Heavy Weather: Tempestuous Tales of Stranger Climes, edited by Kevan Manwaring, was sent to me free of charge, several weeks ago, by the British Library publishing people, to read and review.
This book has 15 stories in all, very varied, from exerts of longer books, to classic wierd stories, to stories that aren't all that weird at all but describe some very odd or dangerous weather phenomena. I'll do a brief run-down of each story.
1. History of a Six Weeks' Tour (extract) by Mary Shelley. This is a non-fiction extract of the author's trip to Lake Geneva with Percey Shelley and Lord Byron. She was Mary Godwin then as Shelley and her were yet not married. The weather was foul, they could not go out, so she wrote Frankenstein's Monster. As you do. And the reason the weather was so awful was because of the eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia in 1815. Funny the effects volcanoes can have on civilisation...
2. The Lightening Rod Man by Herman Melville. This is a comic story about a strange man knocking on the door in the middle of a bad thunder storm and trying to sell the occupant a lightening rod. Didn't do much for me I'm afraid.
3. A Descent into the Maelstrom by Edgar Allan Poe. I'd read this one before. It's a wonderfully descriptive story of a fishing boat caught in a massive whirlpool off the coast of Norway.
4. The Great Snow by Richard Jeffries. This one concerns the breakdown of society after an apocolyptic snow event.
5. The Horror-Horn by E.F. Benson. This is the first story in the collection that I marked as 'excellent' and it's a strange yarn of a yeti-like people who live in the high Alps and prey on unwary climbers. Wonderfully creepy and unsettling. Benson is one of my all-time favourite authors of weird fiction and ghost stories but is best known for his Mapp and Lucia stories of course.
6. May Day Eve by Algernon Blackwood. This is a typical Blackwood story concerning the natural world. He's most famous for his Canadian forest stories but this one is set off the coast of Sussex (I think) and involves an individual lost in the dark on May Day Eve. Would appeal to those interested in the concept of Faery. Good story.
7. August Heat by W.F. Harvey. Another good story. It's incredibly hot and an artist draws a picture of a very corpulent man that he has never met, the image just comes into his head. He goes for a walk and sees this very person. He's a stone-mason and he's in the middle of carving a headstone for a man 'he's' never met... Well written and nicely spooky.
8. A Mild Attack of Locusts by Doris Lessing. A hugely effective non-supernatural story about a plague of locusts descending on farmers in Africa. I think this is probably more frightening than any supernatural story as it actually happens and the consequences are, obviously, devastating. Beautiful writing as you might expect from Lessing.
9. Through the Vortex of the Cyclone by William Hope Hodgson. Another non-supernatural one. This was an excellent depiction of a ship sailing through a cyclone. I wouldn't have thought any ship could survive such a thing to be honest but it was a superb story, reminding me of the Aubrey/Maturin seagoing series by Patrick O'Brian that I've just begun to read and love so much.
10. The Wind Gnome by James Lie. This one was based on a Norwegian Folk tale. Interesting but not really my thing.
11. Summer Snow Storm by Adam Chase. This was a clever and amusing story about a weather forecaster who appears to be able to make his predictions come true but has no idea how he does it. It all starts when he predicts a snowstorm in July...
12. The Boy Who Predicted Earthquakes by Margaret St. Clair. Another favourite. It concerns a 15 year old boy in America who can predict the future.... catastrophes, that kind of thing. Not saying any more about this but it was beautifully written, lulling you into a false sense of security and then... Oh.
13. Monsoon of Death by Gerald Vance. A US army (space-cadet? not sure) meteorologist gets his first assignment on Mars. He's disappointed as it's a dull assignment with an older scientist but when he gets there he realises something isn't right. Good sci-fi yarn.
14. The Purple Cloud by M.P. Shiel. This is an extract from the author's 1901 apocalyptic novel of the same name. The narrator is part of an expedition to The Arctic trying to be the first to reach The North Pole. He goes off on his own to be the first to get there, sees a weird cloud on the horizon, there's a toxic smell which makes him very ill and kills all the local wildlife and... well I'm not going to say any more but I reckon the novel itself might be worth reading.
15. The Birds by Daphne Du Maurier. So how famous is this story? I'd read it before, seen the 1963 Hitchcock film starting Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor and completely forgotten how different the two are. Wiki says the film is 'loosely' based on the short story. You're telling me! The 'story' is set in Cornwall (as opposed to California), at least I'm assuming so given the mention of pasties and wonderful cliff scenery. And it's not about a couple, it's about an ordinary family, who live near an isolated farm, trying to protect themselves from attack by massive flocks of birds. It's a wonderfully written, frightening story. I wasn't going to read it again but am so glad I did.
What I love about these British Library 'weird fiction' anthologies is the variety to be found within their covers. So you get the likes of Doris Lessing and Daphne Du Maurier rubbing shoulders with Mary Shelley and Edgar Allan Poe. There's comedy, there're apocalyptic predictions, there're fairies, murderous birds, sea voyages, mountains... weather-men. I liked the fact that not every contribution was 'weird' weird but more 'astonishing' weird, such as the whirlpool story by Poe and the cyclone one by Hodgson. All life is here within the pages of these anthologies and I love it. The contents could so easily be a roll-out of all the usual suspects and they're not, a lot of thought has clearly gone into the choices and I think that's commendable. I'm delighted to have a couple more to read and a nice handful of the British Library's science-fiction collections too. Long may they continue to produce these excellent anthologies.