Sunday, September 11, 2011

I fantasmiI fantasmi by John Banville

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


"Non sono mai stato il tipo che venera la natura, eppure riconosco un certo valore terapeutico alla contemplazione dei fenomeni naturali; credo che abbia a che fare con l'indifferenza del mondo, voglio dire con il modo in cui il mondo non si interessa a noi, alla nostra felicita' o a come soffriamo, con il modo in cui si limita ad aspettare guardando in alto, borbottando tra se' in una lingua che noi non capiamo mai." (page 71)

"Quello che la interessava era la stessa cosa, che interessava me, ovvero ... ovvero che cosa? Come il presente nutra il passato, o versioni del passato. Come parti del tempo perduto riaffiorino repentinamente nel mare appannato della memoria, luminose e chiare e incredibilmente dettagliate, piccole isole compiute dove sembra sarebbe possibile vivere, seppure solo per un attimo." (page 151)

"... la teoria dei molti mondi e' la mia preferita. L'universo, dice, in ogni punto e in ogni istante si divide in miriadi di versioni di se stesso. ... Ciascuna direzione possibile, dice la teoria dei molti mondi, produrra' il suo universo, con all'interno le sue stelle, il suo sistema solare, il suo Plutone, il suo te e me ... In questa versione multiforme della realta' il caso e' una legge ferrea." (pages 176-7)

"Ecco dove vorrei vivere, su qualche dimenticata striscia di spiaggia sabbiosa, con la schiena alla terra, la faccia rivolta all'oceano sconfinato. Quella sarebbe liberta', guardare in solitudine i giorni passare, segnare le stagioni, osservare le maree di primavera e le aurore autunnali, superare il sole estivo e le bufere dell'inverno. Pura esistenza, pura esistenza e nient'altro." (page 206)

"Con quanta timidezza si dispongono porzioni casuali del mondo - un pezzo di cortile spiato dal vano di una porta di sera, nuvole che si accalcano in un angolo di finestra - come a dire: Guardaci! Noi significhiamo qualcosa!" (page 220)

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Flight Training, Kibi and the Search for Happiness (NEBADOR, #4)Flight Training, Kibi and the Search for Happiness by J.Z. Colby

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“Nec tu caelestem neque terrenum, neque mortalem fecimus,

ut tui ipsius quasi arbitrarius honorariusque plastes et fictor,

in quam malueris tute formam effingas”

Pico della Mirandola (Oratio de hominis dignitate)

“We have made you (Adam) a creature neither of heaven nor of earth, neither mortal or immortal,

in order that you may, as the free and proud shaper of your own being, fashion yourself in the form you may prefer”

(Oration on the Dignity of Man)

The quote that better describe Nebador book four (Flight Training) is:

“If Kibi - or any of you - … can’t learn to use your feelings as guides instead of masters, then you must like slavery more than you realize.” (page 27)

Five boys and girls, after being chosen as Ilika’s crew, have to grow up facing happiness (such as love stories, learn a lot of interesting stuff), and difficulties (growing up is always a sloping path).

“So … by passing those tests back at Doko’s Inn, I was applying for the hardest job in the whole … universe?” (page 69)

So Kibi understands which is the hardest job: not only the test per se, but becoming adult.

For the same reason Ilika suggests that “Going into space is pretty complicated, … Yes, it’s one of the biggest tests a civilization goes through before … growing up. For you five, it will mark the end of your lives as simple people from a little kingdom, and the beginning of your adventures in the vast universe.” (page 255)

We have made you a creature neither of sky nor of earth in order that you may, learning from your feelings and proud shaper of your being (sculptor - plaster, potter - fictor, painter - pictor), fashion yourself in the form you may prefer.

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Joyner's DreamJoyner's Dream by Sylvia Tyson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Joyner’s Dream by Sylvia Tyson

published by HarperCollins Canada, 2010

Joyner’s Dream is a multi-generational story of a family bound by love of music, especially for a fiddle called Old Nick.

At the other side of the moon, the family struggle against a curse, or ‘Joyner’s malady’: a natural aptitude for thieving, and fate that deserves to the family a narrow path towards troubles.

The story begins in England in 1780; continues in Halifax, Nova Scotia, beginning of twentieth’s century; and eventually in Toronto, nowadays.

Each book’s chapter tells about a member of the family, who best shows the ‘marks’ of the family.

“As for myself, having been a diligent and enthusiastic collector of books since first I learned to read, it seems to me that there exists an overabundance of tales chronicling the lives of the high and mightily in which ordinary folk like us serve only as colourful backdrop, comic bumpkins or faithful retainers.”

Another theme of Joyner’s Dream is the strong desire in the family’s members to create a history of the family, beyond the chains that tie them to the ‘ordinary folk’.

In other words a desire for a continuum that could be destroyed by the fate intended for this family. Although it is clear from the start that it is in vain.

In my opinion Joyner’s Dream needs a good work of screaming, many parts are described just as a list of events while other parts are very gripping for the readers.

Beth Joyner and George Fitzhelm’s stories are the best of the book: both are living human beings (beyond the paper); because they accept, they fight, with and against the family’s dark side. The History, in these two chapters, is not just glued to the characters as in other chapters, but comes together with Beth and George’s stories.

Who is interested, can listen to Joyner’s Dream’s songs on

I received this free e-book from NetGalley.

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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Mushishi, Vols. 8/9/10Mushishi, Vols. 8/9/10 by Yuki Urushibara

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Volume 8


Ginko is rescued by a man under the influence of mushi. The man works day and night without rest. The parents of the man had found a pond of milk when they were poor and without nothing to drink.

The mushi who transforms the blood in milk is called Chisio: it “forces the host in sleepless work gathering nourishment for it. And Chisio builds its own strenght.” (page 43)

The man: “My body … is what it became by drinking my mother’s blood.” (page 42)


“On the mountain in late winter …

when are heard …

low-pitched, tiny, murmuring sounds …

quickly and all at once …

the mushi of spring awaken.” (page 49)

This time the mushi is called Oroshibue: “the whistling sound of a cold mountain wind in winter.” (page 218) Oroshibue helps the mountains with the winter’s migration.

Ginko notices that “the mountain is … closed off.” (page 60), it seems that the mountain is going to die. “The winter mushi can’t migrate?” (page 61)

But Ginko found that the Koki are healing from their wounds inside the bog, so the mountain wasn’t going to die.

Koki is nutrition for Oroshibue, so it steals from Ginko his Koki

and eventually “Winter fails. The mountain laugh. The fields are dressed in rich green.


The title refers to those water channels that are hidden by the trees and greenery.

A girl and her friend are bound each other: they know their thoughts without talking.

Ginko: “There is a deep channel between you and that person.” (page 94)

“They say there are paths that nobody can see … (paths) between the minds of people.” (page 95)

“What causes this … are mushi that are working at our command. Kairogi (waterways) … that’s what they’re called.” (page 96)


A girl forecast the coming of the rain.

The girl: “I only came to foretell the coming of the rain. Do you think any human has the power to make it rain?” (page 143)

A mushi called Amefurashi: “ Normally they float in the sky. … But … as sunny days continue and the air begins to lose its moisture … they come close to the earth … and take the form of runaway water.” (page 169)

Ginko tells to the girl that the mushi Amefurashi is inside her: “stealing the moisture away from your body. They rise into the sky and gather the rain above you.” (page 170)

The girl: “Then I’ll find a spot on Earth … and plant some roots. … I’ll walk with the rain … and like the clouds … I’ll drift along.” (page 175)


A brother kills his own brother, but mushi …

“They’re mushi that take the corpses of animals and breaks them down until they’re the consistency of mud.

When a living thing steps into the mud, it spreads the spores around.” (page 182)

Volume 9


A child takes the body of another child, when she is old remembers of the other child and wants to go ‘home’.

“Just about dusk … especially when there’s a sunset like today’s … She says ‘going home’ … and she tries to leave the house.” (page 10)

“Something gets sucked out of the world at sunset … and something else appears. There’s a creature called Omagadoki.

The people who get sucked in by it … see the form of a shadow with non one to cast it.

And if that shadow is stepped on or somehow comes underfoot … they are bodily sucked in by the Omagadoki, and are exchanged for someone else.” (page 26)


Ginko is traveling on a ship when he hears a boy whistling: the boy is calling Torikaze to make wind and move the ship.

Torikaze means bird wind.

Ginko already knows this mushi called Torikaze, so he tells to the boy not to whistle a night.

Inadvertently the boy whistle during the night, so doing he recalls another mushi called Yobiko.

Yobiko: “They build nests by making holes in the rocks on the sea-shore. The wind blows through the holes making a whistling sound, and they gather at the sound.” (page 72)

Yobiko first causes the sinking of the ship; and after, at home, the boy is followed by Yobiko that makes holes everywhere.

Ginko intervenes and acts as the Pied Piper of Hamelin.


A child could be kidnapped, so her parents ask for help to Ginko. Ginko thinks that the child, although invisible, is living in the house.

The child, attracted by the stars sparkling in the well, has fell into it. “... crystal clear water … where an infinite number … of stars live.” (page 134)

“the source of life called the light flow … hits the well … and sparks are created.” (page 136)

The child falling in the wall has gone to the other side of the sky and can not come back.


A mushi called Uko lives in the body of a child. He has webbing on his hands.

Uko “infect the corpses of people who have drowned in the water. … they can revive the person.” (page 148)

“... the sea, the river … the rain and the clouds … are all the same?” (page 185)

The story tells about the liaison between mother and his child. An ancestral element, the water, explains the origin of life and the connections between living being.

The mother: “You’re here. I can find you everywhere.” (page 186)


This story tells about Ginko as a boy.

“The master is the personification of the ‘nature’ of things.” (page 204)

Ginko can not become the master of nature, he can just live inside the nature.

“The entire world as a whole … is your home.” (page 204): Ginko is immersed in a bed of grass.

Volume 10


Ginko had saved a baby wrapping him with a special clothes. Because of that, the baby grew up strong and incapable to control himself. The clothes is made of a special thread: only mothers can see this special thread. It shows the bond between mothers and sons.

“That thread is what we mushishi call Yoshitsu.” (page 36) Yoshitsu means fairy-stuff.

The mother inadvertently picks up Yoshitsu from the baby, but suddenly the baby looses vitality. The father of the baby prefers to separate the baby from his mother.

So Ginko has to save the boy draining Yoshitsu from him, but the medicine doesn’t work.

The last chance is the mother of the boy: only the mother can see the thread, and free the boy from Yoshitsu.


A man ate a seed that looked like a plum. But it was a mushi called Satorigi (means: understanding tree). When the man finds a Japanese cedar cut down, he walks on the tree’s roots and seems his feet turned into the wood.

Satorigi shelters inside trees, when it senses the tree is in danger, Satorigi gives off a flower and after a fruit. Inside that fruit is stored all of the tree’s memory.

“... a tree stood on this land. And spread its branches high and wide. And without change, it quietly watched over … the ever changing creatures that were born and died beneath it.” (page 97)


“Night. Suddenly you’re hit by the smell of flowers … and it brings back the thread of a memory.” (page 99)

A man is victim of a Kairo, it’s a mushi “that puts out a smell like flowers to lure in bugs … it takes the creatures, it traps and put them into a strange loop of time.” (page 131)

The man repeats infinitely his life’s story.

The story suggests the idea of life as circle, or just acceptance of the temporary (Wabi).


Ginko meets a girl who he thinks is a master of nature.

After some time Ginko meets a man: he is the girl’s brother. The man explains to Ginko: she “... had grass growing from her head from the day she was born.” (page 166)

In the mountains there are ‘fertile places’ called ‘light flow’. (page 175)

“in such places, the mountains need a ‘master’ to take care of things. … Those who have been chosen to be masters … are born with … grasses growing out of their bodies.” (page 175)

Ginko: “Now … I’d better be on my way.” (last page - ‘Curtain closes’)

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

ShibumiShibumi by Trevanian

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“It was ironic to realize that the destruction of the world would not be the work of Machiavelli, but of Sancho Panza.” (page 137)

Shibumi (1979) is a novel written by Trevanian (Rodney William Whitaker).

Nicholai Hel, the main character, was born in Shanghai. His mother is a deposed member of the Russian aristocracy. Nicholai’s adoptive father, Kishigawa, is a general in the Japanese Imperial Army. Kishikawa teaches to Nicholai about the concept of Shibumi.

Shibumi (noun) - Shibui (adjective): one doesn’t tire of a shibui object but constantly finds new meanings and enriched beauty.

“Shibumi has to do with great refinement underlying commonplace appearances. … Shibumi is understanding, rather than knowledge. Eloquent silence. … In philosophy, where shibumi emerges as wabi, it is spiritual tranquility that is not passive, it is being without the angst of becoming … And in the personality of a man, it is … Authority without domination?” (page 77)

Wabi-sabi represents a Japanese point of view, or aesthetic: the main principle is about the acceptance of the temporary.

When Kishikawa has to join the Japanese army in Manchuria, Nicholai becomes the pupil of a master of Go. So Nicholai learns to play Go.

“Go is to western chess what philosophy is to double-entry accounting.” (page 165)

Kishigawa is captured by the Russian, to avoid the trial Nicholai kills his adoptive father. Soon Nicholai is captured by the Americans and held in jail, where he is tortured.

During his imprisonment Nicholai retains his sanity studying the Basque language. In jail he also develops a sense of proximity: he manages to feel people near him, although in darkness.

After three years Nicholai gains freedom becoming a spy in the US Intelligence Service. Nicholai asks for the names of those who tortured him as payment for his service .

Nicholai becomes a skillful killer, and in his fifties he retires in the mountain of the Basque country, living with his mistress, Hana, in a shibui way.

Nicholai becomes an expert in caving, accompanied by his best friend Le Cagot.

“This most primitive nightmares involve falling through the dark, or wandering lost through mazes of alien chaos. And the caver - crazy being that he is - volitionally chooses to face these nightmare conditions. That is why he is more insane than the climber, because the thing he risks at every moment is his sanity.” (page 235)

Nicholai’s existence is interrupted by the arrival in his castle of Hannah, the niece of a man who saved Nicholai’s life.

Hel, Hana, and Hannah: three hs, surrounded by another h: hate. And facing hate, shibumi; or, better, they are side by side.

Although Shibumi resembles a spy story by John LeCarre`, the background and suggestions of the story expand the espionage ambit, such as fights between powerful organizations.

Trevanian tells also about ways of life (shibumi), cultural anthropological (Basque People), and Anti-Americanism sentiment (Nicholai leaves Japan, protesting against Westernization of Japan; remembering the same idea of Yukio Mishima).

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Monday, April 11, 2011

The Final Summit: A Quest to Find the One Principle That Will Save HumanityThe Final Summit: A Quest to Find the One Principle That Will Save Humanity by Andy Andrews

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

David Ponder is an ordinary old man who is summoned by the archangel Gabriel to lead a meeting.

“With a serious nod, Gabriel began:

- You are at a turning point, he said

- You, the human race, are balanced on a precipice, and He is not pleased. … now the Travelers are being convened with an opportunity to avoid what seems to me, the inevitable.” (page 32-3)

The most influential leaders of the past history are gathered around a table to discuss ‘the one principle that will save humanity.’

“What does humanity need to do, individually and collectively, to restore itself to the pathway to ward successful civilization?” (page 71)

The Travelers in charge for the Answer are: Winston Churchill, Joan of Arc, Abraham Lincoln, Eric Erickson, King David, George Washington Carver, and Joshua Chamberlain.

The Final Summit is my first reading of Andy Andrews, so my opinions about this book could be incomplete.

I was disappointed since the start of the book because, although the ingredients were ‘high level’, the result is poor.

Reading the praise for The Final Summit, I was expecting a story stuffed with ideas, suggestions, and quotations from historical characters.

I was also expecting a bit of fantasy.

The style of the book suggests the idea kind of brainstorming meeting for insurances’ sellers, so motivational purposes are far from this book. The final answer ‘that will save humanity’ seems hanging over there, and so …

It is not just double-entry accounting.

I advise to reread hagiographies books, where ‘examples’ and suggestions comes from real life.

Booksneeze has provided me with an Arc of this book.

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Friday, March 25, 2011

Thoughts and quotes: Selection by J.Z. Colby

Selection (NEBADOR, #3)Selection by J.Z. Colby

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“We will often get to do wonderful things.” (page 281)

Selection is the third book of Nebador series where we read an important passage in the life of Ilika’s students: he decides about who will become his ship’s crew. The choice comes without many troubles, because it is expected so by the students.

The Ilika’s ‘brand new’ crew stops learning pedibus scarpantibus and the sky becomes the classroom.

“The whole universe is like a huge college, and everyone is always learning new things.” (page 77)

So from the sky comes the northern light or aurora borealis teaching to the students an universal law: humankind as infinitesimal part of the universe, although wonderful things are waiting for us.

Eventually a mention to Tera, the donkey: “Tera’s heart beat a little faster deep in her chest from all the attention and kind words. She sensed that some kind of change was about to happen to her people, but didn’t know what or why. However, she clearly felt drops of water fall onto her thin summer coat during that hour, and knew it wasn’t raining.” (page 150)

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Thoughts and quotes: tHE sHADOW oVER iNNSMOUTH AND tHE hAUNTER OF tHE dARK by H.P. Lovecraft

The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories:
by Howard Phillips Lovecraft
Penguin Classics (1999), Paperback, 448 pages

The Shadow Over Innsmouth (November - December 1931) tells of the village of Innsmouth, where lives a hybrid race: half-human and half-fish/frog. Lovecraft resumes Dagon’s myth of the god fish.
The narrator arriving by bus at Innsmouth is facing a deserted city and mostly in ruins. The Innsmouth’s people are fish-like head: the so called ‘Innsmouth look’.
The only normal person is the grocery’s clerk, who informs the narrator about the city and a man, named Zadok Allen, who is known as a good source of information.
Zadok tells to the narrator a story of fish-frog men, they live beneath the sea. These men, called the Deep Ones, help the humans bringing them fish and jewelry in exchange of human sacrifices.

Zadok Allen: "Hey, yew, why dun't ye say somethin'? Haow'd ye like to he livin' in a taown like this, with everything a-rottin' an' dyin', an' boarded-up monsters crawlin' an' bleatin' an' barkin' an' hoppin' araoun' black cellars an' attics every way ye turn? Hey? Haow'd ye like to hear the haowlin' night arter night from the churches an' Order o' Dagon Hall, an' know what's doin' part o' the haowlin'? Haow'd ye like to hear what comes from that awful reef every May-Eve an' Hallowmass? Hey? Think the old man's crazy, eh? Wal, Sir, let me tell ye that ain't the wust!" (page 306)

The narrator is forced to spend the night in Innsmouth, and during the night he hears people talking and forcing his room’s door; he manages to escape from a window.

After some time from the nightmare in Innsmouth, the narrator starts researches into his family tree, discovering …

“In the winter of 1930-31, however, the dreams began. … Great watery spaces opened out before me, and I seemed to wander through titanic sunken porticos and labyrinths of weedy Cyclopean walls with grotesque fishes as my companions …
I was one with them …” (page 333)


The Haunter of the Dark (November 1935) is a short story of the Cthulhu Mythos. The Haunter is an entity living in a church, and it is described as an incarnation of Nyarlathotep (a malign deity in the Cthulhu Mythos).
An ancient artifact, known as Shining Trapezohedron, is used to summon a being from the depth of time and space.
Professor Enoch Bowen discovered the Shining Trapezohedron in Egyptian ruins, although made of alien material.
Members of the Shining Trapezohedron’s cult awaken the Haunter of the Dark by gazing into the glowing crystal.

“Before his eyes a kaleidoscopic range of phantasmal images played, … the thought of ancient legends of Ultimate Chaos, …” (page 354)

Nyarlathotep comes from the chaos, and he shows other worlds, and the secrets of arcane knowledge.

“I am on this planet.” (page 359) (maybe!)

Friday, March 4, 2011

Nightmare AlleyNightmare Alley by William Lindsay Gresham

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“... we come like a breath of wind over the fields of morning.

We go like a lamp flame caught by a blast from a darkened window.

In between we journey from table to table, from bottle to bottle, from bed to bed.

We suck, we chew, we swallow, we lick, we try to mash life into us like an am-am-amoeba …” (page 242-3)

Nightmare Alley (1946) is set in a carny where Stan Carlisle works.

The book is structured in twenty-two chapters, the same number of the Major Arcana: they are the Tarot cards used by the fortune-teller. Each chapter is named from the name of the cards. Gresham does not follow the order of the Major Arcana, but shuffles the deck, following an order bonded to Stan’s life.

In the first pages Stan is staring at a geek, a ‘wild man’ in a carny who bites the heads off live chickens.

The young Stan wants to leave behind himself, in every way, this way of life symbolically shown by the geek.

Stan is a pride man as well described in the following passage: “How helpless they all looked in the ugliness of sleep. A third of life spent unconscious and corpselike. And some, the great majority, stumbled through their waking hours scarcely more awake, helpless in the face of destiny. They stumbled down a dark alley toward their deaths.” (page 59)

Stan begins his social climbing by seducing the fortuneteller Zeena. His objective is to learn Zeena’s secrets of a mind-reading system. When Stan becomes master of the mind-reading, he leaves Zeena and escapes with Molly, another girl of the carny.

Stan’s pride helps him to become The Great Stanton: admired as the sun (the Tarot’s card: “The Sun: On a white horse the sun child, with flame for hair, carries the banner of life.” (page 115)

Stan’s performances introduce him in the high society, where, with the help of another woman, a psychologist, Stan tries to fool an industrialist ‘resurrecting’ his girlfriend.

But as always the sun burns if you are too close to it: Stan’s nightmare, every day the same, becomes reality: “To the left was an alley, dark, but with a light at the other end of it. … And behind him the heavy splat of shoes on cobbles. He raced toward the light at the end of the alley, but there was nothing to be afraid of. He had always been here, running down the alley and it didn’t matter; this was all there was any time, anywhere, just an alley and a light and the footsteps spanging on the cobbles but they never catch you, they never catch you, they never catch you …” (page 259)

Stan becomes aware of the impossibility to change his destiny: the geek, the nightmare, are always at the end of the alley, waiting for him.

The web surrounding Stan is built with feel of guilt, pride, and uncontrollable desire to repeat, endless, the same nightmare in the same alley.

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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories:
by Howard Phillips Lovecraft
Penguin Classics (1999), Paperback, 448 pages

Akeley: “Do you realise what it means when I say I have been on thirty-seven different celestial bodies-planets, dark stars, and less definable objects - including eight outside our galaxy and two outside the curved cosmos of space and time?” (page 255)

The Whisperer in the Darkness (February - September 1930, soon after the Planet Pluto’s discoveries) refers to Cthulhu Mythos, although the main theme concerns the Migo, an extraterrestrial race of fungoid creatures.

The story is narrated by Albert Wilmarth, an instructor of literature at Miskatonic University in Arkham.

During a flood in Vermont, strange things are seen floating in rivers. Wilmarth starts a debating on newspapers, and although he is skeptical about the floating things in Vermont, he uncovers old legends about monsters living in the Vermont’s hills.

Henry Wentworth Akeley, a farmer living in Vermont, learns of Wilmarth from the local newspaper and he writes to him affirming that he has proof about an extraterrestrial race of monstrous living in Vermont hills. Akeley writes that the monstrous don’t menace the human race, they only hire human agents as spies.
Akeley’s first letters describe the attacks of the monstrous at his farm.
Eventually he decides to meet the extraterrestrials (but is he truly Akeley, or someone else?), so he writes to Wilmarth that they are a peaceful race and they have taught him about marvels beyond all imagination.
Akeley invites Wilmarth to his farm.

“Mad or sane, metamorphosed or merely relieved, the chances were that Akeley had actually encountered some stupendous change at once diminishing his danger - real or fancied - and opening dizzy new vistas of cosmic and superhuman knowledge. … to be linked with the vast outside - to come close to the nighted and abysmal secrets of the infinite …” (page 237)

Wilmarth arrives finding Akeley immobilized in a chair. Akeley, whispering in the darkness, tells to Wilmarth that the extraterrestrial have extract his brain, so to permit him a travel in the outer space.

“I knew enough now. It must indeed be true that cosmic linkages do exists - but such things are surely not meant for normal human beings to meddle with.” (page 257)

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Skin MapThe Skin Map by Stephen R. Lawhead

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“The most incomprehensible thing about the world, is that it is comprehensible” Albert Einstein

“Do you know that Einstein is wrong, and that certain objects and forces can move with a velocity greater than that of light? With proper aid expect to go backward and forward in time, and actually see and feel the earth of remote past and future epochs” (The Whisperer in the Darkness by H.P. Lovecraft)

London’s rain and thunderstorms change Kit Livingstone’s life. Not because he gets sick, but because of the power of nature that reveals to Kit the ‘unpredictable’ laws of physics.

Telluric energy flows are mapped since centuries, and they are known as ley lines: pathways to other worlds.

So the adventure starts: Kit meets his great-grandfather, who tells him about the ley lines and the possibilities of time-slip (only backwards) and body travels.

“... the possibilities are endless. Your friend could be anywhere or anywhen.”


“Moving from one world or dimension to another, you inevitably travel in time as well.” (page 40)

Kit’s great-grandfather needs him to find the Skin Map, that has been separated into five pieces.

The Quest of the Bright Empires involves many characters, places, and epochs.

Kit Livingstone and his girlfriend Wilhelmina.

Kit’s great-grandfather, Cosimo and his friend Sir Henry.

Arthur Flinders-Petrie, the first ‘owner’ of the Skin Map.

Lord Burleigh, the villain of the story; who, as every villain, is present in every epoch of the Skin Map’s search.

The locations and epochs: ancient and nineteenth century Egypt, Prague during sixteenth / seventeenth century, China when the Portuguese inhabit Macao (seventeenth century), London contemporary and in the year 1666.

Lawhead with the ploy of the ley lines has written an historical fiction book, where the History is presented as a whole. So The Skin Map is recommended for readers of historical fiction, but also for whom is interested in physic laws or, better, Quantum Mechanics. Of course, The Skin Map is not a textbook about quantum mechanics, it is a book of fiction; but as quantum mechanics has opened new horizons in the physic’s field, The Skin Map could open, and in my opinion this is Lawhead’s main idea of the introductory book of the series, new understanding of reality, and unpredictable: everywhere and everywhen.

“The Many-Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics says that different editions of us live in many worlds simultaneously, an uncountable number of them, and all of them are real. …

Quantum physics is stranger than science fiction.” (The Dancing Wu Li Masters by Gary Zukav, page 96) (See also Many-Worlds interpretation of Schroedinger Cat’s paradox).

“And then?” - asked Lady Faith

“We wait” (page 370)

We have to wait until September for Quest the Second: The Bone House.

BookSneeze has provided me with a complimentary copy of this book.

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Friday, February 25, 2011

Thoughts and quotes: The Colour Out of Space by H.P. Lovecraft

The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories:
by Howard Phillips Lovecraft
Penguin Classics (1999), Paperback, 448 pages

“It is not because of anything that can be seen or heard or handled, but because of something that is imagined.” (page 170)

The Colour Out of Space (March 1927) is narrated by an unnamed surveyor from Boston. He is looking for a place where to build a new reservoir.
Surveying a rural area he comes across a patch of land. The surveyor’s feelings are of angst, so he hurries to go on.
Curiosity grows in the surveyor, he asks for information and talks with an hermit, Ammi Pierce.
Ammi tells to the surveyor an horrific story: in June 1882 a farm, run by Nahum Gardner and his family, was hit by a meteorite containing a substance of an indescribable colour.
“It was just a colour out of space …” (page 199)

Lovecraft in The Colour Out of Space quotes two painters: Salvator Rosa and Johann Heinrich Fuessli.
Both painters probably had been source of inspiration for Lovecraft: Salvator Rosa for his landscapes, overgrown wilderness, mountains swept by wind, haunting vistas.
Johann Heinrich Fuessli’s paintings suggesting of the supernatural.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Thoughts and quotes: Un Bel Morir and The Tramp Steamer's Last Port of Call by Alvaro Mutis

The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll (New York Review Books Classics):
by Alvaro Mutis
NYRB Classics (2002), Paperback, 768 pages

(or Un bel morir una vita honora from Francesco Petrarca
A Beautiful Die a Lifetime Honor)

‘I imagine a Country, a blurred, fogbound Country, an enchanted magical Country where I could live.
What Country, where? …
Not Mosul or Basra or Samarkand. Not Karlskrona or Abylund or Stockholm or Copenhagen. Not Kazan or Kanpur or Aleppo. Not in lacustrian Venice or chimerical Istanbul, not on the Ile-de-France or in Tours or Stratford-on Avon or Weimar or Yasnaia Poliana or in the baths of Algiers.’ (page 286)

The Gaviero takes lodging in La Plata and finds a room in the house of a blind woman. Under his room, the river: ‘The room resembled a cage suspended over the gently murmuring, tobacco-colored water …’ (page 193)
Quiet living is not for the Gaviero, so he is hired to transport supposed railway materials upriver. The job turns out to be very dangerous, and ‘His wide-open eyes were fixed on that nothingness, immediate and anonymous, …’ (page 294)

The Gaviero’s question, where ‘I could live?’, has only one answer: everywhere, and always with water (a river or the ocean) which faces and leads to another place.


Alvaro Mutis tells about his ‘meetings’ with a dying tramp steamer, the Halcyon, all around the world.
‘The tramp steamer entered my field of vision as slowly as a wounded saurian. I could not believe my eyes. With the wondrous splendor of Saint Petersburg in the back ground, the poor ship intruded on the scene.’ (page 301)

The tramp steamer as a talking soul suggests to Alvaro Mutis about ‘the world of dreams and fantasy’.
But ‘Life often renders its accounts, and it is advisable not to ignore them. They are a kind of bill presented to us so that we will not become lost deep in the world of dreams and fantasy, unable to find our way back to the warm, ordinary sequence of time where our destiny truly occurs.’ (page 302)

The bill is presented to Alvaro Mutis in form of the Halcyon’s captain; who recounts his love affair with Warda, and the Halcyon.

Warda is the sister of Abdul Bashur, close friend of the Gaviero.
Abdul Bashur warns the Halcyon’s captain: ‘What you two (Warda and the captain) have will last as long as the Halcyon.‘ (page 349)

Alvaro Mutis needed to know Halcyon or the idyllic time of the past.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Thoughts and quotes: Mushishi, Volume 7 by Yuki Urushibara

Mushishi, Volume 7
by Yuki Urushibara
Del Rey (2009), Paperback, 240 pages


‘You silently withstand blizzard …
You silently overflow with beauty …
You silently …
steal life away to thrive yourself.’ (page 3)

Lost in Blossom tells about a woman alive for hundreds of years drinking a sap from a sakura (cherry tree). ‘There’s something living in this tree. It’s a mushi called Kodama, and it’s taken the form of froth.’ (page 16) The tree lives longer than the normal tree of its kind, and Kodama can also give people long life and beauty.

‘They say that a soul resides in ancient tree that have withstood the ages. And it is the soul that captures the heart of man.’ (page 47)


‘There’s a mushi called Mizukagami that lives in stagnant water.’ (page 59) When the image of an animal reflects on the surface of a lake that contains Mizukagami, it mimics the animal’s shape and step by step replaces the animal. But Mizukagami lacks of blood and flesh, so it disappears when its image reflects itself: a mirror, or the eyes of a human being.
A mushi version of The Portrait of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde.


Shoraishi is a mushi living in the atmosphere, eating lighting; sometimes the larva of Shoraishi falls to earth and enters the human body through the belly button. This time Shoraishi has chosen a child whose mother doesn’t love him.
Mushi seems to intervene as a Trojan Horse in the life of mother and son. Mushi doesn’t change the relation itself, with Ginko’s help it shows a different point of view of the same problem. So Ginko asks to the mother: ‘You never … looked at his actions that way before, did you?’ (page 128)


‘It is the Ragged Road. It is the path that mushi travel to come above ground. It is the eye that links the worlds of the mushi to our world.’ (page 159)
Ragged roads are paths filled with trees and shrubs. When someone leaves you and there are trees or shrubs around, that one is watching you from the shadows of the leaves.

Ginko should meet a mushi called David Bowie.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Thoughts and quotes: The Rescue (Guardian of Ga'hoole, Book 3) by Kathryn Lasky

The Rescue (Guardians of Ga'hoole, Book 3)
by Kathryn Lasky
Scholastic (2004), Paperback, 208 pages

‘Six strong, quick witted owls about to fulfill a destiny, they had indeed become a band of owls who would rise into the blackness …’ (page 168)

Dreaming of the past, ‘Once upon a very long time ago, in the time of Glaux there was an order of knightly owls, from a kingdom called Ga'Hoole, who would rise each night into the blackness and perform noble deeds.’ (page 18)

Today, Eglantine, Soren’s sister, is back, but at the same time Ezylryb has disappeared.

‘Soren, Gylfie, Twilight, and Digger could not imagine anything worse, anything more brutal than St. Aggie’s. But the Barred Owl had told them differently. There was something far worse.’ (page 51)
The band, Soren, Gylfie, Twilight, Digger, Octavia, and Eglantine, are ready to start the rescue of Ezylryb.
The first clue comes to the band from The Rogue Smith of Silverveil, a female snowy owl who works as blacksmith not attached to any kingdom in the owl world. The Rogue Smith reveals important information about the past of Ezylryb, and Metal Beak.
‘Metal Beak … thought any owl who was not a Tyto Alba was a little less than completely pure … before we could become true members of that Way of Purity, we had to sleep in stone crypts with the bones of the old Tytos that they called the Purest Ones. (pages 139-140)

Eglantine helps the other members of the band to find the castle where many questions about Ezylryb, Metal Beak, and the world of the owls would find some answers.

And the humans (the Others)?
- Oh, you know about the Others do you?
- Did you know that not only did they not have wings or feathers, but that they had two long sticks for legs that were just for walking.
- How did they get along?
- Not that well, apparently. (page 92)

Thoughts and quotes: The Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft

The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories:
by Howard Phillips Lovecraft
Penguin Classics (1999), Paperback, 448 pages

The Call of Cthulhu (1926) is written in a documentary style, in three parts. The narrator recounts his discovery of notes written by his granduncle George Gammell Angell.

The narrator, among the notes, finds a bas-relief sculpture. It shows an octopus, or a dragon, or a human caricature. Henry Anthony Wilcox, who based his work on dreams of great Cyclopean cities, is the author of the sculpture. Wilcox’s dreams happened in March, April 1925, and during the same time in every angle of the world there were cases of group folly.

‘The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.
We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity … but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality … that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.’ (page 139)

The second part of The Call of Cthulhu, is The Tale of Inspector Legrasse: Legrasse assists at a meeting of people venerating a statuette, and repeating:
‘In his house at R’lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.’
Legrasse, as police inspector, arrests some people and takes the statuette. The statuette has close resemblances with Wilcox’s bas-relief.

‘Those first men formed the cult around small idols which the Great Ones shewed them; idols bought in dim aeras from dark stars. That cult would never die till the stars came right again, and the secret priests would take great Cthulhu from His tomb to revive His subjects and resume this rule on earth. The time would be easy to know, for then mankind would have become as the Great Old Ones; free and wild beyond good and evil.’ (page 155)

‘the Great Old Ones who lived ages before there were any man, and who came to the young world out of the sky.’ (page 153)

The Madness from the Sea is the third part of The Call of Cthulhu. The narrator after reading the notes, investigates on Cthulhu Cult. Casually he reads an article about a derelict ship with only one survivor, Gustav Johansen.
The narrator reads in a diary written by Johansen that they have been attacked by another ship; eventually they have defeated the attackers and sailed toward an uncharted island.
‘The thing cannot be described - there is no language for such abysms of shrieking and immemorial lunacy, such eldritch contradictions of all matter, force, and cosmic order.’ (page 167)

About the Joshi’s note regarding an obvious Lovecraft’s reference to Nietzsche, the editor quotes Lovecraft: ‘let me state clearly that I do not swallow him (Nietzsche) whole.’ The note is referred to the Nietzsche’s idea of morality, beyond evil and good. Although I agree with Joshi about morality, I’d like to suggest interesting connections between Lovecraft and Thus Spake Zarathustra by Nietzsche.

‘Some day he would call, when the stars were ready and the secret cult would always be waiting to liberate him.’ (page 154)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Thoughts and quotes: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

The Paris Wife
by Paula McLain
Bond Street Books (2011), Hardcover, 336 pages

‘Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know’
Ernest Hemingway

Hadley Richardson is the Paris wife of Ernest Hemingway. She is his first wife and they lived mostly in Paris during 1920s.
Paris in 1920s is the center of literary world, when the so-called Lost Generation shows its apex.
‘We could walk into any cafe` and feel the wonderful chaos of it, ordering Pernod or Rhum St. James until we were beautifully blurred and happy to be there together.’ (page xi)

Paula McLain writes an absorbing book from Hadley’s point of view, with some insertions from Hemingway’s thoughts (in italic characters).

The couple struggles to survive with no money, and especially Hemingway’s will to become a writer.
Just after their marriage, Hadley’s doubts about her ‘collocation’ in Hemingway’s life is increasing.
‘I wasn’t at all convinced I was special, as Ernest was. He lived inside the creative sphere and I lived outside, and I didn’t know if anything would ever change that.’ (page 107)
Actually Hemingway was one of the few writers to whom life is a link for books, and the contrary; the stories come to Hemingway from real life, and he lives his real life always on the border between life and death, where life shows its power. At the beginning of Hemingway’s career, when he is with Hadley, that objective is very far but Hemingway already knows it.

McLain, almost until the first Hadley and Hemingway’s journey in Spain, shows respect and fear, writing about Hemingway. That could be McLain’s choice of Hadley as a weak character, but the reader’s feeling are different: it seems mostly McLain’s fear to write, although indirectly, about Hemingway.
The Paris Wife improves when Hadley and Hemingway life changes with the first books’ success, although it means a change also in the marriage: ‘It was the end of Ernest’s struggle with apprenticeship, and an end to other things as well. He would never again be unknown. We would never again be this happy. The next day we boarded a train back to Paris.’ (page 195)

I recommend this book to Hemingway’s fans: it’s better than a biography, although less ‘feral’, vitalistic, than Hemingway’s books.

PAULA MCLAIN was born in Fresno, CA in 1965.
She received her MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan in 1996, and since then has been a resident at Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony (a community of artists where they can work in peaceful surrounding, some notable names: Leonard Bernstein, Jonathan Franzen, Alice Sebold, etc.).
She is the author of two collections of poetry, a memoir Like Family (Little Brown, 2003), and one previous novel, A Ticket to Ride.
Paula McLain lives in Cleveland, OH with her family.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Review: The Festival, He, and Cool Air by H.P. Lovecraft

The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories:
by Howard Phillips Lovecraft
Penguin Classics (1999), Paperback, 448 pages

The Festival

The Festival (October 1923) is considered to be one of the first of Cthulhu Mythos.
During Yuletide (a winter festival celebrated by Germanic people, and later absorbed into Christian celebration) an unnamed narrator is going to Kingsport, Massachusetts.
The narrator comes at his relatives’ house where he meets an old man. The old man tells the narrator to wait a few moments in a room. The narrator picks up a book from a pile: the Necronomicon.

At the sound of a clock bell the narrator goes outside the house and follows a crowd of cloaked figures.
The people is going to a great white church, where they engage in a Yule-rite.

‘It was the Yule-rite, older than man and fated to survive him; the primal rite of the solstice and of spring’s promise beyond the snow; the rite of fire and evergreen, light and music. … But what frightened me most was the flaming column; … For it all that seething combustion no warmth lay, but only the clamminess of death and corruption.’ (page 115)

Lovecraft suggests the idea of ‘the survival of some clan of pre-Aryan sorcerers who preserved primitive rites those of the witch-cult … that … had its origin in a pre-Aryan race that was driven underground but continued to lurk in the hidden corners of the earth.’ (from the explanatory notes, page 385)


He (August 1925) tells the story of an unnamed narrator who has moved to New York.
One night the narrator meets a man, who is wearing eighteen’s century clothes, and offers to show him the city.

Eventually the narrator follows the man at his home, where he learns about the true face of New York: he sees visions from the past and the future with flying creatures and mutated people.

‘I never sought to return to those tenebrous labyrinth, nor would I direct any sane man thither if I could. Of who or what that ancient creature was, I have no idea; but I repeat that the city is dead and full of unsuspected horrors.’ (page 129)

These were Lovecraft impressions of New York.

Cool Air

Cool Air (March 1926) is another story written during Lovecraft’s journey to New York.
The narrator is looking for an apartment for rent in New York. He finds one where, upstairs, lives a doctor, Dr. Munoz.
One day the narrator suffers a heart attack and he is rescued by Dr. Munoz.
As the acquaintance goes on, the narrator learns about Dr. Munoz’s obsession: he keeps his apartment at a vey low temperature (13° C) using a refrigeration system.

Problems occur when the refrigerator’s pump breaks down.

Dr. Munoz, after death, has preserved his body for eighteen years helped by the cold. The narrator is witnessing Dr. Munoz’s body decay, caused by the warm.

A technologically (refrigeration system) version of The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar by E.A. Poe.

Review: Ilona Comes with the Rain by Alvaro Mutis

The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll:
Ilona Comes with the Rain
by Alvaro Mutis
NYRB Classics (2002), Paperback, 768 pages

Ilona comes with the rain, and goes with the fire.

‘Somewhere in his soul he bore the mark of the defeated that isolated them irremediably from other men.’ (page 105)

The adventures (and misadventures) of Maqroll this time are set in Panama City.
As always in Maqroll’s life, when the bottom is very close, he meets an old friend, Ilona: so Maqroll’s adventures start again.

Maqroll and Ilona start a business of ‘stewardesses’. After a while, of course, they become bored of this way of life and also another woman, Larissa appears to remind them about finitude of life.

Maqroll’s adventures are always mixed with the idea of humankind without borders, distances, as a world waiting for this character to start running its soul.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Review: Mr. Humphreys and his Inheritance by M.R. James

More Ghost Stories:
Mr. Humphreys and his Inheritance
by M.R. James
Edward Arnold & Co. (1911)

Mr. Humphreys has inherited a property from an uncle: ‘neither the property nor the uncle had he ever seen.’ (page 219)
Mr. Cooper, the property’s bailiff, has gone to the train station to pick up Mr. Humphreys.
Soon after arriving at the house, Mr. Humphreys and Mr. Cooper start an exploration of the property. Mr. Humphreys enters into the maze or labyrinth, where he finds a strange sundial. But the first impression is wrong, instead of a sundial on the top there is a stone column with a metal globe engraved with figure of the patriarchs of evil.

The dessecretion of the maze follows a series of strange events.

When Mr. Humphreys is tracing a maze’s plan, he finds a dot or a hole on the plan:
‘An ugly black spot about the size of a shilling. Ink? No.
It resembles a hole, but how should a hole be there? …
It seemed to go not only through the paper, but through the table … and through the floor below that, down, and still down, even into infinite depths.’ (page 269) and ‘far, far down there was a movement, and the movement was upwards - towards the surface. … waving black arms prepared to clasp the head that was bending over them.’ (page 270)

Quid multa?

I didn’t believe in ghosts, not until I became one.

Review: Martin's Close by M.R. James

More Ghost Stories:
Martin’s Close
by Montague Rhodes James
Edward Arnold & Co. (1911)

- Madam, will you walk, will you talk with me?
- Yes, sir, I will walk, I will talk with you.

The narrator has to visit some land in the West. He is accompanied by the estate handy-man John Hill.
The rector of the parish where there are the properties, tells to the narrator to inquire about Martin’s Close.
During the visit the narrator asks to John Hill about Martin’s Close: the story of this bit of land concerns the murder of a young woman, Ann Clark by George Martin.

George Martin ‘was troubled before his cruel action come to light by the young woman spirit.’ (page 174)

The narrator finds a report of Martin’s trial by Judge Jefferies.

The story that follows tells about the trial’s last days. Accordingly to witnesses ‘Ann Clark was seen after the 15th of May (murder’s day), and that, at such time as she was so seen, it was impossible she could have been a living person.’ (pages 190-1)

‘And prey, what came out (from the cupboard), a mouse?’ (page 199)

Review: The Rats in the Walls by H.P. Lovecraft

The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories:
The Rats in the Walls
by Howard Phillips Lovecraft
Penguin Classics (1999), Paperback, 448 pages

‘They must know it was the rats.’ (page 108)

A descendant of Delapore’s family is the narrator of The Rats in the Walls (1923). He has recently moved from Massachusetts to England.

The narrator and his cat, named Nigger-man, hear noises of rats scurrying behind the walls.
Looking for the rats he discovers ‘a subterraneous world of limitless mystery and horrible suggestion.’ (page 105) The narrator’s family raised human cattle building an underground city.

Eventually the narrator attacks a friend and eats him. He is locked in a mental institution, claiming his innocence and telling that were the rats in the walls to eat his friend.

A gift from Lovecraft to Edgar Allan Poe.

Review: The Shipwrecked Men by Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca

The Shipwrecked Men (Penguin Great Journeys)
by Alvar Nunez Cabeza De Vaca
Penguin Classics (2007), Paperback, 160 pages

Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca (ca. 1492 – ca. 1560) was a Spanish explorer.
He took part in the 1527 Panfilo de Narvaez expedition to explore Florida.
Became famous writing in 1542 The Report, or The Shipwrecked Men. Six hundred men and five ships was reduced to four people.

Cabeza de Vaca’s story of the journey is brief but tells to the readers many important facts related to the first knowledge of the New World. Cabeza de Vaca’s point of view is not the usual of the conqueror, but like one of a modern anthropologist: accepting the people with their way of life, without judging or trying to change something.

Although there are several theories about the exact route of Cabeza de Vaca’s journey, it is known that they travelled across Dominican Republic, Cuba, Florida, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Mexico City where they have been rescued.

‘Since the lodges afforded so little shelter, people began to die, and five Christian quartered on the coast were driven to such extremes that they ate each other, until but one remained, who, being left alone, had no one to eat him.’ (page 50)

Review: The Snow of the Admiral by Alvaro Mutis

The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll:
The Snow of the Admiral
by Alvaro Mutis
NYRB Classics (2002), Paperback, 768 pages

The Snow of Admiral is the diary of Maqroll’s journey on Xurando` river towards a sawmill.
Everything is real but could be otherwise: as Don Quixote and the windmill, or the quest for Dulcinea.

Metaphysical question, and some answers:
‘The best thing is to let everything happen as it must. That’s right. It’s not a question of resignation. Far from it. It’s something else, something to do with the distance that separates us from everything and everybody. One day we’ll know.’ (page 45)

‘How many wrong turning in a labyrinth where we do everything we can to avoid the exit, how many surprises and then the tedium of learning they weren’t surprises at all, that everything that happens to us has the same face, exactly the same origin.’ (page 62)

‘A woman’s body under the rush of a mountain waterfall, her brief cries of surprise and joy, the movement of her limbs in the rapid foam that carries red coffee berries, sugarcane pulp, insects struggling to escape the current: this is the exemplary happiness, that surely never comes again.’ (page 17)

Eventually Maqroll comes to the sawmill:
‘And again, in the fading afternoon light, the enormous metal structure was surrounded by a golden halo that made it look unreal.’ (page 70)

Review: The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral by M.R. James

More Ghost Stories:
The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral
by Montague Rhodes James
Edward Arnold & Co. (1911)

Dr. Black is cataloguing the Barchester’s Cathedral library, when he discovers a box containing some fifty year old diaries.
The diaries concern the death of Dr. Haynes, a former Archdeacon of the Cathedral.

During winter time Dr. Haynes is alone in the cathedral’s apartment, because his sister’s health doesn’t allow her to stay.
Dr. Haynes diaries tell of ordinary events, but soon after the main theme of the diaries are the noises of cats in the cathedral (although Dr. Haynes has never owned a cat).
‘The hall and the staircase seemed to be unusually full of what I can only call movement without sound.’ (page 157)

Has a carved figure on the stalls of Barchester Cathedral something to do with these noises?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Review: Casting the Runes by M.R. James

More Ghost Stories:
by M. R. James
Edward Arnold & Co. (1911)

Warning: before to write a book’s review, read Casting the Runes (You could change idea!).

The runic alphabet, developed from the Etruscan, was used in northern Europe from third to seventeenth century.
In magical practice ‘casting the runes’ means send curses through slip of paper in runic letters.

Karswell is a writer of alchemy and witchcraft books. When somebody refuses to review or submits a negative one about his books, the reviewer’s fate is marked.

‘The obvious course was to find a match, and also to consult his watch: he might as well know how many hours of discomfort awaited him.
So he puts his hand into the well-known nook under the pillow: only, it did not get so far.
What he touched was, according to his account, a mouth, with teeth, and with hair about it, and, he declares, not the mouth of a human being.’ (page 112)

Review: The Tractate Middoth by M.R. James

More Ghost Stories of an Antiquary:
by M. R. James
Edward Arnold & Co. (1911)

Mr. John Eldred is looking for a book in a library. The book is Tractate Middoth from the Talmud. A library assistant, Mr. Garret, helps Mr. Eldred to find the book, but a man is reading the Tractate:

‘It looked to me dry, and it looked dusty, and the streaks of hair across it were much less like hair than cobwebs.’ (page 58)

Mr. Garrett is shocked from the reader of the Tractate and he is forced to stay at home. Before Mr. Garrett returned to work at the library, the librarian wanted that he takes a week’s rest. Mr. Garrett leaves for a village on the sea.

In train he met a landlady, Mrs. Simpson and her daughter. Mrs Simpson had apartments empty at that season, so Mr. Garrett decides to take one.
An evening, during their talk, Mrs Simpson is very interested in Mr. Garrett’s job as librarian. The Simpson’s decide to ask for help to Mr. Garrett: the women have to find a book where inside could be the will of their uncle. The only clue is a number that sounds familiar to Mr. Garrett: it is the number of the book that Mr. Eldred was looking for. Another interesting clue for Mr. Garrett is that Mr. Eldred is Mrs. Simpson’s cousin.

Mr. Eldred is the first to find the mysterious book, but when he is searching for the will in the book:
‘something black seemed to drop upon the white leaf and run down it, and then as Eldred started and was turning to look behind him, a little dark form appeared to rise out of the shadow behind the tree-trunk and from it two arms enclosing a mass of blackness came before Eldred’s face and covered his head and neck.’ (page 79)

The story has a good plot and M.R. James is a master to insert the ghost’s passages only when needed, so to keep the reader’s curiosity high.

Review: The Baron by Katherine Mansfield

In a German Pension:
by Katherine Mansfield
Dodo Press (2005), Paperback, 112 pages

In a German Pension contains thirteen short stories written by Katherine Mansfield after she visited Germany.

The Baron (1910)

A young lady is fascinated by a mysterious German baron.

‘I imbibe nourishment in my room.’ (page 14)
or Sic transit gloria German mundi (Thus passes the glory of the German’s world),
or When you don’t know, you could imagine everything.

Review: The Temple by H.P. Lovecraft

The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories:
by H. P. Lovecraft
Penguin Classics (2001), Paperback, 464 pages

The Temple (1920) is narrated as a found manuscript written by Lieutenant Commander in the Imperial German Navy, Altberg and during WWI.
The manuscript describes the last days of Altberg and his U-boat before sinking at the bottom of the ocean.
After defeating a British freighter, Altberg and his crew find a dead body with a strange piece of carved ivory in his pocket. One of Altberg’s officers keeps the object, but soon after a series of unexplained accidents occurs.
Altberg survives after his crew, but he doesn’t manage to con the U-boat and lands at the bottom of the ocean.
Altberg discovers that he is surrounded by the remains of an ancient city: Atlantis?

Lovecraft spoils this story when he describes Altberg’s germanophile feeling.
‘But the story is significant in postulating an entire civilization antedating humanity and possibly responsible for many of the intellectual and aesthetic acievements of humanity.’ (from explanatory notes by S.T. Joshi, page 374)

Monday, January 31, 2011

Review: The Music of Erich Zann by H.P. Lovecraft

The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories:
by H. P. Lovecraft
Penguin Classics (2001), Paperback, 464 pages

The Music of Erich Zann was written December 1921.
An university student rents an apartment in an almost empty building. Another tenant of the building is an old German man named Erich Zann.
Erich is mute and plays melodies ‘never heard before.’ Erich tells to the student that he has discovered sounds of an otherworldly nature. But Erich’s main reason to play these melodies is to keep back from his window unknown creatures looking ‘illimitable blackness.’

‘Then I remembered my old wish to gaze from this window … It was very dark, but the city’s lights always burned, and I expected to see them there amidst the rain and wind. Yet when I looked from the highest of all gable windows, looked while the candles sputtered and the insane viol howled with the night-wind, I saw no city spread below, and no friendly lights, gleaming from remembered streets, but only the blackness of space illimitable; unimagined space alive with motion and music, and having no semblance to anything on earth.’ (page 51)

Lovecraft can hear from the space without end the planet’s motion: a music indescribable with words.

Review: A School Story and The Rose Garden by M.R. James

More Ghost Stories:
by M.R. James
Edward Arnold & Co. (1911)

A School Story

‘Si tu non veneris ad me, ego veniam ad te’
(If you don’t come to me, I’ll come to you) (page 13)

Two men were talking of their school days, especially concerning ghost stories.
During Latin grammar lessons, Mc Leod stops thinking, maybe feeling something strange coming from the teacher, Mr. Sampson.
One night Mc Leod is watching at the professor’s window: ‘there was a man sitting or kneeling on Sampson’s window-sill … beastly thin … looking around and whispering as if he hardly liked to hear himself.’ (page 15)
The next day Mr. Sampson was gone.

The Rose Garden

Quieta non movere
or Are ghosts noisy?

Mr. Anstruther and his wife are talking about their rose garden, he disagrees with his wife because the spot is not very nice: there are shrubs, and it is not sunny. Eventually Mrs. Anstruther makes sure that her husband starts the job.
A previous owner of the estate, Miss Wilkins, visits Mrs. Anstruther; they talk about the rose garden. But when Mrs Anstruther is telling to Miss Wilkins her project, the latter thoughts ‘were evidently elsewhere.’ When Miss Wilkins and his brother Frank were children, he disappeared for a while and reappeared on the bench of the rose garden. Frank had been asleep and he had had ‘a very odd disjointed sort of dream.’ Frank was in a court for a trial, and after he was walking towards the gallow. ‘He never saw much of what was around him, but he felt the scenes most vividly.’ (page 30)

The same night, Mr. Anstruther had had the same dream.

‘Mrs. Anstruther … was sure some rough had got into the plantation during the night.
- And another thing, George: the moment that Collins is about again, you must tell him to do something about the owls.’ (page 35)

Are ghosts among us? or are they just owls?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Review: The Anvil Stone by Kathleen Cunnigham Guler

The Anvil Stone (Macsen's Treasure, Book 3)
by Kathleen Cunningham Guler
Bardsong Press (2006), Hardcover, 416 pages

‘Death to you. Two sons of the North or two of the White Dragon. Your choice. Beware … Excalibur.’ (page 373)

Marcus ap Iorwerth follows his dream to unite Britain and fights Saxon’s threat. Marcus is helped by his wife Claerwen, who foresees the future with what is called ‘fire in the head’.

‘The light burst inside Claerwen, firing magnificent and hot and raging, and from its center she saw a hand ran up through the water’s surface. It was the woman of the lake’s hand, and her graceful, slender fingers clutched a sword’s hilt as sure as strong as any warrior’s. The blade, long and slightly tapered, was forged of fine steel; the hilt, pommel and cross-guard of brilliant, chased gold. Light radiated from it …’ (page 92)

Rival fractions fight each other to impose a new king on Britain, they are also searching another piece of Macsen’s Treasure: the sword Excalibur. Uther, present king, already holds parts of Macsen’s Treasure: the crown, the spearhead, and the torque; but Excalibur is waiting for the new king: Arthur.

Marcus gets injured, so follows a long exile and separation from Claerwen.
Eventually many mysteries are revealed, but Arthur is still a boy …

The Anvil Stone also fights against an enemy: Arthur’s legends and hundreds of books already written about his adventures (legend or truth).
Arthur and Excalibur are the winners.
King Arthur lived in the early sixth century, according to legends he defended Britain from the invaders Saxons. Legends and history tells a story where magic is important and necessary.
The Anvil Stone lacks of magic, fantastic scenery, supernatural events.
Myrddin (or Merlin the Enchanter) spreads a bit of fantastic on Marcus’s life, but insufficient to bear an entire book (it comes at the end of the story): ‘He will be the light that comes out of the darkness. You (Marcus) are a blacksmith. You know of dark and light, fire and iron.’ (page 401)

Marcus and Claerwen’s story is a thoughtful passage of their life. They clarify each other of previous fears, nightmares, dreams.
Marcus’ dark side (Iron Hawk) is unveiled when his past is narrated to Claerwen.
Claerwen: ‘Is this your true nature? Is the disdain for killing just a mask to hide it, a nature you won’t admit to himself except through the Iron Hawk?’ (page 369)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Review: Number 13 and Count Magnus and The Treasure of Abbot Thomas by Montague Rhodes James

Ghost Stories of an Antiquary:
by Montague Rhodes James
Ayer Co Pub (1977), Hardcover, 270 pages


‘His back was now to the door. In that moment the door opened, and an arm came out and clawed at his shoulder.’ (page 143)

Mr. Anderson, narrator’s cousin, went to Denmark engaged upon some researches into the history of Danish church. He stays in an inn where the room number 13 is missing. Returning to his room, Mr. Anderson notices that the door refuses to open, he hears some noises in the room: ‘He had tried the wrong door, of course. … He glanced at the number: it was 13.’ (page 120) Finally, entering in his room number 12, it ‘seemed to have contracted in length …’ (page 121)
The landlord confirms to Mr. Anderson that the number 13 room had never existed, but a contract concerning these extraordinary phenomena is discovered: a professor sold himself to ...


Mr. Wraxall wants to write a book about Scandinavia. He learns about an important collection of family papers belonging to the proprietors of an ancient manor-house in Vestergothland.
The earliest owner of the manor was Magnus de la Gardie, buried in the church’s mausoleum. Mr. Wraxall becomes interested in Count Magnus, especially because he had been on the Black Pilgrimage and had brought ‘something or someone back with him.’
‘Just at that instant … I (Mr. Wraxall) felt a blow on my foot. Hastily enough I drew it back, and something fell on the pavement with a clash. It was the third, the last of the three padlocks which had fastened the sarcophagus (Count Magnus’). I stooped to pick it up, and - Heaven is my witness that I am writing only the bare truth - before I had raised myself there was a sound of metal hinges creaking, and I distinctly saw the lid shifting upwards. … I was outside that dreadful building in less time than I can write.’ (page 175)


‘it’s perfectly safe in the daytime.’ (page 243)

The story tells about a hidden treasure of Abbot Thomas. Mr. Somerton is interested in Abbot Thomas’ treasure and discovers that the secret has to be found somewhere in the window. Abbot Thomas himself had placed the window illustrating Job Patriarcha, Johannes Evangelista, and Zacharias Propheta.
Mr. Somerton deciphers the meaning of the series of letters written on the window. But there is also a warning: Gare a qui la touche.
‘Then I heard him call softly: All right, sir; and went on pulling out the great bag, in complete darkness. It hung for an instant on the edge of the hole, then slipped forward on to my chest, and put his arms round my neck.’ (page 264)

M.R. James’ character are always quiet teachers who become actors in supernatural events. James usually doesn’t tells who is the ghost, and he doesn’t explain the causes of the events.
James accompanies the readers by hand towards these irrational phenomenons.
It’s worth reading M.R. James for his excellent style and grammar, maybe coming from his Latin’s study (he was a medieval scholar).

‘I found myself at Steinfeld as soon as the resources of civilizations could put me there.’ (pages 254-5)

The best story is The Treasure of Abbot Thomas, followed by Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad; The Mezzotint.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Review: The Ash-Tree by M.R. James

Ghost Stories of an Antiquary:
by Montague Rhodes James
Ayer Co Pub (1977), Hardcover, 270 pages

‘It will be long, I think, before we arrive at a just estimate of the amount of solid reason - if there was any - which lay at the root of the universal fear of witches in old times.’ (p.85)

The Ash-Tree (1904) tells of Sir Richard Castringham who has just inherited a house, and an ash-tree.
Richard’s ancestors Sir Matthew condemned a woman to death for witchcraft. After that, the house has been cursed, but the real problem is the ash-tree.

James writes a ghost story about an ash-tree for many reasons, mainly connected with legends, superstitions, that tells of ash-trees.
Upon ash branches witches could fly; venomous animals don’t take shelter under an ash-tree; ash seedpods are used in divination; people don’t cut ash-trees for construction lumber: the houses could catch fire.

Review: The Hound by H.P. Lovecraft

The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories:
by Howard Phillips Lovecraft
Penguin Classics (1999), Paperback, 448 pages

‘Madness rides the star-wind …
claws and teeth sharpened on centuries of corpses …
dripping death astride a Bacchanale of bats from night-black ruins of buried temples of Belial.’ (p.88)

The Hound was written by H.P. Lovecraft in 1922.
This short story has been influenced by many important books: A Rebours by Joris-Karl Huysmans; Vathek by William Beckford; and Edgar Allan Poe.

The narrator and his friend St.John are interested in robbing graves. They have set up a museum in their basement: headstones, skulls, a portfolio bound in tanned human skin.
One day the narrator and his friend learn about a cemetery in Holland where a former grave robber has been buried, several centuries before.
Reaching the cemetery they notice a barking giant hound. Both start digging finding a coffin, inside the coffin they are surprised to find a corpse still intact. Hanging from the corpse’s neck there is a jade amulet: it is one mentioned in the forbidden book Necronomicon.
‘Necronomicon … the ghastly soul-symbol of the corpse-eating cult of inaccessible Teng, in Central Asia.’ (p.84)
They return home and strange sounds (the hound?) can be heard in their house.
St.John is killed by an unknown creature.
The narrator wants to stop the curse and return to the Holland cemetery, discovering … the amulet is hanging from the neck of the former grave robber.

Review: The Rest is Illusion by Eric Arvin

The Rest is Illusion
by Eric Arvin
Port Jervis, NY : Young Offenders Media, 2010.

‘The moon’s brightness made the creek below resemble a forgotten cobbled road leading to some ancient and terribly important place. A place out of which myths are born. A place where the feeling of new experiences never dies, never exhausts or extinguishes, where the passion for truth is enmeshed in the very notion of life.’ (page 99)

The Rest is Illusion tells the story of a tree, watching a river and witnessing the story of Dashel.
Dashel is grabbing the last days of his life, and his friends Sarah, Ashley, Tony, and ‘Wilder’ are jumping the last obstacles so to reach adulthood.
The ancient Celts venerated trees as font of wisdom, hope, and imagine of the cycle of life / seasons. So The Rest is Illusion tells the relation between Nature, also as weather, physical universe, life, and people wanting to hear about magic, helped by Nature.

Eric Arvin could have written the usual coming of age tale, but he has preferred magic’s help. The characters find comfort close to the tree and its surroundings, and Nature give them advises through magic.

I didn’t like: the end of the story, kind of life goes on; Wilder’s character is depicted too many times; some dialogs say more than once the same concept.

A note, page 127: Giacomo Puccini’s title opera is Gianni Schicchi, and not Scacchi (chess). An aria from this opera is quoted ‘O mio bambino caro’ (Oh my dear child), instead of ‘O mio babbino caro’ (Oh my dear daddy). Maybe the correct quoted aria is coherent with the character of Sarah Coheen and her father’s relation.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Review: Hop-Frog by Edgar Allan Poe

Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe:
by Edgar Allan Poe
Doubleday (1966), Hardcover, 832 pages

Hop-Frog (1849) was originally published with the title Hop-Frog: Or, the Eight Chained Ourangoutangs.
The story tells about the court jester Hop-Frog, a dwarf. Both Hop-Frog and his best friend Trippetta are slaves of an unnamed king. The king decides to hold a masquerade, Hop-Frog suggests realistic costumes of orangutans, and they have to be chained together implying a massive escape from the zoo.
Hop-Frog is seeking revenge because the king has mistreated Trippetta.
During the masquerade Hop-Frog attaches a chain from the ceiling that is linked to the chain around the men in costume. Trippetta pulls the chain so all the men are hanging above the hall. Hop-Frog wants to identify the men so he climbs up and holds a torch, but soon the costumes catch fire.
Hop-Frog and Trippetta escape to their home country.

A first analysis: Poe writing Hop-Frog seeks revenge on a personal enemy.
A second point of view: the idea of a crime without guilty, the criminal is a dwarf or in The Cask of Amontillado a man with a costume, and the orangutans: fears, monstrosities, deformities. Evil is bond with ugly, so we can separates crime from honest, just watching at.
But Poe could indicates a path towards a different idea: those associations are easy, too easy. Why not?
But all stopped on a sidewalk of Baltimore.

Review: The Cries of Vampira by Sean H. Robertson

The Cries Of Vampira: The Horror Of Gaad Grey, The Evil Alpha Werewolf - Volume 1
by Sean H. Robertson
CreateSpace (2010), Paperback, 82 pages

The Cries of Vampira is a fantasy story set in Scotland in the twelfth century, and concerns two clans fighting each other: the Robertsons, who lived at the Dunalastair Castle, Royal vampire homeland Vampira and a secret werewolf horde: the Grey Wolves.

The narration’s style is simple, for instance in each dialog the name of the character is always recalled. This kind of narration reminds of fairy tales for children.

The title could get confusion in the readers because The Cries of Vampira is not a vampire story, where usually vampires bite humans.
In this story many roles are inverted: vampires are good people living among humans and sometimes they have saved humans.

The Cries of Vampira improves through the narration, so hopefully book two could earn more than three stars.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Review: Herbert West - Reanimator by H.P. Lovecraft

The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories:
by Howard Phillips Lovecraft
Penguin Classics (1999), Paperback, 448 pages

‘They knew, indeed, that West had been connected with activities beyond the credence of ordinary men.‘ (p.76)

Herbert West - Reanimator contains six short stories narrated by West’s friend from the years of medical school until West’s disappearing.
Lovecraft wrote these short stories between October 1921 and June 1922. He tells for the first time of zombies.

From the Dark
West and his friend / narrator met in medical school, and the last one is fascinated by West’s theories about dead bodies that could be restarted. ‘Holding … that all life is a chemical and physical process, and that the so-called “soul” is a myth …” (p.51)
After several attempts to restart a dead body, they manage with a fresh corpse. Hearing an inhuman scream West and his friend have to flee: ‘vaulting madly into the starred abyss of the rural night.’ (p.54) ‘... burst the most appalling and daemoniac succession of cries that either of us had ever heard. Not more unutterable could have been the chaos of hellish sound if the pit itself had opened to release the agony of the damned’ (p.54)
The Plague-Demon
A typhus epidemic breaks out and although West and the unnamed narrator are not allowed to dissect human cadavers, they are called to help the dying victims. West injects his serum in each body, but without appreciable results. Dean Halsey, chief of the university dissection lab succumbs to typhoid; so West steals his corpse. After the injection, Halsey reanimates but becomes violent.
West: ‘Damn it, it wasn’t quite fresh enough!’ (p.60)
Six Shots by Midnight
West and the narrator purchase a house near the town’s cemetery (of course!). They also buy a corpse of a black boxing champion. West injects the serum but nothing happens, so he and the narrator bury the corpse.
A child is missing and parts of his body reappears at the West’s door house: the courier is the black boxing champion (Ups?).
The Scream of the Dead
The narrator after a visit to his parents, returns to the house who shares with Herbert West. The latter shows to his friend a corpse perfectly preserves. West explains that he has invented an embalming fluid and he has waited the narrator’s return to reanimate the corpse. They manage to reanimate the corpse but before dying again, the corpse screams revealing an horrible truth.
The Horror from the Shadows
Five years after the last reanimation, West has joined the army in the WWI. West means to procure bodies for his experiments. West befriends another medic sharing with him his theories about reanimation. After a while West’s new friend is killed: the body is decapitated. West injects the serum in the trunk and in the head, so the head begins to speak, telling the last moment of his life.
The Tomb-Legions
Herbert West-Reanimator’s last story tells about zombies as we know from movies.
West and his friend return from WWI and move into a house which is directly connected to an ancient system of catacombs. West reads in a newspaper an article telling a series of strange events involving a man with a wax head. This man is West’s friend from WWI, he seeks revenge helped by other zombies.
Zombies come out from the catacombs and take West with them. ‘Detectives have questioned me (the narrator), but what can I say?’ (p. 80)