Recently, I strolled through Robert Aickman’s short story collection The Wine-Dark Sea. I had been wanting to read some of his stories and picked this one because it was available from the library.
The book is made up of stories pulled from other collections. Other than a story (“The Hospice”) that I had read in an anthology (Masterpieces of Terror and the Supernatural, A Treasury of Spellbinding Tales Old & New, Selected by Marin Kaye), the collection was my first exposure to Aickman’s writing. It’s rare, at such an advanced and jaded age, to fall in love with a new-to-me writer.
Paul Charles Smith has a discussion of the title story here, which he posted, coincidentally, around the time I finished reading the story. He mentions how different the mood is compared to other Aickman stories. At the time I read Smith’s post, I hadn’t read enough Aickman to understand what Smith was talking about. Aickman stories show the strange in the everyday. They build at a pace that some might call slow. They bubble with unease and a feeling that uncanny or uncomfortable things exist just out of our sight. He used allusion (what some might call vagueness), grounding characters and setting while placing bits of strange, a grain here and there, grains that accumulate past the end. Grains that linger.
The Wine-Dark Sea is an excellent introduction to his work, and is available in paperback from Faber Finds, along with another reprint collection (The Unsettled Dust) and an original collection (Cold Hand In Mine). Tartarus Press has reprinted several of his collections, in attractive but expensive hardbacks (though less expensive than used copies of the original editions). I’m looking forward to reading them all.