Thursday, February 13, 2014

Identity and Loss

Lost Angels by David J. Schow collecting the following stories: Red Light; Brass; Pamela's Get; The Falling Man; and Monster Movies (Collected 1990): The horror boom of the 1970's and 1980's helped make the 1980's and early 1990's the Golden Age of horror short-story collection released in mass-market (as opposed to specialty house) paperback. This continues to be something of a boon to this day, as used copies of some of the finest collections in horror history still show up in used bookstores and on-line for purchase in situations where the collections haven't been re-published.

David J. Schow has been immortalized as one of the founders of the Splatterpunk sub-genre of horror that came to prominence over the course of the 1980's. He's a writer of diverse interests, however, and this collection doesn't feature anything in the Splatterpunk genre. Instead, it features four novellas or novelettes that are indeed described in different ways by the collection's title, and a concluding non-horror story that's nonetheless deeply concerned with horror, its history, and those who love it in its many forms.

Overall, Lost Angels is a dynamite collection. Schow sets all the stories in Los Angeles (another reason for the title). The city insinuates itself into every narrative in all its weird, night-bright oddness. Hollywood players, hangers-on, and bystanders populate the stories. Schow integrates the supernatural with this Hollywood Babylon in sinister but sometimes comic ways -- one supernatural being wants its story told on film, for example.

The thematic concerns of the stories firmly place Schow within the legacy of Fritz Leiber. Like Leiber, Schow searches for supernatural situations that fit the contemporary world, or even grow out of it, per Leiber's seminal 1940 story "Smoke Ghost." Indeed, one story here is a brilliant companion to Leiber's "The Girl with the Hungry Eyes" -- or an inversion, in some ways.

Aside from that search to create new ghosts and monsters, Schow explores the loneliness of the modern urban and exurban world through romantic and familial relationships, quests through bars and parties and decaying sections of Los Angeles, and keenly observed set-pieces in very specifically imagined locations that include strange, junk-filled warehouses, topless bars for ruthless businessmen, studio offices, and occult shops with sarcastic clerks. Love, identity, and loneliness inform much of this collection. It's not that Nothing Is What It Seems...it's that Some Things That Seem, Aren't. Highly recommended.

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