The Voice of the Clown – Brenda Brown Canary

the voice of the clown - brenda brown canaryThe Voice of the Clown – Brenda Brown Canary
Avon Books – 1982


After 
Paperbacks from Hell came out, quite a few of the books featured therein became hard to find. I made a list of the ones that I needed to read (most of which included the word Satan in the title) and tried to forget about the rest. After a bit of hunting, I managed to get my hands on copies of all of my first picks. I ordered some online, found others in thrift stores, and downloaded pdfs of others. Now, two years later,  I have read and reviewed 20 of the books featured in Paperbacks in Hell. Some were really good (The Cipher, The Tribe), and others were truly terrible (Brotherkind, The Manse). 

At this stage, the demand for many of these novels has diminished slightly, and books that were 300 hundred dollars are now available for 50 or 60. I check other blogs and discuss books with other nerds on twitter, and I noticed that the ‘paperback from Hell’ that is most frequently mentioned because of its scarcity is Brenda Brown Canary’s The Voice of the Clown

This title had escaped my notice when I first read Paperbacks from Hell, but I googled it after seeing it mentioned a few times and discovered the reason for its scarcity. Grady Hendrix has apparently claimed that this is the one book that actually lived up to the ‘from Hell’ title and that it is the only book to ever make his jaw drop. I was enticed, but after seeing the prices that it goes for online, I decided not to get too interested as I would never pay that much for a book.

A few weeks ago, I went to one of my favourite local bookshops. It’s super cheap, and has the biggest selection of paperbacks in my city, but it’s entirely disorganized, and over the course of several visits, I’ve cleaned out most of the horror novels. This time, I spent a good half hour without finding anything, but I didn’t want to walk by the owner of the shop without buying anything, so I continued my search. Then I discovered a copy of T.E.D. Klein’s The Ceremonies, a book I’ve wanted to read for a while, and with renewed vigour I turned to a bookcase that I hadn’t yet searched through. There are three rows of paperbacks on every shelf, and it was at the back row of the bottom shelf that I found a copy of The Voice of the Clown with 2.00 written on the cover.

I started to shake. This was the Holy Grail of collectible horror paperbacks. I grabbed another horror novel and sandwiched the Clown between that and The Ceremonies to make it less conspicuous. I had to get out of there before another collector saw what I had and a fight broke out. Like a thief in the night, I tiptoed to the counter, put my books down and smiled at the old lady. I assumed that she was going to recognise what I had in my hand, but she just smiled back and charged me 9 dollars for the three novels. I got out of there as quickly as I could, expecting to hear sirens behind me once somebody realised the daylight robbery I had just committed. 

IMG_20200216_083533

When I got home, I was elated. I tried to convey my excitement to my wife, but she didn’t seem to care. My reading list is fairly lengthy, but it was only a few weeks before I gave in to temptation and bumped this novel to the front of my list.

Then I sat down and read it.

 

Jesus Christ. This was an unrelenting nightmare.

T.J. unknowingly gets his girlfriend Molly pregnant and then moves away. Then he knocks up a different girl, Kate, and marries her even though he only loves Molly. After giving birth, Molly kills herself. A few years later, T.J. and Kate have another kid. Unfortunately for them, Laura, the new baby, is the reincarnation of Molly, T.J.’s old girlfriend.

Laura really, really, really hates her mom, but she doesn’t fully understand why yet. She REALLY loves her dad though, in a way that seems weird right from the beginning. When her dad gets her mom pregnant again, she becomes very unhappy.

For the most part, the reincarnation business is the only supernatural element in this book. This is not what I was expecting from the cheesy cover. The horror is not of evil spirits or of psychic powers. It is the horror of trauma, suicide, domestic abuse, and misery.

Laura is not only jealous; she is also a manipulative, sadistic psychopath. The story is also told from her point of view, a fact that makes this book all the more disturbing. The reader starts off on her side, but I started to sympathise with her mother pretty quickly. Laura does everything she can to upset Kate, a woman who may not be the best mother in the world but who hasn’t actually done anything unforgivable. I don’t want to give away details, but some of Laura’s actions were so upsetting that they caused me to put the book down and consider whether or not I actually wanted to finish it.

I’ve seen other reviews of this book where people said that The Voice of the Clown isn’t as scary as it’s made out to be and that it gets bogged down with character development, but I found the build up to be really effective. Also, I honestly doubt that those naysaying reviewers have kids of their own. I have a little girl, and my wife and I have another kid on the way, and reading about a child’s mission to destroy her family by any means was deeply upsetting for me. I can read gore all day and won’t be bothered, but reading about a jealous child’s well thought out plans to torment a helpless baby and its mother was utterly horrendous. This novel struck a nerve.

This is a miserable, bleak, unpleasant book to read. While there are some supernatural elements, it’s really more horrible than horror. That being said, I reckon that was the point. Brenda Brown Canary must have sat down and really thought hard on to how write the most horrible book ever. I don’t think something as unpleasant as this could happen by accident. I know that Valancourt Books have tried to get in touch with her to reprint this as part of their Paperbacks from Hell reissues line, but that she has yet to respond. I wonder how she feels about this book now. Was it written during a dark time in her life that she would rather forget? I hope I’m wrong, but I find it difficult to imagine a person who loves their life writing a book like this. It’s relentlessly unpleasant, and it gets worse and worse as it goes on.

All that being said, I think it is a good book. This is a methodically written novel of terror, real, unpleasant terror. I’ve written before of times when books have obsessed me. In all other cases, the obsession reached its peak before reading the book. I would get fixated on a rare horror novel and spend hours seeking out information about it before finding/ordering a copy. Reading it would be the climax. In this case, my interest was really sparked after finishing the novel. I’ve found myself picking it up since finishing it, staring at the cover and feeling an unpleasant discomfort. Part of me wants to get rid of my copy to have it out of my house, but the masochist in me wants to keep it in case I want to punish myself again in a few years. If you can get a copy of this thing and you’re not faint of heart, pick it up and jump into the nightmare.

Count Stanislaus Eric Stenbock’s Tales of Death and Decadent Poetry

I first read about Count Stenbock on the Snuggly Books website when I was buying their collection of Montagues Summer’s ghost stories. I saw the cover of Stenbock’s Studies of Death and became intrigued. I checked and saw that first edition copies of this book go for 10,000 dollars. I had to read it.

stenbock studies of death
When I looked up Stenbock, I saw that David Tibet, Thomas Ligotti collaborator and the musician behind Current 93, had recently put out a collection of Stenbock’s work that contained all of the stories in Studies of Death along with lots of other stuff. This collection didn’t cost much more, and I decided to buy it.

OF KINGS AND THINGS STENBOCKOf Kings and Things: Strange Tales and Decadent Poems
Count Eric Stanislaus Stenbock
Strange Attractor – 2018

Studies of Death is actually very short, and you could easily read through it in an afternoon. The stories are glum, dreary things. I enjoyed them well enough. One of the tales is about a vampire, but the others don’t really have much of the supernatural about them. I quite liked these stories, but I am very, very glad I opted for the anthology rather than just this collection.

The other tales contained in Of Kings and Things are great, and they convinced me that Stenbock was actually an interesting writer rather than just a melancholy weirdo. ‘The Other Side’ is one of the only other pieces of writing that was ever published during Stenbock’s life, and it’s a very dreamy tale of a young man becoming a werewolf. It’s really cool. There’s other stories about a voyage to Hell, a princess who pays to see a young man mauled by lions, and a monk who attends black masses and satanic ritual sacrifices. There’s also a ghost story in the form of a play. ‘The King’s Bastard’ and ‘A Secret Kept’ are very similar to the kind of stuff in Studies of Death.  All the fiction in here is worth reading, but there’s one particularly creepy story about a fella who allows himself to be cuckolded by his gay lover (his boyfriend fucks his wife), and then he falls in love with the resultant child. Yuck.

Stenbock was a real freak. There’s a story that he used to carry a wooden puppet around with him, telling people that it was his son. He was also gay. I don’t mean to insinuate that gayness is weird or abnormal, but let’s be realistic; in the late 19th century it was largely considered so. Stenbock’s writing, although never explicitly detailing acts of homosexuality, is pretty gay. Read it and you’ll see what I mean – lots of beautiful men and forbidden love. I think he deserves more credit for writing like this during that period of history. It’s a pity that he isn’t better remembered.

The physical book is lovely – it looks and feels nice, and a great deal of effort has clearly been put into it. It’s not expensive either, so if you’re mildly interested in Stenbock or a big fan of his, I can wholeheartedly recommend picking up a copy of Of Kings and Things. I’m glad I did.

 

Stenbock was primarily a poet, and of the 4 of his books that were published during his lifetime, 3 of them were books of poetry. Copies of the original editions of these books are now ridiculously rare. David Tibet estimates that there are 4-6 copies of each in existence. Luckily, many of these poems are included in Of Kings and Things. I was on David Tibet’s website a few weeks back and saw that he was offering free pdf copies of the collected poems of Stenbock. This collection contains all of the poems from the Count’s 3 books of poetry. I decided to give it a read before publishing this post.

collected poems stenbock
The Collected Poems of S.E. Stenbock –  Count Stanislaus Eric Stenbock
Durto Press – 2001

I have very little interest in poetry. Honestly, I just don’t get it. My opinions on this lad’s poems aren’t going to be profound. I thought they were very moody and sad and dramatic – lots of crying and love and blood. If Stenbock was a teenager in the early 2000s, he would have worn lots of eyeliner and shirts with black and purple stripes. I’m too much of a bonehead to tell if his poems are good not. I far preferred his stories.

A History of Chainsaw Terror (Come the Night) by Nick Blake (Shaun Hutson)

I have spent the last few months obsessing over the infamous Chainsaw Terror, but finding a copy seemed impossible. A few weeks ago, I read a review that made doing so significantly easier. There’s quite a few reviews of this novel online already, but I am far more interested in the story behind this book than the story in it. In this post, I want to present the most comprehensive account of the publishing of Chainsaw Terror/Come the Night to date.

chainsaw terror come the night nick blake hutson

In 1984, Shaun Hutson agreed to write a novelisation of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Star, his publishing company failed to get the novelisation rights for the movie, but they encouraged Shaun to write a chainsaw novel anyways. Who doesn’t love a bit of chainsaw violence?

Shaun spent a few weeks (either 15 or 20 days) writing a manuscript titled Chainsaw Terror. A week after sending it in to his publisher, he got a call telling him that parts of it had to be cut out. The extent of these cuts varies depending on Shaun Hutson’s mood. He has claimed it was 20 pages, 25 pages and 30 pages during different interviews.

Apparently Bookwise, the biggest book retailer in England, had banned the book from their stores because of the word ‘chainsaw’ in the title. (By Hutson’s own account, other retailers, including W.H. Smith did not have a problem with the book’s title, but Hutson later claimed that the novel was “banned outright.”) The cut manuscript was retitled and all future copies were published as Come the Night.

Ok, so the small number of copies of the first printing of book that were originally sent to and sold by non-Bookwise vendors were titled Chainsaw Terror, and these are the ones that we see going for 300+ dollars on ebay today. The reason that copies of Chainsaw Terror go for so much money is that the people buying them believe that they include the 20-30 pages that were cut from the original manuscript.

But Chainsaw Terror and Come the Night are the same book. Yes, they are the exact same. Come the Night is not shorter, and it’s not less graphic. It’s literally the exact same. (Somebody made this claim on a forum in 2017, but Olly C’s review confirmed it with certainty.) All of those people who review their copy of Chainsaw Terror online and gloat smugly about how weak Come the Night must be compared to the sheer brutality of Chainsaw Terror are fools.

So who is responsible for all of the confusion over the different editions of this book? I’m pretty sure it’s Shaun Hutson. I’ve already pointed to a few instances where he has contradicted himself on elements of  the story, but most confusing of all is the following quote which is currently found on Hutson’s own website:

“…CHAINSAW TERROR and COME THE NIGHT are both the same book. CHAINSAW TERROR was originally published in the US but was banned over here by W.H. Smith because it had ‘chainsaw’ in the title. It was then re-released (heavily cut) as ‘Come The Night’. Actually, make that very heavily cut…”

Ok, so the first sentence and the last sentence of that quote directly contradict each other. Which part are we supposed to believe Shaun? Not only that, but in this quote, Hutson is claiming that it was W.H. Smith that banned the book while he has elsewhere stated that “W.H. Smith who were more conservative in their views [than Bookwise] didn’t have a problem with CHAINSAW TERROR even though they’d later go on to ban my own novel DEADHEAD in 1994.”

According to Hutson, the cuts were demanded just days after he submitted the original manuscript, but while Chainsaw Terror came out in March 1984, Come the Night was only published in December 1985, almost two years later. If Hutson’s claim that “It [Chainsaw Terror] was then re-released (heavily cut) as ‘Come The Night'” was true, this would mean that there are three different versions of the story: the original manuscript, the cut version (Chainsaw Terror) and the cut-cut version (Come the Night). But if Come the Night is a “very heavily cut” re-release of Chainsaw Terror, how is it that every known copy of both books is 173 pages long? Hutson’s claims are full of holes.

I don’t know how deliberate it was, but I can’t help but think that the author has consciously obfuscated the publication details of Chainsaw Terror to add to its infamy. In pointing this out, I want to clarify that I have nothing but respect for Hutson if this is truly the case. Nothing gets my juices flowing better than the mystique of a banned and unattainable horror novel. I’d do the same thing if I was in that position.

I pieced together the above account from different interviews and reviews, and while I’m sure it’s not completely accurate, I think it’s at least the most complete version of the story of the publication of Chainsaw Terror online. (Hutson’s contradictory accounts make it very difficult to suss out who was actually responsible for the title change and where the copies of Chainsaw Terror in circulation were actually sold – was it W.H. Smiths or the United States?) If anyone has any further information on either of these books, I’d be happy to know about it. Shaun Hutson, baby, give me a call and let’s talk.

hutson come the night abduction visitation
Just to clarify another point; while paperback versions of Chainsaw Terror and Come the Night are both fairly scarce at this stage, the entire text of Come the Night (and hence Chainsaw Terror) was rereleased as part of a collection of three novels by Hutson that is still widely available. I bought a copy for less than two dollars a few weeks ago. There was also a French edition called La Tronconneuse de l’Horreur put out in 1985. I actually bought a copy of this before I knew that Come the Night was the same as the published version of Chainsaw Terror. I had planned to learn French rather than paying 300 quid for a copy of the English version, but I don’t have to any more. I don’t regret my purchase though, as I think the cover of this version is the single greatest cover art in the history of horror fiction.

La Tronçonneuse de l'Horreur - nick blakeI can verify that the text is the same as the English version. It’s cut too. Still though, look at that cover!

Ok, as for the actual plot of Chainsaw Terror… It’s pretty much what you’d expect: an incel cuts up a bunch of prostitutes with a chainsaw. It shames me to say this, but I thought it was quite enjoyable. Everything is pushed a few steps further than is sensible. There’s some nice touches – whenever somebody is cut up, they always seem to shit or piss themselves. Also, the chainsaw maniac has the weird (yet admittedly sensible) habit of taking off all of his clothes before he dismembers his victims.

There is one part of the book where the killer is about to ram a drill into a prostitute’s eyeball where the text cuts off with an ellipsis. When the next paragraph starts, she is dead. I assume this is the scene of one of the infamous cuts. There’s also a tense scene where the killer is left alone with two small children. Nothing happens, but in a later interview, Hutson mentioned that “Killing kids in print is always a tricky area” directly after mentioning the ban on Chainsaw Terror, leading me to believe that the that the killer may have returned to those kids in the original manuscript. Hutson has also mentioned the omission of a scene involving chainsaw rape, but the published versions do actually contain a scene that I thought suggested as much. In truth, none of these omitted scenes would have made a huge difference to the final product. As it stands, the published manuscript is plenty violent and gross. (There are rumours of a pdf copy of the uncut manuscript of Chainsaw Terror that was being sent around the internet years ago, but I doubt we’ll ever see it again.)

In conclusion then, finding a copy of Chainsaw Terror is actually pretty easy despite all the nonsense that has been written about it online. The omnibus containing two other Hutson novels is the way to go my friends – you don’t need to spend 300 dollars. As of today, the 2nd of February 2020, there are more than 50 copies available online for less than 20 dollars, many costing less than half that. The book is enjoyable in a very direct, horrible way too, and I recommend you check it out if you’re at all into violent, mindless horror novels.

severed head decapitated by chainsaw

Oh, and if elusive and weird paperback horror is your thing, make sure you check back here soon. I’ll be posting a review of The Voice of the Clown, a real rarity, by the end of the month.

 

Richard Jaccoma’s Occult Adventure Trilogy – Yellow Peril, The Werewolf’s Tale and The Werewolf’s Revenge –

richard jaccoma werewolf's taleThe Werewolf’s Tale – Richard Jaccoma
Fawcett Gold Medal – 1988

“This book is quite awful. It’s about a New York detective who turns into a werewolf while investigating a team of vampires, a Nazi occultist from Atlantis and the mummy of an Egyptian black magician. There’s a few references to Lovecraftian entities, and the werewolf detective has sex with a lot of women. This might have worked as a series of comic books, but there’s too much stuff going on for this to function as a cohesive novel.”

I wrote the above paragraph in August, right after finishing The Werewolf’s Tale. Looking back, I think I might have been overly harsh. I had just finished reading Bari Wood’s excellent The Tribe, and that novel had enough in common with this one to make Jaccoma’s book seem awful in comparison. They’re very different books, but they’re set in the same place and both feature Rabbis as important characters, and I reckon these similarities made the shift from grim thriller to ludicrous adventure novel seem extra jarring.

richard jaccoma werewolf's revengeThe Werewolf’s Revenge – Richard Jaccoma
Fawcett Gold Medal – 1991

By the time I got around to reading the sequel, The Werewolf’s Revenge, I found it much easier to enjoy Jaccoma’s supernatural parody of noir fiction. The events in here are even more sensational than the first novel, but I knew what to expect by this point and was able to enjoy the ride.

Honestly, it’s only been a few months since I read The Werewolf’s Revenge, but I can’t say that I remember much about the plot. It’s more of the same crap. It features all the characters from the first novel (the Atlantean sorcerer, the evil Egyptian mummy, the sexy Jewish vampire, the sexy Nazi werewolf…) but this one also features Jacques De Molay of Knight’s Templar fame, along with some Satyrs and other mythical beasts. Oh yeah, and at one point, one of the characters finds the Necronomicon. While I can’t remember the precise details of the complicated plot, I do remember enjoying it far more than I had expected. It’s not high literature, but it’s not unbearable.

Things got a bit uncomfortable for me when a character called John Weymouth-Smythe appears in the story. I recognised that name from somewhere. It turned out to be from the inside cover of the paperback I was holding. Aside from the two Werewolf books I’ve just reviewed, Richard Jaccoma had only written one other novel, the dubiously titled “Yellow Peril” The Adventures of Sir John Weymouth-Smythe. It quickly became apparent that while Yellow Peril and The Werewolf’s Tale are unrelated works, The Werewolf’s Revenge is actually a linking sequel to both novels. I had been looking forward to finishing the pair of Werewolf novels and being done with Richard Jaccoma, but when I saw Yellow Peril being described as an erotic occult adventure about a secret agent fighting satanic Nazis, I knew that I was going to have to complete the trilogy. It was quite annoying though because it was actually written way before both of the books I had already read, and I hate reading a series out of sequence.

richard jaccoma yellow perilYellow Peril: The Adventures of Sir John Weymouth-Smythe – Richard Jaccoma
Berkley Books – 1980 (First published in 1978)

Ok, it’s currently 2020, so let’s just address the obvious racism straight away. This is clearly an outdated piece of writing that crosses all kinds of boundaries that don’t need to be crossed. Richard Jaccoma actually apologizes for the racist attitudes of the book’s characters in a short preface, but this apology falls short of what we’d expect today. While it is the characters in the book who voice racist opinions, the author was ultimately marketing these ideas as entertainment, regardless of whether he believed in them himself. This book was written 42 years ago though, and I don’t think that Richard Jaccoma was intentionally being a horrible person. The guy went on to write 2 books about a Nazi-hunting werewolf, and it’s actually the Jewish and Chinese characters in this book who actually turn out to be good, so I reckon he’s probably not a bigoted hatemonger.

Racism aside, is Yellow Peril any good? It’s pretty much the same thing as the Werewolf books, but here the narrator is British rather than American. He doesn’t have any super powers, but he works alongside the head of the Golden Dawn, a crew of Satanic Nazi paedophiles, a horde of Yetis and some very strange Asian occultists. The conflict in this novel is driven by the quest for the Spear of Destiny, and yes, I mean the version of the Spear of Destiny written about by Trevor Ravenscroft. The narrator is a bit of an idiot, and the story itself is pretty dumb, but it wasn’t absolutely horrible to read.

Richard Jaccoma used to work as the managing editor for Screw Magazine, a pornographic weekly newspaper, and he wrote the screenplay for a 1977 porno called Punk Rock. Yellow Peril advertises itself as “A porno-fairytale-occult-thriller” on the cover, but I felt like it actually had less sex than the Werewolf books. I skimmed over the sex-scenes, as I wanted to get through this quickly, but I couldn’t help but notice that one of these scenes contains a lengthy description of the protagonist anally raping an evil Nazi. As soon as he finishes raping her, another Nazi, who has been peeping on them, cums all over the rapists back.

richard jaccoma werewolf trilogy
I’ll just leave it at that. The fact that these books aren’t hugely popular isn’t really surprising.

An Interview with Garrett Boatman, Author of Stage Fright

It will come as no surprise to anyone who has ever read this blog that I sometimes get obsessed with certain books. A few years ago, I first saw the cover of Garrett Boatman’s Stage Fright, and its heavy metal skeleton assured me that I would some day read it. A few months later, the cover of Stage Fright was featured in Grady Hendrix’s Paperbacks from Hell, and copies suddenly became scarce and expensive. It was already an obscure book that I couldn’t find much information about online, and this combined with its sudden scarcity made it all the more desirable.

stage fright boatman.jpg
This time two years ago, I was scouring the internet for an affordable copy of Stage Fright, all the time kicking myself for not having bought one when they were going for 10 dollars (including postage). I’m not exaggerating; I was literally searching bookfinder and ebay every few hours. At one point, I was planning a trip to the United States to buy a copy from some dude in Washington, but he sold it before I could go through with this. I also spent hours searching for Garrett Boatman on social media to see if he had any copies left, but I couldn’t find any traces of him online. I presumed he was either dead or that ‘Garrett Boatman’ had been an alias. Fortunately, I eventually found a copy online for about 35 dollars and snapped it up. 35 dollars is too much to pay for a tattered old horror paperback, but after a bit of reasoning I convinced myself that it would be worth paying that much just to free up the time I had been spending looking for this damned book.

When I got around to reading it, Stage Fright did not disappoint. It was a bloody mishmash of horror and sci-fi. I rated it 5 out of 5 on goodreads and wrote a glowing review. In writing that review I came upon Joe Kenney’s review that noted a curious feature of the book. The inside cover of Stage Fright makes reference to a book by Garrett Boatman titled Death Dream. This was peculiar for two reasons. First off, the description of Death Dream lines up with the plot of Stage Fright, and secondly, there was no record of a book called Death Dream ever being published. Here was a mystery.

death dream garrett boatman

I had purchased, read and reviewed Stage Fright, so I set my sights on some other curious books and moved on. I briefly considered selling my copy, but I decided to hang on to it because it’s so cool. I had spent a long time obsessing over this book, and it’s one of the jewels of my collection.

Can you imagine my surprise and delight when Garrett Boatman came out of hiding and posted a comment on my blog’s facebook page? Here was the hitherto believed dead author of one of my favourite novels sending me a message! Might this be my chance to get the answers to all of the questions I had about this most curious volume?

Yes. It was. It turns out that Garrett Boatman is actually a really nice, patient and accommodating guy. He very graciously responded to my questions and has allowed me to publish those responses here. I’m absolutely delighted to be able to share this interview of sorts with you.

garrett boatman.jpgMr. Boatman

First off, can you tell me the story of writing Stage Fright? Where, when and how did you do it? How did you get it published once it was written?

In the 1950s, researchers at Tulane University discovered a protein antibody called taraxein in the blood of schizophrenics that caused schizophrenic behavior when injected in monkeys. Administered to inmate volunteers from the Louisiana State Penitentiary, taraxein produced schizophrenic episodes that lasted up to half an hour, presumably until the body’s defense mechanisms defeated the invading substance. Hmm, I thought. From the blood of schizophrenics. Now there’s an idea.

Two other elements went into the inspiration for Stage Fright. Growing up I watched a lot of Creature Features and especially enjoyed stories about mad scientists like Frankenstein, Nemo, Jekyll, Morbius from Forbidden Planet.

The third piece was my idea for a new type of performing art. I remember thinking when I was a boy walking in the Georgia woods wouldn’t it be great if I could make up music in my head and hear it playing in the air. As an adult I loved movies—especially horror, science fiction and fantasy. But making a movie takes money, a director, actors… I thought wouldn’t it be great if there was a technology that could record my dreams. I’d always been interested in dreams, especially nightmares which I enjoy. In controlling them and watching how they play out. I’d recorded my best dreams for years in my notebooks. In fact some of the dreams or schizophrenic sequences in Stage Fright derive from my dreams. Anyway, I came across articles on how dreams or thoughts might be recorded in Psychology Today and other publications, as well as how different parts of the brain processes different sensory input and came up with the dreamatron, a combination synthesizer-neural transmitter device. Edison had his “flickers.” I had my dreamies.

Stage Fright was my second novel. The original title was Death Dream. I wrote it long-hand, then typed it up on a second-hand IBM Selectric. I was unagented. I called New American Library because Signet published Stephen King. I asked to speak to an editor and got one, Matt Sartwell. He asked what I had. I told him about taraxein and my idea for a new media for performing arts. He asked me to send the manuscript and I signed a contract a couple months later. The book was originally intended for NAL’s science fiction imprint Ace with a print run of 90,000 copies, but NAL had recently launched a horror imprint, Onyx Books, and editor-in-chief John Silbersack decided to publish Stage Fright under the Onyx imprint with a print run of 70,000 copies. The new title was also John’s idea. And so it goes.

What can you tell me about the amazing cover art? The artist is uncredited in the book as far as I can see.

I have no information about the cover artist. He or she is not credited in Stage Fright. Paperbacks from Hell lists the cover artist as “unknown.” When I was shown the artwork for Stage Fright, the colors were circus bright. The skeleton’s face was white, hair blond, vest red. I think the pants were blue. The boots were buckskin. I said the colors should be darker. Silbersack agreed. When I got the mockup, I was pleasantly surprised. The art department did a great job.

What about this Paperbacks from Hell business? Did you know your book was going to be featured? If not, how did you find out about it?

No, I didn’t know. I’d been working on a dark-fantasy for the past few years, doing more writing than reading (which for me is a hardship since I’m a voracious reader), and when I finished editing the last volume in November, I ran a search keywords my name and Stage Fright and was thrilled to come up with hits on Nocturnal Revelries, Too Much Horror Fiction, Glorious Trash, Goodreads. It was the link from your review of my book on your post One for the Rockers that sent me to Paperbacks from Hell.

(Ohhhhhh man, knowing this makes me so happy. I feel like I’ve played a small role in horror fiction history!)

How did it make you feel to find out that your book had been not just featured in Paperbacks from Hell but also included on its cover? That book won awards and has had a pretty big influence on the horror market in recent years. Do you accept the title of ‘Paperback from Hell’ for your book?

I write from that dark subterranean platform where the three tracks of science fiction, fantasy and horror meet. There was a time when my editor at NAL joked maybe I would be the King of Technohorror. So if the shoe fits…

But yes, I was tickled pink. Ordered a copy right away. Grady Hendrix must have good taste: he’s using the face from my cover for his Facebook image. Check it out. But really, Stage Fright is more than that. I am very interested in social evolution and how new technologies impact social evolution. I plan to further explore how my dream technology might help shape social evolution. Movies, cell phones, virtual reality all have an impact. If I can throw some frights in along the way, even better.

A couple of years ago, right after PfH came out, a lot of the books featured therein became highly sought after. I remember a time when the cheapest copy of Stage Fright available online was $300. Prices have dropped considerably since the big PfH boom, but copies of Stage Fright still don’t come cheap. Do you find that annoying or flattering?

Neither, I just shake my head in amazement. But I’m glad horror is back. Can I get a Hell Yeah?

Hell yeah, brother! Haha, so what are you plans for the future? Tell me about the new stuff you’re writing/have written.

Night’s Plutonian Shore is a doppelgänger novel, “creatures of the id” as Dr. Morbius called them in Forbidden Planet. One of my favorite tropes. Experimenting with psychotronic generators—similar to what the ancient Egyptians called “Wands of Horus,” a group of students accidentally produce doppelgängers. Survival instinct compels these creatures to murder their originals. My protagonist has a conscious and draws the line at murder; his double does not.

In The Clocks of Midnight, Rick and Fergi, having survived encounters with their doppelgängers, have relocated from New Jersey to Memphis, Tennessee. At the site of a multiple-vehicular accident, a dead man wakes to tell Rick, now an EMT, “The feeding has begun.” In Montreal, a shadow creature attacks two-hundred-year-old horologist Reginaldo da Silva, priest of the Goddess and guardian of the mandala that binds the Watchers to the Abyss. In the days of Enoch, the Watchers, sent to keep an eye on man, abandoned their task and cohabitated with humans, producing monstrous offspring, the Nephilim. The true Samhain, when the Pleiades stand at the zenith at the stroke of midnight and the veil between worlds is thinnest, approaches. And when the Goddess, posing as a vendor in a flea market, sells Rick a crystal that channels the energy of the stars, his life is catapulted into a confrontation with an ancient evil, one of the Grigori, a Watcher who escaped God’s avenging angels in the world’s youth and whose mission is to open the gates of the Pleiades and usher in a new reign of terror.

In The Mirror of Eternity, EMT Rick Scott arrives at the scene of a fire and finds an apartment block vanished, replaced by a warehouse dating to the time of paddle wheelers ablaze, and standing before the inferno, two antique horse-drawn pump wagons and firemen in peaked leather helmets and old-fashioned uniforms. Time is flowing back toward the singularity of the creation. Though he wants no part of magic or the Goddess or Her priest Reginaldo da Silva, he needs answers and, using a vintage 1934 Omega RAF pilot’s watch the ancient horologist has modified with complications created on the astral plane, travels back to 1583 to consult with John Dee and Giordano Bruno and to face demons and gods and in the process become what he never wanted.

The trilogy follows Rick’s reluctant journey from initiate to adept. His arc mirrors the alchemical stages of nigredo to albedo to rubedo.

These books will be available soon, and since this interview was first published, Mr. Boatman has confirmed that Stage Fright is going be rereleased as part of  Valancourt’s Paperbacks From Hell series.  (YES! I’ve been smiling since I found out yesterday!) I hope this information was as interesting for you as it was to me. You can find more information about Garrett Boatman and his books on his new website, https://www.garrettboatmanauthor.com/

Thank you Garrett!

Kill for Satan – Bryan Smith

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Kill for Satan – Bryan Smith

Grindhouse Press – 2018

I saw the cover of this book roughly a year ago and knew I’d have to read it. It’s about a bunch of people killing a bunch of other people. Oh, and they’re doing so for Satan.

Kill for Satan only came out in 2018, and it features a lot of pop culture references that made me realise how little modern horror I actually read. I was a bit bothered by the repeated allusions to one of the character’s Cradle of Filth tshirt (Jesus Christ, that band are shit.), but I liked the part when one of the characters is researching Satanism and discovers “modern so-called “Satanic” groups that don’t actually believe in the existence of any demonic evil entity ” who “use Satan as a provocative and subversive means of delivering progressive messages. They are social activists, not true devotees of the dark path.” Haha, I wonder who he’s reading about.

Really though, aside from all of the killing for Satan, there’s not much else going on in this book. It reminded me of a more straightforward version of William Johnstone’s The Nursery. In a way that’s a good thing; Johnstone’s book was a mess, but I found the plot of Kill for Satan to be a bit underwhelming.

Bryan Smith seems to specialise in Splatterpunk, and this book, like some of the others within that genre, was just a bit too straightforward for me to really enjoy. Kill for Satan felt a bit more like reading the screenplay for an extended death metal music video than it did a novel. Smith’s writing is decent – I was never bored, but personally, I would have enjoyed a bit more plot/character development – maybe a little less killing and a little more Satan.

There is one particularly memorable scene in which a mother says to her child, “I’m sorry, sweetie. I do love you. But I love Satan more.” Yikes. You can probably guess what happens next. If this sounds good to you, if you’re looking for a straight up bloodbath of mindless, brutal violence, this book will not disappoint.

 

My Work Is Not Yet Done – Thomas Ligotti

My Work is Not Yet Done ligotti.jpgMy Work is Not Yet Done – Thomas Ligotti
2002 – Virgin

I read a lot of books, but in truth, there are relatively few authors whose books I savour. I actually hold off on reading Thomas Ligotti because I don’t want the day to come when I have already read all of his books. His low opinion of humanity is both tragically hilarious and brutal, and while I don’t necessarily share the outlook of the narrators of his stories, I find his pessimism the perfect vehicle for horror. The message that our existence has no worth is perhaps the most disturbing idea that an author can offer to 21st century humans.

My Work Is Not Yet Done is a novella and two short stories. All of these tales are about workers’ lives as part of a corporation. There’s a very Kafkaesque vibe running throughout, but Ligotti covers the bureaucratic angst with layers of supernatural horror and misanthropy and turns it into something far darker. The first act of the eponymous novella portrays a man who decides to go on a killing spree in his office after he’s unfairly dismissed from his job. I know Stephen King found himself in hot water for writing a novel about a school shooting, so I was impressed that Ligotti had done something so extreme. I won’t tell you what happens later on in the story, but I will say that it’s actually far worse than what you’d expect.

I know full well the misery of working for a company that you hate, and while I’ve only spent a little over a year working in an “office job”, I spent enough of that year fantasizing about murdering my boss to have thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Little things about the book stuck out to me. Characters have stupid names – coworkers are named Sherry, Terry, Mary, and Perry, and detectives are named Black and White. Also, the purpose of the corporations that these characters work is barely discussed – the nature of the work that the characters engage in is almost entirely passed over. Why does Ligotti omit these details? Why doesn’t he put more effort into naming his characters? Because that stuff doesn’t matter. Human beings are entirely interchangeable. You are no different to the people you hate the most. What corporations actually do doesn’t make any difference to their workers. Nothing fucking matters. Every living thing is going to die without having made any noticeable difference in the universe, a universe in which every single atom will eventually decay.

Oh, I forgot to mention that this is the first post of 2020. Happy New Year everyone!

“Generally speaking: Expect nothing but nightmarish obscenities to be born when human heads come together in intercourse.

More generally speaking: Whatever is born will ultimately grow into a nightmarish obscenity – in the grand scheme of things.”

There’s moody nuggets like this sprinkled throughout the book, but the closing lines of My Work Is Not Yet Done sum it all up. I don’t want to quote those here as it might ruin the effect when you do get around to reading it, but fuck me, they’re perfect. Please believe me when I say that this is a novella worth reading.

I’ve also reviewed Ligotti’s Teatro Grottesco and The Conspiracy Against the Human Race if you’re interested. I read Noctuary years ago too, but I haven’t reviewed that one properly yet. There’s a copy of the Penguin edition of Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe on my shelf, but I’m waiting for a special occasion to allow myself the luxury of reading it.

2019, The Year in Review

2019 was the busiest year yet for this blog. There were more posts, words, books and traffic than ever before. (I know I said the same thing last year, but I’ve outdone myself again.) I put a lot of effort in this year, and almost all of my reading was dedicated to this blog. I only managed to read 4 non horror/occult books over the whole year. If you haven’t been paying attention, this post will guide you through what I covered in 2019.

 

 

I read some really cool novels this year. I was so excited to find a cheap copy of Kathe Koja’s The Cipher in a thrift store, and I’m happy to report that it lived up to its reputation. I posted about Edward Lee’s The Bighead right at the beginning of the year, and it was an extremely gross, funny and enjoyable read.  My copy of C.S. Cody’s The Witching Night had been on my shelf for years, but I loved it when I got around to reading it this summer. Bari Wood’s The Tribe also blew me away. There’s no wonder that it was recently rereleased. Flesh by Richard Laymon may not have been a brilliant novel, but I really enjoyed it. I ended the year reading two classics of weird fiction, Fritz Leiber’s Our Lady of Darkness and William Hope Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland. Both of these books were awesome.

 

I did a few short story collections this year too. I was delighted to get my hands on Montague Summer’s long forgotten Ghost Stories. I also really enjoyed rereading Lovecraft’s stuff. (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.) In May, I reviewed Teatro Grottesco by Thomas Ligotti. I absolutely adored that book, and I was surprised to see how much traffic that post got. (I also just finished his My Work is Not Yet Done, so expect to see more Ligotti here soon.) In October, I did a lengthy post on the two Splatterpunks anthologies from the 90s. The stories in these were of varying quality, but they did put me onto some cool writers. I actually thought that I had reviewed more short story collections than this when I started writing this paragraph, but that’s because I have spent the last few weeks working through Clive Barker’s Books of Blood. I haven’t finished all 6 yet, so it’ll be another while before they show up here. (Barker is one of the authors that Splatterpunks convinced me to check out.)

 

Of course, this blog isn’t just about fiction, and this year, I got into some very weird esoteric books indeed. The one I was most excited about was Geoff Gilbertson and Anthony Robert’s The Dark Gods. Jesus, that book was mental. (I’m also happy to report that a pdf copy has been uploaded to the internet since my post was published, so you won’t have to go through what I went through to read this very rare and very odd book.) I was also proud to present a review of Robert Eisler’s Man into Wolf, a very peculiar book on lycanthropy. Dr. Alexander James McIvor-Tyndall’s (pre-Nazi) swastika adorned Ghosts: A Message from the Illuminati was another interesting book to track down and read. Allen H. Greenfield’s books on UFOnauts and the secret rituals of the Men in Black are amoungst the strangest I have ever read. I read three (1, 2, 3) dumb books on sex magic over the course of the year, and George Bataille’s book on Gilles De Rais was a very depressing look at that dirty satanist paedophile. On top of H.P.’s fiction, the aforementioned Lovecraft posts all deal with Lovecraftian grimoires too.

 

I also read a bunch of utterly idiotic grimoires that were written by morons. Highlights include Fascination by Master Count de Leon, The Black Grimoire by Angel Zialor and Secrets of the Black Temple by the Red Spider. This shit was DUMB.

 

Finally, I reviewed a little bit of porn in 2019. Satan was a Lesbian and The She-Devils did not live up to their titles, but Ann L. Probe’s Alien Sex series was exactly as good as you’d expect.

We’re soon to enter the twenties, and while this post only looks at the books I’ve reviewed in 2019, this blog has been around for half a decade now. If you’re interested in looking back, you can check my yearly review posts for 2018, 2017, and 2016. (I didn’t do one for my first year.) You can also look through my site’s index for a complete list of the 300+ books that have been reviewed here over the past 5 years. If you enjoy this blog, please share it with like-minded people. You can get updates on twitter or facebook, and I’m always happy to get recommendations for my next review.

I hope you have a great new year!

The House on the Borderland – William Hope Hodgson

house on the borderland william hope hodgson.jpgThe House on the Borderland – William Hope Hodgson
1908

It’s coming close to the end of the year, and I have spent 2019 reading some absolute garbage. After reading and reviewing Fritz Leiber’s awesome Our Lady of Darkness last week, I really wanted to read another cool book. I’ve been meaning to read William Hope Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland for a couple of years, and when I found a free audiobook version last Sunday, I decided the time was right.

This was a very enjoyable piece of weird fiction. It’s about a strange man who lives in an old house in Ireland that seems to exist on the border of different dimensions. I spent the first half of the novel thinking it was basically just Night of the Living Dead with interdimensional pig-mutants instead of zombies, but the second half of the book has more in common with 2001: A Space Odyssey. (I just read Will Errickson’s review of this book and saw that he also made a 2001 comparison. Will, I swear this was coincidence!) There’s little wonder that H.P. Lovecraft was a big fan of this novel; there’s some very definite “the universe doesn’t care about you” vibes throughout.

I read William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki the Ghost Finder stories a little under two years ago, and while I enjoyed them, I seem to remember them being a good deal more straight forward than this. One of those stories also includes evil pigs, and a couple of them are set in Ireland too. I reckon I enjoyed The House on the Borderland more, and I’m planning to read more by Hodgson in the future.

The only problem with reading good books, especially popular ones, is that I find myself at a loss for things to say when reviewing them. This one is cool, short and available for free in multiple formats. You might as well check it out.

Our Lady of Darkness – Fritz Leiber

fritz leiber our lady darknessOur Lady of Darkness – Fritz Leiber
Berkley Publishing – 1977

A recovering alcoholic reads a weird book about evil architecture and a notebook belonging to Clark Ashton Smith and then begins to see weird stuff through his binoculars. That’s the premise of Our Lady of Darkness by Fritz Leiber. The protagonist is also an author of weird fiction, and repeatedly references Lovecraft, M.R. James and Bierce. I really enjoyed this book, and reading it has made me want to check out more stuff by Leiber.

I didn’t know anything about the author when I started reading Our Lady of Darkness, but I only got a few chapters into this book before I realised that the main character is supposed to be him. Leiber’s name was Fritz, and the character’s name is Franz. They  have the same job, and I can’t put my finger on it exactly, but there was something about the sections on the protagonist’s wife and her death that had me convinced that Leiber was writing from experience. Sure enough, he lapsed into alcoholism after the death of his own wife, and this is obviously a largely autobiographical work. Although this novel contains some fantastic elements, this autobiographical stuff keeps it grounded and makes the weirdness all the more discomforting.

And the weirdness here is quite weird. The antagonist of the book is Thibaut de Castries, the author of Megapolisomancy: A New Science of Cities, a book about the supernatural power of large cities and their buildings. I found this idea quite Ballardian, not in the sense that Ballard was also fascinated with architecture but in the pairing of two seemingly disparate concepts. (De Castries links occult forces with architecture in a similar way to how Ballard links sex and car crashes.) It was cool to come across an idea as strange as this in a fantasy/horror novel.

I don’t have a huge amount else to say about this book. It’s a classic of weird fiction, and you should read it if you haven’t already.  An earlier version of the story was published as The Pale Brown Thing in Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and I read yesterday that Leiber considered this an alternative telling of the same tale rather than just an earlier draft. Swan River Press published an edition of this version in 2016, but it’s long sold out. It would be cool if somebody could upload scans of the original printing to the internet. I’d be delighted to read another version of this story.