The Endless Fall, by Jeffrey Thomas

Though I’ve been in a bit of a reading funk the past few months due to life, work and stress, I managed to find one thing that helped me break out of it: long airline flights. Between recent trips to Seattle and Los Angeles (which I should probably blog about), I ended up reading a lot of lovely books, including research for my upcoming cat physics book as well as some excellent fiction.  I tend to stock up my kindle with a lot of books by authors I’m unfamiliar with, and one of those I tackled was Jeffrey Thomas’ The Endless Fall and Other Weird Fictions (2017), which came out in January.

The cover actually gives an accurate sense of what to expect from the stories within, as it is based on the titular story “The Endless Fall.”  The book collects fourteen of Thomas’ recent short fiction, a lovely collection of weird, sometimes sentimental, and horrific tales. Continue reading

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The Valancourt Book of Horror Stories, Volume 2

Just in time to enjoy for Halloween, Valancourt Books has recently released their second volume of horror stories, in The Valancourt Book of Horror Stories, Volume 2!

The volume contains 14 stories of terror and the supernatural in VBHSv2, encompassing nearly 200 years of horror history.  It includes a number of stunningly rare and never reprinted tales, including two that have never been published anywhere else.

Once again, as I said for VBHSv1, I am impressed with the cleverness of the book’s concept: it only includes stories by authors that Valancourt publishes, which makes the collection an advertisement for those authors’ novel-length works!  Because there is no other unifying theme, it also resulted in a very diverse set of tales, all of which are of extremely high quality.

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Halloween Treats 2017

It is getting really challenging not to repeat myself with these annual samples of classic horror stories for Halloween, as I’ve been doing this for ten years! You can read the old editions here:   20072008200920112012201320142015, 2016 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.

Some Other Animal’s Meat, Emily Carroll (2016).  We begin with another illustrated horror classic by the masterful Emily Carroll.  In this one, a new wonder product for one’s skin has more side effects than advertised…

The Pale Man, Julius Long (1934). A professor convalescing at a country hotel is lonely and looking for company. One of the only other guests he might talk to, however, is a curious pale man who switches rooms every day.

The Double Shadow, Clark Ashton Smith (1933).  A sorcerer and his apprentice delve deep into ancient and forbidden secrets, and rashly decide to summon an ancient power whose name and nature is unknown.  Neither the living nor the dead will be safe from the horror that comes for them.

In the Vault, Howard Philips Lovecraft (1925). I haven’t shared any Lovecraft in the past couple of years! In this story, which is pre-cosmic horror, an unscrupulous undertaker accidentally locks himself in a tomb overnight, which allows for an old score to be settled…

The Wind in the Portico, John Buchan (1928). A scholar, hunting down information in a rare text, finds that a copy is owned by an eccentric man in the English countryside. The man lives in a curious house, recently restored with the remains of a temple to a pagan/Roman god.  The temple fills the scholar with a sense of dread, which extends in short order to the house’s owner.  They plan to reconsecrate it to Christianity, but the temple may have other ideas.

The Spider, Hanns Heinz Ewers (1915).  A young student of medicine opts to move into room #7 of a small hotel, intent on solving the mystery of why the three previous occupants in a row committed suicide.  He is prepared for any danger, but this leaves him blind to a web of deception that ensnares him more securely the longer he remains.

The Damned Thing, Ambrose Bierce (1893).  Arguably Bierce’s most effective horror story. When the mangled body of Hugh Morgan is discovered, an inquest is launched to determine the cause of death.  The evidence mounts that something beyond the perception of humankind is lurking in the wilds.

The Hog, William Hope Hodgson (1929). A tale of Carnacki, the Ghost-Finder, as he risks his own life and very soul to help a man who is being haunted by a supernatural presence that is beyond space and time — and nowhere near human.

The Listeners, Walter de la Mare (1912). A short and eerie poem in which a man arrives at a lonely house to fulfill a promise… but who is keeping watch to see that he does?

This should be enough to give readers a chill for the season — have a happy Halloween!

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What is quantum entanglement? Part 6: Locality, reality, and John Bell

This is part 6 in a lengthy series of posts attempting to explain the idea of quantum entanglement to a non-physics audience.  Part 1 can be read here,  Part 2 can be read herePart 3 here,  Part 4 here, and Part 5 here.

In the last part of this series of posts, we discussed the practical implementation of entanglement using photons, which is the most common (though not only) way to study and apply entanglement in modern experiments.  In this post, we return to a bit of the history of the subject and look at a 1964 discovery that upended our understanding not only of quantum physics, but of what is knowable and unknowable in physical reality.

As in previous posts, we begin with a brief review.  The quantum theory developed in the 1920s indicates that discrete bits of matter — such as electrons and protons  — possess wave-like properties.  Physicists naturally began to ask the question: “what is doing the waving in matter?” Water waves are oscillations of water molecules, sound waves are oscillations of air molecules, but it wasn’t clear what is waving in a matter wave.

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The Devil in a Domino, by Chas L’Epine

Thanks to having lots to do at work, a lot of chaos in my life, and a lot of worry about the world in general, I haven’t been able to concentrate well on reading fiction lately.  What I need at the moment are short, pithy reads, and fortunately my friends at Valancourt Books recently released something that fits the bill, The Devil in a Domino (1897), by Chas L’Epine.

The Devil in a Domino tells the story of a twisted serial killer, and is one of the very first books to be inspired by the infamous Jack the Ripper murders that happened in London in 1888.  Original printings of this novel are exceedingly rare, and the Valancourt edition is the first to be released in over a century!

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Dr. SkySkull in Rome: Via Appia

Final part in a series of photo essays on my recent trip to Rome. Part 1 can be read here,  Part 2 can be read herePart 3 can be read here, and Part 4 can be read here.

Sunday was our final day in Rome, and it would be a short day: our flight out was at around 4:00 pm.  However, we had enough time to see one more major sight, and decided to do something a little further out of the city. In fact, the sight in question is literally a way out of the city: Via Appia, known in English as the Appian Way.

The Appian Way is the remains of one of the original and most important Roman roads.  It is a wonderful excursion into more of the countryside around the city, and is dotted with historical relics of ancient Rome, as well as villas of some of the modern city’s wealthiest citizens.

The Appian Way closer to the city.

See the large, flat stones in the photograph?  Those are parts of the original Roman road, which began construction in 312 B.C.E. as a way to transport military supplies and troops from the city to the various campaigns.  The road was ordered built by the Censor of Rome, Appius Claudius Caecus, who started construction without even waiting for approval from the Senate!

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Dr. SkySkull in Rome: the Vatican Museums

Part 4 of a series of photo essays on my recent trip to Rome. Part 1 can be read here,  Part 2 can be read here, and Part 3 can be read here.

On day 4 of our Rome adventure, we decided to finally venture inside some of Rome’s wonderful buildings!  Most of our time had, up to this point, been spent walking the city and viewing the architecture from the exterior or, in the case of the Colosseum, interior but still outside. Now we were interested in seeing some of the non-architectural artwork of Rome and, to be honest, get out of the heat for a while.

Our major stop would be the immense museum complex of the Vatican, which we will get to in a moment.  The Vatican has a dress code, however, and generally bans shorts on men and short skirts on women.  So we put on our long clothes — in 90-degree heat — and headed out for the day.

If we were going to be uncomfortable, we decided we might as well make the most of it.  Non-casual dress is expected in most of the city’s churches, so as long as we were dressed the part, we made plans to visit a few other such sites of interest.

Our first planned stop was the Chiesa di Santa Maria della Vittoria, which possesses one of Rome’s most beautiful and famous sculptures. But along the way we passed the Fontana dell’Acqua Felice (also called the Fountain of Moses).

The Fontana dell’Acqua Felice.

Built between 1585 and 1588, this fountain marked the end of another Roman aqueduct that was restored long after the empire’s collapse.  The restoration was ordered by Pope Sixtus V, and the new aqueduct was named the Acqua Felice, after the Pope’s birth name of Felice Peretti.  The new source of water helped the rather crude and unpopulated section of Rome grow into a thriving neighborhood.

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