Buying a cheap e-reader provides new ways to be a cheapskate – besides the traditional sport of writing vindictive one-star Amazon reviews ("WORST BOOK EVAR!") because the publisher priced the ebook 50p higher than you'd prefer. There's masses of free fiction at Project Gutenberg, including stories about which I've been curious for decades, if not curious enough to spend money ...
For example, Theodore Sturgeon's introduction to a 1972 collection of his stories plugs the forgotten children's fantasy The Garden of the Plynck (1920) by Karle Wilson Baker – who at some stage in her life must have been bitten by a radioactive Lewis Carroll. Among many exceedingly peculiar characters, the story features a pet called the Snoodle whose mother was a snail and whose father was a noodle, a pedigree noodle. Though sometimes a fraction too twee, this has enough Carrollian verbal and imaginative weirdness to make it well worth the Gutenberg download. Thank you, Mr Sturgeon.
Also for children and also forgotten, Walter de la Mare's epic monkey quest The Three Mulla-Mulgars (1910) gets high praise from John Clute in The Encyclopedia of Fantasy as "arguably WDLM's single greatest fiction, and certainly one of the central Animal Fantasies of the 20th century". It is indeed very good, and it's on the virtual shelves at Gutenberg. Thank you, Mr Clute.
Of course you can't win every time. In his autobiography, theatre critic James Agate recommended Voyages and Travels of Count Funnibos and Baron Stilkin by W.H.G. Kingston, in which the buffoonish noblemen of the title make grandiose world-touring plans but never – this is the big joke – get beyond Holland. It caused me no pain, but I'm glad I didn't pay certain e-retailers' vast prices like $0.95.
Much more disappointing was John Polidori's The Vampyre (1819), the other story inspired by the famous writing-party at the Villa Diodati that included Lord Byron and both Shelleys, and led to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Like many pioneer genre works, The Vampyre is fearfully clunky. Its cleverest imaginative touch came from the publisher, who in hope of a scandalous bestseller left Polidori's name off the title page and instead used Byron's.
One of my unsecret vices is reading cobwebbed old crime fiction as a change from space opera and epic fantasy trilogies. The critical round-up Queen's Quorum by Ellery Queen is a handy guide, listing the "most important" (this doesn't necessarily mean the best) detective story collections since Edgar Allan Poe set the criminous ball rolling in 1845. Did you know that Baroness Orczy of Scarlet Pimpernel fame wrote a longish series in which her eccentric sleuth The Old Man In The Corner solves crimes while sitting in a London teashop obsessively tying knots in a piece of string?
My silliest e-detective discovery is the once highly praised Hamilton Cleek from The Man of the Forty Faces (1910) by T.W. Hanshew. The name's an alias, as subtly conveyed when this master criminal taunts Scotland Yard with letters signed "The Man Who Calls Himself Hamilton Cleek". Almost immediately, though, he reforms and turns detective, cracking horrific cases like "The Riddle of the Red Crawl" – a fearful haunting by "a hideous and loathsome creature, neither spider nor octopus, but horribly resembling both". It doesn't take Cleek long to nobble a villain in red spider/octopus costume. "I'd have gotten away with it too, if it weren't for that meddling Cleek."
But Hanshew gets an SF Encyclopedia entry because Cleek, besides being rightful king of Ruritania (here thinly disguised as Mauravania), has a genuine superpower! By sheer force of will he can instantly rearrange his face and impersonate people well enough to fool close family members. Apparently his pregnant mother played with a rubber doll that had stretchy features, and by the logic of complete ignorance of genetics this influenced her unborn child. Science has come a long way since 1910. Nowadays he'd have been bitten by a radioactive make-up artist.
David Langford luckily has no room for Cleek's sidekick Dollops the boy wonder, who fights crime with "tickle tootsies" (please don't ask).