Shock Totem #10 (Jan 2016)
- Shock Totem #11—Available Now!
- The State of Shock Totem Publications, or We Are Not ChiZine Publications
- Closing for Submissions
- Shock Totem Returns!
- Apex Publications Acquires Shock Totem Book Line
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 8
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 7
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 6
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 5
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 4
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Tag Archives: Clive Barker
While attending the World Horror Convention in Atlanta, I encountered a charming young man by the name of Aaron Dries. Sure, we’d crossed cyber paths before and I was familiar with some of his short-story work…but that was all.
I bought a copy of this book, A Place for Sinners, mainly because House of Sighs was sold out and I wanted to read some of his longer work. Having attended his reading at the same convention, I was blown away by his use of language and the use of word as brick and foundation for the many horrors he unleashed. I decided then and there, based on that reading alone, this kid was going places.
About two weeks after the con, I cracked into A Place for Sinners. I had no real clue what it was about aside from the vague promises whispered by the back cover copy. I thought it was about wild dogs. And it is, a little, I mean they’re in there and crucial to the plot but…my oh my, are they just the tip of the iceberg.
The novel opens with young Amity Collins, lost and alone and being chased by…wild dogs. Through this unfortunate series of events, she is left both fatherless and deaf. She finds herself forever on the run from wild dogs, literal and symbolic.
After the setup, we embark on a journey with Amity and her brother, Caleb. They’ve decided to take a trip to Thailand and just live a little. Amity decides to book passage to the island of Koh Mai Phaaw, a tourist trap with a gimmick that allows tourists to ply the simian population with bananas and soda. It was only a matter of time before the shit hit the fan.
This is where things get nuts. Not a little bit screwy, 80’s pulp horror nuts, but way out-of-left-field kind of Clive Barker nuts. People turn out not to be as they seem. In fact one of them turns out to be one of the most ghastly representations of guttural evil I have ever laid eyes upon. I literally had to pause just now and play over things from this book in my head…the wounds are still fresh. Still stinging.
The pacing is brutal, the characters strong and surprising. When there are twists, they are fucking twists. I mean, not a little M. Night Shyamalan kind of oooh. More of a throw-the-book-down, stand-up-and-yell “WHAT?” and then dig back in. Bottom line of this book is strength. It’s all about bravery and strength, and if you keep wiping the grue from your eyes, you’ll clearly see that.
It’s a vicious story and one that will keep you nailed to it. Just when you think you might see what’s coming, the dirty pillowcase is pulled over your head and you feel knuckles on your ribs and no matter how much you plead…the story doesn’t let up. And the language, the words—Aaron uses broad colorful strokes and meticulous sketches to render this large mural of pain and suffering and strength and savagery. He paints with brushes dripping with love and hate, awe and revulsion. But like a true master, he keeps painting.
I hope we see much more from this young man.
For every big name horror author that you hear about—Dean Koontz, Stephen King, Clive Barker or Brian Keene—there is an extremely unsettling number of lesser known writers who deserve to be every bit as famous or well known for their work. And I get that. Music works the same way. We all know about Johnny Cash, but how many have ever heard the great Jerry Jeff Walker? I love it when I am not only impressed by someone I’ve never read before, but impressed to the point where I must track down and read all I can from them. Lee Thomas impressed me like that.
I had the pleasure of reading Ash Street nearly two years ago, for review. I liked it. For some reason I forgot about Lee Thomas, until we connected online and discovered a mutual affinity for heavy metal. I got some more of his work and devoured them all—greedily. So the verdict would now be that he is amazing. You ought to be reading him. All of his work.
With his debut novel, Stained, Lee introduces us to what will become his recognizable style: strong, character driven with realistic attitudes towards the fucked up things that are going on. Said fucked up things in this novel include an almost viral evil that possesses its victims and then tweaks and perverts their deepest longings. Upon completion, I could barely believe this was a debut novel it was so strongly written. No wonder it won a Stoker! The original printing from Wildside Press is quite rare but worth tracking down.
The Dust of Wonderland takes on a Southern Gothic sort of premise and punches it in its ghostly face.
A man is called to New Orleans under tragic circumstances—his son lays in coma near death and the events that surround it all seem to tie to the frayed psyche of Ken Nicholson, a man who has built his unstable life on a shaking pile of secrets and stones. Things take strange turns and all fingers point to a man long dead. This book ups things a notch. The pacing is superb and the realistic characters and reactions are wonderful. Had Lee been putting these novels out in the early 80’s instead of this millennium, he’d be a paperback bestseller and mentioned in the same frantic fanboy breaths as Straub and King.
After that, I read his superb novel The German. I thought the others were good…this was fantastic! Gripping from page one and it does not let up until the last sentence. Reading like a shadowy memoir of sorts, it tells the sad tale of a small Texas town plagued by strange murders and the mysterious German who seems to be the one they want to be responsible. Straddling the barbed wire fence between To Kill a Mockingbird and The Stranger, The German is a gritty affair but reads smooth and generates a well of emotion and outrage. Simply put, it is one of the finest novels I have read.
His chapbook The Black Sun Set, from Burning Effigy Press, is a nifty cocktail; one part noir and two parts metaphysical horror. A chilling post card of sorts.
His collection Like Light for Flies shows us what Thomas is capable of in a shorter word count. The stories are eclectic and smart, some copping an early Barker vibe and a few holding a severely classic voice. You’ll read about a man and his dog and how they try to save the world from monsters from another dimension. There is twisted noir with supernatural shades. Plenty of shocks and cringe-inducing images, all handled with deft precision.
And there you have it, a sort of Lee Thomas burrito. A brief encapsulation of what I have read, save for Butcher’s Road, which I have not yet finished but will review upon completion.
Be on the lookout for my interview with Lee very soon!
With his debut novel, Bleed, Ed Kurtz gives us a premise that, while not entirely original, is handled with a deftness of vision and execution so as to make you forget that you’ve ever read something similar before.
Walter Blackmore has left the band Rainbow and is about to…oh wait, that’s not it.
Ah, here we go…Walter Blackmore has bought a small cottage in the hopes of fixing it up and making an “engagement-wedding” gift of it for his girlfriend. Of course the house is haunted—kind of. There is a strange stain on the hallway ceiling. It’s red and still wet. As Walter goes about assessing and taking care of minor repairs, the stain continues to grow. His girlfriend is thrilled with the house, not so much with the icky stain…especially after she sees it eat a bug.
The stain gets larger and less like a stain, more like a thing. Appendages and teeth and noises. It’s hungry and I bet you, horror fan, can guess what for. Walter begins to act less like his old self and more like a man possessed. Things get out of control and violence ensues. The stain evolves into something more with every passing hour, and while repulsed, Walter discovers it is something he has always needed. Maybe.
The prose is lean and sharp. The dialogue and characters are believable, even given all the bizarro madness that surrounds them. Bleed reads as though Willard created a demonic baby with Clive Barker’s Hellraiser and David Lynch served as midwife. It’s a devilish good time, but you’ll want to wear an apron.
When my mate, Simon Marshall-Jones, mentioned he was launching a small-press venture, I must admit I was hesitant to start with the unmitigated support. Face it, there is no shortage of small-press outfits and it is a tough thing to do and succeed at. He then told me of his idea to do limited-edition chapbooks—a little voice mumbled in my ear, “He may be doomed,” but then that little voice is a pessimistic fucker. So I said only supportive things. Simon plugged and pimped his wine-drinking, cheese-eating ass off for weeks and when the debut chappy from Spectral Press dropped in February, I got one. What They Hear in the Dark, by Gary McMahon, was that lucky 1 of 100, but the truly lucky are the ones who actually got to read it.
I tore through What They Hear in the Dark in a half an hour—which is a perfect chapbook, if you ask me. I will start by saying that this is a sharp-looking booklet. Nice artwork and wonderfully done. It has a nice collectible feel. And then we get to the actual story: A superb tale about a haunting, a couple buying an old house to renovate and work through a personal tragedy only to find themselves haunted by emotions heavy and horrifying. McMahon’s descriptions of the emotions at work here are fantastic. I am eager to check out more of his work and extremely anxious to see what is next from Spectral Press.
I wrote the above short review for my blog a few months back, and as I just received and read the second offering from Spectral Press, Gary Fry’s Abolisher of Roses, I decided to combine the two into one piece.
I am very close to saying I liked this one more than the first chapbook, but they aren’t quite the same sort of story, so that would be wholly unfair. Fry’s story relies just as heavily on emotion as McMahon’s, but it’s handled differently. Both have strong characters and settings and the attention to detail is exquisite.
Abolisher of Roses tells the story of Peter, husband and not really that great a fellow, and his wife Patricia. The simple synopsis would be to say, this is a “fish out of water” story, as Patrick is taken out of his comfort zone and into an element he is completely unsure of. His wife has gotten into the local art scene and seems to be dragging him along and he is out of sorts about it. She goads him into attending an exhibit where her work will be on display and he agrees, but once there, and once scoping out the “art trail,” things take a dark turn. He encounters his inner feelings and odd occurrences. The ending is haunting and fantastic.
I told Simon upon finishing this, that it was like an unholy episode of Night Gallery, if it had been directed by Clive Barker. And that is mighty high praise, as is the fact that both of these authors, Fry and McMahon, are now on my “must seek out and read more from” list. I can say with all honesty, I cannot wait to see what Spectral Press puts out next. I’m certainly a fan.