#41 “The Mammoth Book of Angels and Demons” edited by Paula Guran. Part One.

  1. Divergent – Veronica Roth
  2. Insurgent – Veronica Roth
  3. Allegiant – Veronica Roth
  4. Not For Glory, Not For Gold – Keith Miles
  5. The Mammoth Book of Angels and Demons
  6. Last Night at Chateau Marmont – Lauren Weisberger
  7. The Green Mile – Stephen King
  8. Tiger Men – Judy Nunn
  9. The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion
  10. The Rosie Effect – Graeme Simsion
  11. The Bane Chronicles  – Cassandra Clare et al
  12. Moriarty – Anthony Horowitz
  13. The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde

I was given this book by one of my uni mates back in March last year. I know, right? Shame on me! But this is what happens to some of the books on my TBR list. No matter how much I want to read the book, it somehow gets postponed and postponed until it’s been ten months since I was given it.
Anyhow, this book was a pretty awesome gift. The book that I will one day write will have a bit of angelic (and in a sense, demonic) folklore included. So my mate, knowing this, bought me this book as a way for me to familiarise myself with the mythology a little. Talk about thoughtful.

Because this book is all short stories, I will write up each one. Which means that I am only partway through this book by this point! Also, warning, this is a long post. There’s really no point into breaking up the post into more than halves, so there will be another long post in the not too distant future. I make no apologies for that, though. These authors have written amazing short stories and each of them deserve the same attention that I would give a novel. So, here are my thoughts on the first few stories in The Mammoth Book of Angels and Demons.

Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep by Suzy McKee Charnas
The best thing about short stories is that they have to get straight to the point and the point of Charnas’ story is that the legends of vampires aren’t as accurate as you think. Rose, our protagonist, committed suicide and when her guardian angel comes to take her to the Big Guy in the sky for her final judgement, she refuses to go. So her angel tells her of another way: she can stay on the physical plane if she finds someone who will willingly let her drink their blood.
From here we see all of the vampiric rules come into play, and in a whole new light. Crucifixes and garlic and running water all still effect Rose in her ethereal state, just in different ways.
This story was just fun, in that Charnas played with a bunch of the big myths about death and dying. And in a world where ghosts, as Rose was obviously was after she died, are actually possible and nothing to go to a therapist over. That may have been my favourite part, making ghosts kind of an everyday thing.

Stackalee by Norman Partridge
This story was definitely demonic. But it was intriguing because Partridge tackles not just the folklore behind Stackalee but the dismissive attitudes of modern folk to folklore. Stackalee was pretty gory, and not to mention a little scary, but it all fit into the tone of the story. I liked this story but it isn’t something that I would ordinarily pick up and read.

Bed and Breakfast by Gene Wolfe 
Bed and Breakfast wasn’t so much a story as it was the author using flimsy characters to explain to us his thoughts on Hell. The majority of the story is a conversation that basically paints a picture of Hell, with nothing else really happening. The last part of the story gives us a little mystery, but not in any meaningful way.
All this being said, I liked the story. But for Wolfe’s views of Hell, not for the characters or the plot. I found neither believable and the plot jumped around too much. Discovering people’s opinions about the afterlife fascinates me for some reason, which is why I can overlook the inadequacies of Wolfe’s storytelling, I guess.

Frumpy Little Beat Girl by Peter Atkins
During my undergraduate course, I took a class in short-story writing. My tutor told me that “short stories should always be served with a twist”. He loved the idea of something unexpected happening within such a short timeframe. Atkins definitely does this. Which is pretty impressive given that his story is all about the end of the world. But then there’s this tiny little paragraph that takes you completely by surprise. I ended up reading that paragraph about three times to make sure I hadn’t read it wrong. I hadn’t and it was delicious.

The Night of the White Bhairab by Lucius Shepard
I loved that this story took place in Nepal. It gave the story an element of the unfamiliar on top of the whole myths and legends theme going on. That being said, the story was a little too jumpy, with the same character going by two different names. And while I appreciated constantly being kept a little unsettled by the story, I found myself rereading a lot. For a short story, there were too many elements. I feel like Shepard wanted to write this as a novel but never got the chance to write it so he took this chance and ran with it. In my opinion, this story needed at least another hundred pages in order for it to breathe properly.

…And the Angel with Television Eyes by John Shirley
The thing about writing a short story steeped in mythology (and in this case, a story set in the near-future) is that a significant amount of the story has to be infodumping. There’s no way around it. In Shirley’s defense, he handled the futuristic stuff with minimal infodumping, but it was the myth stuff that gave us pages of exposition. I’m fairly sure there’s no way around it, but I still hate infodumping just the same.
Shirley’s story had just as much going on as Shepard’s did, but Shirley somehow made all the information easier to follow. That being said, I also feel like this story would have been better served as a novel. Even just to explore the metaphoric imagery of “The Hidden Race”. Because it’s hard to appreciate the genius of an angel with television eyes when you only meet him for a few paragraphs.

Lost Souls by Clive Barker
According to the tiny foreword written by editor Paula Guran, the protagonist of this story, Mr. Harry D’Amour, is an already established character. Which may be why this story seemed to flow so much better than most of the rest of the stories so far. D’Amour is a reluctant demon hunter. We know this from the outset and so there is no need for any world building or explanations. Baker is able to cut straight to the point of the story and straight back out again. In fact, this story seemed to read a little like a TV episode: D’Amour is hunting for a demon named Cha’Chat and has to find it before time runs out. No fuss, no muss, no fanciness. Just a bit of ol’ fashioned demon hunting. I loved it.

Uncle Chaim and Aunt Rifke and the Angel by Peter S. Beagle
Now this was what I would call a short story. Beagle didn’t try to cram a whole world into his limited pages. He didn’t give us too much information all at once. Instead, he just added to reality. What would happen if an angel came down from Heaven and demanded to be painted by your uncle? And what if there was something not quite right about that angel?
This story was incredible. Even better was the complete disdain Uncle Chaim had for the angel. He wasn’t taking any high-and-mighty crap from this messenger of God. She would simply be another client. Man, I actually laughed while reading this story. And laughing out loud during stories is almost as rare for me as crying during stories. Beagle has a gift.
My one critique is that the POV got confusing at points. This story is told in first person, from Uncle Chaim’s nephew’s POV. But a fair amount of the story is in third person. Like, it’s the nephew telling us about what the uncle is doing but the nephew wasn’t there. It got confusing but I think it was supposed to be an unreliable narrator/reminiscent kind of voice. It kind of worked, but I had to concentrate really hard so that I wouldn’t get the story wrong.

Demon by Joyce Carol Oates
Yet another story that embraces its form! This one was writing in the abstract. Nothing is defined, nothing is for sure. Not even the time frame. The structure is jerky and almost stream-of-consciousness in some places. No names, just titles. This story is perfect in the form that it’s in. Plus, that scene at the end with the knife and the bathroom? I felt physically uncomfortable and had to look away from the page for a bit. Even though I hate gore, having an adverse reaction to prose speaks to an author’s talent. Not every author can elicit feelings of disgust. Even when they’re supposed to. But Oates did.

Alabaster by Caitlin R. Kiernan
This one was odd. Dancy, our protagonist, is an already established character in her own novel, so there was no world building or anything. But there were a lot of unanswered questions that annoyed me: why was an angel following Dancy? What happened in Bainbridge? What happened to Dancy’s grandparents? I think I would have appreciated this story more if I’d read Threshold, the novel Dancy appears in, before reading the story. That being said, this story was enjoyable, even if I was missing a bit of vital information.

Sanji’s Demon by Richard Parks
Imagine Sherlock Holmes as a demon hunter in Heian Japan (794-1185). That’s all you need to know. This story was magnificent!

Oh Glorious Sight by Tanya Huff
At first, this story is about a boy saved from dockside poverty by a sea captain but the story quickly evolves from there. I think setting this story among sailors was a brilliant idea, as sailors are fairly superstitious people. Or they were back in the day. So Huff managed to seamlessly blend reality and fantasy as well as showing us how different sailors respond in the face of magic, or in this case the angelic.

Angel by Pat Cadigan
A lot of the editorial commentary in this collection goes on and on about the ambivalence of angelic mythology. Are they good? Evil? Somewhere in between? In response to the contradictory legends, Cadigan created a story in which the eponymous Angel is neither good nor bad but feeds on the intensity of human emotion in order to sustain itself. Whether those emotions are good or bad is irrelevant. This story makes a powerful statement about angels without really trying. Plus, the story telling switches between spoken and unspoken dialogue which can be confusing if you aren’t paying attention. Which I think is the point.
Finally, this is the only story I have ever read that has a hermaphroditic protagonist. I think Cadigan was making a further statement about ambivalence and ambiguity, but I just thought it was cool.

The Man Who Stole the Moon by Tanith Lee
This may be the most ambitious story in the whole collection thus far. Lee invented her own hierarchy of demonic folklore. Three different demon races, all with a different place in the food chain of Lee’s Flat Earth. There were also three different realms in this Flat Earth. Not many people could pull off a completely unique world in as few pages as Lee has. Though, admittedly, she may not have been able to do so without the editorial paragraph as a foreword. The story had the feel of one of those fairytales told around the camp fire and the language was just as flowery and borderline-verbose as the old fairytales that we’re used to. But it all worked. Well done, Lee. I am in awe.

The Big Sky by Charles de Lint
The cool thing about this story is that there are no religious or spiritual or any kind of belief-system overtones. Essentially, a man wakes up dead and his afterlife kind of spirals out of control until he accepts that he needs help from his “watcher” (or guardian angel, if you prefer the term). But there was no mention of a God or a higher power. Just people looking after people who have died. And, really, I think that would be an amazing afterlife. Everyone watching out for each other? Too. Cool.

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About Bec Graham

Bec Graham, 24, was born on the wrong continent. Everything from her burns-like-paper skin tone to her inability to cope with the slightest hint of a hot day suggests she should have been born under the gloomy skies and mild sun of the UK. She hopes writing will get her to her rightful home one day. Failing that, she scans the skies for a spinning blue police box, hoping to catch a lift back to the motherland.
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