Short Stories

“Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed” by Ray Bradbury

When I was in around third or fourth grade, I read a story in a textbook that captured my imagination and helped me discover a lifelong love of reading.  Like most stories that one reads in school as a child, it faded in my memory, even though it played an important role in my life.  I always wanted to read it again, but I didn’t remember anything about it, other than the fact that it was set on Mars.

While browsing around the internet, I finally re-discovered it, after many years of searching.  *Happy Dance*

The story is none other than Ray Bradbury’s “Dark They Were, and Golden Eyed,” a tale about a homesick colonist and his family who are abandoned on Mars after a nuclear war grounds all spacecraft from Earth.  As the colonists are changing Mars, Mars is changing them, morphing them into something completely alien from their former selves.

Lying abed, Mr.Bittering felt his bones shifted, shaped, melted like gold. His wife, lying beside him, was dark from many sunny afternoons. Dark she was, and golden, burnt almost black by the sun, sleeping, and the children metallic in their beds, and the wind roaring forlorn and changing through the old peach trees, violet grass, shaking out green rose petals.

Bradbury’s imagery is gorgeous.  More than fifteen years later, the story is as lush and vibrant as I had remembered.

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Categories: Fiction, Sci Fi, Short Stories | Tags: , , , , , , | 13 Comments

“Bowlful of Bunnies” by L. S. Engler

I’ve been following L. S. Engler‘s blog for a while now, so when I saw that she had released an e-book of short stories, I made sure to buy it immediately.  Since I have a massive TBR list, I’ve been leisurely reading the stories in between other books.

Like any short story collection, there are stories that resonated well with me, as well as ones that I was ambivalent about.  This is not a bad thing, it’s just the nature of short story collections.  Rather than going through each story, I’m just going to highlight some of my favorites.

“Just Right” is a retelling of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.  All of the fairy-tale princesses are being held captive in a mental asylum by Doctor Grimm.  When Gohalla Daffoldil Lox attempts to escape, she finds more than she bargained for.  I’m a huge sucker for reinterpretations of fairy tales, and this was such an original take on a familiar story.

“Lilacs” is a bit sad, but beautiful at the same time.  It tells the story of a little girl learning about the death of her grandmother, and it highlights the difference in perception between adults and children.

“The Space Between Worlds” delves into the realm of SF/F.  A young lady named Emalia, who lives with her aunt, has the ability to travel between worlds.  One day, she discovers the truth about her parents’ deaths and must fight a deadly foe who shares her powers.

“The Wartburg Incident” was my favorite out of the entire collection, but saying much more about it would ruin the fun.  Suffice to say that it’s historical and Satan is involved.

The stories in “Bowlful of Bunnies” span a variety of genres and as a whole are well-written and a delight to read.  Many of them are characterized by little twists and unique endings.  Recommended.

Categories: Fiction, Short Stories | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Call of Cthulhu” by H. P. Lovecraft

“That is not dead which can eternal lie, And with strange aeons even death may die.”

This week I chose to read “The Call of Cthulhu” by H. P. Lovecraft for Short Stories on Wednesdays, hosted by Breadcrumb Reads.

I had been working my way through a collection of Lovecraft’s stories during the R.I.P. Challenge, but hadn’t gotten as far as the Cthulhu mythos yet.  As this is one of his most famous, I decided to skip ahead and read it now.

The story is comprised of the notes of a man named Thurston, who has pieced together papers from his granduncle to tell the story of Cthulhu.  The first segment deals with a bas-relief sculpture of a strange creature.  The sculptor was one of many unrelated individuals who reported having strange dreams of an ancient city with alien geometry and a winged squid monstrosity.

The second segment describes a cult near New Orleans, where a similar statue was found.  Thurston pieces together the beliefs of the cult, which holds that the Great Old Ones dwelled on Earth in the past, but now sleep in a sunken city.  One day they shall awaken and begin a reign of destruction.

In the third segment, a handful of sailors accidentally come upon a newly exposed fragment of a sunken city…

Lovecraft is only a little bit racist in “The Call of Cthulhu,” which is more than I can say about many of his other works.

I can see why people like this story so much.  The existence of the Great Old Ones is just plausible enough to send chills down one’s spine, especially considering the fact that different cultures around the world with no connection to each other often have similar mythologies.  It’s interesting to imagine, especially since I’ve been told that Cthulhu is supposed to be only among the lesser of the Great Old Ones.  I’ve got a great respect for Lovecraft for coming up with such a compelling concept.

I recommend Lovecraft as bedtime reading.  His stories make excellent nightmare fuel.

Categories: Fiction, Horror/Gothic, Short Stories | Tags: , , , , | 21 Comments

“The Overcoat” by Nikolai Gogol

Up until this point, I’ve generally been against participating in blog memes.  However, Breadcrumb Reads hosts a Short Stories on Wednesdays meme that I’ve decided will be the exception, as short stories are a very underrated form of writing.  For this week, I’ve chosen The Overcoat by Nikolai Gogol (see link for full text of the story).

Gogol’s writing is one of the earliest examples of surrealism, and “The Overcoat” is no exception.  It tells the story of Akaky Akakievich Bashmachkin, whose name sounds just as ridiculous in Russian as it does in English.  It’s a ridiculous name because Akaky is a ridiculous man.  He is both stingy and poor, and works as a low-level bureaucrat copying lines by hand.  He won’t take a promotion because he’s afraid to step out of his own familiar habits to face the unknown.

Akaky has owned the same threadbare overcoat for a very long time, and his coworkers mock him for it.  He takes it to the tailor to get fixed, but is assured that the coat is beyond repair.  As Akaky doesn’t make a lot of money, it takes him a long time to save up for a replacement.  When he finally gets it, he feels like a changed man, and his coworkers throw a party in his honor, but Akaky feels alienated and thrown off by the attention.  On his way home, he is mugged, and the thieves take the coat.  Akaky despairs, and tries using bureaucratic connections to get the coat back, only to be laughed at.  Akaky falls ill and dies, and his ghost comes back and starts stealing people’s overcoats.

In the end, it is Akaky’s resistance to change that leads to his death.  Gogol uses the story to poke fun at Russian bureaucracy, highlighting its incompetence and lack of imagination.  Meanwhile, readers feel pity for Akaky, who despite his ridiculousness remains a generally sympathetic character who is so underpaid that a new overcoat becomes a monumental and life-changing event.

What short stories have you been reading recently?

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For anybody who finds this post while Googling for help on Russian literature homework, you can also see my 19th Century Russian Literature Pathfinder that I made for one of my library school classes for links to further resources.

Categories: Dead Russians, Fiction, Short Stories | Tags: , , , , , | 9 Comments

H. P. Lovecraft – Stories, Part 2

During the R.I.P. Challenge this fall, I had decided to read some Lovecraft.  The challenge has already ended, but I’m still going to continue what I started.  Today I’m going to talk about two of H. P. Lovecraft’s short stories–“The Lurking Fear” and “The Rats in the Walls.”

The Lurking Fear

Like “Herbert West:  Reanimator,” this story was originally published as a serial.  This time Lovecraft doesn’t need to run a recap of what’s already happened, which makes the story far more readable.

The protagonist has an interest in the occult.  He hears stories revolving around Martense Mansion and decides to investigate.  He decides to spend the night with some companions, only to find *dun dun dun.* Since this only made our narrator more curious, he begins doing research in the village and gets caught in a storm with a new companion, only to find *dun dun dun!*  Of course, after two major events ending in *dun dun dun,* he becomes even more curious (read:  stupid)  and decides to dig up an old Martense grave, only to find *dun dun dun!*  (This is kind of a fun way of handling spoilers, but I could see it getting very annoying very quickly, so I’ll stop now.)

This was a pretty cool story, and one of my favorite by Lovecraft thus far.

The Rats in the Walls

This story is narrated by the last surviving member of the Delapore family.  After discovering that his family’s ancestral property in England was for sale, he decides to move there and renovate it.  The villagers are very superstitious about the property and refuse to have anything to do with it, and there had always been mysterious and grim legends surrounding the family that lived there.  When Delapore begins spending the night, he notices the strange behavior of his cat and begins to hear noises in the walls at night.  Deciding to investigate, he journeys to the crypt to discover his family’s secret…

This is the point where my commentary turns into an outright rant.  This would have been my favorite Lovecraft story thus far if the man didn’t happen to be such a racist dick.  I understand that authors are in part the product of their time.  Even Dostoevsky is given to rants about the inferiority of the Germans.  However, there’s a huge difference between having some backward ideas and being a douchebag about it.  Naming the narrator’s black cat “N____ Man” crosses that line.  (And no, I’m not going to pollute my blog by actually spelling it out.)  It’s just a dick move.  Were this any other author, I’d probably not continue reading, but it’s Lovecraft.  The man was a genius who happened to create one of the most compelling worldviews within the genre of horror, even to this day.

Where does this leave me?  Well, it’s hard to say.  While I’m reading, I often desperately want one of the Elder Gods to rip a narrator’s face off after he says something that makes me angry.   However, by the end of one of these stories the narrator usually encounters some satisfactory form of poetic justice.  It’s just incredibly frustrating.

Returning to the story, Lovecraft does toy with some interesting ideas in this piece, including the sins of previous generations being inherited through a family.  One of the other themes that crops up in both stories today is the price that one must pay for knowledge.  Lovecraft’s tales are chilling enough to give me nightmares (Clive Barker is the only other author who’s been able to do that), and if you can get past the obnoxious racism I think that they’re definitely worth reading.

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, Horror/Gothic, Short Stories | Tags: , , , , | 7 Comments

“Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders” by Neil Gaiman

Over the past two months, I’ve been participating in a groupread of Neil Gaiman’s “Fragile Things,” as a part of the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril Challenge, hosted by Carl from Stainless Steel Droppings.  For those of you who haven’t been following along, this is a spoiler-free review of the book.

This book was the first time that I’ve read any of Gaiman’s work.  I think that it’s a nice way of being introduced to him, as it allows the reader to experience a great variety of his stories and poems, which range in tone from being lighthearted and whimsical to focusing on darker adult themes.  As it’s hard to give an overall synopsis of a collection of short stories, I’m going to go over some of the highlights of the collection.

“The Problem With Susan” – This was a short story that answered the question of what happened to Susan from C. S. Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia” after he abruptly cut her out of the story for being interested in boys and makeup.

“October in the Chair” – In this story, the months of the year are personified and sitting around a campfire.  October tells an eerie ghost story.

“The Monarch of the Glen” – The longest piece in the collection, this novella is set in Gaiman’s American Gods universe.  It tells the story of a character named Shadow as he visits Scotland.  It’s got Viking/Beowulf mythology, which was pretty neat.

“The Day the Saucers Came” – This poem was an awesome nerd-out.  It made me happy.

“Locks” – A poem about a father telling his child about Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

These are just a few of the selections in the book that stood out to me.  There are many more interesting stories, as well as the handful of stories that I didn’t care for.  As a whole, the stories tend to be well-written and cast an interesting perspective on mythology, legends, and fairy tales, as well as day to day life.  These stories are best enjoyed with a cup of coffee on lazy autumn mornings.

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, Horror/Gothic, Short Stories | Tags: , , , , , | 13 Comments

Fragile Things Groupread, Part 8

This week concludes the groupread of Neil Gaiman’s collection of short stories entitled “Fragile Things,” hosted by Carl from Stainless Steel Droppings as a part of the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril Challenge.

The image to the left is the cover from the Hungarian version of the book.  I thought it was interesting to see the various international covers from the book, as they each provided different ways of interpreting the atmosphere of the collection.

Today’s post will involve spoilers from the last four stories/poems in the book.  Later in the week, I’ll be posting a spoiler-free review of the book as a whole for anyone who hasn’t been following along.

The Day the Saucers Came

That day, the saucers landed.  Hundreds of them, golden,

Silent, coming down from the sky like great snowflakes

I loved the opening lines of the poem.  I’m sure part of it has to do with the first snow flurries of the season that fell in DC yesterday.  Poor narrator’s a wee bit narcissistic, isn’t he?  I liked this one.  The imagery was nice, and who doesn’t love the zombie apocalypse?

Sunbird

In the introduction, Gaiman writes that this story was a birthday present for his daughter.  The story describes the cyclical nature of time and legend, featuring the Epicurean society as they quest to sample everything edible on the planet, culminating in the Egyptian Sunbird.  I found it both cute and horrifying at the same time, but then again, those who decide to chow down on legendary creatures deserve their fate.  Then again, part of my thoughts on the story might stem from a mild resentment at being allergic to nuts and shellfish…

Inventing Aladdin

As I’ve said many times before, I love Neil Gaiman’s poems.  He did such a good job setting the tone of this one… imagining Scheherazade trying to come up with stories and finding inspiration from ordinary events in her day-to-day life.  Unlike the rest of us, she really couldn’t afford to get the occasional writer’s block when telling new stories.  I liked the contrast that Gaiman draws between the very ordinary routine and her extraordinary circumstances.  This poem was quite well done.

The Monarch of the Glen

Earlier in the book, we were introduced to Smith and Mr. Alice, and most of us tended to agree that the duo deserved to die (or worse) for their actions.  In this book, they weren’t so dark, and in fact almost seemed likeable.  Of all the characters in the story, I thought that Jennie was the most interesting.  I felt bad that she and Shadow couldn’t be together in the end.  They’d have made a rather cute couple.  I also enjoyed the fact that Shadow seemed to have only a vague understanding of his past, revealed to us only through nightmares and bits of legend.  He didn’t seem to understand his place within legend until it was too late to turn back.

Concluding Thoughts

“Sunbird” and “The Monarch of the Glen” both interested me in part because they told stories that were very cyclical; the same events happened throughout the centuries, but our characters didn’t understand until after the fact that they were becoming a part of the very same pattern.  I loved the poems this week.  Overall, these selections were a great way to conclude the readalong.  It seems to have gone by so quickly, even though we’ve been doing this for eight weeks now!

 

Categories: Fiction, Horror/Gothic, Short Stories | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

“Brokeback Mountain” by Annie Proulx

I read Annie Proulx’s short story “Brokeback Mountain” as a part of a class that I’m taking on multicultural librarianship.  It can be found in Proulx’s anthology “Close Range:  Wyoming Stories.”

When I started reading, I didn’t know entirely what to expect.  I hadn’t seen the movie before, although I had heard that it was about gay cowboys.  I’ve never been that keen on cowboy movies, so I never bothered to see it.

“Brokeback Mountain” is a far more powerful story than I expected.  The two main characters, Ennis and Jack, meet while working as ranch hands one summer, and develop a relationship.  Each thinks that he can go back to his normal life after the summer ends, only to find that life really isn’t that simple.  They each marry and try to have families, only to find that their marriages fail.  The two men continue meeting for summer camping trips as a last-ditch attempt to be together, realizing that it wouldn’t be safe for their relationship to be in the open.  The ending made me cry.

I think that one of the things that makes this story so powerful is that Ennis and Jack are just two lower-class rural guys who don’t stand out in any way.  Both of them seem like stereotypically masculine cowboys who just happen to be in love with each other.  They spend their lives seeking personal fulfillment, leading double lives out of concern for their own safety until tragedy strikes.  It’s a good choice for anyone interested in cowboys or reading stories with GLBT themes.

Categories: Fiction, Short Stories, Western | Tags: , , , | 15 Comments

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