Sunday, 27 September 2009

Strange Birds

The other day I received a copy of Gene Wolfe's chapbook Strange Birds (2006), a collection of two short stories inspired by the paintings and sculptures of Lisa Snellings-Clark. It's a lovely little book with beautiful artwork, and I managed to get my hands on a copy signed by Wolfe and Snellings-Clark. Strange Birds was published by DreamHaven and limited to 1000 copies.

"On a Vacant Face a Bruise"
This short story makes a fantastic opening to the chapbook, being fairly lighthearted. It forms a prequel to a much older Wolfe short story called "The Toy Theater" (1971), and follows a young boy, Tom, who runs away from home to join the circus. At the circus, Tom encounters two characters from "The Toy Theater": the great mationettist Stromboli, and his neglected and abused wife Maria, who he first 'mistakes' for a doll. Tom comes to love Maria, and Stromboli soon leaves the circus with one of his dolls. When another child comes to join the circus - an alien child with four arms and the ability to control many dolls - Maria leaves in search for her husband. We gather from this story that Stromboli and Maria are both human (something we are unsure of in "The Toy Theater"), but this is problematised by the fact that when Stromboli pushes his wife towards Tom, there is a loud 'bang' like metal on metal when his hand contacts her back. This story was very enjoyable, and is probably best enjoyed after reading "The Toy Theater".

"Sob in the Silence"
A family of four goes on a trip to visit a friend of the father's, a 'horror writer' that lives in a large, haunted-looking house. When the visitors arrive, the horror writer tells them a terrifying story about the previous inhabitants of the house - a murder suicide in which one of the family's children survived (with brain damage) and went on to form a sadistic cult which murdered children. After the visitors have gone to bed, the horror writer murders the young boy, Robbie, and beats and abducts Kiara, the teenage daughter. He seems to be possessed by the spirit of the brain damaged cult leader that used to inhabit the house. Through careful planning, he makes it seem that someone else came in during the night and committed the crime, thus escaping the police. When he goes to an old well in a forest near his property, in order to collect Kiara, who he trapped in the well on the night of the abduction, he comes to a grisly (yet entirely just) end. This is a truly chilling horror story - Wolfe at his darkest. I think that the unnamed 'horror writer' is perhaps meant to be connected to a real-life horror author of some significance, but knowing little about horror, I couldn't place him (if we're even meant to). Also, don't make my mistake and read it immediately before going to bed.


  1. This became my favorite collection when Gene Wolfe himself sent me a signed and personalized copy in response to a letter I had written him thanking him for all the great reading he had provided me with over the years. He said that the book was a sort of dividend. Made me love Wolfe even more.

  2. That's brilliant!! What a great thing for him to do. And you're right, this is a really lovely little collection.

  3. Your collection is growing well! What's next?

  4. I just purchased the Spring 1988 edition of Weird Tales pulp magazine - a Gene Wolfe special!! It's rather long actually, so I'll probably have to wait till after this semester to read it. But it's very pretty!!