Science Fiction Though the Decades

Monday, April 21, 2014

1985: Skeleton Crew (King, Stephen)

Great sampler of horror subgenres (4/5)

Though a huge science fiction fan, I do occasionally dabble in the genre of horror, but the relationship is tetchy. It’s been my experience that most horror stories revolve around the occult, possession, supernatural or any combination of the three; these stories aren’t the least bit frightening. There is a certain flavor of horror fiction which tickles my sense of horror and now I know this type of fiction is called body horror, which is a more directly physical horror than the nebulous dark demons haunting the souls of deserving victims. Two lesser known body horror books I’ve read are Jeffrey Thomas’ Punktown (2000) and Jeremy Robert Johnson’s Angel Dust Apocalypse (2005).

Thankfully, Skeleton Crew has a few body horror stories which satisfied my need. Also, this collection separates itself from Night Shift (1978) as it doesn’t have as many stories featuring randomly possessed objects which kill unwary victims. That got kind of boring in retrospect. While King isn’t my favorite author, I don’t have much choice or experience to say otherwise in the genre of horror… but Dan Simmons’ The Terror (2007) and Hyperion (1989) still haunt me.

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 The Mist (1980, novella) – 4/5 – David, his wife Steff and their son Billy take shelter in their home when a freak storm rolls across the lake leaving trees uprooted and a thick, opaque mist settled over the water. David, Billy and their tetchy neighbor Norton go to Federal Foods in town to buy supplies only to become overwhelmed by the mist and in the middle of a murderous, tentacled fog from the nearby Arrowhead Project. 130 pages

Here There Be Tygers (1968, shortstory) – 3/5 – Miss Bird, the third-grade teacher, has it out for Charles and he’s always known it. Even something as simple as going to the bathroom can stress poor Charles . his need to urinate, as Miss Bid calls it, impels him to sheepishly pass the eyes of all the other students and walk to the boys’ room, where a crouching tiger awaits him. Stepping out again and accessing the situation, another boy comes to check his reason. 5 pages

The Monkey (1980, novelette) – 3/5 – One of Hal’s sons discovers a nappy-haired monkey doll with crashing cymbals in the attic. This causes Hal great alarm as he remembers throwing it down a well twenty years ago after a series of deaths related to the monkey’s jang-jang-jang. It keeps coming up in his life after finding it in his own father’s belongings. Now, the monkey makes its unexpected ominous appearance. 38 pages

Cain Rose Up (1968, shortstory) – 4/5 – Garrish returns to his university boarding house after a difficult exam, which he probably aced to maintain his 4.0 GPA but shares in his friend’s opinion of its difficulty. His friends are leaving for the summer and his only companion in the room is a .352 rifle loaned from the university. Cleaning and assembling the rifle, Garrish recants the biblical tale of Cain and Abel, then takes aim and fires at a girls’ dorm. 7 pages

Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut (1984, novelette) – 4/5 – Homer recalls his strange experiences with the eccentric out-of-towner Mrs. Todd. Though compassionate and social, she has one quirk which both annoys and piques old Homer. Mrs. Todd pines for a shorter route between Castle Lake and Bangor—normally 156.4 miles. Through her trials and errors in her Mercedes, she hits 129.2 miles, then 116.4 miles, just short of 79 miles as the crow flies… until… 26 pages

The Jaunt (1981, novelette) – 5/5 – Prior to jaunting his wife and two children to Mars, Mark recants the part-tale and –myth of the invention of the jaunt. In 1987, the Jaunt was funded by the US government and the sole researcher was Victor Carune. In is farm, his accidental experiment transports two of his fingers across the barn, followed by mice which come out stunned, then die. The curious children urge on the morbid conclusion of the story. 26 pages

The Wedding Gig (1980, shortstory) – 4/5 – Mike Scollay, a true-born Irish-American and serious liquor smuggler, hires a jazz band to play for his sister’s wedding. Their high rate fo pay for 1027 is clue to the increased likelihood of gang violence as the ceremony. Also dangerous is Scollay’s sensitivity about his sister’s massive weight, ugly looks and engagement to the scrawny Italian groom. To fume the Irish gangster, a Greek messenger arrives. 16 pages

Paranoid: A Chant (1985, poem) – 4/5 – Perched in his apartment, a paranoid man silently peers outside his window and in all facets of life at the creeping intrusion into his life: agent’s outside, agents across the street, agents crawling all the way to his toilet. The man envisions intrusions and remains delusions regardless of their physical lack of physical infiltration to his abode. His thoughts reflect his monotonous and delusion existence. 4 pages

The Raft (1982, novelette) – 4/5 – The dawn of adulthood at the dusk of summer is an intoxicating allure for nostalgic dalliances. Deke’s brutish impulsiveness leads a group of four, including his brainy roommate Randy, out to a lake where a pontoon sits at the center. Their initial bravado for the swim turns into horror when a blob dissolves one of the swimmers, leaving the rest facing death by blob or death by cold. 29 pages

Word Processor of the Gods (1983, shortstory) – 5/5 – His dead brother was an alcoholic, wife-beating jerk, but he had a beautiful wife and a genius son. Just two weeks after his brother’s death, his nephew gives him a birthday gift of his own creations: a mongrel of a computer, part IBM, Erector set and Liol train transformers. At first use, the word processor literally processes his typed word and the deletion thereof. First a picture appears, then gold bullion. What else foes he deserve? 19 pages

The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands (1981, shortstory) – 4/5 – A rich elderly man tells a tale of a poker game which happened in 1919. A man who had recently returned from India decides to join the game but makes it absolutely clear that he cannot touch another person. The pot of the last hand of the night soars hundreds of dollars and the same solitary man wins big but the belligerence of another player perverts his taboo. The money may be lost, but the story is not. 17 pages

Beachworld (1984, shortstory) – 3/5 – The entire ship and one crew member are totally pulverized; the remaining two crew are left deserted on a planet covered with dunes, after dunes, after dunes without water or greenery. Shapiro observes Rand slip into a hypnotic fixation for the planet while he attempt to beacon for rescue. When it does come, Shapiro is quick to push the lift off as he’s leery of the planet. 18 pages

The Reaper’s Image (1969, shortstory) – 4/5 – In an ancient house full of worthless wonders rest a few priceless artifacts, including a rare DeIver mirror which Mr. Carlin is cautious to show and which Mr. Spangler is eager to inspect. The objective history of the mirror interests him most as he examines the authenticity of the piece but his unconcerned for the subjective myths of its reported viewers’ disappearances… until he looks just a little closer. 8 pages

Nona (1978, novelette) – 4/5 – Childhood memory of rats in the cellar and lost opportunity for reciprocated love cascades into a tumultuous, prolonged affair with deep love-stricken longings for black-haired women with abrupt endings. One his sentences for life, the young man recollects his criminal-themed affair with Nona, a girl who stole his heart, started his murder spree and disappeared from his life. 39 pages

For Owen (1985, poem) – 3/5 – A school on Fruit Street spawns the imagination of a child into a plethora of categories for children in the same school based on characteristics of common fruit characteristics: small blueberries, fat watermelons, and the grouping nature of bananas. However, there are times when fruits act like other fruits, yet the subterfuge is both a fa├žade and a unnatural perversity. 2 pages

Survivor Type (1982, shortstory) – 5/5 – Scorned during much of his childhood and university career, a young doctor exploits his Irish heritage during his doctor residency and later life as a surgeon. When his dollar doesn’t carry itself for enough into investments, he turns to importing heroin. This is the very same drug he is left with on a deserted island where his smuggling ship crashes and he’s left with very little to eat. 20 pages

Uncle Otto’s Truck (1983, shortstory) – 2/5 – A series of business ventures between Otto, born way back in 1905, and his financial partner Mr. McCutcheon ends in a huge tract of land around Castle Viewm a red Cresswell truck and a sour division between opinions of a business idea. Seventy years later, Otto’s involvement with his partner’s death under the same truck spurs controversy in the same town, which haunts Quinten’s whole adulthood. 17 pages

Morning Deliveries (1985, shortstory) – 4/5 – Spike’s morning delivery of dairy products starts with his standard list: milk, cream, yogurt, cyanide gas, nightshade, and a tarantula. Some deliveries are exact according to the household’s list, but other houses are dealt deadly surprises. His route ends with a sense of expectation for drinking with his friend Rocky and an expected conclusion to his services—a home with a blood splotch. 5 pages

Big Wheels: A Tale of the Laundry Game (1980, shortstory) – 4/5 – With only hours left of validation on Rocky’s car, he and Leo get absolutely hammered on Iron City beer while enjoying an evening cruise. Hopelessly decrepit, Rocky has no chance at passing another inspection until he see an old high school friend with a car shop. Soon, with stories swapped and backslaps given, the friend gets wasted on beer. Meanwhile, Rocky simmers with hatred for the milkman who slept with his wife. 15 pages

Gramma (1984, novelette) – 4/5 – When George was five years old, he was scared of the white, fleshy sack he called a grandmother; he cried when she wanted to hug him. Now twelve years of age, George’s brother is in the hospital and his mother is by his side, leaving George alone at home with the grandmother in progressively poorer health. Steeling himself against fear, he checks on her room and finds her dead, but her mysterious past haunts him still. 31 pages

The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet (1984, novella) – 5/5 – A rising writer and his wife, his agent and his wife, and a long recovering alcoholic editor dabble in the macabre topic of writer suicides. The skittish author’s wife doesn’t withhold the editor’s bizarre tale of Reg Thorpe. After Reg’s initial success, he and his own wife withdrew to Kansas and, due to his growing strange behavior, cut off their electricity. Even more bizarre, the editor adopted Reg’s fantasy of having fairies in the typewriter. 51 pages  


The Reach (1981, shortstory) – 4/5 – Off the New England coast sits an island—simple, unremarkable, yet home to all things for Stella, an elderly lady who’s never left the island. Having experienced dreadful winters, the funeral of her husband and the uproar caused by a perverted outsider, Stella had had no wish to cross the Reach, the water between her island and the mainland. With frail health and inviting mummers of welcome for her dead husband, he considers crossing. 21 pages

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