Monday, 27 June 2022

Dangerous Dimensions ed. by Henry Bartholomew

From time to time the British Library send me these wonderful collections of weird short stories for review and I feel so grateful as they're always enjoyable and fun and I get such a thrill when a new one arrives. This one is Dangerous Dimensions: Mind Bending Tales of the Mathematical Weird edited by Henry Bartholomew.


This is a collection of 12 stories written by 11 different authors. From the blurb on the cover:

'... early weird fiction probes the very boundaries of reality - the laws and limits of time, space and matter. 

Now I don't claim to understand this sort of thing, I suppose it's the territory of physicists and mathematicians and those in possession of far more brain cells than me. So this collection was a bit of a challenge for me in places but hey-ho, I'm nothing if not a Game Old Bird.

So these are the stories in this anthology:

1. The Plattner Story - H.G. Wells. I do love a good Wells short story and this one tells of a man whose organs are on the opposite side of his body to that which they should be. He wasn't born like that so how did that happen? Beautifully written as you would expect and reminds me that I really must get around to a reread of The War of the Worlds.

2. The Hall Bedroom - Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman. A woman in reduced circumstances takes in boarders in order to make a living. She puts one of them in the hall bedroom and what happens when he wakes in the middle of the night and finds his room is much bigger than it should be is the basis of this story. Good one. I've got a whole volume of this author's work from the British Library publishers and look forward to reading it.

3. Space -  John Buchan. Not an author one normally associates with weird fiction but this story that asks the question, 'What if the space all around us is full of things we cannot see'? illustrates that no matter which genre an author generally belongs to he or she is usually quite capable of writing something else entirely. This was quite creepy and really rather good. 

4. A Victim of Higher Space - Algernon Blackwood. This is a John Silence story, Blackwood's psychic detective, and recounts the story of a man trapped in the 4th. dimension and how Silence tries to save him.

5. The Pikestaffe Case - Algernon Blackwood. Miss Speke, an ex-governess, takes in lodgers. One of the men she takes in is a higher mathematician and she thinks he will fit nicely with the clergyman and bank official she already has staying. (We all can guess where this is going.) Said mathematician takes a dislike to a full length mirror in the room, constantly turning it to the wall. He orders all kinds of books and large amounts of supplies but when she checks his room Miss Speke can find no sign of them. Slowly the new lodger starts to fill her with dread... This was one of my favourite stories in the book. Blackwood is so good at creating menacing atmospheres and I've long been a big fan of his writing.

6. The Hounds of Tindalos - Frank Belknap Long. This is apparently one of the first Cthulhu Mythos stories 'not' written by H.P. Lovecraft and tells of a mystic/ascetic type who takes a new drug that he thinks will take him back in time. But how far?

7. The Trap - H.P. Lovecraft and Henry Whitehead. This is another 'old mirror' story (who doesn't love one of those?) A teacher in a boy's school has one and an inquisitive boy touches it with his finger and the finger is pulled in and disappears. Naturally, said boy can't resist coming back on the quiet... Very good yarn.

8. The Living Equation - Nat Schachner. A (mad) scientist builds a machine intended to create new mathematical equations. Naturally a burglar breaks in and inadvertantly sets it off. I liked the idea of this one but found it a bit over complicated to read.

9. Infinity Zero - Donald Wandrei. This 'end of the world' type story has a world war raging. A chemical lab is hit by an unusual bomb which I've noticed is never a Good Thing. Scary premise, well written and thought provoking. Make that 'very' scary...

10. The Library of Babel - Jorge Luis Borges. I think this was about a library and its potential for weirdness but it lost me a page or two in. I wrote, 'No clue' in my notebook, so make of that what you will.

11.  And He Built a Crooked House - Robert Heinlein. How can I be a sci-fi and have to admit that I've read very little by one of the most famous writers in the genre. And what a mistake that is as this was an excellent yarn about an architect who builds a house for someone with more money than sense. The architect builds it as an exploration of 'Hinton's tesseract'. (Don't assume I know what that is.) So er... 'things happen' when Hubby and the overbearing wife (loved her) go to view what's been built for them. Really great story this one.

12. Slips Take Over - Miriam Allen deFord. Chap walks into a bar for a drink and someone in the bar tells him that he can see that he's just inadvertantly slipped over from another dimension. This is news to the first chap who begs to differ but is he right? The idea behind this creeped me right out and this was another favourite in the collection. 

So the stories in this collection were  originally published between 1896 and 1964. Every single one of them was superbly and intelligently written - OK, sometimes 'too' intelligently - and I do often wonder whether sometimes I love the style of writing as much, if not more, than the tale being recounted. I love immersing myself in a story whose language sucks me in and allows me to wallow in the author's brilliant way with words. Because, to be honest, this is a solid anthology rather than an excellent one. 'But' every story is worth a read (OK, I'm not so sure about The Library of Babel) and some of them were just terrific.

I have quite a few more of these weird story anthologies to read and review including a Christmas one and a Cornish one. This make me very happy. 


21 comments:

Lark said...

"Mind Bending Tales of the Mathematical Weird"...sounds so fun! I'd read the Heinlein one first because he was a favorite author of mine growing up. :)

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

The title alone:"Mind Bending Tales of the Mathematical Weird" makes me super curious. Like you sometimes I feel like my brain cells are ever so slightly deteriorating LOL

Judith said...

Like you, Cath, I'm very interested in the Cornish and Christmas anthologies. Will look forward to hearing about those.
And I loved browsing through the stories you've described on this one.
Yes, Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land, one of the must reads of the mid-late 1960s. I don't remember much about it, but I loved it. I also read Dune in that period (not Heinlein's). And a couple of other high-profile sci-fi wonders. After 1973, I shifted away from the genre, more into women's (feminist) fiction of the 1970s.
This does sound like a fascinating collection. Thanks for writing about it!

Margot Kinberg said...

Oh, these all sound interesting, Cath! And I do like the work of Heinlein, Well, Lovecraft, and Borgs. The collection interests me just on that score. There's something, too, to those somewhat (or even very!) unusual stories. Sometimes those stories that push the boundaries a bit can be really effective.

Cath said...

Lark: Yes, my eldest daughter read 'heaps' of Heinlein when she was a teen and loved his work. I can only think that my library didn't have his books when I was that age.

Cath said...

Diane: I 'know' mine are and yet I still feel more knowledgable now than I ever have been. Or maybe more 'aware'. Reading too many strange books lately...

Cath said...

Judith: I'll be reading the Christmas anthology in December I expect. And will slot others in as and when. I want to read some more BLCC vintage crime books as well. Those will make good autumn reading.

Yes, I read Dune as well and a lot of Damon Knight, A.E. Van Vogt, Ann McCaffrey and so on. Then, like you, I shifted genres a bit and read a lot of historical fiction and non-fiction about The Holocaust. After that I moved on to Victorian and Edwardian ghost fiction. Odd where the fancy take you sometimes. I didn't really come to serious crime fiction reading until about 10 years ago. Now of course I pretty much read anything that takes my fancy.

Cath said...

Margot: I've always been into Wells, read a lot of his books as a teenager. Lovecraft I didn't discover until I was in my 50s I think so I promptly read all of his stories back to back. And also those Mythos books written by Brian Lumley which are really superb. I've always liked very unusual stories that push the boundaries and make me think outside the box. I don't however like modern horror very much, seems to have no subtlety whatsoever.

TracyK said...

This is your kind of stories more than mine, although if the British Library sent me copies, I would read them for sure. And the authors sound very interesting. I will point this one out to Glen, as his taste runs to this kind of story.

Cath said...

Tracy: I think a taste for these kinds of stories is slightly unusual, not what most people would pick up. If I wasn't sent them I probably would not buy all of them, only the ones that interest me the most like the Cornish one. Some of them have surprised me and been more interesting than I expected, which is nice.

Yvonne @ Fiction Books Reviews said...

Like Tracey and probably yourself from what you write, if I was sent a complimentary copy of this book, I would no doubt be too intrigued not to read it. However there is nothing about it that would ever entice me to purchase it from the shelf of a bookshop, although that strong cover might well momentarily catch my eye.

I suspect that I too, would probably be quite surprised at how interesting some of the stories are, as I have been by the one or two similar anthologies I have read in the past, however my TBR lists are already never-ending, so to add a book just for one or two short stories which I might enjoy, just isn't going to happen! :)

Sam Sattler said...

What an unusual collection of short stories this seems to be. I have to admit that the "math" idea kind of put me off for a moment before I read your story summaries, but now I'm wishing it was available here. I'm going to have to find some of those stories from other sources because a few of them are exactly the kind of thing I enjoy in a good short story.

TracyK said...

Cath, I meant to comment on the subtitle of this book, with the allusion to the Mathematical Weird. My major in college was in mathematics, and at the University of Alabama, when I was there, if you majored in math, it was theoretical mathematics, of all things. So I should enjoy this sort of thing, but really I never had made much use of mathematics (or enjoyed it), I was just good at it. Makes me more curious about the book though.

Cath said...

Yvonne: No, I would not really recommend these kinds of short stories to you. There might be one or two you would like, possibly the ones by women, but really I don't think this book is your kind of thing. There are so many other books you would love more on your tbr pile I'm sure and at our age we have to be picky.

Cath said...

Sam: Some of the stories are quite mathematical but only a couple get really complicated. The rest, if I can understand them, anyone can. I think if you look on the net you will find some of them for free because of their age.

Cath said...

Tracy: How interesting that you majored in maths in college. I did like Maths at school, in fact it was one of my favourite subjects so perhaps I am slightly predisposed to like a collection of maths and physics themed sories.

Vallypee said...

What an intriguing collection, Cath. I'm surprised to see John Buchan amongst them, but that's because I associate him with very different stories. It's probably not a collection for me, though, as I am not at all maths or physics inclined. I wasn't good at maths (that's an understatement) and never did any physics at all!

Sara said...

I just added this now to my TBR!
New follower, here! I love your blog, we definitely share a lot of similar bookish interests!

Cath said...

Val: I was very surprised to see John Buchan's name there too. This story is so unlike Thirty Nine Steps and so on. I wasn't bad at maths but really terrible at physics.

Cath said...

Sara: Hello, nice to meet you and thanks for following me. I'll check out your blog in a moment.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I never enjoyed short stories until the last several years and now I want more collections. Glad you had a nice visit with Constance and what better way to spend time than at some bookstores. You got some goodies.