Review: Channel the Dark

This is a great anthology that showcases the wide variety of speculative fiction being produced by Irish authors, as well as those from abroad under the wing of Temple Dark Books (which makes them Irish by adoption, surely).

Dystopian-esque SF, various strands of horror and dark fantasy are all on show here. Three stories actually deal with curses, though in such dramatically different ways they show just how varied writing can be (post-apocalyptic in We Do What We Must, urban dark fantasy in Gestalt, smalltown horrors and isolation in Phobia). I seem to like that theme, though I haven’t made use of it in my own writing yet.

There’s also a really unusual and innovative piece about a detective with the sensory powers of a dog, which has a real Gothic/classic lit sort of feel.

Hats off to the editor, Ronald, a formidable SF author in his own right, for his epic poem Fensham’s Wake. Writing poems is beyond my skillset so I’m always impressed by people who can do it, let alone people who can sustain it (thematically as well as content-wise) in a sort of long form.

A bonus is the selection of tasters of Temple Dark’s published novels, along with valuable forewards by the authors which give you a bit of insight into how each extract fits into the whole and also their motivations in writing them. I’ve bought two more Temple Dark novels since, A Land Without Wolves and Hell’s Gulf, and I’m looking forward to starting them.

Review: Glimpses of the Unknown – Lost Ghost Stories

This anthology of previously never anthologised ghost stories is a gem of a find and is the first of the British Library’s Tales of the Weird series that I’ve read in full.

There are eighteen stories here from the late 19th century to the 1920s and cover all aspects of ‘horror’, from creeping supernatural to moody atmospheres that unsettle rather than terrify. That’s the joy of the genre, really, in that it can run the gamut without getting tiresome. We have everything from Gothic hauntings to Mesopotamian adventure stories; the editor is right to say that the last one could make a good Indiana Jones movie.

What I found especially interesting is how fresh and contemporary the stories feel. True, some of the settings are of their time, like duels with rapiers and the like or some dubious attitudes by male characters toward women (such as ‘The River’s Edge’ by Mary Schultze), but the actual writing styles are typically engaging and fluid.

As I’ve mentioned the fact that these stories have never been included in a book since their initial publication makes it part archaeological/archival retrieval. There’s a bio and potted history of each writer but some of the authors have no history that can be found, despite the editor’s efforts by going through census and other records to try and match bylines to verifiable historical figures.

There is something well, ghostly, about an author such as Eric Purves (whose story ‘The House of the Black Veil’ is one of the more innovative pieces) now existing solely in reference to the single story he/she/they seem to have published. Ashely in his intro to that story notes that “When John Reed Wade, the editor of Pearson’s Magazine, ran the following story in the May 1929 issue, he announced it as ‘One of the most original mystery stories ever written.” And yet there is no trace of any other Purves work. Was it a pseudonym? We’ll never know.

Not every reader will like every story, which is natural enough in an anthology, but lovers of ghost stories will have plenty to hold their interest here.