Friday Buzz - Neil Gaiman story

Oh, it's Friday and I'm fighting a cold and the week has been stressful. So, what is the best cure? A good story of course!

This is a Neil Gaiman story A Study in Emerald.

What I like is the presentation and how it matches the language. Clever, funny. Yay.

Thanks from BiblioAddict, where I purloined the link.

Everybody have a great weekend!


LK’s Horror Short Story Short Challenge

The goal of this challenge is to give eager readers an easy way to discover new authors, new genres, and the delights of the short story.

Here’s how it works: Below are my picks for Top 10 Horror Short Stories (in no particular order). I use the term “horror” broadly: This list actually encompasses not only true horror stories, but also classics, gothic, science-fiction, and the macabre. Simply pick one that you vow to read sometime during October. (Some even have links to full online text.) This was a difficult list to compile, and by no means is it complete! These are some ones that jolted me enough to leave their mark, even after many years.

Let me know which pick you choose by leaving a comment. Also, let me and other readers know which stories you like that don’t appear on my list. Or leave me a link to a post of your own Top 10. I will post the list of Readers’ Choice mid-October.

I’d also like to know what you thought of any story. You can email comments to me at writerlylife at yahoo dot com.

Happy reading, everybody!

LK’s Horror Short Story List

(Some stories are available as podcasts at Classic Tales. Thanks, Verbivore!)

1. W.W. Jacobs, The Monkey’s Paw. Straightforward but unforgettable horror classic. Be careful what you wish for…

2. Edgar Allen Poe, The Fall of the House of Usher. I was torn between this story and The Cask of Almontillado, which actually is (to me) scarier. But The Fall of the House of Usher is perhaps the first short gothic tale and one of Poe’s great works of craft, characterized by many as a story wherein each and every detail is relevant.

3. Nathaniel Hawthorne, Rappacini’s Daughter. This story is the stewpot of horror tales: smatterings of fantasy mixed with dashes of gothic, simmering with sexual undertones. Toss in a Faustian father and season with plenty of symbology. (Hey, what about a Rappacini's Daughter Bed & Breakfast?) Bon appetit!

4. Shirley Jackson, The Lottery. Often anthologized, this story is considered a masterpiece of the literary short story genre. And it happens to be authentically creepy.

5. Jerome Bixby, It’s a Good Life! I read this in one of Alfred Hitchcock’s anthologies when I was a kid, and I never forgot it. (Too bad Haley Joel Osment is all grown up. He would have made a perfect Anthony!)

6. Philip K. Dick, We Can Remember It for You Wholesale. This tale gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “Is it live, or is it Memorex?” (The film Total Recall was based on this work.) I’m not a sci-fi buff, but Philip K. Dick is a master storyteller, particularly in the difficult arena of short science fiction. This particular story is sometimes categorized as a novella, rather than a short story – I’m including it here nevertheless because Dick simply must be read.

7. Guy de Maupassant, The Horla. For the truly twisted, check out this author, who has written a whole slew of fantastic and often macabre tales. This one happens to be a psychological tour-de-force about madness.

8. Isak Dinesen, The Monkey. This peculiar yet brilliant story of a prioress matchmaker is a study on the nature of change. From the collection Seven Gothic Tales. Here's a quote from the story: "beware … of people who have in the course of their lives neither taken part in an orgy nor gone through the experience of childbirth, for they are dangerous people..." Now, how can you NOT read this?

9. Daphne du Maurier, The Blue Lenses. I read this as a child, and it really got to me. Simple, well-crafted, utterly terrifying and quite satisfying story about the recuperation of a woman who has had eye surgery. This story is included in a 1959 paperback called The Breaking Point (republished in 1970). I couldn’t find text online, so I will mention another du Maurier story that you might be able to find more easily. It’s called Don’t Look Now, and although I haven’t read it, Danielle of A Work in Progress raved over it, so I’m sure by her recommendation, it’s a fine example of du Maurier’s work.

10. Washington Irving, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. I confess, I have a weakness for this descriptive, atmospheric story and its beleaguered hero, Ichabod Crane. More folktale than horror story, this really captures the essence of early America, with its tug-o-war between civilization and wilderness.


RIP Challenge #3 - I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

Atmosphere: Riddled with holes
Chill factor: Tepid

I hate to dump on a novel so many sci-fi/horror readers respect. But I didn't much care for this one.

To sum up the plot, a lone survivor of a plague and vampire infestation tries to...well, survive.

On the plus side, that is a somewhat intriguing plot. The character also does some investigative work on what makes vampires tick, and the resulting information is imaginative.

That's about it for the plus side.

On the minus side: Well, where do I begin? First of all, the survivor just happens to be a white adult WASP male, Robert Neville. And he happens not to be incredibly likable, at least for this reader. This is unfortunate, since we are pretty much in his head for the entire journey. Neville is portrayed in two dimensions: he's a prototypical male human and he's intelligent. Oh, and he really hates the smell of garlic. But, does he develop empathy for the vampires he kills (some of whom happen to be acquaintances)? Sort of. Does his character improve with the isolation he endures? Naw. Does he find some sort of redemption in his suffering or that of the vampires? Apparently not.

Supposedly the "grim irony" of the novel is when a new breed of human -- vampires who develop a resistance to the things that ordinarily kill vampires -- decide that he's the outsider and must be annihilated. Which would be a ironic and satsifying if the book had built up to that moment; in other words, if we would have seen Neville's character change from fright to a sort of empathy that is a saving grace of humanity, to a desire to help the poor creatures...But the author doesn't do that. Instead he resorts to keeping his hero trapped in his male sexuality and self-pity. I mean, what does the fool do with all of the solitude and time??? Why was there relatively little soul-searching and philosophical musing (Thoreau he is not)? Why didn't he try building "safehouses" around to extend his perimeter? Why didn't he pursue a cure sooner? And why did the only person with any empathy turn out to be a woman who was one of the new species (and what was her motive, other than what the author implied that Neville was a prototype WASP male, therefore a "good catch")? Okay, that's harsh. But, Neville certainly didn't woo Ruth (a ham-handed Biblical name) with his charm and character. And he supposedly is smart enough to learn about biology and chemistry and how to fix a generator, but he couldn't figure out Ruth was a spy? I mean, I saw that coming from a dozen pages away. Neville even has a few "Why didn't I think of that sooner?" moments to explain plot gaps, which is a really lazy device on Matheson's part.

Perhaps even all of this could have been redeemed if there was a gloriously written sentence or well-turned phrase or two. Alas, not a one.

This is why I tend to stay away from the genre stuff. I simply require something other than plot from my reading. Or, at least, if a plot has to carry the whole shebang, it better not have any damned holes in it.

I'm not giving up on Matheson yet. I will see what his novella Hell House has in store.


RIP Challenge #2 – Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Atmosphere: Austen-tacious

Chill factor: Tickles the funnybone

Possibly this novel is Jane Austen at her worst. Yet, Jane Austen at her worst is quite better than most authors at their peak. Her subtlety, craft and observations are nonpareiled.

Northanger Abbey is a parody on many levels: the touted gentility of British gentry is exposed as greedy and false, living life as a fiction is exposed as ridiculous, attributing our own motives to others is exposed as naïve at best and dangerous at worst. But the parody that concerns the RIP Challenge, of course, is the parody of Gothic literature.

This element didn’t start kicking in until book 2, when Catherine Morland, the novel’s heroine, is invited to Northanger Abbey. Having read Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho, Catherine eagerly awaits her visit to what she imagines is a place full of mystery and adventure. At this point, Jane Austen really hits her stride.

During the ride to Northanger Abbey, the owner’s son (and her romantic interest), Henry Tilney plays on Catherine’s romantic notions with a riotous parody of the Gothic novel, virtually a play-by-play account of a heroine’s stay in a Gothic castle. Here is an excerpt:

“Nothing further to alarm perhaps may occur the first night. After surmounting your unconquerable horror of the bed, you will retire to rest, and get a few hours' unquiet slumber. But on the second, or at farthest the third night after your arrival, you will probably have a violent storm. Peals of thunder so loud as to seem to shake the edifice to its foundation will roll round the neighbouring mountains -- and during the frightful gusts of wind which accompany it, you will probably think you discern (for your lamp is not extinguished) one part of the hanging more violently agitated than the rest. Unable of course to repress your curiosity in so favourable a moment for indulging it, you will instantly arise, and throwing your dressing-gown around you, proceed to examine this mystery. After a very short search, you will discover a division in the tapestry so artfully constructed as to defy the minutest inspection, and on opening it, a door will immediately appear -- which door, being only secured by massy bars and a padlock, you will, after a few efforts, succeed in opening -- and, with your lamp in your hand, will pass through it into a small vaulted room."

This build-up is followed by a disappointing first glimpse of Northanger Abbey:

As they drew near the end of their journey, her impatience for a sight of the abbey--for some time suspended by his conversation on subjects very different--returned in full force, and every bend in the road was expected with solemn awe to afford a glimpse of its massy walls of grey stone, rising amidst a grove of ancient oaks, with the last beams of the sun playing in beautiful splendour on its high Gothic windows. But so low did the building stand, that she found herself passing through the great gates of the lodge into the very grounds of Northanger, without having discerned even an antique chimney.

This is funny stuff. Austen goes on and on with the anticipation and disappointment, the ideals and the stripping of those ideals for the remainder of the novel. I was startled at the denouement of this novel – which I won’t spoil for you here – but it really was an Austen coup, a perfect intersection of her main themes of reality versus fiction, gentility versus greed.

Of course, it ends in typical Austen fashion, rather abruptly and neatly, with everyone happily married. But, after all, you're on the Jane Train.