2012: The Year in Horror Publishing
This may well be the latest-ever 2012 end of the year listing. Sorry, but I’ve found that as I get older reading time grows increasingly difficult to come by. That’s a shame, as publishing-wise 2012 (unlike the year’s movie scene) contained more than its share of good, and sometimes even great, books.
To be sure, there were quite a few publications I wanted to read in 2012 but just didn’t get to (including Graham Joyce’s SOME KIND OF FAIRY TALE, Ramsey Campbell’s THE KIND FOLK and Stephen King’s THE WIND THROUGH THE KEYHOLE). At least I was able to finally get around to reading several 2011 publications I missed out on last year, which is the reason for the “Worthwhile 2011 Publications I Missed” listing near the end of this piece.
This time around, you’ll find, I’m dispensing with my usual groupings in favor of four categories--“The Great,” “The Good,” “Everything Else” and the abovementioned “Worthwhile 2011 Publications I Missed.” So with that in mind let’s get started with…
It begins with the aging singer Lennart discovering an infant girl left for dead in a forest. The girl possesses a near-angelic singing voice, which impresses Lennart mightily. He and his wife decide to surreptitiously raise the girl, who they christen Theres, away from the eyes of authorities. This has the effect of further stunting the girl’s already damaged psyche, and at age 12 she commits a horrific act of violence--the first of several, as it turns out.
Theres ends up in the care of her older brother Jerry, who exploits her singing talents in a most unexpected manner: he enters her in the Swedish equivalent of AMERICAN IDOL. Among the viewers of the program is 12-year-old Theresa, a borderline sociopath who feels an immediate kinship with Theres. The two meet via Twitter, and form a disturbing bond that can only lead to bad things, especially when a pedophile music promoter enters the picture and Theres uses Twitter to gather together a mini-gang of pubescent adherents.
All these elements play a role in the profoundly bleak and nasty finale, which forcibly demonstrates just how fearless Lindqvist is in following his material to its darkest extremes. The narrative never plays it safe (there’s no police inquest or romance to leaven the horror) and is never less than entirely convincing in its rendering of modern teen girls whose existence is defined by reality TV and social media. Yet like all successful novels LITTLE STAR works ultimately because it tells a damn good story, and does so in consistently absorbing and surprising fashion.
Another great 2012 publication was
MY FRIEND DAHMER (Abrams ComicArts),
a graphic novel written and illustrated by DERF BACKDERF.
Backderf attended Ohio’s Revere High School with serial killer Jeffrey
Dahmer in the late 1970s, an experience that as depicted in this book
wasn’t too different from what most of the rest of us experienced in our
own adolescent years. We all knew a weird kid with limited social skills
who was treated as an object of merriment by his classmates, and about
whom you might have subsequently claimed (as Backderf depicts himself
jokingly stating near of the end of this book) “he’s probably a serial
killer by now.”
AGAINST GOD (Quattro Books), the
first-ever English translation of the work of Quebec’s PATRICK
SENECAL, was another standout ‘12 publication. It’s a propulsive
depiction of grief and madness, experienced by a 35-year-old man who’s
just lost his family.
RAISING HELL: KEN RUSSELL AND THE UNMAKING OF THE
RICHARD CROUSE (ECW Press) is in my view one of
the few truly essential movie making-of books, seeing as how it tells
the story of one of the most remarkable films of the 1970s: Ken
Russell's delirious 1971 masterpiece
THE DEVILS. That film has been profiled
a fair amount over the years (see the BBC documentary HELL ON EARTH),
but the full story of its conception, filming and ultimate undoing has
remained untold until now.
As the novel opens the aforementioned author, suffering from writer’s block, receives an email from “An Admirer” requesting that the writer ghostwrite a novel for him and turn over all authorship rights. The writer’s response to this request is interrupted by four other email correspondents, each with equally eccentric, and weirdly similar, queries. First is OpenSea, a pretentious novelist who likes to needle the writer, telling him he should write a self-parody. Then there’s Banana, a female fan who’s attempting to string her dreams together into a novel (of sorts) that she wants the writer to help her finish. There’s also P-0, who likes to compose self-described “pastiches” of the writer’s stories, and now seeks to reverse the process by writing the pastiche first. Finally we have the aging Pandora, who entreats the writer to draft a novel about her dying pooch Albert.
Of course I’m quite aware that the above might seem to make THE GHOSTWRITER out to be an example of the type of postmodern gobbledygook that afflicts a lot of today’s fiction, and which quite a few readers (this one included) go out of their way to avoid. In truth, however, the novel, like all of Zoran Zivkovic’s fiction, is eminently readable and a lot of fun.
GRAVEYARD SPECTRES (Elektron Ebooks) by Belgium’s late JEAN RAY is a slim five story ebook that collects five Ray stories. They include “The Shadowy Street” (also known as “The Tenebrous Alley”), which is widely acclaimed as Ray’s masterpiece. It’s a novella length account of considerable daring and ingenuity, pivoting on two linked narrative strands. In the first a family finds that their home is haunted by invisible presences, and in the second a young man discovers a mysterious alleyway only he can see; eventually he ventures into the alley, and what he finds demonstrates Ray’s considerable flair for surrealistic apprehension--and, in the apocalyptic final passages, outright horror. Of a similar hue is “The Mainz Psalter,” about a ship besieged by otherworldly creatures that favorably recalls William Hope Hodgson’s classic tales of sea-bound horror, but marked by Ray’s unmistakable mix of old school apprehension and 20th Century surrealism. Taken as a whole this slight publication is far from ideal for horror buffs wanting a full representation of Jean Ray’s peculiar genius, but since Ray’s other English language publications are extremely difficult to obtain GRAVEYARD SPECTRES gets a default recommendation.
The fearsome figure of the 15th Century
French child killer Gilles de Rais continues to exert an enduring
fascination. Rais was a fiercely multifaceted individual, fighting
alongside Joan of Arc as a commander in the French army and later
dabbling in necromancy before killing dozens--possibly even hundreds--of
IN BLUE by
RICHARD THOMA (Elektron Ebooks)
takes a highly florid and poetic approach in this tragic tale.
MINSKI THE CANNIBAL by MARQUIS DE
SADE (Elektron Ebooks) is an extended except from Sade’s 1200 pages
opus JULIETTE, in which the eponymous Juliette, having escaped a
debauched convent and devoted her life to evil, happens upon Minski, a
giant ogre who lives in a secluded seaside cave. He’s stocked the place
with slaves who kidnap hordes of young people for the amoral Minski to
butcher and devour. All he eats is human flesh taken from the countless
people he kills, accomplished through a complex system of torture
apparatuses. Juliette loses two of her companions to Minski’s depraved
lusts and, even worse, is forced to listen to him lecture interminably
about the joys of debauchery. Eventually Juliette turns Minski’s
philosophies against him by drugging the asshole and making off with
much of his fortune.
I’M NOT SAM
(Sinister Grin Press) is the latest offering from the great
JACK KETCHUM, written in collaboration with filmmaker LUCKY McKEE.
The book suffers somewhat from being a short story stretched to
novella length (with all the noticeable flaws that entails) and the fact
that its premise isn’t terribly original (see the Nicole Kidman film
BIRTH and the Keigo
Higashino novel NOAKO), yet no Jack Ketchum effort is entirely unworthy.
A GLIMPSE OF THE NUMINOUS
JEFF GARDINER (Eibonvale) consists of fourteen
stories that evince a startling range of styles and subject matter.
I SAW ZOMBIES EATING SANTA CLAUS
by S.G. BROWNE
(Gallery Books) is a sequel to Browne’s comedic zombie epic
BREATHERS. I haven’t read that novel, yet I SAW ZOMBIES EATING SANTA
CLAUS works well enough as a standalone narrative, being funny, gory and
even touching--just as you’d expect from a Christmas-themed zombie mash.
ZONA: A BOOK ABOUT A FILM ABOUT A JOURNEY TO
A ROOM by GEOFF DYER (Vintage) is certainly one of the most
idiosyncratic film studies I’ve ever encountered. The subject is Andrei
Tarkovsky’s Russian sci fi-art film
STALKER, with which author Geoff Dyer
is admittedly obsessed. That obsession here takes the form of an
exhaustive scene-by-scene analysis of the film, which is anything but
the dry and over-intellectualized tripe that typifies this sort of book.
The year of the story-within-the-story is 1916. The central characters include an adventurer afoot in Poland, a Polish babe fleeing her stifling family life, a country priest and the latter’s dissatisfied wife. All have the misfortune of boarding the Arkangel, a train whose ultimate destination is signified by the book’s title. Innumerable macabre shenanigans, presided over by an inhuman conductor, are in store, including internment in a coffin, dismemberment, a mutant insect attack and more.
My favorite parts of HELL TRAIN were the chapters set in the story without, in which the screenwriter protagonist meets with Hammer’s overseers and plans out the prospective film. That film was of course never made, a fact I don’t much regret, as this novel is a diverting enough bit of grade-B mayhem but not much else.
REEL TERROR (Thomas Dunne Books),
in which author DAVID KONOW attempts to chronicle the entire
100-plus year history of horror cinema, points for ambition. I’ll also
give Konow a nod for keeping his facts straight, since, speaking as one
who knows more than a bit about classic and current horror cinema, I
didn’t detect too many factual errors. Unfortunately those are about the
only nice things I can say about this book.
Worthwhile 2011 Publications I Missed Last
It centers on Feather, a teenage girl who assumes the lead role in the opening story “The Tiny Window on River Street.” “Yellow Eyes” follows, in which Feather resides in a secluded shack with her hippie father, who lives in fear of someone he calls The Measuring Man. At a couple points Feather experiences vividly described dreams; this is significant, as dreams become increasingly prevalent as the book advances.
In “The Angels” and “The Book of Tides” Feather is the houseguest of two disturbed writers who each live by the sea, and who are both impacted irrevocably by her presence. In “The Magpies” Feather emails the unstable Elizabeth, whose mental state isn’t helped at all by an unidentified potion Feather sends her. The novella length “To Call the Sea” is an alternately beautiful and maddening piece involving a haunted dorm and all the sand, sea and dream imagery so integral to the book’s overall atmosphere. In an “Endword” entitled “The Sea Train,” David Rix himself assumes the lead role, regretting that he left Feather so unsettled in the preceding pages yet finding himself powerless to alter her destiny.
AUTOMATIC SAFE DOG (Eibonvale) was
the first novel by the English writer and musician JET McDONALD.
In it we’re introduced to the burgeoning industry of Pet Furnishing, a
practice that began with a dog whose owners for some reason sawed off
its legs and replaced them with castors. From this grew a lucrative
retail niche, with warehouses springing up throughout England dedicated
to turning dogs into furniture. The protagonist Telby (as in Terribly)
works as a dog comber in one of those warehouses, where he falls in love
with his fetching boss Ravenski. Unfortunately Telby is fired after he
and Ravenski break the back of a dog bench by sitting on it together.
Telby, however, is still hot for Ravenski, and somehow cons his ways
into Pet Furnishings’ corporate elite, where rabies induced sex sprees,
testicular transplants and disembodied vaginas are the order of the day.
There's never been a time travel account
quite like THE SILVER
NINA ALLAN (Eibonvale). It's
a collection of five standalone stories, all with definite links. This
to say that several characters recur in varying guises and time frames,
with a mysterious watch turning up in each tale and causing all sorts of
odd disruptions. Yet what ultimately makes these stories sing is the
author's unerringly observant, character-driven writing style.
One 2011 publication I simply can’t live
without is HIP
POCKET SLEAZE by
JOHN HARRISON (Headpress), which may well turn out
to be the bible for sleazy book connoisseurs. The author clearly knows
the pulp book world in and out, providing a brief yet informative
history of the paperback as well as a plethora of reviews and checklists
of all sorts of sleazy publications. There’s coverage on James Herbert's
THE RATS, Charles Manson cash-ins and witchcraft exposes, as well as
biker, JD, Nazi-sploitation and movie novelization paperbacks.
There are interviews with the likes of lesbian pulp pioneer Ann Bannon,
sci fi-porn specialist Richard E. Geis, trash fiction maestro Jim Harmon
and even H.G. Lewis, in what as far as I know is the only
interview devoted entirely to Lewis' novelizations of BLOOD FEAST and
TWO THOUSAND MANIACS. Rounding things out are chats with the paperback
collectors Chris Eckhoff and Mariam Linna, whose tales of rare book
finds had me seething with jealousy.
WAR EAGLES: THE UNMAKING OF AN EPIC
by DAVID CONOVER and PHILIP J.
RILEY (Bear Manor Media) tells the story of the
alleged "Greatest movie never made." I believe that may be overstating
the case, but 1939’s WAR EAGLES is a mighty intriguing piece of film
history. It was conceived as a like-minded follow-up to KING KONG by
that film's creators Willis "Obie" O'Brien and Merian C. Cooper, but
never made it to production. All that remains of WAR EAGLES are some
conceptual drawings, production notes and a shooting script, all of
which are reproduced here. Author David Conover carefully and minutely
traces WAR EAGLES' every surviving permutation, examining each piece of
evidence and interviewing everyone he can find who had a connection with
DELIVER ME FROM EVA
by PAUL BAILEY (Bruin
Books) is a recently interred 1946 pulp relic that, contrary to what
you may have heard, is not a very good book (much less the "neglected
classic" some have proclaimed it). It is engagingly nutty, however,
being a fast moving and often (intentionally?) funny account of
medical madness that plays like a Stuart Gordon movie set within a
1940s-era pulp framework.
NOS4A2 By JOE HILL: Get it? “Nosferatu?” I’ve no idea what this book is about but it’s by Joe Hill, which I believe should be recommendation enough for anyone.
UNUTTERABLE HORROR By S.T. JOSHI: Nobody alive knows more about horror lit than S.T. Joshi, and this two volume history of supernatural fiction promises to be the ultimate horror reference.
DOCTOR SLEEP By STEPHEN KING: The one and only SHINING sequel comes with a lot of advance hype. Let’s hope the novel, when it finally appears this fall, lives up!
THE RITUAL OF ILLUSION By RICHARD CHRISTIAN MATHESON: A new novella by the talented (if frustratingly unprolific) R.C. Matheson, who can usually always be counted on for good stuff.
STRANGE TALE OF PANORAMA ISLAND By EDOGAWA “RANPO”: From University of Hawaii Press, the first-ever English translation of an important novel by Japan’s Edogawa Rampo (here spelled with an N rather than M).
THE CITY OF THE STRANGE FEAR & OTHER TALES OF HARRY DICKSON By JEAN RAY: An Ex Occidente Press vetted collection by the incomparable Jean Ray that’s limited to just 100 copies--so if you’re interested you’d better act quickly!
THE CRAZY CORNER By JEAN RICHEPIN: A collection of self-proclaimed “Horrible Stories” by one of the masters of the 19th Century contes cruel school of horror fiction.
THE TUTU, MORALITY OF THE FIN-DE-SIECLE By “PRINCESS SAPPHO”: A “lost” 1891 novel, apparently “the most outrageous decadent novel ever penned. At once appalling and funny, it recognizes no taboos whatsoever…” Sounds intriguing, no?