Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Darklings (1985) by Ray Garton

Darklings (1985) by Ray Garton: Zippy 1980's horror novel from Ray Garton seems to have been read by the makers of 1987's The Hidden. When a dying serial killer arrives in a California ER, he gives the hospital a bonus: an eruption of squiggly, wiggly worms that possess people and cause them to act on their basest impulses. Very, very basest. 

A doctor, a nurse, and a lab technician team up to uncover the mystery behind the mind-worms -- and hopefully the source. Garton moves everything along briskly and entertainingly in this early novel. Characterization is deft, and the novel is rewardingly tight -- there's no bloat here. Scenes of graphic horror are not for the squeamish, but Garton's work never feels exploitative. It's the 1980's, so there's a whole lot of smoking and mustaches. Recommended.

The Hollower (2007) by Mary SanGiovanni

The Hollower (2007) by Mary SanGiovanni:  Gary Braunbeck, Brian Keene, and James A. Moore all give rave blurbs to this first novel from Mary SanGiovanni. And it's a fairly solid piece of supernatural horror. But it also transformed from novel to first part of a trilogy somewhere in the publication and/or sales process, making for yet another ending in which nothing, really, is resolved. I hate that shit. 

Steve Ditko's The Question
The eponymous monster, a supernatural creature created by SanGiovanni, becomes a bit of a Swiss Army Knife by the conclusion of the novel, able to work with both hallucinations and real-world violence, and with a weakness that seems awfully contrived. If you've read comic books, it probably doesn't help that the Hollower's basic form when it's stalking someone is the spitting image of Steve Ditko's The Question. Only in shape-changing monster form. 

SanGiovanni does give the reader an interesting cast of characters, very Stephen-King-like in their weaknesses and (growing) strengths. A climax that goes on and on for about 1/3 of the novel needed trimming and tightening. Lightly recommended.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Light's Out (2016)

Light's Out (2016): adapted by Eric Heisserer from a short film by David F. Sanberg; directed by David F. Sandberg; starring Teresa Palmer (Rebecca), Gabriel Bateman (Martin), Alexander DiPersia (Bret), Billy Burke (Paul), and Maria Bello (Sophie): Short, taut, and to-the-point supernatural thriller pits a family against a ghost-thing that only comes out at night. Or at at least when the lights are out. I'd have liked a scene in which the main characters hit a hardware store to buy every portable light source imaginable from flashlights to glow sticks. They do have enough sense to pick up a crank-flashlight, given that the ghost-thing can affect utilities and batteries, so Kudos! Recommended.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Black Wings of Cthulhu Volume 3 (2014) edited by S.T. Joshi

Black Wings of Cthulhu Volume 3 (2014) edited by S.T. Joshi, containing the following stories:

Houdini Fish by Jonathan Thomas
Dimply Dolly Doofy by Donald R. Burleson
The Hag Stone by Richard Gavin
Underneath an Arkham Moon by Jessica Amanda Salmonson and W. H. Pugmire
Spiderwebs in the Dark by Darrell Schweitzer
One Tree Hill (The World as Cataclysm) by Caitlín R. Kiernan
The Man with the Horn by Jason V Brock: Weird horror with some nice stylistic touches becomes very (Harla) Ellisonian by the end.
Hotel del Lago by Mollie L. Burleson
*Waller by Donald Tyson: Interesting piece involving cosmic cancer gods and multiple realities. Great Shades of Mnagalah!
The Megalith Plague by Don Webb
*Down Black Staircases by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.: Pulver works in a partial stream-of-consciousness mode here that's fairly unusual for cosmic horror.
China Holiday by Peter Cannon
Necrotic Cove by Lois H. Gresh
The Turn of the Tide by Mark Howard Jones
Weltschmerz by Sam Gafford
Thistle's Find by Simon Strantzas
*Further Beyond by Brian Stableford: Stableford continues the events of HPL's "From Beyond" in faithful, fruitful fashion.

Overall: Another solid entry in the ubiquitous Joshi's Black Wings series of original, cosmic-horror anthologies in the key of Lovecraft. 'of Cthulhu' is added to the title for paperback publication, for sales reasons I'd assume. Stand-outs are noted above. Recommended.

The Madness of Cthulhu Volume 1 (2014) edited by S.T. Joshi

The Madness of Cthulhu Volume 1 (2014) edited by S.T. Joshi, containing the following stories (all 2014 unless otherwise noted):

At the Mountains of Murkiness (1940) by Arthur C. Clarke
The Fillmore Shoggoth by Harry Turtledove
Devil's Bathtub by Lois H. Gresh
The Witness in Darkness by John Shirley
How the Gods Bargain by William Browning Spencer
A Mountain Walked by Caitlin R. Kiernan
Diana of the Hundred Breasts  (1996) by Robert Silverberg
Under the Shelf by Michael Shea
Cantata by Melanie Tem
Cthulhu Rising  by Heather Graham
The Warm by Darrell Schweitzer
Last Rites by K. M. Tonso
Little Lady by Jeanne Cook [as by J. C. Koch]
White Fire by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.
A Quirk of the Mistral by Jonathan Thomas
The Dog Handler's Tale by Donald Tyson 

The increasingly omnipresent S.T. Joshi serves up a two-part anthology in which many (though not all) stories have been inspired in some way by HPL's chilling 1930's short novel At the Mountains of Madness. Some go the route of having the story told from new POV's -- "The Witness in Darkness" by John Shirley and "The Dog Handler's Tale" by Donald Tyson both do nicely with these alternate, partially revisionist takes on HPL's original. Darrell Schweitzer offers a similar alternate take, this time on HPL's "Pickman's Model."

Other stories extrapolate sequels ranging from the bleakly funny (Shoggoths raid San Francisco in "The Fillmore Shoggoth" by Harry Turtledove, imperiling an aged HPL and a rock band that plays HPL-inspired songs) to the modernist cool of Joseph Pulver's "White Fire." Joshi also reprints an early Arthur C. Clarke parody of Lovecraft that's an interesting curiosity. 

Cosmic horrors without explicit Lovecraft references seem to make for the best stories in this volume, from Robert Silverberg's atypical "Diana of the Hundred Breasts" to the Wild West grotesqueries of "Little Lady" by Jeanne Cook.

My favourites here, or at least those stories that offered the most chills, are "How the Gods Bargain" by William Browning Spencer and "A Mountain Walked" by Caitlin R. Kiernan. Spencer's story is typically quirky in its tale of high-school jealousies and extraordinarily odd alien edifices. Kiernan works in what is my favourite mode of hers -- the pseudo-documentarian historical narrative -- as she recounts a puzzling encounter involving a 19th-century archaeological dig in America's Old West. In all, recommended.

A Mountain Walked: Great Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos (2014) edited by S.T. Joshi

A Mountain Walked: Great Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos (2014) edited by S.T. Joshi, containing the following stories:

The House of the Worm  (1933) by Mearle Prout
Far Below  (1939) by Robert Barbour Johnson
Spawn of the Green Abyss  (1946) by C. Hall Thompson
The Deep Ones (1969) by James Wade
The Franklyn Paragraphs (1973) by Ramsey Campbell
Where Yidhra Walks  (1976) by Walter C. DeBill, Jr.
Black Man with a Horn (1980) by T. E. D. Klein
The Last Feast of Harlequin (1990) by Thomas Ligotti
Only the End of the World Again  (1994) by Neil Gaiman
Mandelbrot Moldrot (2014) by Lois H. Gresh
The Black Brat of Dunwich (1997) by Stanley C. Sargent
The Phantom of Beguilement (2001) by W. H. Pugmire
 ...Hungry...Rats  (2014) by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.
Virgin's Island  (2014) by Donald Tyson
In the Shadow of Swords (2014) by Cody Goodfellow
Mobymart After Midnight  (2014) by Jonathan Thomas
A Gentleman from Mexico (2007) by Mark Samuels
The Man with the Horn  (2014) by Jason V Brock
John Four  (2014) by Caitlín R. Kiernan
Sigma Octantis (2014) by Rhys Hughes
[Anasazi]  (2014) by Gemma Files
The Wreck of the Aurora  (2014) by Patrick McGrath
Beneath the Beardmore (2014) by Michael Shea 

Omnipresent anthologist S.T. Joshi offers what seems to be his 19th Lovecraftian-themed anthology of the past five years. This one combines new material solicited for this anthology with little-reprinted stories of the past 86 (!!!) years of Lovecraft's influence.

"The House of the Worm"  (1933) by Mearle Prout and "Far Below"  (1939) by Robert Barbour Johnson are both fine and essential texts that echo Lovecraft without necessarily occurring in 'his' universe. They're both stunners in different ways, stunners I don't want to spoil. "Spawn of the Green Abyss"  (1946) by C. Hall Thompson is a fascinating 'parallel' text seemingly inspired by Lovecraft's "The Shadow over Innsmouth."

Of the later reprints, some are terrific and much-anthologized (pieces by Ligotti and Klein are all-timers). Some are terrific and under-anthologized ("The Franklyn Paragraphs" (1973) by Ramsey Campbell, though it really should be bundled with "The Truant" (1973)). Some are interesting, some are seriously wonky (I'm looking at you and your inter-species rape scene, "The Deep Ones" (1969) by James Wade). 

The original stories are mostly solid, though it's always a juggling act to combine a 'Best of' anthology with new material: it can sometimes seem like those old CD's and records that did so with 'Best of' material and 'Three new songs!', all of them sort of sucky. But there's nothing sucky here. 

I really like "Virgin's Island"  (2014) by Donald Tyson, a great slice of pseudo-documentarian horror that reminds one of Lovecraft without aping HPL's style. And it's set off the coast of the Atlantic Provinces of Canada! Gemma Files also adds some delicious CanCon, as Toronto rocks with an insidious alien attack. Michael Shea also delights with one of the hardest things to pull off -- a nod to HPL that's funny, revisionist, and sinister.

In all, a solid anthology with distinguished cuts from the past and present. The historical selections help push A Mountain Walked to highly recommended.