Halloween Treats 2014

(Update: It cost me a good deal of my sanity, but I think I fixed “The Monkey’s Paw” pdf to load quickly in browser.)

It’s that time again to post a collection of “Halloween Treats”: classic ghost and horror stories to be read in the dark of night!  I’ve been doing this since 2007, and you can read the old editions here:   2007200820092011, 2012 and my 2010 post on the true story of the “Lady of the Lake“. It is likely that not all of the links in those old posts work, but the lists are there.

As a special treat: I tracked down, whenever possible, pdfs of the original publications!  Many of them include excellent illustrations, a tradition that I would like to see return in horror.

This year’s selections:

The Monkey’s Paw, W.W. Jacobs (1902).  Somehow I’ve never included this classic tale of wishes gone awry in my posts! Though it is so well-known as to seem clichéd, it is a story of surprisingly subtlety.  Note, in particular, the sergeant-major’s terse and unsettling description of the paw’s history.

Lot No. 249, A. Conan Doyle (1892).  Best known for his stories of Sherlock Holmes, Doyle also wrote a number of potent horror stories.  In Lot No. 249, a tale of an Egyptian mummy takes on a particularly diabolical twist.  If you want to see the pictures in a good quality, check out this link!

Canon Alberic’s Scrapbook, M.R. James (1895).  A story by an undisputed master of ghost stories, M.R. James! In this tale, the Englishman Dennistoun happens across — and purchases — and old scrapbook from a local Frenchman.  Oddly, however, the man knowingly sells the book well below its value, despite Dennistoun’s good-natured offer to give more.  Dennistoun soon learns that his new acquisition comes with a rather unpleasant passenger…

The Haunted and the Haunters: Or the House and the Brain, by Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1859).  Bulwer-Lytton is most remembered today for his ridiculously dramatic prose, such as “It was a dark and stormy night…”  As I have noted on this blog before, however, he was a very effective author at times.  The Haunted and the Haunters is considered one of the best haunted house stories of all time, and it contains a rather bizarre epilogue.

Shiva, Open Your Eye, by Laird Barron (2001).  I’m a huge fan of Laird Barron’s work, and I consider him one of the best authors of horror working today.  A few of his stories are freely available to read online, including Shiva, Open Your Eye.  In this story, a government man comes poking around on a farm in Eastern Washington state.  What he finds at the farm, and within the barn in particular, is more than he bargained for, or could even comprehend.

The Undying Thing, by Barry Pain (1901).  Sir Edric’s crimes bring a curse down on his family, and his second wife gives birth to a monstrous child.  Decades later, the monstrous offspring returns from the wild to end the lineage.

Huguenin’s Wife, by M.P. Shiel (1895).  M.P. Shiel wrote a number of classic stories of the weird and horrific, including the apocalyptic novel The Purple Cloud.  In Huguenin’s Wife, the narrator is desperately summoned by his friend Huguenin to his home on a secluded Greek isle.  Huguenin’s wife has died, but she may not have been human to begin with.

Luella Miller, by Mary E. Wilkins-Freeman (1902).  Wilkins-Freeman is one of the greatest writers of ghost and horror stories of all time.  In Luella Miller, she tells the story of a vampire of a subtle but still deadly nature.

Enjoy the stories, and Happy Halloween!

Don't get caught by a mummy! From "Lot No. 249."  (source)

Don’t get caught by a mummy! From “Lot No. 249.” (source)

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Gardinel’s Real Estate, by M.S. Corley and Orrin Grey

I love “old dark house” stories!  Such stories, which involve a group of people gathered or trapped in a sinister house and subjected to horrors, include haunted house stories but are not limited to stories about ghosts.  I first learned the term “old dark house” via Orrin Grey’s introduction to the excellent 1927 novel Benighted, which led to the 1932 film “The Old Dark House.”

Grey has taken his own love of old dark houses much further than me!  He and M.S. Corley recently published a lovely little chapbook, Gardinel’s Real Estate.


This short 32-page book is a real estate guide for old dark houses, with illustrations of each house given by Corley and written descriptions given by Grey.  The drawings are beautiful, and the descriptions utterly charming, involving forbidden experiments, vampirism, ghosts, and more.  It is not a long read — I read it in its entirely one night before bed — but it is well-worth looking at.  A sample house from the book can be seen on M.S. Corley’s website.

The print version, which is pictured above, was released in a limited edition of only 100, which sold out about the same time that I received my copy!  You might wonder why I’m blogging about something which is already sold out, but fortunately an e-book version is now available, for those unable to get a print edition.

One reason I really love Gardinel’s Real Estate is that it shows the wonderful possibilities for horror when artists and authors collaborate!  I don’t think I’ve seen a book quite like it before, but I hope to see more like it in the future.

Fans of haunted houses and authors looking for something to inspire their imagination will find Gardinel’s a lovely investment.

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Jane Marcet educates Michael Faraday

This post is in honor of Ada Lovelace Day, a celebration of the contributions of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).

Even when women weren’t officially recognized as scientists or allowed to pursue a formal education or career in science, they still managed to make incredible contributions in a variety of ways.  Nowhere is this perhaps more evident than in the story of Jane Marcet (1769-1858), a pioneer in providing science education to women.  Starting in 1805, she wrote a series of science books tailored towards women, the most popular being the 1805 Conversations on Chemistry, which went through 16 editions in Britain alone.  The books became standard textbooks in a number of girls’ schools in the United States.

But women were not the only ones who benefited from Marcet’s writing.  The great Michael Faraday, who demonstrated the connections between electricity, magnetism and light, got his start in science from reading Marcet’s Chemistry!

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The Last Revelation of Gla’aki, by Ramsey Campbell

I haven’t blogged about any of his books recently, but I have said many times before on this blog that Ramsey Campbell is my favorite horror author of all time.  As I noted in a recent post, his novella Needing Ghosts is perhaps the only work of fiction that I’ve ever read that made me doubt my own sanity.

What makes his work so powerful?  Campbell is a master of subtle, creeping horror.  His monsters do not typically jump out at the reader, but rather lurk in the shadows, skittering in one’s peripheral vision.  The cumulative effect is to leave the reader increasingly unsettled, struggling to understand the nature of the threat.  On top of this, Campbell is simply a masterful, beautiful writer.  It was once aptly said of him that in his writing, it is “the words that count.”  (Which he turned into a 1975 story of the same name.)

This past week, I read one of his more recent works the 2013 novella The Last Revelation of Gla’aki.


This book is quite different from Campbell’s work of recent years, as it is explicitly Lovecraftian in nature, featuring monstrous, uncaring elder gods and books filled with forbidden knowledge.  Like many horror authors, however, Campbell got his start by writing Lovecraft pastiches; his first collection, The Inhabitant of the Lake and Less Welcome Tenants, was published by Arkham House in 1964 and featured a variety of Lovecraft-like stories.  In the titular story, Campbell introduced the ancient monstrous god Gla’aki, who dwells in a lake in the bottom of a remote English lake.

The Last Revelation of Gla’aki, then, would appear to be a bit of an homage to the work that got Campbell started in his writing career in the first place!

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Paris: City of lights and cosmic rays

This post of mine originally appeared on the Scientific American guest blog some time ago.  Considering it has been three years, and it’s always been one of my favorite pieces of writing, I thought it was time to “bring it home” to Skulls in the Stars.

Paris has long had the nickname “The City of Light,” due to its role as a center of education during the Age of Enlightenment and, in the 1800s, due to its early implementation of electric lighting. It very nearly had its name associated with another form of radiation in 1910, however, thanks to a truly unique experiment performed in the most iconic spot in the city: the Eiffel Tower!  The experiment, which was the first significant evidence of the existence of cosmic radiation, also highlights the challenges scientists experienced in the early 20th century and the ingenuity they used to overcome them.

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Kitchen Science Lab for Kids, by Liz Heinecke

Though I spent a lot of time thinking about how to properly explain science in a way that is comprehensible to non-scientists, my biggest Achilles heel is my lack of experience in explaining things at a level that kids can understand.  Fortunately, there are a growing number of resources out there to help people do kid-friendly science!  One that just came out last month is Kitchen Science Lab for Kids, by Liz Heinecke:


Heinecke has been a long-time advocate for kid-friendly science experiments, and runs the  very nice blog The Kitchen Pantry Scientist, where she describes experiments that can be done safely at home with ingredients that can be found, of course, in one’s kitchen pantry!  She has also produced a mobile app, KidScience, which provides convenient multimedia descriptions of a set of home experiments.

Now we have Kitchen Science Lab for Kids, which provides detailed, quantitative, full-color descriptions of 52 experiments.  The “labs” cover chemistry, physics and biology, and are divided into 12 units.  One unit, for example, is Rocket Science, which contains the following experiments:

  • Film canister rockets
  • Easy straw rockets
  • Sky-high bottle rockets
  • Edible electromagnetic wave experiment

In full disclosure, I’m friends with Liz, having first met her at ScienceOnline, the long-running online science communication conference.  I even have a small contribution in the book, having introduced her to the Kaye effect, which I’ve blogged about previously.  As is her specialty, Liz made the experiment even easier to do, though she graciously included a description of my technique, as well.

I can personally attest to how fun the experiments are!  This Spring, based on Liz’s suggestions, I put together a “Kitchen Pantry” demonstration table at the UNC Charlotte Science and Technology Expo.  The table was a hit, and drew consistent crowds for the duration of the event.

Students performing some kitchen science at the Expo.

Students performing some kitchen science at the Expo.

Kitchen Science Lab for Kids gives a thorough description of each experiment.  It includes a list of materials, a detailed protocol, and an explanation of the science behind the demonstration.  The collections of experiments are well-organized and often connect to each other, giving the inquisitive student a path through the book.

It is worth noting that although the experiments are designed to be safe, some of them still require some adult supervision.  It is hard to do science without occasionally heating things up or potentially making a mess!

In summary: a really great book!  I feel that I’ve gained a lot of insight into making science kid-friendly from reading it, and I imagine a lot of parents will find it a fun and educational resource for their children.

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Nobel Prize roundup: It’s all about the optics!

This week, the Nobel Prizes for Physics and Chemistry were announced, and it was a photonics two-fer!  The physics prize went to Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano, and Shuji Nakamura “for the invention of efficient blue light-emitting diodes which has enabled bright and energy-saving white light sources.”

Blue LEDs might sound like a trivial topic for a Nobel Prize, but most reports on the award rightly point out that the physics behind these LEDs is non-trivial and their positive impact on society is inarguable.  A few of the articles that came out on this are below:

The chemistry prize went to Eric Betzig, Stefan Hell, and William Moerner “for the development of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy”.

In short: were are typically limited in optical imaging by the wavelength of light.  Attempts to resolve objects that are smaller than or closer together than the wavelength are unsuccessful, as the images tend to blur into each other.  However, by making the target objects “glow,” or fluoresce, it is possible to beat this resolution limit and even spot individual molecules.  A few articles on this:

This dual win for optical devices and techniques shows how important the study of light remains even today!


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