Tag Archives: Richard Gavin

SYLVAN DREAD by Richard Gavin

The field of horror (or weird, or dark fantasy, or whatever you’d like to call it) has grown tremendously over the last decade or so. When questioned for my opinion on why, I used to put the blame squarely on the rise of the internet, and while I do believe technology and the way is has changed (and continues to change) every aspect of our lives is a contributor that can’t be overlooked, I also think there’s something more going on. We’re experiencing that cyclical return of readers who find some comfort in the dark, and I think that’s driven as much by the talent in the field as it is by readers searching for that talent. They feed off one another.

Everyone has a different writer they point to when they say “This one. This writer showed me what horror could be.” Sometimes they’re old masters, sometimes they’re new (and maybe-one-day masters) but what really sets them apart is their outlook on the work. It’s different. Different from what others have done, different from what their contemporaries are doing. Sometimes these different voices are recognized immediately by the masses, sometimes by no one at all, but they’re there. They are always there, working. Slowly chipping away at building a body of work that it uniquely their own.

In the last few years, I’ve made a concerted effort to read more fiction than I have since the business of writing consumed me. In that time, I’ve tried to read a cross-section of different work, some from fledgling writers, some from writers who have been at it longer than I’ve been alive. A lot of the work, as good as it is, reads the same. The way the writers see the world, the way they relate it to the reader, is similar, even if the sorts of stories they tell are different. Every era, I think, has a distinct voice, one that you can’t necessarily detect as it happens, but on reflection is so clearly of its time. A lot writers, most writers, working today work in that common voice.

And, then, there’s Richard Gavin.

I don’t like talking about Richard’s work. He and I have been friends for a number of years, and sometimes I fear how it might appear when I mention it. We all know writers who cannot stop pimping their friends, over and over, at every opportunity. I never want to appear to be that kind of writer. However, every once in a while, I feel motivated to break my silence and discuss why Richard and I are friends. It has a lot of do with personality, this is true, but it has even more to do with the sheer respect and awe I have for—and of—Richard’s work. Since before I formally knew him, it has both surprised and inspired me. Richard’s work is not like anyone else’s working today, and SYLVAN DREAD (Three Hands Press, 2016), his latest collection (available in paperback from Amazon right now) is a prime example of why. Every way one could describe the work describes its contents as well—ancient, dark, gnostic, awful, mesmerizing, hallucinogenic, mysterious. These are beautiful tales of shadowed borders, culminating in a novella that is one of those tales that alters you irreparably. This book… this book is so far removed from the every day horrors that line our shelves that it almost seems impossible it could exist. I’m not sure how else to describe it. It’s funny: there’s a photo of the hardback version of the book somewhere on the internet without its dust jacket, and the daylight is reflecting off the gold embossed boards, giving the book and ethereal quality. It’s apt, considering its contents.

It’s a strange time to be a horror writer: there is so much stacked against you, from other forms of communication to a wealth of entertainment options that can distract you from the terrors of just living. But even in their multitudes, few of them will actively work to rewire and awaken you. SYLVAN DREAD makes that attempt. I can’t guarantee it will work for you as it does for me, but I sincerely hope it does. I hope you buy it; I hope you read it; and I hope it makes you a different person than you are now. Things, they always look different when you are finally awake. Let’s hope for the better.

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.

AT FEAR’S ALTAR by Richard Gavin

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This is not a review. Richard Gavin’s AT FEAR’S ALTAR (Hippocampus, 2012) is unusual in contemporary fiction both in terms of tone and voice. Certainly many claim to be heirs of Machen and Blackwood, and perhaps they do these men justice by examining the themes of nature and wilderness, but only Richard Gavin manages to capture that pervasive sense of otherworldliness and weave that queasy sensation of not understanding a world while feeling so much a part of it. Richard’s alien landscapes touch those mysterious corners in us all. The unsettling “Chapel in the Reeds” does it, as does the fabulous “The Abject”—a tale of the horrifically beautiful (or the beautifully horrific) if ever there was one. And of course there’s “The Eldritch Faith”, a novella that is so completely other, so completely fantastical and foreign, that I expect students of the weird will be trying to unravel it long after we have all gone. In a twelve month period where we have seen some very significant collections of weird fiction published, AT FEAR’S ALTAR stands tall among them, and is another essential piece in the weird fiction lover’s library.