Robert Aickman, thoughts?

Discussion in 'Horror' started by Fried Egg, Nov 16, 2010.

  1.  
    Fried Egg

    Fried Egg Active Member

    Joined:
    Nov 20, 2006
    Messages:
    3,076
    I didn't see any existing threads on this author and I wanted to learn more about him and his works as, from what little I've heard, he sounds really good.

    I'm a bit confused by the wiki article on him as it lists some reprint collections ("The Wine-Dark Sea" and "The Unsettled Dust"), which are currently available, but it's not obvious which of the original collections they are a reprint of? :confused: Unless they compile stories from various collections?

    Along with the above two collections, "Cold Hand in Mine" is also available. Are these good places to start with Aickman (not that we have much choice)? And am I pretty safe in picking up pretty much anything by him that I happen to stumble upon second hand?
  2.  
    j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

    Joined:
    May 9, 2006
    Messages:
    13,612
    First, to help you on deciphering which stories belong to which collections:

    The Haunted Bibliophile- Works of Robert Aickman

    Second: Discussing Aickman is often something of a risk, as people either find him fascinating, or can't stand him. Either way, I think you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who would argue with the idea that he is (to put it mildly) a challenging writer. You've read some of Ramsey Campbell's work, as well as that of Oliver Onions, and you seem to appreciate both, while also noting their sometimes extreme use of ambiguity. Aickman falls into that category, only sometimes more so than Campbell. ("The Trains", for instance.) On the other hand, at times he exchews such an extreme approach, and delivers something which is yet fresh and a stunning piece of work ("Pages from a Young Girl's Journal").

    And, in answer to your question... given that The Wine Dark Sea takes stories from several other collections, as do one or two others, any of the three you list would be a good place to start. You might also keep an eye out for the Fontana Books of Great Ghost Stories he edited (he didn't edit all of the series), as he has some very interesting things to say on the art of the ghostly tale.
  3.  
    Fried Egg

    Fried Egg Active Member

    Joined:
    Nov 20, 2006
    Messages:
    3,076
    Thanks for the info J.D., you've been most helpful (once again).

    I definitely think he sounds like an author I would like, it's just a matter of working out where to start. And I think the answer is: on what ever I can get my hands on. :D
  4.  
    blacknorth

    blacknorth Stuck Inside a Cloud

    Joined:
    Jun 14, 2009
    Messages:
    584
    Strange, I came across this little volume in a second-hand bookstore yesterday - it's the only Aickman I've ever found. Had a quick look through it and the stories look to be excellent, very engaging. My Crimbo reading. :)


    [​IMG]
  5.  
    Fried Egg

    Fried Egg Active Member

    Joined:
    Nov 20, 2006
    Messages:
    3,076
    Lucky you! :p
  6.  
    blacknorth

    blacknorth Stuck Inside a Cloud

    Joined:
    Jun 14, 2009
    Messages:
    584
    I read quite a few of these stories during the week. JD is correct - startling use of ambiguity combined with very emphatic post-war presentiments. My Poor Friend and A Roman Question are possibly two of the best short stories I've ever read, the former, to my mind, a very inventive 'casting out' of Parliament, the latter a familial best not found story.

    Alas, most of his books are out of print and therefore very expensive to buy. I really want that 'We are for the Dark' volume - title alone makes it worth a small fortune to my twisted psyche.
  7.  
    Fried Egg

    Fried Egg Active Member

    Joined:
    Nov 20, 2006
    Messages:
    3,076
    I'm this close to ordering one of his collections. I'm just delaying whilst deciding which one to get (and hoping that somebody might buy me one for christmas!)
  8.  
    j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

    Joined:
    May 9, 2006
    Messages:
    13,612
    Yes, I hadn't even known of the existence of that volume for a surprisingly long time, and I'd never come across a copy of it. Then, about ten years ago, while I was working at a bookstore, one of the partners presented me with several of Aickman's collections -- the originals I had of some of them had disappeared following my divorce -- and one of them he gave me was the paperback of We Are For the Dark. (He also, incidentally, gave me a copy of the 2-volume Dover facsimile edition of Varney, the Vampyre. Now, there's a contrast for you....)
  9.  
    blacknorth

    blacknorth Stuck Inside a Cloud

    Joined:
    Jun 14, 2009
    Messages:
    584
    You must get on with your colleagues, JD - I've had plenty of darkness gifted me by employers over the years, unfortunately mostly of the mind-games kind.

    I've been picking up the various volumes of Fontana Ghost Stories, to get the Aickman material really - anything else of value in them is a bonus as the quality is variable to say the least. Some aren't even ghost stories, simply weird stories which don't work (ghost of a story ;))
  10.  
    dask

    dask dark and stormy knight

    Joined:
    Nov 1, 2008
    Messages:
    2,345
    Here's my only Aickman.
    [​IMG]
  11.  
    nomadman

    nomadman Sophomoric Mystic

    Joined:
    Sep 8, 2007
    Messages:
    464
    Fried Egg:

    Faber Finds recently released a three volume collection of his short stories: The Wine Dark Sea, Cold Hand in Mine and The Unsettled Dust. It doesn't collect all his short stories; Ringing the Changes is rather conspicuous by its absence, given that it's one of his most famous and oft-anthologized tales, but it's a very good sampling of his best work. I've read perhaps half the stories collected in these three volumes to date, with varying reactions. None of the pieces are entirely straight forward, and more than a few baffled me, though a surprising number of the stories possessed a satisfying feel to them which didn't leave me at all frustrated; perhaps because they worked primarily on my subconscious, even as my conscious mind struggled to make conscious sense of the events portrayed. I'm not entirely sure.

    Of favorites, The Swords is one, a seedy tale of adolescence and first love, set against a grimy industrial background of Midlands Britain, replete with carnivals, snakemen and two-bit whorehouses. The Houses of the Russians was another favorite, a ghost tale set in Finland, a large part of which is taken up by a very eerie and atmospheric jaunt which the main character takes upon his arrival in the small Finnish village which is his destination. The Hospice I enjoyed for its incredibly stifling nightmarish feel, whilst Into the Wood was memorable simply for its extreme subtlety and atmosphere of dreamy unreality.

    If you're hovering on the fence of whether to buy an Aickman collection or not I'd say this: if you're a fan of Gene Wolfe, if you enjoy the more elliptical short stories of Ramsay Campbell or don't mind a tale which is never entirely straightforward, or even offers the possibility of ever being straightforward, then give him a try. At the very least, you'll be treated to a first-rate prose stylist.

    EDIT: I see you've already ordered Cold Hand in Mine, a very good collection which I hope you'll enjoy as much as I have. It certainly possesses a number of his best stories.
  12.  
    Fried Egg

    Fried Egg Active Member

    Joined:
    Nov 20, 2006
    Messages:
    3,076
    Yes, I have a collection of his on order...I'll see how it fares. The subtle and confusing aspect of certain stories I can often enjoy despite not always understanding them because I enjoy the feel and atmosphere. At least that's what I have often found in Campbell and others. I will be more than happy to enjoy the same experience with Aickman. I'll report back when I've had a chance to read some of his works...
  13.  
    Fried Egg

    Fried Egg Active Member

    Joined:
    Nov 20, 2006
    Messages:
    3,076
    Well, my copy of "Cold Hand in Mine" has arrived. Not too impressed with the cover (compared to some of the others previously used) but hey, beggars can't be choosers.

    [​IMG]
  14.  
    Fried Egg

    Fried Egg Active Member

    Joined:
    Nov 20, 2006
    Messages:
    3,076
    I notice there are two published novels by Aickman: "The Model" & "The Late Breakfasters".

    Are these any good?
  15.  
    jonathan122

    jonathan122 New Member

    Joined:
    Oct 13, 2010
    Messages:
    3
    "The Late Breakfasters" is fantastic, but very hard to get, except through libraries. "The Model" is much easier to find, but isn't really up to much (in my opinion).
  16.  
    blacknorth

    blacknorth Stuck Inside a Cloud

    Joined:
    Jun 14, 2009
    Messages:
    584
    The Swords is indeed an astonishing story, sort of 'fright of passage' if you'll forgive the terrible pun. It's a cruel one to send, though it brings back some things.

    There's no Aickman story in the Fourth Fontana Book of Ghost Stories. In his introduction to the Fifth, Aickman explains this is because he had a letter from a reader challenging him over placing a piece of his own among a compilation of so many greats; so he declined to include a story of his own in the next volume. As Aickman's stories now stand head and shoulders above most of those 'greats', I find the affair rather pleasing and ironic. Thankfully he was reinstated due to the complaining letters of many more discerning readers who missed their Aickman fix - he rewarded them with The Swords next time round.

    Splendid fellow.
  17.  
    Fried Egg

    Fried Egg Active Member

    Joined:
    Nov 20, 2006
    Messages:
    3,076
    I'm half way through a story called "The Hospice" and so far it's blowing me away, absolutely amazing. A quintessentially weird story and I just don't know where it's going. Unfortuantely, I had to tear myself away midway through the story and I just hope that the ending lives up to the promise of it's beginning...
  18.  
    Fried Egg

    Fried Egg Active Member

    Joined:
    Nov 20, 2006
    Messages:
    3,076
    And yes indeed the story did live up to it's initial promise. After initially being slightly disappointed by it's abrubt and ambiguous conclusion, I have come to think that it is better that way. It never gets explicitly spelled out exactly what was going on in the hospice and is left to one's own imagination to put the clues together...
  19.  
    nomadman

    nomadman Sophomoric Mystic

    Joined:
    Sep 8, 2007
    Messages:
    464
    I've often noticed that a lot of Aickman's stories' full effects don't really make themselves manifest until some time after the close of the story. Certain connections will click into place, or one might simply find elements from his stories floating naturally into one's mind days, weeks, sometimes months later. This happens with other writers of course, but I find it especially so with Aickman whose stories so often fail to make perfect logical sense at the time of reading yet give the impression of making sense, that I guess they compel my subconscious mind to continue to work on them even as my conscious mind has moved on.
  20.  
    j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

    Joined:
    May 9, 2006
    Messages:
    13,612
    I think that's a good summation. In every sense of the word, they are (as Aickman himself tended to call them) "strange stories"; they elude categorization beyond that (and possibly "disturbing"). He was one of the very few masters of this quite difficult technique, which makes reading his tales a nearly unique experience....

Share This Page