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August 22, 2013

Satanic Summer: Horror Fiction for Hot Days

satans_beach  by Cameron Pierce

Horror is typically associated with autumn, when the days turn shorter, the air grows brisk, trees lose their leaves, and jack-o’-lanterns take their place on every doorstep. But there’s plenty of horror that’ll keep you awake through the sweltering nights. Here are eight short stories and seven novels perfect for the summer.

Note: With the short stories, I’ve included links to a collection/anthology containing that story to make them easier to track down.

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May 17, 2013

When horror stopped being supernatural

Nowhere left to run for horror? Brad Pitt in the 2013 film of World War Z.

Nowhere left to run for horror? Brad Pitt in the 2013 film of World War Z.

How afraid should we be for scary reading now that fiction’s monsters are being reinvented as worldly threats?

By David Barnett

It’s a cliché to say that Author W does for Subject X what Author Y did for Subject Z. But it was one I found unavoidable when I turned the final page of Benjamin Percy’s excellent Red Moon, released last week.

For it has to be said that Benjamin Percy does for werewolves what Justin Cronin did for vampires and, before that, Max Brooks did for zombies. This century the monsters of old have been taken out of the shadows. Where once a single, terrifying creature sparked supernatural terror, now monsters have become the product of science, of viruses, of very human meddling. They have multiplied and been recast from the night into bright sunlight on a global scale. The horror is now the prospect of monsters supplanting humanity … but does that make them any more scary?

Vampires, werewolves and the revenant dead have been the unholy trinity at the heart of modern horror since the days of folk tale. But their journey from archetype to ubiquity has, I feel, been brought to an almost inevitable conclusion.

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March 21, 2013

James Herbert: Master of British horror fiction

OthersThe late writer’s early novels mined primal fears of scurrying rodents and lethal chemical spillages, inspiring a new wave of dystopian fiction

By David Barnett

James Herbert, who has died aged 69, will be remembered as one of the pillars of British horror writing. Herbert managed the rare feat of straddling both genre and mainstream fiction; at the height of his career, he was often spoken of in the same breath as Stephen King, and sales of his books have run to more than 42m.

He shot to fame in 1974 with the publication of The Rats, and there can be few people who grew up in the 70s who didn’t furtively pass around a dog-eared copy of this and its follow-up, Lair, revelling in Herbert’s gory set-pieces and plentiful graphic sex scenes.

With The Rats, Herbert established himself as a master of the sort of apocalyptic horror that’s so popular today – from Justin Cronin’s The Passage to any number of zombie novels. There can be few authors working in the field of modern dystopian fiction who don’t owe a debt to his work.

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November 8, 2012

Horror: a genre doomed to literary hell?

Horror: ripe for resurrection … a still from the 1981 film The Evil Dead

The status of the crime and SF genres is being raised by great modern writers. Why hasn’t horror received the same treatment?

By Stuart Kelly

For a while now, so-called “literary” and “genre” fiction have been moving from outright opposition to a cautious rapprochement. Literary writers such as Jonathan Lethem, Donna Tartt and Michael Chabon increasingly deploy tropes and images from genre, while genre writers have upped their stakes considerably in terms of complexity, moral resonance and style. Sophie Hannah, Josh Bazell and Denise Mina have reinvented crime fiction; Charles Yu, Iain M Banks and M John Harrison have given a literary uplift to science fiction; while China Miéville, Jeff VanderMeer and Kelly Link have done the same for fantasy. But horror – the third aspect of “speculative fiction” – has had markedly less success. Yet it might be the genre most tractable to our contemporary concerns.

 

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November 1, 2012

What Scares You? 30 Terrifying Horror Stories Straight Out Of Your Worst Nightmares

By Kimberly Turner

Fear is subjective and personal. The things that haunt your nightmares and the things that cause my breath to quicken—they are probably not the same. Some people are hit hardest by subtle seeping dread and things unseen. Others, by in-your-face gore and guts. Still others, by the darkness of the human psyche.

That’s why making a definitive list of the most terrifying books of all time (which I originally set out to do) is a futile endeavor. Instead, I invite you to stroll down phobia lane until we find the horror that pushes your buttons, poking around until we discover a soft spot that makes you cringe. Because that’s what Halloween is all about.

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August 28, 2012

Why The Hell Do We Want Everyone To Die and Eat Our Brains?: Zombie Fiction and The American Obsession With The End of the World

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , , , — Bookblurb @ 6:57 am

By Keith Rawson

Death

The irreversible cessation of all vital functions especially as indicated by permanent stoppage of the heart, respiration, and brain activity : the end of life. *

No subject has held greater weight in regard to the human condition then Death. Sex, love, hatred, greed, envy, etc. — none of it holds a candle to the time and thought that’s been put into examining the Big D. It is, of course, with good reason. Death is the unknown integer, the single aspect of being human we can know absolutely nothing about. But in my opinion, it isn’t the physical act of dying that we fear, but what comes after.

The Afterlife

In philosophy, religion, mythology, and fiction, the afterlife (also referred to as life after death, the Hereafter, the Next World, or the Other Side) is the concept of a realm, or the realm itself (whether physical or transcendental), in which an essential part of an individual’s identity or consciousness continues to reside after the death of the body in the individual’s lifetime. According to various ideas of the afterlife, the essential aspect of the individual that lives on after death may be some partial element, or the entire soul, of an individual, which carries with it and confers personal identity.

What does become of us? What happens after the physical body stops? Does the soul linger? Does it travel to a paradise or damnation? Is it reborn into the body of a new being? Or does it just cease to exist? Are the soul and the afterlife simply fairy tales we’ve told ourselves over the centuries to comfort our fear of the great unknowable? Why do we want to believe that the possibility of immortality exists, even if that immortality is a hellish bastardization of life?

Zombie

A person who is or appears to be lifeless, apathetic, or totally lacking in independent judgment; automaton; a corpse brought to life in this manner.

The zombie is, in my opinion, the very essence of that bastardization. Much like the vampire, the zombie is a romanticized version of the afterlife based, partially—and particularly the modern version of the monster—on a distorted version of the Eucharist of Christ:

Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you... “

But unlike the vampire, which over the last twenty years has become a thing of teenage fantasies, the zombie is a complete horror that isn’t hemmed in by the religious doctrine that dictates the vampires every move. The zombie doesn’t entrance or beguile, it does not desire minions; it has no fear of crosses or silver or garlic, and it has zero fear of the sun. It has one purpose and one purpose only—to devour the flesh of the son of man, and it does so in shambling, starving packs.

And very much unlike the vampire, the zombie isn’t a different species; they’re your mom and dad, your girlfriend, your first grade teacher; they are us.

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March 16, 2012

Love Love Lovecraft

Filed under: Authors — Tags: , , , , , — Bookblurb @ 7:07 pm

LURID: vivid in shocking detail; sensational, horrible in savagery or violence, or, a twice-monthly guide to the merits of the kind of Bad Books you never want your co-workers to know you're reading.

By Karina Wilson

Seventy-five years ago today, Howard Phillips Lovecraft slipped out of this world in a morphine daze, after a long battle with intestinal cancer.  He was a prolific writer of stories, poetry and letters, but had never published a novel. Although he was not unknown among fans of the Weird Tales oeuvre, he remained unrecognized in mainstream circles.  He was living in poverty and suffering from malnutrition when he died.

Posthumously, as is so often the way with starving artists, he became a literary luminary, thanks to the efforts of his fellow writers, specifically August Derleth who founded the Arkham House press in order to publish collections of Lovecraft’s work.  Lovecraft is now acknowledged as a ‘Master of the Macabre’, a direct heir to Poe whose influence has shaped the visions of countless horror writers and film-makers.  In Danse Macabre Stephen King describes him as “the twentieth century horror story’s dark and baroque prince” and credits a volume of Lovecraft stories for triggering his own interest in the genre:

Lovecraft… opened the way for me, as he had done for others before me: Robert Bloch, Clark Ashton Smith, Frank Belknap Long, Fritz Leiber and Ray Bradbury among them.  And while Lovecraft, who died before the Second World War could fulfill many of his visions of unimaginable horror, does not figure largely in this book, the reader would do well to remember that it is his shadow, so long and gaunt, and his eyes, so dark and puritanical, which overlie almost all of the important horror fiction that has come since.”

But Lovecraft is not the easiest writer for the casual reader to enjoy.  His work is mired in xenophobia and outright racism – even by the standards of his time (compare him to Edgar Rice Burroughs).  His female characters carry trays of food around, faint and little else.  His rambling descriptions of oddly shaped rocks or non-Euclidian geometry can be impenetrable after a paragraph or three.  His obsession with committing to paper “unnameable things” which must not, indeed cannot, be described (except with terms like “noisome” or “eldritch” or “formless”) made him a poster boy for post-structuralists, who commandeered his use of language to support their pompous polemics in the 1980s and 1990s.

Worse still, Lovecraft’s loosely linked set of ideas about ‘the Old Ones’ which he used to underpin his storytelling (he termed it, flippantly, Yog-Sothothery) became the Cthulu Mythos, a framework which other, lesser writers used to create lumbering fanfic allegories about Good vs. Evil.  The concepts that Lovecraft came up with as a sly joke between himself and fellow antiquarians (like the existence of an ancient, evil grimoire, the Necronomicon) have been entrenched, via repetition and repurposing, in a faux-scientific fanboy universe, where individuals who take themselves far too seriously vie to be Cthuluier than thou.  Lovecraft’s writings are discussed and disputed as philosophy and scientific theory, as opposed to genre fiction, and usually collapse under the weight of critical expectations.

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February 25, 2012

LURID: Deadlier Than The Male

LURID: vivid in shocking detail; sensational, horrible in savagery or violence, or, a twice-monthly guide to the merits of the kind of Bad Books you never want your co-workers to know you're reading.

By Karina Wilson

Murder is a man’s, man’s, man’s world, supposedly.  There’s a rigid gender equation at work in both newspaper headlines and airport paperbacks: male killer, female victim(s).  The traditional view has been that female killers are rare, that those of the “gentler sex” have to be provoked into murder most foul by extreme circumstances, usually sexual abuse.  Even in fiction, they have to be (in Shirley Maclaine’s telling categorization) a “victim, doormat or hooker” first, before they are permitted (by their usually male creator) to embark on a vengeful rampage.  In order to be a sympathetic character for the reader, they must maintain their fragile, feminine core.  Yes, Lisbeth Salander, I’m looking at you.

It gets off-putting for female readers if women keep ending up on the mutilated-and-dumped-on-an-empty-lot side of the crime thriller equation. Especially when there are five seasons of Investigation Discovery’s most decidedly Lurid true crime show, Deadly Women, in my Netflix queue that suggest that the tables are often turned.  While male killers seem to grab the headlines and the stereotypes, over the centuries the female of the species has been quietly poisoning, suffocating, and even stabbing and shooting her victims.  It’s just that you never noticed.  She’s clever like that.

FACT: female serial killers escape detection for, on average, eight years, almost twice as long as their male counterparts, and may even go for decades before anyone even realizes that there is a serial killer at work.  Put that in your electric chair and smoke up a side of beef.  No, wait: juries are often reluctant to give women the death penalty, and prefer to hand down life sentences, unless the convicted’s crimes are heinous indeed. Carol Bundy, one half of the Sunset Strip Killers, got a life sentence (although she died in jail) while her partner, Doug Clark, was sent to Death Row.  Not all murderers are equal under the law and sexism cuts both ways.

There is a long-established culture of females who kill (and kill again) that gets less and less underground by the day. The number of women convicted of homicide has exploded since 1970, and on the other side of the law, governments are recognizing that women operatives represent a valuable resource. My top secret source (thanks “J”) tells me that many new Delta Force assassins are women, and I’m sure you all saw that story about Iranian female ninjas.

So where are their fictional sisters, goes the cry? Where are the female Hannibal Lecters, Dexter Morgans, Patrick Batemans, James Bonds, Tyler Durdens and Tom Ripleys?  It’s true they’re more difficult to spot than their butcherly brethren, and are often the far-off object rather than the first person subject of narratives.  Nonetheless, deadly damsels have been a staple of Bad Books for centuries – where would Shakespeare be without Lady Macbeth and Tamora, Queen of the Goths?

Aside from revenge killers, like The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, or Dawn Kincaid in the Kay Scarpetta books, female multiple murderers can be categorized into six basic types, according to Michael & C. Kelleher’s Typology (Murder Most Rare, 1998).  Although this list was derived from US studies in the 1990s, the real life categories have plenty of fictional antecedents. You just have to look in some of the less obvious places.

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February 15, 2012

LURID: My Top 10 Bloody Valentines

LURID: vivid in shocking detail; sensational, horrible in savagery or violence, or, a twice-monthly guide to the merits of the kind of Bad Books you never want your co-workers to know you're reading.

By Karina Wilson

Happy Valentine’s Day! Whether you currently count yourself as a lover, or not, today’s thoughts naturally turn to that biggest of Big Questions: what is Love, anyway?

A friend once told me that his version of Love was watching his girlfriend drink coffee in the morning and thinking “everything is going to be alright”.  That’s cute, but… really?  I’d say Love is the polar opposite; it’s glimpsing your loved one doing something innocuous (like sucking on a latte) and experiencing a stomach-churning mix of terror, vulnerability, pain, ecstasy and the discomfiture of your blood leaving your brain and flooding your nether regions.  It should make you stumble. It should make you weep. It should make you painfully aware that everything is not “alright”, and it never will be again so long as both of you exist on this planet — and in some cases, thereafter, and down the generations of your luckless descendants.

In my book(s),  Love is… dangerous, insane, complicated, dirty, vicious, inconvenient, overwhelming, destructive, humiliating and often fatal.  Bad Books are not driven by healthy relationships.  Au contraire, the dynamism comes from couplings that are twisted, unnatural, shocking and just downright wrong. The flame of passion blazes even brighter because there’s nothing safe, stable or sensible about the connection between two individuals. Does anyone really want to read about “happily ever after”?

If you want genuine fireworks this Valentine’s Day, instead of the sappy, Hallmarked, cute-coffee-drinker variety, then let these Lurid couples illuminate how Love truly burns.

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February 9, 2012

Beyond the Zombie: Something Ominous is Missing from Horror Fiction

Column by Jack Joslin

My friend, Phil, claims to be afraid of nothing. When I ask what he means, he says that “vampires and werewolves and zombies have become the new Pokemon. And I hate the Pokemonization of monsters.”

He has a point. I find that I too am no longer frightened by zombies, werewolves, vampires and all their monster friends. Their power seems to me diminished. When I think about horror — not the genre, but the sensation, that malevolent presence hanging like fog — I think of certain early twentieth century British authors: M.R. James, Algernon Blackwood, Dennis Wheatley, Arthur Machen, and William Hope Hodgson. By their words, infant Jack found true terror.

This is not to attack vampires, werewolves, or zombies. It is not to attack their defenders for their preferences. But something has gone. Once these monsters struck terror by plucking on the basic fears of the reader. Inevitably, we overindulged – after all, they’re pretty awesome. But no longer really terrifying. Now they have become, as Phil put it, Pokemon monsters. D&D manuals exist containing Cthulhu – Lovecraft’s Elder God, vast and transcendent – with a full list of stats like STRENGTH and INTELLIGENCE, each one dutifully numbered. You can even find said monstrosity in Nintendo games and beanie toys.

Algernon Blackwood’s short story “The Willows” offers no such specificity as to the horrors befalling the main characters. Two men take a canoe trip down the Danube river, camping by the water. Plenty of horror archetypes are present: ominous warnings from a passerby, strange shapes moving in the foliage, noises at night as the two nervous campers tremble in their tents. There is something terribly wrong with the willows; something, moreover, that existed long before either of these travelers set intrepid foot into unknown territory. This scared me: that just outside our hermetic familiar world, under the veneer of “safe” everyday life, was something very real, elemental, and unknowable. Something that had existed forever.

This is not something confined to the horror genre. A classic of American literature hints at this very elemental terror. See how Ishmael finds horror in the whiteness of the whale in Moby Dick:

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