A belated look at the weird fiction being discussed last week at the Deep Ones group at LibraryThing.

Review: “Shift”, Nalo Hopkinson, 2017. 

This story rather annoyed me, and I’m not spending a lot of time on it.

It references many characters from Shakespeare’s The Tempest: Miranda, Caliban, Ariel, and Sycorax). In fact the protagonist, we find out, is Caliban.

The story alternates between second person passages involving the black Caliban with a blonde white woman and Caliban’s internal thoughts told in what seems to be a Jamican dialect.

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The Cthulhu Encryption; or Adventures in Reviewer Parallax

Review: The Cthulhu Encryption: A Romance of Piracy, Brian Stableford, 2011.

Another complicated installment in the August Dupin series. In fact, it is probably the most complicated of them all.

And that’s appropriate given the theme of encryption. Like the concept of the bibliomania in The Mad Trist and the egregore in The Quintessence of August, Stableford explores multiple meanings of a word, sometimes through non-humorous puns.

Encryption isn’t just something your computer does when you’re buying a copy of, say, a Stableford novel online. It also means to bury, to embed and conceal information in another form, and, if you’re a Pythagorean philosopher, everything you perceive is the encryption of an ultimate reality.

Here encryptions take the form of mysterious tattoos and coins, chants of South Sea Islanders, the legends of the sunken city Lys, the Breton version of the King Arthur story, fairy lore, and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

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The Malcontent

And the mini-series on Jacobean drama continues.

Raw Feed (1989): The Malcontent, John Marston, Jacobean Tragedies, ed. A. H. Gomme, 1969.Jacobean Tragedies

An oddity of a play, especially for one included in an ostensible book of tragedies. Nobody dies. There is no real revenge or moral redemption here. As I recall, even in Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, a play which shares many of the same plot devices and concerns  (disguised ruler, moral redemption and testing), people die.

Malevole graciously treats Duke Pietro who usurped. Aurelia, after so much time in the play spent railing against women (though mostly by villain), is allowed to repent and seems sincere. Bilioso, the epitome of the opportunistic, bragging noble is dismissed with contempt as is the play’s villain Mendoza who has plotted all sorts of villainies. Ferneze who has blatantly attempted adultery (and who, by the code of the time, could probably justifiably be killed) is spared and relatively unrebuked.

The epilogue seems to urge going easy on Fereneze and excusing the young for their actions (“foul but not a sin”). Continue reading

Dreams of Fear

Once upon a time I wouldn’t have bothered reviewing a book of poetry.

If it’s well-done poetry with elegant and compressed language, the reviewer will either leach the power of the language out by wordy restatements of actual verse or devolve into a technical discussion of interest to poets, maybe, but not necessarily poetry readers.

But I’ve violated that principle already.

Review: Dreams of Fear: Poetry of Terror and the Supernatural, eds. S. T. Joshi and Steven J. Mariconda, 2013.Dreams of Fear

First off, some of these poems are about the subject of horror and not horrifying or terrifying

Second, some are little more than memento mori. Well done memento mori but not necessarily terrifying or involving the supernatural.

Third, all the languages represented are, understandably but unfortunately, European. Specifically, Greek, Latin, French, German, and English.

Arranged chronologically by date of the poet’s birth, the collection goes back all the way back in the Western literary tradition to Homer, and we get expected excerpts from Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Hamlet, Dante’s Inferno, and one of the classic bits of supernatural verse – Satan in Hell from Milton’s Paradise Lost.

As you would expect, supernatural verse really took off with the Gothic and Romantic Movements with their love of the frission of terror and the sublime and weird ballads. Continue reading

You’re All Alone

Another retro-review of Fritz Leiber.

This one is from September 6, 2010.

Note: This review is less than five years old, but “PDA” already sounds like an archaic bit of technology.

Review: You’re All Alone, Fritz Leiber, 1972.You're All Alone

This is a collection of the titular short novel (aka The Sinful Ones) and two novelettes.

“You’re All Alone” is an effective solipsistic fantasy, one of those stories which plays off that common feeling most of us have at one time or another – that we’re trapped in some foreordained world of pre-plotted movements. Our hero, Carr Mackay, is one of those parts of the “big engine” who comes awake after viewing a girl. Said girl acts a little oddly when he meets her in his job working at a Chicago employment agency. Eventually, our hero finds himself wandering around a Chicago of puppets with the girl. She delivers him a list of things he needs to do to avoid attention from a gang of men and a woman of which she knows. They are most decidedly not puppets. This being a 1950 story, the sadistic pleasure they take with the puppets is usually muted but scary nonetheless. Continue reading


While I work on new stuff, you get another retro review, another in what seems to be popular posts on Fritz Leiber.

From January 22, 2011 …

Review: Changewar, Fritz Leiber, 1983.Changewar

The Change War sprawls across all time, its combatants the alien Spiders and Snakes. The object? Well, no one is completely sure and that includes the humans drafted into fighting it. They’ve rationalized why they must fight because they really don’t have much choice. (The most famous installment in the series, Leiber’s novel The Big Time, does end with a possible explanation for the war.)

This is a looser collection of series stories than you would normally expect. Given the nature of the Change War, there is not a clear chronology. Many stories do not share any characters with each other or The Big Time. There are a couple of stories which do not obviously seem part of the series except, of course, Leiber tells us they are by putting them in the book. All the stories stand on their own and offer varying sorts of pleasure, so the collection is worth reading apart from being a Change War collection. Continue reading