The B’s dead, Jim.

Dead Letters: An Anthology of the Undelivered, the Missing, the Returned edited by Conrad Williams. Titan Books, 2016. 9781783294503.

For this seventeen story horror anthology, editor Conrad Williams added a twist. Not only were his contributors asked to work on the theme of “Dead Letters,” but Williams mailed each one a sample misdelivered missive. The result is a thick collection of genre-spannning spine-tinglers from Steven Hall, Michael Marshall Smith, Joanne Harris, Allison Moore, Christopher Fowler, Pat Cadigan, Ramsey Campbell, Claire Dean, Andrew Lane, Muriel Gray, Nina Allan, Adam LG Neville, Lisa Tuttle, Nicholas Royle, Angela Slatter, collaborators Maria Dahvana Headley and China Mieville, and Kirsten Kaschock.

Each story is admirable. The most memorable included Nicholas Royle’s steadily more and more unsettling “L0ND0N” and Pat Cadigan’s uncomfortably autobiographical “Cancer Dancer.” Muriel Gray’s “Gone Away” features an aristocratic and unconscionably wealthy English family’s failure to come to terms with the relatives that turn into zombies! A personal favorite was Andrew Lane’s “Buyer’s Remorse” in which an unwitting narrator runs across a Lovecraftian jumble sale, a Vicar in distress, and badly-addressed manuscript fragments.

The story settings are uniformly British, but don’t let references to things like “jumble sales” and “the Tube” dissuade you from reading this enjoyable collection of creepy tales.

Thanks to Robert for this guest review.

Uncertain Certainty

Machine of Death: A Collection of Stories About People Who Know How They Will Die, edited by Ryan North, Matthew Bennardo, and David Malki. Machines of Death, 2010. 9780982167120.

This Is How You Die: Stories of the Inscrutable, Infallible, Inescapable Machine of Death, edited by Ryan North, Matthew Bennardo, and David Malki. Grand Central Publishing, 2013. 9781455529391.

Sarah: You may have already heard of this: Machine of Death!
Gene: Oh, I have heard of that.
S: I really liked it. It’s the first of two volumes, I realized I don’t have the second volume because I gave it to my brother for Christmas. But I have read both books. So! This is a premise that originated in a Dinosaur Comics strip, and it’s in the book. The idea is that there is a machine that is able to tell you, with a simple blood test, how you’re going to die. It will sometimes be obscure and sometimes it won’t be totally clear how that would cause your death, and no matter what you do you can’t change the fact that that is your destiny. Sometimes it’ll happen despite your efforts in a weird Twilight Zone twist. The book is an anthology by a bunch of different people all using that premise. It’s like the most wonderful anthology show, like if you got a Twilight Zone series where every episode was on one premise but interpreted radically differently by different artists. I would LOVE to see that.
G: It has a sci-fi feel?
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“I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity”

Poe: Stories and Poems: A Graphic Novel Adaptation by Gareth Hinds. Candlewick, 2017. 9780763681128.

I’m a huge fan of Hinds’ graphic novel adaptations of classics (his version of The Odyssey is my favorite), but not of Poe’s fiction, yet  Hinds’ amazing skill pulled me through. First there’s a legend at the beginning of the book, a list of recurring motifs in Poe’s work. Hinds then puts the appropriate symbols at the beginning of each story and poem to let readers know know which will contain thing like, for example, murder and rats, so that readers they can decide for themselves to keep reading a particular story or skip it.

My favorite adaptation, “The Mask of the Red Death” (contains Death, Disease, Scary Sounds), about a bunch of upper class folks who try to seal themselves away from a plague, features the creepiest masquerade costume I’ve ever seen — a disease personified. Don’t skip to the end of the story, it’s freaky. There’s a lot to love here: “The Cask of Amontillado,” “Annabel Lee,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Bells,” and of course “The Raven.” There’s also a lot to freak you out. The rats in “The Pit…” would send my wife screaming. And don’t miss the creepy details drawn into the feathers of Hinds’ raven, which include skulls and skeletal hands.

Philosophy-a-Day

Zen Speaks: Shouts of Nothingness by Tsai Chih Chung, translated by Brian Bruya. Anchor Books, 1994. 0385472579.

Sarah: I picked this book up originally because I was interested in Zen. This is by a Taiwanese author who took the great works of Zen and translated them into vernacular language, into modern Chinese, and made them into comics. And the comics are just great.
Gene: Oh, man! This is a very Asian cartooning style.
S: Yes, it seems very Chinese.
G: Did you ever see that book by Lat that First Second published?
S: Yeah!
G: It looks like this, a little bit. Lat’s from Indonesia. And there’s a certain style of Korean and Japanese comics that this reminds me of, too.
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