Thursday, 7 March 2013

World Book Day 2013

World Book Day 2013 falls on my 29th birthday, which makes me almost as happy as this little chap:

So I'm going to try out something different - tiny capsule reviews of short stories I've read or reread recently.

"The Jewel of Arwen" by Marion Zimmer Bradley
(From The Year's Best Fantasy Stories (1975) edited by Lin Carter )
The best Lord of the Rings fan fiction I've ever read - or, rather, the only good Lord of the Rings fan fiction I've ever read. It was written before The Silmarillion came out, so it relies only on the LotR appendices, and yet it still manages to be more in-tune with Tolkien than any number of Middle-earth pastiches I've experienced.

"The Sword Dyrnwyn" by Lloyd Alexander
(From The Year's Best Fantasy Stories (1975) edited by Lin Carter)
There should be a rule in fantasy fiction: if you encounter a black sword, do not look at it, do not touch it, do not pick it up, just walk away and leave the blasted thing alone. But then, if that was a rule, then we wouldn't have stories like this.

"The Double Shadow" by Clark Ashton Smith
(From The Year's Best Fantasy Stories (1975) edited by Lin Carter )
This is one of those Smith stories like "Empire of the Necromancers" that is told almost like a parable, and manages to achieve a sort of timelessness. It's also a perfect example of Smith's use of the exact perfect word for the situation, no matter how esoteric: it isn't purple prose, this is Tyrian loquaciousness. It also has a sapient snake as the protagonist, which is brilliant.

"The City of Madness" by Charles R. Saunders
(From The Year's Best Fantasy Stories (1975) edited by Lin Carter)

Who's the black Ngombe's pal
That's a sex machine to all the gals?
You're damn right!

Who's the barbarian
That would risk his neck for his brother man?
Can ya dig it?

Who's the chui that won't cop out
When there's mchawi all about?
Right on!

You see this chui Imaro is a bad mother -
(Shut your mouth!)
But I'm talkin' about Imaro!
(Then we can dig it!)

He's a complicated man
But no one understands him but his pompous pygmy priest friend...

(also read The Wasp's review)

"The Small Assassin" by Ray Bradbury
(A Chamber of Horrors unlocked by John Hadfield)
This is one of Bradbury's most evil stories when you think about it: what's most unsettling is the outcome is horrific whether the protagonist is right or wrong. It's one of those amazing stories where even the possibility of the protagonist imagining everything is just as monstrous as if the supernatural/uncanny aspect was actual - perhaps more so. Gave me the shivers, so it did.

"More Spinned Against" by John Wyndham
(A Chamber of Horrors unlocked by John Hadfield)
People love calling Wyndham's work "cosy catastrophe," as if comfortable surroundings or circumstances mitigate or even remove horror and terror, but as with Bradbury and others, I find that it can multiply that sense of unease and threat. "More Spinned Against" is a delightfully grim tale that has Wyndham's typically pointed critique of social mores and hypocrisies, while throwing you a lovely (if, in retrospect, clearly signposted) final twist.

"The Abyss" by Leonid Andreyev
(A Chamber of Horrors unlocked by John Hadfield)
A deeply unpleasant and malevolent story that doesn't have any overt supernatural elements, but is pregnant with supernatural subtext, if you will. It's not a happy story at all.

"The Monk" by M. G. Lewis
(A Chamber of Horrors unlocked by John Hadfield)
Another very horrible story in the sense that it left me feeling nauseous, but in this case it has a certain spiritual power and resonance by virtue of the protagonist's occupation and the setting.

"The Yellow Wall-Paper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
(A Chamber of Horrors unlocked by John Hadfield)
Required reading for psychological horror aficionados. One of the most beautifully conceived, poignant and eloquent meditations on frustration, anxiety and perception degradation I've read.

"The Things" by Peter Watts
If you've ever seen John Carpenter's adaptation of John W. Campbell's "Who Goes There?" (or the short story for that matter), then this is a simply magnificent perspective switch.

 "... All You Zombies..." by Robert A. Heinlein
Heinlein is fascinating as much due to his choice of subject as to his approach, and "... All You Zombies..." may well take the biscuit in terms of "What in Jove's Name Were You Thinking!?!" This approached Vonnegut levels - even Palahniuk levels - of Why Science Fiction Is Frightening As All Get Out. For the man who brought the word "grok" into popular usage, I don't think it's possible for any human being to grok Heinlein. He's... ungrokkable.

So, hope you all had as happy a World Book Day as I had a good birthday!


  1. First, Happy Birthday
    Second, some great choices and suggestions - Just read "The Things" which was a blast and will try to read "The Jewel of Arwen" when I get home
    Third, thanks much for the link
    Fourth, much as I love the man's site and your play on I. Hayes' lyics, I ain't Keith West ;)

    1. Now how in blazes did I do that? I knew you weren't Keith West, I knew the link wasn't Adventures Fantastic, and yet my fingers betrayed my brain! Well it's the last time: next slip up, I'm cutting them off!

      (Oh, and thanks!)

  2. RE: your "City of Madness" review;

    I am not worthy.

    1. It's ok, Paul, no one is worthy, mwahahah.