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Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters av…

Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters (urspr publ 2008; utgåvan 2022)

av John Langan (Författare)

MedlemmarRecensionerPopularitetGenomsnittligt betygOmnämnanden
1404185,856 (3.56)7
From award-nominated writer John Langan comes a collection of uneasymeetings. A frustrated professor and his graduate student assistant accompany a groupof soldiers to a remote Scottish island to learn what is buried there. A manplays an audiotape left for him by his late father and is initiated into afamily story of monstrous deeds. A student learns frightening lessons in asurreal tutoring center. A young couple struggles to make their stand against agroup of inhuman pursuers in a ravaged landscape. And, in a new story, an artistdiscovers a mysterious statue whose completion becomes his obsession.… (mer)
Titel:Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters
Författare:John Langan (Författare)
Info:Word Horde (2022), Edition: Large type / Large print, 240 pages
Samlingar:Ditt bibliotek
Taggar:horror, cosmic horror, short stories, fiction, [att märka]


Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters av John Langan (2008)


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I quite enjoyed the first two stories, twists on old monster stories, and the third story, a pastiche on awful creative writing programs, was entertaining if a little too on the nose to be great. The fourth, a scattered post-apocalyptic story, feels like a response to a response that wasn't necessary; the last, a novella, is yet another story of asshole failed artists and I hate those. I think these stories would have worked better individually than as a collection; Langan has some subjects he keeps returning to, not as themes but in detail: different characters in different stories share childhood memories, which is a little odd to read all at once. ( )
  jen.e.moore | Dec 5, 2014 |
Faithful readers of my blog (readingtheleaves.com) will have noted that I frequently review anthologies and single-author collections of short stories. There is a very good reason for this: we are living in a Golden Age of the short story of the fantastic. This Golden Age has come about probably because the fantastic is one of the few real markets for short fiction left. The New Yorker, long considered the Holy Grail for short fiction, publishes only one short story per issue, except in a single issue devoted to short fiction each year, and most of those stories are written by established authors. For instance, the May 25 issue has a story by Jonathan Lethem and the May 18 issue by Salman Rushdie. The writer of the literary short story is therefore mostly limited to small literary journals that pay little, if anything. For example, the copyright page of Mary Gaitskill’s new collection of stories, Don't Cry: Stories, reveals that her stories were previously published in places like Vice, Index and Nerve.com (none of which I’ve heard of before, and I get around). And that’s Mary Gaitskill, who has appeared in The New Yorker.

New writers, faced with the difficulties of getting published, are therefore often encouraged to give the fantastic a try. While the markets are unfortunately shrinking, they nonetheless still exist in number: Fantasy & Science Fiction, Asimov's Science Fiction, Analog Science Fiction & Fact, Interzone and Realms of Fantasy are perhaps the best known. But there are also many other publications still in print, pretty much one for every taste: Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Weird Tales, Cemetery Dance and Electric Velocipede for instance. And there are also some strong online-only markets, like Strange Horizons and Subterranean Magazine. Original anthologies are also being published in increasing numbers: Eclipse 1 and Two, for instance, edited by Jonathan Strahan; Ellen Datlow’s Poe: 19 New Tales Inspired by Edgar Allan Poe (which I reviewed here); and George Mann’s The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction One, Two and Three. There are also a few small publishers who seem to be dedicated to publishing single-author short story collections, as well, among them Golden Gryphon Press, Prime Books, PS Publishing, Tachyon Publications and Subterranean Press. These markets are publishing some of the best short fiction around these days, and those of us who enjoy science fiction, fantasy and horror are swimming in great short stories.

John Langan’s Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters is a collection of six stories by an exciting new writer of psychological horror published by one of those small presses, Prime Books. I first discovered Langan when I read his story, “Technicolor,” in Ellen Datlow’s Poe. It was such a tour de force that I resolved to find out more about this writer, which led me directly to this collection. It confirmed my first impression: Langan is one of two great new horror writers to appear on the scene in recent years, along with Laird Barron. (Don’t miss Barron’s collection, The Imago Sequence and Other Stories, either; I gave it honorable mention as one of the best books I read during the year 2008 in this post, and not surprisingly, it was published by another great small press, Night Shade Books. Barron also has a wonderful story in Datlow’s book, “Strappado,” that is still giving me nightmares.)

Langan writes the sort of horror that reminds one of both Henry James and M.R. James, as Elizabeth Hand points out in her introduction to this collection. It is elegantly written, with craft evident in every sentence. This heritage is especially clear in the first story in the book, “On Skua Island,” which uses a plot device that should be worn past using by now, though Langan shows us it is not: the tale told to a group of friends during a social gathering. This particular gathering is in a house on the coast of an unnamed ocean during a strong February storm. Those gathered, who appear to be mostly academics and writers (or at least individuals very well versed in the tropes of horror fiction), pass some time talking about vampires, werewolves, zombies and mummies, concluding early in their discussion that nothing new can be said about mummies.

Until Nicholas speak up, that is. Nicholas, who has been largely silent during the party, tells his story of an archeological dig on Skua Island, located north-northwest of the Shetland Islands. This island, located far from any human habitation, is apparently of some interest to MI-5, Britain’s intelligence agency, and the dig is a cover; but Nicholas doesn’t care, because photographs of the area show that he might well make a discovery on the island crucial to his own particular theories about the Vikings. Nicholas’s time on the island is limited by the needs of MI-5. He must move quickly. So, when he discovers runes on a column that stands above his site, he cannot wait to translate them before proceeding to find what lies underneath. Nicholas discovers, to his regret, that one should always read the instructions first – and thereby hangs his tale.

“Mr. Gaunt” has an equally venerable storyline: the family member who enters the private space of a superior family member, only to find something he or she does not wish to see. The classic tale is “Bluebeard,” of course, in which a wife opens a room she’s been told never to enter, only to find the dead bodies of her husband’s previous wives. This tale, again told in a frame (a man who discovers an audiotape left to him when his father dies), is of a boy who enters his father’s study when his father is away. There the boy discovers the true nature of his father’s servant, Mr. Gaunt – and, it might well be said, of his father as well. The story, even with its ancient heritage, is altogether new here, and Langan tells it with grace and terror.

“Tutorial” is the weakest story in the collection, but it relieves the tension Langan has built up in his first two stories. It tells of James, a creative writing student who longs to write but is an atrociously bad writer. He doesn’t quite know this; he thinks he’s merely writing great horror fiction that his instructor can’t appreciate because he disapproves of genre writing. When his instructor sends him to a tutor, he and the tutor argue about the usefulness of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style and whether Samuel Delany is a writer of any worth (“He writes science fiction,” James says; “Which explains why I’ve never heard of him,” the tutor responds). The tutor gives up and passes James on to another tutor, further downstairs in the Humanities Building, who goes through much the same process. “Omit needless words” from Strunk & White makes another appearance, and James again snorts with disgust at the advice. This tutor, too, sends him on, further downstairs, this time to a man known only as The Editor. The Editor has some, well, interesting ways of making fledgling writers behave. The story is clearly intended to be self-mocking, at least to an extent; but it ultimately fails because of the inconsistent ending. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the in-joke, because I did, but this story really is one that The Editor probably should have had a good crack at.

“Episode Seven: Last Stand Against the Pack in the Kingdom of the Purple Flowers” is as science fictional as Langan’s writing gets, and is a strange experiment in imagination. It is the oddest love story I’ve ever read, or at least the oddest story of seemingly romantic obsession. No explanations are offered for anything that happens in this story; as one might expect from the title, it seems to start in the middle. All we know is that two humans are traversing a world gone awry, where cars are stopped in the middle of the road and populated by purple flowers. It reads like a particularly bad nightmare, and one I hope never to experience for myself.

In “Laocoon, or The Singularity,” the final and best story in the book, Langan returns to more traditional storytelling. The protagonist is Dennis, an artist still struggling to finish his master’s degree in fine arts. He has little patience for the classes he teaches as part of his work, even though he is in line for a tenure track position should he ever complete his degree. And he has lost his family, including his two sons, because he is simply too much of a loner, lost in his appreciation of art for art’s sake, to pay sufficient attention to getting anything accomplished. Not that he is a dreamer, exactly; Langan paints him as more of a stubborn ideologue who enjoys being contrary.

The story begins when Dennis discovers what appears to be an artwork of an alien creature in the trash, and hauls it back to his apartment. He is not satisfied with the face the creature has been given, and devotes much thought to how to craft something new, something exactly right. But from the start, this “artwork” has exercised a strange power over him, not even counting the wound he suffered in hauling the thing up his stairs – a wound that won’t heal, that has become strangely infected. When inspiration for the Face does strike, it strikes with a vengeance. “Laocoon” is an accomplished story that you won’t forget, no matter how hard you try.

In a controversial review appearing in Strange Horizons last month, Abigail Nussbaum criticized Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters as having “a ratio of worthwhile stories to underbaked ones … so low that … as a work in its own right it isn’t worth a reader’s time and money.” As I stated in the comments to that review, I disagree. While Langan’s stories are clearly the early works of a newer writer, I find them to be accomplished. The gore that Nussbaum complains about is never extraneous to the story, and never predominates over the psychological aspects of the horrors Langan presents. Nor do I find the writing overly formal; rather, Langan is, in my opinion, an exceptionally literate writer who knows how to manipulate words to great effect and who can write in a variety of styles of classic horror. While I concur with Nussbaum that “Tutorial” is not representative of Langan’s best work, I consider this book worth owning and reading for “Laocoon” alone. “On Skua Island” and “Mr. Gaunt” are definitely worthy stories as well. Far from giving this book “the proverbial throwing with great force” Nussbaum would mete out to it, I consider it one worth treasuring.

After you’ve read this book, do let me know in the comments section to this review whether you agree with me or Nussbaum. I’ll be very interested in your reactions. ( )
3 rösta TerryWeyna | Jun 11, 2009 |
Langan’s debut horror collection explores a wide range of story-telling styles. Several of the stories clearly show the influence of Victorian ghost stories as written by Henry James, reveling as they do in complex language carefully crafted to prolong and increase narrative tension. At times, particularly at the beginning of the first story of the collection, “On Skua Island,” Langan’s style can approach the dryness of literary essay, but the intensely creepy resolution of that same story more than makes up for the lackluster beginning. The title story, “Mr. Gaunt,” is a true modern gothic, complete with a skeletal and sinister butler. “Tutorial,” a humorous satire of creative writing classes, is fun, but without much real substance. The real stand-out of the collection, however, is not the title story, but the very modern and creatively written and framed “Episode Seven,” about a young pregnant woman and her increasingly psychotic male companion as they flee a pack of mutant dogs in post-apocalyptic America. Recommended to horror fans looking for a new voice. Langan is one to watch. ( )
  kmaziarz | Apr 1, 2009 |
Well written, unconnected tales of the supernatural featuring a pleasingly literary style, sort of Stephen King meets Henry James (who factors somewhat into more than one story). Like King, many of the tales revolve around writers and academics, in what one suspects are autobiographical touches. The contents range from traditional ghost tales to sci-fi. Sure to please horror buffs who lean more towards shivers and raised hackles than gross-outs. Definitely an author to keep an eye on. ( )
1 rösta prpl_reader_services | Mar 11, 2009 |
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The story had held us, round the dinner table, sufficiently breathless, but except the obvious remark that it was weird, as, on a February night in an old house with a strong storm howling off the ocean, a story should essentially be, I remember no comment uttered till the eight of us adjourned to the living room with our drinks. ("On Skua Island")
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From award-nominated writer John Langan comes a collection of uneasymeetings. A frustrated professor and his graduate student assistant accompany a groupof soldiers to a remote Scottish island to learn what is buried there. A manplays an audiotape left for him by his late father and is initiated into afamily story of monstrous deeds. A student learns frightening lessons in asurreal tutoring center. A young couple struggles to make their stand against agroup of inhuman pursuers in a ravaged landscape. And, in a new story, an artistdiscovers a mysterious statue whose completion becomes his obsession.

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