without any space breaks between paragraphs of differing POVs, which is jarring and amateurish. The story never outright tells the reader what is actually going on, but the ending implies it so strongly that any reader is sure to understand, which I did appreciate. Mildly unpleasant to read, but not nearly as gross as some other stories in the collection. There were some funny moments and lines.

"Jikininki" by Lafcadio Hearn: 3 stars. I’ve actually read this story before; it’s in Hearn’s collection Kwaidan. I bought it for a college class and read it cover to cover in July 2021. There’s a brief review of the collection as a whole on my 2021 thread. As to this story and my thoughts on it this time around: there was no narrative transport or immersion in the story. The prose style is formal and removed. We are kept at a distance and not given a window into any character’s interiority. The story itself is interesting enough, though I think readers with more background and understanding of Japanese culture and religion will get much more out of it than I did.

"John Mortonson's Funeral" by Ambrose Bierce: 1.5 stars. Not really a story, more of a single scene. Microfiction rather than short story. Most of the scene is just an irony-tinged and rather mean description of a funeral. And then, out of absolutely nowhere, it turns out the deceased's cat was in the casket and ate his face. No narrative arc or structure, no real point to the story. Just judgy meaness followed by shock value.

"The Keen Eyes and Ears of Kara Kedi" by Claude Farrère: 2.5 stars. translation of La peur du chat 1907, no translator attributed. Strange. I liked the prose style - not distracting or clunky. Diary format kept me from true immersion. Not quite sure what happened, and finished the story confused, which I did not like. Ending was not satisfying.

"The Kelpie" by Manly Wade Wellman: 3 stars. the bit where Lu sees the kelpie climbing out of the tank is genuinely creepy. Fun little story, but nothing special.

"Ladies in Waiting" by Hugh B Cave: 2.5 stars. Nothing wrong with it, just not for me. Too sexual.

"Laura" by Saki: 1 star. reads more like a joke with a punchline than a short story, and racist to boot. My 2022 notes: “did not like. Satire. Fascile, surface, and also not funny. Everything felt flat. More a joke than a story.”

"Left by the Tide" by Edward E. Schiff: 3 stars. Fine; nothing special. Generic

"The Lesser Brethren Mourn" by Seabury Quinn: 4 stars. I liked it. Not really sure it’s horror, or even that creepy, by the end, but I liked it. It’s definitely weird, perhaps even Weird, but also comforting and warm. I like the first person POV voice, and the prose gives it a good sense of setting and character. Well written.

"The Marmot" by Alison V. Harding: 3 stars. a little racist. Otherwise average

"Metzengerstein" by Edgar Allen Poe: 1 star. Difficult to parse. Did nothing for me.

"Mimic" by Donald A. Wollheim: 2.5 stars. Just not very good.

18Julie_in_the_Library
Jul 8, 2023, 9:54 am

I read Neil Gaiman's short story and poetry collection Fragile Things in 2022, but I never posted my reviews of the individual stories. Here are my ratings and notes on the stories in that collection:

"A Study in Emerald": 3 stars. Interesting. Pretty good mimicking of Doyle’s writing style. Nice twist at the end. Nice job seeding in all the worldbuilding for the alternate history. The ads at the beginning of sections were a little confusing and jarring on the first read, but fun, and a nice nod to the original publication method of the Holmes stories as serialized in The Strand.

"October in the Chair": 4 stars. Anthropomorphic personifications! Of months, this time! Frame stories! Stories within stories! The way the first line jars you because it’s one word off from what you expect/think it should be. I like it. Made me think about Donald/The Runt. Liked the seasons. Good story. Atmospheric.

"Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire": 4.5 stars. Very funny, excellent satire: pokes fun without being mean. Great take on genre vs literary, as well as loving, gentle fun poking at gothic genre. Prose was perfect throughout. Fun to read, engaging.

"The Flints of Memory Lane": 3 stars. not good, not bad, just there. More an anecdote than a story.

"Closing Time": 3.5 stars. Creepy. Beginning is funny. Story within a story, story about storytelling. Weird. Not quite clear.

"Bitter Grounds": 2 stars. I don’t get it, and I didn’t enjoy reading it. All of the character motivations were opaque to me. Too surreal for my taste. Feels like it requires backgroun knowledge on New Orleans culture, voodoo, etc that I don’t have. Not for me, but might work for other people.

"Other People": 3 stars. Interesting and clever. Good length. Mix of specific detail and vagueness/generality is well done to great effect. Sparing detail. Well written. No real flaws, but not a story that really does anything for me.

"Keepsakes and Treasures": 3 stars. Well written. 1st person narrator is a full character with a consistent, strong voice. Not for me – a bit too grubby. Interesting, though. Also ugly.

"Good Boys Deserve Favours": 3.5 stars. Interesting little tale. Like it. Reminds me a little of weird fiction, MR James.

"The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch": 3 stars. Interesting. I liked it fine, nothing special. Theme of fiction writers as liars again.

"Strange Little Girls": 3 stars. Less stories, more images. Prose poems, even, a little. No narrative. Bit too vague for me, but didn’t actively dislike.

"Harlequin Valentine": 2.5 stars. Very distinctive, fun narrator voice. Fun to read. The writing was good, and the narrative voice is fun, but the story itself is too surreal, and the ending too ambiguous, for my taste. Also I'm not familiar enough with basis mythology to really get it.

"The Problem of Susan": 3.5 stars. I like it, especially the non-dream bits. There are bits I don’t like and that I don’t get - all in the dream sequences, especially the last one. But overall it's good, and it's the story that launched an entire fic genre of which I’m very fond. I especially like the bit about the cruelty of leaving Susan to identify train wreck bodies. Also Susan as a professor and children’s lit expert, and the books existing in-universe. I liked that.

"How Do You Think It Feels?": 2 stars. Too much graphic sex for me, personally. Not exactly sure what happened. Didn’t like either character or care what happened to them. Didn’t enjoy. Not badly written, necessarily, but definitely not for me.

"Fifteen Painted Cards from a Vampire Tarot": 4 stars. Fun little stories, vingnettes, takes on vampire mythos.. Enjoyed.

"Feeders and Eaters": 3.5 stars. Definitely horror. Achieved narrative transport. Had no trouble following the story or staying engaged. Last paragraph felt disjointed, didn’t belong. Otherwise good.

"Diseasemaker’s Croup": clever, interesting premise. Clever twist. Difficulty of reading process was not fun. Idea is better than execution, or at least I like the idea more than the execution.

"In the End": 3 stars. Interesting. Could be read as a critique on the idea that it would be better if we had never left Eden. Time as cyclical, endings as mirrors of the beginning. Didn’t do much for me though.

"Goliath": 5 stars. Beautiful. Gave me goosebumps. Definite narrative transport. Enjoyed reading. Loved it.

"Pages from a Journal Found in a Shoebox Left in a Grayhound Bus Somewhere Between Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Louisville, Kentucky": 2.5 stars. Nothing special. Didn’t work for me.

"How to Talk to Girls at Parties": 4 stars. Interesting, achieved narrative transport, enjoyed reading. Loved ending.

"Sunbird": 4 stars. Weird, whimsical, fun. Enjoyed reading.

"The Monarch of the Glen": 4 stars. Interesting, achieved narrative transport, satisfying ending. Enjoyed reading.

19Julie_in_the_Library
Jul 8, 2023, 11:05 am

I started 100 Creepy Little Creature Stories back in 2022, but I never posted my notes on the stories in the anthology that I read before the turn of the year. Here they are:

"After Dark in the Playing Fields" by M.)R. James (1928): 3 stars. Only works if you recognize & know the context of the Midsummer Night’s Dream quote. Also not frightening. Fun little tale all the same, though

"The Amulet of Hell" by Robert Leonard Russell (1935): 3 stars. Fun little tale. Only a Christian story would imagine burning books as a way to fight evil. Felt very silly to me, though definitley not meant to be.

"The American’s Tale" by Arthur Conan Doyle (1880): 3.5 stars. Fun and funny. Not scary or spooky though.

"Amina" by Edward Lucas White (1906): 3.5 stars. Interesting. Enjoyed reading.

"The Avenging Hand" by Roy Wallace Davis (1926): 2 stars. Not meant to be funny, but was so ludicrous it was funny.

"The Basilisk" by R. Murray Gilchrist (1894): 3 stars. Not sure I entirely understand what happened, but lots of lush imagery. Made up for the melodramatic prose.

"Baynter’s Imp" by August Derleth (1943): 4 stars. fun, funny, jaunty, interesting, with a satisfying if somewhat abrupt ending. Enjoyed reading.

"The Beast of the Yungas" by Willis Knapp Jones (1927): 3 stars. nothing special, not bad. Nice attempt at pathos. More naturalistic characters than some other stories, too.

"The Beetle" by Garnett Radcliffe (1953): 3 stars. Easy to follow, satisfying ending, quick read, fun.

"A Birthday Present for Tommy" by Charles King (1945): 2 stars. Stiff narration, not very well written prose. Also not my genre. Voice of narrator was robotic to the point of pulling me out. Also, narrator’s motivations aren’t consistent.

"The Cactus" by Mildred Johnson (1950): 4 stars. Fun, perfect ending.

"Call First" by Ramsey Campbell (1975): 4 stars. Good last line. Well developed protagonist. I like this one.

"Caterpillars" by E. F. Benson (1912): 3 stars. Cancer causing caterpillars. Not much else to say here.

"Dagon" by H. P. Lovecraft (1919): 3 stars. Not meant to be funny, but I laughed. Luckily, not one of the racist/antisemitic tales for my first Lovecraft. Just his fear of sea creatures and confusion on the origin of the word octopus (not octopi, octopodes. Greek, not Latin)

"The Damned Thing" by Ambrose Bierce (1893): 3 stars. Fine, nothing special

"Dark Brother" by Donald R. Burleson (1993): 3 stars. Fun, clever POV

"Deep Wood" by Stephen M. Rainey (1990): 2 stars. Bad prose (though I’ve read worse), no narrative transport, theme too obvious. 1st person narrative voice doesn’t ring true. Too formal. Also trite.

"Demons of the Sea" by William Hope Hodgson (1923): 2 stars. Too long. Too much sailing jargon. Didn’t enjoy reading.

"The Deserted Garden" by August Derleth (1929): 3 stars. Nothing special.

"The Devil of the Marsh" by H. B. Marriott-Watson (1893): 2 stars. Weird and confusing and not very good. Not sure what actually happened. Did not enjoy reading.

"The Devilish Rat" by Albert Page Mitchell (1974): 2.5 stars. Starts funny. A little gross. Inclusion of Judas Iscariot annoying and random. Interesting premise. Enjoyed beginning but not the rest.

"Dog, Cat, and Baby" by Joe R. Lansdale (1987): 2 stars. Not good. Didn’t enjoy. Lack of grammatical prose to mimic animal felt gimmicky and annoying.

"Dummy" by Simon MacCulloch (1994): 3 stars. Not sure where narrator switches. Last paragraph is creepy. Story as a whole doesn’t do much for me.

"The Dump" by Joe R. Lansdale (1981): 3.5 stars. Kind of gross. Clever ending.

"The Edge of the Shadow" by R. Ernest Dupuy (1927): 3.5 stars. Expecting vampires, but story takes hard turn to the vague. Ending was abrupt.

"Exhibit A" by Anne Harris Hadley (1924): 2.5 stars. Weird. SF rather than horror. Frame concept fell apart with any thought.

"Fairy Gossamer" by Harry Harrison Kroll (1924): 2 stars. Weird. Didn’t like narrative voice.

"Familiar Face" by Robert M. Price (1994): 3 stars. Disturbing, kind of gross. Gave me the willies. Coherent characters and narrative; right ending; right length. Didn’t really enjoy though.

20Julie_in_the_Library
Jul 19, 2023, 8:22 am

Some more brief reviews of stories from 100 Creepy Little Creature Stories:

"Mive" by Carl Jacobi (1928): 3.5 stars. Opening description of the marsh is very good. Very atmospheric. Went weird, but not in a bad way. I enjoyed it.

"The Moon-Slave" by Barry Pain (1901): 3.5 stars. I enjoyed it. Ending reveal (it was the devil!) came out of nowhere but for one (1) line about the protagonist forgetting the words to a xtian prayer. All other signs pointed to the villain being the Moon itself right up until literally the last line of the story. The randomness of that plot twist kept this from a full 4 stars.

"Monsters in the Night" by Clark Ashton Smith (1954): 3.5 stars. Fun, quick little story. I enjoyed it.

"Mother of Monsters" (translation of La mère aux monstres) by Guy de Maupassant, translator from the French uncredited (1883, translation 1903): 1 star. Judgy, misogynist, ableist, classist. I did not enjoy it at all. The only positive thing I can say about this story is that the sentence-level prose is not bad.

"Mother of Toads" by Clark Ashton Smith (1938): 3 stars. Vivid, descriptive prose. Ending worked for story. A little gross, but not too bad. I didn’t really enjoy it, though.

"Mummy" by Kelsey Percival Kitchel (1929): 3 stars. Consistent first person narrative voice. Cliché plot, at least by today’s standards, just different set dressing. Nothing special, but also not bad.

"My Father, the Cat" by Henry Slesar (1957): 4 stars. Well written. Not horror, or even Weird Fiction. More fairy-tale or fantasy vibes. Tragic, sad. Very good. I liked it.

"The Necromancer" by Arthur Gray (1912): 2.5 stars. Overly wordy, formal, archaic prose. Took more effort to follow than I prefer, but I managed. Not very interesting or engaging.

21Julie_in_the_Library
Jul 25, 2023, 12:42 pm

More brief reviews of stories from 100 Creepy Little Creature Stories:

"Night Shapes" by Robert Weinberg (1994): 2.5 stars. Amateurish. No immersion. Things just happen to the protagonist. No active choices from him affect the story.

"The Owl on the Moor" by August Derleth and Mark Schorer (1928): 3.5 stars. Prose is good. Enjoyed reading, through ending was expected. Fun but predictable, and the ending was too abrupt for frame narrative. No one ends a letter like that.

"The Phantom Drug" by A. W. Kapfer (1926): 3 stars. Silly; impossible to suspend disbelief with modern medical knowledge. Fun though.

"The Place of Hairy Death" by Anthony M. Rud (1934): 3.5 stars. Good up to the last line, which I don’t understand. Do mouse bites kill instantly? Well written, consistent narrative voice. Interesting and entertaining. Would be 4 stars if not for confusing ending.

"The Plant-Thing" by R. G. Macready (1925): 2 stars. Ending was abrupt. Story felt unfinished. Professor losing control of the plant-thing while the narrator was there, and so quickly, was too convenient and contrived. The plot, such as it is, is very thin and weak.

"The Power of the Dog" by G. G. Pendarves (1927): 3 stars. Well structured plot, with a fitting ending stinger. Prose is fine but stiff.

"A Problem of the Dark" by Frances Arthur (1927): 3 stars. Prose is fine. Story is structured fine. “Scientific” explanation of nightmare monster ghost thing is silly.

"Professor Jonkin's Cannibal Plant" by Howard R. Garis (1905): 3 stars. The word cannibal does not mean what Garis thinks it means. Possible inspiration for Little Shop of Horrors? Fun. I enjoyed it. Construction of story felt a bit weak.

"The Quare Gander" by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (1975): 1.5 stars. The story could have been fun from what little I could make out, but the phonetically written out dialect makes it very difficult to parse and unpleasant to read.

22Julie_in_the_Library
Jul 30, 2023, 11:17 am

More brief reviews of stories from 100 Creepy Little Creature Stories:

"The Real Wolf" by Thomas Ligotti (1988): 3 stars. Interesting use of the present tense first person.

"The Sacrifice" by Miroslaw Lipinski (1988): 3 stars. Interesting. Consistent narrative voice. A little detached.

"The Seeds from Outside" by Edmond Hamilton (1937): 3.5 stars. Narration gives the story a fable-like feel despite the fact that it’s sci-fi rather than fantasy. This one was sad, rather than scary, creepy, or horrific. I liked it.

"Seeing the World" by Ramsey Campbell (1984): 2.5 stars. Difficult to follow. Too surreal for my taste. Good sense of creeping, anticipatory horror, though.

"Seven Drops of Blood" by H. F. Jamison (1930): 1.5 stars. Difficult to follow. TWay too surreal for me. Did not enjoy.

23Julie_in_the_Library
Nov 18, 2023, 9:55 am

Some more short story reviews from 100 Creepy Little Creature Stories:

"Short and Nasty" by Darrell Schweitzer (1991): 4 stars. I liked it. The prrose could use some more commas, but very readable. And not just readable, enjoyable. Had a distinct voice and feel to it. The characters and their relationships and history were well-drawn and felt believably real. Plot is well constructed. Pacing is handled well. Frame works. I wasn’t frightened or even creeped out, despite it clearly being a horror story, but that’s a plus for me, not a minus.

"The Silver Knife" by Ralph Allen Lang (1932): 3 stars. set in Lovecraft’s Cthullo Mythos universe. Readable prose that fades into the background. Entertaining enough, but nothing special. Ends about how you expect. No narrative transport or immersion.

"The Sky Garden" by Peter Cannon (1989): 3.5 stars. Interesting. I liked it. I actively enjoyed the sentence level prose on this one. Well written. Pacing is handled well. Character and POV are well done. The setting is vividly described, and the milieu is portrayed very well. Would be 4 stars if not for the nagging issues regarding the two narratives (the manuscript described in the story and the frame narrative around the story itself): why did Christopher bother writing his manuscript and having the narrator read it in the first place? And why did the narrator bother to write his frame narrative, and how did it end up in his desk after the events of the story? These holes bothered me enough to keep me from rating this 4 stars, but I can see other readers not being bothered as much, or even at all.

"Smoke Fantasy" by Thomas R. Jordan (1939): 3 stars. Jump-scares really don’t work in prose the way they do on screen. Or, at least, this one didn’t. It was obvious where the story was going very early on. I did enjoy the meta vibe of a (very) short story about a short story writer having difficulty with his writing, but I also couldn’t help but feel like the story itself was inspired by the actual author finding himself in the same jam as his protagonist. It felt a little more like the result of a writing exercise than a deliberately crafted short story. So short that even those who don’t like it will find it difficult to resent any time wasted reading it.

"Smudge Makes a New Best Friend" by Peter Cannon (1994): 3 stars. Easy read. I saw where it was going just before it got there, which felt satisfying. The ending worked. I felt no emotional attachment to any of the characters. No real narrative transport. Nothing special, but fun enough.

"Snail Ghost" by Will Murray (1985): 1 star. I did not enjoy reading this one. Too confusing, surreal, and alienating for my taste. Not bad, inherently, but definitely not for me.

"Something Nasty" by William F. Nolan (1985): 4 stars. Fun, interesting. I liked the ending. A genuinely good story that I enjoyed reading.

"The Specter Spiders" by W. J. Wintle (1921): 1 star. The entire plot is essentially Greedy Jewish Money-lender Gets What’s Coming to Him. Also too long. I actively disliked this.

"The Spider of Guyana" (1899 translation of "L'araignée-crabe" by Emile Erckmann 1860) translated by Alexandre Chatrian (1860, 1899): 2 stars. Nothing special, and I didn’t enjoy reading it. Too long. Not bad, or badly written, but not for me.

24MichaelWynn
Jan 18, 2:52 am

>1 Julie_in_the_Library: I actually write some short stories myself. You can both listen to the them and read.
Here is one
https://historyradio.org/2022/04/12/the-doctor/
Here is my reading
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oqPVmvB2XZA

Here is another one
https://historyradio.org/2021/10/28/the-garden-hose/
Here is my reading
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OcVObdaaWNA

I am posting them here, but i am not very active in here. So let me know what is allowed.

25Julie_in_the_Library
Jan 18, 7:53 am

>24 MichaelWynn: Self-promotion is not allowed outside of certain pages.

26MichaelWynn
Jan 18, 7:49 pm

>25 Julie_in_the_Library: I am a sorry. I won't do it again. What are these pages?

27Julie_in_the_Library
Jan 22, 5:41 pm

I'm behind on crossposting my short story reviews, so have a bunch:

To start off, stories from 100 Creepy Little Creature Stories:

"Spidertalk" by Steve Rasnic Tem (1984): 2.5 stars. I found this story unpleasant to read. I was not clear on what actually happened. The story was too surreal for me, personally. It isn’t badly written – it sets the mood and tone very well, and holds together, and the prose is fine. I just didn’t like it.

"The Tabernacle" by Henry S. Whitehead (1930): 2 stars. I don’t think I understood this at all. I don’t have the cultural context or background knowledge necessary to even understand the plot fully, let alone get the nuances, implications, and themes, or appreciate the story. The prose was fine, as were the structure and the characterization. It was not unpleasant to read. But it did nothing for me.

"Take Me, for Instance" by Hugh B. Cave (1974): 3 stars. The plot, pacing, and structure all work well. The dialogue is well done, and the characterization is good. The prose is fine. It’s a solid story. It just rubs me the wrong way. I’m oversensitive about any whiff of anti-intellectualism.

"That Only a Mother Could Love" by Mollie L. Burleson (1994): 3 stars. Not an unpleasant read. Some interesting and fun phrasing in the prose. The prose was smooth, easy to read, but oddly detached. No narrative transport. Felt almost fairy-tale like. I did see where it was going pretty early on, but that’s not a bad thing. All in all, not bad, but not quite good either - average.

"There Was Soot on the Cat" by Suzanne Pickett (1952): 3 stars. Not unpleasant, but nothing special

"There’s No Such Thing as Monsters" by Steve Rasnic Tem (1984): 3.5 stars. Interesting premise. Quick read. Left me wanting to know more.

"The Throwback" by F. Orlin Tremaine (1926): 3 stars. Nice and short. Easy to read and easy enough to follow, though some more concrete information about the date and place it’s set would have been nice for context. Read a lot like a campfire story. Not bad, but ultimately forgettable.

"The Toad Idol" by Kirk Mashburn (1935): 2.5 stars. Easy to read, not too long, could have been average, but the ending killed it for me. It just felt too silly and out of nowhere.

"Tzo-Lin's Nightingales" by Ben Belitt (1931): 3.5 stars. Very effective, vivid descriptive prose. Excellent sensory detail and scene setting. This would have been a 4 star story but for the ending, which confused me. I didn’t really understand what happened, which is not something I enjoy in a reading experience. Still, I enjoyed reading the story right up to the end, so 3.5.

"The Unnameable" by H.P. Lovecraft (1925): 3 stars. Surprisingly and interestingly meta, witty, entertaining, and only a tiny bit antisemitic.

"The Vampire Maid" by Hume Nisbet (1890): 3 stars. Fun little vampire story, but nothing special. Short and sweet. Read a bit like something you’d tell around a campfire.

Plus some Tor.com originals:

Some Ways to Retell a Fairy Tale by Kathleen Jennings (2022): 2.5 stars. I would call this a poem or prose-poem rather than a story. There is no narrative, nor are there any characters. Considered as a poem, it’s not bad, though it’s not my preferred type of poetry. It’s an interesting look at fairy-tales, fairy-tale retellings, and stories generally. But it is not, itself, a story.

The Canadian Miracle by Cory Doctorow (2023): 4.5 stars. Unsurprisingly, given the author, very, very good. Doctorow paints a disturbingly plausible near-future that’s both dark but also filled with the hope of a better future. The story gripped me from start to finish. Doctorow exercises excellent control over the tension, letting it build throughout the story without allowing it to become so overwhelming I had to look away, as some other authors do. I absolutely loved the ending. Absolutely what I needed by the time I got there, and in perfect keeping with the themes, tone, and worldbuilding.

On the Fox Roads by Nghi Vo (2023): 4 stars. A good story set in an interesting, vivid, believable world with well-rendered, fun characters. I enjoyed reading this.

The Locked Coffin: A Judge Dee Mystery by Lavie Tidhar (2023): 4 stars. An enjoyable story with intriguing worldbuilding, fun characters, and entertaining prose. I look forward to reading more Judge Dee stories.

28Julie_in_the_Library
Jan 22, 5:45 pm

My reviews of the stories I've read so far in the 2019 edition of The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy:

"Pitcher Plant" by Adam-Troy Castro: 4 stars. 2nd person worked really well for me. I realized what was going on fairly early – as I suspect that readers are meant to do – and that only enhanced my enjoyment. Reminded me a little of volume 1 of The Sandman. Weird but in a good way. I enjoyed it.

"What Everyone Knows" by Seanan McGuire: 3.5 stars. well written, but not my particular subgenre.

"The Storyteller’s Replacement" by N. K. Jemisin: 3.5 stars. great up until the end with the second bit of the frame narrative. Not sure why the storyteller’s replacement was having sex with their audience. Not sure why the audience was only one person. I had assumed a group setting. Would have worked better for me without the second part of the frame. (In the time since reviewing this, it has occurred to me that this may be a 1001 Nights/Sheherezad thing). I liked the folktale vibe.

"Poor Unfortunate Fools" by Silvia Park: 3.5 stars. The ending is too ambiguous for me me. Interesting. Love all the color detail and the in-universe document with footnotes format.

"Six Hangings in the Land of Unkillable Women" by Theodore McCombs: 4 stars. Intriguing concept. Great characterization and prose. Made me think. Ending felt right.

"Hard Mary" by Sofia Samatar: 4 stars. Very readable prose. I like the use of language, especially in regard to sensory detail, description, and metaphor. The way that Samatar conveys culture and character through dialogue is impressive, as well. More tension than I’d personally prefer right now, but Samatar handles it expertly. I’m not sure I completely get it, but it definitely made me think, and I enjoyed the reading process, so 4 stars.

"Variations on a Theme from Turandot" by Ada Hoffmann: 4.5 stars. I loved it. I loved how meta it is. I loved the themes of stories and choice and agency. I loved the format. The prose is very well written. Absolutely beautiful.

"Through the Flash" by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: 4.5 stars. I was sucked in from the very beginning. Highly readable prose. Definite narrative transport. Beautiful. Loved the ending. Breathtaking. Interesting parallels with the last book I read, The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle → time loops, the ways that they effect the people in them, what people do and become on a day with no consequences. That there are, in fact, consequences. Also, a more communal take on the usual time-loop narrative, which is very individual-focused.

29Julie_in_the_Library
Fev 3, 10:49 am

Why Don't We Just Kill the Kid In the Omelas Hole by Isabel J. Kim at Clarke's World Magazine: 4 stars

I happened to see a post linking to this story on social media, so I clicked and gave it a read. I'm glad that I did.

This story is, as the title signals, a response - or perhaps more accurately a continuation of, or a riff on - Ursula K. Le Guin's 1793 original, "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas." Without having read the original, this story would be not just meaningless, but incomprehensible. This is not a weakness of Kim's story; it is just an inescapable fact. This story is, inherently, intertextual.

I like that sort of thing, so that wasn't a problem for me. But if that's offputting for you, you're going to have trouble with this one.

The story kept my attention from start to finish. The length was just right, not too long or too short. Kim nails the cadence and narrative voice of the original, while also situating the world of Omelas in the world we live in today. Like Le Guin, she poses lots of questions and provides no easy answers. This is a story designed to make you think, and it does that job well.

There are, as in the original, no individual characters with names and backstories. The plot is loose and open ended. This is very much philosophical fiction, and as such, it's much more concerned with the questions it's raising than the specifics of the narrative it uses to frame them.

Why Don't We Just Kill the Kid In the Omelas Hole is definitely not everyone's cup of tea, but it does what it sets out to do very well, indeed. I enjoyed reading it, and I'm still thinking about it days later. 4 stars.