Archive for the 'Horror' category

My favorite weird fiction of the past 3 years

Aug 29 2010 Published by under [Etc], Horror, Weird fiction

Happy (belated) blogiversary to me!  August 14th was the 3rd year anniversary of this blog, a milestone that I missed yet again in the hubbub of daily life.  Nevertheless, an anniversary is a good time for reflection, and one thing I wanted to look back upon is all of the fiction that I've read over the past 3 years.

I started "Skulls in the Stars" with a dual goal of increasing my reading and enthusiasm for both science and weird fiction.  These goals have been met and then some, but I've been particularly delighted by the amount of truly classic yet obscure weird fiction that I've come across that I wouldn't have otherwise.

With that in mind, I thought it would be nice to go back and share my favorite reads over the past 3 years, with a brief explanation of why I think they're great!  Most of these books are currently in print, thanks to the valiant efforts of a number of dedicated publishers.  These are not only some of the best books that I've read over the past 3 years, but now some of my favorite novels of all time.

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Richard Marsh’s The Goddess: A Demon (Valancourt edition)

Jul 02 2010 Published by under Horror, Mystery/thriller

With the release of the Valancourt edition of Richard Marsh's The Goddess: A Demon, I thought I'd repost my earlier review of the book, with some modifications specific to this edition.

I've read a lot of the books of Richard Marsh (1857-1915) over the past few years, and have yet to be disappointed in his work.  Marsh's breakthrough work was The Beetle (1897), and he produced many other clever and atmospheric tales of weird fiction, including the bizarre horror tale The Joss (1901) and the silly social commentary The Magnetic Girl (1903).  Sadly, most of these books were forgotten and neglected early in the 20th century.

Valancourt Books has been doing a wonderful job reprinting Marsh's work, with the added bonus of scholarly introductions and often reproductions of the original covers.  Their most recent release is Marsh's The Goddess: A Demon (1900):

Let's take a look at it...

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Joe Hill's Horns

Jun 15 2010 Published by under Horror

Joe Hill is a good horror author, but not an incredibly prolific one; his first book was 20th Century Ghosts (2005), a collection of ghost stories, and his second was Heart-Shaped Box (2007), which I reviewed on this blog a couple of years ago.  I really adored Heart-Shaped Box, and when I saw that Hill had a new book out, Horns (2010), I didn't hesitate to snap it up:

Was it worth the wait?  Definitely!  Joe Hill has produced another fast-paced, well-written novel with a bizarre engaging plot and sympathetic characters.

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Ramsey Campbell's Creatures of the Pool

May 28 2010 Published by under Horror

As I've noted countless times on this blog, Ramsey Campbell is my favorite horror writer of all time.   He is a wizard with words, and the subtle horror of his stories carry a punch that lasts long after you finish reading them.  The tales often read and feel like an extended nightmare, and more than one has kept me up at night -- I can think of no other author who still has the ability to do that.

So when I saw that a recent novel of his was finally released as a mass-market paperback in the States, I didn't hesitate to buy it:

Creatures of the Pool is another great, atmospheric tale, and ranks among my favorite of Ramsey's novels.  The only criticism I have of it, and it is a mild one, is that is follows a similar trajectory to a number of his other recent stories.

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Jeff VanderMeer's Finch

May 19 2010 Published by under Horror, Science fiction, Weird fiction

I've had the good fortune to read many good works of weird fiction since starting this blog -- in fact, one of the major motivations for starting the blog was to "force" myself to get back into reading strange and creepy stories such as those that had captured my imagination as a youth.  Every once in a while, though, I come across a work so wonderful and fascinating that it will permanently haunt the depths of my psyche.  Case in point: I was absolutely blown away by Jeff VanderMeer's recent novel, Finch (2009):

The novel defies easy characterization: it is part detective novel, part science fiction novel, part war novel, part fantasy novel -- and part horror novel.  Even with that mixing of genres, VanderMeer manages to tell a very serious, intricate, and mesmerizing tale.

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The Shadowy Thing, by H.B. Drake

May 06 2010 Published by under Horror, Lovecraft

I've been having a lot of good luck with my fiction reading lately, and have a backlog of really good (and weird) fiction to blog about.  One that actually gave me a pleasant surprise is The Shadowy Thing (1928), by Henry Burgess Drake (1893-1964):

The Shadowy Thing is another in Hippocampus Press' "Lovecraft's Library" series, reprinting rare works of weird fiction that Lovecraft owned and thought highly of.   Though I've generally been very satisfied with books Lovecraft loved (The Metal Monster, The Place Called Dagon), it hasn't always been the case (The Dark Chamber); I admit that I wasn't particularly optimistic about Drake's book.

My apprehensions were misplaced!  Once I started reading, I could hardly put down The Shadowy Thing: it is a compelling story with unrelenting tension that builds to a truly ghastly climax.

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Richard Matheson's Shadow on the Sun

Apr 24 2010 Published by under Horror

No matter how much Richard Matheson I've read -- and I've read a lot -- it always turns out that there's a bit more out there that I've managed to miss!

If you aren't familiar with Richard Matheson's name, you're nevertheless familiar with his work -- starting in 1950, he has penned countless science fiction and horror tales, many of which have been filmed as major motion pictures and Twilight Zone episodes.  I did a "horror masters" post on him some time back, noting his most memorable works such as Duel, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, I am Legend, and The Shrinking Man.  He also was a significant influence in the creation of The Night Stalker movies and television series in the 1970s, having penned the screenplay of the two films.

Matheson is a prolific writer who has written in many genres, but unfortunately many of his novels have been hard to find.  Recently, though, I stumbled across a reprint of a novel of his that I hadn't read before, Shadow on the Sun (1994):

The novel was written during his "western" phase of writing in the 1990s, during which he wrote a number of novels about gunslingers.  Shadow on the Sun is set in the Wild West, but it is also a horror novel!

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Graham Masterton's Blind Panic

Mar 27 2010 Published by under Horror

About a month ago, I picked up the most recent novel by horror author Graham Masterton, Blind Panic (2010):

Buying this novel was a no-brainer for me, because the back cover description completely intrigued me:

It began without warning.  Across the country, people were struck suddenly and totally blind.  At first it was just a few, but gradually more and more fell victim to the spreading darkness. Hospital emergency rooms filled to overflowing as highway pileups and airplane crashes were everywhere.  But now the true horror has arrived.  Silent, spectral hunters have begun to stalk their now-helpless prey.  The blind can only grope in frantic fear as the ghostly marauders prowl the streets, leaving nothing but death in their wake.

Sounds neat, eh?  I'm a very big fan of Graham Masterton's work, as can be seen from my old "Horror Masters" post about him.  I've enjoyed pretty much everything I've read of his, and this novel is no exception, though I should point out that the back cover description is a little deceptive!  (Mild spoiler follows.)

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Jeff Rice's The Kolchak Papers

Mar 12 2010 Published by under Horror

On Saturday, April 25, at about 2:30 A.M., Cheryl Ann Hughes was tapping her foot angrily as she waited at the corner of Second and Fremont streets.  She glanced repeatedly at her watch.  The young man she was currently living with, Robert Lee Harmer, was supposed to be picking her up for "breakfast," and then a ride home.  Harmer was nowhere in sight.  He was at that moment quietly puffing away at a joint with some members of a local rock group, oblivious to the time.

Cheryl Ann Hughes: twenty-three, five feet five and a half inches tall, one hundred and eighteen shapely pounds, Clairol blond hair and light-brown eyes.  Swing-shift change-girl at the classic Gold Dust Saloon, a gaudy western-styled casino built when Vegas was younger, smaller, and-- some say -- friendlier.

Cheryl Ann Hughes: Tired. Hungry.  Disgusted at having waited twenty-five minutes for a ride, was now mad enough to walk the eight blocks to the small frame house she shared with Harmer just off the corner of Ninth and Bridger.

Cheryl Ann Hughes: now walking East on Fremont Street, past Schwartz Brothers' Men's Shop, determined to make it home in time for the 3 A.M. movie and a bowl of chili, but still keeping an eye out for Harmer.

Cheryl Ann Hughes: alone with her irritation, now crossing Las Vegas Boulevard having just passed the white-plastic dazzle of the latest Orange Julius stand, its three male customers giving her a brief appraising glance.

Cheryl Ann Hughes: a girl with less than fifteen minutes to live.

The passage catches one's attention, doesn't it?  It comes from the book The Kolchak Papers, finished by author Jeff Rice on October 31, 1970.  The odds are very good that you've never read the novel, but you are very likely to have seen, or at least heard of, its television adaptation, The Night Stalker (1972).  The television series is so firmly ingrained in my mind that I cannot read the text above without hearing the voice of the awesome Darren McGavin narrating as streetwise reporter Carl Kolchak.

Rice's novel was unpublished when it was optioned for television, and only had a brief print run when the series grew in popularity.  In 2007, however, Moonstone Books released a new edition which also includes the sequel, The Night Strangler:

I got this book as a Christmas book, and was very eager to read it: would the original novel live up to the fond memories I had of the television movies and subsequent series?

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"The Wicker Tree?" (Updated)

This one was an immediate WTF moment for me: Robin Hardy, the writer/director of the original version of the film The Wicker Man (1973), is "reimagining" his film as The Wicker Tree, slated for release sometime this year:

For those who aren't familiar with the original film, it is undeniably a classic of the horror genre and in my opinion one of the greatest horror films of all time: subtle, atmospheric, darkly humorous, and genuinely horrifying*.

Details are sketchy as it stands; the official movie site is little more than an image right now.  IMDB has the following summary, which may or may not be accurate:

Young Christians Beth and Steve, a gospel singer and her cowboy boyfriend, leave Texas to preach door-to-door in Scotland . When, after initial abuse, they are welcomed with joy and elation to Tressock, the border fiefdom of Sir Lachlan Morrison, they assume their hosts simply want to hear more about Jesus. How innocent and wrong they are.

I'm definitely of mixed emotions about this news.  On the one hand, I'm horrified (and not in a good way); an abysmal remake of The Wicker Man was just recently released in 2006 and illustrates that there is no lower limit on the quality of such projects.  On the other hand, The Wicker Tree is by the original writer/director, and he has seen fit to bring back Christopher Lee as Lord Summerisle, one of the most inspiring castings of all time.

I suppose we'll just have to wait and see...

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* Seriously -- this film has one of the most cringe-inducing moments of any horror movie I've ever seen, and shames a lot of the "extreme" modern horror films.

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Update: As long as I'm talking about unusual movie projects, I see IMDB has a trailer up for the Solomon Kane movie, "based" on the character by Robert E. Howard.  I'm not sure what to think, as yet: it might end up being an enjoyable movie, but it doesn't look, or sound, much like Howard's Solomon.  The IMDB summary says a lot:

A mercenary who owes his soul to the devil redeems himself by fighting evil.
Howard's Solomon is a fanatical Puritan who fights the devil's works overly wherever he goes!  It is pretty much impossible to imagine that character having made a deal with the devil, as the summary and trailer implies.

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