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If You're Looking for an Intro to Aickman, There Might Be Better Places to Start
on 26 June 2009
This book was published in 1975 and was the fifth of the eight original collections of the author's short stories. The works in it have been dated between 1969 and 1975; all but one were from the early/mid-1970s, near the end of the author's career.
During his lifetime, Aickman published 47 short stories, and two more pieces have come into print since his death in 1981. For this reader, the best of his short works from throughout his career succeeded in balancing four elements: hypnotic developments and action, mesmerizing and dreamlike images that captured a character's inner life, an uncovering of the ways people behave toward each other, and a haunting and open-ended conclusion.
Model stories combining these things included "The Trains" (1951), "Ringing the Changes" (1955) and "The Swords" (1969). Almost as good were "The Inner Room" (1966) and "The Hospice" (1975), despite extra layers of obscurity or developments bordering on parody. By comparison, many other pieces by the author often contained something memorable but felt lacking in one element or another. Another type of worthwhile story from this writer expressed a bit more of what might be called his philosophical outlook, and for me the clearest of these was "The Wine-Dark Sea" (1966). Others were "Into the Wood" (1968) and "The View" (1951).
The present collection contained just two of the stories named above: "The Swords" and "The Hospice," works about sexual initiation and death, and which were mainly what made this collection worthwhile. The rest of the later pieces here, for me, were in the category of "not his best," comparatively lacking in depth and power; they were from a period when the pacing of his stories seemed to grow increasingly deliberate, the text longer and the prose heavier. "Pages from a Young Girl's Journal," set in Italy in the early 1800s, was a rare story for Aickman in that it contained a vampire, but felt overly obscure and didn't come close to rivaling something like LeFanu's "Carmilla."
Currently the cheapest options for assembling a large number of Aickman's short stories are the reprint collections Painted Devils and the New York edition of The Wine-Dark Sea, which together with the present collection contain 28 pieces altogether, including all of the pieces named above. In my opinion, Wine-Dark Sea and Painted Devils are better places to start, while Cold Hand is for those who are looking mainly for the writer's later, more deliberate tales. It's a pity that Cold Hand in Mine is the cheapest, most widely available collection for Aickman; it's not the most representative collection of work throughout his career.
"Life, as we know it, could hardly continue if men did not soon slay the dreamer inside them. There are the children to think of; the mothers who breed them and thus enable our race to endure; the economy; the ordered life of society."
"Men's dreams, their inner truth, are unheimlich also . . . . If any man examines his inner truth with both eyes wide open, and his inner eye wide open also, he will be overcome with terror at what he finds."
"Daily life is entirely a matter of the pattern men and women impose upon it . . . . None the less, reality lies far behind, and is unchangeable: is ritual, in fact."
"We control nothing of importance that happens to us."
"'Who am I?' whispered Rosa. 'And who are you?' 'I am your soul,' replied a remote voice she did not know."