Category Archives: Science Fiction and Fantasy

Suspicious Town: A Review of The Dunwich Horror

Vintage Science Fiction Blog Challenge badge. It shows a rocket ship against a red background. There is a bubble city in the background. Vintage Science Fiction month takes place every January, and has a few guidelines:

 – read, watch, listen to, or experience something science fiction / fantasy that was created in 1979 or earlier

 – talk about it online sometime in January

 – have fun

If any of my readers are also interested in participating this month, let Little Red Reviewer know about your posts if you’d like them to be included in her official roundups. 

 

Title: The Dunwich Horror

Author: H.P. Lovecraft

Publisher: Weird Tales

Publication Date: April 1929

Genres: Science Fiction, Horror, Historical

Length: 58 pages

Source: I read it for free here

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Dunwich Horror is the story of Wilbur Whateley, son of a deformed albino mother and an unknown father, and the strange events surrounding his birth and precocious development. Wilbur matures at an abnormal rate, reaching manhood within a decade–all the while indoctrinated him into dark rituals and witchcraft by his grandfather.

The Dunwich Horror by H.P. Lovecraft book cover. Image on cover is an abstract drawing of a white smoky blob against a black background. Review:

Content warning: Murder. I will not be discussing this in my review.

Nobody really knows what goes on behind their neighbour’s front doors.

Lovecraft had such a descriptive writing style. Whether he was telling the reader what the unwelcoming landscape looked like or exploring the hidden depths of the people whose families had lived there for generations, he knew exactly how to pull the audience in and make them listen closely to what he was saying. This is a special gift, and it’s something that leads me back to his stories over and over again even though I completely understand the many valid criticisms of his work and personal beliefs. I think there’s something to be said for acknowledging the flaws in famous creators while still leaving room to enjoy the ways they used their talents.

There were some parts of the storyline  that I struggled to understand, especially when it came to Wilbur’s origins. While I completely understood why the surrounding community wouldn’t know all of the details about his parentage, especially in an era when children born to single mothers were so heavily stigmatized, I had a ton of unanswered questions about this stuff that would have really helped me to understand later developments. Was there perhaps something lost in the nuance of it all over the last century? Is the world I grew up in too different from this one to easily make comparisons between the two? Sometimes I wondered if this was the case since the characters seemed to piece some of this stuff together in ways that I as a modern, urban reader did not. This was still an enjoyable read, but those passages did make it feel dated at times.

Small, rural communities can be pretty unwelcoming places to live, especially for anyone who stands out from the crowd due to their appearance or membership in a minority group. I liked the way the author stretched the tendencies of some members of our species to be insular and suspicious of outsiders to its limit. It truly brought out the absurdity of it all while also explaining why humans can react so harshly to people they don’t understand or relate to for any number of reasons.

I’d recommend The Dunwich Horror to anyone who is at least occasionally little disquieted by small, sleepy towns.

Following the Old Ways: A Review of The White People

Vintage Science Fiction Blog Challenge badge. It shows a rocket ship against a red background. There is a bubble city in the background. Vintage Science Fiction month takes place every January, and has a few guidelines:

 – read, watch, listen to, or experience something science fiction / fantasy that was created in 1979 or earlier

 – talk about it online sometime in January

 – have fun

If any of my readers are also interested in participating this month, let Little Red Reviewer know about your posts if you’d like them to be included in her official roundups. 


Title
: The White People

Author: Arthur Machen

Publisher: Horlick’s Magazine

Publication Date: 1904

Genres: Horror, Paranormal, Science Fiction, Historical

Length: 56 pages

Source: It’s free to read here

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

A discussion between two men on the nature of evil leads one of them to reveal a mysterious Green Book he possesses. It is a young girl’s diary, in which she describes in ingenuous, evocative prose her strange impressions of the countryside in which she lives as well as conversations with her nurse, who initiates her into a secret world of folklore and black magic.

Review:

Content warning: Death of a child. I will not be discussing it in my review.

Be careful what you wish for.

One of the things I liked the most about this short story was the scientific and methodical manner in which the two main characters went about trying to determine what the Green Book truly was and what happened to the young girl whose diary entries lead them to discover the existence of this book. They were truly interested in getting to the truth. While some portions of the storyline definitely veered further into horror and fantasy than they did pure science fiction, the fact that the protagonists believed everything should have a logical explanation kept me reading until I’d reached the final sentence. That urge to discover the truth is one of the reasons why I love science fiction so much!

This was set at a time when scientific explanations for all sorts of natural phenomena were rapidly beginning to replace the fairy and folk tales that had once explained any number of things that wouldn’t have made sense to the average person. There are some things that lay beyond the purview of science, however, and other ones like psychology or what could be interpreted as certain mental or physical illnesses by modern day readers that weren’t well understood at all in this era.

The epilogue was my favourite part of this tale due to how much effort Ambrose and Cotgrave put into deciphering the unnamed young girl’s diary. She was so purposefully vague about certain details that they could be interpreted in a wide variety of ways as I mentioned earlier. This was also a nice addendum to the conversation Cotgrave and Ambrose had earlier about what the definition of sin should actually be and why many people’s understanding of this topic might not be as well-rounded or accurate as they assume. I can’t go into any more detail about that, but I do encourage anyone who is intrigued to read this for themselves.

If you love the fuzzy area between facts and flights of fancy, The White People might be right up your alley.

Making Things Right: A Review of The Canterville Ghost

Vintage Science Fiction Blog Challenge badge. It shows a rocket ship against a red background. There is a bubble city in the background. Vintage Science Fiction month takes place every January, and has a few guidelines:

 – read, watch, listen to, or experience something science fiction / fantasy that was created in 1979 or earlier

 – talk about it online sometime in January

 – have fun

If any of my readers are also interested in participating this month, let Little Red Reviewer know about your posts if you’d like them to be included in her official roundups. 

Title: The Canterville Ghost

Author: Oscar Wilde

Publisher: The Court and Society Review

Publication Date: February 23, 1887 and March 2, 1887

Genres: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Paranormal, Historical

Length: 54 pages

Source: This review was inspired by Little Red Reviewer’s post about The Canterville Ghost last year. Go to Wilde Online to read this story for free for yourself.

The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde book cover. Image on cover is a black-and-white photo of Mr. Wilde holding a cane as he bends over and gently touches his face. Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

Horace B. Otis, a wealthy American, purchases Canterville Chase, an ancient English manor-house, despite warnings that the house is known to be haunted. He moves into the house accompanied by his wife, his eldest son Washington, his daughter Virginia, and his two younger twin sons. Immediately upon arrival, the family is confronted by a bloodstain in a sitting room. The housekeeper, Mrs. Umney, explains that the stain has been there since 1575 and is the result of Lady Eleanore de Canterville having been brutally murdered by her husband, Sir Simon de Canterville.

The Otis family takes a pragmatic perspective and scrubs the stain away; they repeat the process when the stain continues to reappear every morning. The stubborn reappearance of the stain, as well as other strange occurrences around the house, leads them to consider that the rumor of the ghost may not be totally unfounded.

Review:

Content warning: Murder. I will not be discussing these things in my review.

What happens when the ghost haunting your new home might not be as scary as he thinks he is?

I adored the way Mr. Wilde played around with the tropes of the paranormal and fantasy genres. Most character are at least mildly alarmed by the presence of a supernatural being in their home, so I was delighted to meet an entire family who genuinely didn’t care who or what roamed the halls as night so long as they didn’t wake anyone up or make a mess. Honestly, they actually seemed to enjoy playing pranks on their new roommate of sorts whenever he irritated them too much with his various haunting activities. This is so rare for this genre that I can’t remember the last time I read anything like this story.

One of the things I was never quite able to do with this tale was categorize it into one specific genre. It went into far more investigative detail than I’d normally expect to find in the fantasy genre, but it was also more metaphysical than I’d expect to find in the science fiction genre. In my experience, classics science fiction often does this, especially as you read further back into time when this genre was closer to its infancy. I’m the sort of reader who usually prefers harder science fiction, but this was well told once I accepted the fact that the characters weren’t going to perform the same sorts of scientific experiments I would if I were in their shoes. If the writing style had been a little firmer about what sort of speculative fiction this was actually supposed to be, I would have gone with a five-star rating.

The ending threw me for a loop. Normally, conflict between ghosts and humans escalates over time in tales like these. Sometimes it can even do so violently depending on what the author has in mind, so I was thrilled to see how everything was resolved for the Otis family and their resident ghost. It made perfect sense for the plot, but it also gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling inside. Those aren’t emotions that happen very often in stories about the restless souls of murderers of all things, so it was satisfying to have it here.

The Canterville Ghost was one of those delightful pieces of speculative fiction that defies categorization. If you like stories that leap between genres and sometimes swirl them all up together, this classic short story might be right up your alley.

Dire Warnings: A Review of The Signalman

The Signalman by Charles Dickens book cover. Image on cover is of a signalman holding a lantern and sending near a train station.

The telling or reading of ghost stories during the Christmas season was once a tradition in Victorian England. This series of books seeks to revive this tradition. As I did last year, I will continue reviewing several of them each December until I’ve reached the end of this series. 

Title: The Signalman – A Ghost Story for Christmas (Seth’s Christmas Ghost Stories)

Author: Charles Dickens

Publisher: Biblioasis

Publication Dates: and 2016

Genres: Paranormal, Historical

Length: 28 pages

Source: I borrowed it from the library.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Blurb:

A gentleman discovers the black mouth of a railway tunnel. To his amazement, deep in the gorge before the tunnel, he sees an ancient signal-man, who invites him down to a lonely shack. It’s there that we learn the signal-man’s horrifying secret: he’s haunted by a figure who foretells a catastrophe soon to befall that very stretch of the tracks.

Review:

Not every accident can be prevented. Or can they?

This story didn’t waste any time in getting things started, and I loved that. Literally the first scene was about the main character being flagged down by the mysterious signalman. Given the short length of it, this was a great way to grab the audience’s attention and immediately pull me into the plot.

I wish the plot had been developed more thoroughly. The bare bones of it were there, but it was all so skimpy on the details that I had some problems remaining interested in what might happen next. I simply didn’t feel an emotional connection to any of the characters despite the danger they were in.

It wasn’t until I started researching Dickens’ life while working on this post that I realized he was once a passenger on a train that crashed. After the accident, Dickens was one of the people who looked after injured and dying passengers while waiting for help. There was a strong sense of urgency and foreboding in this tale that I can only assume came from his personal experiences on that day. This made for quite the harrowing read even though I would have liked to see more time spent working on the storytelling itself.

I’d recommend The Signalman to anyone who likes trains.

A Review of The Reluctant Familiar’s Guide to Christmas Tree Defence 

Book cover for The Reluctant Familiar’s Guide to Christmas Tree Defence by Bethany Hoeflich. Image on cover is a photoshopped picture of a cat wearing a Santa hat and sitting next to a Christmas treeTitle: The Reluctant Familiar’s Guide to Christmas Tree Defence

Author: Bethany Hoeflich

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: December 20, 2020

Genres: Fantasy, Contemporary

Length: 19 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

After a traumatizing pumpkin spice candle accident, Mr. Fluffykins is looking forward to a quiet night curled up under his Christmas tree.

Unfortunately, life has other plans . . .

Review:

What could be better than a cat spending time with his beloved Christmas tree?

The world building was excellent. At one point I paused and tried to figure out if this was part of a series because of how intricately everything was explained to the reader during the fast-paced and exciting plot. While I didn’t find evidence of other books set in this world, I was delighted by how much effort the author put into layering everything together. She couldn’t have done a better job of placing her characters in a setting that was filled with tantalizing details about how it worked that were all filtered through the discerning mind of a cat who loved his humans but was only occasionally interested in the minutia of their magical abilities.

I adored this book’s sense of humour. It was slightly irreverent at times in exactly the way anyone might expect to find from a feline narrator who had strong opinions about how the world should work. I couldn’t stop chuckling as I read it, especially once Mr. Fluffykins was left at home to his own devices and realized his evening wasn’t going to be the restful one he’d been hoping for. His reaction to that scene was as perfectly cat-like as it was just plain hilarious.

Mr. Fluffykins was a relatable and amusing protagonist who I began rooting for immediately. The worse his predicament became, the more I hoped  he’d figure out a way to resolve his conflict peacefully and get back to the catnap he’d been looking forward to all day. Some of my favourite scenes were the ones that made perfect sense in his mind as they were unfolding but that I knew his humans were going to be completely confused about once they returned home. The author did a wonderful job of showing how the same event can be interpreted so differently depending on which point of view one takes. This is even more true during the holidays when many folks are busier than usual!

The Reluctant Familiar’s Guide to Christmas Tree Defence was utterly delightful from the first scene to the final one.

A Wanted Haunting: A Review of Afterward

The telling or reading of ghost stories during the Christmas season was once a tradition in Victorian England. This series of books seeks to revive this tradition. As I did last year, I will continue reviewing several of them each December until I’ve reached the end of this series.  Title: Afterward – A Ghost Story for Christmas (Seth’s… Read More

Bad Decisions: A Review of The Diary of Mr. Poynter

The telling or reading of ghost stories during the Christmas season was once a tradition in Victorian England. This series of books seeks to revive this tradition. As I did last year, I will continue reviewing several of them each December until I’ve reached the end of this series.  Title: The Diary of Mr. Poynter – A Ghost… Read More

Making Things Right: A Review of The Green Room

The telling or reading of ghost stories during the Christmas season was once a tradition in Victorian England. This series of books seeks to revive this tradition. As I did last year, I will continue reviewing several of them each December until I’ve reached the end of this series.  Title: The Green Room – A Ghost Story for Christmas… Read More

No Space of Regret: A Review of A Covid Christmas Carol

Title: A Covid Christmas Carol Author: Evan Sykes Publisher: Junco Books (Self-Published) Publication Date: December 19, 2020 Genres: Fantasy, Holiday, Paranormal, Retelling, Contemporary Length: 88 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 5 Stars Blurb:   The 2020 Holiday Season might have been cancelled by this year’s super-villain, Covid-19, but fear… Read More

Too Old for Santa: A Review of Christmas Presence

Title: Christmas Presence Author: Tony Bertauski Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: October 31, 2019 Genres: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Young Adult, Holiday Length: 25 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: Worst Christmas ever. Christmas was about traditions. Currently, Zay and her mom had about five traditions, things like gingerbread… Read More