Tag Archives: Short Story

A Review of In a Glass Darkly

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 interested in participating\ use the hashtag #VintageSciFiMonth or tag @VintageSciFi_ or @redhead5318 on Twitter if you’d like your posts to be included in the official retweets and roundups.  

Thank you to Berthold Gambrel for recommending this book to me


In a Glass Darkly by J. Sheridan Le Fanu book cover. Image on cover shows a ghostly figure reaching out to someone who is sleeping peacefully in a bed. The sketch is done in black and white and looks like it’s from the 1870s based on hairstyles, clothing, bedding, etc. Title
: In a Glass Darkly

Author: Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Publisher: Richard Bentley & Son (original publisher) and Duke Classics (the publisher of the reprinted volume I read).

Publication Date: 1872

Genres: Science Fiction, Fantasy, LGBTQ, Historical

Length: 169 pages

Source: I borrowed it from the library.

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

In a Glass Darkly collects together five short stories from gothic horror and mystery writer Sheridan Le Fanu. The book, published in 1872 a year before Le Fanu’s death, is named from a passage in Corinthians which speaks of humankind perceiving the world “through a glass darkly.” The stories are told from the posthumous writings of an occult detective named Dr Martin Hesselius. In Green Tea a clergyman is being driven mad by an evil demon that takes the ephemeral form of a monkey, but is unseen by others as it burdens the victim’s mind with psychological torment. In The Familiar, revised from Le Fanu’s The Watcher of 1851, a sea captain is stalked by a dwarf, “The Watcher.” Is this strange character from captain’s past? In Mr Justice Harbottle a merciless court judge is attacked by vengeful spirits, dreaming he is sentenced to death by a horrific version of himself. The story was revised from 1853’s An Account of Some Strange Disturbances in Aungier Street. In The Room in the Dragon Volant, a notable mystery which includes a premature burial theme, an innocent young Englishman in France tries to rescue a mysterious countess from her unbearable situation. Lastly, Carmilla tells the tale of a lesbian vampire. It was a huge influence on Bram Stoker’s writing of Dracula and the basis for the films Vampyr in 1932 and The Vampire Lovers in 1970.

Review:

Content warning: demonic possession, stalking, murder, beheading (of a monster), minor drug use, and a few brief references to blood.  I will briefly discuss the demonic possession and stalking in my review.

If you like genre mash-ups that defy the reader’s expectations, keep reading.

The blurb gave a great overview of each of the five stories in this collection, so I’m going to use my review space to share my impressions of them a bit more casually than I would generally do. Somehow that feels right for this book.

I was a preacher’s kid growing up, so “Green Tea” grabbed my attention immediately. Clergymen and their families are exposed to portions of other people’s lives that the general public often knows little to nothing about. No, my family was never haunted by a monkey-shaped demon like the poor Reverend Jennings was, but I was intrigued by the difference between what people want others to think their lives are like versus what’s actually going on behind closed doors. This tale captured the sometimes jarring experience of moving back and forth between the two quite well. I thought it also well at explaining why secrets can be so corrosive for a person’s mental wellbeing, especially when they’ve convinced themselves that they will be rejected, or worse, if anyone finds out the truth about them.

One of the things I mulled about while reading ”The Familiar” was how blurry the lines were between science fiction, fantasy, horror, and other speculative fiction genres in the 1800s. This collection fit into all of those categories simultaneously in ways that are unusual when compared to how a similar story about a dwarf stalking a sea captain would probably be written and marketed today. I like stories that blur these lines, but this particular one was hard to get into because of how much time was spent discussing everything other than the sea captain’s adventures. If only there had been more details about the dwarf and why he was following the captain around.

“Mr. Justice Harbottle” made me think of the people in this world who have purposefully harmed others and never faced the consequences of those actions. Sometimes it can feel like justice will never be served in those cases. That made this an even more satisfying read. It was interesting to me to compare this  storyline to what happened in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” If you haven’t read that particular Dickens’ tale yet, definitely do check it out before reading this book. There’s not much else I can say about this one without giving away spoilers as the plot was pretty quickly paced and straightforward for this era.

Vintage Science Fiction Blog Challenge badge. It shows a rocket ship against a red background. There is a bubble city in the background. Pinning down the genre of ‘The Room in the Dragon Volant” was tricky. It dabbled in the mystery, adventure, horror,  thriller, and science fiction genres without ever fully committing to any of them. This is one of the reasons why I like reading speculative fiction from the 1800s so much. Just about anything could and often did pop up in a “science fiction” story back then. Authors didn’t seem to be as concerned with following the rules of their genre back then as many of them are today. With that being said, I struggled to get into this particular tale because of how much more time it spent jumping around from one idea to the next instead of focusing on character development. I never reached the point where I’d feel comfortable describing the personalities of the main characters in anything but the simplest details like what their professions were.

My favorite instalment in this book was ”Carmilla,” which, according to Wikipedia, was Bram Stoker’s inspiration for writing “Dracula.” The main character, Laura, was a young woman whose loving father had given her a safe but extremely sheltered life in a rural setting up until this point. She was naive about the outside world and incredibly excited to meet anyone new who crossed her path. When she reacted romantically to another woman, she didn’t have a word to describe her feelings. I thought it was fascinating to see how she handled these moments and what she thought was happening during them. Her father’s reactions to the rumours that were spreading around about various young women in the community who were suddenly dropping dead one after the next also piqued my interest. He blamed the fear surrounding those bizarre deaths on superstition and was far less interested in seeing if there were any specks of truth to the wild stories being passed around than I would have been. It made me wonder if he was in some ways even more sheltered than Laura was given how much faster she was to accept that something odd was happening.

In a Glass Darkly was a thought-provoking read. I’m glad I gave it a try for Vintage Science Fiction Month.

A Review of The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

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 interested in participating\ use the hashtag #VintageSciFiMonth or tag @VintageSciFi_ or @redhead5318 on Twitter if you’d like your posts to be included in the official retweets and roundups.  


The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula K. LeGuin book cover. Image on cover shows three humanoid figures walking away from the viewer into the sunrise on a flat, grassy plain. Title: The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas

Author: Ursula K. LeGuin

Publisher: Harper Perennial. It was originally published in the anthology New Dimensions, Volume 3.

Publication Date: 1973.

Genres: Science Fiction

Length: 22 pages

Source: I borrowed it from the library.

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

Some inhabitants of a peaceful kingdom cannot tolerate the act of cruelty that underlies its happiness.

Review:

Content warning: Child abuse.

What does it meant to live in the perfect society?

This is one of those stories that works best if you don’t know the twist that’s coming, so I’ll have to be careful about how I word this review.

Vintage Science Fiction Blog Challenge badge. It shows a rocket ship against a red background. There is a bubble city in the background. One of the most interesting things about this tale is how cheerfully it started out.  Omelas was a quiet, safe community where everyone’s needs were met. It wasn’t the most technologically advanced setting for a science fiction story, but that isn’t required for this genre. What mattered was showing the reader the many advantages of living there as those arguments would become important quite soon.

Like a lot of speculative fiction, there is a twist, of course. No, I’m not going to say what it was, only that it shocked my teenage brain the first time I read it as an assignment for a high school literature course. The tone of the storyline changed so abruptly that I went back and reread the first few sections to see if there was something I’d missed. It takes a talented writer to suddenly pull the readers into an entirely new direction like that in a way that feels perfectly natural (if unexpected) in retrospect, and I admired Le Guin’s ability to do just that.

The philosophical questions that popped up at the end were excellent, too. Memorable science fiction should challenge our assumptions about the world and make us question if our first response to a question is necessarily the best one. Yes, I know I’m being quite vague here, but this really is something that new readers should wrestle with themselves without any outside influence. There is no wrong or right answer here, but your reasons for picking the position you do will genuinely matter as the final scene ends and readers are left wondering what happened next and how they’d react in the same situation.

The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas is a classic. Go read it!

Home, Sweet Home: A Review of Christmas at Crownthorn Manor

Christmas at Crowthorn Manor - a Yuletide Ghost Story by Chris McGurk book cover. Image on cover shows a black and white photo of snow falling heavily on a cottage in the woods. There is a white car parked in front of the cottage.Title: Christmas at Crownthorn Manor – A Yuletide Ghost Story

Author: Chris McGurk

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: December 19, 2019

Genres: Young Adult, Holiday, Paranormal, Contemporary

Length: 27 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Three brothers travelling home for Christmas become waylaid in a fierce snowstorm. Pulling up at an old manor house, they think they are in luck when the owners let them stay the night. But all is not as it seems at Crowthorn Manor on Christmas Eve… Reviving the much-loved tradition of the Christmas ghost story, Christmas at Crowthorn Manor will send shivers down your spine on your journey back home.

Review:

Content Warning: 1918 influenza pandemic, grief, death of children, World War I, prejudice, and suicide. I will mention the 1918 flu and Covid-19 in my review.

Christmas is supposed to be a happy time spent with loved ones. What happens to a Christmas that doesn’t meet these goals?

The 1918 flu is something I’ve been interested in since I was a kid, so I’m always happy to see it pop up in fiction. After the current pandemic began, I understood better why previous generations were often so reticent to discuss such things even years later. It can be painful to remember tragic stories about death, disability, grief, and suffering, and yet I think there’s something to be said for commemorating these topics in fiction when it’s appropriate to do so. Remembering the past is a way to honour the dead and to hopefully guide the decisions we make today to help everyone’s futures be healthier ones. The author sensitively included the societal, emotional, and medical effects of the 1918 flu here. They had excellent reasons for doing so that other readers should discover for themselves. These were some of my favorite passages in this short story, and I would have happily read more of them.

I did find myself wishing that more attention had been paid to how and when the author used the tropes of this genre. Anyone who is familiar with tales about characters who get lost on a snowy night and find themselves seeking shelter at a mysterious, old mansion will be able to figure out just about everything that is to come by the time they finish the first page. Yes, I know this was written for teenagers, but even with that taken into consideration I thought another round of editing would have made a difference. Tropes are good – or at least neutral – things in and of themselves, but they were utilized so heavily here that it negatively affected things like the character and plot development. I so badly wanted to give this a higher rating, and yet the predictability of it all was too much for me to do so.

With that being said, I loved the way the author incorporated modern technology and tools like cell phones, the Internet, and Google Maps into the storyline. It’s trickier for characters to get lost in believable ways these days due to all of the navigation and communication options we have in our phones when a road doesn’t lead to the place we thought it should, but these problems were all solved in logical ways here that worked well with the storyline and with what we already knew about the personalities of the main characters. This is something I always enjoy finding in fiction, and it has encouraged me to keep an eye out for what this author may write in the future.

Christmas at Crownthorn Manor – A Yuletide Ghost Story was a quick and spooky read.

 

A Review of The Story of Sigurd the Dragonslayer

The Story of Sigurđ the Dragonslayer (Tales From the Volsunga Saga Book 2) Kindle Edition by Liam G. Martin Book cover. Image on cover shows Norse runes arranged in a circular yellow pattern in the centre of the cover. Title: The Story of Sigurd the Dragonslayer (Tales from the Volsunga Saga Book 2)

Author: Liam G Martin

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: January 24, 2022

Genres: Fantasy, Adventure, Historical

Length: 35 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

The Story of Sigurđ the Dragonslayer is part of The Tales from the Volsunga Saga series which retells some of the stories from the Volsunga Saga. The Volsunga saga is a legendary old Norse text that was written in Iceland around 1250 AD.

In The Story of Sigurđ the Dragonslayer, you’ll read about the early life of Sigurđ, one of the greatest heroes of Norse mythology.

Review:

Content Warning: death of parents and a murder. All of the deaths were described briefly and without graphic details included in them.

Becoming a hero includes plenty of hard work. Nothing is guaranteed for anyone.

Mythology has always expected a lot of its audience. Not only did the author take his time explaining who certain characters were, the narrator shared lessons about perseverance, duty, honour, and vengeance that the audience was expected to digest for themselves. Sigurd had far too much on his plate to spell things out simply for us, but that’s exactly what I always hope to find in the stories I read. If people of different ages can interpret the same scenes in somewhat different ways, that means that it will take a long time for anyone to fully understand the ideas that thrive there.

Like many traditional myths, this one never had a good stopping point. I finished the last page wishing the author had written more even though Sigurd was technically an adult at that point and the narrator no longer had the excuse of describing this character’s early life in order to keep things going. This is the sort of reaction I always love to discover in myself. Leaving the audience yearning for the next scene is an excellent way to keep readers coming back for another instalment, after all.

The conflict and violence was handled beautifully. While this isn’t a sanitized and twenty-first century myth, it also didn’t include any gratuitous violence. The deaths that occurred were necessary in order for the plot to move forward, and those scenes were written tactfully and simply. Sigurd’s adventures were what really mattered, so I was pleased to see how steadily that portion of his life remained the focus of the plot. Creating this balance in retellings of tales from eras of human history when the expectations for family entertainment were quite different isn’t easy, and I commend the author for pulling it off so well.

It’s helpful, but not strictly necessary, to have a basic familiarity with Norse mythology before reading this book. The important stuff will be explained eventually, but recognizing the major gods and other figures in these tales will help to speed up the process for anyone who prefers to figure out who everyone was immediately.

This is also part of a series, but it functioned perfectly nicely as a standalone work.

The Story of Sigurd the Dragonslayer was a wild ride that I wish I’d taken sooner.

Running to Safety: A Review of One Dark Hallow’s Eve

One Dark Hallows Eve by Eldritch BlacI book cover. Image on cover shows a drawing of two sinister glowing jack-o-lanterns sitting at the bottom of a hill on the night of a full moon. A house and a leafless tree sit at the top of the hill. Title: One Dark Hallow’s Eve

Author: Eldritch Black

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: October 22, 2015

Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy, Paranormal, Horror, Contemporary, Historical

Length: 43 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Beware it’s Halloween and the Pumpkin Men are coming.

It’s All Hallow’s Eve and Owen Weeks is not having a good day. Something’s stirring in the lake by his house, the dead leaves beneath this shoes crunch like bones, and even the brambles seem to twitch when he’s not looking.

Nothing’s right.

But things get a lot worse as Owen discovers a terrifying stranger hiding in an abandoned farmhouse. A dark spell is cast. Old magic, magic that raises a terrifying horde of nightmarish creatures.

As the monsters descend upon the village, Owen realizes there’s only one place left to go…across the lake. But can he survive the horror of the legends said to live below its muddy waters?

The clock’s ticking toward midnight, and soon it will be the hour of the Pumpkin Men and ancient terrors from a distant land.

One Dark Hallow’s Eve is a lost tale from Eldritch Black’s The Book of Kindly Deaths. Read it now and slip into a timeless world of dark fantasy and Halloween horror.

Review:

Content Warning: Skeletons and pumpkins who can walk.

Get ready for a gentle scare.

Twelve is an awkward age, especially on Halloween. You’re not a little kid anymore, but you’re not yet old enough for the parties that teenagers or adults sometimes attend that weekend either. I enjoyed the way this short story captured the weirdness of this in-between stage in life and how kids deal with the realization that what worked for them on previous Halloweens maybe isn’t quite what they should be doing this year. It’s not something I’ve seen covered very often in the horror genre, so it was refreshing to find here.

There were times in the plot when certain elements didn’t fit together, and yet the characters accepted all of the twists and turns without a second thought. I wish more time had been spent explaining what the characters were thinking and why no one questioned why their town was suddenly overwhelmed with monsters. Even a simple explanation would have nudged me to bump my rating up half a star or so, and a deeper one would had positively affected my rating even more.

The world building was well done. Obviously, the author didn’t have a lot of space here to go into great detail, but he made good use of every page he did have to work with to ensure that all of his readers knew the basics of what was going on and how this world was different from our own. I was both satisfied with his explanations and curious to know more. That’s a good sign in my opinion, and I will keep an eye out for what the author comes up with next!

This is part of a series, but it can be read as a standalone work.

One Dark Hallow’s Eve was a quick and spooky read.

A Review of Judith – A Triorion Universe Story

Title: Judith – A Triorion Universe Story Author: L.J. Hachmeister Publisher: Source 7 Productions (Self-Published) Publication Date: February 1, 2020 Genres: Science Fiction, Contemporary Length: 19 Pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 3.5 Stars Blurb: With a broken heart and the resurgence of cancer, Judith Derns’ life comes to a… Read More

Awkward Phases: A Review of The Usual Werewolves

Title: The Usual Werewolves Author: Adam Bertocci Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: October 1, 2012 Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult, Romance, Paranormal, Satire, Contemporary Length: 39 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: Finally, a paranormal romance for people who hate paranormal romance. Bookish outcast Serena is in love with… Read More

Reasonable Assumptions: A Review of The Interview

Title: The Interview Author: Liz Tuckwell Publisher: Green Griffin Books (Self-Published) Publication Date: August 6, 2021 Genres: Fantasy, Contemporary Length: 22 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 4 Stars Blurb:   Melissa’s being interviewed … for a job she never applied for … and she doesn’t know the name of… Read More