Monday, June 11, 2012
New Release: The Diamond Lens and Other Stories
Hesperus Press, dedicated to reviving forgotten authors and stories, has recently published this collection of three stories by Irish-American author Fitz-James O'Brien -- The Diamond Lens and Other Stories. Written in 1858 and 1859, these science fiction and horror tales have a unique feel of derangement and madness to them. Fans of Poe and of classic horror films will find something to enjoy in them. Even O'Brien's short life reads like an improbable story.
As I was reading The Diamond Lens, I couldn't help but mentally cast Vincent Price as the microscopist who will go to any lengths to further his craft and discover something nobody has yet seen. The story read like the script of an old Roger Corman film and I found myself laughing out loud in disbelief at the insanity of it. The influence of Poe was definitely felt in the unreliable first-person narration. The only drawback was the passing racism in the story as our narrator expounds on the qualities of his Jewish neighbor.
What Was It? is labeled as "A Mystery" when it is actually one of the first invisibility stories. It is a bit of a rollercoaster ride as our narrator is also an opium smoker and, for a while, one isn't quite sure if his invisible attacker is real. Once the "mystery" is solved, the remainder of the story is strangely straightforward. It left me feeling a bit sad for the fate of the unknown creature.
There's a great discussion going on over at The Project Gutenberg Project about racism in classic novels that seemed especially timely since I had just finished trying to read these tales with an awareness of their place and time. I think this collection has its strengths and weaknesses and, though a bit distasteful, also has its place as early science fiction and horror.
Taking the good with the bad,