After revisiting Chappell's masterpiece I Am One Of You Forever recently, I wanted to get into some of the unread books of his I've had on the shelf for years (a decade?) after picking them up used. I'm very glad I started with this collection of short stories. All of them least good, though there were a few that didn't really work quite as well for me as the others, and there were a few stunners. The first few were detailed stories about real historical figures that were true to their lives (as well as I could tell by a quick google), but filled in the edges of the story with the fantastic and horror. These were a huge change in voice from I Am One Of You Forever, but it only took a few pages for me to adjust. They were a pleasure to read. Then it transitions to fiction that is not tied to that history, including several stories that were in that tall tale mode that I loved so much.
Some of these, especially The Snow That Is Nothing In The Triangle, Adder, and Mankind Travels Through A Forest of Symbols are up there with the Elizabeth Hand, China Mieville, and Peter Beagle stories I read last year. Some of the best I've read for the first time in years.
Linnaeus Forgets- In this story, the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus, who is credited with formalizing the binomial nomenclature, and receives a mysterious plant. Something incredible happens that I won't spoil, but this really set the tone for the first half of the collection and was a wonderful story
Highly Recommended/Canon Worthy
Ladies From Lapland- This is one of the ones that didn't quite work for me. It concerns the French mathematician and explorer Pierre Louis Moreau de Maupertuis, who set out for the North Pole to try to prove the world was not perfectly round. On the journey though, he was useless for the scientific purpose of the journey because of his dalliances with the ladies from the title. This seems to be based at least in part on Voltaire's real life criticism of Maurpertuis, and he really doesn't come across well in the story. It's probably the least fantastical story in the bunch. It's incredibly well researched and written, it just wasn't as much to my taste.
The Snow That Is Nothing in the Triangle- Based on the real life of mathematician Karl Wilhelm Feurbach, brother of the theological philosopher and discoverer of a theorem about circles and triangles that is named after him. He was mentally ill, and Chappell does a wonderful job weaving details from his life into a truly horrifying and beautiful story. The best of the historically based stories in the book. One of those where there could be supernatural horror, or it could be that mental illness wins sometimes. A profound reading experience.
Barcarole- This is about the composer Offenbach and a melody that haunted him his whole life, and how he met a dying doppelganger of himself. This one skirted the line of being to cutesy, but there were little details that made it work.
Weird Tales- The lives of HP Lovecraft and Hart Crane converge in a Lovecraftian tale that is very smart about both their bodies of work. If you like poetry and mythos tales, this is near perfect.
The Somewhere Doors- This is a science fiction/fantasy story about a science fiction author who struggles to fit the mold of a pulp writer. A writer coming to terms with his destiny doesn't always work, but it does here.
The Adder- This was one of my favorites from the collection. A pair of southern booksellers, and uncle and nephew discover an original copy of the Necronomicon. It's also about the poetry of Milton, and this works way better than that description would indicate. So funny!
Ember- One of two stories that have the theme of men's brutality to women, and the more effective one, at least to my taste. An Appalachian revenge tale of sorts from the perspective of the one upon whom vengeance is wreaked.
Duet- A country star tells a story of grief that explains the power of his singing.
Miss Prue- A recent ghost pays a visit to the woman he courted during his life.
Mankind Journeys Through Forests of Symbols- Another tall tale that is maybe my favorite in the collection, with the possible exceptions of The Adder and The Snow That is Nothing in the Triangle. The story opens with a miles long tangible dream blocking a highway. A rural sheriff has to deal with the situation, and it gets wilder from there. Hilarious.
Alma- Another story that didn't work quite as well for me, though it is very well written. It's a parable of sorts set in a dystopian future or past that talks about how men subjugate women while not understanding them at all. I see what he was getting at, but it didn't quite land as well as most of the others for me.
After Revelation- A dystopian tale that I will have to read again, as I don't think I quite got it fully on first pass. Interesting story and good writing, though.
Overall Collection: Highly Recommended.
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