The Vast Wasteland

Sheila's rantings, most likely of no interest, on TV, movies, books, music, etc.

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Location: Seattle, Washington, United States

I live in Seattle, am married, have two cats (one is a genius, the other insane), and am a mild-mannered copy editor by day. I love horseback riding, coffee, reading, TV, movies, music, playing (too much) World of Warcraft, and lying on the couch. This isn't a personal blog, but rather a place for me to vent about movies, TV shows, books, music, etc. Thanks for checking in!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Book Review: To Charles Fort, with Love

Contains spoilers (story descriptions)
By Caitlin R. Kiernan

Caitlyn Kiernan is another of my favorite authors. She's definitely my favorite horror writer. I love her combination of Lovecraftian mosters, strange science, and muddled humanity. She doesn't overwrite or overexplain, either, but rather depends on mood and subtle unease. This is a collection of short stories, which in my opinion is her best genre.

First, this book is for Charles Fort, a turn-of-the-century American writer whose "study of anomalous phenomena is frequently misunderstood and misrepresented. For over 30 years, Charles Fort sat in the libraries of New York and London, assiduously reading scientific journals, newspapers, and magazines, collecting notes upon phenomena that lay outside the accepted theories and beliefs of the time" (Wikipedia). In other words, Fort wrote about (and maybe--or maybe not--believed in) the supernatural. Some of his topics: beings on Mars were controlling events on Earth; there's a Super-Sargasso Sea into which all lost things go; and there's a sinister civilization that exists at the South Pole. His writings were bizarre, absurd, and completely ahead of his time. Kiernan's stories are more sane, but touch many of the same topics.

What follows is not a typical review; rather, I'm going to make some notes and observations on the stories, which will probably be incomprehensible to other people (sorry). This will be a record for me to look back on when I reread the book (which I'm sure I will) in a year or two. I'll be able to see how my opinions have changed (or not changed).

Valentia: A lot of Kiernan's work is very Lovecraft influenced, and this is no exception. Great mood piece, but I was unclear if the girl shot herself or the scientist in the end. (Or does it matter?)
Spindleshanks: I wonder if this is a NOLA or voodoo legend? A quick google search turns up nothing on the name "spindleshanks" (other than the obvious "spindly legged"). Very terse story (in a good way).
So Runs the World Away: The first of the Children of the Cuckoo stories. Named after brood parasite birds, or some other (Lovecraftian?) meaning? Not sure.
Standing Water: This is a good story, but hard for me to read because it's so derivitive of Koja. (Kiernan does acknowledge her in the afterword, though.)
La Mer des Reves: Totally incomprehensible to me.
The Road of Pins: First introduces the paintings of Mr. Perrault (repeated elsewhere?), and ties them together with a mysterious video tape. Evocative.
Onion: An "other worlds" story. Liked it, but the ending was a bit abrupt.
Apokatastasis: Probably the most frightening of all the stories. Ties to Perrault?
La Peau Verte: Kiernan says this is her favorite story to date, and I couldn't agree more. This one actually quotes Fort, and ties in the Green Fairy (absinthe) with childhood (maybe real?) fairies and a missing sister.
The Dead and the Moonstruck: The other Cuckoo story. I'm not totally enamoured with the Cuckoo stories--I prefer the ones about humans caught in the supernatural.
The Dandridge Cycle: These three stories are absolutely fabulous. There's just the right amount of explanation--but not too much--and the right amount of horror and disgust. It's a good combination of the Chtulhu mythos and a haunted house story, with a twisted family thrown in for good measure.
#1--A Redress for Andromeda: Set in modern times. No Perseus for this Andromeda, but there are gold coins and the awe of humans (which she needs and despises).
#2--Nor the Demons Down Under the Sea: Set in 1957. The old house by the sea has grown twisted and evil.
#3--Andromeda Among the Stones: Set (mostly) in 1915. The origin story or a power-hungry and destructive father, the mother and brother who fail to stop his plans, and the daughter who eventually closes the door between two worlds.

At first, I didn't like this book as much as I liked Tales of Pain and Wonder. However, though I miss the interweaving narratives in Tales, the stories in To Charles Fort are more mature and polished, and probably better crafted.

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