Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Boo Radley was a Hero to Most

Inconsequential Tales by Ramsey Campbell (Collected 2007): This was never meant to be a great collection of Campbell's stories, as it's a small-press collection of uncollected stories from throughout his five-decade career. Campbell delivers a typically self-deprecating introduction in which he describes the genesis of each story and his current feelings towards it (usually embarassed or amused). Some of the stories are still better than what most horror writers are ever capable of delivering, and one also gets pretty much all of the science fiction Campbell ever got published in the 1970's. The illustrations don't add much, but this is a somewhat essential collection for any Campbell reader, as one can see his unique prose style developing in fits and starts in the earlier work.

***

Dark Gods by T.E.D. Klein (Collected 1985): Klein is both a terrific and a terrifically slow horror writer -- we've been waiting for that second novel since The Ceremonies appeared in 1985, and there's only one other collection of short stories (Reassuring Stories) on his resume. This collection of four novellas probably deserves a spot on any 'Best 100 Horror' list. It may even deserve a mention on Great Fiction About New York, as all the stories deal in one way or another with the metropolis H.P. Lovecraft came to hate back in the 1920's.

The four novellas manage to rework some fairly potent 20th-century horror tropes (and specifically Lovecraft-derived tropes in "Black Man with a Horn" and "Children of the Kingdom") into occasionally brooding, occasionally sardonic 20th-century nightmares. "Children of the Kingdom", with its blink-and-you'll-miss-it reference to Lovecraft's alien Mi-Go, evokes the crime, racism and paranoia of 1970's New York in what could be seen as a brilliant reimagining of Lovecraft's paranoid musings on miscegenation and inbreeding. "Nadelman's God" bounces off Fritz Leiber's seminal urban nightmare "Smoke Ghost" with a new (or is it?) god. "Black Man with a Horn" pits a (fictional) friend of the late Lovecraft's against some of the source material for Lovecraft's malign Tcho-Tcho people. "Petey" imagines an Updikean house-warming party imperilled by a large, gooey something that may turn out to be an unlikely punishment for...real-estate fraud?

Brilliant, witty, creepy stuff.

***

Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay (2004): Showtime's mostly enjoyable Dexter series started as an adaptation of the first Dexter novel, though the two Dexter streams have mostly diverged by now. Lindsay's breezy, first-person novel about a serial killer trained to kill only bad people by his cop foster father is an enjoyable page-turner until the last twenty pages or so, at which point Lindsay gets a bad case of sequelitis and decides to keep one villain around who should really bite the dust. Much of the interest of the novel lies in Lindsay's attempts to create a narrator who's essentially Hannibal Lecter trying to be Batman. It all works, sort of, but Lindsay's reductive approach to serial-killer psychology (everyone traumatized in a certain way in childhood will become a sociopath) would realistically leave us with a global serial killer population that should have cut the general population number to 3 billion people by now and falling fast. An enjoyable waste of time, but I don't think I'll be going back to Dexterland anytime soon.

***

The Compleat Werewolf by Anthony Boucher (Collected 1962): Boucher was the brilliant co-editor of the influential The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in the 1950's and early 1960's before his ealy death from a heart attack. Prior to being an editor, he was a prolific fantasy and science fiction writer himself, and Werewolf collects most of his best work, primarily from the 1940's. "The Compleat Werewolf" is a fairly jolly werewolf novella, in which the typical bloodthirstiness of the werewolf is dropped in favour of a more humourous exploration of what being a wolf with a human mind would be like. Most of the other sf and fantasy stories here operate on the same somewhat amused level with the exception of "They Bite", Boucher's best short story and one of the creepiest horror stories ever written.

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