Halloween is getting close, and you know that means: a Halloween-appropriate story lineup! I feel no shame when I say I fucking love Halloween; it’s the only holiday I really get in the mood for. As such I figured I ought to do something special for October, not only picking more horror-centric stories but also changing my rotation method. Normally I would cycle short stories and novellas with serials, but something I’ve realized about horror (and you can say this is just my opinion) is that it works best in small doses. There wasn’t even much of a market for horror novels until the ’80s, and aside from Weird Tales there has, historically, not been much magazine space given to longer horror tales unless they’re reprints. As such, serials are OUT this month, and so are novellas, much as I love the things. Instead of getting only a few short stories and novellas we’re looking at nine short stories and novelettes, which is a considerable number!
For a while, when picking stories for my schedule, I had planned on including works by Lovecraft, Bradbury, and Stephen King, but decided at the last minute that I didn’t wanna deal with those who are unquestionably the most popular in the field; instead I went for deeper cuts, some by established horror authors, others by authors who are not normally associated with horror. I had almost included “Colony” by Philip K. Dick, but seeing as how I had already read it before and since I had come to the conclusion that I wanted all of these to be first reads, I ejected it. I’m sorry, Phil, I STILL LOVE YOU. This is also the first lineup where there are more female authors than male authors—that’s right, there are five women against four men! But to “compensate” we have the raw male chauvinism of James Blish and Harlan Ellison.
Now, as for the short stories…
- “The Mindworm” by C. M. Kornbluth. Published in the December 1950 issue of Worlds Beyond. While not usually associated with horror, Kornbluth’s fiction tends to run in a morbid vein, being incredibly pessimistic and clearly disguted with the human condition. Despite dying at the horribly young age of 34, Kornbluth was both something of a prodigy (he started getting published professionally while still a teenager) and prolific at short lengths, especially from 1949 to his death in 1958. “The Mindworm” belongs to that streak of fiction, and is apparently a rare instance of Kornbluth writing straight horror.
- “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” by Alyssa Wong. Published in the October 2015 issue of Nightmare Magazine. Wong is a young author in the field, and their body of work remains fairly small, but their interests are spread impressively wide and they’ve already gotten their fair share of accolades. On top of being a productive short story writer (no novel as of yet, though), Wong has also written for comic books and even video games, with Overwatch being their big credit in the latter medium. “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” won the Nebula as well as the World Fantasy Award.
- “Bite-Me-Not or, Fleur de Feu” by Tanith Lee. Published in the October 1984 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction. Lee is (or was) a startlingly prolific author of mostly fantasy and horror, writing dozens of novels plus a small army of short stories. Her reputation is apparently quite high, but unfortunately I’ve not read anything by her before. I found out through someone on Twitter that she’s one of the very few authors in SFF history to have more than one magazine issue made in tribute to her, including but not limited to an issue the revived Weird Tales.
- “Genius Loci” by Clark Ashton Smith. Published in the June 1933 issue of Weird Tales. Smith was, along with H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, one of the defining authors contributing to Weird Tales during its “classic” run. A poet first and foremost, Smith turned to writing short stories as a way of paying the bills, and during that brief time in the early to mid-1930s he gave Lovecraft a run for his money with both his lavish prose and his tales of cosmic speculation. Smith virtually stopped writing fiction by 1937, but his legacy very much lives on.
- “Daemon” by C. L. Moore. Published in the October 1946 issue of Famous Fantastic Mysteries. Aside from the trio of Lovecraft, Howard, and Smith, no author defined the glory days of Weird Tales more than C. L. Moore, although unlike her aforementioned contemporaries she would move on to bigger and better things. Moore was, alongside her husband Henry Kuttner, one of the great masters of Golden Age SF, but “Daemon” sees her try her hand at horror and fantasy once again, at a time when the market for both genres had shrunk greatly.
- “The Horse Lord” by Lisa Tuttle. Published in the June 1977 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Tuttle debuted in 1972 and immediately made some sort of impression with the SFF readership, being barely out of her teens when she tied with Spider Robinson for the Astounding Award for Best New Writer. While she sometimes writes science fiction, most famously collaborating with George R. R. Martin, Tuttle’s home turf would remain feminist-tinged horror, and more often at short lengths.
- “Grail” by Harlan Ellison. From the April 1981 issue of Twilight Zone Magazine. Ellison has to be onf of the most acclaimed and yet divisive personae in SFF history. When his career gained direction in the mid-’60s he seemingly catapulted from a second-rate hack to one of the biggest names in the field, eventually winning the Hugo, Nebula, Bram Stoker, and other awards. Much of Ellison’s fiction can be classified as horror, despite Ellison himself not being thought of as primarily a horror author, but “Grail” sees him in pure terror mode.
- “The Idol of the Flies” by Jane Rice. Published in the June 1942 issue of Unknown. Rice is pretty obscure nowadays, which isn’t surprising considering she never had a novel published (she did write one, but for reasons I’ll get into it’s lost media) and her output became highly sporadic after Unknown shut down. A shame, because Rice was one of the more interesting young horror authors coming about at a time when there wasn’t much of a market for horror. “The Idol of the Flies” is considered major enough to have Rice’s single collection named after it.
- “There Shall Be No Darkness” by James Blish. Published in the April 1950 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories. Like Kornbluth, Blish was a member of the Futurians, a New York-based SF fan group that would prove unspeakably influential on the field, especially in the ’50s. Also like Kornbluth, Blish would die fairly young, albeit under different circumstances. 1950 saw the start of Blish’s iconic Cities in Flight series, but he also produced a curious SF-horror mashup with “There Shall Be No Darkness,” which supposedly explains werewolves in science-fictional terms.
As of late I’ve been struggling a bit to keep up the read/review schedule as my day job has gotten a bit more hectic lately (though my natural tendency toward procrastination doesn’t help things), but with all short stories this month it looks like I’ll get a breather for the moment. I’m in the mood for SPOOKY MONTH and I hope these stories won’t let me down.
Won’t you read with me?