I read the start of The Girl With All the Gifts by M. R. Carey and quite liked it but for some reason I set it down and never got back to it. After seeing this trailer I think I’ll have to pick it up again. This looks really intense.
Horror books come in two basic types, there is the “grab-you-by-your-throat” and the “slow burn.” Done well, both novels can be terrifying, and if a novel is able to give the reader both in the same book, that author should be dubbed a master of their field. Well I say hat’s off to “Master” Thomas Olde Heuvelt for the American debut of his novel HEX. I was hooked by this glorious piece of work from the very start. I finished it in 4 days, and probably would have finished it sooner if pesky things like work, food, and sleep had not gotten in my way!
This novel brings to mind Stephen King. Not so much in writing style but in his ability to strip away the picturesque façade of Small-Town “America.” Black Springs is a typical Up-State New York town. If you read the book jacket you go into this novel knowing that the town is hiding a secret from the rest of the world. Katherine, The Black Rock Witch, has been haunting the village for over 300 years. She appears randomly anywhere in the town, and when I say anywhere I mean in the townspeople’s living room while enjoying a movie, or in their bedroom while making love. The residents of the town have learned to cope with her appearances. There is an entire quasi-military organization called “HEX” to deal with her, and deal with her they do.
HEX grabbed my attention for the very beginning. The best way to describe this novel is like frying food. I know, bear with me. When a cook first puts the oil on the heat, there really is not much to see. I mean, they know the oil is heating up, but there is no real action. Then the cook will start to see the occasional bubble lift to the surface or a wisp of smoke, but add the food and all that energy and force that has been hiding below the surface flares up in a riot of bubbles and foam. The reader knows there is a terrible problem forming in Black Springs, heck the characters know it also, but like the reader, they are powerless to stop it.
What drew me to this story was the dichotomy of small town life and modern technology. HEX had established a high-speed internet service for the entire town and all residents were issued a smartphone so they could have access to an app, documenting the location of the witch. The entire town is complicit in keeping the secret of the witch from the larger world. Because this novel is set in present day, the reader is able to watch the members of the community, and HEX specifically, deal with the possibility of the witch’s discovery through technology.
Why is it so important to keep this witch secret? Because the curse is more than the witch. People who are born in the town and people who move into the town can never leave. If they try to leave, even for an extended vacation, they become suicidal until they return to the town. At some point in the history of the town, the elders managed to sew-up the witches’ eyes and mouth, and bind her hands in chains. This was because listening to her causes the residents to also become suicidal. The couple of times residents tried to remove the bindings, there were deaths in the town.
In the end it is technology and misunderstandings that is the downfall of this community. As a reader, I spent most of this novel alternating between horror and sadness for the residents of Black Springs, all the residents, the living and the dead.
Now this is a translation of the 2013 Dutch original, and the author chose to “Americanize” it as opposed to a direct translation. This version of the novel is set in an American village. I don’t speak Dutch, so I have no way of telling how close this comes to the original, but this was a version of the novel written by the author himself, so I am going to go out on a limb and say that the spirit of the original is going to be included in this translation.
The English translation of this novel is being released on April 26, 2016. Run — do not walk — to get this book. I promise you will not be sorry.
Thank you, Tor Books, for providing this book for an honest review.
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.
I had this as an advanced reader’s copy through Net Galley, and I went into it knowing nothing of the author or the plot. I don’t know, however, that much prior information would have helped me with the first couple of chapters. Meloy dumps us into a netherworld where the planet Mars takes the place of the moon, and characters I sensed were the good guys kept to their side of the street while a pub across the way served as a passageway for very bad things to enter their world. The next chapter involved a farm house bothered by a zombiefied relative who ate hot stew with his bare hands, had to be led away on the tines of a pitchfork, and set on fire in a field.
It took me several pages into the next sequence to realize that Meloy was settling down to his plot. A housing estate somewhere in the UK, with its boarded up shops, council flats, graffiti-covered walls, and threats of violence suggested a dystopian, post-apocalyptic setting, but no, this is just a miserable place to live. Meloy can really pack in the information. With the background of a mass shooting at a day care center, he introduces us to a feckless estate patrolman, an alcoholic hanging onto some sense of dignity, and a social worker whose cases have begun to either kill themselves or others. And there are monsters, hideous creatures that can possess the weak and pursue those who might be a threat to them.
Meloy has worked as a psychiatric nurse, and this section grounded in the world of the housing estate, with his hero Phil Travena dealing with suicidal and homicidal clients, a weaselly new boss brought in to “tighten the ship,” drunks and a growing sense that these monsters may not be hallucinations sets the action in both a very real and very creepy world. Once we are part of the pitched battle between good and evil, things take on the more predictable cast that such battles usually entail. But Meloy continues to create inventive situations, engaging characters, and grand set pieces. His monsters are spectacular creations that wear their debt to Lovecraft lightly. The talking animals are a problem, but that could be my inherent resistance to talking animals.
Much of the plot involves the impending birth of Chloe, a child whose existence is crucial to victory over the dark forces. In one of Meloy’s most successful narrative devices, we get to know Chloe as an adult character, stranded in a dangerous world as she waits to be born. There are also a man and his son who start as characters in a children’s book who become major players in the battle.
At times I felt that Meloy’s story needed a larger canvas than he provides, but when I weighed that against his ability to wrap things up as quickly as he did, I decided he made the right choice. He ties things up well. That illogical zombie scene from the first pages even makes sense by the time the story is over. And although he doesn’t end with cliffhangers, Meloy could easily return to this world for further novels.
Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination at the British Library explores Gothic culture’s roots in British literature and celebrates 250 years since the publication of the first Gothic novel.
Alongside the manuscripts of classic novels such as Frankenstein, Dracula and Jane Eyre, the exhibition brings the dark and macabre to life with artefacts, old and new. Highlights of the exhibition include a vampire slaying kit and 18th and 19th century Gothic fashions, as well as one of Alexander McQueen’s iconic catwalk creations. Also on display is a model of the Wallace and Gromit Were-Rabbit, showing how Gothic literature has inspired varied and colourful aspects of popular culture in exciting ways over centuries.
The exhibit runs through 20 January 2015. See the full press release for more details.
Can the simple shape of a spiral be cause for alarm? Can it be a sign of a curse? A manifestation of a haunting? Or is it a gateway signature to something else entirely? These are the lingering questions that draw us, hypnotically, like the swirling lines of the spiral itself, every deeper into the mystery that is Uzumaki.
Here is what VIZ says about Uzumaki:
Kurôzu-cho, a small fogbound town on the coast of Japan, is cursed. According to Shuichi Saito, the withdrawn boyfriend of teenager Kirie Goshima, their town is haunted not by a person or being but by a pattern: uzumaki, the spiral, the hypnotic secret shape of the world. It manifests itself in everything from seashells and whirlpools in water to the spiral marks on people’s bodies, the insane obsessions of Shuichi’s father and the voice from the cochlea in our inner ear. As the madness spreads, the inhabitants of Kurôzu-cho are pulled ever deeper into a whirlpool from which there is no return!
Uzumaki: The Spiral.
I’d heard that this was a manga to pay attention to. How right that advice is.
Glenn Hough (gallyangel) is a nonpracticing futurist, an anime and manga otaku, and is almost obsessive about finishing several of the lists tracked on WWEnd. This is the first in Glenn’s new series on Vampire Manga, a companion piece to his excellent SF Manga series, which will be accompanied by separate series for Horror and Fantasy.
The Japanese love, love, love, the supernatural. Their folklore and native religion of Shintoism foster a worldview that is positively bursting with gods, demons, and beings of all shapes and sizes living alongside Humanity. When Stoker unleashed his Count Dracula upon the English speaking world, Vampires and European Vampire lore found especially fertile soil in Japan. Like a sponge.
It’s not a surprise then, that Vampire related Manga is prolific enough for it’s own category blog. So we start.
One of the best – number one as far as I’m concerned – is a relative newcomer to the manga scene. It debuted in 2006. What gives it top of the heap status for me? Two words: Mina Tepes.
Princess of the Vampire Clans and Ruler of the Night: Mina Tepes.
Anyone who knows Stoker and the saga of Vlad the impaler should appreciate how deeply entwined her name is in all the Vampire lore which has gone before. How deeply right that name sounds for a Vampire: Mina Tepes.
I love the title of this book. It sounds like something my grandmother would have said around the time I was ten years old and she had noticed my copies of Famous Monsters of Filmland, or the Aurora model kits for Frankenstein’s Monster and Dracula, or heard me whining that my parents wouldn’t let me go see I Was a Teenage Frankenstein. (My parent’s had inconsistent rules.) My grandmother would have looked around and said, “When is Dee going to get over all this horror business.” And the answer to that, of course, is never. It takes hold around the age of seven or eight and doesn’t let go.
This horror fascination is possibly the only thing I have in common with Kirk Hammett, who is ten years my junior but still got hooked around the same biological age. Hammett went on to be the lead guitarist for Metallica, and he has chosen to use some fraction of his disposable income on collecting horror memorabilia in a big way. Too Much Horror Business catalogues his collection of movie posters, toys, movie props, and art. A part of me has to work pretty hard to keep the quotation marks off the word art in the preceding sentence, but he was in a position to buy the original Basil Gogos paintings that became the most famous covers of Famous Monsters of Filmland. Those are cool things to have. He also has a portrait of Bela Lugosi painted in Geza Kende. A little internet research shows that Hammett paid just over $86,000 for the portrait. (Assuming he bought it in auction in 2004.) Kende was a totally forgettable artist, but that price seems about right for something with this kind of special interest.
In his introduction, Hammett states that he did not want the book to be at all academic, and to insure that he decided to compose the text from his own responses to interview questions. He does an excellent job, coming off as a knowledgeable fanboy with a genuine appreciation of material ranging from 1920’s movie posters inspired by German Expressionism to a wallet picturing the Phantom of the Opera in its original packaging!.
The toys and masks are the most interesting part of the collection. There are pages and pages of movie posters, but the abundance mostly marks the decline of poster design from the silent era to the present day. Perhaps in eighty years, the poster for Hellraiser will be as definitive of its day as Hammett’s posters of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari seem to be of theirs, but somehow I doubt it.
Back to the toys. Here the difference in Hammett’s and my age really shows, because while I remained devoted to horror films, I was too old to care about Groovie Goolies or a board game based on Alien. But seeing them now is a kick.
Photographs of Hammett appear throughout the book. In several he performs on the custom guitars he has had made from monster poster images. In another he poses with his young sons surrounded by skulls and models including Frankenstein’s monster, Robbie the Robot, and Ray Harryhausen’s Cyclops from The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. Father and sons snarl and make monster hands for the camera. The corruption of youth proceeds apace.