The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton: A masterful collection of chillers

The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton by Edith Wharton

Perhaps because she is one of the most esteemed writers of the 20th century, Edith Wharton may not be immediately associated with the genre of horror. Today, she is probably best remembered for her novels The House of Mirth (1905) and The Age of Innocence (1920), which latter book copped her the Pulitzer Prize, as well as for her classic novella from 1911, Ethan Frome, a staple reading assignment for all English majors. In novel after novel, Wharton examined the members of the upper crust in turn-of-the-century NYC, a society and a town that she knew well by experience. But as she would reveal in her autobiography A Backward Glance, the author was a big fan of the ghost story as well, a shivery pot in which she would ultimately dip her quill on any number of occasions. After ... Read More

The House on Parchment Street: A ghost story from a developing fantasy writer

The House on Parchment Street by Patricia McKillip

I probably would never have known about The House on Parchment Street (1973) were I not such a huge fan of Patricia McKillip's fantasy stories, and while browsing her name on a library search engine, this title popped up. It was obviously one of her earliest published works, so I was willing to give it a go.

The House on Parchment Street is profoundly different from her later stories, which are not only told with dense poetic-prose, but focus more on fantasy worlds and creatures. This is a fairly straightforward ghost story, with equally straightforward prose, about a girl called Carol Christopher who travels from America to stay with her cousin Bruce, Aunt Catherine, and Uncle Harold in a small English village.

Carol and ... Read More

The Best of Arthur C. Clarke: 1937-1971: A dated collection

The Best of Arthur C. Clarke: 1937-1971 by Arthur C. Clarke

Arthur C. Clarke’s first short story appeared 15 years before his first novel, and much of his oeuvre is to be found in short fiction. In fact, despite the success of his novels — Childhood’s EndRendezvous with Rama, and The City and the Stars among them — Clarke produced as much short fiction in the middle and end of his career as the beginning. Thinking he had reached the point so many other successful writers do, i.e., that the author has honed their skills to the point they can focus on novel-length works, in 1973 Sphere decided to publish ... Read More

Rendezvous with Rama: Multi-award winner with controversial ending

Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke

In 2131, humans are minding their own business when a large object thought to be an asteroid is detected at the edge of our solar system. As it gets closer to Earth it is photographed and found to be unnatural — obviously an alien spaceship. A team of scientists is sent to meet the ship dubbed “Rama” and to make our first contact with an alien species. When they get there, they find Rama uninhabited and they set out to discover all they can about the aliens who must have launched it. What are they like and what do they want with us?

As Robert J. Sawyer mentions in the introduction the audio version I listened to, Arthur C. Clarke’s strength is not his characterization — it’s pathetic — but that’s okay because Ram... Read More

Burnt Offerings: A good haunted house tale

Burnt Offerings by Robert Marasco

For all those folks who have at times felt that their home and possessions owned them, rather than the other way around; for those folks who love a good haunted house/possession tale; and even for those readers who simply enjoy a well-told thriller of a page-turner, Robert Marasco's 1973 novel Burnt Offerings will be a real find. This was Marasco's first novel in a sadly unprolific career; he came out with only two more titles – Child’s Play, a drama, in 1970, and Parlor Games, a Gothic-style mystery, in 1979 – before succumbing to lung cancer in 1998, at the age of 62. A real loss, if Burnt Offerings is any indication of the man's skills.

In this work, we meet Ben and Marian Rolfe, a nice, ordinary couple from Queens, who, with 8-year-old son Dav... Read More

The Cat Who Wished to Be a Man: A short sweet fairytale from a master storyteller

The Cat Who Wished to Be a Man by Lloyd Alexander

No one does it better than Lloyd Alexander. One of his early children’s chapter books, The Cat Who Wished to Be a Man contains all of his trademark wit, wisdom and warmth, as well as a valuable lesson and plenty of delightful characters.

After giving his cat the gift of speech, the magician Stephanus is now harangued by requests to turn him into a man. Lionel is desperately curious about the world of mankind, despite his master’s low opinion of the folk who live in the nearby town of Brightford -- according to him he once built a bridge for the whole townsfolk to share, only for the Mayor to seize control of it and place a toll over it. Stephanus left in disgust after that, and hasn’t returned since.

But Lionel won’t be deterred, and Stephanus grudgingly grants him his wish. Soon enough a tawny-haired, green-eyed you... Read More

Protector: A novel of ideas

Protector by Larry Niven

Phssthpok is a protector of his race, the Pak. For thousands of years he’s been traveling space, looking for the Pak breeders that left his war-torn planet millions of years before. This is, biologically, the only thing Phssthpok lives for and if he doesn’t find them soon, he’s likely to stop eating and die. Finally, in our year 2125, Phssthpok thinks he may have found the lost breeders, though they have evolved so differently than they would have if they had remained at home that they are almost unrecognizable. When Phssthpok meets Jack Brennan, a human who’s been mining in the outer asteroid belt, he kidnaps him, takes him to Mars, and initiates a project that will (again) change the course of human history.

It may not seem like it at first, but Protector is a novel of ideas, mostly having to do with the origin of humanity and its place in the universe. Niven’s extra-terrestrial origin of man... Read More

Hrolf Kraki’s Saga: One of Poul Anderson’s best books

Hrolf Kraki’s Saga by Poul Anderson

Poul Anderson took the Viking saga of Hrolf Kraki and crafted this magnificent fantasy novel from the legendary king's story. Hrolf was a sort of Arthurian equivalent in the northern folk tales and myths, but Anderson brought him to life in this novelized retelling of his exploits.

Like much of northern mythology the story is dark in spots, dealing with such themes as murderous sibling rivalry, incestuous relationships, and the everyday brutality that must have been common in the era that was rightly called "the Dark Ages." Even so, Anderson captured the heroic nature of the story, as well as the courageous outlook of the original saga recorders.

Hrolf Kraki’s Saga is a myth retold, rather than historical fiction, although the opening framework sequence is set in more recent historical times with a woman being asked to recount the old myths to a royal... Read More

The Princess Bride: We love the book and the film

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

Like many people, I was familiar with the 1987 film The Princess Bride long before I read (or even knew about) William Goldman's original novel, the extensively titled The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure. Like the film, the novel has a framing narrative that introduces the tale itself; unlike the film it is not of a young boy being read the story by his grandfather, but Goldman's own experiences with the book both as a child and an adult.

Working with the conceit that it is a "real" novel written by the (entirely fictional) S. Morgenstern, Goldman discusses how he was introduced to the novel as a boy and then undertook the task of abridging the text in order to make it palatable to modern readers. The "original" text, as it turns out, was a long-winded satire on the culture and so... Read More