Bram Stoker’s The Lair of the White Worm

The Lair of the White Worm – Bram Stoker
William Rider and Son – 1911


The 1980s saw a veritable boom of worm horror, but this niche genre had been around for a while before that. Bram Stoker, author of horror classic Dracula, published his The Lair of the White Worm in 1911. I love Dracula, but Stoker’s worm book has the reputation of being one of the worst horror novels ever written. I put it off for a while, but in early December I pulled up my socks and read this crazy mess. I read the original 40 chapter version of the text, not the more widely available, 28 chapter, abridged version from 1925.

First off, I want to provide a summary of what I understood of the story. I might be mistaken on a few points, but I’m confident this is pretty close to what Stoker actually wrote:

Adam, an Australian lad, is summoned to England by his great uncle. They have no other living family, and the uncle wishes to leave his land to his nephew. Adam arrives just before Edgar, another foreign chap who is also returning to his family’s ancestral home.

When Adam is on his way to meet Edgar for the first time, he bumps into Lady Arabella March. She’s an awkward weirdo, and it quickly becomes apparent that she wants to marry Edgar for his land. It’s around this point that Oolanga, Edgar’s servant, is introduced to the story. Oolanga isn’t actually very important to the story, but he is one of the most notable parts of the book. (I’ll explain this later.)

Edgar throws a homecoming party where he and Adam meet two girls named Mimi and Lilla. Adam falls in love with Mimi, and Edgar falls in love with Lilla.

The next day all of these characters meet up for tea. Edgar tries to gain influence over Lilla by staring at her intensely. This, for me, was one of the strangest elements of the book. He doesn’t just look at her while they’re chatting. The entire conversation dies and everyone present becomes involved in a big staring match. Despite her desire to marry him, Arabella joins Edgar’s efforts to stare Lilla down. This part is truly bizarre. It felt like reading a Tim and Eric sketch. The scene ends with Edgar and Arabella sneaking away, but nobody seems to remember what happened and the scene is repeated a few days later. I don’t know. If a creepy man came to my house and stared and me intensely, I probably wouldn’t invite him back.

Adam notices some snakes in the neighbourhood, so he buys a mongoose to kill them. At one point the mongoose sees Arabella and attacks her. She tears it in half.

Oolanga expresses his love for Arabella, but she spurns his advances. Soon thereafter Adam, Arabella and Oolanga are sneakily following each other around a forest, each one unaware that they’re being followed themselves. Arabella leads Oolanga into her house. At some point that I don’t think is actually mentioned in the text, Arabella realises that Adam is present and she asks him for help. It seems as though Stoker had forgotten that Adam was supposed to be hiding during this scene.

Once they’re all in her house, Arabella jumps on Oolanga and they fall down a huge hole. She soon reappears and claims that Oolanga is dead but that she herself had not fallen. She claims she actually ran up the stairs.

Adam goes home and chats with his uncle’s friend. They deduce that Arabella is actually a giant luminous snake from the era of the dinosaurs. This involves some pretty ludicrous reasoning.

While this has all been happening, Edgar, the lad Arabella wants to marry, has been going insane. He builds a giant kite shaped like a hawk and spends his time flying that to scare away birds. He has started to think of himself as a god.

Lady Arabella invites Adam and Mimi over for tea. Then she tries to kill Mimi. On failing to do so she turns into a giant snake and chases the couple all around England.

A few days later, Arabella sends Adam a friendly letter offering to sell her house to him for a low price. He accepts. Once he has taken possession of the house, he fills the basement with dynamite. (He does so because he thinks this is where Arabella sleeps.)

Edgar goes to Lilla’s house for a final staredown. This time the staredown is so intense that Lilla dies.

The ending of the book is quite confusing. Mimi confronts Edgar about killing her cousin. By this time he is fully insane, flying his kite in a thunderstorm and boasting of his own power. Arabella finds the two at the top of the castle. She grabs the very long kite-string and takes it home to her lair, the one Adam has filled with dynamite. When lightning strikes the kite, the current goes through the kite-string then down into the dynamite filled lair. It blows Arabella’s enormous worm body into bloody chunks.

A few issues:

  • The mesmeric staring is truly ludicrous.
  • The way the characters don’t call each other out for their behaviour is entirely unbelievable.
  • The lads figure out that Arabella is a giant shapeshifting snake from the name of her home and the fact that a mongoose attacked her. I did notice that the far shorter 1911 version of the story actually addresses this issue somewhat. In the later version of the story, Arabella is actually seen trying to strangle a child. This makes it very clear that she is actually a dinosaur worm.
  • The whole thing of Edgar making the big kite is ridiculous.
  • The discussions between Adam and his uncles friend are presented as Socratic dialogues. These are painfully boring passages of creative reasoning.
  • Arabella is supposedly an ancient monster, but at one point in the story, she goes to her dad’s house to visit him.

The 1911 version of the text is heavily abridged, but it does contain some additions to the story. Along with the aforementioned child strangulation, there is also a brief section at the end of the newer version which mentions a honeymoon for Mimi and Adam. Also, the 1925 version of the text uses the n-word 23 times while the original version only used it 4 times, and all 4 of these instances were in dialogue. I have read that Stoker himself was not responsible for this change. It’s a bit strange to consider somebody sitting down to edit a book and deciding that it needs fewer pages and more uses of the n-word.

Even in the original version, I found the racism towards Oolanga fairly shocking. He dies around the halfway mark, and the tale could get by without him. People have tried defending Stoker by pointing out that Adam, the books protagonist, does end up married to a person of colour. I don’t think this gets him off the hook. Some of the stuff he writes (even in the original version) is rough.

This is not a good book, but there are occasional moments throughout that suggest that it could have been a great book. I have read that Stoker was going mad with syphilis when he wrote it, and that’s why it’s so mental. I certainly would have liked if the book was better, but I found that the weird problems and lack of cohesion actually made it a fairly interesting read in its own right.

The Keepsake – Paul Huson

The Keepsake – Paul Huson
Warner Books – 198
1

I found this book at a thrift store a while back, and although I hadn’t heard of it at the time, I snatched it up immediately. I had two reasons for doing so. The first was that it’s about a cursed rock from Ireland. I have a bit of a thing for horror novels that have anything to do with Ireland. Secondly, I recognised the author’s name. I previously came across Paul Huson’s work when researching a rather silly grimoire a few years back. (It was easy to remember the name Paul Huson as it’s the same as Bono’s real name but spelt differently. Another Irish connection!) When I see a paperback horror novel about Ireland written by a knowledgeable occultist on sale for a couple of dollars, I buy it.

Honestly, I didn’t have very high expectations. Stories about Ireland by non-Irish writers can be pretty awful. I was expecting leprechauns, Riverdance and the IRA. Fortunately, Huson’s depiction of Ireland is pretty good. Reading his descriptions of certain parts of the country, I became convinced he had actually been there. I messaged Mr. Huson to inquire about this and he confirmed that he spent several weeks making a documentary in Ireland in 1963.

A few days after starting this book I had one of those “what are you reading?” discussions with a co-worker. I told him it was about a magical stone from Ireland that turns into a vampire. This isn’t strictly accurate, but it’s close enough to give you an idea of whether or not you’d want to read it. Personally, I think that description makes it sound great, but my co-worker laughed and didn’t ask me to lend it to him. Some people have no taste.

The Keepsake was a lot of fun. It’s well written, well researched, fast paced and quite violent. Definitely give it a read if you find a copy. Huson wrote one other novel, and I’ll be keeping my eye out for that one.

2020, The Year in Review

I did not expect to be able to do this, but for the third consecutive year I am able to boast that I read and reviewed more books and wrote more posts and words than in any year previous. I spent a disgraceful amount of time reading in 2020. The pandemic kept me home for uncomfortable amounts of time, and I took to the books to stave off madness.

First off, let’s deal with the really good stuff. Some of my favourite posts of the year were on the rarest of paperback horror novels. I wrote a post detailing how I got my hands on Brenda Brown Canary’s chilling The Voice of the Clown and another on the history of Nick Blake’s infamous Chainsaw Terror. I was super excited to publish an interview with Garret Boatman, author of Stage Fright. I was even more excited when shortly after that interview’s publication Valancourt Books rereleased Stage Fright as part of their Paperbacks from Hell series. Can you imagine my elation when I got a copy of the rerelease and saw a mention of my blog in the introduction? Perhaps the most satisfying post for me to to write was my article on the sinister origins of Clive Barker’s Candyman.

I don’t want to be a gatekeeper when it comes to horror fiction. People should read whatever the Hell they enjoy. That being said, I like to read as though the gates are being kept. You don’t have to have read every single piece of fiction that Howard Phillips Lovecraft ever wrote to call yourself a horror fan, but I do. This year, I tried to fill in some of the gaping holes in my reading, and I turned to some of the bigger names of horror fiction that I had thus far ignored. I wrote multibook posts on Shirley Jackson, Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury, Ramsey Campbell, August Derleth, Bernard Taylor, and Ken Greenhall. These authors were either fantastic or highly influential within the horror genre. I also did multibook posts on some lesser known authors of varying ability, including William W. Johnstone, John Halkin, Harry Adam Knight, Simon Ian Childers, Al Sarrantonio, and Richard Jaccoma. Read over the posts to figure out who was good and who sucked.

Perhaps the most important book I read this year was Stephen King’s Danse Macabre. I didn’t actually enjoy it very much, but it led me to read some other great stuff. I also read a bunch by Thomas Ligotti and Clive Barker, but I didn’t group their books into single posts. I’m not finished with either of these guys yet.

I try to keep things varied, but my regular readers will have noticed a recurring antagonist in the horror novels I reviewed this year. Yes, 2020 was undoubtedly the Year of the Worm here on Nocturnal Revelries. I managed to read separate books called Worm, Wurm, Worms, The Worms, Blood Worm and a couple of books titled Slither that were both about… worms. I’m not quite done yet, but 2021 will probably see fewer posts on this niche genre.

I again reduced my intake of non-fiction books on the occult. I just don’t have the stomach for this stuff anymore. I read a trio of utterly bizarre alien/cryptid books: The Goblin Universe, The Psychic Sasquatch and their UFO Connection and The Cryptoterrestrials. These were written by different authors and are of varying quality. None of them were remotely convincing. I put a huge amount of work into a post on Otto Rahn, but his books were awful to read. I think my post on Rollo Ahmed’s The Black Art was pretty good, but again the book itself was very boring. I did a few other atrociously stupid books on Satanism too. One was about Satanic ninjas and the other a Satanic bunty man.

I also got more criticism in 2020 than ever before. I’m getting more traffic than I used to, and I guess my content isn’t for everyone. I’ve signed on a few times to find abusive comments. I’m only ever amused when this happens, but I suppose I should make it clearer that the purpose of this blog is not to convince anyone to read any particular books. This site is more a book journal for me to keep notes on what I’m reading. I post it online because some people are interested. Maybe that might seem a waste of time to some, but it keeps me occupied.

It turns out that this is the 300th post on Nocturnal Revelries. I’m pretty pleased that this blog is still going at this rate after almost 6 years. I’ve read some cool books, expanded my horizons and even made a few friends along the way. I did posts like this for the past few years (2016, 2017, 2018, 2019) if you’re interested in this crap. Thanks to everyone who checks in every now and then. Remember, I try to do a new post every Sunday. You can contact me on twitter or email me. Let me know if you have any suggestions for further reading or if you want to chat about strange tomes.

I hope you all have a great new year!

Stephen King’s Danse Macabre

Danse Macabre – Stephen King
Berkley 1983 (Originally published 1981)


Stephen King’s Danse Macabre is a history of horror. It focuses on the 30 years prior to its publication in 1980. I have read most of the old classics of Gothic horror, and in recent years I have turned my attention to more modern stuff. When I started to read King’s book I assumed that I would be familiar with most of the stuff he was discussing.

I was wrong.

In an opening chapter King discusses Frankenstein, Dracula and Strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I felt good. I had read all of these. King claims that nearly all modern horror stories can be traced back to these archetypal novels. I wasn’t convinced. These are certainly important books, but claiming that all horror can be traced back to them seems like a bunch of farfetched college-boy bullshit.

Then there’s some very long chapters on horror movies, TV and radio drama. I like horror movies, but I found these parts really, really boring.

After slogging through that stuff, I finally got to the section on horror fiction. I was expecting a broad overview of the field, but King limits his discussions to 10 books published between 1950 and 1980. He chose these books because they “seem representative of everything in the genre that is fine.” To my dismay and great shame, I had only read one out of these 10.

I put Danse Macabre down and sought out all the books King listed. It took me all of August to read them. It has taken me until the end of the year to finish writing about them. Here’s the list and some brief thoughts. Click the title of each book for my full reviews.

  1. Ghost Story – Peter Straub
    This one was really good. Quite scary in parts.
  2. The House Next Door – Anne Rivers Siddons
    This was the only book included that I had never heard of. I absolutely loved reading it.
  3. The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson
    This was the only book included that I had actually read before. A classic of classics.
  4. Rosemary’s Baby – Ira Levin
    Great book. Pity about the sequel.
  5. The Body Snatchers – Jack Finney
    Yeah, I guess it is a horror novel. I certainly enjoyed reading it.
  6. Something Wicked This Way Comes – Ray Bradbury
    A great book.
  7. The Shrinking Man – Richard Matheson
    My least favourite Matheson novel. Surely I am Legend is more interesting.
  8. The Doll Who Ate His Mother – Ramsey Campbell
    A decent book, but I’m not convinced that it really deserves to be on this list.
  9. The Fog – James Herbert
    Enjoyable trash.
  10. Strange Wine – Harlan Ellison
    This book was enjoyable, but I find it peculiar that King chose it was the only short story collection to discuss. It contains maybe 3 horror stories. King discusses Bradbury’s Something Wicked, but Bradbury’s Dark Carnival or October Country collections are far more horrory than that novel and this collection by Ellison. It really seems to me that King included Strange Wine on this list because Harlan Ellison was his friend.

Not all of these books were amazing, but most of them were really, really good. I had been planning on reading a few of them beforehand, but God knows how long it would have taken me to get around to them at my own pace.

When I had finally finished these ten books, I picked Danse Macabre back up, ready to read King’s thoughts on my previous month’s reading.

BORING.

Stephen King was an English teacher, and much of this book comes from lecture notes he gave at some writing college. He starts talking about the Apollonian and Dionysian natures of the characters in these novels. Dionysus, my bollocks. Also, if you look at this book’s publication date, it seems to have been written at the height of King’s cocaine use. Cocaine apparently gives its users a sense of grandiosity or inflated self esteem. This might explain how King thought it was acceptable to fill his book with such rambling pseudo-academic hogswash.

Danse Macabre is the most influential book that I read this year. It led me not only to read the books discussed therein but also several other books by their authors. Honestly, I really like Stephen King, and the novels discussed in here are great, but I found this book pretty boring. I far preferred reading the stories than King’s thoughts on them. I guess I don’t have much time for people sharing their opinions on books…

I would advise to stay away from King’s non-fiction, but I actually read his On Writing in February and thought it was great. I was seriously trying to do more creative writing, but then covid hit and I used it as an excuse to quit.

Ramsey Campbell’s First 3 Novels: The Doll who Ate his Mother, The Face that Must Die, and The Parasite

I figured it was about time to give this Ramsey Campell fellow a read. Here’s his first 3 novels.

The Doll Who Ate His Mother
Legend Paperbacks – 1989 (Originally Published 1976)

When I was looking at Campell’s bibliography on wikipedia, I saw a note beside the title of this novel that said, “(1976; revised text, 1985)”. I try to avoid reading anything about the plots of novels before I read them and so instead of risking a spoiler by figuring out which version of the text was better, I read both the 1976 and 1985 versions of the text side by side. Doing so was a bit of a waste of time though as the two versions are identical aside from one small paragraph near the conclusion of the book dealing with how one of the characters dies. I reckon the updated ending is a bit more cohesive in the context of the story, but it’s nothing huge, and if you’ve only a copy of the original version, I wouldn’t be rushing out to replace it for that single paragraph.

The story is pretty good. It’s about a sick freak who abuses animals and steals limbs off corpses. There’s a bit of black magic thrown in too. I enjoyed this book the whole way through, and it left me happy to read more by Campbell, but I chose this as my introduction to Campbell because of its inclusion in Stephen king’s Danse Macabre. It’s a fine first novel, but I’m not sure if it really deserves to be on the same list as The Haunting of Hill House and Something Wicked This Way Comes. I think its inclusion there might have had more to do with Stephen King wanting to include something more modern (or British perhaps) on his list of influential horror. Still though, this was a good read.

The Face that Must Die
Star – 1979

The first thing I noticed about this book was that it felt very a bit like a sequel to The Doll Who Ate His Mother. It’s about totally different people, and there’s no supernatural element to this one at all, but the writing style and setting were so similar that it almost felt like a continuation. These two novels would make good episodes of some kind of horror series set in Liverpool.

The Face that Must Die is the horrible story of an insane serial killer who likes slicing people (especially if they’re gay) up with a razor. I don’t feel much need to say anything else about this novel. It’s pretty straightforward and very dark. There’s nothing to laugh about in this book, but there is some interesting insight into mental illness. In a sad and lengthy introduction Campbell explains that his mother suffered with severe mental health problems at the end of her life, and these problems seemed to give him ideas to fuel a serial killer. This book is fucking grim, but I liked it.

Like The Doll Who Ate His Mother, there are also two different versions of this novel. I read the “definitive” 1983 version, the author’s restoration of the original text.

The Parasite
Tor – 1989 (Originally Published 1980)

Of the three Ramsey Campbell novels I have read so far, The Parasite contains the scariest scenes. There’s a couple of parts in this book that actually left me feeling frightened. I occasionally suffer from sleep paralysis, and some of the stuff the protagonist goes through felt very familiar. Reading this before bed gave me nightmares.

This is the story of a film critic who starts developing psychic powers. Along with these powers, she also gains a mysterious bald stalker. Her newfound abilities start ruining her life, and by the end of the book she finds herself in the middle of a Lovecraftian nightmare of cosmic proportions.

The story itself is great, but the telling is scattershot. There’s a bunch of unnecessary characters, journeys and description. The Parasite is almost 340 pages long, and I reckon it would be a better book at 250-300 pages. In an afterword Campbell acknowledges as much himself. He even admits to including “some occult history and related bullshit to attract the Dennis Wheatley brigade”. Haha, in truth, I became very attentive when I got the the occult history paragraphs, but they’re not hugely important to the story. It was kind of cool to make the antagonist a member of the Golden Dawn.

Also, one of the most tantalizing parts of this story is a booked called Astral Rape by Hugh Willis. It’s first mentioned alongside some real occult texts, and I had already tried to track down a copy before Campbell made it clear that the book was fictional. I’ve had to file it alongside The Necronomicon and Megapolisomancy in the Library of the Unreal.

Despite its shortcomings, The Parasite was really good at times. If Campbell considers this his worst novel, I will be more than happy to check out more of his stuff in the future. Oh, and like the other two novels reviewed here, there are two versions of this book. They’re the same apart from the endings. I read both endings. I don’t have a favourite.

I have more of Campbell’s novels on my shelf, but I think the next thing I read by him will be his early Lovecraftian short stories. I’ve been meaning to get back into that kinda thing.

Ghost Story – Peter Straub

Ghost Story – Peter Straub
Pocket Books – 1980
(Originally published 1979)

I have heard a lot of good things about Peter Straub, and I knew that Ghost Story is considered to be one of his best books. It was the last book I read of the 10 discussed in Stephen King’s Danse Macabre, and it was also the last book of my summer vacation. (That might give you an idea of the backlog of posts I have.) I had high expectations for this book, and it did not disappoint.

This is a very long novel, but its influences are the short stories of Edgar Allan Poe, Ambrose Bierce, M.R. James, Arthur Machen, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry James. With the exception of Hawthorne, I have tracked down and read all of the supernatural fiction by these authors, so it’s not super surprising that I enjoyed this. (I read Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter and Twice told Tales years ago but none of his later short fiction. I’ll have to see if there is a dedicated collection of his ghost stories out there.) While this book wears its influences on its sleeve, it has in turn become very influential on modern horror. One of the stories in Ryan Harding’s Genital Grinder uses this book’s opening line as homage.

There’s a part in Stephen King’s Danse Macabre where King discusses how the unknown is perhaps the most potent element of horror. The scary thing behind the closed door is always scarier when that door remains closed. Regardless of how terrifying the menace actually is, by making itself known it loses some its power. (Sure it’s scary, but it’s teeth and claws could always be a little bit longer.) In short, the question is scarier than the answer.

I reckon the first half of Ghost Story is one of the greatest set-ups in all horror fiction. The mystery, atmosphere and tension are magnificent. What the hell is happening here? Why has this man kidnapped a child? Who or what is picking off the small group of old men in Milburn? What’s the unspeakable event that occurred between these old men and the mysterious Eva Galli in the past? How are the answers to these questions linked?

The problem with this book is that those questions have to be answered. As King notes, the answers are doomed to fall short of the horror of the questions themselves. The ending of this book is fine. The characters remain interesting, and there’s plenty of creepy bits, but for my money, the malevolent supernatural force at the heart of the story is just a little bit too complicated for the second half of the book to live up to the first.

Maybe that sounds like a jerk thing to say. There’s literally no way to keep this kind of tension consistent until the end of a story, so this critique isn’t really fair. At least Straub tried. Most writers wouldn’t be able to come anything close to what he has achieved in this book. There are some seriously creepy moments in here. Even thinking of one particularly skillful use of foreshadowing near the beginning of the book makes me shudder, months after finishing the novel.

Jesus she moved she can’t she’s dead.

I really enjoyed Ghost Story, and I recommend it to any fan of horror. Straub has written a bunch of other novels too, including two with Stephen King. I am entirely certain I’ll be reading more of him in the future.

The Cormorant – Stephen Gregory

The Cormorant – Stephen Gregory
Valancourt Books – 2013 (Originally published 1987)

This horror novel was reiussed by Valancourt books in 2013, so I knew it was going to be pretty good. It’s about a man who inherits a cormorant, a big dirty bird, from his uncle. I’ve done quite a few evil animal books this year, but I anticipated this one being quite a bit better. It won a Somerset Maugham Award, and I had seen it being compared to Poe’s writing. In ways it was classier than my standard fare, but it also contained more crass swearing and disturbing pervy bits than any of the horror novels about beetles or worms that I’ve read in 2020.

This is suspenseful, creepy, sometimes funny and breathtakingly dark. I’m not going to try any harder to convince you to read it. For the rest of this post, I am going to talk about the plot and give away big spoilers. If you haven’t read it already, fuck off and come back when you’re done.

The narrator repeatedly alludes to his previous career as a teacher, and although he claims to feel that he was never cut out for that job, his actions suggest otherwise. His final acts of vengeance against the cormorant prove that he is extremely efficient at teaching lessons.

The whole way through the book I was expecting him to turn violent against the bird. When he finally snaps, he does so with grace, determinacy and cunning. He hits the unruly bird on the wing with a fire poker, shoves it in a box and then gives it a golden shower. Take that, you filthy beast!

I have nothing else to say other than that the bathtub scene was weird and probably unnecessary and that the ending is unbearably grim. I really enjoyed The Cormorant, and I’ll definitely check out more of Gregory’s stuff when I get the chance.

Blood Worm – John Halkin

Blood Worm – John Halkin
Arrow Books – 1987


Earlier this year I read Slither (1980), Slime (1984) and Squelch (1985) by John Halkin. Although these books are about different characters and all take place in separate realities, they are regarded as a trilogy due to their titles and almost identical plots. Each book is about a wave of killer creepy crawlies (worms, jellyfish and butterflies respectively) wreaking havoc on Great Britain. These were not great books, but I found them mildly entertaining. Halkin also wrote Blood Worm, another horror novel about killer bugs, in 1987, and while it’s not considered part of the Slither series, it is frequently mentioned alongside it. I had to read it.

It was terrible.

A bunch of killer beetles start killing and eating people in London. The beetles are extremely dangerous, but the beetle grubs are far grosser. These grubs join together in huge numbers to create giant worms that feed on human flesh. Together, the beetles and blood worms seem to do more damage than the bugs in the Slither Trilogy books. They lay London almost entirely to waste. (I recently noted that the Slither Trilogy seemed like a rip off of James Herbert’s books, and the destruction of England’s capital city in Blood Worm makes it seem even more Herbertian.) Also, the main character in Blood Worm is an ex-soldier, not somebody was was involved in television. Aside from these 3 differences, this book is essentially the exact same as Slither, Slime and Squelch, just a bunch of uninteresting characters in unhappy marriages getting killed by bugs.

Blood Worm is a shit book. It’s uninspired drivel. Halkin wrote a few other horror novels, but they’re not about worms, so I’m not interested. One is called The Unholy, so maybe I’d read it to compare with this book, but I’m sure it’s absolute shit too.

More from Al Sarrantonio – Moonbane, Toybox and Skeletons

A few months ago I read a book called The Worms by Al Sarrantonio on a whim. I really liked it, so I decided to read more of his stuff.

Moonbane
Spectra – 1989

A bunch of evil werewolves from the moon land on Earth and start attacking humanuty, eating most but turning plenty of us into werewolves too. After witnessing the transformation of his son and death of his wife, a sensitive poet finds himself tagging along with a crew of scientists on their way to a military base to perform some kind of drastic rescue mission, the nature of which the scientists are hesitant to discuss. All I’ll say is that it involves a really big rocket and some REALLY big bombs.

Honestly, if you don’t want to read this after hearing that and seeing this book’s cover, you’re a lost cause. Rockets and moon-wolves. Cool!

Toybox
Leisure Books – 2003 (Originally published 1999)

I had heard that Sarrantonio was a better short story writer than a novel writer, so I decided to check out his first story collection, Toybox. The person who told me that Sarrantonio’s stories were worth reading also mentioned a great likeness to the work of Ray Bradbury. Aside from Fahrenheit 451 and a couple of short stories, I hadn’t actually read anything by Bradbury when I started this. It often takes me a while to get through short story collections. I read one or two stories from different collections when I’m between novels. While I was dipping in and out of Toybox, one of the novels I read was Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. This clarified for me what my friend had meant with his comparison. I soon thereafter read a couple of collections of Bradbury’s creepier stories, and this further confirmed my impressions. Sarrantonio’s short stories are very, very Bradburyian. Nearly all of them involve children, Halloween and carnivals. Some of the stories in this collection use almost identical premises to Bradbury tales. ‘Father Dear’, one of the stories in here is about a kid whose dad keeps him inside his house and lies to him about everything. There’s a Bradbury story called ‘Jack in the Box’ about a kid whose mom does almost the exact same thing. Whatever though, it’s hardly a bad thing to be compared to Ray Bradbury. (I’ve been loving the Ray recently.) I enjoyed Toybox plenty. ‘Pumpkin Head’ and ‘The Corn Dolly’ were probably my favourites in here, but it’s all pretty good.

Skeletons
Bantam – 1992

This is an epic post apocalyptic novel in which the last remaining good guys on Earth are drawn together by dreams/psychic visions. (I mean epic in the literal sense here too.) It’s basically the same thing as Stephen King’s The Stand except the disease and bad guys in this book are the same thing. They’re skeletons. The skeletons of every human (and animal) that ever lived have risen from their graves and they are really angry with humanity.

There’s 4 narratives running throughout the book. The bulk of the story centers on a Cambodian politician stuck in Russia and an American girl who is unable to speak making their ways across their respective continents to meet eachother. The rest of the tale is told from the perspective of the risen Abraham Lincoln and Roger Garbage, a music industry cokehead who the skeletons keep alive for the purposes of arranging the biggest rock festival ever.

The novel is absurd, and there’s many little inconsistences and plot holes throughout the story, but there’s a scene in this book where the Beatles (in skeleton form) get back together to perform, so I found it pretty easy to ignore the problems and just go with it. I’m pretty sure this is supposed to be read for fun, so there’s no need to dissect it like a college professor. Although it’s about skeletons, the length and scope of the work make it more a fantasy than a horror novel, and while I enjoyed it well enough, it was probably my least favourite of the books I’ve read by Sarrantonio. (It’s not bad. I just really like short books at the moment.)

I can’t say that I was truly blown away by any of the books I’ve read by Al Sarrantonio, but I was entertained by all of them. They’re imaginative, fun and well written. I’ve read 4 of his books in the last 4 months, so I’ll give him a break for a while, but I look forward to reading more of his books in the future.

An Introduction to Brian Keene: The Complex and Ghoul

Brian Keene is a name I have seen popping up in horror conversations for a long time. I followed him on twitter and asked him which of his books I should check out first, he courteously responded suggesting The Complex and Ghoul.

The Complex
Deadite Press – 2016


Long term readers of this blog may have noticed that although I have reviewed countless books about witches, demons, aliens, werewolves, and vampires, I have not done a single book about zombies. I’m not interested in zombies. Night of the Living Dead is one of my favourite films, but even as a kid I thought that each sequel, clone and remake (apart from the 1990 one) was a bit less interesting than the original. The characters and settings change slightly, but the plot is always the same – a bunch of misfits are fighting to stay alive in a building surrounded by a horde of the approaching undead. It is a great concept, but I’ve already seen it 100 times. If you like that kind of thing, good for you, but it’s just not my cup of tea.

When Brian Keene recommended I read The Complex, I started it without reading the blurb. Guess what it’s about!

This is the story of a group of misfits fighting to stay alive in their apartment complex while a horde of bloodthirsty, deranged, naked freaks closes in on them. Perhaps these freaks don’t technically qualify as zombies, but they act an awful lot like them.

Ok, so I feel a bit awkward about this because Mr. Keene was polite to me, and I don’t want to be a jerk, but as soon as things got going I realised that this was exactly the kind of horror fiction that I avoid. I kept going with it though, and I reckon I enjoyed it about as much as I possibly could given the subject matter.

This is well written, action packed, easily digestible fiction. I can see why Mr. Keene would suggest it to a first time reader: it’s fun. I may think that I’m too cool to watch The Walking Dead, but I ripped through this zombie-esque novel in two sittings. It’s not my favourite novel ever, but it certainly wouldn’t put me off reading more books by Keene.

One thing that I did notice was that although Keene is woke enough to include a trans character in this novel, he was not woke enough to avoid fat-shaming the main antagonist of the story. Poor Tick-Tock’s weight is very much a part of what’s supposed to make him repulsive.

Ghoul
Leisure Books – 2007


Three boys’ summer holidays are ruined by a corpse eating ghoul that lives in a cemetery. Sounds good, right? Honestly, this felt a bit like Stephen King ripping off Ray Bradbury. That might sound like a criticism, but I like when Stephen King rips off Ray Bradbury. (Think It.) It’s hard not to root for the protagonists when they’re children who like heavy metal. Ghoul was a fun read, but it wasn’t very scary. That being said, I was genuinely surprised at how grim the ending was. The “who’s the real monster?” question that runs through the book is pretty well answered in the final chapter.

(Note: This book should not be confused with Michael Slade’s Ghoul.)

In truth, neither The Complex nor Ghoul blew me away, but they were both enjoyable books. Despite my aversion to zombies, I reckon The Complex is the better novel. I thought it was a bit tighter. I’m planning to continue my series of of horror novels about worms with Brian Keene’s Earthworm Gods in the near future.