A few changes have taken place here at Speculative Fiction Junkie over the past few days, and there's at least one more in the offing:
(1) There's a new background image. If you're screen is wide enough, you'll see a dark background image with some calligraphy on it. I created the image by taking a public domain image of an illuminated manuscript, cropping it, and then messing with the color and hue values. I'm quite pleased with it.
(2) Speculative Fiction Junkie now has its own domain! That's right: the new address is, fittingly,
Within a few days, visitors should start being automatically redirected to the new address. That's the hope anyway. It seems just as likely that something will get colossally messed up and I'll have to start over. Cross your fingers.
(3) I created a tag cloud. It's in the right-hand column.
(4) I've got a new feature that I hope to roll out in the coming days. Stay tuned!
Thanks for visiting, as always!
- 50 Watts
- The Agony Column
- The Black Abyss
- Dark Wolf's Fantasy Reviews
- Fantasy & Sci-fi Lovin' Book Reviews
- Fantasy Book Critic
- Graeme's Fantasy Book Review
- Grasping for the Wind
- Grim Reviews
- The Hat Rack
- Horror World Book Reviews
- Inspired by Dubious Virtues
- It's Dark in the Dark
- Literary Mayhem
- Like Fire
- Mad Hatter's Bookshelf & Book Review
- The Man Eating Bookworm
- Mr. Ripley's Enchanted Books
- The Neglected Books Page
- Neth Space
- Only the Best Sci-Fi/Fantasy
- The Oxen of the Sun
- The Pan Review
- Pat's Fantasy Hotlist
- She Never Slept
- Shroud Magazine Book Reviews
- The Speculative Scotsman
- Spooky Reads
- Staffer's Musings
- The Stars at Noonday
- Stomping on Yeti
- Twilight Ridge
- Vast and Cool and Unsympathetic
- Walker of Worlds
- Weird Fiction Review
Speculative Fiction Junkie is a product of my love for fantasy, science fiction, horror, and weird fiction.
As someone who loves to collect first edition/first printing books myself, I'll do my best to identify the true first for each of the books reviewed.
- The Absence
- Act of Will
- Beneath the Surface
- Beyond the Door
- The Bleeding Horse and Other Ghost Stories
- Bloody Baudelaire
- The Boats of the "Glen Carrig" and Other Nautical Adventures
- Box Nine
- City of Bohane
- City of Saints and Madmen
- Cold to the Touch
- The Company
- The Court of the Air
- The Crown Conspiracy
- Curfew and Other Eerie Tales
- The Darkly Splendid Realm
- Dark Eden
- The Dreaming Void
- Feesters in the Lake
- Horrible Imaginings
- The Horrifying Presence and Other Tales
- The Infinite Instant
- Judas Unchained
- The Kill Crew
- The King of Deadtown
- The Last Book
- The Lies of Locke Lamora
- Literary Remains
- The Manual of Detection
- The Man Who Collected Machen and Other Stories
- Mars Life
- The Midnight Charter
- Mistborn: The Final Empire
- Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters
- My Own Private Spectres
- The Mysterious Flame
- Nightingale Songs
- Nyphron Rising
- The Oblivion Society
- Old Albert - An Epilogue
- Old Man's War
- On the Hill of Roses
- Pieces for Puppets and Other Cadavers
- Pump Six and Other Stories
- Putting the Pieces in Place
- The Quantum Thief
- Red Planet Noir
- Remember You're A One-Ball!
- The Resurrectionist
- The Road
- The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart
- The Saint Perpetuus Club of Buenos Aires
- Saturn's Children
- Scar Night
- Shadows & Tall Trees - Issue 1
- Snow Crash
- Song of Time
- Sourdough and Other Stories
- Southern Gods
- Strange Epiphanies
- Strange Tales: Volume III
- The Third Sign
- This Hermetic Legislature
- Those Who Went Remain There Still
- Through A Glass, Darkly
- Witchfinder: Dawn of the Demontide
- The Windup Girl
- Worse Than Myself
What a fantastic drawing on the cover. I may have had some serious problems with small press of the moment Ex Occidente Press, but it is beyond dispute that they are publishing some of the best works of strange fiction being produced today. If one manages to navigate the many obstacles that stand in the way of acquiring their books, the reading experience is usually a very rewarding one. The Horrifying Presence and Other Tales, a collection of twenty-seven weird tales by Belgian author Jean Ray, is the second Ex Occidente book to be reviewed here at SFJ. The first was the excellent Bloody Baudelaire by R.B. Russell (review here), an absolutely beautiful book that made it onto our Top 5 Reads of 2009 list.
Jean Ray (1887-1964) is often called the Belgian Poe and comparisons of his work to that of Lovecraft also abound. A journalist, novelist, short story writer, and translator, he wrote profusely. Curiously, some of his most famous tales were written while he was serving a prison term for embezzlement.
His work is notoriously difficult to find in English. Aside from The Horrifying Presence, I am aware of only two other collections of his short stories in English: Ghouls in My Grave, an unassuming paperback published in 1965, and My Own Private Spectres, published in 1999 by another small press I have yet to investigate: Midnight House. Both of these two volumes are virtually impossible to find today. The Horrifying Presence is therefore the best and only opportunity to read Mr. Ray's short fiction in English that has come along in some years.
Having just finished reading The Horrifying Presence, I am stunned--stunned and saddened--that Mr. Ray's work isn't more widely available in English. His tales are some of the best and most effectively eerie I've ever come across.
There is not a single disappointing story in this collection, a considerable accomplishment for a book that contains so many tales. If I were forced to whittle it down to, say, five favorites, I would include:
"The Graveyard Guardian," in which the narrator takes a job as one of three guardians of an old cemetery purchased from the impoverished town it borders by the recently deceased duchess Opoltchenska. Presumably hired to guard the riches he suspects reside in her newly constructed mausoleum, he eventually discovers that his role is far different from what he initially thought.
"Cousin Passeroux," an unforgettable tale of revenge in which a man on the run shows up on his cousin's doorstep looking for a place to hide. His flight is a result of his less than polite treatment of the inhabitants of a remote island. One of the characters in this story utters a haunting refrain every time he makes an appearance and the way this story progresses stays with the reader long after the story is finished.
From an imaginative audacity standpoint, "The Formidable Secret of the Pole" is unquestionably the most standout piece. In it, a Professor and one of his students respond to a summons to a remote island that they found in a container floating in the sea. What they find when they get there is mind blowing. This one is just as accomplished of an adventure tale as it is a weird tale.
"The Choucroute" reminded me of Ligotti a bit , in its setting at least. It is the story of a man who decides to spice up his life by taking the train to nowhere in particular and getting off at a random stop. The town this leads him to is not what it seems.
"The Moustiers Plate" was another story that feels almost as much like an adventure tale as it does a weird tale. In it, a man falls asleep on a docked ship after finding an old plate in a cabinet and awakens to find that some unwelcome guests have commandeered the ship. He soon finds himself on an island with a very peculiar resident. As the reader soon discovers, everything that subsequently happens to him is directly connected to the plate.
Mr. Ray is a good writer, but his real strength is his top notch, unrestrained imagination. His world is largely water-covered and feels vast and forbiddingly perilous; a gray, storm-chased globe of seemingly perennial autumn, peppered here and there by small, often remote, outposts of humanity. His characters frequently discover that the darkness of the outer world dwells even in these places, the villages and taverns, and sometimes it is they themselves who have brought the darkness with them.
While it is difficult to find anything negative to say about this book, there were a few instances of oddly worded sentences. Perhaps these are minor translation problems or perhaps Mr. Ray's prose is just a bit antiquated. In any event, these do not significantly detract from the reading experience. Mr. Ray also has a habit of making characters expressly state what's happening at a given moment when other authors would simply tell the reader; a character might utter an exclamation like "He was throttling me!" rather than Ray simply telling us that one character throttled another.
The Horrifying Presence was a complete surprise. I didn't think it was possible for writers of this quality to languish in relative obscurity for so long. Why are all of this man's works not widely available in the English speaking world? As soon as I finished reading this book and found to my dismay that the few works of his available in English are out of my price range, I searched libraries across the Southeastern United States for them. I found only one copy of one of his works in English two states over and hundreds of miles away. Infuriating!
The True First
The Horrifying Presence and Other Tales was first published by Ex Occidente Press in March 2009 and was limited to 300 copies. There are still a few copies floating around on the secondary market but they are getting expensive quickly.
[This review was not based on a review copy]
Rosalie Parker (Editor)
Over the past few months I've been reading more and more strange fiction, to the exclusion of most of the other genres commonly reviewed here at Speculative Fiction Junkie. As someone whose reading material also increasingly consists of the output of the many excellent small presses operating today, it was probably only a matter of time until I picked up one of the volumes of the Strange Tales series edited by Rosalie Parker and published by Tartarus Press. The volume I happened to come across was the most recent one, Strange Tales: Volume III.
Strange Tales: Volume III collects seventeen previously unpublished stories from authors both familiar and with whom I was not, until now, acquainted. The stories in this collection are not strange in any consistent manner, as one might expect from a collection by a single author, but instead bear the unique notion of weirdness imparted by the different authors who gave birth to them. Ms. Parker has done an excellent job of ensuring that a wide variety of styles and ideas are represented in this collection.
Nonetheless, while all of the stories in this collection are well written and are worth reading in their own way, as a matter of personal preference, I found some to be far superior to others.
First and foremost, "Her Father's Daughter" by Simon Strantzas is an excellent story. I named Mr. Strantzas' most recent collection, Cold to the Touch, my #1 Read of 2009, and so my high opinion of this story should perhaps not be unexpected, but I was a little surprised that it stood out so much even among such worthy companions. "Her Father's Daughter" contains two parallel stories about, you guessed it, the relationship between daughters and fathers. It is consistent with Strantzas' prior work in its atmospheric setting as well as in the sense of menace and mystery that permeates it.
Another excellent story is "Countess Otho" by Reggie Oliver. I've only read one collection of Mr. Oliver's work (Masques of Satan from Ash-Tree Press), but I found "Countess Otho" to be superior to anything contained therein. It tells the story of an actor who comes across a previously unknown play. It's effect on him, and the odyssey of the play itself, yield a story that is fairly traditional but extremely engrossing.
The biggest surprise was "Melting" by A.J. McIntosh, who I had never heard of prior to reading this collection. This tale, too, was fairly traditional in many ways but was also utterly captivating. In it, a doctor struggling to make ends meet in nineteenth century Edinburgh comes across a most peculiar patient. I'll be searching out other works by this author.
Some of the other enjoyable stories in Strange Tales: Volume III felt a bit unfinished. I'm thinking in particular about "Morpheus House" by Mark Valentine, "Sanctuary Run" by Daniel Mills, and "A Taste of Casu Marzu" by David Rix. Each of these, in their own way, introduces fascinating settings (a dream museum in "Morpheus House" and a remote religious community in "Sanctuary Run") or objects (the oddest cheese you've ever encountered in "A Taste of Casu Marzu"), but seem to stop shortly after introducing them, as though the thing itself were so odd that the story didn't require further development. Mystery and the unrevealed have an important place in the strange fiction tale but I could not help but feel that these stories were in some way incomplete.
On the whole, Strange Tales: Volume III is a wonderful collection, and perhaps just as importantly, the publication of the Strange Tales series is an important act in the effort to more firmly establish strange fiction in the mind of the modern reader. I'll be seeking out the other volumes in this series eventually and hope that volume III is but another volume of a long series.
The True First
Strange Tales: Volume III was first published by Tartarus Press in December of 2009. I have no idea what the print run was as this information is uncharacteristically not available on the Tartarus Press website.
[This review was based on a review copy]
Adam Golaski's name is one I've encountered repeatedly in my search for weird fiction. While not as prominent as some practitioners of the craft, it seems nonetheless never to be too far from the discussion.
His first collection of short stories, Worse Than Myself, was more difficult to obtain than I had anticipated. There aren't many copies floating around. Worse Than Myself collects eleven weird tales, some of which had previously been published elsewhere and at least one of which has since made it into a "best of the year" anthology.
The subject matter of the tales that make up this collection is varied. An unexpected stay at a remote bus stop, the diversion of a family trip in search of an old animator, frightening encounters in the woods, a good old fashioned zombie tale, and visits from radio personalities long thought to be dead are just some of what you'll find in the stories presented in Worse Than Myself.
In many of these tales, horrors are encountered in close proximity to comforts. Whether it's parents in the next room in "The Animator's House," a mother in the house next door in "In the Cellar," or pajamas and clean sheets in a childhood home in "Back Home," the characters in Mr. Golaski's stories often experience the same "conflicting feelings of comfort and unease" (p. 76) that the protagonist in "Back Home" does and experience the terrifying after straying just a few steps beyond the safety of their usual routines. This dimension adds a welcome focus on safety and innocence that is not present in some of the other weird fiction I've come across.
Other tales are just plain terrifying. While what constitutes terrifying will differ a bit for everyone, I found those stories that are set in the woods to be the most effective in this respect.
The chief accomplishment of the best stories in this collection is the extraordinary sense of atmosphere they create. Even when I wasn't sure exactly what was going on, the atmosphere was thick and immersive and chillingly effective. Upon finishing many of these stories, the reader will feel as though she has stepped out of another world.
My favorite stories in Worse Than Myself were the absolutely terrifying "The Man from the Peak," in which a remote party in a mountain house is interrupted by a mysterious man who arrives from somewhere on the wooded mountaintop; "The Animal Aspect of Her Movement," a wonderfully woven story about the pitfalls of memory and temptation; "The Animator's House," which really contains two chilling stories, one about an encounter in the woods and the other about an encounter in an out of the way diner; and "The Dead Gather on the Bridge to Seattle," a rather straightforward zombie tale. Also enjoyable were "Weird Furka," which is the story of the rediscovery of the work of the dead host of a radio show about weird occurrences in the town of Furka; and "What Water Reveals," a multi-faceted tale involving a struggling alcoholic's discovery of a river island.
Less enjoyable in my opinion were "The Demon" and "A String of Lights," which were, for lack of a better word, a little boring; and "Back Home," which while sufficiently atmospheric seemed rather gimmicky in the final analysis.
Without reservation I can say that those who enjoy strange fiction will love Worse Than Myself. Mr. Golaski practices a brand of the craft that puts a premium on atmosphere and imagery and his stories linger in the mind long after the reader has finished them and moved on.
The True First
Worse Than Myself was first published by Raw Dog Screaming Press in July of 2008, although really, since this is a print on demand title, I'm not sure that one can really speak of the true first.
[This review was not based on a review copy]