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Monthly Archives: October 2017

“News of the World” by Paulette Jiles

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Paulette Jiles’s latest historical fiction novel, News of the World, introduces us to Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a widower who makes his living traveling through Texas and giving public readings from newspapers at each town he stops in. On one circuit, he’s offered a very different sort of job: returning a young girl who was held captive by the Kiowa for several years to her family. This turns out not to be a straightforward endeavor. The girl, Johanna, has forgotten most of her English, as well as the social customs of (white) Americans. She has no memory of her birth family and doesn’t really want to go back to them.

Over the course of the novel, Johanna slowly grows to trust Kidd. The portrayal of this gradual evolution in their relationship is well-done and poignant. There are moments of humor as well, and some action when a third party tries to kidnap Johanna for his own nefarious purposes. The description of the wide-open landscape of northern Texas is vivid, and the book delves into the delicate political situation of post-Civil War America. (At one point, an argument during one of Kidd’s news readings devolves into a brawl!)

The main flaw in the story comes right at the beginning. We only see Kidd for a couple of pages before he accepts the commission to escort Johanna. As they spend time together, his reasons for taking the job, for wandering Texas as a newsreader, and for other decisions he makes, become apparent. But so little time is spent establishing his character at the beginning of the story that it isn’t clear then why he takes the job. Some of the meaning of Kidd’s effect on Johanna, and vice-versa, is lost when we haven’t gotten a chance to see who Kidd was before he met her. It’s still a fascinating story, but spending a little bit of time on establishing character could have made it even more compelling.

“They May Not Tell Tales, but They Do Sing Songs” published in HWA Poetry Showcase, Vol. 4

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I’m happy to report that my poem, “They May Not Tell Tales, but They Do Sing Songs” has been published in the fourth volume of the Horror Writers’ Association’s Poetry Showcase!

“A Lonely and Curious Country: Tales from the Lands of Lovecraft” by Matthew Carpenter (editor)

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During the Halloween season, we seek out forms of entertainment that have a hint (or more) of the unsettling about them: horror movies, haunted houses, and, for those of us who love to read, scary stories. The Ulthar Press anthology A Lonely and Curious Country: Tales from the Lands of Lovecraft, provides an abundance of such tales.

As the title suggests, many of the stories take place in settings that will be familiar to Lovecraft fans. Pete Rawlik’s “Down through Black Abysses” shows us what happened to the narrator of “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” after that story ended. One great aspect of this story is that it takes into account the way sensory details change as the main character’s metamorphosis nears completion: as a being adapted to live in the depths of the sea, he relies on smell, taste, and touch much more than on sight. Jonathan Titchenal’s “Radical Division” takes us to ancient Kingsport and witch-haunted Arkham, while Brian M. Sammons and Jamie D. Jenkins’s “After Birth” show what Innsmouth might look like in the mid-20th century.

But the collection brings us farther afield as well. Steven Prizeman’s “The Dreamer of Nothingness” takes us to 1960s Paris, where participants in a student protest movement find themselves caught up in less earth-bound events. (As a point of interest, there really were widespread protests by students and working-class citizens of Paris in the mid-late 60s; these grew so intense that in May 1968—the month and year where the story takes place—the French economy pretty much stopped and then-President Charles de Gaulle fled the country for a few hours.) Seán Farrell’s “Paudie O’Brien and the Bogman” brings the eldritch to rural Ireland. In “Down by the Highway Side,” Paul R. McNamee reworks the old legend of the southern Blues singer who sells his soul to the Devil. There’s still a southern Blues singer, and he still sells his soul…but not to any being as comprehensible as the Judeo-Christian Satan.

On occasion, authors have inserted the Cthulhu Mythos into other pre-existing fictional worlds, as in Neil Gaiman’s “A Study in Emerald.” In one of the most interesting stories in this volume, “The Litany of Yith,” Brett Davidson does something similar. He posits an encounter between the main character of H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine and the Great Race of Yith, and the two settings mesh surprisingly well. The world of 30,000,000AD: truly a lonely and curious country.