REVIEW: “The Dead Daughter: A Tale” by Henry Glassford Bell

Review of Henry Glassford Bell, “The Dead Daughter: A Tale”, in Minor Hauntings: Chilling Tales of Spectral Youth, edited by Jen Baker (British Library, 2021): 13-23 — Order here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

Baker chose this story as the one to kick off the collection because it is “one of the first literary sources in English to utilise the ghostly revenant child as the source of terror and grief” (p. 13).

This isn’t the only distinct characteristic of the story. It is also told in beautiful prose that is extremely effective at evoking all required emotions, not just terror and horror. In the opening when we are introduce to Adolphus Walstein and his young daughter Paulina, it only takes Bell a few paragraphs to draw the reader into deep sadness with the awareness that Paulina will eventually die — the outrageous sadness that a child should ever not outlive their parent. The rest of the story capitalizes on this sadness, and turns it to horror with brilliant deftness. An absolutely smashing story, would easily fit into any 21st C horror canon.

(Originally published in The Edinburgh Literary Journal, 1831.)

REVIEW: Minor Hauntings: Chilling Tales of Spectral Youth edited by Jen Baker

Review of Jen Baker, ed., Minor Hauntings: Chilling Tales of Spectral Youth (British Library, 2021) — Order here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Do you like ghost stories? Do you like haunting stories about dead children? Do you like to delve into the history of speculative fiction! This is the anthology for you! Jen Baker has collected thirteen (of course) Anglo-American and Irish stories (most written by women!) first published between 1831 and 1925 (and accompanied by a bibliography of sources cited and further reading, in case you want a bit more on the academic side of things.)

The genre of “dead children literature” is pretty popular in that era — unsurprising given the high child mortality rates — but Baker (an academic at the University of Warwick) draws a distinction between the Gothic horror of the stories in her collection with the more common “twee” (her word, p. 7) approach of many poems and elegies of the era. In these stories, the ghostly children are not returning to console or comfort their parents, but for more sinister and strange purposes. But to say more would be spoiling things!

Each story is accompanied by brief biographical information about the authors, and the original publication history of the story. As usual, we’ll link the reviews of the individual stories back to this post as they are published!

  • “The Dead Daughter’s Tale” by Henry Glassford Bell
  • “The Old Nurse’s Story” by Elizabeth Gaskell
  • “The Ghost of Little Jacques” by Ann M. Hoyt
  • “Kentucky’s Ghost” by Elizabeth Stuart Phelps
  • “Walnut-Tree House: A Ghost Story” by Charlotte Riddell
  • “Was It An Illusion?: A Parson’s Story” by Amelia B. Edwards
  • “Lost Hearts” by M. R. James
  • “The Doll’s Ghost” by F. Marion Crawford
  • “The Shadowy Third” by Ellen Glasgow
  • “Two Little Red Shoes” by Bessie Kyffin-Taylor
  • “Annie’s Little Ghost” by H. D. Everett
  • “The Curse of the Stillborn” by Margery Lawrence

REVIEW: “Embracing the Movement” by Cristina Jurado

Review of Cristina Jurado, “Embracing the Movement”, Clarkesworld Issue 177, June (2021): Read Online. Reviewed by Myra Naik.

A fantastical tale of a strange sort of first contact. Things don’t go the way you may anticipate. There’s delicious buildup about existence in outer space and the different kinds of lives people live. It also features a very creepy payoff.

Different sorts of living spaces, structures and communication types exist in our universe. We have barely begun to understand this universe, and stories like this throw that fact into sharp relief.

A subtle queasiness exists throughout the story. If you enjoy feeling creeped out, this one will be right up your alley.

REVIEW: “The Scarlet Cloak” by Karen Bovenmyer

Review of Karen Bovenmyer, “The Scarlet Cloak,” Luna Station Quarterly 24 (2015): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Content note: Bullying, abuse, & harassment; murder ideation; cannibalism; references to rape.

One thing that’s interesting about reading the back archives of a journal is seeing which stories age well (or don’t age at all!) and which don’t. I feel like this one ends up in the latter category: A story where the central heroine is part of the police force is a bit harder to swallow in 2021 than it may have been in 2015.

Then again, I’m not entirely sure I would’ve appreciated this story when it first came out: It is too gruesome, too violent for my tastes.

(First appeared in The Crimson Pact Volume 3, 2012.)

REVIEW: “The Corn Grows Back Every Year” by Riley Vainionpaa

Review of Riley Vainionpaa, “The Corn Grows Back Every Year,” Luna Station Quarterly 24 (2015): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This was sci-fi with a good dollop of horror (content note: body horror/mutilation). At first neither Peggy nor Mellie understand what’s going on with Mellie’s body, or why she appears to have developed special powers. But then they agree to systematically experiment, driven by the need to know, to understand.

This was an odd little story!

REVIEW: “Relapse” by Phoenix Roberts

Review of Phoenix Roberts, “Relapse”, Luna Station Quarterly 47 (2021): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Content note: Eating disorders.

Katherine is recovering from an eating disorder, and is making a table. The spectre of her ED haunts the earlier part of the story, so that it takes awhile to piece together the offered clues to see that that’s what happened to her. After that, it becomes quite a frank account: I cannot say how accurate because I do not have the experience, but the way her recovery shapes her life smacks of authenticity.

It’s hard to isolate and explain the speculative — almost horror — element in the story, and how it weaves through the more mundane details, so I won’t try; it is best understood by experiencing it, by reading the story yourself.

REVIEW: “Who Wants to Live Forever?” by Karen McCreedy

Review of Karen McCreedy, “Who Wants to Live Forever?”, Luna Station Quarterly 24 (2015): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

“Who wants to live forever?” they asked, and humanity—stupid, unthinking fools that we were—answered, “we do.”

Ange and Bob both work at the Euro-Asian Space Agency, which means that when the humanoid robots sent off to colonise Mars and Jupiter return to Earth offering people the opportunity to live forever — to download themselves into indestructible humanoid bodies — they’re near the top of the priority queue. Only, they never stopped to think what life would be like if all the bits that make them human that come from their corporeal bodies were gone.

This story started off pretty classic SF but continually edged its way closer and closer to horror, as McCreedy deftly illustrates what life would be like if we could, indeed, live forever. Thanks, but no thanks!

REVIEW: “Them Oranges” by Nicole M. Wolverton

Review of Nicole M. Wolverton, “Them Oranges”, Luna Station Quarterly 46 (2021): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Lettie knows that every summer, when the scent of “them oranges” comes wafting through the windows, she will be called on to perform a necessary sacrifice to protect her village — just like her mother before her, and just like her daughter-to-be will after — whatever the sacrifice might cost her, personally.

This was a bit of a surprising story for LSQ — more to the horror than the SFF side of things. Perhaps that’s why it was one I’d file under “not for me”, because it was stronger on the shock and gore than it was on the world-building and scene-setting. I would have liked to know more about what Lettie’s sacrifice was protecting the village from.

REVIEW: “Little, Little, Little” by K. A. Tutin

Review of K. A. Tutin, “Little, Little, Little”, Luna Station Quarterly 45 (2021): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This is a slightly gruesome story of transformation (if body-mod things squick you out, you might want to avoid this), and I almost really enjoyed it — it was suffused with love and freedom and acceptance. But it was told in 2nd person, and in this context, that POV just didn’t work for me.

REVIEW: “The Adopt a Zombie Program” by Sophia Thimmes

Review of Sophia Thimmes, “The Adopt a Zombie Program”, Luna Station Quarterly 45 (2021): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Zombie stories aren’t really my cup of tea, even if the zombies involved “really were sort of cute”. 🙂 But Thimmes managed to find a distinctive premise, which got me immediately interested in the first few paragraphs. (Got bogged down a bit with the info dump a few paragraphs later, but that was a minor blip.) I give this story a thumbs up, and it’s even my own thumb.