Sunday, January 19, 2014
Horrors Old and New
Witch Work by Neil Gaiman: It's a poem. And not a good one.
The Discord of Being by Alison J. Littlewood: Solidly written, but I actually can't remember what it was about. And I just read it a week ago.
Necrosis by Dale Bailey: Enjoyable, somewhat enigmatic "Club Tale."
The Hunt: Before, and the Aftermath by Joe R. Lansdale: Lansdale creates a plausible new horror for the Zombie crowd. The disturbing elements build throughout to a truly gut-wrenching final few pages.
The Cotswold Olympicks by Simon Kurt Unsworth: Nice variation on the whole Town With a Secret sub-genre of horror.
Where the Summer Dwells by Lynda E. Rucker: Well-written but fatally inconclusive bit of what I've started to think of as Lifestyle Horror rather than The New Weird. Something Happened, but Not Much, and It Didn't Really Change Anything Anyway.
The Callers by Ramsey Campbell: Campbell makes Bingo scary, and is that Tubby Thackeray from The Grin of the Dark as the bingo caller?
The Curtain by Thana Niveau: Deep-sea horror builds to an apocalyptic climax.
The Fall of the King of Babylon by Mark Valentine: Nicely written but underplotted and underdeveloped bit of Magical History.
Nightside Eye by Terry Dowling: Interesting use of a paranormal detective with an extremely odd power within the long-standing trope of the Haunted Hotel.
The Old and the New by Helen Marshall: Nicely written but seriously underdeveloped bit of relationship horror somehow makes the bone-filled catacombs of Paris seem mundane.
Waiting at the Crossroads Motel by Steve Rasnic Tem: Creepy bit of American Lovecraftiana with some startlingly odd images.
His Only Audience by Glen Hirshberg: Fun paranormal detective adventure riffs on The Deal with the Devil.
Marionettes by Claire Massey: Weirdly, this is basically a much better version of "The Old and the New." Compares favourably to the work of Robert Aickman.
Between Four Yews by Reggie Oliver: A prequel to M.R. James' "A School Story" works well in the shadow of James by dealing with a facet of the supernatural that James himself would have avoided because of era and inclination.
Slick Black Bones and Soft Black Stars by Gemma Files: Marvelous homage to The King in Yellow via Pitcairn Island.
The Other One by Evangeline Walton: Posthumous doppelganger horror.
Slow Burn by Joel Lane: Police detective investigating the paranormal; you'll wish it were longer.
Celebrity Frankenstein by Stephen Volk: Funny commentary on our current celebrity/reality-show culture.
Blue Crayon, Yellow Crayon by Robert Shearman: Weird, not entirely successful piece starts strong and then takes the train to WTF?
October Dreams by Michael Kelly: Solid little mood piece tips a Halloween hat to Bradbury.
The Eyes of Water by Alison J. Littlewood: Build-up of mystery and suspense ends in a sort of nothing rather than the Sublime it seemed to be aiming for. Let-down.
In all: Lots of good and nothing really 'bad,' though the fatal inconclusiveness of the New Weird appears to be seeping more and more into the choices. As always, the Necrology listing of deceased writers, artists, actors, and others is comprehensive and useful. Recommended.
Witch House by Evangeline Walton (1945): Almost forgotten Haunted House novel reads like an odd sort of bridge between sub-genre Megaliths The Haunting of Hill House and Hell House. Walton's version of the supernatural would now be called New Agey, though it really draws on a long tradition of mysticism and pseudo-science that's been cropping up in horror stories and novels since J. Sheridan Le Fanu's "The Familiar" and "Green Tea."
What this means for the novel is that the supernatural, while not having a scientific basis, nonetheless obeys mystical rules rather than the basic rules of the Personal Haunting. Walton's psychic investigator herein has a solid grounding in both Eastern Mysticism and pseudo-scientific technobabble. He's also a little too infallible to allow for much suspense, a trait shared by Algernon Blackwood's similarly hyper-competent mystic John Silence.
Walton's interest in building a consistent mystical background to explain the goings-on at Witch-House leaves the novel oddly sketchy in the development of a historical narrative for the house in question. The horror doesn't really build -- it just flares up, only to be dealt with again and again by the psychic detective.
The engine of the plot is a little girl in peril who only sporadically seems to be really be in peril. But this is really a Novel of Ideas, expounded upon at length. Walton throws in reincarnation, Buddhism, telepathy, a brooding seascape, Orientalism, telekinesis, poltergeists, a couple of wizards' battles, ectoplasm, a giant black rabbit, a supernatural kitten, paintings that seem to look at people, a Family Curse, a malign Will, sadomasochism, and a bunch of other stuff. The novel might actually be twice as good at twice the length. Lightly recommended.