Category Archives: Recommendations

Some favourite reads of 2016

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This year, despite being one of the most horrible in recent memory in many ways, saw the release of some great fiction. I read a few memorable novels, including Paul Tremblay ’s terrific DISAPPEARANCE AT DEVIL’S ROCK, Robert Marasco’s unsettling BURNT OFFERINGS, and William Sloane’s chilling TO WALK THE NIGHT; but I also found some great collections in Richard Gavin’s powerful SYLVAN DREAD, Lynda E. Rucker’s haunting YOU’LL KNOW WHEN YOU GET THERE, Livia Llewellyn’s disturbing FURNACE, Jeffrey Ford’s wonderful A NATURAL HISTORY OF HELL, D.P. Watt’s strange ALMOST INSENTIENT, ALMOST DIVINE, Joyce Carol Oates’s discomforting HAUNTED, and Jon Padgett’s nightmarish THE SECRET OF VENTRILOQUISM. Included in one of those two categories above (though I’m not sure which) was Peter Straub’s fantastic fragment PERDIDO, which is so purely Straubian that I’m torn as to whether I wish it were finished or whether it should remain untouched and as perfect as it already is. Additionally, and no less importantly, through accident or design I also managed to read/reread most of Matthew M. Bartlett’s released books this year, from the field-stunning debut GATEWAYS TO ABOMINATION, though the short THE WITCH-CULT IN WESTERN MASSACHUSETTS, VOLUME ONE, to the tour-de-force CREEPING WAVES.

All of the above doesn’t even cover the books I read but am not yet allowed to discuss, or the wonderful short stories I considered at the beginning of the year for inclusion in 2016’s YEAR’S BEST WEIRD FICTION, VOL 3 (available now in trade, hardback, and ebook).

And I still have a stack of books I haven’t touched yet that I’m hoping to in the coming months (including John Langan’s THE FISHERMAN, Michael Griffin’s THE LURE OF DEVOURING LIGHT, and Peter Straub’s A DARK MATTER). The fields of dark speculative fiction are stronger now than ever before, and the wealth of great material feels nearly endless. It may be a horrible time to be living on the planet, but I have to tell you it’s a great time to be a horror reader.

Thinking Horror, Volume One

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Today, the first volume of THINKING HORROR: A JOURNAL OF HORROR PHILOSOPHY is available. As co-founder and Associate Editor of the journal, I wanted to take a moment to explain its genesis. At least, my side of the story. (I’m sure my co-founder remembers things differently.)

I’ve long been interested in written horror. By which I don’t necessarily mean the Horror genre, or the mode of writing horror, but the underpinnings of what the category itself is and how opinions differ from person to person. I find discussions and analysis of horror interesting, and the history of its undercurrents and/or subgenres (folk, regional, strange, weird, bizarro, and so on) infinitely study-worthy. I enjoy the intellectualization of horror—both as reader and writer.

Because of my interest in how horror works, and how its interpreted and the messages encoded within it, I’ve bemoaned the fact that there aren’t many venues for discussing the philosophy of horror. It’s the sort of thing writers get together to discuss at conferences and conventions, it’s the sort of thing readers discuss on social media, or in the basement of bookstores, or in bars… A lot people like to hash it out, but these discussions are fleeting. They’re certainly rarely recorded, other than as a reference point to something else. At best, we get a monthly column in magazines like BLACK STATIC or NIGHTMARE, but nothing that really tackles the questions head-on and with dedicated focus.

It was a void that weighed on me for some time. I’d often post messages about it to social media, suggesting that were I not spending all my time writing, I would want to edit a journal to answer the question “Why Horror?”. And when I’d post those messages, I would receive comments from a hungry audience, wishing for the same.

I met s.j. bagley online at some point. Quite probably, via the Shocklines message board in the early 2000’s (where the horror community gathered before Facebook). Over the years, it became more and more apparent that sjb and I agreed on a good number of topics when it came to horror fiction, including its themes and modes and construction. Critically speaking, we saw eye-to-eye. Many of my social media discussions on the topics of horror were carried out in public or private with him, and I always came away from them impressed with his knowledge of the field, and the amount of thought he put into it.

I also knew that he hoped, one day, to put together a journal of interviews about horror, where he would discuss these topics with various luminaries. It was something I wanted to read, but suspected, just like my journal of essays from various luminaries about horror, it was likely to remain a pipe dream.

It was while on I was on vacation in Chicago, laying in bed in the middle of the night, that the idea occurred to me. What if he and I were to combine our ideas into a single journal? We saw eye-to-eye on so many aspects that it seemed inevitable our ideas would cover similar ground, so putting everything into one place made a lot of sense. Plus, between the two of us, we could afford to electronically publish something without much risk, and see what might happen. The idea rattled in my head all night. And continued to do so during the following day, so I dropped sjb and note and proposed the idea. I believe he was instantly sold.

The rest speaks for itself: we hashed out details, invited writers, conducted interviews, until the material was collected and published as THINKING HORROR Volume One. You can buy it now from Amazon in the USA and UK. (Other vendors soon to follow.)

One thing I should make clear, since it doesn’t seem I’ve done a very good job of clarifying it so far: the initial spark of combining ideas may have been mine, but from the outset, primarily by design, the product you can buy today is wholly an s.j. bagley production. I played very little part in the actual shaping of this journal, and editing. I was more an adviser than anything else. A springboard and second set of eyes. As much as I’d like to take all the credit for myself, it’s really him who has done it. He is the Editor of the journal, through and through, and I think it’s an amazing achievement.

There’s a tendency with these sorts of things to inflate one’s egos and importance, so I’ll avoid that here. I certainly hope the journal becomes considered an important brick in the too-thin wall of horror criticism, but it’s okay if it doesn’t. Time will tell. But I think the end result of this journey has been a fantastic first volume, and its my sincere hope you enjoy it, and any subsequent volumes the future may bring. There are some exciting plans in place!

Podcast tour, September 2015

Some podcast news to direct your attention to. Over the past few weeks I’ve appeared on two podcasts.

The first is THE OUTER DARK, Scott Nicolay’s weekly examination of what he calls “the weird renaissance”. This episode covers THINKING HORROR, the non-fiction journal edited by s.j. bagley that I co-founded with him. The two of us discuss the journals origins and where it’s going.

The second is a brief reappearance on MISKATONIC MUSINGS, which cover the 2015 NecronomiCon convention. I was in attendance there along with a host of other writers and artists, and Sean and Charles were kind enough to check in with me there.

Lastly, though I’m not on this episode (I will be in the near future) the new podcast series, SOMETHING RED, talks about my collection BURNT BLACK SUNS in the premiere episode. Soon these will be available for Patreon contributors only, but for now you can listen for free.

As always, it’s a thrill to be invited to participate in these things, and to have my work discussed. I hope those of you who listen enjoy it!

A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS by Paul Tremblay

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This is not a review. Paul Tremblay’s A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS (William Morrow, 2015) is likely the best “if Shirley Jackson wrote a postmodern version of The Exorcist” novel you’ll ever read. There are so many levels of excellence in the book that it’s difficult to summarize it in any satisfactory way. Which is really how it should be. One of the aspects that most appealed to me is the novel’s insistence on keeping one from knowing what it is. What seems like a classic tale of exorcism suddenly turns on its head, and leaves one wondering if there is something more going on. Even those moments that, surely, could only be the work of a devil, get turned around in a postmodern deconstruction of what we come to expect from an exorcism story, and, in a broader sense, how all fiction is an amalgamation of what went before, reconstituted and recontextualized. His character work is strong, outlining the descent of his characters’ family from average normalcy into confusion and chaos, yet maintaining a through-line that follows them into their final moments, all spearheaded by a narrator relating her experiences when she was a charming eight year old. Anyone who knows Tremblay’s work knows this sort of writing is his specialty, and as ever it continues to impress. This one is well worth your time picking up.