Christine Campbell Thomson’s Not At Night (1925)

When I started to think about it recently, it occurred to me that I didn’t know much about horror fiction between the time of Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) and H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937).  There are a  number of obvious standouts — Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897), Richard Marsh’s The Beetle (1897), Marie Corelli’s Ziska (1897), Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw (1898), the works of Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914) and M.R. James (1862-1936) — but I don’t have a great handle on what topics interested other writers of the macabre, especially in the time leading up to Lovecraft’s revolutionary “cosmic horror.”

I gained an opportunity to learn more, recently, when I learned about the 1925 anthology Not At Night (1925), edited by Christine Campbell Thomson.  I found an inexpensive copy online, and soon had it in my hands.


The series was immensely popular in its time, leading to 11 volumes in total between 1925 and 1936.  The first volume alone went through at least 7 reprints; mine is from October of 1927.  The stories were all drawn from the magazine Weird Tales, which was for decades the preeminent source of weird and horror fiction, as well as a regular publisher of Lovecraft’s work.  In 1928, Weird Tales published The Call of Cthulhu, the story that really launched the genre of cosmic horror and transformed horror fiction forever.

In Not At Night, then, I saw an opportunity to get a snapshot of the field as it stood just before this monumental change.  What scared people in the 1920s?  What sort of horror stories did they write?

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Posted in Horror, Weird fiction | 2 Comments

“Science Chamber of Horrors” talk at the Schiele Museum

On October 29, 2015, I was invited to present a Science Cafe at the Schiele Museum in Gastonia, NC, based on my “Science Chamber of Horrors” Tumblr!  I think it went well and I appreciated the invitation to speak there.  Though I didn’t have a chance to tour the museum on my visit, it looks great — I encourage anyone in the area of Charlotte or Gastonia to pay a visit.

They didn’t record the talk, but I brought along my camera and recorded it myself.  The audio and visual quality isn’t great, but it seems to have turned out okay!  This was the first time I gave this presentation, so I was a bit nervous and there were things that I will fix for the next iteration, but if you want to see my first “science horror” talk, click on “play” below!  (Warning: the entire talk is an hour long!)

Entrance to the Schiele Museum.

Entrance to the Schiele Museum.

Posted in General science, History of science, Horror, Personal | 1 Comment

Halloween Treats 2015

Once again it’s time 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, 2013, 2014 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.

This year, I’ll start with a couple of recent entries.  One is a webcomic that is now a true classic, even though it only appeared in 2010! Another is generally acknowledged as the best example of “creepypasta” out there.  Read on — you won’t be disappointed.

His Face All Red, Emily Carroll (2010).  Emily Carroll almost instantly became an recognized master of horror with His Face All Red, a story that starts with an incredible twist and builds an almost unbearable level of dread.  Carroll’s illustrations, and use of the flexibility of the web page, make it a true work of art.

Candle Cove, Kris Straub (2009).  This brilliant creepypasta takes the form of an internet chat, in which a group of people gradually remember a local-access children’s show that they used to watch.  This is a nearly perfect story.

Count Magnus, M.R. James (1904). I’ve included one story by the masterful M.R. James every year I’ve done ‘Treats!  Count Magnus is one of his most famous, and for good reason. When one Mr. Wraxhall visits the mausoleum of the infamous count, he makes a rash declaration — which is followed by horrifying consequences.

The Horror-Horn, E.F. Benson (1923).  E.F. Benson is another classic master of the ghost story. In The Horror-Horn, however, he tells a quite different tale, about a man who vacations in a remote area of the Swiss Alps and has a terrifying encounter with beings who are not quite human.

Berenice, Edgar Allan Poe (1835).  One of Poe’s lesser-known stories, it captures all of his familiar themes — obsession, madness, death — and wraps them up with a truly ghastly ending.

The Hill and the Hole, Fritz Lieber (1942).  In a story clearly inspired by the weird curvatures of space and time in Einstein’s general relativity, a surveyor comes to a rural area to measure a hill.  However, a local little girl tells him that it is, in fact, a hole.  With things in it.  Things that don’t want to be seen.

Murder on Dogenzaka, Edogawa Rampo (1924).  Finally, something not quite horror, but rather twisted in its unfolding.  A murder has taken place in a bookshop, a seemingly impossible crime.  The narrator follows in the footsteps of Sherlock Holmes and C. Auguste Dupin in attempting to solve the crime through rational deduction, but learns that reason alone cannot always bring one the answers.  (Tip o’ the hat to Justine Howe for pointing me to the story!)

That’s all for this year — Happy Halloween!

Posted in Horror | 1 Comment

Optical rogue waves at American Scientist!

Been quite busy lately, but I wrote a blog post on recent research on rogue waves, the rare killers of the sea, at American Scientist, which appeared this week!  A snippet:

Until these discoveries, such rogues were thought to be so incredibly rare as to never be encountered. Now they are recognized as a genuine threat to ocean-going vessels, and perhaps one of the leading causes of ships being lost to Davy Jones’s Locker. But what causes them? There are a number of factors that are thought to possibly contribute to their formation, but it is unclear how important each of these factors is. Unfortunately, studying such waves in their natural environment is simply not possible, due to their relative rarity and unpredictable appearance.

Read the whole thing at American Scientist, and thanks to them for giving me the chance to blog there!

(More from me at this blog in the near future!)

Posted in Optics, Physics | Leave a comment

Jennifer Foehner Wells’ Fluency

Been away from blogging for a while due to work and stress — going to start catching up on my book blogging!

A massive, mysterious alien craft is spotted in solar system, seemingly dormant.  A team of scientists and astronauts are sent to intercept the craft and unlock its secrets — and uncover its occupants.

It is a familiar start to a science fiction story — Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous With Rama, for instance — but in Jennifer Foehner Wells’ 2014 novel Fluency, the story quickly takes a very different and unusual turn.


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My Google Hangout Seminar on Invisibility Physics!

In lieu of more substantial writing on the blog, here’s a link to another presentation I gave! I was invited to give a Google Hangout Seminar at the University of Central Arkansas on “How Not to be Seen: The History and Science of Invisibility,” a subject that I know a lot about, as you can see from my myriad blog posts!  Here’s the talk, which lasts about an hour and has a short Q&A at the end.

Thanks again to Professor Will Slaton for the invitation — I had a fun time!

(Going to get back into more detailed physics and history posts in the near future.)

Posted in Invisibility, Optics, Personal | Leave a comment

The Muslimoclockobomb conspiracy: connecting the dots

By now, you have all no doubt heard about 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed, who brought a home-made “clock” to his Texas school to show to his engineering teacher and was arrested when he was unable to explain why it was not a bomb to investigating policemen.  And who wouldn’t have been suspicious, considering Ahmed’s explanation of this so-called “clock?”

Irving Police spokesman Officer James McLellan told the station, “We attempted to question the juvenile about what it was and he would simply only tell us that it was a clock.”

Really, a non-guilty student would have gone into much more detail, as was noted on twitter.

Ahmed was soon released, and no charges will be filed against him.  But the threat has been revealed: as noted by the not-at-all-racist-and-delusional Center for Security Policy, Ahmed had in essence built “half a bomb.”  The fear spread in the wake of Ahmed’s actions has been devastating: Former half-term Governor and permanent national treasure Sarah Palin is now so frightened that she thinks she’s the Queen of England.

I’m here to tell you that we must be more careful.  In fact, half-a-bombs are not only around us everywhere, they are being boldly sold online for anyone to purchase.  No reasonable person could ever imagine that a clock would be a good project for a young person to work on to learn the basics of electronics.   This is a threat to our national security, and it is time for us to WAKE UP.

A few seconds of Google searching took me to SparkFun Electronics, where they are boldly selling the first half of bombs without shame.


Note the snooze feature, in case your bomb is going off early and you decide you’d like 9 more minutes to terrorize.

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Posted in ... the Hell?, Silliness | 3 Comments