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Author: Mario Guslandi

A Master of Strange Short Fiction- Robert Aickman: An Attempted Biography by RB Russell

A Master of Strange Short Fiction- Robert Aickman: An Attempted Biography by RB Russell


Robert Aickman: An Attempted Biography (Tartarus Press, February 3, 2022)

Robert Aickman (1914-1981) was an iconic British writer especially known for his strange, uncanny stories, reprinted in several collections.  He also penned a couple of  minor novels, but he’s mostly remembered for his ambiguous but riveting short fiction.

In addition, he was also a very active, influential member of the Inland Waterways Association (IWA) and was instrumental in saving and promoting the restoration of the network of British canals. Those two activities have been the subject of two autobiographical books, The Attempted Rescue and The River Runs Uphill, respectively. 

Aickman was also the editor of several volumes of the cult series of anthologies The Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories.

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Forty Years of Horror: After Dark: The Best Horror Fiction of Tony Richards

Forty Years of Horror: After Dark: The Best Horror Fiction of Tony Richards


After Dark: The Best Horror Fiction of Tony Richards (Weird House Press, November 17, 2021). Cover by K.L. Turner

Tony Richards is a British horror writer, author of eight collections of short stories and several novels of dark fiction. Although for some reason he may be unfairly less celebrated than some of his countrymen, he’s certainly one of the very best producing horror fiction today.

Praise to small American imprint Weird House Press for assembling twenty-five tales and a novella covering forty years of Richards’ career in After Dark: The Best Horror Fiction of Tony Richards, released in paperback and digital formats this past November.

Although I’m familiar with some of Richards’ previous (and excellent) collections, regretfully I had missed a few, and this one offered me the chance to savor some of his stories for the very first time.

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The Fantastic Side of An Irish Queen of Fiction: A Vanished Hand and Others by Clotilde Graves, 2021

The Fantastic Side of An Irish Queen of Fiction: A Vanished Hand and Others by Clotilde Graves, 2021


A Vanished Hand and Others (Swan River Press, October 2021). Cover by Brian Coldrick

Clotilde Graves (1863-1932) was an eccentric, prolific and eclectic Irish writer whose historical novels were published under the pen name Richard Dehan. As Clo Graves she also published a number of fantastic stories, most of which are now reprinted and collected in a volume from Swan River Press, edited and introduced by Melissa Edmunson.

The book assembles thirteen tales showing Graves’ contribution to what we call now speculative fiction, ranging from the ghostly to the horrific, from the paranormal to the downright supernatural.

Although occasionally a bit convoluted to the eyes of today’s readers, her writing style is always effective and  extremely captivating.

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Guran strikes again! The Year’s Best of Dark Fantasy & Horror, Volume 2

Guran strikes again! The Year’s Best of Dark Fantasy & Horror, Volume 2

The Year’s Best of Dark Fantasy & Horror, Volume 2 (Pyr, October 2021)

Widely known, well respected, prolific editor of dark fiction Paula Guran returns with a new volume of her Year’s Best of Dark Fantasy & Horror. This new, huge anthology collects thirty short stories that previously appeared in 2020 in various books and magazines.

Clearly it would be impossible (and tedious) to comment upon each one, hence I will only mention those which especially impressed me. In other words my personal “best” among Guran’s best.

“Recognition” by Victor Lavalle is a disquieting story set in a New York apartment building where flats are vacated little by little during the first COVID outbreak, while “ Odette” by Zen Cho is the neat description of the difficult relationship between a young orphan, her stern uncle, and the house where they live.

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Ghosts of the Past, Ghosts of the Present: December Tales, edited by J.D. Horn

Ghosts of the Past, Ghosts of the Present: December Tales, edited by J.D. Horn

 

December Tales: A Collection of New and Classic Ghost Stories
Edited by J.D. Horn; Foreword by Colin Dickey
Curious Blue Press (468 pages, $19.95 paperback/$5.95 digital formats, September 28, 2021)

The title of the present anthology refers to the tradition of telling ghost stories at Christmas time, a tradition enforced by Charles Dickens, who not only wrote the famous “A Christmas Carol” but also edited Victorian era magazines regularly featuring ghost stories in their Christmas issues.

Truth be told, ghost stories are now available throughout the year and, fortunately, modern writers are still devoted to the genre.

Editor J.D. Horn has developed the brilliant idea of assembling in one volume both classical ghostly tales from various parts of the world and brand new stories by contemporary authors.

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Meeting a Great Australian Fabulist, Angela Slatter: The Tallow-Wife and Other Tales, Tartarus Press and All the Murmuring Bones, Titan Books

Meeting a Great Australian Fabulist, Angela Slatter: The Tallow-Wife and Other Tales, Tartarus Press and All the Murmuring Bones, Titan Books

The Tallow-Wife and Other Stories (Tartarus Press, February 24, 2021) and All the Murmuring Bones
(Titan Books, March 9, 2021). Covers by Kathleen Jennings, and unknown

Any new book by Angela Slatter is a reason to rejoice for any lover of good dark fantasy.

Slatter is a very talented Australian writer, a born storyteller or, to be precise, a great fabulist, an author of modern, complex fairy tales for grownups. The Tallow-Wife is a collection of stories and novellas the core of which is the long title story, a dark comedy portraying the downfall of a family hiding some unspeakable secrets. But, in turn, that narrative and the rest of the volume are strictly connected to the characters and events described in two previous books, also published by Tartarus Press, Sourdough and Other Stories and The Bitterwood Bibles and Other Recountings.

Thus, although each tale can be read as a stand alone story, the task may be a bit difficult — although always quite enjoyable thanks to Slatter’s exceptional storytelling ability — if you’re not already familiar with the characters and their previous predicaments and adventures. In fact all the stories are interconnected to form a complex mosaic.

Indeed in her Afterword the author admits,

My brain was trying to write The Tallow-Wife as a novel — to connect everything. But the fractured structure, the untidy threads are the whole point. In hindsight perhaps I should have just written a novel… I wanted to finish off some arcs that I’d left in the previous books.

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Ghost Lovers with Educated Minds: Ghosts of the Chit-Chat, edited by Robert Lloyd Parry

Ghost Lovers with Educated Minds: Ghosts of the Chit-Chat, edited by Robert Lloyd Parry

Ghosts of the Chit-Chat (Swan River Press, December 2020).
Cover by John Coulthart

Ghosts of the Chit-Chat
Edited by Robert Lloyd Parry
Swan River Press (255 pages, December 2020)
Cover by John Coulthart

There are books and BOOKS. And this one is of the latter. Not simply an anthology of supernatural  and ghost stories, but also the faithful, fascinating description of a Society (or Club) flourishing at Cambridge University, the Chit-Chat, members of which included famous authors of dark fiction such as Montague Rhodes James, the three Benson brothers and others.

The volume includes profiles of the more distinguished members, their activity at Cambridge and their consequent literary achievements. For each of these writers,  examples of their fictional output are featured. 

MR James’ work is represented here by the two “ghost” stories he read at the Chit-Chat meeting on October 28, 1893 ( “The Scrap-book of Canon Alberic” and “Lost Hearts”) in slightly different versions from those included in his subsequent collections. The stories are too well known to require any specific comment in the present review.

EF Benson’s contribution is “ The Other Bed,” a classic ghostly tale conveying a strong sense of dread, set in a hotel room where a suicide had taken place.

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Riding the Horror Rollercoaster: Children of the Fang and Other Genealogies by John Langan

Riding the Horror Rollercoaster: Children of the Fang and Other Genealogies by John Langan

Children of the Fang and Other Genealogies-back-small Children of the Fang and Other Genealogies-small

Cover by Matthew Jaffe

Children of the Fang and Other Genealogies
By John Langan
Word Horde (390 pages, $19.99 in trade paperback and $9.99 in digital formats, August 18, 2020)
Cover by Matthew Jaffe

Word Horde, Ross E. Lockhart’s small press, has produced some of the most interesting horror books of the past few years.

This is the fourth short story collection by horror writer John Langan (following Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters, The Wide, Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies, and Sefira and Other Betrayals). He’s also authored two successful novels, House of Windows and The Fisherman.

If you’re already familiar with Langan’s work, you know what to expect from his latest: a medley  of themes, locations, narrative styles, atmospheres, sometimes overwhelming and totally compelling, sometimes downright weird and not always quite satisfactory. Whatever he writes, however, Langan is never banal. You may love the story he’s telling or you may hate it, but it will never leave you indifferent. 

Thus, predictably, some of the featured tales left me spellbound and others just ill-humored. I will point the stories in the former group, and leave the latter to your judgement.

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Out of the Past: The Scarecrow and Other Stories by G Ranger Wormser

Out of the Past: The Scarecrow and Other Stories by G Ranger Wormser

The Scarecrow and Other Stories
G Ranger Wormser
Edited by William P. Simmons
Shadow House Publishing (161 pages, October 26, 2020)

Originally published in 1918, this collection of short stories is the first installment of a Macabre Mistresses series aiming to unearth forgotten dark fiction, much to the joy of genre fans.

As William P. Simmons points out in his insightful Introduction, Wormser’s work has nothing to do with the horror genre in its more blatant expressions, but relies upon subtlety, introspection and psychological uneasiness.

The volume assembles twelve stories, some of which are particularly worth note.

The title story is a subtly disturbing piece in which a scarecrow made from the uniform of an old soldier comes to life to signal to his grandson what he has to do with his life.

A somehow similar concept is developed in “China-Ching,” in which a quiet dog kept restrained becomes the symbol of an unhappy marriage.

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Women Do It Better? The Women of Weird Tales, from Valancourt Books

Women Do It Better? The Women of Weird Tales, from Valancourt Books

The Women of Weird Tales-small The Women of Weird Tales-back-small

The Women of Weird Tales
By Everil Worrell, Eli Colter, Mary Elizabeth Counselman and Greye La Spina
Introduction by Melanie Anderson
Valancourt Books (280 pages, $24.99 hardcover/$16.99 paperback/$9.99 digital, November 3, 2020)

It is well known by now that women had a pivotal role in the development of those literary genres called Gothic Fiction, Horror, Dark Fantasy, etc. If we look at the iconic Weird Tales, the golden era of which spanned the ‘20s to the ‘50s, female authors were constantly included, and they penned some of the magazine’s most popular stories. Not to mention that some of the most influential editors and cover artists of the era were women as well.

Valancourt Books has aptly published a new anthology showcasing stories from Weird Tales by female writers, Women of Weird Tales.

Greye La Spina is present with five stories. The most accomplished, to me, is “The Antimacassar,” an effective, well told tale portraying a case of vampirism, gradually disclosed throughout the yarn. Other good tales are the bizarre “The Remorse of Professor Panebianco,” in which a mad scientist designs a device to imprison the soul of dying people; “The Dead-Wagon,” a dark gothic tale about a family curse dating back to the times of the Black Death; and “ The Deadly Theory,” a disturbing piece showing how the power to bring back people from the dead leads to tragedy.

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