The Old Ones were, the Old Ones are, and the Old Ones shall be – Lovecraft’s Legacy, Part 4

the book of old ones - scorpio.jpgThe Book of Old Ones – Scorpio
Finbarr – 2002

Truly, there are terrible primal arcana of earth which had better be left unknown and unevoked; dread secrets which have nothing to do with man, and which man may learn only in exchange for peace and sanity; cryptic truths which make the knower evermore an alien among his kind, and cause him to walk alone on earth. Likewise are there dread survivals of things older and more potent than man; things that have blasphemously straggled down through the aeons to ages never meant for them; monstrous entities that have lain sleeping endlessly in incredible crypts and remote caverns, outside the laws of reason and causation, and ready to be waked by such blasphemers as shall know their dark forbidden signs and furtive passwords. – from The Diary of Alonzo Typer

When I read a book on Lovecraftian magic, I want to learn about the aforementioned dark forbidden signs and furtive passwords. Unfortunately, this is never what these books contain. The one I’m reviewing today, Scorpio’s The Book of Old Ones, might well be the silliest of all the Lovecraftian grimoires I’ve read.

Imagine what a grimoire would read like if its author had absolutely zero understanding of magic. It’d probably contain powerful spells that are quick and easy to perform and unfailingly effective regardless of whether the person performing them believes in them or not – ‘say this magic word under your breath, and the girl beside you on the train will become your sex slave’ kinda crap. Take 20 pages of that garbage, add a few Lovecraft references and some stories about pathetic losers trying these rituals and then becoming rich, sexy and succesful, and you’ve got Scorpio’s Book of Old Ones.

Much like The Necronomian Workbook, this book shows little understanding of the total apathy of Lovecraftian entities towards human beings. The Old Ones are bigger and older than us. Their children made us for the sake of their amusement. Cthulhu is not concerned with the affairs of mere mortals. He’s plotting revenge on the elder things that imprisoned him. I doubt he’s interested in watching over you as you go on sea voyage, and I really struggle to imagine him helping you find a girlfriend.

cthulhu love spell.jpg
Seriously?

This book is stupid. The author understands neither magic nor Lovecraft’s mythos, but he has written a book combining them. This Scorpio guy seems like a real moron. Then again, this was published by Finbarr, so I’m not quite surprised.

I have made fun of the authors published by Finbarr Publications quite a few times at this stage, and I had initially planned this week’s post on two grimoires written by another of their authors. After doing a little bit of research though, I discovered that this guy actually has a learning disability and has suffered tremendously with his mental health. I’m not being facetious. I decided against reviewing his books, as he uses his real name, and I don’t want to cause any suffering for a person with serious mental problems. I mention it here only to highlight the remarkably low standard of stuff that this publisher puts out. I didn’t find out much about this Scorpio guy, but he’s clearly an imbecile too.

 

lovecraft horror in the museum.jpgH.P. Lovecraft – The Horror in the Museum
Wordsworth
This is the second entry in Wordsworth’s Lovecraft series, and it is comprised of works that Lovecraft worked on with other authors, only one of which I had read before. Most of the stories in the other 3 Wordsworth entries are included in the Penguin editions which I read and reviewed years ago, and after a year of rereading tales I had previously encountered, it was really cool to dive into a fresh batch of unread terror. The quality here is pretty high, and I enjoyed most of the stories in here more the fantasy stuff in Volume 3 and the odds and ends in Volume 4. Picking favourite stories from this collection is quite difficult. The tales in here are really good, and many of them flesh out the Cthulhu mythos – there’s references to Yog-Sothoth and Cthulhu every few pages.

This volume contains the following stories:
The Green Meadow, Poetry and the Gods, The Crawling Chaos, The Horror at Martin’s Beach, Imprisoned with the Pharaohs, Two Black Bottles, The Thing in the Moonlight, The Last Test, The Curse of Yig, The Elecrtic Executioner, The Mound, Medusa’s Coil, The Trap, The Man of Stone, The Horror in the Museum, Winged Death, Out of the Aeons, The Horror in the Burying Ground, Till A’ the Seas, The Disinternment, The Diary of Alonzo Typer, Within the Walls of Eryx and The Night Ocean
(Imprisoned with the Pharaohs appears in the Penguin collections as Under the Pyramids.)

Some of these tales are fairly racist. The word ‘nigger’ is thrown around quite a bit. One of the stories, Medusa’s Coil, is particularly nasty. It’s about a very evil woman. I was quite confused when I finished reading it. In this edition, the last line reads; “It would be too hideous if they knew that the one-time heiress of Riverside… was faintly, subtly, yet to the eyes of genius unmistakenly the scion of Zimbabwe’s most primal grovellers.” I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of this, so I looked up a summary, and it seems as though the editor at Wordsworth actually cut the final line of the story. The original text ends: “No wonder she owned a link with that old witch-woman—for, though in deceitfully slight proportion, Marceline was a negress.” The final revelation of tale is that the anatagonist is a bit black. This is not made very clear in the Wordsworth edition. In 1944, August Derleth anthologised this story and altered the final line to say “though in deceitfully slight proportion, Marceline was a loathsome, bestial thing, and her forebears had come from Africa.” At least Derleth’s version kept the meaning. The redacted Wordsworth edition makes the ending confusing rather than ugly. This is obviously a horribly racist ending to a horribly racist tale, but I’m pretty disgusted that Wordsworth thought it acceptable to censor it. I absolutely hate when publishers do that. If you choose to publish a dead racist’s work, don’t pretend he wasn’t a racist.

So why do I devote so much of my time to reading and reviewing books by and about this horribly bigoted individual? Well, it has a lot do with passages of writing like this:

These scribbled words can never tell of the hideous loneliness (something I did not even wish assuaged, so deeply was it embedded in my heart) which had insinuated itself within me, mumbling of terrible and unknown things stealthily circling nearer. It was not a madness: rather it was a too clear and naked perception of the darkness beyond this frail existence, lit by a momentary sun no more secure than ourselves: a realization of futility that few can experience and ever again touch the life about them: a knowledge that turn as I might, battle as I might with all the remaining power of my spirit, I could neither win an inch of ground from the inimical universe, nor hold for even a moment the life entrusted to me. Fearing death as I did life, burdened with a nameless dread yet unwilling to leave the scenes evoking it, I awaited whatever consummating horror was shifting itself in the immense region beyond the walls of consciousness.

Come on. That is brilliant. This is from The Night Ocean, the last story in the collection. Of all the stories in here, this one is the least explicit in its horrors, but the sense of gloom and despair that pervades the narrative is perfectly effective. Lovecraft may have been a horrible racist, but damn, his work does a damn fine job of expressing the futility of life. Interestingly enough, the author of The Night Ocean (Lovecraft was mainly an editor for this one) was gay. He was also an anthropologist, and was actually one of William Burroughs’ professors at Mexico City University.

There’s another curious little tale in here called Till A’ the Seas that I really liked. It’s about the last human on an Earth that has overheated. It’s set in the distant future, but by now it could believably be set 60-70 years from today. You should definitely read the full story (link above), but if you’re too lazy, just read this:

And now at last the Earth was dead. The final, pitiful survivor had perished. All the teeming billions; the slow aeons; the empires and civilizations of mankind were summed up in this poor twisted form—and how titanically meaningless it all had been! Now indeed had come an end and climax to all the efforts of humanity—how monstrous and incredible a climax in the eyes of those poor complacent fools of the prosperous days! Not ever again would the planet know the thunderous tramping of human millions—or even the crawling of lizards and the buzz of insects, for they, too, had gone. Now was come the reign of sapless branches and endless fields of tough grasses. Earth, like its cold, imperturbable moon, was given over to silence and blackness forever.

God damn, that’s beautiful.

Originally, the second collection of Lovecraft’s work put out by Wordsworth was titled The Loved Dead, but this story was removed from this collection after the people at Wordsworth decided that Lovecraft’s influence on that tale was only minor. Also, Through the Gates of the Silver Key is curiously absent from this collection despite being a collaboration between Lovecraft and E. Hoffmann Price. Through the Gates… is the only story to appear in the Penguin editions of Lovecraft’s work that is missing from the Wordsworth collections. I’m planning a fifth and final post in this series on the few tales by Lovecraft that are missing from this series, so keep an eye out for that in the near future.

J.N. Williamson’s Martin Ruben Series: The Ritual, Premonition and Brotherkind

martin ruben seriesHere’s three books by prolific horror author, J.N. Williamson. I had never read any of his books before reading these, and it is highly unlikely that I will ever read anything else by him again. The description of Brotherkind in Paperbacks from Hell ensured that I was going to track it down and review it here, but after buying it, I discovered that it was part of a series of 3 books: The Ritual, Premonition and Brotherkind. Naturally, I had to read all of them.

the ritual j. n. williamson
The Ritual – J.N. Williamson
BMI – 1987 (First published 1979)
A young boy turns out to be the Antichrist. His body becomes possessed by the spirits of Napoleon, Hitler Aleister Crowley and Genghis Khan, and he goes on a spree of rape and murder. Other people in his town also go a bit mad and start misbehaving. A local university professor and expert on the occult, Martin Ruben, is called in to deal with this issue. With the help of a priest, a police officer and one of his students, Ruben tries stop the Antichrist. This is just a shit version of The Omen.

If you don’t want spoilers, skip the next paragraph.

This book is really surprisingly shit. Most of the text is taken up with Ruben’s squad attempting to exorcise the kid through hypnosis, but in the end they just kill him. What a damn waste of time!

There’s no suspense, no mystery and no likable characters. This book also contains what might just be the worst line I’ve ever seen in a horror novel: “what Greg was doing had nothing to do with love or marriage and a great deal to do with rape.” Yuck. There are a couple of needlessly brutal rape scenes in here. I guess that’s what you have to resort to when you have no interesting ideas on how to scare people. I was looking forward to finishing this junk after only a few pages.

 

brotherkind j. n. williamsonBrotherkind – J.N. Williamson
Leisure Books – 1982

In J.N. Williamson’s brief profile at the back of Paperbacks from Hell, both Brotherkind and the Premonition are said to acheive an accident “lunatic grandiosity”, so I was hoping they’d be more fun than The Ritual. They are a little better, but they’re not good books.

The description of Brotherkind in Paperbacks from Hell makes it sound awesome. Bigfoot and a gang of aliens gang rape a woman in the first step of a plot to subjugate mankind, but their plans are eventually foiled by the rock’n’roll music of KISS. I mean, maybe that sounds unsavory to some, but probe my ass, it sounds amazing to me. Read that description again though. It took me a single sentence to give you all of the cool parts of this 283 page novel. Unfortunately, there’s nothing else in here of any worth. This is long, overwritten and surprisingly boring.

The book, while fiction, actually serves to expound Williamson’s sincere theories about the UFO phenomenon. He thinks that UFOs and their pilots are beings made of anti-matter that are actually from Earth. He thinks that they are contacting us to try to help up develop the side of our brains that we don’t use as much. I picked up Brotherkind right after finishing The Dark Gods by Anthony Roberts and Geoff Gilbertson, so my patience for bullshit theories about aliens was already wearing thin. Williamson lays out his ridiculously stupid ideas in great detail. This slows everything down and makes for a tedious reading experience. Between chapters, he includes lists of quotations from crackpots and alien researchers, including himself, and he actually ends the book with a page of quotations from The Eternal Man, one of the sequels to Pauwels and Bergier’s Morning of the Magicians. I’ve had that book on my shelf for many years, but I’ve avoided picking it up because I know how incredibly shit and dumb it will be.

The plot of Brotherkind is ridiculously  trashy, but it could have been awesome if Williamson had acknowledged this and gone with it. Instead, he absolutely ruins the book by trying to make it thought provoking and clever. What a waste.

 

premonition j. n. williamson

Premonition – J.N. Williamson
Leisure Books – 1981

By the time I got around to reading Premonition, I was well and truly sick of this series. I didn’t want to read this at all, and I ended up mostly skimming through large sections of the book. This method actually enhanced my enjoyment of the story greatly, and I reckon that this book and Brotherkind would have greatly benefited if 100 pages had been cut from each. The stories in these two are mental enough to be entertaining, but they get bogged down in boring details. I know publishers used to charge more money for longer books, so maybe these were originally good stories that Williamson ruined for some extra cash.

Brotherkind had a mental storyline, but I reckon Premonition is probably the wackiest of this series.

Ruben goes to work for Solomon Studies in an abandoned amusement park on an isolated island. It turns out that his boss is the reincarnation of King Solomon, and her company is secretly trying to develop a way to prolong life indefinitely. Unfortunately, the island where they have their headquarters is also home to a sex demon that is made of cancer. Also, one of the doctors working there, a former Nazi, has cloned a pterodactyl. Eventually this pterodactyl teams up with a magical hermaphrodite midget to put a stop to the cancer demon. I’m not joking.

Like I said, I flicked through this one pretty rapidly, mainly just skimming for the important points of the plot. There was one passage that jumped out to me though. It’s a scene in which a hospital worker is verbally abusing an elderly patient to prove to Ruben that the old man is in a catatonic state. He shouts, “you’re a useless piece of excrement on life’s shoals, a chunk of fleshy shit caught on the rocks”. I laughed heartily at that, both when I read it and again when I was typing it out. Think about what that would look like. For a shit to be described as ‘fleshy’, it would have to have some girth to it. You wouldn’t use the word fleshy to describe a stringy little turd. It’s the next deductive step that provides the big laughs though: for a shit to be girthy, the person who did it must have had a stretched anus. The hospital worker is telling the man in a vegetative state that he is a big poo from a big bumhole. This made the book worth reading.

premonition williamsonThis is the image from the cover, un-negatived. I wonder who she is.

These books share a central character, but they’re not much of a series. The timeline is all messed up. Aside from Martin Ruben, there is one other character who appears in all three books, but he actually dies in the first one. In terms of publishing, The Ritual came first, then Premonition and then Brotherkind, but the timeline of the actual stories is quite different. Premonition comes first, and then The Ritual and Brotherkind take place at the same time. There’s a single mention in Brotherkind of the stuff that’s happening in The Ritual, but Williamson didn’t have the foresight to include events from the unwritten Brotherkind in The Ritual. The characters must be incredibly talented at compartmentalizing their lives. They simultaneously save the world from the Antichrist while also preventing an invasion of alien rapists, and they do so without letting one event even remotely interfere with the other.

All in all, this series was terrible. There’s some silly ideas in here that could have been entertaining, but these books are boring and unpleasant to read.

Summertime Reading: A few more Paperbacks from Hell

paperbacks from hell summerI’ve read quite a few paperback horror novels over the summer. Most of them are throwaway reads that don’t justify a post of their own, so I’ve been grouping them by series, authors and publishers. (Expect posts on William Johnstone’s horror novels, J.N. Williams’s Martin Ruben series, Richard Jaccoma’s Werewolf series, and random Zebra and Tor books showing up here in the next few months.) The books in this post have nothing to do with each other aside from the fact that they were all featured in Grady Hendrix’s and Will Erickson’s Paperbacks From Hell and also reviewed by those guys online. I don’t feel a need to go into much detail with these books as Grady and Will have done so already.

 

the stigma trevor hoyleThe Stigma – Trevor Hoyle
Sphere Books- 1980
This book starts off very serious, and there’s a bunch of references to real witch trials and the Brontë family that got me excited. I’ve never reviewed Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights on this blog, but they’re two of my favourite books, and the Brontë references left me moist. There were also some fairly scary moments, and by the halfway mark I was wondering if it was really fair for a book like this to have been listed alongside the work of J.N. Williamson in the pages of Paperbacks From Hell. Then I got to the bit where a naughty dog tries to rape someone and had to reevaluate my stance. Things get grosser and sillier as the book comes to a close, and the ending alone warrants its inclusion in PFH. This is ultimately quite a silly book, but I enjoyed it.

I decided to buy The Stigma after reading about it in PFH, but like so many of the texts featured therein, cheap copies of The Stigma became scarce for a while. I paid more than I should have a year and a half ago, but it seems that there’s loads of affordable copies online again now. Grady Hendrix also wrote a more elaborate review of this book for Tor.com

 

miss finney kills al dempseyMiss Finney Kills Now and Then – Al Dempsey
Tor 1989 (First published 1982)
This is the story of an old woman who can grow younger by murdering people. I found it very enjoyable. The characters are more interesting than I expected, and the plot, while obviously ludicrous, is pretty entertaining. When I was buying this at a thriftstore, there were two copies. One had a slightly classier looking cover featuring a bloody dagger, but I obviously went for the hideous hag one. I discovered Grady Hendrix’s review of this book right after finishing it and then realised that it’s actually featured on the front cover of Paperbacks from Hell. Will Erickson also reviewed Miss Finney. He hated it.

 

the tribe bari woodThe Tribe – Bari Wood
Signet – 1981
I saw a copy of this at a used bookstore a few weeks back and picked it up. I couldn’t remember reading about it, but I knew it was recently republished under Valancourt’s Paperback from Hell reissue series, so I assumed it would be pretty good.

This is definitely a cut above the other two books in this post. It’s actually a well written novel with an exciting plot and complex characters. It deals with complicated issues in a way that doesn’t get pedantic or preachy. The Tribe tells a story that makes you think. Will Erickson and Grady Hendrix both commented on the effectiveness of the prologue, and I can confirm that it’s pretty great. I can’t imagine anyone reading the first 20 pages of this book without wanting to read the rest.

Oh yeah, it’s about a murderous Golem in New York, but don’t let that put you off. It’s actually fucking great.

After having read The Tribe and enjoying it so much, I definitely aim to read the other Paperbacks From Hell that Valancourt are reissuing.

 

Well, there you go. These books were amoung the better horror novels I read over the summer. Thanks to Grady and Will for the recommendations.

The Doctor Orient Series, Books 5-8

doctor orient
I published a post on the first 4 Doctor Orient novels at the beginning of last year. If you’re not familiar with this series, you might want to read that post before reading this one.

the priestess frank lauriaThe Priestess – Frank Lauria
Bantam Books – 1978

This one sees the Doctor getting involved in a voodoo cult in Florida while he’s on the run from a government agency. Owen Orient is alone in this book; his friends from the previous novels are entirely absent here. This is pretty much what you’d expect, lots of sexy ladies, cocaine and snakes. Pretty good. The previous owner of my copy seems to have been very knowledgeable on the subject of Cuban witchcraft; my book is filled with notes on Lecumi.

seth papers frank lauriaThe Seth Papers – Frank Lauria
Ballantine Books – 1979

The Seth Papers is both the shortest Doctor Orient novel and the only epistolary novel in the series. I quite enjoyed the book, but it’s based around a rather strange idea. It’s about an Italian neofascist secret society that is attempting to retrieve the mythological Hand of Seth to take control of the Vatican. It was published in 1979, a good 2 years before the general public was made aware of P2, the Italian neofascist secret society that close ties with the Vatican and the Mafia. Did Frank Lauria come up with a plot that resembled reality by coincidence? If not, how did he know about this strange secret society? How did he publish a book about it and live? Those P2 lads hung a lad from a bridge for less!

blue limbo frank lauriaBlue Limbo – Frank Lauria
Frog, Ltd. – 2001 (Originally published 1991)

Doctor Orient’s 1991 return sees him in Jamaica battling another High Priest of Voodoo. As usual, the plot involves the main character falling for an evil woman and getting himself into serious trouble. There’s a nuclear submarine, some zombies, a psychic albino and some Cuban agents thrown into the mix too. The plot of this one was overly complicated. There was also a character who only spoke in rhymes. That really pissed me off. It didn’t make him sound mystical or profound; it made him sound like an annoying little cunt. This was my least favourite entry in the series.

frank lauria demon pope
Demon Pope – Frank Lauria
Rothco Press – 2014

More than 2 decades after his last outing, the doctor returns to New York. Unfortunately for him, he gets involved with a group of Satanic immortal Nazi clones who are have stolen the Spear of Destiny and are planning to use it to take control of the Vatican.

Unlike other occult detectives, Doctor Orient is a powerful psychic, and at times throughout the series, this gives him opportunities to solve impossible problems. He’ll topple over a candlestick into a curtain, causing a distraction that allows him escape from a guarded room. He can also talk to people on the astral plane, and this allows him to track his friends and enemies down without GPS. The first Orient novel was published in 1970, and he uses these powers throughout all of his adventures. In Demon Pope, a novel published 44 years into Owen Orient’s career as a hero, he acquires a new skill. Now he is able to transform into a panther. Honestly, this was a bit hard to swallow.

Demon Pope is a bit of a mess to be honest. It’s very unclear as to why the stuff that is happening is happening. There’s a part at the beginning where a teenage girl is sacrificed that is never explained. Also, the text is full of typos. You’d have thought that somebody at Rothco Press would have read over Frank’s manuscript before printing it. That being said, this was still a fairly enjoyable read.

doctor orient complete The Complete Collection

The first 6 Doctor Orient novels were published in the 70s. After The Seth Papers, Doctor Orient kept his head down for over a decade. After returning in 1991’s Blue Limbo, he would take another two decades off before coming back for Demon Pope. Why such long waits? I’ve actually discovered the answer to this seldom asked question. In 1982, Doctor Orient made a brief appearance in comic book form. He was given several pages in both editions of Steve Englehart’s 1983 Scorpio Rose comics. This was supposed to have at least one more part, but the series was cancelled because it wasn’t very popular. The 3rd edition of Scorpio Rose was eventually published in a collection of Englehart’s work, but this did not contain a 3rd installment of Doctor Orient’s adventures.

scorpio rose doctor orient

So what happens in the Doctor Orient comics? Not as much as I’d have liked – they’re really short. The Doctor exorcises a young girl and ends up going back in time to fight with a Nazi called Von Speer. Sound familiar? It will to anyone who has read Demon Pope. It seems as though Demon Pope is the novelisation of the story Frank Lauria wrote or at least started writing in the early 80s for the Orient comics. While Demon Pope wasn’t published until 2014, Lauria had actually come up with the plot for it only a few years after finishing The Seth Papers.

 

Well, that’s that. It took me more than 3 years to collect and read the entire Doctor Orient series, but now it’s done. It’s a bit of  push to classify these as horror novels; they’d be more accurately described as adventure books about occult phenomena. While Doctor Orient probably isn’t the greatest Occult Detective out there, these novels were very entertaining, and if there’s ever another published, you know I’ll be reading it. As of now, Raga Six (#2) was my favourite. I’ve also reviewed Frank Lauria’s The Foundling if you’re interested.

Nazi Poltergeists – Michael Falconer Anderson’s The Unholy

the unholy - michael falconer anderson.jpg

 

Roughly a year ago, I read and reviewed Michael falconer Anderson’s Blood Rite. It was an exceptionally dry, unimaginative, style-less piece of trash. If you had asked me then about the likelihood of me reading another book by the same author, I would have said it was extremely slim. But this was only because I didn’t realise that Michael Falconer Anderson had also written a horror novel whose cover featured a skull with swastikas for eyeballs.

A train crashes on its way into a small English town because its driver suddenly becomes convinced that he’s actually driving a train full of unfortunates to a concentration camp. A mysterious box belonging to the train’s most suspicious passenger is lost in the crash, and soon thereafter a troop of supernatural Nazis (they’re half ghost and half zombie) start killing, raping and possessing the locals. A newspaper editor and his psychic friend deduce that these horrible occurrences are due to the presence of some terrible talisman of power.

The major selling point of The Unholy is obviously its cover, but one glance at such will spoil the central mystery of the book for the astute reader. Once the protagonists realise who and what they’re dealing with, they have no choice but to find and destroy the most sacred relic of the Reich.

Preventing them from doing so is the mysterious occultist David Preese, a character clearly based on Aleister Crowley.  Another character describes him thus, “You may remember about five years ago the newspapers were calling him “The Beast”. He’s involved in all kinds of things. He’s even started his own religion – the Priests of the Aryan Dawn. It’s some kind of mixture of old Indian religions and Teutonic myths…” Preese is soon thereafter depicted performing a sex magic ritual with two teenagers. He later turns out to have been the mysterious individual who lost the box during the train crash.

This book is quite bad – much like Blood Rite, the actual writing is like eating a sandwich with no filling. The plot of The Unholy however, is far, far more interesting. It’s like a mixture of Emmerdale, Evil Dead and Downfall. It only took a few days to read, and I actually quite enjoyed it. Shall I seek out and read Michael Falconer Anderson’s other horror novels? I might.

One interesting feature of this book is how it deals with the Holocaust. I doubt very much that this would find a major publisher today. Nazis are clearly presented in an evil light, but the victims of the Holocaust are also made part of the horror. At one point the protagonist watches as the Nazis gun down a herd of people into a pit. That stuff actually happened, and it’s scarier than any ghost stories. It feels a bit cheap for an author of horror fiction to exploit it.

The crazy thing about this novel is that I discovered it existed after buying it. I was glancing through my search history on abebooks when I saw a book that I didn’t recognise. I had ordered it a year previously, but it never arrived, and I had totally forgotten ever buying it. This has never happened before. I found a pdf copy online though, so at least I didn’t have to buy it again.

Teatro Grottesco – Thomas Ligotti

teatro grotessco thomas ligotti.jpgTeatro Grottesco – Thomas Ligotti
Virgin Books – 2008 (First published 2006)

This collection of short stories makes most of the horror fiction I’ve read seem like a children’s cartoon. This isn’t bump in the night stuff; it’s black, oily, suffocating horror. It is the second book that I have ever read that actually gave me nightmares.

Nightmares are interesting things. While they always contain some kind of unpleasant element, they also have to be similar enough to our day to day lives to actually disturb us, and it’s this fact that gives this Teatro Grottesco a truly nightmarish quality.

This collection is truly weird weird-fiction, but while the scenarios it describes all contain an element of the fantastic, their reality is never far enough from our own to void the message they deliver. And there is a message in these tales. Ligotti is a philosopher as well as a fiction writer, and it is his takes on reality that make these stories truly horrifying. This will come as no surprise to anyone who has read his The Conspiracy against the Human Raceone of the most pessimistic books in existence. I read and enjoyed that one a few years ago, but my one complaint was that although the arguments therein are convincing, they didn’t hugely influence the way I was feeling when I read them. I was able to brush them off as somebody else’s bad attitude. For me, it was far more effective coming across these ideas in fictional narratives than in a treatise of philosophy. The final tale in this collection, The Shadow, The Darkness, is one of the most profoundly articulate discussions of the futility of human existence that I have encountered. It made me feel quite bad when reading it. Indeed, the horror of Ligotti’s prose is more directed at its reader than at its characters.

The characters in these tales are very strange. They appear more as shadows than as distinguishable individuals. They’re all artists or managers of boarding houses. The narrator of any one tale in this collection could be the narrator of any of the others. This might seem like a criticism to somebody who hasn’t read the book, but I strongly suspect that it was intentional. One of the key ideas throughout this collection is that the self is an illusion. Human minds and souls aren’t real; they are a symptom of the sickness of reality, and the attempt to distinguish between one person and another is a pathetic exercise in futility. In one of the tales, a character describes himself thus:

“My body – a tumor that was once delivered from the body of another tumor, a lump of disease that is always boiling with its own disease. And my mind – another disease, the disease of a disease. Everywhere my mind sees the disease of other minds and other bodies, these other organisms that are only other diseases, an absolute nightmare of the organism.”

Get the idea? What difference does it make who is narrating the story if every living thing is just a drastically diseased and deluded tumor? This book is horrible – horrible but also absolutely deadly.

Shout out to my mother in law for buying me this for Christmas. It’s probably my favourite book that I’ve read this year – I really, really liked this one. It’s also the third of Ligotti’s books that I’ve read, and from what I can see online, most of his books are fairly difficult to come by. This is unfortunate because he’s a brilliant writer. I’ve seen a bunch of stuff that talks about how Ligotti is like a modern Lovecraft, but I find his writing more similar to that of Samuel Beckett than to any horror writer I’ve read. (I think the similarity lies in how both writers present human relationships – maybe I’ll write an essay about this some day.) Anyways, I am going to try to find a copy of the Penguin edition of Ligotti’s first two books and review it in the very near future. This is the kind of horror I want to read.

Flesh – Richard Laymon

flesh - richard laymon.jpgFlesh – Richard Laymon
Tor Books – 1988

A few months ago, I found a bunch of Richard Laymon books in my favourite second hand book store. I had heard of him, but I wasn’t sure which of his books were worth checking out. I bought this one because it had a cool cover. After reading Flesh, I deeply regret not buying all of the Laymon books that were there.

A gross slug thing burrows into people’s flesh, attaches itself to the back of their skull and then takes control of their body. The plot of this novel is remarkably similar to Brain Damage (one of my favourite movies, also released in 1988) and a later episode of the X-Files. The slug like beasty of this novel is special though, as this one only takes control of humans so that it can satiate its need for human flesh. It turns its victims into cannibals.

Let me put that another way. The monster in this book eats through people’s flesh so that it can use their bodies to eat through other people’s flesh.

The central premise of this book doesn’t make sense, but I didn’t even realise that until I started writing this review. It’s such a cool idea for a book. There were, however, a few other issues that were more difficult to swallow. Most of the characters in Flesh are either exceptionally stupid or remarkably intelligent. The victims make absolutely terrible, terrible choices, but the police officers on the case are able to deduce the exact nature of their bizarre adversary after examining one of its victims. They immediately figure out that they’re dealing with a with a psycho-parasitic worm with a lust for human flesh. Finally, the women in this book have such sensitive nipples that I can’t imagine how they go about their daily lives. Every time a woman does anything in this book, her nipples’ reaction is mentioned, whether she be taking a shower, greeting a friend, or enjoying a pleasant summer breeze.

Despite these issues, I found this book to be immensely entertaining. It is absolutely full of gore, a real bloodbath. The writing is decent too. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not Faulkner, but it’s not bad. Laymon tells a good story. Flesh is 400 pages long, but I read it in only a few days. I advise you all to hunt down a copy too.