Short Stories Challenge

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Short Stories Challenge 2018 – Beachworld by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew.

Published May 27, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s Beachworld all about?:

Beachworld is set at an unspecified time in the future when a spacecraft crashes onto a beach, killing one of the crew. It is not long before the other two members of the crew discover that the land they are now stranded on is having a strange and very dangerous effect on both of them.

What did I think?:

I’m not going to go on and on about how much I adore Stephen King and his work. I think if you’ve been following my blog for a while, you might realise that by now and I don’t want to sound like a broken record. Stephen King is my hero. The End. Personally, I think it’s rare where you find an author where you enjoy both their novels and shorter fiction equally and King is one of those authors for me. Of course, there are stories that I don’t particularly connect with, I have to be honest but generally, I go into King’s work knowing I’m not going to be disappointed. For me, Beachworld was another classic King tale, rich in imaginative detail and although it’s not my favourite in the collection, it was a solid, decent and fascinating narrative that drew me in and made me want to keep turning the pages.

Stephen King, the author of the short story Beachworld. This man is my god. Seriously.

As I’ve already mentioned in the synopsis, this story is about two men, Shapiro and Rand who have crash landed onto a deserted beach, in fact it’s probably more like a desert with numerous sand dunes and a hypnotic quality which becomes deadly as the narrative continues. They have lost one of their crew mates in a fire and resulting explosion that led to the crash of the craft and have very limited water and food supplies. Desperate to be rescued, Shapiro is hoping that another spacecraft will come to their aid. However, his colleague Rand doesn’t appear to be that bothered about being saved. That’s putting it lightly. He has become entranced by the dunes and will not budge from the top of one, even for water and quite quickly becomes emaciated. Meanwhile, the sand begins creeping over his body and into the craft itself, even though there are no possible entrances that the sand could be getting into (hey, that pesky sand gets everywhere, doesn’t it?). It is almost as if the sand is claiming Rand and burying him as he continues to stand on the dune, immovable and completely under its spell.

I am always hugely impressed by the way King seems to change it up with every single story he writes. I am seriously in awe of his imagination and story-telling ability and the way in which he seems to have unlimited tales to tell stored up in that brilliant little brain of his. Beachworld is King’s take on science fiction and this story almost feels Lovecraftian in its scope and the themes it explores. Now if you’ve seen my previous Lovecraft reviews, I’m not insulting King at all by saying this (I haven’t been the biggest fan of Lovecraft in the past) but I am referring to the strange other-worldly elements that H.P. Lovecraft chooses to use. I was intrigued by these elements at the beginning of my Lovecraft journey but unfortunately they got a little bit repetitive and “samey” for me and I ended up giving up the collection.

But back to King. There is definitely a similarity to the better Lovecraft horrors in Beachworld and I loved the author’s take on the future where androids are your assistants, pornography comes in the form of holograms and people still listen to The Beach Boys even though they died eight thousand years ago. The fact that the sand seems to be alive and has a mind of its own (and a very evil mind I must add!) creeped me out considerably and I think King used the isolation of the two men to good effect. After all, how scary is it to be all alone with little hope of rescue, no food and limited water and then to top it all off, your mate goes crazy and the sand wants to eat you?! The only thing that I was slightly disappointed with was the thing that comes out of the sand right near the end of the story. For me, it kind of ruined the atmosphere and I felt as if the sand had remained a mysterious entity, I would have continued to be slightly disturbed. It’s almost like a horror film, isn’t it? If you see the monster’s face, your fear is reduced slightly because now you know what you’re facing. It’s far more scary if you can’t see whatever’s stalking you. In my opinion anyway!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

NEXT SHORT STORY: Set-Up by Dianne Gray from the collection Manslaughter And Other Tears.

 

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Short Stories Challenge 2018 – The Coincidence Of The Arts by Martin Amis from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night.

Published May 19, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s The Coincidence Of The Arts all about?:

An English Baronet becomes entangled with an American chess hustler and aspiring novelist and has an unexpected affair with a silent Afro-Caribbean woman.

What did I think?:

Coincidence Of The Arts is the first story in this collection in the section entitled “Stories To Intrigue And Excite.” With a heading like this, I must say I WAS quite excited to finally read some Martin Amis but at the same time, approached it with slight trepidation as I’ve read a few less than complimentary things about the author as a person and understand he has a bit of a reputation. I decided to talk to a friend about the author as to what his writing was really like as I knew my source had read a couple of his books and that he would give me an honest opinion that I knew I could trust. Unfortunately, although my friend told me the author could definitely write, he was less than pleased with HOW Martin Amis chooses to write his characters. In particular, he mentioned how black, working class and female characters are written in an extremely stereotypical and perhaps, not a very favourable way.

The British author of The Coincidence Of The Arts, Martin Amis.

Hearing all this, I tried to go into this short story with an open mind. I really do like to make up my own mind about things like this but to be honest, I didn’t have high hopes. The person who voiced his opinion on the author is incredibly honourable, has high morals, believes in equality for everyone and is very scathing of anyone who has obvious prejudices. In other words, he must have had a solid reason and hard evidence to have such a strong opinion. Was he right? I’m afraid so.

I’m not going to go into too much detail about this narrative, the synopsis sums it up pretty perfectly but it’s basically the story of a white English man, Rodney Peel living in New York and working as an artist, painting portraits of rich wives for their husbands. He has two main relationships in this story, one with aspiring black novelist Pharsin Courier and the other with a black woman who he desperately wants to paint but eventually ends up sleeping with on a regular basis. Not much really happens in the story of note to be fair, we mainly get Pharsin and Rodney running into each other and Rodney making excuses for not having read Pharsin’s novel yet. Then we get portions of text where Rodney is going out with a friend and telling him about his relationship with the mysterious woman. Things do connect up slightly at the end but the bare bones of this story make it a tale about art, literature and race.

The setting for our story, beautiful New York where the author, Martin Amis also now lives.

Okay, so where on earth do I start? This is such a strange little story that at times, I found myself wondering what the point of it was. Is Martin Amis trying to be too clever? Did I miss the point of the story entirely? Both these things are possible but in the end, I’m afraid this story just wasn’t for me. I’m slightly confused at it being placed in the “Stories To Intrigue And Excite,” section of this collection. Granted, I was somewhat intrigued by Rodney’s relationship with a woman who remains silent during their encounters but sadly, there was no point of this tale that excited me. In fact, some parts of it made me half laugh/half scrunch my nose up in disgust and others left me feeling distinctly uncomfortable. I’ll elaborate. There’s a point very early on in the story before Rodney and his lady friend have “done the deed,” and he’s talking to his friend about how fascinating he finds her. His friend very bluntly asks: “Have you two actually slimed?”

I couldn’t help thinking of this little guy….anyone remember Slimer from Ghostbusters?!

I mean, ewwwwww. I found it hilarious and utterly disgusting in equal measure. Aside from this awful little sentence my main problem with this story was the way people of colour were talked about both by Rodney and his hideous little friend. It was blatant racism of the worst possible kind and definitely does not sit well with me. I’m not sure if they were necessarily stereotypes but Rodney and friend talk about this woman that he is seeing in such archaic and ignorant terms, I literally squirmed whilst reading it.

I would like to try and end this review on a positive, I do always like to try and find something nice to say when writing a more critical review and in this case, I’d like to say that it is obvious the author can definitely write. I may not approve of the way he writes and talks about his characters but there is no denying he has a talent for spinning a yarn. It’s just a shame that from what I’ve heard from others and now, what I’ve read for myself, I will unfortunately not be treating myself to any Martin Amis in the future. If you can rest easy with these kinds of things in literary fiction, I’m sure you will enjoy his work – I however, cannot.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably not.

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: Beachworld by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew.

Short Stories Challenge 2018 – 20th Century Ghost by Joe Hill from the collection 20th Century Ghosts.

Published May 13, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s 20th Century Ghost all about?:

Imogene is young, beautiful, kisses like a movie star, and know everything about every film ever made. She’s also dead, the legendary ghost of the Rosebud Theatre.

What did I think?:

I confess to finding myself a bit under-whelmed by Joe Hill’s first story in this collection, Best New Horror which was good, don’t get me wrong, but having rated the author’s debut novel, Heart-Shaped Box and his second, Horns five stars when I read them recently, I guess my expectations were stupidly high. Luckily, I got on much better with the title story of this collection, 20th Century Ghost and although it might not have reached the dizzying heights of five star-ness (is that EVEN a phrase?!), it restored my faith in Hill as a short story writer.

The author of 20th Century Ghosts, Joe Hill. There were many images I could have chosen but I was strangely drawn to this one with the tree! 😛

So, this story as you may have already guessed from the synopsis is about a ghost called Imogene Gilchrist who appears to a very select number of theatre frequenters, desperate to talk to them about the movie she is viewing. The tale focuses on Alec Sheldon, who now owns the Rosebud Theatre but when he was a younger man, visited there with his brother, Ray on a regular basis. Ray has sadly been killed in the war and Alec is still struggling with his loss but one day, visits the theatre on his own where he has the frightening experience of meeting Imogene and talking to her for himself. Back in the present day, Alec has become quite obsessed with Imogene and the sad story  behind her death, which happened as she was actually watching a film, The Wizard Of Oz. He keeps notes of all his customers who have also seen Imogene who feel compelled to talk to him about the experience. Meanwhile, the theatre is losing money and all the customers who have seen the ghost have had the same strange dream, of boarded windows and a woman crying. Alec must call on all his resources to try and save the Rosebud, talk to Imogene again and make peace with his own tragic past.

This image represents how I imagined the Rosebud Theatre to look.

20th Century Ghost had just enough intrigue, creepiness and indeed, heart-break to keep me turning the pages and I adored the bitter-sweet, horribly sad ending. Imogene was a wonderful character as a ghost and the manner of her death was so sad that it just made me more curious about what her back-story was. Unfortunately, we don’t really find out a great deal but in compensation, we get the fantastic Alec, who got my emotions rocking and reeling due to the loss of his brother. Having not had any previous experience with Joe Hill’s short stories before this collection, I did wonder if he was only going to be good at epic novels but I’m delighted to say that he can write a short, snappy, engrossing tale with the best of them and I’m confident that I’m going to enjoy the rest of this collection.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: The Coincidence Of The Arts by Martin Amis from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night.

Short Stories Challenge 2018 – Four Hundred Rabbits by Simon Levack from the collection The Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime Vol 7.

Published April 12, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s Four Hundred Rabbits all about?:

Four Hundred Rabbits tells the story of a midwinter festival to honour the Aztec gods in which a young man is drugged. As our protagonist investigates, we find out exactly what happened to him and why.

What did I think?:

Once again with my Short Stories Challenge, I’ve been introduced to an author that I’ve never heard of before and I love it for that! Simon Levack is a British author of historical mystery novels that so far, all feature the same character, Yaotl who is a slave in in Precolombian Mexico with the Aztec people. Almost immediately, I appreciated the detail that has gone into Four Hundred Rabbits and in it’s execution, it very much reminded me of the Matthew Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom (which I have fallen woefully behind on). Generally, I thought it was a decent enough tale and it was obvious that the author had created the plot meticulously however it didn’t blow me away. It was enjoyable but unfortunately, only okay in my opinion.

Our protagonist for the story is the same character featured in the author’s novels, a slave called Yaotl who used to be in the priesthood but was expelled and turned quite heavily to drink before he became apprenticed as a slave. In Four Hundred Rabbits, he is brought up before his master, Lord Feathered In Black and his assistance is demanded. In the corner lies the body of Black’s great-nephew, Heron in a drugged stupor. As Yaotl has had a lot of experience with different plants/drugs through his studies as a priest, Black wants him to investigate the incident and find the culprit so that he can be punished. We are taken to a world of strange religious rituals, where four hundred men compete to drink sacred wine through a hollow straw and it is by these means that Yaotl believes Heron has been poisoned. Why was he attacked in this way? Yaotl must find out before his master’s impatience runs out or before he becomes a target himself.

First of all, I really loved how unique this story felt, especially in comparison to every other tale in this collection. I certainly wasn’t expecting to be taken to another country, another culture and another point in time that is so vastly different from our contemporary world with different beliefs and ideals. I mentioned Shardlake earlier and the way Yaotl goes about his business of attempting to find the perp really reminded me of Matthew’s own investigations in the Sansom novels of King Henry VIII’s England. I was fascinated by how all the pieces of the puzzle came together although I still found it a bit difficult to realise the exact motives of our culprit. Although the writing was excellent, something didn’t fully connect with me unfortunately. Perhaps I was interested in Yaotl himself as a character and was far more intrigued about why he had been expelled from the priesthood rather than a young (rather obnoxious) young man being drugged during a festival. Maybe Yaotl is explored further in Levack’s novels and I’d certainly be curious enough to give them a try.

Would I recommend it?:

Maybe!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

NEXT SHORT STORY: 20th Century Ghost by Joe Hill from the collection 20th Century Ghosts.

Short Stories Challenge 2018 – Part Two

Published April 2, 2018 by bibliobeth

Hello everyone and welcome to the second part of my Short Stories Challenge for 2018. I have to admit, I’m feeling a little disillusioned writing this post and preparing which short stories I’m going to read for the next few months as in Part One earlier this year, I had so many disappointments and very few stellar stories that stood out to me. I think the biggest failures for me would have to be The Balloon Hoax by Edgar Allan Poe and Books And Roses by Helen Oyeyemi but I could mention a few more. However, let’s end on a positive – there was the wonderful The Apple Tree by Daphne du Maurier and Dibblespin by Angela Slatter which completely restored my faith in short stories. It is because of stories like these that I want to carry on with this challenge and find more great authors like the many, many ones I’ve found so far, purely from their short fiction alone. Let’s do this!

Four Hundred Rabbits by Simon Levack from the collection The Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime Vol 7.

20th Century Ghost by Joe Hill from the collection 20th Century Ghosts.

The Coincidence Of The Arts by Martin Amis from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night.

Beachworld by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew.

Set-Up by Dianne Gray from the collection Manslaughter And Other Tears.

Some Drolls Are Like That And Some Are Like This by Lucy Wood from the collection Diving Belles.

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter from the collection The Story: Love, Loss & The Lives Of Women.

The Underhouse by Gerard Woodward from the collection The New Uncanny: Tales Of Unease edited by Sarah Eyre and Ra Page.

The Adventure Of The Copper Beeches by Arthur Conan Doyle from the collection The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes.

My Mother’s Wedding by Tessa Hadley from the collection Reader, I Married Him: Stories Inspired by Jane Eyre edited by Tracy Chevalier.

 

Short Stories Challenge 2018 – At The Mountain Of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft from the collection The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft.

Published March 22, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s At The Mountain Of Madness all about?:

The Mountain Of Madness follows our male character as he embarks upon an expedition to the Antarctic, initially in search of fossils but ends up finding something much more unexpected and incredibly dangerous.

What did I think?:

Sigh. I think I’ll always be grateful to this short story as it’s only when I dragged myself through this (almost literally kicking and screaming at some points) that I realised that Lovecraft and I are not a match made in heaven. I’ve been worrying about our compatibility for some time now after I’ve read a number of stories in this collection but have always persevered, thinking perhaps there’s something about him I’m just not getting. To be fair to him, there has been the occasional story where I’ve thought: “That was alright, sort of enjoyable,” but generally, I’m finding reading some of his work the most mammoth task. This was definitely the case with The Mountain Of Madness. For starters, it was just so incredibly LONG and, full disclosure here, I found myself skimming whole parts of the narrative just to get to the end that little bit quicker.

Funny story – when I was reading it (and heartily complaining to my boyfriend all the way through), I had been quiet for a little while and he took one look at my face and then told me to give up the story, it looked like it was causing me physical pain! Well, by that time I was so close to the end that I thought I might as well finish it. Now I’m thinking that it’s a shame I’m never going to get that time back again, which was an HOUR by the way and that was with skimming as well. God knows how long it would have taken me if I had bothered to read every word diligently!

So, as a quick explanation of this story, it started out promisingly enough with a group of men, all with different skills i.e. biologist, physicist, geologist who embark on a once in a lifetime trip to the Antarctic to try and get a better idea of the area’s history, primarily by sampling some of the rock formations, which is where our main guy comes in as a geologist. It is not long however, before the men find something else entirely, something terrifying, hideous, other-worldly (hey, what else did you expect, it’s Lovecraft right?) and puts them all in very grave danger.

Where do I even begin? I always like to try and find some positives and if you’re a die hard Lovecraftian, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed, he’s definitely adept with his vocabulary, long descriptive sequences where nothing much happens at all and the build up, cooling down and further build up of a scene. This however, is becoming exactly my problem with him. I can deal with the beautiful wording, although at time it does get a bit too much and some of the creatures he creates are incredibly imaginative however it just all feels like more of the same old thing and to be honest, I’m getting bored.

I do understand that most of his stories have connections to the wider world of the Cthulhu Mythos and the book of Necronomicon of course, but just for once I’d like to read a story that doesn’t feel like it’s going in the exact same direction as the last. For example, male character goes searching for alien/ancient beings, male character finds strange city that makes him feel a bit weird, male character finds evidence that creatures are highly intelligent, male character sees creature and is terrified, male character (or friend of male character) has nervous breakdown and fears no-one is ever going to believe him. You see what I mean? It’s getting a bit tedious and although I can see why people rate Lovecraft so much as an author, I fear I’m not going to change my mind about him. This is now the eleventh story I’ve read in this collection and with fifty-six left to go, I’m sad to say I’m going to have to remove this collection from my Short Stories Challenge from here on in. I’ve really tried to give him a chance and I just can’t do it anymore!

I’d love to hear your opinions on Lovecraft if you’ve read him. Do you feel the same as me? Or is there something I’m clearly missing?

Would I recommend it?:

Probably not.

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: Four Hundred Rabbits by Simon Levack from the collection The Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime Vol 7.

Short Stories Challenge 2018 – A Child’s Problem by Reggie Oliver from the collection A Book Of Horrors.

Published March 14, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s A Child’s Problem all about?:

A Child’s Problem focuses on a precocious young boy who is forced to go and live with his rich uncle and undergoes a rather haunting experience in his efforts to try and get to know his uncle a little better.

What did I think?:

Reggie Oliver is a well-respected British playwright, biographer and writer of ghost stories and has received numerous nominations for World Fantasy, British Fantasy, Stoker, International Horror Guild and the Shirley Jackson awards. Due to these numerous accolades, I found myself quite excited to discover his work, having never come across him in the past so a short story seemed the perfect place to begin. Now I’ve finished it and had some time to mull over it, I find myself in two minds about the story itself. On the one hand, it’s obvious the author can write and he’s excellent at creating an atmospheric narrative that makes you want to keep on reading but for some reason, this story just didn’t have enough bite for me. There was plenty of potential of course, but the direction it ended up taking just left me feeling slightly deflated.

A Child’s Problem follows a young boy, George who at nine years old is told that he must now live with his wealthy Uncle Augustus whilst his parents decamp to India for a while for his father’s work. At first, this seems like a big adventure for George, the house and grounds are large and there is plenty of opportunity for exploring however his Uncle is a difficult, rather sullen character who seems to have regretted agreeing to take George under his wing. On the interactions that they do have, he tries to get rid of him as soon as possible by giving him various quests around the property and puzzles to solve so that he can have a bit of peace. The puzzles that Augustus gives him however are a lot more sinister than first meets the eye and point to a dreadful history that leads George very quickly to be in terrible danger himself. As well as this, George is starting to see strange, shadowy figures under an old oak tree at the front of the house and he starts to wonder about the secrets that his Uncle Augustus believes he will keep hidden.

Interesting premise right? I was certainly intrigued and the writing was assured and captivating to read throughout the narrative. I was quite surprised that it was a bit longer than I was expecting and perhaps it suffered a bit for this length as about two-thirds of the way into it, unfortunately I began to lose interest. There are a host of unlikeable characters to get to grips with, which I always enjoy in a story but for some reason, even when some are in mortal danger, I still didn’t connect with them as much as I would have liked. Reggie Oliver certainly has a gift for writing eerie settings and some of the scenes, in particular when George finds the family tombs are quite chilling but sadly, by the end of the story, I just didn’t feel like I understood properly what it was all about and why exactly everything played out the way it did. This is just my personal opinion, however and I’m sure other readers would love it for the quality of the writing alone.

Would I recommend it?:

Maybe!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

NEXT SHORT STORY: At The Mountain Of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft from the collection The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft.