Saturday, October 31, 2009

Incidents from years as a horror radio fan

Bill Cosby had a routine where he recalled hearing the Lights Out "Chicken Heart" and was so terrified that when his father tried to come home Cosby lit the sofa on fire for fear that the chicken heart was trying to get in.

Now, I've heard a lot of horror radio programs, almost certainly everything broadcast which still exists up to 1962. I've even heard the Chicken Heart, but I didn't have an experience like that. Here's some programs where I (or others) had a memorable encounter.

* * *

ESCAPE: "Papa Benjamin"

I woke up in the night to hear voices coming from my radio; it was New Orleans and a bandleader was taking the police through a dank back alley, guiding them to the place where he murdered a man. I had fallen asleep with the radio on and happened to draw myself from my slumber near the start of the program, missing little more than the opening theme and introduction. Consequently, I didn't know what exactly I was listening to and in that state my mind was in - still half-asleep - this weird tale of voodoo weaved a spell around me. In my state of partial consciousness, it was as though the story was happening to me, like it was a dream I was having instead of a 50 year old drama being replayed over the wire. Every time I hear it, I recall that first time and the mental pictures I saw then return to me.

* * *

SUSPENSE: "The Dunwich Horror"

Anyone who's heard me speak about H.P. Lovecraft knows that I don't think much of his work. Bluntly, I think he was a poor writer and it mystifies me that he has a tremendous industry based around his works while many of his contemporaries (better or at least no worse) are forgotten.

Still, my first brush with Lovecraft was in the Suspense adaptation of his tale "the Dunwich Horror" and it's an effective broadcast. It helps that Ronald Colman was the lead actor and the sound effects of the whippoorwills generate a strong atmosphere. But what I recall vividly from that first broadcast was the description of the death of Wilbur Whateley, the revelation of his hideous, inhuman body. It was a terrifying moment, brought vividly to life in mind. And that's all that I recall because I dozed off. I didn't hear the rest of the episode until it came up again at least a year later.

* * *

INNER SANCTUM: "Judas Clock"

After getting online in 1998 I quickly learned that Inner Sanctum had a bad reputation among OTR fans. Many look down on Inner Sanctum because of the "cop-out endings." It's true that while many Inner Sanctum stories would hint at the supernatural only to rein it in at the climax, I was never comfortable with that generalization because of one episode. "The Judas Clock."

This story of a clock which performs acts of murder made for some eerie listening the first time through, but I don't really recollect how I felt the first time I heard it. The time I recall was while I was riding in the car with my family (probably back home from a trip to Calgary) and, as I often insisted at such times, we had QR77's programs on. What I recall most vividly from listening to the episode with my family was my mother's utter disgust with the episode because of the amount of gore. Which, of course, is all in your mind - radio is the theater of the mind. So don't tell me Inner Sanctum always copped out!

* * *

You can find "Papa Benjamin" here, "the Dunwich Horror" here (scroll to 45-11-01) and "the Judas Clock" here.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Halloween recommendations IV: Tomb of Dracula

I was reluctant to get involved with horror comics. Super heroes were and are my favorite aspect of the comics and by the early 90s they were a major passion. Somehow, that's when I discovered a comic which hadn't been published since 1979.

I think my enjoyment of Marv Wolfman & Gene Colan's Tomb of Dracula comes from my interest in Bram Stoker's original novel. I know that in modern readings people tend to prefer Dracula to the actual protagonists, but when I read it (I think I was 12?) I liked the good guys; John Seward, Jonathan & Mina Harker, Quincey Morris and Abraham Van Helsing were the point of view characters in the novel and their trials while facing the menace of Dracula was what engaged me as a reader.

Similarly, Wolfman often ran Tomb of Dracula from the perspective of the people hunting him; Frank Drake, Quincy Harker, Rachel Van Helsing, Harold H. Harold, Taj Nital and, of course, Blade. I enjoyed all of these characters but the stories which really stood out were the offbeat tales; Dracula writing an entry in his diary (#15), or a hardboiled detective story where the narrating private eye runs into Dracula (#25); those were gold.

Dracula himself was always a strong figure, usually being followed in hot pursuit by the vampire hunters, but occasionally pit against someone more evil than he was (like Dr. Sun or Satan himself). I really appreciated that Tomb of Dracula didn't over-romanticize Dracula (a problem a lot of contemporary vampire fiction has), notably in issue #50 where he meets a woman who thinks of him as a romantic hero...it ends badly for her (Buffy fans may be reminded of "Lie to Me"). And unlike most comics, Christianity plays a part when God himself takes a dim view of Dracula and when Dracula has a son, a battle plays out for his soul. It's rare to see God utilized in a comic book (for something other than mockery).

Marv Wolfman didn't arrive until issue #7 of Tomb of Dracula but he made it his own; Gene Colan was there from start to finish and he's probably more strongly associated with Tomb of Dracula than anything else in his 60+ year career.

Tomb of Dracula is collected into four black and white Essential volumes; there's also an Omnibus collecting the first thirty-one issues (volume two should have the other thirty nine).

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Halloween recommendations III: Pigeons From Hell

Once again, a recommendation to a title which came up in my Great Short Stories list.

"Pigeons From Hell" is a great 1938 pulp horror tale from Robert E. Howard, best known for his Conan work. It inspired a 1961 episode of Boris Karloff's Thriller and a "sequel" comic book from Dark Horse.

The story concerns two men who spend the night in an old plantation manor. One of the men goes upstairs during the night and is killed; then he comes downstairs to kill his friend! It's a wild tale of voodoo and revenge with a twist ending I didn't see coming. Howard's atmosphere is perfectly rendered, it's a story that stays with you.

Pigeons From Hell was collected in Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard, but you can read it online for free here.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Halloween recommendations II: Dead of Night

I like horror the way I like socks: best enjoyed in bulk.

With that in mind, when it comes to selecting a horror film this Halloween, might I suggest a portmanteau? No, not a spork. An anthology! The economical path to a few fervid frights. The best-known portmanteau is 1945's Dead of Night, my recommednation for today.

Dead of Night combines five stories, linked together by a sequence of strangers telling each other stories of the supernatural in that fireside freakout manner the British do best. Four of the stories include a lonesome boy encountered at a Christmas party; a man who avoids a fatal car crash but feels that destiny is catching up with him; a golfer haunted by his best friend's ghost; and a mirror that seems to carry traces of those reflected in it. The fifth segment is the one that made this film legendary: a ventriloquist is haunted by his dummy, who seems to be alive. This was before the idea had been done to death (either in decent productions like William Goldman's Magic or crummy ones like Twilight Zone's "Caesar and Me") and this, the first, still packs a punch.

In fact, Dead of Night was the material adapted to the pilot episode of Escape, although it only adapted the ventriloquist segment. You can hear the episode here.

Dead of Night is rather British, especially the comedic segment with the golfers, so it helps to have an appreciation for dry comedy and ghosts who are decently friendly; the real scares are withheld until the climax.

Dead of Night is a little obscure and apparently out-of-print as a DVD, but I think you can find it broken up into 11 parts on something that rhymes with "too rube."

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Halloween recommendations I: Casting the Runes

With Halloween just a few days away, I'll be blogging the next four days with recommendations for something from four different medias: prose, comics, film and old-time radio.

I'll kick this off with an old-time radio program which is itself adapted from the short story medium. Broadcast on the series Escape in 1947, the tale is "Casting the Runes" by M.R. James, which you may recall ranked in my 100 favorite short stories. It also inspired the film Night of the Demon which has a following of its own (and is a good movie at that).

My old-time radio hobby was brought about thanks to local station QR77, which has broadcast old radio shows every evening for many, many years. I became an avid fan of old-time radio in my early teenage years in part because of the horror/mystery shows (although eventually I grew fond of all radio show genres). But after all, QR77's resources were only so great at the time. After a few years I felt that I had heard it all and there were few horror shows remaining that I hadn't heard and even fewer which would seem scary.

Then one night I heard "Casting the Runes." I had no idea what to expect and the show stunned me with its sense of dread. The story's protagonist is visited by a creature which follows him everywhere he goes. He can feel its presence, but never sees it. This fear of the unknown translated itself to the radio perfectly.

You can find a copy of the episode online here.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Only X-Men are Forever

X-MEN FOREVER #15 & 16

Written by CHRIS CLAREMONT Penciled by PETER VALE (#15) & TBA (#16) Cover by TOM GRUMMETT

GREAT JUMPING ON POINT...the fate of PERFECT STORM! The last time we saw Storm, she was fleeing from the X-Men, having blinded Sabretooth and killed Logan. Now, we turn our focus to Wakanda to see what became of the evil clone of the woman that the X-Men loved and trusted. ALSO: new two-part story starting with Issue 16 as CHRIS CLAREMONT continues his landmark run on X-MEN FOREVER! Don’t miss a single panel! Plus, an extra feature detailing a timeline of what other Marvel Universe stories were occurring during the current X-Men Forever saga! #15 - 40 PGS./Rated A ...$3.99 #16 - 32 PGS./Rated A ...$3.99

Yes, that's me as the author of the "extra" in #15!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

My website is back!

With Geocities about to tap the mat, it was surely high time I found a a new home for the rambling lists I kept at my old website. Thanks to Janna & Juniper I have a new site at the Hoskin Centre. At this point it's just the old site.

Wait, did I say "just the old site?" Actually, it's the old site plus several months worth of updates that I kept off Geocities. The Archive section now lists several hundred more synopses of various defunct Marvel genre books. I even opened a new page for romance comics! It's still home to the Mark's Remarks archive too; I hope I'll find time to transcribe more of them over the next year.

Handbook in January

OFFICIAL HANDBOOK OF THE MARVEL UNIVERSE A TO Z VOL. 12 PREMIERE HC

Written by JEFF CHRISTIANSEN, STUART VANDAL, SEAN MCQUAID, RONALD BYRD, MICHAEL HOSKIN, MIKE O'SULLIVAN, MIKE FICHERA, MADISON CARTER, ERIC J. MOREELS, ROB LONDON, GABE SHECHTER, MARKUS RAYMOND, DAVID WILTFONG, RICH GREEN, JEPH YORK, CHRIS BIGGS, JACOB ROUGEMONT, MARK O'ENGLISH & DAVID SEXTON Penciled by VARIOUS Cover by TOM GRUMMETT

Who watches the Watcher? The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe does! This latest volume of the handbook series features more up-to-date and expanded biographies of the Marvel characters you love! Thor proclaims this tome "good as Asgardian gold" because it includes the Thing, 3-D Man, Thunderbird, Thundra, Tigra, Toro, the Two-Gun Kid, Ultragirl, Union Jack, the USAgent, Valkyrie and Vindicator! Thanos declares this book "cold as Death's kiss" because of the Titanium Man, Toad, Tyrannus, the U-Foes, Ultron, Umar and Venom! Also: Thunderbolts! Vampires! Flash Thompson! Ben Urich! Thunderstrike! and much, much more! 240 PGS./Rated T+ ...$24.99 ISBN: 978-0-7851-3109-0

This was supposed to be a 12 volume set; well, I think it's clear we aren't done the alphabet yet...

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Index in January

The Marvel Index will be just about caught up to the current comics by January!

OFFICIAL INDEX TO THE MARVEL UNIVERSE #13

Continuing the chronicle of the Marvel Universe, starting with Spider-Man (from AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #523 on), Iron Man (from INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #2 on) and the X-Men (from UNCANNY X-MEN #514 on). Follow the history of the Marvel universe as it unfolds month by month with the all-new Official Index to the Marvel Universe. Each issue provides synopses for dozens of individual comics, including back-up strips, introducing you to the characters, teams, places and equipment that appeared within, providing vital information about first appearances, where they last showed up and where they appeared next! 64 PGS./Rated A ...$3.99

Friday, October 23, 2009

The best sound effects in comics: Incredible Hercules

It seems to have begun back in Greg Pak & John Romita Jr.'s World War Hulk#5 when letterer Chris Eliopoulos included a sound effect called "Grgpakk!" and another entitled "JRJRKJCSSSSS." Since then, Pak & Fred Van Lente's series Incredible Hercules has featured an amusing series of sound effects in the same vein. My favorites of the effects are:

Abomina: sound of the Abomination punching Hercules - Incredible Hercules#130

Aqwooooommm: sound of an underwater explosion - Incredible Hercules#120

Arhisdoree: sound of Hercules being kicked over a surrealist landscape - Incredible Hercules#131

Backatcha: sound of Thor punching Hercules - Incredible Hercules#136

Bichslapp: sound of Hercules backhanding his dead self - Incredible Hercules#131

Blablagwaaaaam sound of the Hulk punching the ground - Hulk vs. Hercules

Brakkaleesh: sound of Hercules breaking Cerebrus' leash - Incredible Hercules#129

Brakkitofff: sound of Thor hitting a troll in the head - Incredible Hercules#134

Capsmak: sound of Athena hitting a Harpy with her shield - Incredible Hercules#132

Clubwakk: sound of Hercules being hit by a troll's club - Incredible Hercules#134

Crackajammatu: sound of Hercules kicking his dead self in the chest - Incredible Hercules#131

Dethtrppp: sound of a suspended axe hitting a torture rack - Incredible Hercules#135

Dubbapow: sound of Hercules punching Venom and Sentry at same time - Incredible Hercules#128

Extngssssshhhhhh: sound of Hercules throwing a water-based opponent at a flame-based opponent - Incredible Hercules#119

Goddathundaaa: sound of Hercules knocking Thor into a wall - Incredible Hercules#136

Gotchagaaain: sound of Hercules punching Thor - Incredible Hercules#136

Granmorr: sound of Hercules punching Marvel Boy - Incredible Hercules#128

Hedcraack: sound of Hercules knocking Venom's head against Sentry's - Incredible Hercules#128

Hwwwwedgie: sound of Thor giving Hercules a wedgie - Incredible Hercules#136

Ixion: sound of Hercules being hit by a fiery table - Incredible Hercules#131

Jawcrack: sound of Hercules being punched in the jaw - Incredible Hercules#131

Joombbackcrackajrummmm: sound of Hercules kicking over a logging truck - Incredible Hercules#117

Jywoym-Jaroom: sound of Ajak's eyebeams hitting Hercules' chest - Incredible Hercules#117

Kallikantzapow: sound of Hercules hitting a Kallikantzaroi - Incredible Hercules#132

Khoiphoom: sound of Ares being hit by three missiles - Incredible Hercules#115

Krackahummmmaa: sound of Hercules hitting a troll with a hummer - Incredible Hercules#132

Krakabaka: sound of Hercules bringing Hulk down with a wrestling move - Hulk vs. Hercules

Malekrunch: sound of Malekith being crushed by Grendell - Incredible Hercules#136

N-Tu-Dasunnn: sound of Sentry being thrown through ceiling by Hercules - Incredible Hercules#128

Na-Cosboom: sound of Hercules punching a Skrull god - Incredible Hercules#120

Nklkrak: sound of Hercules cracking his knuckles - Incredible Hercules#126

Noggn: sound of two Amazons having their heads struck together - Incredible Hercules#124

Nu-krak: sound of Hercules hitting Sentry in the crotch - Incredible Hercules#128

Nuhhkkrack: sound of Thor hitting Hercules in the crotch - Incredible Hercules#136

Nuhkrakk: sound of Namora hitting Atlas in the crotch - Incredible Hercules#124

Nurp: sound of Hercules violently twisting Thor's nipples - Incredible Hercules#136

Panikakakakakakak: sound of Hercules tearing out of Nightmare's realm - Incredible Hercules#118

Papakrak: sound of Zeus punching Hercules - Incredible Hercules#131

Ploorgggg: sound of Hulk being hit into the ground by Hercules - Hulk vs. Hercules

Powdah: sound of Hercules crushing Sisyphus' boulder - Incredible Hercules#131

Quaktashtakrakshtafrakwoym: sound of a dreamtime vessel crashing - Incredible Hercules#119

Shtaaanne: sound of Pluto being struck by Obadiah Stane - Incredible Hercules#131

Sisy-Poof: sound of Sisyphus' boulder being recreated - Incredible Hercules#131

Skrrraatchthatt: sound of Zeus cutting off Hercules' retreat - Incredible Hercules#134

Sphycrankark: sound of Hercules punching Mikaboshi - Incredible Hercules#117

Splintuh: sound of Hercules shattering a wooden table - Incredible Hercules#131

Sukkkapunch: sound of Hercules punching Thor while his head is turned - Incredible Hercules#136

Taw-Prawnnnch sound of Hulk punching Ares into the ground - Hulk vs. Hercules

Thorrrrulz: sound of Thor striking Hercules - Incredible Hercules#136

Whambo: sound of Hercules punching Nightmare in the jaw - Incredible Hercules#118

Whatamannnn: sound of Thor striking the ground - Incredible Hercules#136

Zomboow: sound of Hercules being punched by his dead self - Incredible Hercules#131

Zoozzzaap: sound of Zeus striking Kallikantzaroi with lightning - Incredible Hercules#132

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Great Short Stories Part 10: #91-100

And today I complete the list:

91. "The Whole Town's Sleeping" (1950) by Ray Bradbury. A chilling tale of a woman walking home late at night while a notorious serial killer is on the loose. Very different from Brown's "Don't Look Behind You," but I think both conjure up a terrific fear of the unknown.

"The Whole Town's Sleeping" can be found in Dandelion Wine.

92. "The Fog Horn" (1951) by Ray Bradbury. A wistful story of a fog horn which attracts something from below the ocean - not a monster in search of victims, simply a very lonesome creature.

"The Fog Horn" can be found in The Stories of Ray Bradbury.

93. "Pawley's Peepholes" (1951) by John Wyndham. An amusing time travel story in which time traveling tourists descend upon an English town and become a local nuisance. They have no physical form nor ability to speak, but their appearances become unbearable...until the townsfolk just get used to them.

94. "A Sound of Thunder" (1952) by Ray Bradbury. The be-all end-all of time travel paradox stories! It takes the concept of going back in time to hunt dinosaurs and uses it as a perfect demonstration of paradoxes with simplicity very few science fiction authors have managed.

"A Sound of Thunder" can be found in The Stories of Ray Bradbury.

95. "Over Insurance" (1953) by John Collier. The story of a couple who are terribly in love with each other. So in love are they that they take out insurance on each other, but the premiums are so high that their lives become miserable. The conclusion may be obvious, but Collier gets there with considerable panache and fun dialogue.

"Over Insurance" can be found in Fancies and Goodnights.

96. "The Cold Equations" (1954) by Tom Godwin. A sombre science fiction tale of a woman who stows away aboard a spaceship, not realizing what a grave impact this has on the flight; to set the ship aright, she has to be jettisoned into space!

"The Cold Equations" can be found in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame: The Greatest Science Fiction Stories of All Time.

97. "Lamb to the Slaughter" (1954) by Roald Dahl. The famed Dahl story of a woman who uses a frozen leg of lamb as a murder weapon. The best part? You can eat the evidence.

"Lamb to the Slaughter" can be found in Collected Stories. You can read the text online here.

98. "Long Shot" (1972) by Vernor Vinge. A fantastic story told about a ship piloting from Earth to a distant star. However, the mission takes so long to complete that the ship cannot recall what its purpose is!

"Long Shot" can be found in The Collected Stories of Vernor Vinge.

99. "The Four-Hour Fugue" (1974) by Alfred Bester. The story of a man with an incomparable sense of smell. Unfortunately, it seems as though certain odors can take possession of him; even he seems unaware of what he does while in a fugue and it seems dead bodies have been turning up...

100. "Prince Delightful and the Flameless Dragon" (1991) by Isaac Asimov. And last to my list, an off-kilter Asimov story where he makes fun of fairy tales. Prince Delightful is a young man possessed of all the graces needed in a hero except coordination. He meets a dragon which cannot breathe fire, leading to a moment tailor made for the paleontologists out there.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Why am I making comics for Steve Bennett?

In his latest column for icv2, Steve Bennett notes gleefully:
"Once again Marvel has produced a comic specifically for me; Marvel Mystery Handbook 70th Anniversary Special. Along with some nice entries on neglected Golden Age heroes like Blue Blaze, the one for Marvex actually tries to explain how The Super Robot changed heads in between issues of Marvel Mystery Comics. But the highlight of course just has to be the full page that's devoted to Terry Vance, which makes up for the fact his assistant Dr. Watson only received a minor mention in the Marvel Pet Handbook (any ape that can be trusted with a loaded gun deserves better)."

This following his recent love for Marvel Pets, which I noted previously. It's hard to believe he's the same man who once demanded a boycott on two of my books, including Annihilation Saga.

Great Short Stories Part 9: #81-90

81. "Skeleton" (1943) by Ray Bradbury. Perhaps the most horrible of Bradbury's stories yet told in such a delightful manner; a man fears and hates his skeleton and wages a losing war against it. A bone specialist has an unconventional solution to his dilemma...

"Skeleton" can be found in The Stories of Ray Bradbury.

82. "The Storm" (1944) by McKnight Malmar. While a storm rages outside, a woman comes upon a body in her basement. She waits for her husband's return so that he can help her, but is she just imagining the body?

"The Storm" can be read online here.

83. "The Small Assassin" (1946) by Ray Bradbury. Bradbury's most chilling story, some consider it ridiculous but it has such a perfectly-honed tension that spills out in the final line - I love it. A woman fears that her newborn child is out to kill her. Before long, her husband has reason to agree.

"The Small Assassin" can be found in The Stories of Ray Bradbury.

84. "The Emissary" (1947) by Ray Bradbury. This is like a horror version of Bradbury's Dandelion Wine where his beloved small town atmosphere is invaded by something unearthly. A boy confined to his bed relies upon his dog to keep him in touch with the outside world. From the scents on his dog's coat he imagines the world outside his room and the dog also brings people to visit him. The dog is willing to go to any length to keep its master company...

"The Emissary" can be found in The Stories of Ray Bradbury.

85. "Zero Hour" (1947) by Ray Bradbury. Horror meets science fiction in this one, where children begin playing a game of invasion; the problem is, it's not just a game.

"Zero Hour" can be found in The Illustrated Man.

86. "Don't Look Behind You" (1948) by Fredric Brown. I recall my mother telling me about this story years before I chanced upon it in an anthology. It left a vivid impression on her and I can understand why; two men make a bet about killing a stranger. The victim's identity will startle you.

"Don't Look Behind You" can be found in Daymare and Other Tales From the Pulps.

87. "The Lottery" (1948) by Shirley Jackson. This is the well known story of a small town and its unusual tradition, the lottery which helps maintain balance with the environment.

"The Lottery" can be found in The Lottery. You can read the text online here.

88. "The Girl With the Hungry Eyes" (1949) by Fritz Leiber. A photographer receives an unusual client, a beautiful woman who imposes strict terms upon him regarding her secrecy. He becomes consumed with curiosity about her and begins to learn all he can; this leads him to a trail of bodies...

"The Girl With the Hungry Eyes" can be found in The Penguin Book of Vampire Stories.

89. "Poison" (1950) by Roald Dahl. This story was almost ruined for me by having seen the Alfred Hitchcock Presents adaptation first - it misses the point of Dahl's narrative. A man is trapped in bed by a snake which crawled under his covers. To save his life, he must agree to let the local Indian doctor treat him, despite his prejudices.

"Poison" can be found in Collected Stories. You can read the text online here.

90. "The Veldt" (1950) by Ray Bradbury. For all the romanticism Bradbury brings to childhood, it's important to remember that he doesn't think children are perfect. This is one of his great "children are evil" stories, where two kids engineer the murder of their parents. Their motivation? Simply too spoiled.

"The Veldt" can be found in The Stories of Ray Bradbury.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Lockjaw & the Pet Avengers TPB tomorrow!

If a title like "Lockjaw & the Pet Avengers" wasn't enough to win you over, you should at least heed this: it contains my Marvel Pets Handbook! Solicitation posted here.

Great Short Stories Part 8: #71-80

71. "Little Miss Marker" (1932) by Damon Runyon. One of Runyon's best-known stories, although the original is more bleak than its many adaptations. A bookie accepts a young girl as a marker for a bet; when the gambler doesn't pay, abandoning the child, the bookie finds himself responsible for the child. To everyone's amazement, he becomes a better man as he determines to care for her.

"Little Miss Marker" can be found in Guys and Dolls and Other Writings.

72. "Tobias the Terrible" (1932) by Damon Runyon. In my opinion, this was Runyon's funniest story. Small-towner Tobias comes to New York in the hopes of meeting underworld characters so that he can impress his girl; through circumstances, he winds up being mistaken for a gunsel ("Twelve-Gun Tobias") and decides that being mistaken for a crook is even better than meeting one!

"Tobias the Terrible" can be found in Guys and Dolls and Other Writings. You can read the text online here.

73. "Three Skeleton Key" (1937) by George Toudouze. This story is probably best known for the radio adaptation produced on Escape as Toudouze was seldom translated into English. Three men tending a lighthouse near French Guinea spot a derelict coming toward the rocky reefs; aboard the derelict is a vast army of rats! Toudouze captures the constant tension and gradually descent into madness of his characters beautifully.

"Three Skeleton Key" can be read online here.

74. "Leiningen Versus the Ants" (1938) by Carl Stephenson. This is another story I know from Escape, although some may know it for inspiring the 50s film the Naked Jungle. A plantation owner learns that a swarm of army ants is headed toward his property and is advised to pull out. Leiningen refuses and instead prepares his men to wage war with the ants!

"Leiningen Versus the Ants" can be found in Twenty-One Great Stories. You can read the text online here.

75. "Pigeons From Hell" (1938) by Robert E. Howard. You won't find any Lovecraft on my list of 100 favorite short stories, although here I've selected one of his contemporaries. As far as I'm concerned, Lovecraft was simply not a very good writer. Howard, on the other hand, although best known for Conan, turned out an incredible horror story here, one with a following of its own. Two men spend the night in an abandoned plantation manor; by morning, one is dead and the survivor must clear his name by combatting the forces of voodoo!

"Pigeons From Hell" can be found in The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard. You can read the text online here.

76. "Ah, the University!" (1939) by John Collier. A quick and delightful tale; a father brings up his son with glowing tales of life at a university, but he does not intend to send his son there; rather, he wants his son to become a cardsharp and support him by winning poker games. The son complies and after years of studying cards heads out to win a fortune. It comes down to a beautifully funny double cross.

77. "Bottle Party" (1939) by John Collier. One of Collier's best known stories, this concerns a man who picks up a bottle containing a genie. Given the power to have whatever he desires, the man begins conjuring up palaces and beautiful women, but is rather disconcerted when he learns the genie's previous master wished for the same things he did.

"Bottle Party" can be found in Fancies and Goodnights. You can read the text online here.

78. "Evening Primrose" (1940) by John Collier. And this is single best known Collier story, one which has often been imitated. A poet goes to live inside a department store to escape the world outside; within the store, he finds a much more horrible world, a community of people who live in stores and pose as mannequins!

"Evening Primrose" can be found in Fancies and Goodnights.

79. "The Crowd" (1943) by Ray Bradbury. Bradbury later became known for science fiction tales and stories of forward looking optimism, but early in his career he wrote stories such as "The Crowd" which were nearer to the pulp horror stories of the day. A journalist narrowly survives a car crash; examining other car crash photos he sees faces in the crowd who were present at his crash. Who are they and what draws them to crash sites?

"The Crowd" can be found in The Stories of Ray Bradbury.

80. "The Scythe" (1943) by Ray Bradbury. An impoverished family chance upon a deserted farm where the previous tenant willed all his property to whoever finds his remains. The property includes a scythe used to cut the wheat. But there's something strange about the wheat, the way it decays immediately after being cut; gradually, the man with the scythe realizes that for every blade he cuts down, someone dies!

"The Scythe" can be found in The Stories of Ray Bradbury.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Great Short Stories: #61-70

61. "The Open Window" (1914) by Saki. This is easily Saki's best-known work. A young woman relates the story of her aunt's open window, the belief her aunt has that one day her lost relatives will return to her. This being Saki, it's all about the cruel tricks people play on each other.

"The Open Window" can be found in Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural. You can read the text online here.

62. "The Metamorphosis" (1915) by Franz Kafka. Another novella, this is the story of poor Gregor Samska, the man who awakens one morning to find he has become an insect. For him, this is the beginning of a terrible series of challenges. To his family, this is the start of new opportunities.

"The Metamorphosis" can be found in The Metamorphosis and Other Stories. You can read the text online here.

63. "The Interlopers" (1919) by Saki. An intense story of two men quarreling over their neighboring lands who find themselves pinned by a tree in the woods; suddenly, they are acutely aware of the futility of their feud, but they also realize that neither of them are the real interlopers; it builds to a final line that changes the whole story with just one word.

"The Interlopers" can be found in The Interlopers. You can read the text online here.

64. "Confession" (1921) by Algernon Blackwood. For my money, this is Blackwood's best tale. A shellshocked veteran wanders the foggy streets of London, trying desperately to overcome his terror, uncertain of whether the people he meets and the things he sees are real. When a woman is murdered, he doesn't know whether he's been framed for a crime or imagined the entire affair!

"Confession" can be found in . You can read the text online here.

65. "The Bamboo Trap" (1923) by Robert S. Lemmon. This obscure tale tells of a hunter sent to find a sample of a rare spider for his employers. After falling into an underground pit, he finds the good news: he's discovered the spiders' home. The bad news: he can't climb out.

66. "The Most Dangerous Game" (1924) by Richard Connell. The original and often-imitated story of the hunter who has tired of all normal game and has decided he needs prey which can think; in other words, he wants to hunt humans!

"The Most Dangerous Game" can be found in The Most Dangerous Game. You can read the text online here.

67. "Action" (1928) by Charles E. Montague. A gripping tale of a man who has lost all hope in living and prepared to die. Rather than suicide, he attempts to scale a sheer ice precipice so that he can go out struggling with nature. However, he's not alone on the wall of ice...

68. "When the World Screamed" (1929) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. One of Doyle's shorter tales of Professor Challenger, who debuted in the Lost World. Challenger is convinced that the Earth is itself a living organism and constructs a drill to prove his point. His goal? To awaken the Earth and make it acknowledge his existence! What some men will do for validation...

"When the World Screamed" can be found in The Complete Adventures of Professor Challenger. You can read the text online here.

69. "The Lily of St. Pierre" (1930) by Damon Runyon. Like most of Runyon's works, this is both amusing and tragic. After a bootlegger murders another criminal he relates the reasons why, relating a tale of his time in Canada where he befriended a man and his daughter, came to think of them as his own family and the tragedy that took them away.

"The Lily of St. Pierre" can be found in Guys and Dolls and Other Writings. You can read the text online here.

70. "Green Thoughts" (1932) by John Collier. A just plain odd story in which a botany enthusiast finds that his new plant has the ability to digest any living being, including full-grown humans. The botanist becomes his plant's victim, but that's only the beginning of the story!

"Green Thoughts" can be found in Fancies and Goodnights.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Great Short Stories: #51-60

51. "The Voice in the Night" (1907) by William Hope Hodgson. Two men at sea hear a voice in the night, coming from a rowboat. The voice asks for food, but does not want to be seen. The men comply and some time later the rowboat returns and the voice tells them its tragic story. What is it? Well, I can tell you this: this is the story which inspired Matango ("Attack of the Mushroom People")!

"The Voice in the Night" can be found in The Collected Fiction of William Hope Hodgson Volume 3. You can read the text online here.

52. "The Willows" (1907) by Algernon Blackwood. A disturbing tale in the style Lovecraft would later popularize. Two men on a canoeing trip spent a night on a tiny island. With them is an unearthly presence so terrible that their only hope is to not think about it, because the moment they perceive what is with them will be the moment of their destruction!

"The Willows" can be found in The Willows. You can read the text online here.

53. "Ancient Sorceries" (1908) by Algernon Blackwood. Chilling story about a man who gets off at a small village to make a point to another travler. Although he chose the village at random, the lcoale seems strangely familiar. And the people seem to recognize him, watching him, waiting for something to happen.

"Ancient Sorceries" can be found in Ancient Sorceries and Other Weird Stories. You can read the text online here.

54. "To Build a Fire" (1908) by Jack London. A taut tale about a man in the frozen north whose cruelty gets the best of him when he faces the danger of freezing to death; his only prayer is to build a fire in time.

"To Build a Fire" can be found in To Build a Fire and Other Stories. You can read the text online here.

55. "Tobermory" (1909) by Saki. An amusing story in which a cat obtains the ability to speak; after an initial burst of enthusiasm, the people who the cat knows become terrified of the feline because it knows all of their secrets and has no compunction about sharing them!

"Tobermory" can be found in Great English Short Stories. You can read the text online here.

56. "August Heat" (1910) by William Harvey. Haunting story about an artist who makes a picture of a murderer. Then he meets the man, who turns out to be a tombstone carver; the carver has just inscribed the artist's name on a display stone. The two men gradually realize that they are war with destiny and must somehow prevent the inevitable.

"August Heat" can be found in Masters Choice. You can read the text online here.

57. "The Blue Cross" (1910) by G.K. Chesterton. This might be the best of Chesterton's Father Brown stories. In this one, a man sets about perform seemingly random acts, not unlike the character from Doyle's "Adventure of the Six Napoleons." As in that story, there's more going on than appears on the surface and it takes Father Brown to discern the "madman's" intentions by behaving "mad" just like the criminal!

"The Blue Cross" can be found in Favorite Father Brown Stories. You can read the text online here.

58. "The Grove of Ashtaroth" (1910) by John Buchan. Buchan wrote very few tales of the supernatural and when he did delve into such matters, he often evoked strange compulsions which cling to environments, rather than conventional ghosts and spirits. In this tale set in South Africa, the narrator recounts the tale of his friend who became suddenly invested in a piece of South African land containing a certain grove circled by doves. On evenings he heads into the grove and performs certain acts - acts of worship to the goddess Ashtorah!

"The Grove of Ashtaroth" can be found in The Moon Endureth: Tales and Fancies. You can read the text online here.

59. "Casting the Runes" (1911) by M.R. James. An unforgettable tale of a man who derides the forces of darkness, then finds himself beset by them. Everywhere he goes, something follows upon his footsteps. The haunting is fated to end eventually, but that brings little relief: it can only end in death.

"Casting the Runes" can be found in Complete Ghost Stories. You can read the text online here.

60. "The Adventure of the Dying Detective" (1913) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This was the story which first interested me in Sherlock Holmes. Holmes lies dying in his bed and refuses to let Watson treat him. Watson speeds off to find a specialist, but it seems the specialist is all too aware of Holmes' precarious condition.

"The Adventure of the Dying Detective" can be found in The Complete Sherlock Holmes. You can read the text online here.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Great Short Stories: #41-50

41. "The Monkey's Paw" (1902) by W.W. Jacobs. This is the story Jacobs is remembered for, but as you've seen I've listed a number of his works, there is more to commend in his bibliography than just this one tale. That said, this is one of the all-time great short stories. I'm sure you already know (or think you know?) the story and its moral: be careful what you wish for.

"The Monkey's Paw" can be found in The Lady of the Barge and Other Stories. You can read the text online here.

42. "The Well" (1902) by W.W. Jacobs. Another fine story by Jacobs, this relates the falling out between two brothers, culminating in one's disappearance. When the beloved of the remaining brother loses a ring inside an old well, he suddenly becomes quite perturbed and determined to retrieve the ring alone. Why doesn't he want anyone else looking inside the well?

"The Well" can be found in The Lady of the Barge and Other Stories. You can read the text online here.

43. "The Adventure of the Second Stain" (1904) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Another great Sherlock Holmes story, this involves the titular second stain - one stain lies on the rug, the other on the floor. Why was the rug moved after the murdered man died?

"The Adventure of the Second Stain" can be found in The Complete Sherlock Holmes. You can read the text online here.

44. "The Adventure of the Six Napoleons" (1904) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. A great Holmes story where a man goes about smashing busts of Napoleon, seemingly insane. It takes Holmes to realize that there's more going on here.

"The Adventure of the Six Napoleons" can be found in The Complete Sherlock Holmes. You can read the text online here.

45. "The Country of the Blind" (1904) by H.G. Wells. "In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king," so goes the proverb. In this wistful story, a mountain climber discovers the country of the blind, but finds that the proverb does not hold true. He soon discovers that his senses may be superior, but they mean less than nothing in a society which has made to do without.

"The Country of the Blind" can be found in The Country of the Blind and Other Selected Stories. You can read the text online here.

46. "Number 13" (1904) by M.R. James. A frightening James story which slowly builds up to one immensely effective moment. A guest in a hotel notices some odd occurrences. The room seems smaller during the night, larger during the day. At night, he sees a room next to him numbered "13." He can't find number 13 during the day. And someone is in that room.

"Number 13" can be found in Complete Ghost Stories. You can read the text online here.

47. "Oh, Whistle and I'll Come to You, My Lad" (1904) by M.R. James. Possibly James' finest story, certainly one of his best-known. Between his fun prose, James brings out a terrific ghost story about a man who digs up an unusual whistle, then blows into it. Unfortunately for him, something answers the call.

"Oh, Whistle and I'll Come to You, My Lad" can be found in Complete Ghost Stories. You can read the text online here.

48. "The Treasure of Abbot Thomas" (1904) by M.R. James. This was my first exposure to James, it was in a filmstrip collection along with Amelia Edward's "Phantom Coach." A researcher solves the riddle of Abbot Thomas' supposed hidden treasure, but when he reaches in to take it...well, it's a moment that lived long in my imagination.

"The Treasure of Abbot Thomas" can be found in Complete Ghost Stories. You can read the text online here.

49. "A Tropical Horror" (1905) by William Hope Hodgson. A ship at sea is visited by a creature from the depths, something apparently prehistoric...something with little love for humans. Told in frantic passages as the narrator tries to conceal himself from the sea creature which tears through his fellow crewmen.

"A Tropical Horror" can be found in The Collected Fiction of William Hope Hodgson Volume 3. You can read the text online here.

50. "A Suspicious Gift" (1906) by Algernon Blackwood. Blackwood is best regarded for his supernatural tales, but this one manages to terrify without bringing in anything otherwordly. A man takes in a strange guest who has a gift of money for him. So what's the catch? And why does the guest walk so strangely?

"A Suspicious Gift" can be found in The Empty House and Other Ghost Stories. You can read the text online here.

Friday, October 16, 2009

George Tuska, RIP

"We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord."

It's interesting that so few of the significant comic book creators have passed on. I mean, Joe Simon, Stan Lee, Gene Colan, Jerry Robinson, Steve Ditko and so many other earlier creators are still with us. It's strange, then, that the industry was hit by two deaths this week - one being letterer Joe Rosen, the other artist George Tuska, each of them veterans since the 1940s.

It's sad that Tuska's art hasn't been more widely appreciated. Perhaps he wasn't suited to the super hero work most associate him with. After all, back in the 1950s he worked in all types of genres for Atlas. He did westerns...

...He did war comics...

...And he did horror comics.

But he must be best remembered for his work on Iron Man, which ranged ten years of his career. It included drawing the Archie Goodwin run of the late 60s which for many was a highlight of the series. My favorite Goodwin-Tuska story was the one where an LMD (android) usurps Tony Stark's life.

That same story was also the debut of Madame Masque, one of the best villains in Iron Man's rogues gallery.

If nothing else, George Tuska will be fondly remembered by Iron Man fandom. I know that I won't soon forget him. Rest in peace, Mr. Tuska.

Great Short Stories: #31-40

31. "A Scandal in Bohemia" (1891) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. One of the best Sherlock Holmes stories, this is the famous tale of Irene Adler, the woman who outsmarted Holmes. It's a great story that shows Holmes at his best, even though he meets his match. Much has been made of Moriarty as Holmes' ultimate nemesis, but Adler is the only one of his adversaries who proved a genuine intellectual equal.

"A Scandal in Bohemia" can be found in The Complete Sherlock Holmes. You can read the text online here.

32. "Lot No. 249" (1892) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This is a mummy story, although it follows some of the traditional zombie story maneuvers as well. A young man has found a way to command a mummy to do his bidding and he sees it as his opportunity to eliminate all of his rivals.

"Lot No. 249" can be found in Return From the Dead. You can read the text online here.

33. "Lost Hearts" (1893) by M.R. James. This is one of James' earliest tales and it's rather unlike the main body of his work (I'll be listing a lot of them over the next two days). A poor child is taken in by a doctor who provides for his every need. But it seems that children have a way of disappearing around his home...

"Lost Hearts" can be found in Complete Ghost Stories. You can read the text online here.

34. "How the Brigadier Won His Medal" (1894) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Of all the great Brigadier Gerard stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, this is certainly one of them. If you know Doyle for Holmes or the Lost World you should try a Brigadier Gerard story, they're quite different and very funny. In this tale, Gerard is sent on what could only be an impossible task - impossible for any man but Gerard! The only problem is his superiors meant for him to be captured. Poor Gerard, ever bringing competance to the job of an incompetant.

"How the Brigadier Won His Medal" can be found in Exploits and Adventures of Brigadier Gerard. You can read the text online here.

35. "Canon Alberic's Scrap Book" (1895) by M.R. James. Now then, this is another M.R. James story, but it follows a formula he used time and again thereon. A researcher visiting an old church befriends the parson, who shows him an incredible text full of rare illustrations from chuch history. He's quite eager to be rid of it...and before the day is over, the researcher learns why...

"Canon Alberic's Scrap Book" can be found in Complete Ghost Stories. You can read the text online here.

36. "The Open Boat" (1897) by Stephen Crane. Based on an incident which occurred to Crane, this is the story of four men cast adrift in a lifeboat trying desperately to save themselves as the situation grows increasingly bleak.

"The Open Boat" can be found in The Open Boat and Other Stories. You can read the text online here.

37. "The Damned Thing" (1898) by Ambrose Bierce. A fine combination of wit and horror, this quick tale recounts the circumstances surrounding the unusual death of a hunter who believes there are things existing slightly outside man's ken, but not necessarily beyond that of nature.

"The Damned Thing" can be found in The Spook House. You can read the text online here.

38. "Drums of the Fore and Aft" (1898) by Rudyard Kipling. An excellent story about two young men who play in a regiment band and find themselves stranded on the battlefield when the rest of their party retreats. The duo see only one course open to them: they march, trying to inspire their forces to come back and continue the fight.

"Drums of the Fore and Aft" can be found in War Stories and Poems. You can read the text online here.

39. "Captain Rogers" (1901) by W.W. Jacobs. A familiar tale with a twist; a good man raising his daughter alone is confronted by a figure from his past who knows him as "Captain Rogers," a wanted man. He uses this information as blackmail to get whatever he wants from the man, gradually forcing him out of his own home and property and threatening to take his daughter as well. It all leads up to a well-earned twist...

"Captain Rogers" can be found in The Lady of the Barge and Other Stories. You can read the text online here.

40. "An Adulteration Act" (1902) by W.W. Jacobs. A humourous story of a doctor and a lawyer who are shanghaied and forced to serve aboard a ship at sea. The two men are ill-prepared for lives of drudgery and to regain their old lives they use the only strengths they have - those of their normal vocations.

"An Adulteration Act" can be found in The Lady of the Barge and Other Stories. You can read the text online here.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Great Short Stories: #21-30

21. "The Phantom Rickshaw" (1885) by Rudyard Kipling. In this ghostly yet whimsical story, a man is pursued by the phantom image of a woman he spurned, following him everywhere in her rickshaw. It seems to be a manifestation of his own guilty conscience, believing he drived her to her death, but no amount of psychoanalysis seems able to drive the phantom away.

"The Phantom Rickshaw" can be found in The Phantom Rickshaw and Other Ghost Stories. You can read the text online here.

22. "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" (1886) by Robert Louis Stevenson. Again delving into novellas, this is Stevenson's great tale of Jekyll letting out his other side, but discovering that the more exercise he grants his baser self, the more powerful it becomes and he faces the threat of losing out to himself.

"The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" can be found in Three Tales. You can read the text online here.

23. "The Horla" (1887) by Guy de Maupassant. This is easily Maupassant's best-remembered story, one which has been given particular attention because of his own descent into madness (Maupassant suffered from syphilis). A man is haunted by an invisible...something. A Horla. As he becomes more and more convinced of the reality of his premonitions, his actions seem more and more like madness to those around him.

"The Horla" can be found in The Complete Works of Guy de Maupassant. You can read the text online here.

24. "Baa, Baa, Black Sheep" (1888) by Rudyard Kipling. This is a sad story about a young boy from India sent to be raised in England. The boy encounters difficulties, partly due to culture shock, but he also develops a horrible persecution complex and when he finds himself punished regardless of whether he does good or ill, he sees no point in trying to be good.

"Baa, Baa, Black Sheep" can be found in The Man Who Would be King and Other Stories. You can read the text online here.

25. "The Man Who Would be King" (1888) by Rudyard Kipling. This is Kipling's great story of two men who seek to carve out a kingdom for themselves and, against all odds, succeed; the problem is that having become kings by setting themselves up as gods, the fiction can only hold for so long...

"The Man Who Would be King" can be found in The Man Who Would be King and Other Stories. You can read the text online here.

26. "Hautot Senior and Hautot Junior" (1889) by Guy de Maupassant. This is a strangely cynical yet affecting work by Maupassant. As he lies dying from a hunting accident, Hautot tells his son his shameful secret: he kept a mistress. The son sets out to put things right with his father's woman, but discovers she is now like a part of his family.

"Hautot Senior and Hautot Junior" can be found in The Complete Works of Guy de Maupassant. You can read the text online here.

27. "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" (1890) by Ambrose Bierce. This is Bierce's best-known tale, told with simplicity and forcefulness. During the US Civil War, a man is sentenced to be hung over a bridge. He survives the hanging and a pursuit begins, but...well, as you may already know, the escape occurs only in his mind and the entire tale comprises the hopes of a man at the moment of his death.

"An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" can be found in The Spook House. You can read the text online here.

28. "The Five Orange Pips" (1891) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This is one of the most remarkable of Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories, memorable because it's the story in which the villains are the Klu Klux Klan and that it's one of the few times Holmes solves a mystery, but fails the case!

"The Five Orange Pips" can be found in The Complete Sherlock Holmes. You can read the text online here.

29. "The Graveyard Sisterhood" (1891) by Guy de Maupassant. Another cynical romance by Maupassant; a man comforts a woman weeping over the grave of her beloved and is drawn into a relationship with her; he realizes just a little too late that he's being played.

"The Graveyard Sisterhood" can be found in The Complete Works of Guy de Maupassant. You can read the text online here.

30. "The Red-Headed League" (1891) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This is a great Holmes story about a red-haired man who is hired for a job seemingly because of his hair color. After losing the unusual job he asks Holmes to investigate and it turns out the man wasn't wanted for the color of his hair, but for the proximity of his home to the bank!

"The Red-Headed League" can be found in The Complete Sherlock Holmes. You can read the text online here.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Great Short Stories: #11-20

11. "Ethan Brand" (1851) by Nathaniel Hawthorne. In this tale, a man seeks to learn what the "unpardonable sin" could be. Tackling the problem as an experiment, he makes test subjects of several people, deceiving them into committing murder and other terrible acts, but in each case he can see how they could be forgiven. The ultimate revelation of his actions is this: intentionally drawing others into evil is the unpardonable sin.

"Ethan Brand" can be found in Twice-Told Tales. You can read the text online here.

12. "A Terrible Night" (1856) by Fitz-James O'Brien. In this disturbing tale, two men go hunting in the woods somewhere in northern Canada. After becoming lost they chance upon a cabin and the reclusive but proud inhabitant allows them to spend the night. However, the two begin to fear that their host has plans to rob and kill them, so they sleep in shifts to keep an eye on him. The ultimate horror of the evening is much worse than they could have imagined.

"A Terrible Night" can be read online here.

13. "The Phantom Coach" (1864) by Amelia B. Edwards. I first encountered this story in a filmstrip back in junior high school and it left quite a mark upon me; bereft of the film's illustrations, I don't think it's as terrifying, but Edwards still weaves what is to my mind the best of the "phantom coach" style of tales, of which there were many in the 19th century (her colleague Dickens wrote a couple). In this tale, a man lost in the snow accepts a lift from a mysterious coach. There's something not quite right about his fellow passengers...

"The Phantom Coach" can be found in Classic & Victorian Ghost Stories. You can read the text online here.

14. "The Trial for Murder" (1865) by Charles Dickens. In this story, a juror finds himself strangely compelled by the case he's been made to sit in on. He never knew the victim, he does not know the defendant. How is it that he seems possessed of the full details of the crime and is assured of the defendant's guilt? And is there really a 13th juror?

"The Trial for Murder" can read online here.

15. "The Signal-Man" (1866) by Charles Dickens. This eerie story relates the plight of a railway line signal-man who has premonitions of disaster and lives in perpetual fear that his premonitions will come true; the story's protagonist tries to convince him that his fears are groundless, yet he unwittingly has a part to play in the man's future.

"The Signal-Man" can be found in Three Ghost Stories. You can read the text online here.

16. "Green Tea" (1872) by Sheridan Le Fanu. Le Fanu is not a well-known name but he's well-regarded by those who know him and stories like "Green Tea" exhibit the reason why. It's a psychological ghost story written in an open, conversational style that may even make you laugh...until the story's phantom monkey appears.

"Green Tea" can be found in Green Tea and Other Strange Tales. You can read the text online here.

17. "Sire de Maletroit's Door" (1877) by Robert Louis Stevenson. In this story, a young cavalier fleeing from his enemies steps inside an open door; he soon has cause to regret this action when he finds himself in the home of a wealthy man determined to find the person who impregnated his daughter. As a criminal, the cavalier cannnot expose his motivation without incriminating himself and so is given a choice: marry his daughter or die.

"Sire de Maletroit's Door" can be found in New Arabian Nights. You can read the text online here.

18. "The Suicide Club" (1878) by Robert Louis Stevenson. Here's where I'm fudging the definition of "short story" just a little. "The Suicide Club" is more properly a novella or even a mini-anthology; it is essentially three short stories which together tell one great story. However, it's mainly the first of these stories which I'm enamored with - "The Young Man With the Cream Tarts." It's this part of the story which is really about the titular Suicide Club. In it, a young prince out to enjoy himself in secrecy joins a club where suicidal people unable to kill themselves play cards every night to choose from amongst their ranks a killer and a victim. The prince's problems really begin when he is chosen to be a victim! This was a story I first encountered on the radio show Escape, but protagonist Prince Florizel turned up in a few more of Stevenson's works.

"The Suicide Club" can be found in New Arabian Nights. You can read the text online here.

19. "A Ruse" (1882) by Guy de Maupassant. Really, this is an awful, tasteless, cynical and terrible story. And yet, it's told with such zest and audacity that I do rather like it. A physician relates a story about an evening where he was called to aid a married woman whose lover had unexpectedly died. He must contrive a means to get the body out of her home before her husband returns. It's all a build-up to an awful punchline, but so far as cynical humour goes, this is one of Maupassant's best.

"A Ruse" can be found in The Complete Works of Guy de Maupassant. You can read the text online here.

20. "Markheim" (1885) by Robert Louis Stevenson. This is a great crime story telling the desperate actions of a killer trying to escape the scene of the crime but plagued by self-doubts and fears of capture. His own conscience stirs against him as he comes closer and closer to discovery.

"Markheim" can be found in Three Tales. You can read the text online here.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Great Short Stories: #1-10

In my school days I was exposed to short stories in English classes as part of my course material, but I didn't really develop an interest in the format until I became obsessed with old-time radio. Many of the radio dramas I enjoyed - notably those used on Escape - utilized short stories to great effect as they were well suited to the half-hour format of most programs. As the programs exposed me to certain stories and authors I began searching out the print versions of those works, then finding more stories by my favorite of those authors and then seeking out additional authors who were said to be similar to them. I love that the format gets through the plots quickly and often with a deft sense of economy.

I've read an especially large amount of short stories since delving into the University's collections, grabbing thick anthologies here and there. I've read so much that I felt the need to share my recommendations for great short stories. Beginning today and over the next nine days, I'll list my 100 favorite short stories, including information on where to buy or read online where able. This list will be in chronological order and won't have much beyond the 1950s.

1. "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment" (1837) by Nathaniel Hawthorne. This is the prototype of "fountain of youth" stories, demonstrating the yearning to be young again outwardly, but that inward youth is not so easily obtained. Like so many stories of its sort, the miracle which grants youth is lost by the story's end, but it leads to a final paragraph that is quite funny.

"Dr. Heidegger's Experiment" can be found in Twice-Told Tales. You can read the text online here.

2. "A Predicament" (1838) by Edgar Allan Poe. This story is best enjoyed when read alongside "How to Write a Blackwood's Article," but I think the absurdism stands well on its own. This is one of Poe's best humourous stories and pokes fun at some of the conventions he later adopted himself!

"A Predicament" can be found in Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems. You can read the text online here.

3. "The Fall of the House of Usher" (1839) by Edgar Allan Poe. This is one of the great Poe stories and is likely familiar to many; the story of a woman buried alive by her brother and highlighted by an unforgettable climax where the protagonist reads from The Mad Trist as unusual sounds in the house seem to mirror every passage of the text.

"The Fall of the House of Usher" can be found in Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems. You can read the text online here.

4. "The Man That Was Used Up" (1839) by Edgar Allan Poe. This is another of Poe's humourous tales, featuring a general who is well regarded by everyone the protagonist meets, and yet they seem simultaneously evasive on the subject. When the protagonist finally meets the general he learns the great man's secret: most of his body has been replaced with prosthetics. He has, in brief, been "used up."

"The Man That Was Used Up" can be found in Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems. You can read the text online here.

5. "Never Bet the Devil Your Head" (1841) by Edgar Allan Poe. This is easily Poe's funniest story, the tale of a gambling man whose ultimate wager is to bet the Devil his head. When the Devil accepts his terms, he has to put his money where his mouth is...that is, if he still had a mouth...

"Never Bet the Devil Your Head" can be found in Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems. You can read the text online here.

6. "The Pit and the Pendulum" (1842) by Edgar Allan Poe. Another of Poe's best-known tales, this is the story of the man imprisoned by the Spanish Inquisition and left in a darkened prison to face two dilemmas: first, an immense pit which he's expected to blindly stumble into and second, an immense bladed pendulum which descends from the ceiling, drawing ever closer to his body.

"The Pit and the Pendulum" can be found in Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems. You can read the text online here.

7. "The Black Cat" (1843) by Edgar Allan Poe. For my money, this was Poe's most disturbing story. The narrator is a drunk who kills his cat in a fit; later, he obtains a new cat but begins to fear it's the old cat reincarnated. When he kills his wife in another fit he tries desperately to conceal his crime, but the cat isn't through with him yet and his own pride brings about his fall.

"The Black Cat" can be found in Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems. You can read the text online here.

8. "The Gold Bug" (1843) by Edgar Allan Poe. This is Poe's great treasure hunt story, featuring a cipher and the fortune of Captain Kidd hidden beneath a skull. What maintains interest is that the treasure hunter seems to be a madman, but is actually following the seemingly-insane directions to the treasure.

"The Gold Bug" can be found in Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems. You can read the text online here.

9. "The Telltale Heart" (1843) by Edgar Allan Poe. If "the Black Cat" was Poe's most disturbing, I think this was Poe's single best work. This is the classic story of a murderer whose guilty conscience manifests as the sound of a heartbeat emanating from the place where he buried his victim. Adaptations to other media try too hard to delve into the narrator's motivation, making it about the killer's need for money or want of love; the actual story is stripped bare - it's a killer's confession and everything from the murder scene to the tormented imaginations of the killer are suspenseful and thrilling.

"The Telltale Heart" can be found in Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems. You can read the text online here.

10. "The Cask of Amontillado" (1846) by Edgar Allan Poe. And this is the last tale by Poe to make it on my list; this is another of his great stories and I encourage anyone who thinks they know the story to sit down and read it for themselves. The flashes of grim humour are really engaging and the climax - Fortunato being sealed up inside a wall by Montressor - is some of Poe's best work.

"The Cask of Amontillado" can be found in Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems. You can read the text online here.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Pete Kelly's Blues

I remember thumbing through the entertainment section of the newspaper one summer morning over 10 years ago when I found an article about the worst television shows of all time. I took some exception to the article, mainly because I knew enough about the history of television to know that the truly bad programs were obscure, not generally popular. Among the inclusions in the author's list that I disagreed with was Dragnet, which was singled out for Jack Webb's performance as Joe Friday.

Webb's Dragnet originated in radio (1949-57), spawned a theatrical film (1954) and two television series (1951-59 & 1967-70). Joe Friday is certainly Webb's best-known role in his career for having spread across so many decades and separate generations, but the restrained, monotone he adopted as Friday was not the full measure of his talent, as fans of his radio career are well aware.

On radio, Webb once starred in his own comedy program, strangely enough! The zany Jack Webb Show ran in 1946. He also turned up as a guest star in many dramatic programs where he played a variety of characters, including the Escape episode "Ring of Thoth" in which he played a French mummy (seriously! check it out!). But after Dragnet, Webb's fans know him best as the wiseguy Pat Novak in Pat Novak for Hire (1946-49). Pat Novak is one of the best-regarded detective programs among fans of radio drama because of its clever dialogue. Virtually every episode followed the same plot: Novak walks in on some shady dealings and Inspector Hellman (Raymond Burr) tries to pin a crime on him; he turns to his boozer friend Jocko Magidan (Tudor Owen) to help dig up evidence to vindicate himself. Here's a typical piece of Novak's dialogue:

"They were the sort of guys who might have been born, but you didn't want to bet on it. The one in the door was a big guy with bushy eyebrows that met near his nose, and the way they ran across his face, you got the idea he got tired of the old ones and grafted on a vine instead. His face wasn't much better. It looked more like a relief map than a face. It was pockmarked and the color of moldy bread. And you knew if a woman kissed him, she'd get blood poisoning."

Novak and Hellman's violent exchanges definitely stood out against those of most fictional detective-police relations of the time. A typical show like Boston Blackie depicted a thick-headed police officer who unreasonably blames the protagonist for everything until the hero shows him up and humiliates him. Novak would always succeed, but had to take a physical beating from Hellman along the way; Hellman's menacing presence ran so much deeper than any other radio police official, there was clearly no love between them.

Anyway, now we arrive at 1951 and Webb produced a new radio program called Pete Kelly's Blues. Its run on radio was limited to a few months but it followed a pattern similar to Pat Novak. Set in the 1920s, Kelly was a trumpet player in a jazz band who constantly ran afoot of organized crime and had to keep himself clear in the eyes of the mob, rather than the police. Dialogue on the show was much like that used on Novak:

"My name’s Pete Kelly. I play cornet. You’ll find us at 417 Cherry Street, Kansas City, it’s a standard speakeasy. Before prohibition the building housed a cleaning and dying plant. It hasn’t changed much. The vats came in handy. Its still tough to get a clear gin but a lady likes the idea of a drink to match the color of her dress. The lease is owned by George Lupo. He’s a flat, friendly little guy who wouldn’t harm a fly. There’s no money in harming flies. We start every night about ten and play til the customers get that first frightening look at each other in the early light. Lupo’s working on a scheme to push the dawn back for at least one more hour. I don’t think he’ll make it, but I wouldn’t want to risk a buck against him."

Somehow, Webb was able to translate Pete Kelly's Blues to another medium, as he had done for Dragnet. In 1955, it became a motion picture directed by Webb himself and featuring plenty of jazz music with some numbers by Peggy Lee and Ella Fitzgerald and a supporting cast with Janet Leigh and Lee Marvin.

As on the radio program, Pete Kelly is a 1920s bandleader just barely keeping out of trouble with the mob. When his drummer is murdered by gangsters, Kelly has to fall in line with mobster Fran McCrag, but he can see that if he stays under his thumb, darker times are ahead. Again, the dialogue is faithful to the radio version:

"If you're looking for a new way to grow old, this is the place to come. 1 7 Cherry Street, Kansas City. It's a speakeasy one flight down. It was a brownstone at first. After that an undertaker had the place, but he went to Chicago to get a piece of the flu epidemic and Rudy Shulak took over. Rudy got a booze contract out of Joplin and bought some tablecloths, it's been a gin bin ever since. There's even a little business on the side for shut-ins. Rudy's a puny little guy. Sew an extra button on his vest, he'd fall down. But he's all right. The beer's good, the whiskey's aged, if you get here late in the day. On top of that, he knows where to spend money. He knows where to save it. And he's good to the help. He pays scale with a $5 kickback. I play cornet and run the band. We play from 1 0 till 4 with a 20-minute pizza break. The hours are bad but the music suits us. There's one other thing about Rudy's and that's trouble. You can get it by the yard, the pound, wholesale or retail."

Part of what makes the film version of Pete Kelly's Blues so captivating is the visual style, all the more remarkable coming from a director who spent most of his time at the other end of the camera (and is also the film's leading man). There are some terrific shots in this movie, notably the shoot-out scene in the climax set on a ballroom floor with great wide shots of three gunman encircling Kelly and his girl.

Pete Kelly's Blues is a rather obscure film, all told, but it's well worth checking out; if you never thought much of Webb as an actor, it might change your mind. It will certainly open your eyes to his skill as a director!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A digression with Proof

Proof#24, the most recent issue of Alex Grecian & Riley Rossmo's Image series was recently released. Diverging wildly from what was originally solicited ("My date with Bigfoot"), this doesn't even feature Rossmo on art, instead utilizing Chris Grine. It also steps back from the main cast to tell a story about one of the minor supporting characters, a fairy boy named Joy.

I'm reminded of Bill Willingham's Fables which has often told done-in-one stories of minor Fables and with guest artists to deliver said digressions. Also like Fables, this issue takes some cues from a classic children's story, namely Pinocchio.

Joy was adopted by the Chupacabra shortly after his birth way back in Proof#5. Although the Chupacabra is a horrendous carnivore who feeds on anything, it also seems to play the part of whatever creature's skin it's currently inhabiting. Garbed in the body of a kindly mother, it's been playing the part (with many fiendish overtones) and now little Joy has decided to find his father, determined to learn if he's alive.

Those of us who recall the series lore on fairies are already assured of his father's grim fate. I'm not sure why excerpts from Pinocchio run through the story when the two tales don't seem to parallel at all. Given that Joy's quest is ultimately fruitless, the accompanying text may as well have been from Huckleberry Finn.

Grine's artwork is definitely a far cry from Riley's scratchy Sienkiewicz-influenced style; if anything, Grine seems to pine for the likes of Disney or Tezuka; check out those Astro Boy-like eyes on Joy above!

Oh, Proof#24 also has another installment of Kelly Tindall's Archie Snow! What's the good word, Archie?

Wha--? Well! Fine! Be that way! Ornery old cat...