Posts Tagged ‘horror’
Here are just a few paperbacks coming out in February that have my attention. Tell me what I’ve missed in the comments section.
Why We Write: 20 Acclaimed Authors on How and Why They Do What They Do edited by Meredith Maran
Twenty of America’s bestselling authors share tricks, tips, and secrets of the successful writing life.
Anyone who’s ever sat down to write a novel or even a story knows how exhilarating and heartbreaking writing can be. So what makes writers stick with it? In Why We Write, twenty well-known authors candidly share what keeps them going and what they love most—and least—about their vocation. Read Jennifer Egan’s essay.
18% Gray by Zachary Karabashliev
Distraught over the sudden disappearance of his wife, Zack tries to drown his grief in Tijuana, then returns to the U.S. with a stolen stash of marijuana. Using this as an impetus to change his life, Zack sets off for New York with the weed and a vintage Nikon. Through the lens of the old camera, he starts rediscovering himself by photographing an America we rarely see. His journey unleashes a series of erratic, hilarious, and life-threatening events interspersed with flashbacks to his relationship with Stella and life in Eastern Europe at the end of the 1980s.
A suspenseful, darkly funny love story, 18% Gray won both the Bulgarian Novel of the Year Award and the Flower of the Readers Award when it was first published in 2008, and received the praise of critics everywhere.
Finding Merlin: The Truth Behind the Legend of the Great Arthurian Mage by Adam Ardrey
Merlin: the very name summons up images of the wizard of Camelot — magician, prophet, and counselor to Arthur. The legend is famous but the truth is less well known: Merlin was a real historical figure, a champion of the old way of the Druids, a British man who hailed not from England or Wales, as traditional wisdom would have it, but from Scotland.
Adam Ardrey, who stumbled upon some of the hidden sources of Merlin’s life while researching the history of a Scottish clan, offers compelling evidence that links a very real Merlin figure into the histories of other real and prominent sixth century figures. “Finding Merlin” uncovers new evidence and reexamines the old. The places where Merlin was born, lived, died, and was buried are identified, as are the people surrounding him — his nemesis, the fanatic Mungo, and his friend, the hero Arthur. In this impressively researched and accessibly written book, Merlin leaps from the pages of legend into history.
Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau; Barbara Wright
Contributors: Ben Marcus, Blake Butler, Amelia Gray, Jesse Ball, Harry Mathews, Lynne Tillman, Shane Jones, Jonathan Lethem, Enrique Vila-Matas, Frederic Tuten.
Exercises in Style — Queneau’s experimental masterpiece and a hallmark book of the Oulipo literary group — retells this unexceptional tale ninety-nine times, employing the sonnet and the alexandrine, onomatopoeia and Cockney. An “Abusive” chapter heartily deplores the events; “Opera English” lends them grandeur. Queneau once said that of all his books, this was the one he most wished to see translated. He offered Barbara Wright his “heartiest congratulations,” adding: “I have always thought that nothing is untranslatable.Here is new proof.”
A new edition of the famous modernist story told ninety-nine different ways — with newly translated exercises by Queneau and contributions by some of today’s most acclaimed stylists.
Hat tip to Sarah Gerard, writer and bookslinger, for bringing this one to my attention.
How to Not Write Bad: The Most Common Writing Problems and the Best Ways to Avoid Them by Ben Yagoda
How to Not Write Bad uses this basic tenet — what Ben Yagoda calls “not-writing-badly” — to illustrate how we can all write better, clearer, and for a wider readership. Yagoda offers advice on crafting sentences that are correct in terms of spelling, diction, punctuation, and grammar and that display clarity, precision, and grace. He then moves on to the art of constructing whole paragraphs—focusing on cadence, consistency of tone, word repetition, sentence transitions, and length.
In a fun, comprehensive guide, Yagoda lays out the simple steps that we all can take to make our writing more effective, more interesting—and just plain better. As “lolspeak” and texts take over our linguistic consciousness, Yagoda emphasizes the lost art of grammar and the well-constructed sentence. He provides clear grammatical rules to help students and writers everywhere write better; this is a book for anyone who wants to improve his or her writing.
There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband, and He Hanged Himself: Love Stories by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya
Love stories, with a twist: the eagerly awaited follow-up to the great Russian writer’s New York Times bestselling scary fairy tales
By turns sly and sweet, burlesque and heartbreaking, these realist fables of women looking for love are the stories that Ludmilla Petrushevskaya—who has been compared to Chekhov, Tolstoy, Beckett, Poe, Angela Carter, and even Stephen King—is best known for in Russia.Here are attempts at human connection, both depraved and sublime, by people across the life span: one-night stands in communal apartments, poignantly awkward couplings, office trysts, schoolgirl crushes, elopements, tentative courtships, and rampant infidelity, shot through with lurid violence, romantic illusion, and surprising tenderness. With the satirical eye of Cindy Sherman, Petrushevskaya blends macabre spectacle with transformative moments of grace and shows just why she is Russia’s preeminent contemporary fiction writer.
Exodus by Lars Iyer
A wickedly funny and satisfyingly highbrow black comedy about the collapse of Western academic institutions under the weight of neoliberal economics and crushing, widespread idiocy.
Lars and W., the two preposterous philosophical anti-heroes of Spurious and Dogma—called “Uproarious” by the New York Times Book Review—return and face a political, intellectual, and economic landscape in a state of total ruination.
With philosophy professors being moved to badminton departments and gin in short supply—although not short enough—the two hapless intellectuals embark on a relentless mission. Well, several relentless missions. For one, they must help gear a guerilla philosophy movement—conducted outside the academy, perhaps under bridges—that will save the study of philosophy after the long, miserable decades of intellectual desert known as the early 21st-century.
Granta 122: Betrayal
Without love there can be no betrayal – love of a country, a brother, a wife, a platoon mate, a family. In this issue of Granta, Janine di Giovanni witnesses a nation, Syria, betraying its people; Karen Russell imagines a soldier inscribing the memory of a fellow soldier on his back; and Colin Robinson writes about ancient brotherly friction resurfacing in a game of paddleball. From the playgrounds of New York City to the alleyways of Damascus, here is the theatre of betrayal.
I’d like to apologize now for increasing your To Be Read (TBR) pile but October’s paperback releases are astounding. I know I’ll have my eye out for these as they hit the stores. Some are already on display tables and shelves near you. Go out and find them. They are just asking to be devoured. Oh, and guys, don’t forget to drink water, eat, and talk to people. Happy October and happy reading!
Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis intro by Keith Gessen (reissue)
Regarded by many as the finest, and funniest, comic novel of the twentieth century, Lucky Jim remains as trenchant, withering, and eloquently misanthropic as when it first scandalized readers in 1954. This is the story of Jim Dixon, a hapless lecturer in medieval history at a provincial university who knows better than most that “there was no end to the ways in which nice things are nicer than nasty ones.” Kingsley Amis’s scabrous debut leads the reader through a gallery of emphatically English bores, cranks, frauds, and neurotics with whom Dixon must contend in one way or another in order to hold on to his cushy academic perch and win the girl of his fancy.
More than just a merciless satire of cloistered college life and stuffy postwar manners, Lucky Jim is an attack on the forces of boredom, whatever form they may take, and a work of art that at once distills and extends an entire tradition of English comic writing, from Fielding and Dickens through Wodehouse and Waugh.
The Canvas by Benjamin Stein
Loosely based on the true story of Binjamin Wilkomirski, whose fabricated 1995 Holocaust memoir transfixed the reading public, The Canvas has a singular construction—its two inter-related narratives begin at either end of the book and meet in the middle.
Amnon Zichroni, a psychoanalyst in Zurich, encourages Minsky to write a book about his traumatic childhood experience in a Nazi death camp, a memoir which the journalist Jan Wechsler claims is a fiction. Ten years later, a suitcase arrives on Wechsler’s doorstep. Allegedly, he lost the suitcase an a trip to Israel, but Wechsler has no memory of the suitcase, nor the trip, and he travels to Israel to investigate the mystery. But it turns out he has been to Israel before, and his host on the trip, Amnon Zichroni, has been missing ever since.
Not My Bag by Sina Grace
From the artist of The Li’l Depressed Boy and Amber Benson’s Among The Ghosts, comes a retail hell story like you’ve never encountered before! A young artist takes a job at a department store in order to make ends meet… little does he know that he may meet his end! In this gothic story for fans of Persepolis, Blankets, and The Devil Wears Prada, can the artist withstand competitive pressure, treachery, and high fashion while still keeping his soul?
2017 by Olga Slavnikova
In the year 2017 in Russia– exactly 100 years after the revolution– poets and writers are obsolete, class distinctions are stingingly clear, and mischievous spirits intervene in the lives of humans from their home high in the mythical Riphean Mountains. Professor Anfilogov, a wealthy and emotionless man, sets out on an expedition to unearth priceless rubies that no one else has been able to locate. His expedition reveals ugly truths about man’s disregard for nature and the disasters created by insatiable greed.
The Ecstasy of Influence by Jonathan Lethem
In The Ecstasy of Influence, the incomparable Jonathan Lethem has compiled a career-spanning collection of occasional pieces—essays, memoir, liner notes, fiction, and criticism—which also doubles as a novelist’s manifesto, self-portrait, and confession. The result is an insightful, charming, and entertaining grab bag that covers everything from great novels to old films to graffiti to cyberculture.
Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood (reissue)
First published in 1934, Goodbye to Berlin has been popularized on stage and screen by Julie Harris in I Am a Camera and Liza Minelli in Cabaret. Isherwood magnificently captures 1931 Berlin: charming, with its avenues and caf s; marvelously grotesque, with its nightlife and dreamers; dangerous, with its vice and intrigue; powerful and seedy, with its mobs and millionaires — this was the period when Hitler was beginning his move to power. Goodbye to Berlin is inhabited by a wealth of characters: the unforgettable and “divinely decadent”Sally Bowles; plump Frau lein Schroeder, who considers reducing her Bu steto relieve her heart palpitations; Peter and Otto, a gay couple struggling to come to terms with their relationship; and the distinguished and doomed Jewish family, the Landauers.
That’s Not a Feeling by Dan Josefson
Benjamin arrives with his parents for a tour of Roaring Orchards, a therapeutic boarding school tucked away in upstate New York. Suddenly, his parents are gone and Benjamin learns that he is there to stay. Sixteen years old, a two-time failed suicide, Benjamin must navigate his way through a new world of morning meds, popped privileges, candor meetings and cartoon brunches–all run by adults who themselves have yet to really come of age.
The only person who comprehends the school’s many rules and rituals is Aubrey, the founder and headmaster. Fragile, brilliant, and prone to rage, he is as likely to use his authority to reward students as to punish them. But when Aubrey falls ill, life at the school begins to unravel. Benjamin has no one to rely on but the other students, especially Tidbit, an intriguing but untrustworthy girl with a “self-afflicting personality.” More and more, Benjamin thinks about running away from Roaring Orchards–but he feels an equal need to know just what it is he would be leaving behind.
Beside the Sea by Veronique Olmi
A single mother takes her two sons on a trip to the seaside. They stay in a hotel, drink hot chocolate, and go to the funfair. She wants to protect them from an uncaring and uncomprehending world. She knows that it will be the last trip for her boys.
Beside the Sea is a haunting and thought-provoking story about how a mother’s love for her children can be more dangerous than the dark world she is seeking to keep at bay. It’s a hypnotizing look at an unhinged mind and the cold society that produced it. With language as captivating as the story that unfolds, Véronique Olmi creates an intimate portrait of madness and despair that won’t soon be forgotten.
The Thursday Night Men by Tonino Benacquista
Every Thursday night at 7 o’clock a group of three men meet in Paris. Each man’s life, his story, his situation, is as different from the others’ as can be. What unites them is heartache. Trouble, that is, with women. The meetings are held in a spirit of openness and tolerance.
In an almost religious silence each man confesses while the others listen.
In The Thursday Night Men, Benacquista gives his readers a variety of unexpected and amusing perspectives on romance, the relationship between the sexes, and friendship between men.
Your House Is on Fire, Your Children All Gone by Stefan Kiesbye
Shirley Jackson meets The Twilight Zone in this riveting novel of supernatural horror.
A village on the Devil‘s Moor: a place untouched by time and shrouded in superstition. There is the grand manor house whose occupants despise the villagers, the small pub whose regulars talk of revenants, the old mill no one dares to mention. This is where four young friends come of age—in an atmosphere thick with fear and suspicion. Their innocent games soon bring them face-to-face with the village‘s darkest secrets in this eerily dispassionate, astonishingly assured novel, infused with the spirit of the Brothers Grimm and evocative of Stephen King‘s classic short story “Children of the Corn” and the films The White Ribbon by Michael Haneke andVillage of the Damned by Wolf Rilla.
I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution by Rob Tannenbaum and Craig Marks
I Want My MTV tells the story of the first decade of MTV, the golden era when MTV’s programming was all videos, all the time, and kids watched religiously to see their favorite bands, learn about new music, and have something to talk about at parties. From its start in 1981 with a small cache of videos by mostly unknown British new wave acts to the launch of the reality-television craze with The Real World in 1992, MTV grew into a tastemaker, a career maker, and a mammoth business.
Featuring interviews with nearly four hundred artists, directors, VJs, and television and music executives, I Want My MTV is a testament to the channel that changed popular culture forever.
What paperbacks are you looking forward to this month? Comments are open.
Paolo Bacigalupi is best known for his 2009 Hugo and Nebula Award winning novel, The Windup Girl, a story set in a near-future, post-peak oil, environmentally-catastrophic Bangkok. But before he’d written his highly praised long-form fiction, Bacigalupi came onto the scene with hard-hitting short stories. The 2008 collection, Pump Six, brings many of them together in one place.
Paolo and his work are followed closely within the science fiction community, and for good reason; in addition to the awards listed above, he’s won the John W. Campbell Award and the Locus Award, among others. His name is known outside of the genre world as well; mainstream news outlets, such as the Guardian, praised The Windup Girl to the hilt, TIME magazine included it in their 2009 year-end “Top Ten of Everything” list, and environmental outlets interviewed him asking for his thoughts on the future.
Just as the early science fiction writers of the 1960s were influenced by the space race and the cyberpunk movement of the 80s expressed concern over the coming technological revolution, Bacigalupi, often categorized as “biopunk”, asks us to think about our current environmental uncertainty.
In an interview with Orbit books, when asked about the near-future worlds he creates, where resources are scarce and the environment bleak, Bacigalupi said, “It feels like we’re on the cusp of a series of major shifts in the way our world works, whether that’s a loss of cheap and easily portable energy or global warming, and that raises a lot of question marks about what our future will really look like. . . . I don’t really see major trend lines pushing us in some other, more positive or sustainable direction, so it feels untruthful to me, if I write about anything other than depleted and broken futures.”
On where he finds his material, in an interview with the environmental site Grist, Paolo discussed the important role environmental journalists play in his work: “what they report provides almost perfect fodder for stories, mostly because they can only take the stories so far. Environmental journalists point the way toward saying, ‘The world is changing.’ What I can do with science fiction, then, is say, ‘Well, let’s see how that looks.’”
Instead of categorizing his stories as dystopic, he prefers to call them, if need be, “fear fantasies” or “if this goes on” stories.
Today, most people pay little attention when an obscure creature in the rain forest lands on the endangered species list but what would happen if in the future one of our most common animals, the dog, a household pet, ceased to exist? This is the set up in the Hugo and Nebula nominated story “People of Sand and Slag”. Set in the not-so-distant future, a small group of miners, maintained in their toxic environment by the medical innovation “weeviltech,” which allows them to eat anything and heal quickly, come across what must be the last surviving dog. The dog, its species having thought to have been killed off generations ago, has not adapted to the new surrounding and acts as a reminder of what life was once like. The group isn’t accustomed to, and feels pity for, its fragility and specialized needs: actual food, clean water, and time to mend from injuries. In the end they must make a choice, do they keep the animal alive, care for it regardless of the expense and inconvenience, or do they kill it and free themselves from the hassle created by this seemingly lesser being?
“People of Sand and Slag” reflects Paolo’s thoughts on technology and human advancement. Sure, we can create comforts in the future but will we be moral, will we live noble lives? “That’s what the story is really about. Yes, we can have all the technology in the world and still make some really, really bad decisions. We can create a hell where nothing is left alive except for us, but where we can be very comfortable, because we’ll accept whatever we have to in order to meet our immediate desires. Ultimately, the characters are given a choice between preserving something that’s natural versus their entertainment and expediency, and they naturally choose entertainment and expediency first. And we do that every day,” he told Locus magazine.
Similarly, “The Tamarisk Hunter,” a story inspired by reports of Colorado’s Glen Canyon Dam’s decreasing water level, asks what humans would do if they were faced with a long-lasting, devastating drought: would we help or destroy each other?
The one original story in the collection, “Pump Six,” is named after the sewage pump that facilitates the Upper West Side of Manhattan, roughly Columbia University and the surrounding neighborhood. “Pump Six” begins with indications that things are not quite right. The protagonist’s wife is checking the oven for a gas leak with a lighter, they’re having trouble conceiving, bacon is scarce, and there are degenerative “mash-faced monkey people” known as trogs squatting in Central Park, sleeping in alleyways, and copulating on streets in broad daylight. Even those who are supposedly normal human beings are behaving oddly: miscarriages and illiteracy are on the rise while trog-like tendencies become more widespread as IQ points drop.
Soon the failing sewage system, one-hundred years on since its last inspection and now with the manufacturer out of business, is releasing toxins into the city’s water supply. What happens when infrastructure fails and there’s no one to fix it? A chilling thought for all those dependent on public utilities.
Many reviews of The Windup Girl make reference to William Gibson, the man who coined the term “cyberpunk”. Pump Six opens with “Pocket Full of Dharma,” one of the more tech-infused stories in the collection. In it we follow Wang Jun, a street kid whose livelihood depends on clandestine errands and theft. After a failed attempt to rob a tourist, Jun is witness to a murder and tasked, by the killers, with delivering a data cube. After the hand-off goes awry, curiosity gets the better of him and he hacks into the mysterious object. In it he finds the Dalai Lama’s consciousness. “Pocketful of Dharma” is a subtle story about geopolitics in the future and one that most echos the work of the now-classic author Bacigalupi’s often compared to.
It’s worth noting that two stories in the collection, “The Calorie Man” and “The Yellow Card Man,” are considered prequels to The Windup Girl. If you’re curious about his longer work you have a preview, or, if you enjoyed the full-length novel, there’s more.
The stories Bacigalupi writes have an ambitious agenda: they’re looking to overthrow our modern day mythologies—the adventure and exploration stories that tell us we can become rich and successful. Instead, when Paolo writes he’s “wondering about the creation of another set of myths and models, where we start to get excited about the possibility of being a sustainable species rather than a rapacious species.”
Bacigalupi is roundly praised for his worldbuilding and Pump Six is evidence of his ability to place the reader inside the dark crevices of the cities he creates. While reading you can feel the grime that coats the walls, see the smog that blankets the horizon, and imagine your chemistry changing in some sort of Darwinian response. Motivated by fear of what we might become, Bacigalupi creates decayed worlds so palpable it makes utter devastation seem as if it’s knocking on our door—as if in 10 years we’ll all wake up short of breathe and unrecognizable as the humans we are today.
Buy Pump Six at IndieBound
Paolo Bacigalupi’s website
Interview on io9’s Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy
Interview with Grist
Interview with TIME’s Techland
Excerpts from interview with Locus Magazine (2007)
Interview with SF Signal
Interview with Rain Taxi
Interview with Orbit books Part I
Interview with Orbit books Part II
The parsing of genres into subgenres and then into sub-subgenres has its champions and its critics. Many who oppose it feel it’s a disingenuous marketing gimmick created by the publishing industry to sell more books. Those who encourage breaking down science fiction, fantasy, and horror into further subsections feel it’s easier to discuss the books they like and to find other authors like the ones they’ve just read.
This won’t be the last I mention categorizing books, and I won’t go as in-depth here as I will in the future, however, a brief acknowledgment was is in order before mentioning a recent SF Signal round table discussion that took place on their podcast.
The topic, one I’d been eagerly awaiting, was “Dark Fantasy”. It’s a term I use often to describe a story that is mainly fantastical in nature but has a creepy element to it.
The panel of well-read experts was largely in agreement with the definition: Karen Burnham, editor of Locus magazine’s Roundtable Blog, said that horror is not the main thrust; Paul Weimer, blogger and SF Signal contributor, said that fantasy is the key and the horror is merely lurking; and similarly, John Stevens, writer and bookseller, said that with dark fantasy, the horror elements are there to intensify the fantastical. All agreed that the term was ambiguous and subjective, which is apparent from their selection of books they accredit with the moniker. If you want to know what they suggested, you’ll just have to listen.
Have you read any dark fantasy lately? How would you define it? Who are some of your favorite dark fantasy authors? Favorite books?
On the Shelf for Halloween
Here’s a mixture of dark fantasy and horror titles to get you in the mood for Halloween.
The Complete Grimms’ Fairy Tales by Brothers Grimm (1812)
This was interesting: The first volumes were much criticized because, although they were called “Children’s Tales”, they were not regarded as suitable for children, both for the scholarly information included and the subject matter. Many changes through the editions – such as turning the wicked mother of the first edition in Snow White and Hansel and Gretel to a stepmother, were probably made with an eye to such suitability. They removed sexual references—such as Rapunzel’s innocently asking why her dress was getting tight around her belly, and thus naïvely revealing her pregnancy and the prince’s visits to her stepmother—but, in many respects, violence, particularly when punishing villains, was increased. [Wikipedia]
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1823)
To those who have not read the book, the name Frankenstein is often associated with the monster rather than its creator. The mistake is perhaps not altogether erroneous, for as many critics point out the creature and his maker are doubles of one another, or doppelgängers. Their relationship is similar to that between the head and the heart, or the intellect and the emotion. The conception of the divided self–the idea that the civilized man or woman contains within a monstrous, destructive force–emerges as the creature echoes both Frankenstein’s and narrator Robert Walton’s loneliness: all three wish for a friend or companion. Frankenstein and his monster alternately pursue and flee from one another. Like fragments of a mind in conflict with itself, they represent polar opposites which are not reconciled, and which destroy each other at the end. For example, the creature enacts the repressed desires of its maker, alleviating Victor Frankenstein’s fear of sexuality by murdering his bride, Elizabeth Lavenza, on their wedding night. Identities merge, as Frankenstein frequently takes responsibility for the creature’s action: for instance, after the deaths of the children William and Justine, both of which were caused by the creature, Frankenstein admits they were “the first hapless victims to [his] unhallowed arts.” [Brandeis]
Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897)
By this time I had finished my supper, and by my host’s desire had drawn up a chair by the fire and begun to smoke a cigar which he offered me, at the same time excusing himself that he did not smoke. I had now an opportunity of observing him, and found him of a very marked physiognomy.
His face was a strong, a very strong, aquiline, with high bridge of the thin nose and peculiarly arched nostrils, with lofty domed forehead, and hair growing scantily round the temples but profusely elsewhere. His eyebrows were very massive, almost meeting over the nose, and with bushy hair that seemed to curl in its own profusion. The mouth, so far as I could see it under the heavy moustache, was fixed and rather cruel-looking, with peculiarly sharp white teeth. [BBC]
Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe from 18 Best Stories by Edgar Allan Poe
The vengeful Montresor repays the supposed insults of his enemy, Fortunato. Luring Fortunato into the crypts of his home with the promise of Amontillado sherry, Montresor entombs Fortunato in a wall while the carnival rages above them. [Sparknotes]
The Gormenghast Novels by Mervyn Peake (1946 – 59)
Classic epic fantasy:
Gormenghast, that is, the main massing of the original stone, taken by itself would have displayed a certain ponderous architectural quality were it possible to have ignored the circumfusion of those mean dwellings that swarmed like an epidemic around its outer walls. They sprawled over the sloping earth, each one half way over its neighbour until, held back by the castle ramparts, the innermost of these hovels laid hold on the great walls, clamping themselves thereto like limpets to a rock. These dwellings, by ancient law, were granted this chill intimacy with the stronghold that loomed above them. Over their irregular roofs would fall throughout the seasons, the shadows of time-eaten buttresses, of broken and lofty turrets, and, most enormous of all, the shadow of the Tower of Flints. This tower, patched unevenly with black ivy, arose like a mutilated finger from among the fists of knuckled masonry and pointed blasphemously at heaven. At night the owls made of it an echoing throat; by day it stood voiceless and cast its long shadow. [Titus Groan. Book 1]
Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (1959)
The ghost story is a small genre to begin with, but its subgenre, the psychological ghost story, the category to which The Haunting of Hill House and Henry James’ tales belong, is tinier still. The literary effect we call horror turns on the dissolution of boundaries, between the living and the dead, of course, but also, at the crudest level, between the outside of the body and everything that ought to stay inside. In the psychological ghost story, the dissolving boundary is the one between the mind and the exterior world. [Laura Miller, Introduction to the Haunting of Hill House]
Hellboy by Mike Mignola and John Byrne (Character’s first appearance: 1993)
Hellboy is one of the most celebrated comics series in recent years. The ultimate artists’ artist and a great storyteller whose work is in turns haunting, hilarious, and spellbinding, Mike Mignola has won numerous awards in the comics industry and beyond. When strangeness threatens to engulf the world, a strange man will come to save it. Sent to investigate a mystery with supernatural overtones, Hellboy discovers the secrets of his own origins, and his link to the Nazi occultists who promised Hitler a final solution in the form of a demonic avatar. [Indiebound] Check out some Hellboy Art
The Blade Itself by Joe Ambercrombie (2007)
Dark fantasy meets sharp-edged war story in the standalone tale of a single great battle for control of the North, set in the world of The First Law. Taking place over three days, it follows the misadventures of six varied people on both sides of the conflict and at all levels of command, their stories played out against an epic backdrop of intrigue, ambition, betrayal and, of course, a lot of edged weapons used in anger. [Joe Ambercrombie]
The Years Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2011 edited by Paula Guran (2011)
With short stories from Neil Gaiman, Gene Wolf, George R.R. Martin, Tim Powers, and more.
Welcome to the dark. It comes in more colors than you may have imagined. Quiet blue shadows, a glimpse of ghostly white, a once-dim corner deepening to stygian black, the sudden scarlet stain in the basement, the flash of flesh turning to fur, crumbling ash-gray memories, deep jungle greens, mottled-glaucous full moons, the brown of fresh-turned earth, a cutting slash of silver, the tempting glint of gold, bruising purple, alien orange, urban neons, the iridescent shimmer of colors the human eye cannot always see…Find them all in the words of these masterful storytellers. The best dark fantasy and horror from 2010: more than 550 pages of dark tales from some of today’s best-known writers of the fantastique as well new talents. Chosen from a variety of sources, these stories may help you see the many colors of the dark. [Prime Books]
What are you reading this Halloween?
The first panel at the Brooklyn Book Festival featured three outstanding authors who recently featured children protagonists in their adult novels. The title of the talk was “Kids on the Skids” and was moderated by Richard Locke, author of the nonfiction book Critical Children: The Use of Childhood in Ten Great Novels.
Locke’s book explores 130 years of child representation in adult literature. He examines such characters as Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, and Pip in Great Expectations; Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn; Miles and Flora in The Turn of the Screw; Peter Pan, Holden Caulfield, Lolita, and Alexander Portnoy of Portney’s Complaint.
The panelists included Justin Torres who recently published We The Animals, a semi-autobiographical novel of three brothers growing up in a poor, dysfunctional household—although he would dispute that last term; Tayari Jones whose recent novel, Silver Sparrow, is about a young girl with a bigamist father who learns she and her mother are the secret family out of the two he’s chosen to have; and Kevin Holohan whose book The Brothers’ Lot is a satirical look at Catholic priest abuses through the lense of students at a boys school in Dublin.
It was a question I’d never thought to ask: how do authors use childhood and child narrators in novels meant for adults? It’s easily overlooked as you settle into a book—absorbed in the story, taken in by the dialogue, and intrigued by the characters. But how do books differ when told by someone without life experience, a person inherently naive, and by someone who might not have the language to explain the world around them. The answers the authors gave were thoughtful and eye-opening.
In his book, Kevin used children as a way to critique an institution. To him the child characters act as a counterpoint to the nastiness of adults. His explanation echoed Richard’s findings that children in literature offer an ethical alertness and a fresh perspective untainted by the cynicism of adulthood.
Tayari’s characters came about through her personal feeling that “children matter,” that young people belong to the world just as much as grownups, and that they often suffer from their marginal status in society.
Justin’s novel is informed by looking back on his childhood as an adult making sense of an experience. He wanted a view absent of the language “pop-psychology” has injected into our lexicon—words such as “dysfunctional” and “abusive”. This intentional exclusion echos the childhood experience, the one where our lives appear normal.
It was a great discussion by four insightful authors, one that undoubtedly add layers to how I view stories from a child’s perspective.
What was the last adult novel you read that had a child protagonist? Were you aware of the point of view?
On the shelf . . .
Tin House: The Ecstatic vol. 13 Summer 1
Tin House is a quarterly literary magazine now in its twelfth year. Their issues, featuring fiction, poetry, essays, interviews, and beyond-book-report-style reviews, are always worth reading from cover to cover. The latest, entitled The Ecstatic, has eye-catching cover art from Matt Hansel, fiction from Small Beer Press founder and author Kelly Link, an essay on drugs from Peter Berbergal whose book is forthcoming from Soft Skull Press, some thoughts on Joey McIntyre formerly of New Kids on the Block by the lovely Emma Straub, poetry from Meghan O’Rourke, and an interview with poet and novelist Ben Okri. Tin House is the perfect place to get all your edgy, literary kicks in one place. You can keep track of them through their website, on Facebook, and at Twitter: @Tin_House.
The Book of Cthulhu edited by Ross E. Lockhart
H.P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu has had a lasting effect on science fiction, fantasy, and horror writers. This collection includes mythos-inspired stories from Charles Stross, Cherie Priest, Elizabeth Bear, and many others.
Before I get to the next three books on my list, it’s worth noting that a great author interview make me take notice of a book. There were three interviews this week that grabbed my attention. The first two, Catherynne Valente and Genevieve Valentine, were archived shows from the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy, a great sci-fi oriented podcast hosted on the popular website io9.com. The last one was a public radio interview with Toure about his latest book.
Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente
Catherynne is an author as well as the Fiction and Poetry Editor at Apex Magazine, a monthly mag for science fiction, fantasy, and horror. In her interview with the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy she talks about the books she read as a kid, her love of myth, and how she came up with the term “mythpunk.” She also talks about roasting lamb on a spit while reading the Illiad and how young writers can start publishing their work. You can check out her website here where she has a great FAQ page and a lot of stuff available for free.
Here’s a description of Palimpsest, the story of a “sexually transmitted city” from IndieBound:
Between life and death, dreaming and waking, at the train stop beyond the end of the world is the city of Palimpsest. To get there is a miracle, a mystery, a gift, and a curse—a voyage permitted only to those who’ve always believed there’s another world than the one that meets the eye. Those fated to make the passage are marked forever by a map of that wondrous city tattooed on their flesh after a single orgasmic night. To this kingdom of ghost trains, lion-priests, living kanji, and cream-filled canals come four travelers: Oleg, a New York locksmith; the beekeeper November; Ludovico, a binder of rare books; and a young Japanese woman named Sei. They’ve each lost something important—a wife, a lover, a sister, a direction in life—and what they will find in Palimpsest is more than they could ever imagine.
Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti by Genevieve Valentine
Genevieve writes both fiction and nonfiction—including movie reviews where she loves to skewer really bad films. You can keep track of her movie-going here. You can find all of her writing and links to other projects through her website.
In her interview with the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy she discusses how she came to write—and appreciate the many layers of—steampunk, her inspiration for writing a book about the circus, and—of course—some very bad films that are still worth watching, or not.
Here’s a brief excerpt from Mechanique on my Tumblr page.
Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness: What it Means to be Black Now by Toure
Toure discussed the premise of his book on The Leonard Lopate Show—that the notion of blackness has changed over the years. Using pop culture and politics, Toure shows that a younger generation is navigating the new landscape based on their experiences rather than their parents’ and grandparents’.
Toure begins by examining the concept of “Post-Blackness,” a term that defines artists who are proud to be Black but don’t want to be limited by identity politics and boxed in by race. He soon discovers that the desire to be rooted in but not constrained by Blackness is everywhere. In Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness? he argues that Blackness is infinite, that any identity imaginable is Black, and that all expressions of Blackness are legitimate.
The New York Times, in a timely review, called it “one of the most acutely observed accounts of what it is like to be young, black and middle-class in contemporary America.” And went on to say that “Touré inventively draws on a range of evidence — autobiography, music, art, interviews, comedy and popular social analysis — for a performance carried through with unsparing honesty, in a distinctive voice that is often humorous, occasionally wary and defensive, but always intensely engaging.”
What’s on your shelf this week?
“Nothing in this building is to be taken lightly, my dear, nothing at all.”
I’d like to say outright that it takes a chapter or two to settle into the The World House. I give forewarning because after acclimating to the pace and structure of the story, the reader is rewarded tenfold. In this dark fantasy, Guy Adams creates an impossible mystery within an alternate dimension set outside the usual notions of space, time, and logic.
The book begins with the reality-based lives of multiple characters, many unconnected and rooted in different continents and time periods. Miles, a modern-day Brit, owes gambling debts to a man who collects in cash or broken bones; Penelope, living in 1920s America, finds that her fiance has a dark side; Tom, also an American, is a hack musician who spends his waking hours inebriated and pining after Elise, a stripper who frequents the same bar when she’s done with work; Pablo is a hired thief in Spain during their Civil War of the 1930s; and Sophie, described as “special-needs,” appears to be somewhere on the autism spectrum and for that reason not much is known about her origins. What they all have in common is a chance encounter with an ancient box and a stressful moment. In an instant, the artifact unlatches and pulls them inside the surreal world of an old, Victorian house.
Alan, a middle-aged history professor from modern-day Florida, however, is an exception to those unexpectedly transported. An unexplained bout of amnesia has wiped out any memory of his earlier years. Preoccupation with lost time leads Alan to an obsess over the legend of a mysterious box. Determined to find this object known to steal people away, rarely returning them, he spends much of his time researching its whereabouts and placing ads offering a price to anyone who might have it in their possession.
One day he’s contacted and given instructions for a meetup. Expecting a hoax or a false alarm, as has been the case with past encounters, he’s surprised to see the real thing in front of him. After paying a generous sum, he’s drawn through and finds himself in a jungle—later revealed to be a greenhouse. Immediately, he comes across Sophie, newly transplanted, unsure of where she is and how she got there. Alan takes it upon himself to protect her, which turns out to be a heroic endeavor since there’s a Lord of the Flies type situation happening amongst the jungle-residents they meet.
The interweaving stories of these characters, spilt into three groups as they travel the house, are complex and disorienting yet surprisingly coherent. Their adventures provide vivid images of a horrific location: a playroom with a live game of Chutes and Ladders, a library with dog-sized bookworms, a bathroom where a royal navy sails through treacherous waters, and rooms connected by hidden portals. Alternating between the separate groups in quick succession, each of their predicaments equally intriguing, Adams builds tension through compelling cliffhangers. The effect is effortless page-turning.
As the story unfolds—unforced, organic, and without banalities—the experience is mind-bending and to give anything away would be a criminal act. When you come up on the last few pages of The World House make sure you have the sequel, Restoration, on hand. You won’t want this story to end.
Guy Adams’ page at Angry Robot
If you’re on Twitter and follow literary publications, writers, or bloggers, you’ve probably seen the hashtag #longreads. You may also be familiar with the Twitter handle @longreads, the founder of the hashtag and the account that seeks out long-form writing in order to disseminate it to their followers. My general definition of a long read is anything that flows onto a third page (think New York Times pages online). Typically, it’s anything that takes some effort to finish in this age of internet distraction. For me, 3 pages of online reading is much harder to sit still for than 3 pages of reading in the park. My long read pick of the week is a fairly lengthy article that ran in the Christian Science Monitor about writing workshops, specifically the famed Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
As alumni gathered in Iowa this year for the creative writing program’s 75th anniversary, a once-student of the program, Robert A. Lehrman, wanted to know more about the state of serious writing “in an age of Twitter and Mortal Kombat”. He wondered about the serious novelist’s and poet’s ability to create imaginative work and asked if workshops, in general, have helped. The piece turns out to be more of an inside look at a prestigious group of fiction writers and poets than it succeeds in answering Lehrman’s questions but if you’re a fan of the literary life, it will feel just as informative.
For those of you who don’t live in the 7 or so cities that often host author readings, there are a few bookstores who record their events and later post online—these are also more often than not uploaded to iTunes. Skylight Books in Los Angeles gets some great authors and they are among the savvy who record. You can find their archive here and subscribe via iTunes so you never miss another reading.
And now for books of the week. I recently raided the science fiction, fantasy section of my local bookstore so pardon the genre-heavy list this week:
You Must Go and Win by Alina Simone
I recently saw Aline Simone read at WORD bookstore in Brooklyn. She was part of music and book blogger Largehearted Boy’s monthly reading series, Largehearted Lit. As a musician and writer, Alina was a natural fit for this curation. Largehearted Boy pairs up two authors and a musician for an amazingly fun night of reading and playing. Alina’s book, her first, is a collection of essays about travel, music, and family. You can listen to her event at the Los Angeles Public Library for their ALOUD series. Then go to her website.
Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fictions and Illusions by Neil Gaiman
I saw Neil Gaiman last week interviewed by fantasy writer Lev Grossman (The Magicians, The Magician King). This was for the 10th anniversary of Neil’s American Gods, which I’ve reviewed here. Basically, all of Neil’s books are on my list but I’m looking forward to this one in particular, mainly because short stories are great for subway and before-bed reading.
The End of the Line edited by Jonathan Oliver
At Neil’s talk, one of the questions prompted a short discussion about horror writing. He said two interesting things: one, that he uses horror in his writing as a condiment—meaning that he sprinkles it on rather than creates a full meal out of it—the other thing he said was that horror writers are usually very pleasant people while romance writers are usually bitter. Not to get him into trouble, but I thought that was pretty funny. It also made me realize that I never read horror and that I should throw one or two titles into the mix. While growing up, my mom read a lot of Stephen King. I remember trying to read Cujo once but never got into it, which was probably a good thing since I was easily scared and hated the feeling of it. In high school—or maybe college—I read all of Poppy Z. Brite’s books but never went any further. When I was scouring the horror section at the bookstore, which was disproportionately represented by King, Ann Rice, and Clive Barker, I found The End of the Line, a collection of horror stories that take place on the Underground, the Metro, and the subway. As a New Yorker with a monthly unlimited metrocard, this seemed like the perfect place to pick it back up. I didn’t recognize any of the writers, which isn’t surprising. I’m looking forward to going into this blind.
The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett (book one of the Discworld series)
Terry Pratchett is a humorous fantasy author well-known and loved within the genre. Discworld is his 38-book series that began in 1983. Although Terry’s site mentions that you don’t need to start from the beginning and that many of the novels can stand alone, I prefer to start with book number one, The Color of Magic. Apparently there are lots of strange creatures, wizards, and digs at typical fantasy themes in the series. Should be fun.