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Poe: 19 New Tales Inspired by Edgar Allan…
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Poe: 19 New Tales Inspired by Edgar Allan Poe (2009)

by Ellen Datlow (Editor)

Other authors: Laird Barron (Contributor), Pat Cadigan (Contributor), Suzy McKee Charnas (Contributor), Ellen Datlow (Introduction), Gregory Frost (Contributor)15 more, Glen Hirshberg (Contributor), Elizabeth Langan (Contributor), Sharyn McCrumb (Contributor), Kim Newman (Contributor), David Prill (Contributor), M. Rickert (Contributor), Barbara Roden (Contributor), Nicholas Royle (Contributor), Kristine Kathryn Rusch (Contributor), Lucius Shepard (Contributor), Delia Sherman (Contributor), Melanie Tem (Contributor), Steve Rasnic Tem (Contributor), E. Catherine Tobler (Contributor), Kaaron Warren (Contributor)

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So what does a Poe fan get in this anthology of dark fantasy, suspense, and horror?

"Inspired by" covers a lot of ground here. Sometimes the Poe reference is so dilute, an allusion to a Poe character or story or setting or even a color that it is only the author's afterword that makes the connection clear. Sometimes Poe just triggers an associational nostalgia in the author, and the story has more to do with the author's youth than Poe. Sometimes the stories are a not very thinly veiled retelling of Poe stories. Sometimes the author grapples directly with the meaning or implications of Poe themes and images. Sometimes, despite the stated editorial prohibition against it, Poe shows up as a character.

The first story, Kim Newman's "Illimitable Domain", sort of stands apart from everything else in the book. Newman's knowledge of films and love of Poe gives us sort of a funny and, in the end, horrific alternate history in which those Roger Corman adaptations of Poe are just the beginning of Poe's encroachment into modern popular culture. This isn't the first time Newman has used Poe in his fiction, but those other examples have been Poe as a character. Here Poe the writer ultimately scripts reality itself.

The finest stories in the anthology are Barbara Roden's "The Brink of Eternity" and John Langan's "Technicolor". Roden looks at self-annihilation in the quest for knowledge and returning to some cosmic unity, themes found in Poe's "Ms. Found in a Bottle" and "Descent into the Maelstrom" and his odd work of poetic philosophy, Eureka. The story's protagonist, roughly a contemporary of Poe, compulsively feels drawn to explore the polar regions and that exploration deliberately alludes to Poe's novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. Langan's story is told as an English professor lecturing on Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death". He gives us a secret history that inspired Poe's tale, the real meaning of its enigmatic color sequence, what a grief stricken Poe was up to in the last week of life, and, like Newman's tale, a Poe that is a gateway to far more than just good literature.

Not quite as good as those two stories, but still very good, are Melanie Tem's "The Pickers" and Steve Rasnic Tem's "Shadow". Both are takeoffs, but not mere retellings, of Poe works. "The Pickers", inspired by Poe's "The Raven", has a depressed widow, trying to care for her infant, confronting a strange group of individuals, part gypsy, part crow, and part of nature's way of recycling unwanted items - whatever they may be. "Shadow" takes its ominous tone, choice of narrator, and title from Poe's "Shadow - A Parable". Here a niece, increasingly isolated and frightened of the outside world and the plague of social disorder that seems to be slowly infecting it, watches a videotape from her dead "crazy" uncle.

Three not so exceptional stories also rework Poesque images and motifs: Delia Sherman's "The Red Piano", Nicholas Royle's "The Reunion", and Glen Hirshberg "The Pikesville Buffalo". Sherman's story and its title instrument combine the idea of souls shared with inanimate objects, as in Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher", with all those "pale, learned, sickly, beautiful, and doomed" women of his most famous works. Royle's story uses the idea of doppelgangers to no real interesting effect. Hirshberg's takes up the transmigration of souls, used by Poe in "Metzengerstein", but embeds it in a too long tale of family schmaltziness. There is certainly no wonder or horror there.

Fairly straightforward retellings of Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death" and "The Fall of the House of Usher" are in, respectively, Suzy McKee Charnas' "Lowland Sea" and David Prill's "The Heaven and Hell of Robert Flud". The entourage of a film director retreats to a French villa while the Red Sweat gets closer in Charnas' story, and a refugee from Africa, a born survivor, warily contemplates her options. Prill uses a rural Minnesota setting and the sort of eccentrics sometimes found in that sort of place to good effect.

Good stories, but not Poe stories, are Lucius Shepard's "Kirikh'quru Krokundor" and Pat Cadigan's "Truth and Bone". Shepard's starting point uses an unjustly overlooked Poe story, "The Domain of Arnheim", to give us a beautiful community in a Venezuelan mountain valley. To this he adds the classic story hook of a mysterious mass disappointment. But then the story heads into Lovecraft territory with a bit of Eric Frank Russell's Sinister Barrier thrown in - except no Russell or Lovecraft story would have such an strong, integral, and explicit sexual element. Cadigan - a writer I'm not normally fond of - presents a family of which each has a special, paranormal power. The power of the teenage protagonist happens to be seeing the exact time and nature of a person's death. She charitably tries to use it to save the life of a bullying classmate.

The power and personality of Poe as a writer are part of E. Catherine Tobler's "Beyond Porch and Portal" and Kaaron Warren's "The Tell". Tobler's story has a fairyland shaped by Poe's poems, a place where he is even imprisoned for a time. It's an interesting story, but, despite the specific references to the writer's fantastic poems, it oddly doesn't feel like it has any special relation to Poe. Warren builds her not very interesting story around the literal heart of Poe and the powers its possession confers.

Gregory Frost's "The Final Act" is a psychokiller story. Laird Barron's "Strappado" is more interesting with its protagonist invited to a special exhibit by a notorious, perhaps murderous, group of artists who use bodies as materials. Both are good but, without the benefit of their afterwords, their Poe connection is barely visible.

Hohum stories without much interest or without much Poe are Sharyn McCrumb's "The Mountain House", a work of ghostly NASCAR racing; Kristine Kathryn Rusch's "Flitting Away", a stylistically skilled work that, being simply the description of a crime and its victim's fate, has no interesting or novel ideas at its core, and M. Rickert's "Sleeping with Angels" about a young girl figuring out, retrospectively, what was the probable fate of an abused girl she briefly befriended.

So, fans of Poe get five stories they will probably like for their strong Poe connections and that work as standalone tales and a handful of other stories that probably shouldn't have been included here but are still good. ( )
  RandyStafford | Jan 30, 2012 |
The new anthology by Ellen Datlow, Poe, consists of 19 original stories written for this volume by the likes of Kim Newman, Lucius Shepard, Sharyn McCrumb, Suzy McKee Charnas and Kristine Kathryn Rusch, the only guideline being that the story must be based on a story or poem by Edgar Allan Poe. As with any anthology, there are stories I liked more than others; given Datlow's editorial acumen, however, all of them are written well. There are a few based on such obscure Poe stories or poems that it hardly seemed fair to include them in a general anthology of this nature - unless the reader was a Poe scholar, there'd be no way for her to know the origin of the inspiration! - but fortunately that applies only to a few in this group of tales. I had several favourites, and no doubt any lover of Poe's work will want to read these stories and will find favourites of their own. I still find Datlow's editorial introductions somewhat annoying - she's brisk to the point of offensiveness at times, and always has been - but that's a very minor quibble. Recommended, especially for people who know and love the Old Master's work! ( )
1 vote thefirstalicat | Jan 21, 2010 |
REVIEW SUMMARY: At least five genuinely terrifying stories and only one or two clunkers are contained in this excellent anthology that does true justice to Poe's legacy.

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: 19 original tales inspired by the work of Edgar Allan Poe.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: This anthology of stories inspired by Poe's tales is full of imaginative, moving, frightening stories that, despite the shared theme, never repeat one another except in their high quality.
CONS: The few stories that attempt dark humor fall flat, and stories using more experimental narrative techniques (such as the use of the second person) are less successful than stories using more traditional methods.
BOTTOM LINE: One of the best original anthologies ever edited by Ellen Datlow - a high compliment indeed, given her prowess as an anthologist. Poe would have been proud to know that he inspired such a fine collection of stories.

Please read the rest of my review here: http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/2009/03/review-poe-19-new-tales-of-suspense-dar.... ( )
  TerryWeyna | Mar 17, 2009 |
Of the two great figures of American horror fiction, Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft, Lovecraft is far more frequently imitated. Whether inspired by his cosmicist materialist philosophy, his carefully-honed ornate prose, or (most often, alas) his universe of vastly ancient godlike aliens, other writers have been working in Lovecraft's tradition for decades, almost since Lovecraft himself began writing. For whatever reason, Poe, though equally admired, is less often pastiched. And what literary homage to him does exist is more imaginative, less formulaic, than the endlessly spawning volumes of Cthulhuiana. Such imagination is on display in Ellen Datlow's new anthology Poe, which includes nineteen new stories, inspired by Poe's own works, that celebrate the bicentennial of Poe's birth.

As Datlow observes in her introduction, these stories are not pastiche. Poe serves as a point of departure, not a tracing model. As a result, the anthology offers a range of styles and themes comparable to that in a volume with no theme. Apart from the Poe connection, the only common thread is the high quality of the prose and the elegance of each story's narrative construction. Even entries that lack novelty of plot or theme are distinguished by virtually faultless prose, so that it is impossible to entirely dislike them, they read so easily. Such consistency is a major reason Datlow's anthologies so often find their way onto my reading list.

Fittingly, the two best stories bookend the anthology. First is Kim Newman's "Illimitable Domain." It's an excellent choice to open Poe, not only for its high quality but also for the signal it sends about the collection's openness to innovation. It's difficult to say too much about the plot of Newman's story without giving the game away, so I'll only observe that Newman puts his obviously substantial knowledge of mid-twentieth century Hollywood to good use in crafting this tale of comic horror. The narrator's voice is a perfect imitation of the fast-talking, hard-edged Hollywood guy of popular imagination, and as events work toward their inevitable conclusion, a touch of Poe is seamlessly introduced, to surprising effect. Like all the best comic horror, this story is simultaneously amusing and unsettling.

Melanie Tem's "The Pickers" is a fine example of how a writer can take a familiar Poe work and craft something new. I wouldn't dream of revealing which bit of Poe she begins with, but she surrounds it with a thoroughly modern phenomenon- dumpster picking- to produce a haunting dark fantasy tale about grief and survival.

Datlow notes that she discouraged writers from using Poe as a character in their stories. One can see why: it would be easy to use the author cheaply, especially given the extraordinary mystery surrounding his death. But that mystery is rife with narrative potential, so it's no surprise that Datlow included three selections that riffed on it in different ways. The first, E. Catherine Tobler's "Beyond Porch and Portal," is perhaps the weakest. It offers a take on Poe's imagination that is similar to those offered about many other authors of fantastic fiction in stories written about them. But Tobler's prose suggests the past without being archaic or ostentatious, and the real heart of the story, the female narrator's liberation from a restrictive world into a strange and new one, is brought across in subtle flashes of insight that are more effective than clearer elocution of the theme would be.

In some ways the horror story is a conservative form, one in which delicate execution of a familiar theme or conceit is more difficult than sloppy innovation. Consequently many horror stories are frightening but not all that shocking: the inevitability of the climax is often the point. Stories that manage to thrill and surprise achieve special distinction. Such a story is "The Final Act." Gregory Frost's suspense tale concerns an old high school grudge and an act of final revenge- but whose revenge? Only at the very end is it clear who is the victim and who the villain in this tense piece.

In "Strappado," Laird Barron offers a trip through an avant-garde art installation, but is this aesthetic experience worth its price? Barron's forte is bringing unusual characters and images into traditional horror scenarios, and he does so effectively: industrial detritus and 21st-century decadence are as evocative as their classical counterparts. Yet the story never quite attains combustion: one reaches the center and finds nothing there. This may well be the point, but if so it is at odds with the story's potential narrative power.

Excessive straightforwardness plagues the next story, "The Mountain House" by Sharyn McCrumb. I've said that familiarity is inevitable in horror fiction, but there can be too much of a good thing, and it's all too easy to guess from the first couple pages exactly where "The Mountain House" is going and why it's going there. Still, the prose has the quiet grace that gentle ghost stories reserve, and its evocation of milieu is powerful given its brief duration.

Glen Hirshberg, for my money the greatest current writer of ghost stories, specializes (like many ghost story writers) in fictions about the pain and power of memory. "The Pikesville Buffalo," while not ranking among his greatest work, offers an affectionate portrait of two elderly Jewish aunts, who have an unconventional and strangely poignant answer to the protagonist's question, "How do you survive the love you outlive?"

Barbara Roden's "The Brink of Eternity" combines elements of several Poe works with real and invented history so delightfully, and manages its three narrative strands so elegantly, it doesn't matter that the story has only the most rudimentary plot and theme. It's a mood piece, but a fairly strong one. Something similar could be said of "The Red Piano" by Delia Sherman, which reverses a particular trope of Poe but is otherwise a standard tale of psychic vampirism. It comes closer to echoing Poe's style than most other entries, but has a readability that his work often lacked; despite its modern setting, there's a pleasing period feel to the proceedings.

M. Rickert always bring something new and wonderful to her short stories, and "Sleeping with Angels" is no exception. It deals with a friendship between two teenage girls, one of them abused, but with a dark twist few writers could envision. As often, the genre elements in Rickert's story are only as prominent as they need to be to add a tinge of the unnatural to the powerful emotions of real life.

In "Shadow," Steve Rasnic Tem offers a portrait of generational paranoia. An old videotape offers insight into the frenzied last days of a relative who once lived in the house where the protagonist now dwells, but the protagonist has her own brand of insanity to face. Though somewhat insubstantial, the story makes good use of the way in which the ordinary can become dangerous and strange in the eyes of a paranoid (or a horror writer).

Pat Cadigan's "Truth and Bone" features a family whose members develop peculiar talents when they reach a certain age. The narrator discovers that she knows exactly how everyone she meets will die-- and tries to prevent an imminent tragedy, with results that will be obvious to anyone who's ever read a story about trying to change the future. Where the story shines is its portrayal of this unconventional but all too human family and the ways in which it copes (and sometimes doesn't cope) with its members' skills.

As anyone who has sat through the dogged explanations that drag down the last third of The Ring can tell you, horror sometimes works better without explanations. Nicholas Royle's "The Reunion," by declining to explain the mysterious...echoes that strike a man at his wife's medical school reunion, brings across the protagonist's bewilderment and sense of the uncanny. As in a dream, the answers seem forever within sight but just out of reach in this quietly creepy story.

In "The Tell," Kaaron Warren offers the anthology's middle variation on Poe's final days. Yet this story isn't exactly about Poe, but about his legacy of nightmares and the different ways it might be passed on by artists of other sorts. This is another story that lacks straightforwardness and easy narrative flow and is all the better for it. I'm not sure I quite understand it yet, but I know it works.

"The Heaven and Hell of Robert Flud" is Poe re-envisioned, by David Prill, in the American Gothic mode, complete with decayed and eeriely silent farmhouse. It's difficult to explain this tale's grim appeal without giving away which Poe inspired it and how, so I'll say only that a traveling salesman finds his way to that rundown farm, with just the kind of outcome you're already hoping for.

"Flitting Away" is Kristine Kathryn Rusch's story of a woman who struggles to survive and unlock the secret of a brutal assault. The secret turns out to be quite intentionally uninteresting; I take Rusch's real-life point here but am not sure that it serves the story as well as it might. Still, the portrayal of psychological disconnect due to shock and trauma is at once beautiful and sad, with an authentic stream-of-consciousness air.

Lucius Shepard's "Kirikh'quru Krokundor" presents the reader with characters and a milieu that retain the feel of Poe despite being utterly unlike anything he would have written. An expedition to a South American settlement once occupied by a splinter religious sect may be the narrator's best chance to resolve an old conflict with an ex-girlfriend, but the atmosphere at the settlement may bring about a kind of resolution he never expected. Their complicated past and uncertain future add a frisson of character to the supernatural events of this satisfying novelette.

At first "Lowland Sea" seems to be a capable and thoughtful but hollow update of a certain famous Poe story, but as the conclusion nears it becomes clear just how Suzy McKee Charnas has improved upon Poe's construction, with a development that should perhaps have been obvious to this reader but wasn't. The final image of this one is a killer.

My own favorite story in Poe is the final offering, "Technicolor" by John Langan. What begins as a rather conceited literature professor's ponderous lecture about the meaning of "The Masque of the Red Death" develops into a spine-tingling meditation on the power of the imagination, with a side-trip into a third account of Poe's final days. Further plot summary would only dull this story's effect. The contrast between the narrator's banal self-regard and the chilling reality he reveals is perhaps "Technicolor"s strongest feature.

It might seem appropriate to end this review on a summarizing note, trying to unify the anthology's stories in some way, but I'm not sure any such unity could be created that wouldn't be facile. Nor is one necessary: the joy of a theme anthology is in the variety of approaches the writers bring to it. The stories in Poe emphasize the timelessness of Poe's concerns and the breadth of his appeal by taking his work in nineteen different directions; all they have in common is that each represents writing of the highest caliber. ( )
  brendanmoody | Dec 24, 2008 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Datlow, EllenEditorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Barron, LairdContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Cadigan, PatContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Charnas, Suzy McKeeContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Datlow, EllenIntroductionsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Frost, GregoryContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hirshberg, GlenContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Langan, ElizabethContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
McCrumb, SharynContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Newman, KimContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Prill, DavidContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Rickert, M.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Roden, BarbaraContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Royle, NicholasContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Rusch, Kristine KathrynContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Shepard, LuciusContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Sherman, DeliaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Tem, MelanieContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Tem, Steve RasnicContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Tobler, E. CatherineContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Warren, KaaronContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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Okay, you could say it was my fault. I'm the one. Me, Walter Paisley, agent to stars without stars on Hollywood Boulevard.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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To coincide with the 200th anniversary of the birth of Edgar Allan Poe, this anthology celebrates the depth and diversity of one of the most important figures in literature.

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