Monday, September 03, 2012

Short Stories from The Weird

Taking advantage of this long holiday weekend I thought I would write about some of my favorite short stories from The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories which fits perfectly with RIP.   This Compendium of 110 stories from 1908 - 2010 (arranged in chronological order) includes stories by such heavy weights as Lovecraft, Borges, Shirley Jackson, Murakami, Stephen King, Angela Carter, Neil Gaiman but also countless wonderful stories by authors that I have never read before.   I prefer to read short stories slowly so I am less than a fifth of the way through (up to 1929) but here are my favorites so far:

The Spider 
by Hanns Heinz Ewers, 1915 translated from German
This story just blew me away, I couldn't stop thinking about it.  A particular hotel room has been the site of three suicides with all the deaths taking place at the same time of day.  The last suicide had been a policeman there to investigate the prior suicides.  In the story a young man volunteers to get to the bottom of the mystery and moves into the room.  He meticulously keeps a diary and notes nothing strange until .... Well I don't want to take the fun out of reading it but there is a women in the window across the alley, and spiders and needless to say it does not end well for the young man.  And the reader is left wondering what exactly happened.  Very very creepy!  

In the Penal Colony 
by Franz Kafka, 1919, translated from German
I am of course familiar with Kafka and The Trial is one of my favorite books but had never read this short story.  I guess the title just put me off because it somehow reminded me of Solzhenitsyn and I didn't really want to read about life in a gulag.  But the story is not about living in a Penal Colony.  The Explorer is a traveler who has come to visit the Penal Colony and is being given the honor and privilege of a tour (and ultimately a demonstration of) the Penal Colony's unique torture and execution devise which repeatedly writes the crime on the Condemned man over a twelve hour period, ultimately killing the Condemned.  The new Commandant of the Penal Colony is not in favor of this devise and the Officer who is providing the tour extols the virtues and intricacies of this devise in dispensing justice.  According to the Officer after six hours in the devise the Condemned experience a remarkable epiphany making them embrace the experience.  The Officer is hoping that the Explorer will convince the Commandant the worth of this remarkable devise.  Not surprisingly things do not go according to the Officer's plan. What makes this story so horrifying is that the Officer is enthusiastically enamored of the devise, the Traveler is not horrified by the thing and the Condemned takes a great interest in the devise seemingly unaware that it is about to torture him.  Indeed, in the world of the Penal Colony such a devise seems normal and unsurprising.  It gave me nightmares for a few nights after reading it.   

The People of the Pit
by A. Merritt, 1918
Explorers in the "North" come across a man crawling toward them who before he dies tells them of his escape from "the pit".  He had been searching for gold when he came upon a huge ravine or canyon with steps leading down for miles.  He spends days going down those steps and finds a huge city and possibly its inhabitants.  Is he crazy, did he find aliens, a lost civilization or Lovecraft's Old Ones?  Very very creepy.  It reminded me a little of Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness.

The Man in the Bottle
by Gustave Meyrink, 1912, translated from Austrian
A masked ball is in full swing and the revellers are having a great time and gossiping about a rumor of an illicit affair by the wife of the host.  The host, the Prince, comes on the scene and the entertainment begins.  A man is placed in a large glass bottle, the stopper put in place and the Prince is seated on top and the glass bottle serves as the background for a marionette show as the man in the bottle "comically capers".  The host's wife is brought on stage in a sedan chair and ....  Well you will just have to read it.  

I highly recommend this collection of short stories.   


Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

Wonderful overview. I haven't jumped into many short stories for quite some time, so this sounds like a good selection and perfect for the RIP event as well!

Anonymous said...

"The Spider" was awesome. "The Man in the Bottle" felt like Poe -- if Poe had been more Orientalist and German Romantic-y. Liked it a lot, too.

"In the Penal Colony" I'd read before, I wouldn't have thought to add it to this anthology, but that's half the fun sometimes: seeing what the editors pick that never would have occurred to you.

Looking forward to seeing your reactions to other stories, if you happen to post about them during RIP (or afterwards).

Kayleigh said...

Hi! Found your blog through the RIP review site. This short story collection sounds fantastic. Maybe too good, as I think I'll be kept up nights just by your review. Some creepy stuff!

Carl V. said...

I've seen this collection all over the place and given my appreciation for Vandermeer's work and for this kind of story I really should pick up a copy. The stories you highlighted all sound deliciously R.I.P.ish!

Debi said...

You have made this sound utterly irresistible!!! I must get my hands on it!