Richard Matheson’s Horror Classics – I Am Legend, Hell House, The Shrinking Man and a bunch of short stories

I’m ashamed of myself. I have been writing about horror fiction on this blog since 2015, but this is the first time I will feature the work of Richard Matheson. Silly me. I have written about these books in the order that I read them. This order does not reflect their date of publication or their merits.

I Am Legend
Gold Medal Books – 1954


I first read I Am Legend about 6 years ago. I remember absolutely loving it. I had seen the abominable Will Smith movie with the same title and had been terribly disappointed with that film’s optimistic ending. I could not say the same thing about the novel. I started this blog a year or so afterwards, and somehow never got around to reviewing the book. I read Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House a few months back and decided immediately thereafter to read Matheson’s similarly titled Hell House.  Just before doing so, I thought about revisiting I am Legend so that I could do a multi-book post on Matheson. I am extremely glad I did. I loved I am Legend the first time I read it, but I’m pretty sure I enjoyed it even more the second time around. I think it’s fair to say that this novel is one of my favourite books.

There was no sound now but that of his shoes and the now senseless singing of birds. Once I thought they sang because everything was right with the world, Robert Neville thought, I know now I was wrong. They sing because they’re feeble minded.

This is the violent, dark and crushingly bleak story of Robert Neville, the last man on a vampire ridden Earth. For a novel with so little hope, Matheson does an impressive job of pushing the disappointment. The dog! Oh Jesus, the dog! Come on Richard, why would you do that to your protagonist? Everything always gets worse. I don’t want to spoil how the book ends, but holy shit, that last paragraph, that last sentence, is phenomenal. This is what I want from a horror novel. It’s well written too, really enjoyable stuff. Both times I’ve read it, I’ve finished it in less than a day.  Damn, this book is awesome. Seriously, if you’re into horror at all, you should really check this one out.

Hell House
Viking Press – 1971


I don’t know much about the writing of Hell House, but I believe that it’s a fact that Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House had a pretty big influence. The set up for both tales is almost identical – a scientist and two psychics are sent in to study a haunted house. While Jackson’s book relies on subtle, psychological terror, Matheson’s goes for an all-out onslaught of horror.

The title of this book is an apt one. This is a blasphemous, perverted, blood and guts, kinda haunted house. Matheson doesn’t shy away from getting gritty, but the pacing, characterisation and general decent standard of writing prevent this from feeling exploitative. The nastiness in here is effective too; this is quite a scary book.

Hell House is almost twice as long as I Am Legend, and I don’t think it packs quite as much of a punch, but its drawn out descent into Hell is effective in its own way. This is definitely worth reading if you like horror.

Offbeat
Valancourt Books – 2017 (Originally published 2002)


Offbeat is a collection of Matheson’s stories that had not been previously collected in an anthology. Matheson wrote a lot, and these stories’ failure to be included in other collections was not due to their quality. (One of these tales is actually featured in Penguin’s The Best of Richard Matheson.) Still though, I was a bit underwhelmed by a few of the stories in the collection. The twist endings of a couple of them seemed very predictable. My favourites were ‘And Now I’m Waiting’, ‘Maybe You Remember Him’ and ‘Phonecall from Across the Street’. I didn’t enjoy this book quite as much as the novels I had read beforehand, but I certainly don’t regret reading it. If you were already a fan of Matheson, I reckon you’ll enjoy this.

The Best of Richard Matheson
Penguin Classics – 2017


When I found out that Penguin had recently put out a “Best of Matheson” collection, I realised I had done things backwards. I should have read this first and Offbeat afterwards. That being said, it is a testament to the quality of the tales in Offbeat that I started reading another collection of Matheson’s stories directly after finishing that one. I didn’t know quite how prolific Matheson had been, and I didn’t know how well I already knew his work. He wrote a bunch of stories that turned into episodes of the Twilight Zone. I’ve never watched an episode of the The Twilight Zone, but I’m familiar with the plots of some of the episodes from the times the Simpsons parodied them. Also, this collection contains ‘Duel’. I remember watching the movie version of this with my dad when I was a kid. I had no idea it was based on a Matheson story.

Honestly, this collection is a much, much better place to start if you haven’t read any of Matheson’s short stories before. These stories are quality. There’s one near the end called ‘Mute’ that I particularly enjoyed. It’s not really a horror story, but it contains some pretty interesting insight on language. This Matheson was a smart guy.

The Shrinking Man
Bantam Books – 1969 (Originally published 1956)


I had no great desire to read this book, but it was discussed at length in Stephen King’s Danse Macabre, so I thought I’d better read it and get it into this post. It’s the story of Scott, a man who gets hit by a radioactive wave that causes him to shrink exactly one seventh of an inch every day. I had this pegged as more of a science fiction novel than a horror novel, but, as Stephen King points out, there isn’t much science in here at all.

I actually want to talk about the science, or lack thereof, because it really annoyed me when I was reading this book. This chap doesn’t shrink a certain percentage of his body height every day. He shrinks the same amount every day. If you think about this, it’s pretty ridiculous. If a 6’4″ man shrinks 1 seventh of an inch in a day, he is losing approximately 0.2% of his overall height. If he keeps losing the same amount every day, after another 529 days, he will only be 2 sevenths of an inch tall. By the next day, he will have lost 50% of his height. By then he will be one seventh of an inch tall and will continue to lose 100% of his height in one day. This doesn’t make sense. I’m not a scientist, but I feel that I know enough about the basic laws of reality to state that this rate of shrinkage is a physical impossibility.

Ok, I am going to discuss the ending of the book, so skip to the next paragraph if you haven’t read it yet. The book ends with the protagonist entering a microscopic existence. It is a weird upbeat ending full of optimism. This doesn’t make sense. Ok, maybe it’s possible he was a teeny tiny little bit taller than 1 seventh of an inch and that it will take another day for him to completely shrink out of existence, but that isn’t what the book suggests. Matheson suggests that the protagonist will continue to shrink interminably. But he can’t keep shrinking at the same rate! This would only work if he had been shrinking a percentage of his height, not a fixed amount. Things can always get a little bit smaller, but they can not decrease their size by more then their size. The other option that Matheson had to end this novel was for Scott to find himself in some kind of opposites universe of anti-matter or something where he actually finds himself growing larger every day. Sure the science is ridiculous, but at least that would work mathematically (which is more than can be said for the ending as it stands).

Really, this is more of an adventure story than anything. While half of the novel describes the shrinking process and its unpleasant effects on Scott’s life, the other half details his struggles with a spider after getting locked in his cellar alone. The spider stuff is exciting, but the real horror lies in Scott trying to come to terms with his inevitable disappearance. My favourite part was when a pervert thinks the shrinker is a kid and tries to diddle him. It’s obviously a horrible, horrible thing to happen, but the dialogue was pretty funny.

Silence a moment. Then the man said. “Women. Who come into man’s life a breath from the sewer.” He belched. “A pox on the she.” He looked over at Scott. The car headed for a tree.

This book was fine, but it was definitely my least favourite of Matheson’s novels.

I Am Legend is absolutely crucial. You should definitely check out the Best of short story collection too. If you like those, check out the others listed above. Matheson has plenty of other books, but I reckon I’ll give it a while before I seek those out. (5 books by one author over the course of 3 months was a lot for me.) This guy had a huge effect on the horror genre, and it’s not surprising. These books are imaginative, well written and sometimes truly horrifying. Richard Matheson was a cool guy.

The Fog – James Herbert

The Fog – James Herbert
NEL – 1980 (First published 1975)


A poison cloud erupts from under the ground and causes the people who inhale it to go crazy. As it spreads it becomes more powerful, and it goes from driving a few isolated individuals to acts of sadistic violence to bringing the city of London to an apocalyptic hellscape.

Maybe that doesn’t sound like a particularly clever idea for a horror novel, but while reading it I was surprised at how clearly influential this book must have been within the horror genre. Every book by Harry Adam Knight, Simon Ian Childers and John Halkin I have read draws clear influence from this. I haven’t read Herbert’s The Rats yet, but I have a pretty song suspicion that this book combined with that one provided the blueprints for all of the horror fiction published by the aforementioned authors.

The Fog isn’t all that great though. The main problem is that it’s far too long. Harry Adam Knight’s The Fungus has a remarkably similar story, but being 100 pages shorter, it’s a more concise, enjoyable book.

The Fog is a novel driven by violence and destruction, but there’s complicated relationships too. I wasn’t terribly interested in them; the main characters in here are fairly dull. There’s also at least one overly graphic sex scene. This one wasn’t rapey or violent or anything, but it went on for ages. I didn’t see the point. I hate to sound like a prude, but I don’t really want this level of romantic detail in a novel about a cloud of maddening virus.

The sheer carnage in this book was pretty impressive. I hadn’t read anything by Herbert before this, and I was genuinely shocked at the brutality in here. This book came out in the mid 70s, but parts are as sickening as anything the “splatterpunks” put out a decade later. There’s one scene near the beginning of the book in which a crowd of schoolboys turn on two of their teachers. It involves a gang rape and garden shears. I sat dumbfounded after reading this part. I’ve made it sound bad, but I haven’t conveyed quite how sick it really is. I wouldn’t want to ruin it on you!

Also, although I wasn’t hugely impressd with the novel overall, it does include my favourite chapter of any novel ever. The poisonous fog affects people to different extents; some go on bloody killing sprees while others just hang themselves. One of those affected merely runs around his village kicking his neighbours up their bums. This part of the book is a seriously brilliant piece of writing. I laughed so hard. Genius.

Otherwise this was quite a clunky read. Herbert has the annoying habit of skipping ahead a bit of the story and then going immediately back to fill in the details. He seemed to think this was a cool narrative technique, but I found it annoying. Also the speed at which doctors in this book manage to create a vaccine is laughable, if not downright insulting, to anyone reading it in 2020.

The Fog is not a great book, and James Herbert is not a great writer. This isn’t without its charms though, and I’m planning to read Herbert’s Rats trilogy and The Spear in the future.

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The Body Snatchers – Jack Finney

The Body Snatchers – Jack Finney
Dell Books – 1955 (Originally serialised 1954)


I have known of the Invasion of the Body Snatchers movies and had an idea of what they were about for as long as I remember, but I have never actually seen either of them. I didn’t know they were based on a book until I saw this novel being discussed in Stephen King’s Danse Macabre, a history of horror. If you haven’t read The Body Snatchers already, let me tell you a bit about its history before you rush out to buy a copy. I wish somebody had told me this before I read the book.

The Body Snatchers was originally serialised in Colliers Magazine in 1954. The first whole edition came out in 1955. The movie, Invasion of the Body Snatchers came out in 1956. After this, reprints of the book bore the film’s title. In 1978 another film version was made, and Finney updated his novel to coincide with the release of the new movie and to make the book more appealing for a younger generation

The changes in the revised text, as far as I can tell, were minor. The revised version is actually set in the 70s, the place names are switched around a bit, and there’s a few paragraphs that are moved around/added/deleted. I didn’t conduct a detailed cross examination or anything like that. I was reading from the original text, but when I was preparing dinner, I switched to an audiobook version on youtube that turned out to be a reading of the revised text. I only noticed that the texts were different when I had to switch between the two and found myself searching for phrases from one that were different in the other. I looked online (very briefly) to see if anyone else had listed off the differences, but I found nothing. I think the story is basically the same in both.

I mentioned the two film versions, but there have actually been 4 Hollywood movies based on the book and countless others inspired by it. References to this story pop up everywhere, and I knew what to expect in general terms of plot. I had been surprised to see Stephen King list it as one of the most important works of horror. Influential sure, but horror? I thought this was science fiction. After reading this (and a few more of the books that King recommends in Danse Macabre) the utter silliness of the notion that literary science fiction is inherently separate from horror has become apparent. Even if you know what to expect, The Body Snatchers is a surprisingly creepy story.

So what’s going on in here? Well, the locals of a small American town have started noticing their relatives acting strange. They look the same, talk the same and largely act the same, but they’re clearly not the same. Things get worrisome when a couple find a surprisingly plain looking corpse in their house. Then weird vegetably pods start popping up in people’s cupboards, and it becomes apparent that these pods are the source of the bizarre uncooked bodies that are assuming the forms and minds of the villagers while discarding their souls. Weird and cool.

The only thing that disappointed me about this book was the ending. The story is horrendous; what’s happening is truly nightmarish, and Finney does a great job of making his readers feel the surmounting inevitability of the doom of all humankind. In the final chapters, when the protagonists are caught, you realise that there is no way out. This isn’t going to be pretty. Personally, I love a horror story with a bleak ending. As this tale draws to a close, it looks like the entire human race is going to get their souls torn out and their bodies drained of life. Hell yes. That’s the perfect ending for a horror novel. Unfortunately, the last few pages of his book actually describe the antagonists suddenly changing their mind and abandoning their mission, leaving the vast majority of humanity unmolested.

I felt swindled.

I thought that the ridiculously fortuitous turn of events at the end of the book might have been to please a 1950s’ audience, but then I remembered that Richard Matheson’s I am Legend, a novel with as bleak an ending as any, was also first published in 1954. Maybe Finney’s publisher insisted on a positive outcome. I might just be speculating, but the turn of events which leads to humanity being spared is so sudden, unexpected and quick that it made me think that Finney might originally have had different plans for ending this novel.

Even with the dumb ending, this was an enjoyable book. There are genuinely creepy moments, and its such an important work within the horror genre I’m glad to have read it.

Wurm and Garden – Matthew Costello

I reckon that my memories of 2020 will be bittersweet. The lockdown and subsequent interruptions to my life have been pretty annoying, but on the other hand, I have read a bunch of cool books about scary worms. The worm books I have read have been surprisingly varied in their style and stories, but Matthew Costello’s Wurm is the most ambitious by far.

wurm matthew costelloWurm – Matthew Costello
Crossroads Press – 2018 (Originally published 1991)

A deep sea expedition brings some extremely dangerous parasitic worms back to the surface. While this is happening, a psychic channeler starts getting messages from powerful alien entities telling him to commandeer a TV station. Do these events have anything to do with each other? After the freaks take to the airwaves, the worms attack New York City in the grossest, most violent ways imaginable.

wurm paperback matthew costelloA very cool paperback edition cover

I had read that this book was a bit overwritten, but I really enjoyed the whole thing. There’s definitely a few problems and plot-holes here – my question in the last paragraph isn’t rhetorical – but this is a super entertaining mix of sci-fi and horror. If you’re the kind of person who is willing to read a book with a wurmy face on the cover, I reckon you’ll have a good time with this one.

Reading this in 2020, I was quite glad that I hadn’t written it. The one black character is bad, and while not all of the bad guys are black, it does seems that this chap’s blackness is part of what makes him bad. I’m not saying that Matthew Costello is an evil bigot – he probably cringes at the offending sections now – but these bits have aged horribly. (There’s a good black guy in the sequel too, so let’s not cancel anyone just yet.)

 

garden matthew costello

Garden – Matthew Costello
Crossroads Press – 2018 (Originally published 1993)

Garden is a very short sequel, only a novella, and it doesn’t really feel like a separate book to Wurm. It’s more of an extended epilogue. It certainly wouldn’t be of much interest to anyone who hasn’t read Wurm.

It tidies things up a little bit and provides a slightly more satisfying ending to the story than Wurm manages. Remember those weird aliens that hatched out of peoples’ bodies in the TV studio? They’re back. There’s still not much offered in the way of an overall explanation for what has happened, and while things are wrapped up by the end, the means by which this wrapping up happened remain pretty unclear. There’s some kind of weird religious symbolism going on, something about sacrifice… I didn’t really want to think too hard by the time I was finishing up. Also, why the Hell was it called Garden?  I struggle to imagine a more boring title for a horror novel… Shoe?

Let’s be honest, the plot of Wurm and Garden is a mess and ultimately unimportant. These books provide plenty of thrills and mindless fun. They’d make a far better TV series than they would a movie. I would be happy to read more of Matthew Costello’s horror fiction in the future.

Both Wurm and Garden were recently published by Crossroads Press, a company that specialises in putting out digital versions of out-of-print horror. I have had to cut down on buying physical books for storage reasons, and I plan to buy a bunch more stuff from this awesome publisher. Seriously, check them out.

Nightshade and Damnations and Nightmares and Geezenstacks – Classic Strange Stories reissued by Valancourt

nightshade and damnations - gerald kershNightshade and Damnations – Gerald Kersh
Valancourt Books – 2019 (Originally published 1968)

When I added Michael Blumlein’s The Brains of Rats to my to-read list on goodreads, this book by Gerald Kersh popped up in my recommendations. It’s a highly rated collection of short stories titled Nightshade and Damnations, so I threw it on the list too.

There’s quite a few similarities to Poe here. The range and focus of these stories is similar, the general outlook is as twisted, and these stories are superbly written. Kersh acknowledges Poe’s influence by actually framing one of the tales as a submission from Edgar to a local newspaper.

Aside from Poe, the closest thing to which I can think of comparing these stories is The X-Files. There’s communities of freaks, bendy men, radioactive time travellers and immortals. Of course, these stories were published long before The X-Files was produced. While reading this, I started to wonder if Alvin Kersh, the unpleasant boss character in The X-Files, didn’t get his name from the author. (This is apparently not the case.) One can easily imagine Mulder and Scully appearing on the scene at the end of most of these tales in an attempt to figure out what has been happening.

In truth, this collection wasn’t quite what I expected. These stories are not straightforward horror, but they are weird, and some are quite creepy. I’m very, very glad to have read this book, as I enjoyed it immensely. I strongly recommend it to anyone with any interest in strange, well written short stories. (If you don’t consider yourself part of that group, fuck off.)

 

nightmares and geezenstacks frederic brownNightmares and Geezenstacks – Frederic Brown
Valancourt Books – 2015 (Originally published 1961)

This collection caught me off guard. Most of the stories in here are short vignettes of speculative fiction. I wasn’t hugely impressed until I got to the 12th story, ‘The Cat Burglar’. It was at the ending of this tale that I understood the genius of Frederic Brown. While other authors throw out their ideas haphazardly, Brown takes his readers where he needs them to be before planting a one sentence bullet right into their skull. The final sentence in ‘The Cat Burglar’ is hilarious, but the plot twists in some of the later tales feel more like punches than punchlines. Frederic Brown was an excellent writer.

While many of these tales in here are lighthearted (or downright silly), some of the longer tales towards the end get quite dark. These were the ones I enjoyed the most, but I did like the rest of the book too. Stephen King claimed that this book was “particularly important” to the horror genre, and this would be true if all it contained were ‘The Joke’ and the ‘Little Lamb’. Both tales are similar in their set-up, but I enjoyed both immensely. 

 

These two books weren’t quite what I was expecting. Most of the short story collections I’ve read recently have been ultra-violent books of trashy horror. Gerald Kersh and Frederic Brown steer clear of that approach; their writing is far more interesting and enjoyable.  I wasn’t expecting the caliber of the writing to be so high, but that was just my naivety. Both books were recently reissued by Valancourt Books, and the general rule with Valancourt is that the books they put out are awesome. You should definitely read both of these collections.

 

 

The Divine Rite of King

When I as a kid, my parents would sometimes take me to the videoshop after mass on a Sunday and we’d rent two cassettes: a cartoon for the kids and a movie for my parents. As I got a little older, I found myself drawn to the wall over by the sales counter. This was where the horror films were stacked. I distinctly remember being fascinated by the video boxes of Return of the Living Dead III, Ghoulies, and The Howling II. There was one similarity shared by several of the other boxes; it was a man’s name, Stephen King. I remember the mildly titillating feeling of dread that came from looking at the boxes of Children of the Corn, Tommyknockers, It and Graveyard Shift. The covers made these movies look horribly disturbing. I mean, these looked like the kind of films that were supposed to make you mentally sick if you watched them. But underneath my revulsion there was an intense curiosity. I wanted to see those films badly.

My parents had seen a few of the better movies that had been made from King’s work. I remembering pestering them for every plot detail of the Shining  and Misery.  It was probably soon after that that my mam allowed me to read The Moving Finger, a short story from Nightmares and Dreamscapes. It was a bit like the Goosebumps books that I absolutely adored at the time, but this was for grownups. I thought Stephen King was super cool.

I’m the eldest of my siblings, and my parents were a bit stricter with me than they were with my sisters. When one of my teachers told my parents that students should spend 3 hours studying every day, my mam took that to heart. I was never locked in  room or anything, but I was expected to spend several hours a day on my schoolwork. It wasn’t worth fighting over, so I just stayed in the front room of our house by myself, pretending to study for a few hours every day. I can’t remember/don’t want to admit how I spent all of those hours, but there was a bookshelf in that room, and sometimes reading novels seemed like a better idea than reading textbooks. There were only four books on that shelf that looked remotely appealing, and I got through all of them. ‘What books were they?’, I hear you say. They were Roddy Doyle’s excellent Barrytown Trilogy and Bag of Bones by Stephen King.

bagofbonesBag of Bones (1998)
I read this about 15 years ago and can’t remember much about it. I believe I enjoyed it at the time. Anything beat studying.

theshiningThe Shining (1977)
I read this one a little over 5 years ago, and I absolutely loved it. At one point, I actually had to put the book down to take a breather and calm myself (I believe it was right after Danny went into room 237). I had seen Kubrick’s film several times before reading the book, and I reckon it’s better to do the film/book combo in that order.

nightmaresanddreamscapesNightmares & Dreamscapes (1993)
While my first experience with this short story collection was probably 20 years ago, I only got around to reading it cover to cover in 2014. (Well, I’ve never technically read it cover to cover to be honest; I read it in my old office job from a pdf file saved in my google drive). Some stories were great. My favourites were Popsy, Crouch End (a pastiche of Lovecraft), and Night Flier, the movie version of which is laughably bad. Dedication is weird and gross but definitely worth a read. I enjoyed this book, but I don’t think it was quite as good as King’s earlier short story collections.

nightshiftNight Shift (1978)
In October, I took a seasonal job in a powder factory. The work required a lot of standing still, and I was allowed to do it with headphones in. I decided to download some audiobooks to get me through the long dusty days, but I was fairly disappointed in the selection offered by illegal fire-sharing sites. Also, choosing the right audiobook to listen to at work is tricky; the book needs to be interesting enough to keep your mind occupied, but it also has to be light enough that you don’t have to take notes to keep up with the plot. My problems were all solved when I found a big torrent of Stephen King’s audiobooks. His writing is very straightforward, and it takes barely any effort to soak it in. Also, his short stories are about vampires, aliens, mutant rats, and men that turn into slime. If that doesn’t sound enticing to you, get the fuck off my blog and go listen to your Coldplay cds, you stupid fucking barrel of shit.
This is the first collection of short fiction that King published, and some of the stories are  great. Children of the Corn is maybe my favourite. The written text is so much better than the utterly shit movie version that came out in 1984. Graveyard Shift and The Mangler were both great too, but I haven’t watched their movie adaptations. One for the road and Jerusalem’s Lot both expand on the material from Salem’s Lot (reviewed below), and Night Surf is a brief glance at the idea that would become The Stand (also reviewed below). Not everything in here is brilliant, but I really like the fact that King is willing to take any silly idea that comes into his head and turn it into a story. The man has a brilliant imagination.

skeletoncrewSkeleton Crew (1985)
I think I stole a copy of this book from my Granddad’s house when I was 21. I remember taking it to France with me and reading most of The Mist on a plane. Frank Darabont’s version of the Mist is one of my favourite movies and one of the few times that I think a film improved on the book. I read another few stories after that, but lost the book soon thereafter. I started going through the remaining tales as soon as I finished Night Shift last month, and this one picks up right where that one left off.
Survivor Type is fantastic. I laughed heartily as I listened to it. I guessed what was going to happen only a little bit into the story, but I didn’t think King would have the guts to write a story like that. I was wrong. Stephen King definitely has the guts to write a story like that. This collection was thoroughly enjoyable.

4pastFour Past Midnight (1990)
I had found that Stephen King’s fiction was the perfect way to pass the time in work, but I had run out of short story collections. I read that Four Past Midnight was a collection of novellas, but I had never actually seen a physical copy of the book before I started listening to it.  It turns out that some of these “novellas” are longer than some of King’s most celebrated novels. Why were they released in a collection rather than individually? I reckon it was something to do with the fact they’re not exactly his most brilliant work.

The Langoliers
This is a weird one. It’s about a plane that flies into another dimension. The audiobook version is narrated by Willem Dafoe, and I really enjoyed it, but in retrospect, it doesn’t make much sense at all.
Secret Window, Secret Garden
This, in my opinion, was the worst story in this collection. The twist ending is apparent from the very beginning.
The Library Policeman
This was my favourite. It’s weird as fuck.
“Come with me, Ssson. I’m the Library Polissse Man”
The Sun Dog
A boy’s camera offers a glimpse into another reality. It’s an interesting concept I guess, entertaining enough.

I enjoyed Four Past Midnight, but I really doubt anyone would ever have heard of it if it wasn’t written by Mr. King. It would not be a good starting point for anyone interested in sampling his works.

salemslotSalem’s Lot (1975)
About 8 years ago, I stayed up late two nights in a row to watch the 1979 movie version of Salem’s Lot. I was unimpressed. I decided to give the book a chance right after finishing Four Past Midnight. I’m really glad that I did; it’s a very entertaining vampire story set in modern America. I’d strongly recommend that you read it if you haven’t.

thestandThe Stand: Complete and Uncut (1990)
By the time I started on the Stand, I had read/listened to nothing other than Stephen King books for almost two months. I’ll be honest, that was probably a bad idea. At 1153 pages, the uncut version of the Stand is King’s longest book. I never got bored when I was reading it; it is very entertaining, but towards the end, I started to really look forward to reading other books.

King takes his time setting the story up, but it all winds down fairly quickly. There’s three books in the stand. The first ends the world with a super plague, the second details how the two factions of survivors organize themselves, and the final book describes the conflict (or lack thereof) between the two groups. The concept is cool, but the pacing is silly. Given the overall plot of the book, the section on the plague wiping out most of humanity is too long. For the first few hundred pages, the Stand is a fairly straightforward disaster novel that describes a calamity that is in no way unrealistic. Then, after 99.6% of human beings have been wiped out, we find out that the survivors have been left with mild telepathic abilities, and the book quickly turns into a religious parable about the forces of good and evil. It’s already already very, very long, but I felt a bit cheated when the conflict that the previous 1100 pages had been leading to was literally prevented by the hand of God. I mean, come on Stephen; you could have got another 5000+ pages if the two sides had actually gone to war! I wouldn’t be surprised if the Stand had originally been even more epic in its scope and that King only realized that he wouldn’t be able all fit everything into one book after he had already written 700 pages. He has acknowledged that The Lord of the Rings was an inspiration for this work, but King’s fellowship only sets out for their Mordor (Las Vegas) in the third book of the Stand. If he had really used Tolkien’s trilogy as a model, the Stand would probably have lasted 5000-6000 pages.

The religious undertones of the book also irked me a little. I thought Randall Flag was fucking cool, and I definitely would have joined his side. Also, while several of King’s works feature a “Magical Negro”, Mother Abigail serves as a particularly cringeworthy example of this trope. King is definitely not a racist, but some of his writing depicts a slightly dated worldview.

All that being said, the Stand is filled with cool characters and awesome scenes, and I enjoyed reading it. Stephen King has acknowledged that he considers his work to be trash (good trash specifically), and I, for one, am not above reading trash. I fucking love trash, and I loved Trash.

I’ve enjoyed every Stephen King book that I’ve read, but right now, I am looking forward to reading something else. I didn’t know if I was going to review his books on this blog when I started binging on him in October, but the more that I think about it, the more I think that he deserves to be here. If you like horror, you’ve already read this guy. His books are spooky, gross, and seriously entertaining. I’m going to give it a few months, but I’ll definitely be reading more Stephen King in the future. Aside from his fiction, he also seems like a cool guy; he hates Donald Trump and he’s into AC/DC.

kingStephen King, I salute you!

The Illuminatus! Trilogy – Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson

Robinson – 1998
illuminatus

This is one of my favourite books. It combines the writing styles of Joyce, Lovecraft and William S. Burroughs in a narrative about sex, mythology, aliens, drugs, Nazis, the mafia, rock’n’roll, magick, Abrahamic religions, satanism and conspiracy theories: it ticks all my boxes.

The plot is difficult, and it’s pretty easy to get  the characters mixed up with each other. After a while though, you realize that this is part of the point of the book. The book is about conspiracies, and all conspiracies bleed into each other in some way. Everything in here effects everything else that’s going on. It’s similar to Ulysses in the way that it requires a great deal of engagement from the reader to make sense of what is happening. In a way, the reader almost becomes a character in the book; just as the characters fall victim to Operation Mindfuck, so too does the reader. If you put any kind of effort into reading this book, it will fuck with your mind.

It’s a pain in the arse at times though. It’s bloody long, and parts of it are fairly tedious. It’s actually three books in one: The Eye in the Pyramid, The Golden Apple and Leviathan. Apparently it was originally going to be 500 pages longer, but the publisher demanded it be abridged. I took about two weeks to get through the whole thing as it stands, and that involved reading for a few hours every day and listening to the audiobook version until I feel asleep. I spent so much time with this book that it started to affect both my dreams and waking thoughts. Every time I encountered any kind of small coincidence during the two weeks it took to read, I imagined that I had just stumbled upon a clue that would eventually lead me to some drastic cover-up.

It actually happened that I took a break from reading this book to watch a documentary on the JFK assassination theories. (Yeah, I get pretty hung up on things when I’m excited.) When I woke up the next morning, I found that my mother had emailed me a picture of herself with a statue of JFK in Wexford, Ireland. I was deeply disturbed by this, and I momentarily suspected my mother of being involved in the assassination.

I have a weird thing with JFK anyways. I remember waking up one morning about two years ago with the Misfits’ song “Bullet” stuck in my head. (It’s a song about the assassination.) I made sure to put the song on my phone before I left for work, and I allowed myself to listen to it twice on the bus into work. (I remember it specifically, because listening to a song twice in a row is a rare indulgence for me.) I got into work and checked the news, as is my custom. Well, lo and behold; there was Johnny in the headlines! It turns out that it was the 22nd of November, 2013: the 50 year anniversary of the JFK assassination.

“The more frequently one uses the word ‘coincidence’ to explain bizarre happenings, the more obvious it becomes that one is not seeking, but evading the real explanation.” Or, shorter: “The belief in coincidence is the prevalent superstition of the age of science.”
The Eye in the Pyramid  (p. 296)

It’s too much to think that these events were just coincidence. I firmly believe that the ghost of JFK is trying to communicate with me to explain what really happened in Dallas. Johnny, if you’re reading this, please don’t give up on me. I am ready to accept your secrets.

Anyways, this is a great book. It’s funny, clever and extremely entertaining. It takes a bit of work, but I thought it was definitely worth it. 8/10.

Image of the Beast + Blown – Philip José Farmer

Playboy Paperbacks – 1981 image of beast

Snuff films, sleazy detectives, vampires, ghosts, werewolves, intergalactic rivalries and Gilles de Rais; what more could you ask for? How about a dash of ultra-perverted hardcore pornography?

That will suit me nicely.

This novel is trash, you never get the impression that it’s anything but trash, but reading it will convince you that trash can be absolutely glorious. I loved this book. It is exactly the kind of thing that I enjoy reading. It’s based on a perverse sex murder and the whole story has a really seedy atmosphere. It’s full of bizarre characters, weird sex and supernatural violence. There was no chance of this book giving me anything but extreme enjoyment. There’s never any clear explanation given of the antagonists’ motivation but that doesn’t matter. Evil is doing evil because it’s evil. Fuck an explanation.

My version of Image of the Beast also includes the novel’s sequel; Blown. Blown is both more science-fictiony, and less grim than Image. It’s still very nasty and odd though, and I think it probably contains more weird sex acts too. It offers an explanation of some of the events in Image, but personally I didn’t find this explanation to be completely satisfactory. I don’t want to say that I was disappointed by any element of this book being too far-fetched, indeed it is in the sheer ridiculousness of these tales that their glory lies, but I felt that the intergalactic explanation in Blown seemed a little absurd in relation to the events it was explaining.

Let me use an analogy to describe this book. It’s like a pizza topped with all of my favourite toppings. Each ingredient is delicious in itself and complements most of the other ingredients on the pizza; but unavoidably, some of the combinations taste kinda weird.

Another minor critique is that this book contains bizarre amounts of geographical detail. It must mention every street name in Southern California.

It has some minor flaws, but ultimately, this is a delicious pizza of a book that I would strongly recommend. 8/10.