Mary was a teenage girl engaged to Joseph, a carpenter. An angel came to Mary and told her that even though she was a virgin and a good Jewish girl, the angel was going to impregnate her with the spirit of God, you know, literally.
Well Joseph still married her even though she was “damaged goods” because Joseph also had a little visit from God. When Mary was “great with child” Rome, which Judea was under the rule of, called for a census to be taken. All males and their families were required to travel to the city of their birth and register. Joseph packed up his VERY pregnant wife (AMA I’m guessing) and traveled from Nazareth to his home town of Bethlehem. When he got there, every inn and tavern was full because of the census. An innkeeper felt sorry for the young couple and allowed them to stay in his barn. And Mary gave birth to Jesus there. Three wise men “from the east” are drawn to the stable by the “Christmas star.” They recognize Jesus as their King and give him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
This is the story most people are spoon fed every Christmas. Only people who actually study the bible or have a truly brutal religious leader know that this is only half the story.
After Jesus was born Herod, the King of Judea, learns from his mages that the “Real King” has been born and his leadership is in jeopardy. To protect his rule, he ordered all male children born in and around Bethlehem 2 years and younger killed. This is called the “Slaughter of the Innocent.” Joseph is warned by an angel to get Jesus into Egypt and keep him there until Herod is no longer in power.
The entire story of Jesus’ birth and escape into Egypt is less than one page in the bible. But in Unholy Night, Seth Grahame-Smith manages to expand the story into 300 pages. I picked up this audiobook as some light Christmas reading. I mean we are talking about the author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and How to Survive a Horror Movie. I figured I was in for a little tongue in cheek humor at Christianity’s expense. Although I am a Christian, I’m ok with poking a bit at the faith.
Imagine my utter shock when I realized Mr. Smith wrote this book straight. This is the story of the birth of Jesus from the point of view of the Three Wise Men, specifically Balthazar. Almost nothing is known about these three men, except for what I have listed above. This allowed Mr. Smith to weave a gripping tale about these men, who were actually three criminals who met in a Roman jail and were together by chance.
I have to say, that I loved this book, after I got over the shocks contained in it. This story is violent. I mean “Passion of the Christ,” “Reservoir Dogs” violent. If this story is ever made into a movie, I hope Quentin Tarantino directs it. But the thing is, the bible is full of violence and because Seth Grahame-Smith wrote a story that does not try to change what is to many Christians one of the most sacred stories in the bible, it works for me.
This is not a Christmas story per say, Balthazar and the other wise men do not become true Christians at the end of the book, although Balthazar is fundamentally and forever changed by his contact with the Christ Child. He does find a sense of peace and grows as a person by the end of the novel, and in this it is a glorious story of redemption in the grand tradition of Dickens’ immortal A Christmas Carol. All and all, I have to say that I was blown away by this book. I did not expect something so moving from this author.
For all the Christian readers, have a “Tender Tennessee Christmas” and to everyone have a happy and glorious New Year filled with great food, great friends and great books!!
A few months back Craig Hanks sent me a link to his podcast The Legendarium to add to our ever growing podcasts page. I’ve just now gotten around to updating the list and, while it took me months to finally do so, I have been greatly enjoying the podcast since I first got the link.
The Legendarium Podcast is a book club style cast, where Craig, Ryan, Todd, and Kenn, a smart and funny quartet of geeks, discuss fantasy and sci-fi books, movies, TV and everything else in between. The “Brain Trust” here have great chemistry and the geeky references fly fast and furious and they definitely know their stuff.
These guys are huge Tolkien fans and there is an excellent series of Lord of the Rings and Silmarillion episodes mixed in with other series like The Belgariad and Mistborn. Other episodes cover movie reviews, D&D, Zelda, conventions, Daredevil, and of course, Star Wars. With almost 80 episodes to date there are plenty of shows for you to dip into by way of catching up. This is one hell of a good podcast and since you’re reading this on WWEnd I have a feeling you’ll agree with me. Go listen now and thank me later.
Here at Worlds Without End we love lists. Lists of great books that cover the many different aspects of genre fiction. And from time to time we’ll add a new one to our ever growing list of lists that we get particularly excited about and this is one of those. An LGBTQ Speculative Fiction Resource is our curated list of the best in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer speculative fiction.
This list was a project started by Uber User Stephen Poltz (spoltz) in reaction to our 2015 LGBT Reading Challenge when he could not find a good source for challenge books to read. Steve cherry-picked the Lambda and Gaylactic Spectrum awards along with many other resources online and combined those books with some of our own member selections to create a list that we hope you’ll agree is a great resource that highlights the works of an under-served part of our genre community.
The list is 178 books so far and we’ll be adding to it as time goes on. Check it out and let us know what you think. Don’t forget to check out the reading challenge too. The 2015 edition is winding down with the year but will be back again in January with a new challenge.
Is there anything better in this world than good zombie novel. With the dramatization of Max Brook’s amazing novel World War Z, and AMC’s mega hit “The Walking Dead,” itself a dramatization of Robert Kirkman’s amazing graphic novels, zombies have become “hip” again. Many authors have jumped on the band wagon with greater or lesser success. 1897: Aliens! Vampires! Zombies! is author Sean Michael Welch’s contribution to the genre.
The year is 1897 and aliens while observing the Earth, accidentally unleash a zombie plague on the northern hemisphere. Now these are not completely “inhumane” aliens, when they realize their mistake, they do their best to correct their error, this involves the help of revived figures from history and several 1897 contemporaries.
Zombie novels come in three general types. The first, are the true horror stories, these are the run, scream, bleed, run novels examples include “The Dead World” series by Joe McKinney, and of course World War Z by Max Brooks. When they are well written, zombie books of this type are a true horror story. They win awards and are touted as proof that the genre is more than mindless junk for the masses.
The second type is the zombie as the misunderstood monster. This is a relatively new route for this genre. Examples of this are Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion and The Girl with All the Gifts by Mike Carey. Zombies in these novels are blessed (or cursed) with human emotions and motivations.
Mr. Welch’s novel falls firmly in the third category, zombie comedy. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith is a prime example of this type of novel. These novels should be read with tongue firmly placed in cheek, and when well written are probably the most entertaining of the books in the zombie genre.
No one wants to feel like they are being made fun of, especially readers of a genre, such as the zombie genre, who do not get much respect even among other genre readers. Authors who write zombie comedy have to thread a very slim needle, making sure the reader feels they are in on the joke and not part of it. Go too far one way or the other and an author risks alienating their reader. 1897 threads that needle with flair and finesse.
When I first started reading this novel, my mind instantly went to Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams. This novel contains that kind of humor, smart and funny with just a hint of snark that all really good humor contains. Add in late 19th century manors of speech and dress and you have the making of a funny novel. But like Pratchett and Adams, the humor is dispersed with telling and serious moments.
After finishing this novel I felt my ribs were sore from laughing, but I was also a bit sad. I truly love zombie fiction in all its many forms. Zombie fiction can be a platform to express social issues in a way that can be easily accepted by the masses. I want good zombie fiction, although I have read and enjoyed my share of zombie books of questionable skill. When comedic zombie novels, even good ones like 1897, are released I worry about the genre being taken “seriously.” Let me be completely frank about that last statement. I know the difference between what is fiction and what is true. Climate change is a real concern; zombies are a fun diversion. I just want there to be well written diversions.
As for the story itself, Mr. Welch fills the novel with every science fiction, and fantasy character under the sun. Besides the aliens, vampires, zombies in the title, there are elves, robots, flying horses. About half way through the novel I asked myself well “where are the werewolves,” and the next page had them (sort of). In the hands of a less talented writer, this could have been an overly busy novel, but Mr. Welch was able to give the reader that wink and nod needed. The story ends in a cliff hanger, and this reader for one is looking forward to reading the next installment of the rousing comedic novel. (This book was given to this reviewer by the publisher, Permuted Press, for an honest review.)
3.5 of 5 stars
A Futurist, a UFO researcher and a SF guy all walk into a bar carrying read copies of Solar Express. They sit down and get their drinks.
SF: Well, what do you think?
They look at each other. No one says a thing for a few moments.
SF: That bad?
F: Well… I’m trying to think of something nice to say.
UFO: Don’t bother.
F: The man knows hard science but he knows jack about Futures.
SF: Is he supposed to? Would it help the story?
F: It would be nice if a major SF author knew a little bit of Future Studies. Just the basics, mind. I don’t think that’s to much to ask. But this, hell, this is the worse kind of SF. The stuff I can’t stand.
UFO: Here, here.
F: He simply runs a few of today’s trends out, establishes his baseline and then that’s it. A few trends do not a future make. What about all the other trends and how they interact with the trends he’s using? Nothing. Besides, it’s never the baseline.
SF: Is that a Futures’ secret?
F: No it isn’t. It’s what they teach first day. When you run today’s trends out, you get the baseline, but the answer you’re looking for is never the baseline. I’d be shocked if it was.
SF: So you don’t like his world construction.
F: Exactly. There’s no change. His politicians are jackasses, the politics are so brazenly normal it’s shocking. Post-docs as wage slaves, on the back side of the moon. (Disgust noise.) At least the background glimpses of the society we got in Clarke’s Rama were different.
SF: That’s hardly being fair.
UFO: That’s life.
F: Let’s just say you were reading something from a hundred years ago or so, something Victorian. And they made a big deal about a woman not being a virgin….
SF: Isn’t that a plot point in Tess… something…
UFO: D’Urbervilles. Yeah, it was.
F: Fast forward a hundred years or so to us, and that doesn’t mean a thing. Victorian lit’ is quaint. Human, certainly, but quaint, and concerned with things we don’t care about. And we’re supposed to believe that there’s been no changes like that in the hundred years out to the time of the novel? I think it makes for very uneven reading.
SF: But that really wasn’t the point.
F: Point or not, the fact it’s not there, not even really considered, is important. The society in which this novel is set, is an important point, but he is either not interested in talking about it or does not have the talent to talk about it. What we get is a blasé “they’re just like us” and he moves on to com’ chatter between a shuttle and station control.
SF: That did get a little repetitive, didn’t it? That and the intricacies of station repair. Life and science in space can be quit tedious. So… what else?
UFO: From my perspective, the whole thing was based on a faulty premise. They’re here. The best minds in the field think they’ve always been here. And it’s only Human arrogance, stupidity and lies that we believe otherwise.
F: Now who’s being harsh?
UFO: He’s in a cul-de-sac. Especially a technological one. The way he talks about space travel is quaint.
F: His expression of space travel is a projection forward from the Now, but if the Now is based on a lie or faulty data, then the projection forward is useless. It can’t be a useful baseline if it’s based on faulty data. It’s gibberish.
SF: What’s the lie you mentioned?
UFO: We’ve known since the 50’s that you can go into a lab and break all three of the so-called Newtonian laws. Period. This mean they’re not laws of any sort just approximations of reality under certain conditions. Change those conditions enough and these so called laws stop working.
UFO: Since the government has know that for close to 70 years, space travel as we know it from NASA is a dog ‘n pony show for the rubes. The lie is, that’s the way it has to be.
SF: And we’re the rubes.
UFO: Exactly. The lie covers the existence of what can be called the technology of the gods. We barely survived the nuclear era with that level of technology. Do you really think we could survive “the death star has cleared the planet” levels of technology?
F: The lie is a good thing then?
UFO: Hell no.
SF: So, we’ve got faulty premises and a background society that’s just like us…
F: And M.A.D. too.
SF: Mutual Assured Destruction. Tediousness at times. What else? I’ll add that there were passages that I got bogged down in with all the science and techno babble.
UFO: I thought the arc of the story itself was really obvious. I kept waiting for something to pop up that wasn’t what I expected. I wasn’t expecting monsters or any dribble like that but… you know… observation, mission, solve some problems, get back safely, win the girl and a medal. No surprises.
F: I thought the relationship between those two was… quaint. Almost like something out of the 19th century. They wrote long letters of encouragement to each other. How nice and romantic. That just strikes me as unrealistic. We’re a hundred years out. Moore’s law for computation power seems to have stalled or slowed precipitously. Hell, IBM’s Watson is practically on the level of the COFAR M.I. today. And everyone seemed to have skimped on bandwidth for reasons which seemed either lame or nonexistent.
SF: We’re back to world construction from the trends.
UFO: And those Hotnews! summaries. They reminded me of Ruby Rhod from The Fifth Element.
F: Yeah. Him. If that’s where Humanity gets it’s news, no wonder that society was M.A.D.
SF: That’s scarcely a criticism since the same can be said of our own.
F: I actually thought that stuff was quite tame. Compared to what one might get if you ran today’s crap that passes for news forward by a century.
SF: I liked the quotes.
F: But they’re so applicable to our own society as well.
UFO: That can’t be much of a criticism since one can read the political musing of Cicero and they’re equally valid.
SF: Do we know if he made those quotes up, like Herbert did all the time, or did he get them from somewhere? I assumed he did the Herbert thing. It’s a writing technique I’ve always liked.
F: No idea.
UFO: I assumed it was the author speaking to us through the quotes.
The conversation stalls for a moment as another round of drinks is brought over.
SF: I think we’re being a bit harsh. Isn’t there anything to like in this book?
F: That, I think, is the real problem. It’s solid work, if you just read it and that’s it.
SF: In the moment, it’s fine. But once you start picking at what he’s doing and why, it comes apart.
UFO: You’d have to discount fundamental scientific advancement being in a cul-de-sac since Einstein.
F: And discount the inconsistent use of the trends in your world building…
SF: Nothing memorable about the characters either…
UFO and F glance at each other, knowingly.
F: You’re not going to bring Gally into this are you?
SF: I was not. That’s really not fair. But a fairer comparison would be there’s no Paul Maud’Dib, no Sylia Stingray, no Hal 9000, no Major Motoko Kusanagi, no Deckard. There’s no one here I’m going to remember beyond next Tuesday. No one unforgettable.
F: What’s the name of the captain who leads the team onto the ship in Clarke’s original Rama book? Don’t…
F points at UFO who was about to answer.
SF: I don’t remember.
F: What’s the plot for that book?
SF: Space ship comes cruising in to use the Sun for a gravitational turn. An Earth ship can intercept, so it does, dead silence and alien stuff. Happy endings for first contact; no fatalities. Ship leaves them in the stellar dust.
UFO: The humans in that story seemed saner? more intelligent? less fracked up? than this story.
F: Less petty. But the point was, you don’t remember the fine details of Rama, so you won’t remember the fine details of this either. But a one sentence summery in 20 years? Probably. Like I said, it’s solid work, if you don’t think about it.
UFO: Safe too.
F: Very safe. It’s works on the assumption that we’re just going to teeter along, creating and solving our problems, just getting by, muddling through like we’ve always done. That is a highly dubious assumption.
UFO: And there’s that bullheaded drum beat about how far away other civilizations are, and not going faster than light speed, and why would aliens bother with this backwater. Hideously stupid.
F: Those three things are all assumptions.
SF: And if all three are wrong…can one write great SF?
F: I don’t think so. You can write solid and safe but not great.
SF: Because greatness usually breaks molds, upsets apple carts, and goes places never gone before.
UFO: Can’t accuse this book of that. (Laughs.)
They grow quiet for a moment, finishing the current round of drinks.
SF: We’ve not even skirted around the big lie which sets the book in motion.
UFO: You cannot militarize space. Bull.
SF: The minute I read that statement, which was right after the back cover of the book, I thought we were already in trouble. Another quaint idea.
F: Another assumption about how the world works which, unfortunately, isn’t true.
SF: We’re all adults here. We know N.A.S.A. was incorporated under the D.O.D. which mean anything they do…
UFO: Or find…
SF: …can be classified under national security concerns. That’s how it always starts.
UFO: The Snowdons of the world aside…
F: The exceptions which prove the rule…
UFO: …you can keep secrets. And there are many many secrets in this country.
SF: It seems to me you can militarize space all you want, you just can’t tell anyone, publicly acknowledge that you’re doing it.
UFO: Plausible deniability. Exactly. You need secrets being kept, black projects up and running, with compartmentalization of those projects.
F: Oh my, none of that around here.
UFO: And boatloads of money.
SF: How many times has a D.O.D. head made the trek up the hill in the last 30 years and said…(In a passable Goofy voice) Garsh, hyuk, we seem to have misplaced several trillion dollars. Hyuk.
UFO: More than once.
F: If we have secret space stations…
UFO: Or bases on the moon…
F: Who’s going to know it in the civilian population…? And spill the beans…? And be believed…?
SF: Still, it’s a nice idea.
UFO: I’m too old for nice ideas. Democracy is a nice idea too.
SF: Let’s definitely not go there. That certainly wasn’t part of the novel. I’m really bothered by a feeling that for all our harping, I think you’re right. It’s a solid novel.
F: Except for…
SF: Except for everything which we don’t like about it. I finished. Does that count?
UFO: Do you want a reward? Milk and cookies, perhaps?
F: I see no contradiction in the idea that a solid work can also be complete B.S. Yes, it is forgettable, isn’t it?
SF: Only a handful of books published each year, or maybe each decade, have any staying power at all as the generations pass.
UFO: This isn’t one of them.
SF: So, are we agreed? Solid, Safe and Forgettable.
After a pause, they all nod. They get up to leave.
SF: I’m off to sell my copy.
F: I’m just going to donate mine to the YWCA’s used book sale.
UFO: I have a plant stand that needs a support under one leg….
SF: I thought you’d give it to one of your friends upstairs.
UFO: That’s were I got mine originally. Some of them read a lot.
They all laugh before dispersing into the night…
It’s a phrase I expect to find written in fat, drippy letters on the cover of an EC comic book from the 1950’s. Or one of the empty promises hurled at the audience in the previews for what will prove to be a predictably ordinary 1940’s horror film: Fiendish Tortures!… Ghastly Terrors!!… Cosmic Horror!!!
It is not a term I expect to find in the subtitle of not one but two current releases from New York Review Book Classics – Shadows of Carcosa, Tales of Cosmic Horror edited by D. Thin; and, The Rim of Morning, Two Tales of Cosmic Horror by William Sloane. NYRB Classics is an admirably eclectic sampling of world literature where major if obscure works of European Modernism find themselves shelved alongside noirish crime fiction of both U.S. and European vintages and the novels, memoirs and travel journals of excellent prose stylists who the editors have rightly decided deserve a fresh hearing.
But “Cosmic Horror”?
First of all, what are they talking about? And are they just trying to avoid the even pulpier term, Weird Fiction, which is, by the way, what they are talking about. Weird Fiction found its home in the classic pulp magazine Weird Tales. That magazine had a long run from 1923 – 1954 and several incarnations since, one of which remains in print. Hundreds of authors, many lost to time, appeared in the magazine, but it remains best known for the presence of H.P. Lovecraft in its early issues.
Although Lovecraft acknowledged his many forbearers, his florid, visionary style defined the genre. This new NYRB anthology quotes him on the back cover. He writes that in the true weird tale —
An atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces must be present; a hint of that most terrible conception of the human brain – a malign and particular suspension of defeat of those fixed laws of nature what are our only safeguard against the assaults of chaos and the daemons of unplumbed space.
Lovecraft’s was a cosmic vision, and later writing on the genre introduced and refined the term “cosmic horror.” A Wikipedia entry covers the field but has the unfortunate term “comicism” as a title. The website TV Tropes takes a more casual and entertaining approach. They offer a five-question quiz readers can use when confronting possible entries to the cosmic horror canon. Two negative answers means that you have slipped into the watered down realm of “Lovecraft Lite.”
With the first season of the HBO series True Detective, the Cosmic Horror genre wormed its way into the minds of a great swath of the American public that had probably never considered reading Lovecraft or Weird Fiction. The ritualistic murders and the decadent sect that the protagonists uncovered in the American South made references to The King in Yellow and Carcosa. Viewers and commentators rushed to the internet to unpack those references and found the peculiar 1895 work by R.W. Chambers, a popular if not particularly good writer of the time who specialized in romance novels but turned out several anthologies of weird fiction. In Chamber’s work, The King in Yellow is the name of a forbidden play, a work so diabolical that reading it, particularly reading Act Two, will drive a person mad. The play is set in Carcosa, an imaginary city Chambers borrowed from an 1891 Ambrose Bierce short story. The HBO series employs the terms divorced from any of their previous fictional uses, but weirdness and cosmic horror is all about hints and evocations. True Detective’s grand guignol set pieces and its pessimistic denouement did the tradition proud.
Shadows of Carcosa includes both the Bierce short story and a tale from the Chambers collection. It’s a chronological anthology that begins with Edgar Allan Poe and ends with Lovecraft, therefore much of what is here is “proto-weird.” It’s a progression of established tales that allows editor D. Thin to make a case for a genuine tradition. Genre fans will find mostly familiar material with a few hard-to-come-by entries, and such terror masterpieces as Poe’s “MS Found in a Bottle” or Algernon Blackwood’s “The Willows” are always worth rereading in a new context. For people only familiar with Dracula, Bram Stoker’s “The Squaw” proves that he was a refined purveyor or Victorian frights that had found their way into a more modern world than their Gothic predecessors. Arthur Machen is an enthusiasm I have long aspired to without ever quite attaining, but rereading “The White People” makes me want to have another go at him. Including Henry James and Walter de la Mare may be a stretch for the editor, but I am not one to complain given the quality of their stories.
This was my first encounter with M.P. Shiel, who I know wrote The Purple Cloud (1901), an apocalyptic novel kept in print by Penguin Classics. “The House of Sounds,” his story collected here, is an off-the-rails variation on the theme of a young man’s journey to the remote home of an old college friend. I am not surprised to learn that his contemporaries considered Shiel “gorgeously mad,” and that he had become a “reclusive religious maniac” by the time of his death.
Prose as feverish as Shiel’s or Lovecraft’s, and situations as extreme as those that fill these stories, ask the committed reader not to find the enterprise ridiculous. The writing at its best, or at its worst – these terms can become relative – may be bonkers, but woven through the lurid fireworks are passages effective as both visceral horror and exciting of explorations of extreme psychological states. The diarist in Poe’s “MS Found in a Bottle” is trapped on a ship blown off course and headed for oblivion. His lucidity is the last remnant of his humanity.
To conceive the horror of my sensations is, I presume, utterly impossible; yet a curiosity to penetrate the mysteries of these awful regions predominates even over my despair, and will reconcile me to the most hideous aspect of death. It is evident that we are hurrying onwards to some exciting knowledge – to some never-to-be-imparted secret, whose attainment is destruction.
The two William Sloane novels from the 1930’s gathered in The Rim of Morning may seem like tame stuff compared to the stories in D. Thin’s anthology. To Walk the Night and The Edge of Running Water were Sloane’s only two novels. He wrote a few stories, edited a couple of significant sf anthologies, but spent most of his career as the director of Rutgers University Press. Stephen King writes the admiring introduction to the NYRB volume, and he lets the reader know not to anticipate the kind of horror show that we have come to expect from the genre:
Sloane builds his stories in carefully wrought paragraphs, each one clear and direct. He is a man of the old school, who learned actual grammar in grammar school…and probably Latin at the high school and college levels.
King may be weeding out the sensation seekers, but, like King, I was hooked by the first sentence of each of Sloane’s novels. These openings promise the kind of storytelling I weaned myself on as a child and still find irresistible.
The form in which this narrative is cast must necessarily be an arbitrary one. In the main it follows the story pieced together by Dr. Lister and myself as we sat on the terrace of his Long Island house one night in the summer of 1936.
To Walk the Night
The man for whom this story is told may or may not be alive.
The Edge of Running Water
Sloane’s novels bring in university settings and academic protagonists, which is not surprising given his background. In To Walk the Night, two young men making their way in the New York City financial markets return to their alma mater for a homecoming football game. When they go to visit a favorite astronomy professor, they find him seated in the chair at his telescope in the school’s observatory and burned to a crisp. (Small North Eastern colleges have observatories in these types of stories the same way college professors have elaborate laboratories in their remote country homes – see The Edge of Running Water ff.) The deceased professor had recently acquired, to his ex-students’ surprise, a young, beautiful, otherworldly wife. To the reader’s surprise, when this woman shows up in Manhattan one of the young men falls under her spell, marries her, and moves to the desert. Distressed letters from the young husband brings his friend to Cloud Mesa and sets up Sloane’s final set piece, a conclusion that proves that this director of Rutger’s University Press knew how to put on quite a show.
In The Edge of Running Water, a young science professor answers a distressed message from his mentor who has retired – in disgrace – to some New England backwater. There he continues researches that may change the way we think about life and death. That sounds like the hackneyed plot to some minor, 1940’s Universal Studios Boris Karloff vehicle, and in fact it is. You can stream it on Your Tube under its more suitable Saturday matinee title, The Devil Commands. (I recommend it on principle, not having yet watched it myself.) Sloane squeezes all the action of his final novel into a forty-eight-hours and incorporates a love interest for the young protagonist, a creepy medium whose agenda may run counter to the aging professor’s best interests, and a possible murder. What the novel lacks in suspense it makes up for in characterization and a frenzied conclusion. Sloane’s novels may appeal to only a small segment of the horror market, but they definitely have their place in the history of American fantastic literature. They are best read on rainy afternoons.
NYRB Classics have sprinkled horror and science fiction through their lists, and these two volumes are welcomed additions. Two new titles do not mark a trend, but given the depth and quality of their crime list, weird fiction, cosmic horror, or however they choose to label it is a promising field should they choose to commit to it.