Author: John C Adams

Epeolatry Book Review: The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror by Daniel Mallory Ortberg


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Title: The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror
Author: Daniel Mallory Ortberg
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Corsair
Release Date: 13th March 2018

Synopsis: From Mallory Ortberg comes a collection of darkly mischievous stories based on classic fairy tales. Adapted from the beloved “Children’s Stories Made Horrific” series, “The Merry Spinster” takes up the trademark wit that endeared Ortberg to readers of both The Toast and the best-selling debut Texts From Jane Eyre. The feature has become among the most popular on the site, with each entry bringing in tens of thousands of views, as the stories proved a perfect vehicle for Ortberg’s eye for deconstruction and destabilization. Sinister and inviting, familiar and alien all at the same time, The Merry Spinster updates traditional children’s stories and fairy tales with elements of psychological horror, emotional clarity, and a keen sense of feminist mischief.

Readers of The Toast will instantly recognize Ortberg’s boisterous good humor and uber-nerd swagger: those new to Ortberg’s oeuvre will delight in this collection’s unique spin on fiction, where something a bit mischievous and unsettling is always at work just beneath the surface.

Unfalteringly faithful to its beloved source material, The Merry Spinster also illuminates the unsuspected, and frequently, alarming emotional complexities at play in the stories we tell ourselves, and each other, as we tuck ourselves in for the night.

Some authors seem destined to shake things up in the best way possible. Daniel Mallory Ortberg is a New York Times bestselling author. Courtesy of his debut work Texts from Jane Eyre, which was based upon his longstanding columns in “The Hairpin” and “The Toast”, it envisions famous literary characters exchanging anachronistic text messages. A trans man who transitioned in 2018 and took his wife’s surname when they married a year later, The Merry Spinster is his second work. 

The Merry Spinster is a slender anthology of short fiction. It retells classic fairy stories like “The Six Swans” by the Brothers Grimm, and folk legends such as the Orkney folktale “Johnny Croy and His Mermaid Bride”. 

“The Daughter Cells” is a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid”, and it explores the soul of the natural world as a multifaceted entity reflecting Nature’s complex interconnectedness. The human desire to own and control, and of course our inherent selfishness, are set in stark contrast to the world below the waves. 

“The Merry Spinster” (recasting “Beauty and the Beast”) exhibits a profound ambivalence towards marriage as the sole narrative drive of the heroine, especially when the man concerned is so challenging. Toxic masculinity can be tamed by the love of a good woman, to be sure, but why is the woman having to do all the emotional work, Ortberg asks. 

Recasting fairy tales and folk legends for a modern audience, or simply retelling them in a way that is more empowering for women and other minorities, is fertile territory for horror writers. This is true at the literary end of the spectrum, as with this volume, and towards the more popular end of the fiction market. In a process brought to worldwide attention by Angela Carter in the early 1990s when Virago published two books of fairy tales which she edited, writers have been reclaiming fairy tales and folk legends as their own. They’ve wrestled them from the likes of the Brothers Grimm and Walt Disney ever since. 

The best writers give something of themselves in their work, however discreetly this is achieved.  One of the things I love most about Ortberg is how true this is of his writing. Educated at the private Azusa Pacific University and raised by Evangelical Christian parents, it isn’t surprising that faith is explored extensively within these pages. The ‘Sources and Influences’ section at the page lists, among others, “The Ladder of Divine Ascent” by St John Climacus and “Summa Theologica” by Thomas Aquinas. 

Gender issues were also in play, with a thoughtful and potentially personal retelling of “The Frog Prince” by the Brothers Grimm. Here the youngest daughter takes the role of princess in the title (“The Frog’s Princess”) but is referred to as ‘he’ throughout in a way that felt compellingly natural to this non-binary reviewer. 

This was an immensely subtle but thought-provoking anthology. After two slow reads through for the purpose of this review, I feel like I’m only beginning to scratch the surface of what it has to offer. 

Review the reviewers! If you’ve read this novel, or just have some thoughts on any point made in this review, tag me at @JohnCAdamsSF on Twitter to share them. 

5/5 stars

Available from Bookshop, Amazon, and Amazon UK.

Epeolatry Book Review: Varieties of the Weird Tale by S. T. Joshi


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Title: Varieties of the Weird Tale
Author: S. T. Joshi
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Hippocampus Press
Release Date: 1st May 2017

Synopsis: In his forty-year career as a critic and editor of weird fiction, S. T. Joshi has had occasion to study many of the leading writers of fantasy and horror fiction, and this book embodies some of his most provocative discussions on weird writers over the past century or more.

The “golden age” of weird fiction ranged from about 1880 to 1940, and Joshi studies such leading writers as Ambrose Bierce and Bram Stoker, as well as little-known but fascinating figures such as Edna W. Underwood and Gertrude Atherton. Bierce’s pungent political satires, rarely discussed by critics, are analyzed in detail, and we learn of both the lives and the writings of such pioneering writers of ghostly fiction as Mary E. Wilkins Freeman and E. Nesbit.

The early decades of the 20th century saw the emergence of such titans as Lord Dunsany and M. R. James, and Joshi provides penetrating glimpses into their variegated work. This was also an era of lesser-known figures, and Joshi shows how the work of Sax Rohmer, Irvin S. Cobb, and Maurice Level contributed to the development of weird fiction. Contemporary writers ranging from Ramsey Campbell, Thomas Ligotti, and Caitlín R. Kiernan are also studied in detail.

All told, this volume provides illuminating glimpses of many of the leading writers of the weird tale over the past century and a half, and also adds to S. T. Joshi’s stature as the leading critic of weird fiction today.

In Varieties of the Weird Tale from Hippocampus Press, S T Joshi expands upon his earlier work of essays on the weird tale. The first volume (The Weird Tale) analysed the writing and appeal of traditional practitioners of this horror subgenre, such as Arthur Machen, Lord Dunsany, Algernon Blackwood, MR James, Ambrose Bierce and, of course, HP Lovecraft. 

Joshi extends the time period under consideration. It stretches all the way from the golden age of weird fiction (beginning with Bierce) through the era of Lovecraft, to the contemporary scene. The most recent writer to appear is Caitlin R Kiernan.

Joshi is a well-known expert on Lovecraft and weird fiction, having edited and written histories of supernatural fiction, weird fiction, Cthulhu Mythos, and more. For budding authors hoping to learn more about weird fiction, the pertinence of his analysis and the thoroughness of his historically based presentation makes this book an excellent starting point. 

Some of the analysis is quite thematic, which I always appreciate. There are essays on ‘Christianity and Paganism in Two Dunsany Novels’, and ‘Science and Superstition: Fritz Leiber’s Modernisation of Gothic’.

The old masters are all present this time around, with more analysis of MR James and Ambrose Bierce. There’s also a wider range of established leading names such as Donald Wandrei and Sax Rohmer. One of the most notable elements of The Weird Tale was that there were no female authors. Thankfully that isn’t the case in this follow-up volume. Excellent writers, such as Gertrude Atherton and Mary E Wilkins Freeman, are treated in detail.

Every writer has their drawbacks. With Joshi, it’s the decided way in which he expresses himself. The introduction to this volume singles out the poor reading taste of the mass public in general, and (related to this) the success of writers such as Anne Rice and Stephen King (whose works I rather enjoy as it happens) for particular attack. There’s not much room for differing views. It’s easy for an academic to fall into that trap as the sole author of a work of criticism, but I recently reviewed Rhetorics of Fantasy by Farah Mendelsohn, and was struck by how successfully this pitfall was avoided. Likewise, there is an advantage to having multiple contributors, as the willingness to explore varied viewpoints showcased in, The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature.

I’m never a fan of critics complaining about the popularity of mass-market books. There’s simply no need to be snobby about reading material we all enjoy. In regard to authors who are much loved in the horror genre, it seems almost foolhardy to alienate their readership. The weird tale doesn’t lessen the achievements of Lovecraft and his fellows in any way. Vastly popular writers such as Stephen King, Dean Koontz or Clive Barker may be onto something, too.

Notwithstanding my thoughts above, Joshi has much to teach writers developing within the ambit of the weird tale, or within the horror genre. And you don’t need to agree with a critic on every point in order to learn a great deal from them. Joshi’s strength lies in his encyclopedic knowledge of his subject matter, and this provides a firm foundation for his worldview of genre fiction.


4/5 stars

Available from Hippocampus Press and Amazon.

Epeolatry Book Review: The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe


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Title: The Complete Tales and Poems
Author: Edgar Allan Poe
Genre: Classic Horror
Publisher: Race Point Publishing
Release Date: 2014 edition

Synopsis:The Complete Tales & Poems of Edgar Allan Poe is the next edition in the Knickerbocker Classic series, featuring works from the famous gothic American writer. His works span from 1827 to his death in 1849. His often macabre and dark works included “The Raven,” “The Black Cat,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and “Annabelle Lee.” For Poe fans worldwide, this stunning gift edition has a full cloth binding, foil blocking on the spine, ribbon marker, and is packaged neatly in an elegant slipcase. The Complete Tales & Poems of Edgar Allan Poe contains every known Poe tale ever written, this deluxe edition boasts the entire Poe catalogue.

Edgar Allan Poe holds multiple distinctions as a writer. First, he invented the detective story. Second, he was a superb poet and short-story writer. Lastly, he was the author of some of the most terrifyingly uncomfortable tales ever penned. This isn’t a bad record for someone who wrote of his writing before his premature death at the age of forty, ‘I have no reason to be ashamed’.

 This volume contains all the poetry and fiction, making it a great starting point for the reader to enjoy the sheer variety of Poe’s short and long works, and for the writer keen to study in depth the skills required to construct compelling horror, mystery and (occasionally) fantasy fiction.

 “The Mystery of Marie Roget”, “The Purloined Letter”, and “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” showcase many traits we would subsequently come to associate with the detective story. The arrogant genius, the amiable sidekick, and the pedestrian investigative skills of the police force were presented together for the first time. It was an intriguing combination that quickly became well established. As a result of Poe’s location choice, a lasting connection exists between Paris and the detective genre, something Agatha Christie cheerfully subverted in her Poirot Mysteries by making her Belgian detective perpetually mistaken for a Frenchman.

 The genius that was Poe’s detective fiction may have emerged spontaneously, but his fantasy and horror fiction (particularly the latter) grew out of an existing tradition in a more time-honoured way. The ‘rules’ of gothic fiction had been established, thoroughly explored, and (some might say) finally exhausted in the decades before Poe’s birth in 1809. However, he built upon these conventions to refresh the horror story by adding greater psychological penetration.

 “The Fall of the House of Usher” showcases many gothic horror features: an ancient family, a terrible home, secrets long husbanded. To this Poe added the inner dimension: an old friend arrives to witness the decline of Roderick Usher, funneling his inner response to the physical and moral environment in a manner more emotionally accessible to the reader than the focus on external action common in gothic horror.

 There’s also a lighter tone to this volume, presented through “The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether”. Poe offers outright bloodthirstiness in stories such as “The Masque of the Red Death”, and psychological torment in “The Pit and the Pendulum”. The outright stories of humour can feel a little forced at times, but this collection ends strongly with “The Narrative of A Gordon Pym”.

5 out of 5 stars.


Epeolatry Book Review: Our Lady of Darkness by Fritz Leiber


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Title: Our Lady of Darkness
Author: Fritz Leiber
Genre: Horror Fantasy
Publisher: Currently Open Road Media Sci-Fi and Fantasy
Release Date: 1978

Synopsis: A horror author is drawn into a mysterious curse in this World Fantasy Award–winning novel from the author of the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series.

Fritz Leiber may be best known as a fantasy writer, but he published widely and successfully in the horror and science fiction fields. His fiction won the Hugo, Nebula, Derleth, Gandalf, Lovecraft, and World Fantasy Awards, and he was honored with the Life Achievement Lovecraft Award and the Grand Master Nebula Award. One of his best novels is the classic dark fantasy Our Lady of Darkness, winner of the 1978 World Fantasy Award.

Our Lady of Darkness introduces San Francisco horror writer Franz Westen. While studying his beloved city through binoculars from his apartment window, he is astonished to see a mysterious figure waving at him from a hilltop two miles away. He walks to Corona Heights and looks back at his building to discover the figure waving at him from his apartment window—and to find himself caught in a century‑spanning curse that may have destroyed Clark Ashton Smith and Jack London. 

Fritz Leiber is one of genre fiction’s most versatile authors, but he is probably best known for Our Lady of Darkness, a work of urban fantasy.

 One day, Franz Westen is standing up on Corona Heights. He casually spots his apartment building and notices, to his disquiet, something pale brown leaning out of his window. The thing waves at him, setting in train an increasingly obsessive (yet equally somehow understandable and rational) desire on the part of the point-of-view character to solve the mystery.

 The plot revolves around the geometry and layout of San Francisco, utilizing its unique character and many of its famous landmarks in the process. The premise is that ancient demons can exist just as easily in a wholly modern environment as in ancient houses, castles or graveyards. They wreak terrible vengeance when their slumber is disturbed, and I find it more terrifying when they do so in a calm and calculating manner.

 Like many works of urban fantasy, the city that provides the book’s setting also functions as an additional character in its own right. San Francisco, with its Modernist architecture and gridlined street layout, is as important to the story’s psychological underpinning as the hero or his companions. It is the perfect setting for the story that unfolds. The book also has something of an autobiographical feel given that it is based around Leiber’s life in a city he knows inside-out.

 The action is very low key, and the feel is uncanny rather than overtly bloodthirsty. Part of the attraction of the story lies in Franz’s investigation into the disappearance of real-life author Clark Ashton Smith.

 Through a subtle blending of real historical figures with those of his own invention, Leiber pays fond homage to those who came before him. Horror writing is quite a hierarchical genre, drawing upon influences from past writers in ways that are continually developing and shooting off in new directions, so this style of approach feels very right.

 The plot development and ending were satisfying and affirming, and overall (despite the weird focus throughout) it finished in a way that was unexpectedly positive. It felt far cozier than a different writer (Lovecraft, for example) would have delivered, and this acts as a pertinent reminder that, whatever lineages exist in the development of horror fiction down the generations, each writer of genius tells the tale that grows inside them and in the style that speaks best to them.

5/5 stars

Available on Amazon.

Epeolatry Book Review: The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde


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Title: The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
Author: Robert Louis Stevenson
Genre: Gothic Horror
Publisher: out of copyright, read free – and legally – at Project Gutenberg
Release Date: 1886

Synopsis: In seeking to discover his inner self, the brilliant Dr Jekyll discovers a monster. First published to critical acclaim in 1886, this mesmerising thriller is a terrifying study of the duality of man’s nature, and it is the book which established Stevenson’s reputation as a writer.

Some stories encapsulate absolutely the time in which they were written. In this case, the morally repressive nature of Victorian society forced natural human impulses into the shadows to skulk alongside less appealing ones—as if there was no difference between them. Most Victorian gentlemen lived a double life, satisfying their urges with drunken nights that ended in the brothel. Some kept mistresses until the woman  married (and retaining her services afterwards!). Respectable women were relegated to the status of innocents, unable to enjoy the same freedom.

The psychological dichotomy between the veneer of outward respectability and the secret excesses of the private domain is fully externalised in this novella. Two characters (Jekyll and Hyde) represent the same person’s behaviour in different spheres of life.

By day, Dr Jekyll is a profoundly respectable and humane man practising medicine and conducting experiments in his home laboratory. After dark, the right combination of chemicals alters his mental state and physique so that a wholly different man emerges: Mr Hyde. The latter is capable of murder, violent threats and intimidation, and he takes an unrestrained pleasure in perpetrating all of them. Initially, Jekyll has no difficulty turning from Hyde into his law abiding self, but over time this transformation becomes harder and harder to do.

The Victorians knew all about the perils of opium, and alcohol often fueled a debauched night out. In linking the outward changes of behaviour to the ingestion of a liquid, Stevenson utilised an accepted feature of their society: intoxication effectively facilitated one personality morphing into another.

Since its publication in 1886, this novella has never been out of print. It has been adapted for the ballet (which I thoroughly enjoyed), the stage,  and musical formats. There are countless TV and film versions. Along the way, it has earned its rightful place in western cultural identity; the casual reference to a ‘Jekyll and Hyde character’ is almost universally understood.

Because this novella reflects the particular circumstances of the Victorian era, the story enjoys widespread currency. I believe that it does so for two main reasons. The first—it anticipated the theories of multiple personality disorder and vividly showed a physical process by which personalities would emerge. The second—it represents, via a horror narrative, the psychological altering in behaviour across categories of interaction. In other words, your children, parents, boss, friends, and acquaintances (not to mention the man in the street) all experience different versions of you.

This is a superbly written and incredibly imaginative novella that entered into our collective consciousness as a literary work. It still thrills and entertains. I enjoy it enormously every time I read it, and it always leaves me with something fresh to think about.

5/5 stars

Available free at Project Gutenberg as a legal, out of copyright, read.

Epeolatry Book Review: The Midwich Cuckoos


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Title: The Midwich Cuckoos
Author: John Wyndham
Genre: Dystopia/Sci-Fi
Publisher: Penguin
Release Date: 1957

Synopsis: In the sleepy English village of Midwich, a mysterious silver object appears and all the inhabitants fall unconscious. A day later the object is gone and everyone awakens unharmed except that all the women in the village are discovered to be pregnant.

The resultant children of Midwich do not belong to their parents: all are blonde, all are golden eyed. They grow up too fast and their minds exhibit frightening abilities that give them control over others and brings them into conflict with the villagers just as a chilling realisation dawns on the world outside . . .

The Midwich Cuckoos is the classic tale of aliens in our midst, exploring how we respond when confronted by those who are innately superior to us in every conceivable way.

I’m about as Southern English as they come, so I love any horror tale set in a village location, and I frequently draw upon rural life for inspiration in my own horror writing. I grew up on dystopian horror with a big splash of science fiction’-feel,  the hallmark of John Wyndham’s writing.

The Midwich Cuckoos was published in 1957, and it was later filmed twice as Village of the Damned. It was the fourth of seven novels published in his lifetime when readers would enjoy a Wyndham novel every two years, on average. Film and TV adaptations followed, most notably: The Day of the Triffids, and Chocky.

The book’s premise is quite simple; Richard Gayford is away from the village of Midwich celebrating his birthday with his wife, Janet, in London. Everyone in Midwich falls into an inexplicably deep slumber, and no one can enter or leave the village until the slumber passes. At first, no lasting harm has been sustained by the Midwich residents. It subsequently transpires that every woman of childbearing age (married or not) fell pregnant that night. For a close-knit rural community in the Fifties, this raises interesting questions about trust and morality in a way that seems almost quaint by today’s standards. Midwich faces real peril as the babies’ due date approaches.

Darker facts emerge over a period of time connected to the children’s alien origins: they are all born within a few hours of each other, those raised away from the village exert an eerie power over their mother which leads to their permanent return, they grow and develop uncomfortably quickly, they are smarter than other children, possess strange powers, and (most disturbingly of all) they communicate via telepathy and view themselves as a single identity. Both the residents and the authorities afield—including scientists interested in harnessing this collective consciousness—struggle with responding in situations where human compassion towards the aliens leaves them exposed to harmful threats.

One of the most distinctive facts, surprising given the complexity of the plot, is that the whole story is told in first person. This feature of Wyndham’s work often centres around a reluctant hero whose emotional reticence makes him a stranger to a society in which he ought to feel completely at home. This ‘outsider within’ provides objectivity via his analysis of events coupled with an aura of ‘access all areas’, ensuring that he is always in the right place to tell the story without his presence feeling contrived.

First person point of view makes the tale real, personal and intimate. The story is never distant or mechanical. At the heart of this tale lies the intense relief Richard and Janet feel about their absence from Midwich on the night of the deep sleep; she hasn’t fallen pregnant. This is set against the mortification of young unmarried Ferrelyn Zellaby and the joy of lifelong spinster Miss Ogle in discovering they are pregnant, even though neither can explain how it happened nor identify the father. Both women approach motherhood determined to provide their child unconditional love and acceptance. In the face of what transpires, their brave and noble life-affirming aspiration will be tested to its limits.

Wyndam died in 1969, and manuscripts continued to emerge forty years after his death— a testimony to Wyndham. Literary executors, loyal fans, and expert critics curating his archives brought Web and Plan for Chaos to light long after his passing.

In a world where social tensions between urban and rural communities remain as real and abiding now as they were in Wyndham’s day, this tense novel is both thrilling and thought provoking in equal measure.


4/5 stars

Available on Amazon.

Epeolatry Book Review: Dead Man’s Hand: Five Tales of the Weird West


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Title: Dead Man’s Tales: Five Tales of the Weird West
Author: Nancy A Collins
Genre: Weird Horror
Publisher: Two Wolf Press
Release Date: 30th September, 2004


Some of the stories in the weird west genre anthology are more ‘wild west’, others are really ‘weird’ and the ‘west’ setting is an afterthought. Happily, in the case of Dead Man’s Hand, neither criticism applies.

 Attention to detail, giving a vivid portrayal of location and everyday life, is essential in any western genre tale (whether weird or not). Collins’ strength in this regard lies in getting right down into the nitty-gritty of wild-west life. In the longer tale “Walking Wolf”, Billy Skillet is kidnapped by Comanche as a young boy and given the name Little Wolf. The narrative of the decades of Billy’s life (challenging, often gruelling, but utterly believable and touching) was drenched in the ceremonies, lore and mores of the Comanche.

 A truly great weird west tale also needs a strong, uncomfortable and shudder-inducing ‘weird’ element alongside the western atmosphere. In this work, Collins showcases how varied such as element can be. Frankenstein’s monster, vampires, werewolves are all pressed into service, and more besides. In “The Tortuga Hill Gang’s Last Ride”, this aspect comes from Little Red (son of the devil himself), and the slightly ironic tone of this tale is a welcome lightening up from the more seriously horrorful feel of earlier tales. It’s a rare writer that can handle both with equal skill.

 The writing was impressively deft and confident, and that immeasurably aided my enjoyment in reading it. I liked that earlier works are included alongside later pieces because it provides the reader with a sense of the writer’s development over time. As Joe Lansdale says in his introduction, “Her most recent work has a more casual, richer texture to the earlier prose, but that does not take away from the earlier tales, among which are some of my favourites.”


4/5 stars

Available on Amazon.

Epeolatry Book Review: Nightmare at 20,000 Feet: Horror Stories


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Title: Nightmare at 20,000 Feet: Horror Stories
Author: Richard Matheson
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Non Basic Stock Line
Release Date: 5th January, 2002


Remember that monster on the wing of the airplane? William Shatner saw it on The Twilight Zone, John Lithgow saw it in the movie-even Bart Simpson saw it. “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” is just one of many classic horror stories by Richard Matheson that have insinuated themselves into our collective imagination.

Here are more than twenty of Matheson’s most memorable tales of fear and paranoia, including:

“Duel,” the nail-biting tale of man versus machines that inspired Steven Spielberg’s first film;

“Prey,” in which a terrified woman is stalked by a malevolent Tiki doll, as chillingly captured in yet another legendary TV moment;

“Blood Son,” a disturbing portrait of a strange little boy who dreams of being a vampire;

“Dress of White Silk,” a seductively sinister tale of evil and innocence.

Personally selected by Richard Matheson, the bestselling author of I Am Legend and What Dreams May Come, these and many other stories, more than demonstrate why he is rightfully regarded as one of the finest and most influential horror writers of our generation.

Nightmare At 20,000 Feet (336 pages, pub Jan 5, 2002) is a collection of twenty short stories, previously published in an eclectic mix of magazines from Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine to Playboy.

 In addition to his well-known novels, many of which have been turned into successful Hollywood films, Matheson has decades of short story publication behind him. He’s also written episodes for much-loved TV shows like “The Twilight Zone”.

 The title story, the first in the anthology, explores the terror of aviation flying. My son has a private pilot’s license, so I don’t believe that terror to be true, but it’s fun to suspend disbelief. The rest of the book explores a variety of themes. In “Mad House”, forty-year-old English lecturer Chris Neal is pushed to his limit by the breakdown of his marriage, the strains of teaching, and that old friend—writer’s block. He reminded me of a turbo-charged version of Vladimir Nabokov’s heroes—broken and overwhelmed by all the demands placed upon him, slowly losing touch with reality. Unlike Nabokov’s gentle sufferers, Chris embraces his anger:

 “His thoughts drained off. He felt empty and helpless. He felt as though he could never write another word for the rest of his life. Maybe, he thought, sullenly displeased with the idea, maybe it was only the upset of her leaving that enabled my brain to find words.”

 Pressures of a wholly different kind face Jules in “Blood Son”, a vampire tale with a difference. I don’t know why we always assume the victim resists that first bite. I love how Matheson’s short story comes with a lighthearted twist:

“He found the page on the vampire bat. He tore it out and threw the book away.

He learned the selection by heart.

He knew how the bat made its wound. How it lapped up blood like a kitten drinking cream.”

My personal favourite is “Wet Straw”, in which John passes the lonely hours with a visit to an art gallery where he discovers that the pictures trigger powerful and painful memories of his late wife:

“He stopped in front of it.

It was a painting of a countryside. There was a big barn down in the valley.

He began to breathe heavily, and his fingers played on his tie. How ridiculous, he thought after a moment, that such a thing should make me nervous.”

“Wet Straw” was sad and moving, but also profoundly discomforting. 

You could say that about a lot of Matheson’s fiction, and I think emotional honesty lies at the heart of its continuing appeal.


Available on Amazon and Book Shop.