ECHOES edited by Ellen Datlow




Previous reviews of Ellen Datlow books:

Stories by Paul Tremblay, Vincent J. Masterson, Lee Thomas, Alison Littlewood, Pat Cadigan, Richard Kadrey, M.L. Siemienowicz, Seanan McGuire, Joyce Carol Oates, Ford Maddox Ford, Indrapramit Das, Richard Bowes, Gemma Files, Nick Mamatas, Terry Dowling, F. Marion Crawford, Aliette de Bodard, Dale Bailey, M. Rickert, Stephen Graham Jones, Alice Hoffman, Bracken MacLeod, Garth Nix, Nathan Ballingrud, Brian Evenson, Jeffrey Ford, Siobhan Carroll, A.C. Wise, Carole Johnstone, John Langan.

When I read this book, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…

20 thoughts on “ECHOES edited by Ellen Datlow

    by Paul Tremblay

    “(She said ‘both at the same time’ twice).”

    This is the big FRISSON for me. One of those ghost stories you read rarely that SCARE you, as well as haunt, intrigue, puzzle or inspire you with things beyond. A story of memory, randomly brought back into his life with a childish drawing that we even see for ourselves, as the socially timid narrator is reminded of a boyhood event, during pubescent awakening, when a girl he fancies and her little sister replace a sign with another sign, tempted towards a haunted house trip with a “menagerie” (or gestalt?) of ghost stories told by the older girl about their old apartmented house. It is brilliantly staged for us readers as well as for the narrator thirty years after the event. A ghost story classic, no mistake.
    (As an aside, I spotted BLACK in two different contexts in this story, as a person’s name and as a baseball team, but now neither at the same time twice.)

    My previous reviews of this author:

  2. And from the above Proustian memory of a childhood drawing to…

    LINGER LONGER by Vincent J. Masterson

    (sic) “Sometimes I feel like my memories aren’t mine, 7.” (/sic)

    “, memories swimming up from the blackout void…”

    A truly haunting account, from the point of view of Lori or Lorelei, of a 2 x 2 holiday at a cabin, and of the gaslighting to which, accretively, she suffers from the other couple and her own husband.
    A strong sense (perhaps uniquely experienced by reading this story) of otherness, of self-ghosting, in the “difficulties” she suffers, by having to grade her reactions to psychiatric questions. On the scale of 1 to 10.
    Including, arguably, a memory of scalding herself with pasta water after she sees her husband explicitly “grading”, too, by his marking papers….with these words as well as numbers? But (sic) pasta (/sic) = the past as the ‘water of life’? The play of such words.

    “She felt like a stage actor, recovering from a badly muffed line, trying now to repair the play by pretending it’s not a play.”

  3. WHIMPER BEG by Lee Thomas

    “The word ‘difficulties’ persisted, clicking around in his head.”

    That same word I quoted above yesterday. Here the clicks are paw claws of runts? This story is very well written, but ultimately its effect is diminished by shrinking into its own manipulated runt of a jigsaw or gestalt or panoply of info-dump quotes from an autocorrected autobiographical novel, and of info-dump items of dialogue, deploying the characters’ homophobia of homosexual acts as bodily master-pet symbioses, while evolving towards a study of a professional man’s diffidence towards his own (to him, waywardly Sapphic?) daughter whose own runtimes and runtishness become part of the panoply unfolding here. And another autocorrect is in a certain book’s dedication…and the glitches of ghostliness now become echoes of sheer horror. Essential reading, if only as a literary case study. And to continue fathoming its title!

  4. THE JULY GIRLS by Alison Littlewood

    “, there was never a step-sister in any of those stories who actually got on with the heroine — with the real daughter.”

    A workmanlike story of glowing moss, Cornish pixies and a Cornish mound’s opening with (like sex or death?) “a small opening […] lined with crooked stones, like teeth”. But, eventually it is a special story, a clever and tantalising account of step-sisters. A conundrum of ‘reciprosisterly’ (my word, not the story’s) as physically haunted by a framed photograph taken of both of them. Anything else I might say would spoil it. (Compare one step-sister’s self-pity with the narrator’s in the earlier Tremblay and also that story’s unexpected physical appearance and haunting by the childish drawing similar to that of the photo. Also July is the Caesarean month, which fact may be obliquely or inversely significant to the described opening in the mound.)

    My previous reviews of this author:

  5. ABOUT THE O’DELLS by Pat Cadigan

    In oblique synergy with the reciprosistery of the earlier Littlewood – this quote:

    “…what the magazines called blended families, because that made step-parents and step-brothers and step-sisters sound sweet, like a smoothie rather than something out of the Brothers Grimm.”

    – is part of this compelling Cadigan story which, as well as being, on one level, a strong and unique ghost story concerning the long-term aftermath of marital abuse leading to brutal murder, also morphs towards a schemata where neighbours and the crimes committed in their neighbourhood reach some eventually cleansing reciprocity between witnesses and victims and murderers, stains removed by strength of kinetic sleep rather than power-washing where it happened. A story that is well-characterised from the point of view of a girl, one of two sisters, being embroiled by such a schemata. The murderer as a man busily chopping trees down so as possibly to prevent this story (of his own come-uppance and of his dead wife’s retribution) from being printed in – and thus enabled by – this massive book in my hand. Another great ghost story as an echo of horror.

    My previous reviews of this author: and and

  6. A HINTERLANDS HAUNTING by Richard Kadry

    “How could he haunt someone who wasn’t there?”

    For reciprocity, read hinterlands. Think about it, that is a most extraordinary question above! A story that ingeniously features the point-of-view narration in the third person of an annual haunting as a couple’s reunion to ‘celebrate’ the anniversary of the event that caused the death of one of them, in a partially Ligottian urban ambiance, with ambushing dogs and gangs. My own question: when you jump from a high window onto a pile of old mattresses chucked out below, why do you always just miss falling on them?


    “She would ask you to rate your anxiety. One, very little. Five, just coping. Eight, nine, ten. That’s enough. Stop.”

    A strong echo of the the earlier psychiatric grading in the Masterson story. This one on a train, with a witness survivor’s strongly evocative visions of travelling across tracks, tracks beneath toilets, textures and shades of passing by what one travels through, green eye shadow et al, including a battle by ‘you’ as point of view, a sporadic battle with your own competing identities and memories.

  8. MUST BE THIS TALL by Seanan McGuire

    Another assororality to match this book’s earlier reciprosistery. This pair of sister’s are twins. One of them is this book’s earlier ‘runt’, the other not. A striking vision of a carnival which, inadvertently or serendipitously, is a unique theme-and-variations upon my own ramshackle carnival in ‘Benoko’ (a story in the ‘Weirdmonger’ book). And a hauntingly ghostly tale of the rollercoaster in particular.

    My previous reviews of this author:

  9. THE SURVIVING CHILD by Joyce Carol Oates

    /I am one who make things gorgeously up.

    A novella from the dysfunction-room of this genius writer’s mind, the tree and its pareidolia shapes of the selves wrestling outside this room with the equally pareidoliac clouds. Echoing this whole book’s earlier step-siblings, one a runt, or seen to be a runt by he who is said to be its father. An OCD father. A novella, too, teeming with Imagist poetry, Hilda Doolittle, Ezra Pound and this novella’s N.K. who is not NOT KNOWN but nemonymous, as her name is late-labelled here for those who decide to read it. A tale of a feminist poet with bi-polarity and a now forbidden garage where an ethos of Ligottian anti-natalism was once at least partially fulfilled by this (now dead) Imagist poet, but the non-runt sibling (a boy called Stefan) is rescued before the suicidal act is complete, but rescued by whom? Perhaps, metaphorically at least, rescued by Stefan’s then future stepmother, the one to have her breast sucked like a woman who has just been unmothered herself by a weak-willed pregnancy? Not sucked in motherhood, but in illicit love? We can ony grasp things here, not actually understand them. And who made what happen happen? A ghost or something even more ghostly, yet more powerful, than a ghost? I am truly haunted by this work and it still works round me, and I will honour it with a place in my own dysfunction-room list here. And I will also test setting it in mutual synergy with the knitting needle incident and other factors in ‘Glitch’ that I happen to be simultaneously reading here.

    “The mere possibility of a mistake is upsetting to him.”

  10. THE MEDIUM’S END by Ford Madox Ford

    “I don’t mean to say that he disappeared in a flash, but it was as if we had forgotten him. You understand, he wasn’t there.”

    I am pleased to have this striking ghost story brought to my attention. A story of a medium at a séance, charlatan or not. Involving handcuffs and rope. Hung out to shrink. Hoist by one’s own petard, as it were. But a petard loaded by sequestered belief or non-belief?

  11. A SHADE OF DUSK by Indrapramit Das

    “I can’t seem to remember writing some of what I am reading.”

    I can’t remember when a ghost story affected me so deeply. It is a GREAT one, whatever the case. A truly BHOOTiful one. Maybe it’s partly because the protagonist spinster Indian woman – amid ‘load sheddings’ of Calcutta and their consequent darknesses, no doubt reminding her of the London Blitz when she was there as a young woman – yes, maybe it is because she is roughly the same age as me when our perceptions aren’t always certain, and can create ghosts out of ageing confusions? Yet, I truly believe in her ghosts AS ghosts, stemming from her older sister and this sister’s husband, whose children were almost shared with the younger spinster sister. (My own daughter has suffered endometriosis all her life, so I deeply felt for her.) The telling smells of rot, amid this Gulf War time zone. Meanwhile, the bathroom incident with her brother-in-law is one of the strongest scenes. There is much of the Indian sensibility here, too, that is pervasive. And, amazingly, this work also reflects the runt-nonrunt aspect of two sisters or two siblings in this whole book so far. But which is which in the two sisters here? Makes it even more tantalising. A significant work, no mistake.

    My previous review of this author:

  12. ICARUS RISING by Richard Bowes

    “Angry specters, uneasy in their graves and not interested in turning to dust, dominated the cemetery.”

    A striking ghost story from the ghost’s POV, embedded with the clothes in which he died, a soaring arc from a building perceived, but maybe let go of or pushed, as he conducted his then famous Banksy-like graffiti art at the top of a building. Intriguing characterisation as he revisits the people involved with his ‘art’ and with his arguable ‘murder’.

    This is also a fine serendipitous blend of Elizabeth Bowen’s….

    “Most of all the dead, from mortuaries, from under cataracts of rubble, made their anonymous presence – not as today’s dead but as yesterday’s living – felt through London. Uncounted, they continued to move in shoals through the city day, pervading everything to be seen or heard or felt with their torn-off senses, drawing on this tomorrow they had expected – for death cannot be so sudden as that. […] The wall between the living and the living became less solid as the wall between the living and the dead thinned. In that September transparency people became transparent, only to be located by the just darker flicker of their hearts.”

    …and Oliver Harper’s truly remarkable ‘Sociable Ghost’, recently discovered here, e.g.:

    “We can for a time drop off all material parts of ourselves, and then there is but the spiritual part and that is invisible, and can go anywhere by a thought. I might explain by asking if you ever saw a flock of winged ants settle down on the ground and lift off their wings and leave them there. When I want to leave my body, or what is left of it, I just give a lift and somehow I then leave the body behind and soar away. Soar after all is not the word to use, for the movement is more like a flash, and the movement is swift as thought, and nothing is so swift as that, not even lightning.”

    My previous review of Richard Bowes:

  13. THE PUPPET MOTEL by Gemma Files

    “, an inhuman frequency; I’d never catch a glimpse of it otherwise, except through compilation,…”

    As I compile, as I hawl the ‘tone’ of each book and what lies behind the grey words, black and white blurring, and the “hand of darkness” that comes forth and says it knows me.
    Like an AI on a phone, as here with Loren, helping her boyfriend’s friend Greg run two Airbnb establishments, particularly the eponymous one. She needs the money. And I learn a lot about Airbnb I didn’t know before. And about the accretive power that some buildings store. Beautifully evoked; it made me think this story was itself! It kept gaslighting me. Not many stories do that. “Naked dollhouse pillars.” Hauntings without Ghosts. And “weird skips”. Grey noise. “…hauling her limbs into place, […] Like she’s being played long distance, like a theremin.” There mine unravelling. And in oblique mutual-synergy with Evenson’s Room Tone.

    My previous reviews of Gemma Files:


    An ingenious, mind-frazzling SF-brainstorming upon Ouija Boards and Planchettes, with a who-am-I? and a whodunnit? bordering on a sort of Internet connectiveness, involving some truly amazing anagrams from the titular head and his Mama. Genuinely spooky, too, in keeping with this book’s ghost story ethos. And, for me, the gestalt’s identity as a literary universe has now appeared at last, bolstered by four serial anagrams created from each other as well as from that gestalt…

    My previous reviews iof this author:

  15. THE UNWRAPPING by Terry Dowling

    “They settled on the heart.”

    For me a very successful story that actually manages to scare – in our so-called modern age when electricity or electronics (here represented by a contraption connected to Tesla) is aligned with things old fashioned, as in the previous story – a story worthy of once popular fiction involving arcane ancient theosophies and half-theriomorphisms (cf the earlier theremin and other halfings In this book I quoted); there is a dinner party held for the ‘unwrapping’ of an Egyptian mummy and it builds from complex innuendos of the company, amid observed dinner party mœurs, observed by the woman narrator, trained in Egyptology, having been imported to the party as the quatorzième to avoid thirteen, and the roles she affixes to the others, all building from such complexities of motive, characterisation and atmosphere to the eventual gestalt that transcends ‘mad science’. A character called Fayer Das, a mummy called Nemkheperef, striped nemes, the synergy of rationality and spiritualism, the quest for the prime hub of life in a body rather than its constituent runts, a question of whether a cabal or retro cultists, cartonnage, Conan Doyle references, and much more that continues its parallel unwrapping. Anointings and scrapings away.

  16. THE UPPER BERTH by F. Marion Crawford

    “I examined the great screw and the looped nut that ran on it.”

    If you examine this story itself again and again, you will never quite reach its torque of scariness that pervades it. It is always welcome, however, to be given another chance to test its tightened nut. A classic, that many call the most frightening ghost story ever written, and I do not need to rehearse its plot on the Kamtschatka in my review. The “average modern torpedo” this time struck me in resonance as it is with the Quiroga here read by happenstance a few days ago. But, above all, I sense this story is reprinted here, intentionally or not, because of the way it sheds light — as spooky ambivalence of suicide or sheer drowned gratuitousness — to this book’s runt and non-runt syndrome … lying vertically side by side, as it were, in the womb of twin berths. Friend called Snigginson van Pickyns, the “carpentering” of this otherwise virgin berth, Welsh rarebits on “a faintly luminous soup plate”, all notwithstanding.

  17. A BURNING SWORD FOR HER CRADLE by Aliette de Bodard

    “Sometimes, you needed the dark to defend against the dark.”

    My fault, but this SF-fantasy story defeated my plot-blurred mind, with the story’s teeming ghosts, its swordblades intaken bodily as well as real weapons to wield and metaphorical ones, too, all as part of some Federation’s defence against post-war colonisation, involving charms, witches and ordinal aunts. The relationship of the two sisters and the sonogram scenes at the end made me wonder if the symbiosis of one of them with her still enwombed baby is at least partly relevant to this whole book’s aforementioned sororal and/or ‘runt’ syndrome. Which the berth, which the sword within, which the baby?

    My previous review of this author:

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