The first time I came across Richard Christian Matheson, I liked him. The second time, I did not like him. The guy is known as one of the splatterpunks, and last year, I did a megapost on his dad’s books, so I thought I’d better take a closer look at his output. RCM has written novels, but he is most famous for his stripped down short stories. His most popular collection of stories is 1987’s Scars and Other Distinguishing Marks. I was originally going to read this one, but I opted instead for a collection called Dystopia from 2000. This collection contains all the author’s fiction that had been published by that point, including everything in Scars.
Dystopia – Richard Christian Matheson Crossroads Press – 2011 (Originally published 2000)
Honestly, choosing the longer collection was probably a mistake on my part. Matheson is a talented writer, and some of the stories in Dystopia are great. The problem is that some (maybe even lots) of the stories are not really great. The most notable factor of Matheson’s writing is his precision; many of these tales are told in less than 3 pages. This is really cool when it works, but there’s many, many stories (60ish) in this collection, and they’re not all masterpieces. I usually read a few in each sitting, and the brevity and quantity made even the good ones a bit forgettable. I appreciate complete collections of author’s works, but I would have been far better off with a shorter “Best of” collection of this author’s works. Dystopia is more than 400 pages. I reckon a slim 180 page greatest hits would have been far more impressive.
It has been pointed out to me that I often avoid discussing specific stories when reviewing short fiction anthologies. The nature of the stories in this collection makes it even less appealing to get into specifics. Fortunately, as is so often the case, Will Errickson over at Too Much Horror Fiction blog reviewed Matheson’s short fiction more articulately and in more detail than I ever could. Check out his review here.
Kinda crappy post this week… sorry. Life has been pretty hectic recently, and I haven’t had much time to blog. I had to go through my draft posts folder to find something to polish up for my Sunday deadline. I wrote the above a long, long time ago. I was actually planning to read RCM’s novel, Created By and including my thoughts on that in this post, but after putting it off for half a year, I have decided not to bother. Life is too short to read everything. I gave this dude a chance, and while he was clearly a capable writer, I currently have no desire to read more of his stuff. If anyone has read this novel and is convinced I would enjoy it, let me know and I’ll reconsider.
I have a few big posts coming up in the next few weeks, so check back soon.
H.P. Lovecraft is celebrated as one of the greatest horror writers of all time, but his fame has been almost entirely posthumous. It wasn’t until after Lovecraft’s death that two of his friends set up Arkham House to publish a collection made up entirely of Lovecraft’s own work. These men were August Derleth and Donald Wandrei. While Derleth wrote a whole bunch of second rate Lovecraftian fiction after his friend’s death, Wandrei only contributed two tales to the Cthulhu Mythos, and both were published long before Lovecraft died.
Don’t Dream: The Collected Fantasy and Horror of Donald Wandrei Fedogan & Bremer – 1997
While Derleth’s Cthulhu Mythos tales are scattered throughout several volumes, absolutely all of Wandrei’s horror fiction can be found in Don’t Dream: The Collected Fantasy and Horror of Donald Wandrei. This is a companion volume to Colossus: The Collected Science Fiction of Donald Wandrei. At first I thought the completeness of these collections was pretty cool, but even the introduction to Don’t Dream notes that its comprehensive nature “may not be the best way to showcase a writer”. This is EVERY horror story the dude wrote. Some are really good, but some are not. Also, this collection does not include “The Red Brain”, one of my favourite stories by Wandrei. That one is entirely set in space, so it got included in the science fiction collection instead. In retrospect I would have enjoyed a “Best of Wandrei” collection more than a “Collected Horror” collection. Again though, I do love the idea of a nice complete collection. If you are a diehard Wandrei fan, this is definitely the book for you. I don’t know though; are there any diehard Donald Wandrei fans out there?
My primary motivation for reading Wandrei was his “Cthulhu Mythos” fiction. The two tales that are officially considered to be part of the “Cthulhu Mythos” are The Tree Men of M’bwa and The Fire Vampires. Both of these were pretty good. This collection also includes When the Fire Creatures Came. This is an early version of The Fire Vampires. The stories are actually very different, but they share the same antagonist. He goes by “Fthaggua, Lord of Ktynga” in the latter version. I really enjoyed reading both of the Fire Creature stories and would suggest you read both instead of assuming the newer version is better. Neither The Tree-men of M’bwa nor The Fire Vampires mention any of the entities from Lovecraft’s own fiction, but they’re both about a buncha Kansas City Fthagguas (malevolent aliens) coming to Earth and ruining our fun. I’m not really sure who canonized these tales as “Cthulhu Mythos”. One other story, The Lady in Gray, actually mentions the call of Cthulhu, the old ones and the colour out of space in a dream sequence. That story itself is more Poeish, than Lovecraftian, but it’s also worth a read.
Don’t Dream contains lots of other good stuff. There’s a bunch of stories about people turning into slime, one about a rifle wielding jaguar (The Witch-Makers), one about giant amoebas killing everyone (The Destroying Horde) and another about an idiot dwarf growing out of man’s leg (It Will Grow on You). The title story, Don’t Dream, is about a man whose thoughts become reality regardless of whether he wants to them to or not. Is this where the writers of Ghostbusters got the idea for the Mr. Stay-Puft scene? Uneasy Lie the Drowned was really good too. That one creeped me out.
There’s also a section at the back of this book that collects some marginalia and fecky bits and pieces. I skimmed through most of this section. You probably will too. I recommend the essay that finishes the book though. It’s an interesting look at Wandrei’s role in the story of Arkham House.
This collection was a bit much for me, but I really liked it. It contains plenty of entertaining stuff. Donald Wandrei wrote some good stories, and I recommend you read all those I mentioned above. If you’re interested in the Cthulhu Mythos fiction of Lovecraft’s close friends, you can check out my other posts on the Yog Sothothery of Clark Ashton Smith, August Derleth, Frank Belknap Long and Henry Kuttner.
I have read a few occult pornos, the best of them by far being Inpenetrable/Spawn of the Devil. If you have read my review of that book, you might recall that I suggested that it seemed like a mildly erotic novel that had been rewritten to include ridiculously explicit scenes of perversion. Not only did the author know a bit about occultism, but the story was actually relatively entertaining without the sex. The same can not be said about the other works of occult pornography that I’ve reviewed here. The authors of Raped by the Devil and Satan was a Lesbian didn’t know a damned thing about occultism, and their books were awful. Because of these facts, I assumed that authors of occult porno who were actually interested in the occult would probably write interesting books.
One of the responses to my post on Inpenetrable informed me of existence of a series of books called “The Black Pearl: The Memoirs of Victorian Sex Magician“. Although these books were published anonymously, the internet claimed that the author was actually Gerald Suster. Suster was an occultist and a historian. He also wrote a biography of Aleister Crowley and several horror novels. I hadn’t (and still haven’t) read any of his other books, but from what I had read about Suster, it seemed to me that he, if anyone, might be capable of writing another book like Inpenetrable.
There’s four volumes to the Black Pearl. I spent a long time trying to track down all four, and I eventually ended up with 2 anthologies that feature 2 volumes each. One is a hardback without its dust jacket, and the other is a paperback with a cover that got me in trouble with my wife.
The Black Pearl: The Memoirs of a Victorian Sex-Magician, Anthology 1 (Volumes One & Two) BCA – 1997
The Black Pearl: The Continuing Memoirs of a Victorian Sex-Magician, Anthology 2 (Volumes Three & Four) NEL – 2001
I read the first volume of the series in early 2020. It was pretty tough to get through, and it took a few weeks to finish. There is a backstory at play, but it’s convoluted and dumb, and it really only serves to introduce new characters. Each chapter features Horby, the titular protagonist, meeting up with some famous Victorians and swapping dirty stories. He runs into Aleister Crowley, Oscar Wilde, Arthur Machen and a bunch more in just the first volume. They’ll meet in a café, the narrator will spend 2 paragraphs describing the food they’re eating, and then they’ll open up and recount their recent sexual escapades. The smut is very dull. There’s an occasional spanked bottom and maybe a stray finger up the arse, but it’s mostly just blow-jobs and riding. There was a little bit of rape too. I skipped most of the sex scenes after the first few chapters. I’m not saying that to make myself seem like less of a pervert. I genuinely found these bits boring. After finishing the first volume, I moved straight onto the second, but it was too much. I gave up after 7 chapters.
More than a year has passed, and I recently decided to go back and finish the series. Each of the volumes contains an introduction and a recapitulation of the preceding events. I had planned to read all of these parts in succession and then skip ahead to the 4th volume to get the full story. As I read through the summaries of the second and third volumes, I became intrigued with some of the events they were describing, so I skimmed back through these volumes to cherry-pick the juicy bits. Doing so ensured that I never got around to reading the 4th volume. The short passages I skimmed reminded me of how painful these books are to read.
The four volumes combined add up to 1344 pages. More than half of these pages are filled with descriptions of “slick cunnies” and “rampant pricks”. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a slick cunny as much as the next fellow, but there is too much of a good thing. The remainder of the books, the parts that describe the lives of fin de siècle celebrities are clearly well researched and almost interesting, but the context is too ridiculous for any insight on the lives of these people to sink in. You read a passage and start wondering if Arthur Machen was really as shy as he is being depicted, but then the narrator starts talking about being tied up and having his arse slapped. It makes it hard to concentrate. There’s a part where Sigmund Freud shows up and gives a serious speech on his theories of sexuality as he dines on chicken soup and gefilte fish. Then another character asks him, ” When are you going to put your throbbing hot cock within my warm moist cunt?”
These books were a real disappointment. They’re crap, but they weren’t cheap, and it was confusing trying to make sure I wasn’t buying the same collection twice. I’m a bit of a completist when it comes to buying series too, so I didn’t want to read the first book until I owned the second. It all seems like a waste of time effort and money now. Not only that, but it turns out I don’t really own the complete series. Suster actually published a bunch more of this kind of stuff including Unholy Passions, Wolverines, Gothic Passions and Vixens. Apparently these, and a few others, share characters and themes with The Black Pearl books. I will not being hunting any of the others down. I don’t even know if I want to read Suster’s normal fiction anymore.
If I had gotten my hands on The Black Pearl books a few years ago, I probably would have soldiered on and read through them. I can’t do that any more. I get to read for maybe half an hour a day at this point, and I don’t want to spend that time wading through boring porn.
The Devil in Love – Jacques Cazotte Heinemann – 1925 (Originally published as Le Diable Amoureux in 1772)
Jacques Cazotte was a rich French lad who may have been a psychic member of the Illuminati. (He was definitely a freemason, and it is claimed that he prophesized the coming of the French Revolution at a dinner party in 1788.) His head was cut off in 1792.
Oh, and twenty years before he died, he wrote an occult romance called Le Diable Amoureux. There have been several translations of this work into English, and while the earlier ones had a bunch of different titles, most of the versions that are currently available are published as The Devil in Love. I read the 1925 edition, a reprint of the 1793 translation. (Here is a great article that goes into more detail on the different editions of this text, and here is a pdf of the text I read.)
Don Alvaro, a stupid Spanish lad, meets a Jafar type character named Soberano who has power over demons, and Alvaro immediately wants to get in on the action. Soberano tells him that it takes years of training to control demons, but Alvaro summons Beelzebub on his first go. Beelzebub shows up in the form of a minging camel, but he turns into Biondetta, a sexy babe, when Alvaro grimaces.
The rest of the book is basically Biondetta getting Alvaro to fall in love with her. There’s a slow power transfer, and towards the end Alvaro is set to start doing her bidding rather than the other way around.
The story is very straight forward, and it felt pretty familiar to me. This is a very short work too, and the version I read is an old translation of an older book. Maybe some of the charm got lost in translation. The Devil in Love is an interesting little curiosity, but there’s not that much too it. It’s the kind of book that would make a better music video than a movie.
The Other Place – J.B. Priestley Valancourt Books – 2018 (Originally published 1953)
I quite enjoyed the first few stories in this collection. None of them are particularly scary, but they’re all quite strange. The only ghost story is about a haunted TV set, and it’s going for laughs rather than scares.
It took me several months to get through the first half of the book, but I rushed through the rest in an afternoon. I think I might have enjoyed this part more if I had continued at my original pace. Reading these tales in close succession highlighted how similar many of them are. It seems that most of them are about people having visions of the past or the future. They’re all competently written and enjoyable, but looking back now it’s tricky to distinguish some of them. This wasn’t the most jaw-dropping book I’ve ever read, but I liked it. After finishing, I was happy enough to give Priestley’s novel Benighted a try.
Benighted is quite good. Yesterday, I was out for a drive with my wife, and I was telling her about the book I was reading. When I explained the plot to her, she responded that it sounded awfully like The Rocky Horror Picture Show. She was dead right. This is the story of a couple who get caught in a storm and have to seek shelter in an old house full of weirdos. Unfortunately, there are no sweet transvestites in Benighted. I looked into this a bit, and it turns out that The Rocky Horror Show was directly influenced by The Old Dark House, the 1932 film version of Benighted. I was pretty embarrassed that I hadn’t noticed the similarities beforehand. I love that movie!
I’m a little surprised that Benighted isn’t better known. It starts off atmospheric and mysterious and ends quite exciting. Things get pretty heavy between the characters, and there might be a little bit too much philosophical insight for this to appeal as a straight forward horror novel. It’s creepy in parts, but that creepiness never seems to be the main point of the book. It’s hard to get too concerned about the tongueless ghoul lurking upstairs when you’re trying to figure out the single biggest obstacle to human happiness.
Still, it is fair to call Benighted a horror novel. If you look up “gothic tropes” on google, the first 3 listed are darkness, isolation and madness. Bingo! Those are the main ingredients here. This is also a novel about a labyrinthine mansion filled with a strange family’s shameful secrets. That’s pretty gothic bro. There’s no supernatural element though, so I guess this would be classed as psychological horror nowadays.
Truth be told, I had originally written a more laudatory review of these books. It was going to end with a claim that I would some day seek out the author’s other works. Then I read that he hated Irish people. Fuck you J.B. Priestley, you little jaffa prick. Glad you’re dead and if I ever come across any of your other books, I’ll stick them up my ass.
Arthur Machen – The Hill of Dreams Corgi Books – 1967 (Originally published 1907)
When I first read Arthur Machen I was blown away. It was a collection of his best short stories, and I was fascinated. These tales were dark, folky horror, and the fact that the author was an occultist gave them an extra little je ne sai quoi. A few years later, I read some more of his short fiction. It didn’t compare. I was awfully disappointed. I knew his novel, The Hill of Dreams, was supposed to be pretty good, but I waited almost 5 years until I picked it up.
Yuck. Not for me. This is the story of a wimpy little freak who becomes an insane drug addict because he can’t find success as an author.
I’ve come across references to the “decadent” movement in relation to the fiction of Montague Summers and Huysmans before, and while I don’t think I ever looked into what decadent means in that sense, I was able to identify The Hill of Dreams as a decadent work about half a page in. Too many words and not enough story. Call me a Philistine if you will, but I’m not into this tripe.
I’ve seen this book referred to as horror, but that’s absolutely not accurate. I’ve also read people saying it contains dark visions. Techncially it does, but they are just drug induced day dreams. There’s nothing supernatural about the story.
There’s a part where a bunch of kids murder a puppy and the protagonist looks on does nothing. This made it really hard for me to care about him. I understand that the book is largely autobiographical too. I hope that part never happened.
I probably would have pretended to like The Hill of Dreams if I had read it 10 years ago, but I have no time for overwritten fiddle-faddle anymore. The only people who will like this nonsense are namby-pamby struggling author/artist types who like reading drawn out descriptions of wooded paths through the forest. Yeah, actually, you’ll probably enjoy this book if you like listening to the Cure.
Frank Belknap Long was a good friend of H.P. Lovecraft. Before I talk about Frank’s stories, I want to clear up some confusion about the different collections of his early short fiction. You can probably skip the next paragraph if you’re not an anally retentive book nerd like me.
In 1946, Arkham House put out a collection of 21 short stories by Frank Belknap Long. This collection was titled The Hounds of Tindalos. A second edition of this collection was published by Museum Press in 1950. In 1963, Belmont Books put out a collection with the same title, but this collection only contained 9 stories. The next year, they put out another collection of the remaining tales called The Dark Beasts and Eight Other Stories from the Hounds of Tindalos. The two Belmont collections added no new tales, but neither of them contained ‘A Visitor from Egypt’, ‘Bridgehead’ or ‘Second Night Out’. In 1975, Panther books did something similar. They put out two collections, one called The Hounds of Tindalos and one called The Black Druid. The tales in these two collections add up to the contents of the original Arkham House collection. That same year, The Early Long was published Doubleday. This is a collection of Frank Belknap Long’s best tales from the early part of his career. Although this collection adds author’s introductions to each of the tales, it only contains tales from the Arkham House collection. It omits ‘Bridgehead’, ‘The Golden Child’, ‘The Black Druid’ and ‘A Stitch in Time’. To make things more confusing, the third edition of The Early Long was retitled The Hounds of Tindalos. Reading back over this paragraph, I believe I’ve done a good job explaining the confusing history of the different books titled The Hounds of Tindalos, but just to make it perfectly clear, there are 4 different collections of stories with the same title, and while some of their contents are the same, none of them are identical. The only complete versions are the the Arkham House or Museum Press editions.
I read The Early Long. While it doesn’t contain all of the stories, it has those introductions, and the author seems to have considered these tales to be the best of the original collection. It starts off pretty strong. The second tale, ‘The Ocean Leech’ is gross. It’s about a guy who feels pleasure while being digested alive by a disgusting slimy sea monster. Cool. Most of the other stories are fairly forgettable though; some are outright dull. There’s one called ‘Dark Visions’ that I liked. It features a man looking around at his fellow humans and being shocked to discover that their “minds were cesspools of maggoty hate, carnality and revolting spite”. Talk about naïve! The author’s introductions are mildly interesting, but he comes across a bit of a ding-dong boasting about how he had read Salammbô three times by age 15. Nerd!
There are two tales in this collection that are considered part of the Lovecraft mythos, ‘The Space Eaters’ and ‘The Hounds of Tindalos’. These were pretty good. ‘The Space Eaters’ features a Lovecraftian protagonist in the literal sense. His name is Howard and he is a horror author. ‘The Hounds of Tindalos’ is probably Frank Belknap Long’s best known tale. I didn’t hate it, but it wasn’t anything special either. A lad takes drugs that give him the power to see a gang of interdimensional hungry mutts.
The Internet Speculative Fiction Database categorizes 3 of Frank’s short stories as Cthulhu Mythos tales, the 2 from the above collection and a story called ‘Dark Awakening’ that Long wrote for Ramsey Campbell’s New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos collection. I tracked this story down too. It’s alright. A strange statue from the sea starts controlling people. Classic.
While many believe that ‘Dark Awakening’ is Frank’s last mythos story, that’s not quite accurate. He wrote ‘Gateway to Forever’, basically a short sequel to ‘The Hounds of Tindalos’, for the 25th edition of Robert M. Price’s Crypt of Cthulhu fanzine. It can now be found in Price’s The Tindalos Cycle collection.
‘Gateway to Forever’ isn’t very well known. It’s not very good either. I read it a few days ago, but I can’t remember much of it. The dogs come back. Wuff wuff.
Price’s Tindalos collection also contains a few chapters from Ghor, Kin Slayer: The Saga Of Genseric’s Fifth Born Son that feature the hounds. Ghor was a written by several famous authors in collaboration. This is a cool idea, but I’ve read the story is pretty crap as a whole, and I had no interest in reading a few chapters from a rare and notoriously disappointing book. I’ll read the whole thing if I can get my hands on it for a small amount of effort and a smaller amount of money. I had orignally planned to read the rest of the stuff in the Price collection, but I had read the Robert W. Chambers and Ambrose Bierce stuff before, and a lot of the rest is supposed to be rather dull.
Without doubt my favourite thing that I read by Long was his novella The Horror from the Hills. It’s about a statue of the abominable Chaugnar Faugn, basically a cross between an elephant and a mosquito, being brought to Manhattan from Tsang. Once he ends up in the museum, Chaugnar starts mangling, mutilating and murdering everyone in sight. Hell yeah.
Part of the reason I wanted to read Long’s stuff was that I had read that the protagonist from T.E.D. Klein’s ‘Black Man With a Horn’ was based on ol’ Frankie. I adored that story when I read it last Christmas, and reading The Horror from the Hills made it pretty clear where Klein had gotten his ideas. Slogging through all this mythos stuff is time consuming, but it feels pretty cool when you start to notice the patterns running through it like this. Klein didn’t rip Long off. He built on what the elder author had created.
I read two other stories by Long that are not technically considered part of the Cthulhu mythos but are Lovecraftian in their own ways. ‘The Black Druid’ was included in the original Hounds of Tindalos collection but it was omitted from The Early Long. It’s another tale in which the protagonist seems to be based on Lovecraft. Again Long treats his friend cruelly, poisoning his coat and turning him into a slimy monster. This story was alright. At one point in The Early Long, the author says something to the effect that this collection only contain his stories that avoid pure gross-out horror. ‘The Black Druid’ is not a classy tale, but gross-out gore fans shouldn’t get their hopes up either.
‘The Man with a Thousand Legs’ is about a man who turns into an octopus like creature. It’s set near the sea and felt quite Innsmouthy. I thought this one was pretty damn good.
Frank Belknap Long wrote a lot. I enjoyed much of what I read by him, but there was lots of filler too. If you think I have missed anything crucial, let me know.
Alright. At this point I’ve written about the Lovecraftian works of Clark Ashton Smith, August Derleth, Henry Kuttner and Frank Belknap Long. I’m already a few stories into Donald Wandrei’s collected horror and fantasy, so he’ll be up here in a few weeks.
Anton LaVey – The Satanic Witch Feral House – 1989 (Originally published at The Compleat Witch in 1971)
I read the Satanic Bible in January 2014. I originally bought a copy to leave on my coffee table when guests were over as a joke. When I read it, I was amused by much of it but never took it too seriously.
I’ve changed quite a bit since 2014. I got married, became a father and got a real job. I suppose I’ve grown up. I don’t think of myself as a particularly good person, and I think it is everyone’s responsibility to prioritise their own well being, but I have no time for anyone who fails to see the importance of treating others with patience and kindness. I have also spent more than a sensible amount of time posting in “satanic” message groups on facebook over the last few years, and almost every Satanist I have encountered has been an utter imbecile.
The world has changed since 2014 too, almost definitely for the worst. I know that politicians have always been awful, but the political leaders and decisions of the last few years have largely been horrible. A philosophy based on greed and hedonism seems the exact opposite of what the world needs right now.
All of these factors have led me to the conclusion that The Church of Satan and its followers are a gang of dorks. Despite this, I decided to read Anton La Vey’s The Satanic Witch. This book’s cover boasts that it is designed for “women cunning and crafty enough to employ the working formulas within, which instantly surpass the entire catalogue of self help tomes and new age idiocies.” Bullshit. It’s designed for insecure losers who don’t value their individuality.
I had heard that this was embarrassing nonsense, but I wasn’t quite prepared for how stupid it truly is. The 1989 edition begins with an introduction by Zeena LaVey, the author’s daughter. Zeena claims that she became a Satanic Witch at the age of 3 and discusses how she learned that sex could be used as a tool while she was still a child. She talks about looking at her father’s porno magazines as a kid and how she got pregnant when she was 13, two years after she first read The Satanic Witch. These details are provided in attempt to depict Zeena as sexually liberated, but their real effect is to make Anton look like a seriously shitty parent. How are we supposed to take his book of advice for “women who want more control over their lives” seriously when he was such an atrociously irresponsible father? Even a shit father probably cares more about his kid than a stranger, and if LaVey couldn’t prevent his child from getting raped and impregnated at 13, how will he be able to do anything for anyone else? (I know that you shouldn’t blame a rape victim’s parents for their being attacked, but I think its different when the parent is giving their child access to pornography and books on sexual manipulation.)
I managed to get through the first few chapters of ridiculously outdated mysogonistic nonsense, but I gave up when I got to the “LaVey Personality Synthesizer”. LaVey sets out a range of people and shows which type of partner these folks will be compatible with. He writes as if he was an expert psychologist, but we all know he was just a baldy wanker.
I was going to try to paraphrase the sections of the book that I got through, but it’s too excruciating. There’s no sense to any of this utter hogswash. The only thing this pathetic pile of shit will teach anyone is what kind of women dorky little fuckboys like the author are attracted to.
Part of my reason for tryjng to read this pile of crap was that I had heard of a book called The Satanic Warlock that is essentially an updated version of this book intended for the incel crowd. I am still curious about reading this one even though I am sure it’s even worse than The Satanic Witch. Part of my motivation to review The Satanic Warlock is to write a mean spirited review that will hopefully hurt the feelings of the author and his readers, but as Anton LaVey is dead, I have no such impetus to delve any further into his work.
This is the first book of non-fiction that I have discussed this year, and it was a real stinker. If anyone has any recommendations for occult/Fortean/weird non-fiction books that don’t absolutely suck, please send them my way!
Let’s Go Play at the Adams’ – Mendal W. Johnson Golden Apple Books – 1984 (Originally published 1974)
I read Let’s Go Play at the Adams’ because I wanted to write a post on the Valancourt Paperbacks From Hell reissues. I knew full well what this book was about, and other than a morbid curiosity, I had no desire to read it. I got through half of it in one evening and then decided that I wasn’t going to finish it. I read the second half when I woke up the next morning. I wasn’t surprised by anything, but I was disturbed. None of the seedy literature I’ve read compares to the pain of this book. It’s 290 pages of anguish.
The story of Let’s Go Play at the Adams’ publication, scarcity, author, reputation and its effects on its readers are all part and parcel of its infamy. Bloggers were pouring their souls out about this one long before I got the internet. The level of research and detail that has gone into some of the posts about this book puts my blog to shame. Some of those posts contain spoilers, but the plot of this novel is hardly complicated, and if you don’t already know what the book is about, I would actually suggest you read a plot summary before starting it. This book is definitely not for everyone.
I certainly didn’t enjoy Let’s Go Play at the Adams’, but I can’t deny that it was well written, and despite how utterly horrible it is, I wasn’t able to bring myself to not finish it. I don’t know how Mendal W. Johnson was able to maintain his focus on suffering for however long it took him to finish this novel. With all due respect, I can’t say I was surprised to find out that he drank himself to death within 2 years of finishing it.
Reader beware: you’re in for a horribly pessimistic journey of agonizing misery and abject bleakness.
The Cellar – Richard Laymon Feature Books – 1990 (Originally published 1980)
When I read Richard Laymon’s Flesh a few years ago, I was pleasantly surprised. I planned to read more of his stuff. There’s a lot of authors and books out there though, and I wasn’t sure which of Laymon’s books to check out next, so I forgot about him for a while. Then I read a post on Too Much Horror Fiction that mentioned a Laymon book featuring “a mutation where the tip of the urethra can extend as a kind of “mouth,” with its own tongue”. I put this book on my to-read list immediately. A few months later, I read Stephen King’s Danse Macabre, a history of horror in which the author describes the same book as unsuccessful. I then saw another negative review of this book on Mica’s blog. Things were getting curiouser and curiouser. I knew it was going to be crap, but I had to read The Cellar to see what all the fuss was about.
Yuck. This is a horrible book. Yeah, it’s a splatterpunk novel, and it has lots of blood in it, but that’s not why I’m yucking it.
This book is horrible because it’s paedophiley. I know that horror is supposed to be shocking and all that, but I never want to read about children getting raped. Maybe that makes me a wuss, but I’d prefer to be a wuss than a person that likes reading books about kids getting molested. Nope. No. Fuck off.
This is the story of a woman and her child running away from their abusive husband/father. They run until they end up in a small town that contains a house that has a murderous monster living in it. There, the woman falls in love with a man who is trying to kill the monster. You can guess how this ends – the whole gang goes into the Beast House and things turn out horribly for all of them.
Ok, the plot is dumb, but that’s not important. When I finished my first Laymon book I noted the exact same thing. The problem here is the child rape. The dad gets out of prison and immediately tries to get home to rape his kid again. It’s literally the first thing he does. It’s not really believable that anyone would be so stupid, but he’s the bad guy in a trashy horror novel, so I’ll let that slide. When he gets home and finds that his family have fled, he breaks into another family’s home, kills the parents and then repeatedly rapes the child.
At this point in the novel, I was feeling pretty grossed out, but not at all in the way I want to be grossed out. I continued reading in the hopes that this disgustingness was included in the book for a reason. I thought that Laymon might have been trying to make his readers hate this dude so that they would get a big kick out of his inevitable (and hopefully exceedingly brutal) demise at the hands of the beast. The beast does get the nonce, but his death is swift and dealt with in a few sentences. The descriptions of him raping children are definitely longer than the description of the beast quickly killing him. He gets off nice and easy in comparison to the child he raped. She is kidnapped by the beast and doomed to a life of more rape.
I recently read a book called Let’s Go Play at the Adams’ in which a character is raped multiple times. It was a truly horrible book, and I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it, but the rape scenes served a purpose. Let’s Go Play at the Adams’ is about humanity’s apathy to the suffering of others. It’s not pleasant, but it’s supposed to make you think. Richard Laymon’s The Cellar is a novel about a monster with a mouth on his willy. The violence and rape here is served as entertainment. There’s so message or philosophy behind this crap.
Maybe I seem like a hypocrite. I enjoyed Edward Lee’s The Bighead, a book from the same genre with even more rape and bloodshed, but even Lee’s infamous splatterfest is tasteful enough to steer away from paedophilia. There is a scene in it where a child is about to get diddled, but that scene ends, satisfyingly, with the diddler getting diddled himself.
In short, the scenes of child molestation in The Cellar do not serve to enhance the plot. They are entirely superfluous and do nothing than make the book feel creepy in an entirely unenjoyable manner.
This was Laymon’s first novel, and I did enjoy the other book I’ve read by him, so I won’t say I’ll never read anything else of his, but I’ll probably wait a good long while before giving him another chance. I had originally planned to read the 3 sequels to The Cellar, but that’s not going to happen. Even without the rape, this book is crap.
I mentioned at the beginning of this review that Stephen King had poo-pooed The Cellar in Danse Macabre. Funnily enough, the edition pictured above features a quote from King on the cover. I assume that quote was about some of Laymon’s later fiction. I have edited the cover so that it contains what Stephen King actually said about this pooey piece of garbage: