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Great Science-Fiction & Fantasy Works

  Science-fiction & fantasy literature: a critical list with discussions.

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Robert Aickman

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Standard Disclaimer:

This is a brief discussion of Robert Aickman and, of course, of some speculative-fiction books by Aickman.

This discussion and list does not necessarily include every book by Aickman: it includes only those books that I both know and like. Just as with the author list itself, omission of a particular item may mean I didn’t think highly enough of the omitted item, or it may simply mean that I have not yet sufficient familiarity with it. (In a very few cases, I have listed some books merely on the strength of my opinion of the author: all such books are clearly marked below, as throughout these lists, with a hash mark (#) before the title so you know what’s what.)

I don’t pretend that this discussion is a deep analysis. My intent is no more than to give you a rough idea of what kinds of tales Aickman tells, how those tales are usually told, and what makes them and Aickman worthy; in sum, to help you rank Robert Aickman (and the works by Aickman listed here) on your personal literary “to do” list.

A Few Words About Robert Aickman

Robert Aickman is sometimes described as a writer of “ghost stories” or even just “horror stories”. But, as with a few other masterly authors, such as Arthur Machen and Shirley Jackson, whose works are also sometimes so described, Aickman was a good deal more than such simplistic descriptions imply.

Aickman himself described his works as “strange stories”, and that is a reasonably good description. Typically, the protagonist will be a mild-mannered ordinary man, unimaginative and arguably not too bright, who finds himself involved with circumstances rarely overtly evil or dangerous, but which a more percipient soul (such as the reader) would run away from at top speed. The eerie is hinted at, not paraded. Indeed, (again as with Shirley Jackson), the real story is not the events but the psychology they manifest.

Aickman is not merely a master of cold grue: he is a master of clean, elegant prose. His work is a pleasure to read. The mood or tone is normally one of a sort of lassitude, corresponding to his protagonists’ inability to act decisively. There is a more or less dream-like quality to the pace of his tales.

A randomly selected specimen:

I was strolling about the streets of Wolverhampton, with all the girls giggling at me, or so it seemed, when I came upon a sort of small fair. Not knowing the town at all, I had drifted into the rundown area up by the old canal. The main streets were quite wide, but they had been laid out for daytime traffic to the different works and railway yards, and were now quiet and empty, except for the occasional lorry and the boys and girls playing around at some of the corners. The narrow streets running off contained lines of small houses, but a lot of the houses were empty, with windows broken or boarded up, and holes in the roof. I should have turned back, but for the sound made by the fair; not pop songs on the amplifiers, and not the pounding of the old steam organs, but more a sort of high tinkling, which somehow fitted in with the warm evening and the rosy twilight. I couldn’t at first make out what the noise was, but I had nothing else to do, very much not, and I looked around the empty back streets, until I could find what was going on.

Speaking of “tales”, we should note that while Aickman wrote a couple of novels, his clear forte was the short story. For a long time, his works were either very scarce or very expensive or both, but in recent years there has been an overdue flourishing of interest in him, and much of his oeuvre is now available at reasonable prices (notably the volumes from Faber—The Wine-Dark Sea and The Unsettled Dust make a good start—and the one from New York Review of Books Classics series, Compulsory Games).

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Other Robert Aickman Resources

Robert Aickman Resources on the Web

For an author who seems little known to a general readership—or even the speculative-fiction community—Aickman has remarkably generous and insightful coverage on the web:

There is also an area of Thomas Ligotti’s site with audio content of Aickman reading some of his own work (into a home tape recorder).

As always, Google Is Your Friend.

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Robert Aickman Resources in Print

I know of only one book fully devoted to Aickman: Robert Aickman: An Introduction, by Gary William Crawford. (Aickman’s autobiography, in two volumes—The Attempted Rescue and The River Runs Uphill—is also available, but both volumes are scarce and expensive).

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Notable Science-Fiction and Fantasy Books by Robert Aickman ****

(For more possible titles by this author, see the “Unrated Books by Rated Authors” page.)

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