Sixteen tales of entomological horror – ‘scary bugs’ to the layperson – spanning 1846 to 1938. And they’re 99.9% spider-free! Moths and ants seemed to predominate but there were beetles, bees, even praying mantises.
A few of the stories are brilli-‘ant’ while the rest are a ‘beetle’ mediocre. Still, they were aw-‘flea’ interesting from a historical perspective, preoccupied with empire and evolution. The introductions to each piece contained spoilers, which ‘bugged’ me so I ended up skipping to the stories and didn’t go back to read them afterwards. I have marked the stories I liked best. I was surprised to find that the best in the collection was by an author I’d never heard of, Clare Winger Harris. I already expected to like the stories by Wells and Blackwood, as I usually do.
‘The Sphinx’ by Edgar Allan Poe – psychological horror during a cholera epidemic.
‘The Blue Beetle: A Confession’ by A G Gray, Jun. – Frankenstein-inspired cautionary tale.
‘The Mummy’s Soul’ by Anonymous – a bloodthirsty fly and a mummy’s curse. *
‘After Three Thousand Years’ by Jane G Austin – a tragic story, again with a mummy theme.
‘A Dream of Wild Bees’ by Olive Schreiner – a strange fable, rather than horror.
‘The Moth’ by H G Wells – an academic is haunted by a moth that no one else can see. *
‘The Captivity of the Professor’ by A Lincoln Green – a highly-evolved insect civilisation in the jungle.
‘The Dream of Akinosuke’ and ‘Butterflies’ by Lafcadio Hearn – two stories, sad not scary, set in Japan.
‘Caterpillars’ by E F Benson – terrifying tale of revengeful caterpillars. *
‘An Egyptian Hornet’ by Algernon Blackwood – an encounter with a hornet brings out a vicar’s worse nature. *
‘The Blue Cockroach’ by Christopher Blayre – not keen on the style and didn’t really get this one.
‘The Wicked Flea’ by J U Giesy – eccentric professor breeds an enormous flea.
‘The Miracle of the Lily’ by Clare Winger Harris – brilliant dystopian eco-horror. *
‘Warning Wings’ by Arlton Eadie – supernatural story, set at sea.
‘Beyond the Star Curtain’ by Garth Bentley – pulp science fiction adventure.
‘Leiningen Versus the Ants’ by Carl Stephenson – a plantation owner won’t let the ants win.
This book is a good companion to Evil Roots (also edited by Daisy Butcher) although not quite as marvel-‘louse’. If you’re looking for insect-themed weird fiction, you can’t go wrong with this volume.
Published in the British Library’s ‘Tales of the Weird’ series, 2021.