Archive

reading materials

I have written before, extensively, about my relationship with the Crestwood House monster books, most recently in the first issue of Weird Horror from Undertow Publications. For those who weren’t like me, the Crestwood House books were a series of retellings of the classic horror films of yesteryear, illustrated with evocative black-and-white film stills from those same flicks, at least some of them provided by none other than Forrest J. Ackerman.

The school library at just about every elementary school I ever attended had at least a few of them, usually the whole series. The first and best-known set, which kicked off in the late ’70s, had orange-and-black covers and titles hitting upon some of the biggest names in the Universal monster canon, including Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Creature from the Black Lagoon – not to mention more weirdo titles like The Deadly Mantis and It Came from Outer Space.

Each of those orange books provided an abridged novelization of the film, alongside trivia and context for the films that surrounded it. The Frankenstein book, for instance, summarized the James Whale film, but also talked about Mary Shelley’s novel, Thomas Edison’s Frankenstein, and other films and adaptations before and since.

The lesser-known purple series came out later, kicking off in the ’80s (the ones I have are copyrighted 1985 and 1987) and including more B-sides than its predecessor. Hence, we get titles like Werewolf of London, Tarantula, and House of Fear.

The dimensions of the books were also smaller. While the orange titles were the size of a standard “board book,” the purple series were closer in scale to a mid-grade chapter book. And where the orange books had included a breezy summary of the main film, alongside details about others, the purple series included a more scene-by-scene novelization of the film in question, even if the result was still quite brisk.

While I was obsessed with those books, I never owned any of them – I’m pretty sure they were sold only to libraries, as I’ve never seen a copy without a library stamp inside. Today, they sell for big bucks online, when you can find them at all. Recently, I came across seven of the purple cover titles in a book-filled booth at an antique mall, and brought them all home with me. It’s not quite the full series – I’ve never been able to find a definitive list, but I know I’m missing several titles. Now, as we head toward Halloween, I’ll be reading one a week and posting about it here.

Most of the books in the orange cover series were credited to writer Ian Thorne, actually science fiction author Julian May. All of the purple ones – or, at least, the ones I have – are credited to Carl R. Green and William R. Sanford, authors, according to the website of Enslow Publishing, of “more than one hundred books for young people.”

Each book includes a prologue, usually about a page long, that gives some minor context for the story you’re about to read, and from there on it’s just raw adaptation of the screenplay, accompanied, once again, by black-and-white stills.

I decided to start with Werewolf of London for a variety of reasons. The 1935 film is an oddity, given that it predates The Wolf Man by more than half-a-decade, yet never managed to kick off a franchise the way that film did, even though it was the first mainstream Hollywood film to feature a werewolf. What’s more, it actually features two werewolves, and not just one begetting the other, as in that later picture. Here, there’s an actual werewolf-on-werewolf fight!

Werewolf of London is also interesting in its relationship to the Crestwood House canon. While it didn’t get a book in the orange series, it also kind of did. Not only does the orange Wolf Man book summarize this flick alongside the Lon Chaney Jr. one, it’s the werewolf from Werewolf of London – with his Eddie Munster widow’s peak – who decorates that cover.

It’s been long enough since I watched the film that I can’t tell you for sure which liberties Green and Sanford took with the script, but the writing is, for the most part, of the “see Jane run” style you might expect, with short, unambiguous sentences. “Lisa and Miss Ettie ran down the stairs,” one climactic scene tells us. “The wolfman was faster.”

Which is not to say that such direct language can’t be occasionally effective. “Glendon knew he was now a werewolf,” an earlier scene says, conveying his transformation. “Deep, evil powers ruled him.”

I’ve been using Goodreads for… many years now. I’d be too lazy to figure out how many, but fortunately my profile over there just handily tells me that it’s a little over 12 – I apparently started in March of 2009.

March of 2009 is like another world. At that time, I was still three years out from the publication of my first collection, and I had only sold the tiniest handful of short stories. In fact, 2009 would have been the year that I published my first chapbook novella, The Mysterious Flame, and the year that I attended my very first writing convention, ReaderCon.

In that time, again according to the site’s own stats because otherwise I would certainly have no way of knowing, I have read and reviewed more than 600 books. I won’t be doing that anymore. Reviewing, I mean, at least not on Goodreads.

I’ll probably still be reading books and occasionally writing reviews for places like Signal Horizon that don’t have the problems I’m here to talk about. But, let’s be honest, if you look back over my Goodreads activity for the last year or two, you won’t see anything all that much different from “nothing.” So I doubt anyone would even notice, if I didn’t make the announcement here.

If, like me, you are active at all in writing and book blogging circles, you have probably seen an article making the rounds from Time focused on the site’s problems with “review bombing” and extortion scams. And they’re part of what’s informing this decision, to be sure, but those topics are really only symptoms made possible by Goodreads’ larger problem.

It’s tempting to lay the blame at the feet of the site’s 2013 acquisition by Amazon, but I honestly don’t know when the problem started. What I do know – what I have heard time and time again, from authors both more and less “successful” than me, whatever that word even means – is that Goodreads has a disproportionate power to make or break a writer’s career.

For those dozen years that I’ve been reading and reviewing books on Goodreads, I’ve treated the site much as I treat Letterboxd now: a place where I leave a review and a star rating (even though I’m not terribly fond of using numerical rankings to describe experiences) that reflects my feelings about the book I just read.

This means that a book may get a rating of anywhere from one star to five, based on how much the thing spoke to me, personally. It also means that some things get judged by different criteria than others – I have to have some way of telling all the Mike Mignola comics apart without just giving them all five stars, after all.

The problem is that Goodreads has become a place where, if you give less than five stars to any book, you are basically putting a bullet in that author’s future sales, especially if they’re an indie author, or a marginalized one, or really anybody but, like, Stephen King or J. K. Rowling.

I don’t like that, but it’s the reality of the situation. Ratings on Goodreads and Amazon have huge impacts on the algorithms that get books in front of people and directly impact sales in significant and meaningful ways. A drop of even a few percentage points has real repercussions for an author’s ability to sell their next book, or the one after that.

I can’t change that. It doesn’t matter that I have my own reasons for a rating I might assign, my own system of determining how many stars I click. The algorithm doesn’t know and, more to the point, it doesn’t care. So, the only really ethical choice is to rate every single book five stars, or stop rating them at all. For the most part, I’ll probably be doing that second one.

I’m not shutting down my Goodreads account just yet, though I’ll admit that I’m on there rarely enough as it is. I’m not even going to swear that I’ll never review another book on the site. I may, and when I do just always hand out five stars each time. But I’ll no longer use it to track what I read, as I have until now. I’ll probably go back to doing that the old-fashioned way, in a paper journal – which I still do for movies, even though I also use Letterboxd until such time as I learn that it is equally ethically compromised.

Nor am I presuming to tell you what you should do with your Goodreads habits, except to say this: Think about them, and think hard. Before you leave your next two or three or even four-star review, do some reading about how this system affects authors, especially those who are the most vulnerable. If you have a favorite author with whom you talk or correspond, ask them for their take on the situation. And let all that inform your decision before you select those stars.

Back in 1982, more than a full decade before DC would launch their own, more successful Vertigo line of comics for “mature audiences,” Marvel introduced its Epic Comics imprint. Operating without the Comics Code seal of approval, Epic was also a place where creator-owned projects could happen – and sometimes did, including such titles as Groo the Wanderer and Sam & Max.

By the end of the decade, Epic was also licensing literary (and other) properties, leading to titles as diverse as Wild Cards, Tekworld, the really phenomenal Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser comics by Howard Chaykin and Mike Mignola, even a partial adaptation of Neuromancer – not to mention stuff like Elfquest, translations of Akira, and some weirdo crossover titles from their regular line, including a revival of Tomb of Dracula and that Silver Surfer comic that Moebius did, to name a few.

Among the strangest of these, for what we typically think of as Marvel Comics – though not, after all, so strange for the comics scene in the late ’80s and early ’90s – were a series of titles adapting, reimagining, repurposing, and expanding the works of Clive Barker, perhaps most notably Hellraiser. (The pictures accompanying this post are all borrowed from the Totally Epic blog, whose writer set themselves the perhaps-unenviable task of reading everything the imprint ever put out.)

The Hellraiser comic series kicked off in 1989 and ran for about twenty of these, like, digest-sized issues with cardstock covers and square binding. They’re all pretty nice, and they boast an impressive roster of talent, though most are more famous now than they were then. At least one of the Wachowski siblings is here, along with folks like Neil Gaiman, Scott Hampton, Mike Mignola, Bernie Wrightson, and Barker himself.

Besides the main Hellraiser series, there were spin-offs and also-rans, including a three-part adaptation of Barker’s novel Weaveworld and a Nightbreed series that ran for 25 issues or so and has since been collected into a nice hardcover from Boom, complete with a Mike Mignola cover.

There were also spin-off titles to the more popular Hellraiser, including one for Pinhead, which launched in 1993 and ran for six issues, all of them written or co-written by D. G. Chichester, a name that will be familiar to anyone who read much of the Hellraiser comic series. Also spinning off from that series was Harrowers: Raiders of the Abyss, which followed a handful of outcasts who had made their first appearance in the Hellraiser story that Barker had contributed, who were chosen by the goddess Morte Mamme to rescue souls from the Cenobites.

The Pinhead series sees the eponymous Cenobite hurled backward through his past incarnations throughout history, all of whom have different stupid shit stuck in their heads, including bones, arrowheads, and, at one point, tiny bronze swords. Also, because this was 1993, the first issue has a foil cover with art by Kelley Jones.

Harrowers feels maybe more like a regular comic book than most of the rest of these titles, in that it’s about a team of people with super powers who are uncomfortably united by a mission. It definitely feels like something that was intended to go on for more than 6 issues, as the storylines feel like they’re just warming up about the time they stop, and the Harrowers only save, like, three souls from Hell, and one of those is the wrong one. They also fight a headless statue possessed by the soul of Marc Antony in Times Square so, y’know, there’s that.

Probably more than any of the other Cliver Barker Epic titles, Harrowers feels like a warm up for what was to (briefly) come, the launch of a whole imprint, Razorline, dedicated entirely to characters and concepts made up by Barker. Separate from proper Marvel continuity – it’s officially Earth-45828, for those who keep track of such things; meaning who knows, maybe it’ll show up in the MCU once Disney inexplicably acquires whoever owns the rights to Barker’s various IPs – it was also distinct from anything else Barker had done.

While the Epic titles had all played in the Hellraiser sandbox, or adjacent to it in one of Barker’s other literary properties, Razorline was ostensibly going to be all new stories. Some promising talent was even attached, most notably to Ectokid, which started out penned by James Robinson before being handed off to Lana Wachowski – we were still several years pre-Matrix or even Bound at this point, remember.

Razorline amounted to four titles: the aforementioned Ectokid, the overtly superhero-y Hyperkind, the more artsy Saint Sinner, and the phenomenally-titled Hokum & Hex. (Barker may have been partial enough to the name Saint Sinner to use it for an unrelated TV movie in 2002, but Hokum & Hex was pretty clearly his best naming job.) Most of them only ran for nine issues. (Saint Sinner didn’t even make it quite that far.)

I’ve read the majority of these comics, though not most of the Razorline ones. The idea of this weirdo moment in time, when Clive Barker, of all fucking people, was mainstream enough that Marvel was publishing tie-ins of his shit, fascinates me, even while the comics themselves are all over the place. But I’ll be honest, I love them more being all over the place than I would if they were legit great comics (which they very occasionally are, especially some of the Hellraiser stories).

There’s a purity to these oddball comics that ran for a handful of issues and were, generally speaking, a wild combo of cash grab and someone’s genuine love of the material. It’s reminiscent of that magic you find in the gleam of just the right low-budget exploitation B-movie. One of the highs I’m always chasing. One more pin in my head…

I’m a writer, in case you hadn’t already figured that out. But my work has been and continues to be heavily influenced by visual media. Movies, of course, but also comic books, graphic novels, video games, fine arts, and, perhaps above all those others, illustration of various forms.

Beyond broader influences, I’ve written stories directly inspired by the photographs of William Mortensen, the paintings of Goya, wax anatomical models, and penny-arcade dioramas, to name just a few. Not to mention all of the movies that have directly inspired specific stories.

It’s why my list of major influences includes easily as many illustrators as writers – and many who are both – even though I’m no hand at all when it comes to illustrating myself. There are many names in that pantheon, and none are more important to the formation of my imagination as it exists today than Mike Mignola. But today I’m here to talk about someone else.

I’m not actually sure where I saw my first Gary Gianni illustration. It’s possible that, like so many other things, I came to his work by way of Mignola, through one of the Monster Men stories that served as backups in Hellboy comics (and vice versa). Those Monster Men comics have since been collected, by the way, and are amazing.

Or it may have been his illustrated version of some classic tale of weird fiction in one of the Dark Horse Book of… collections. What I do know is that, in short order, Gianni became the lens through which I tended to see classic weird tales of the golden age. There is something about his style that elevates it beyond mere pastiche of the old pulp illustrators. A wildness to his design sensibility, especially when it comes to drawing monsters, that puts him alongside folks like Virgil Finlay, Sidney Sime, and Lee Brown Coye, rather than working in their shadow.

(The more proper modern successors of Coye might be folks like Richard Corben and, more recently, Nick Gucker, who did several of my own book covers, but you get the idea.)

Gianni’s illustrations for Solomon Kane and some of the Conan books, not to mention the aforementioned stuff from the Dark Horse Book of… volumes, helped to cement him, in my mind, as the go-to guy for illustrating those kinds of tales. At least, the way I imagined seeing them illustrated.

A few years back, I got to meet him at the Spectrum Fantastic Art Live event here in Kansas City, and he seemed to be a genuinely nice guy, which was also pleasant. I had him sign some stuff, picked up a sketchbook, and was generally just happy to get to tell someone, even using highly inadequate words, what their work meant to me.

I hadn’t thought much about Gianni in some time – maybe not since Hellboy: Into the Silent Sea with his amazingly detailed art came out – when I saw Mike Mignola post a link to a new edition of Lovecraft’s “Call of Cthulhu,” with 100 new illustrations by Gianni. As I said on social media: Does anyone really need another edition of “Call of Cthulhu?” Maybe not. But does everyone need 100 new illustrations by Gary Gianni, drawing the kind of golden age pulp stuff that his style seems made for?

Absolutely, yes.

This time, two years ago, I had recently been a guest on the Nightmare Junkhead podcast to talk about the then-new 2019 Hellboy movie from director Neil Marshall. Since then, I have not revisited the movie even once, which probably tells you all about the flick’s quality that you’ll ever need to know.

As has been a recurring theme of late, it feels indescribably surreal to discuss events at once so temporally near and yet which feel so impossibly distant. I saw Greg and Jenius (altogether too briefly) at Panic Fest, for the first time since October of last year and, before that, the last time I had seen them might well have been the October before.

This is all coming up because tonight is Walpurgisnacht, perhaps the closest thing we have to a second Halloween in the middle of the spring. “Walpurgisnacht” is also the title of one of my more popular stories, which originally saw print in the Laird Barron tribute antho Children of Old Leech and was later reprinted in my second collection, Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts, which came out lo these six years gone by.

Interestingly, I was reminded of that story recently for reasons other than the date. I’ve been reading the latest Junji Ito manga to receive English-language release, Lovesickness, and the title story in that volume discusses the phenomenon of the Brocken spectre, which figures heavily in my tale, taking place, as it does, atop the peak from which the phenomenon takes its name.

I don’t have any big plans for the occasion this year. Maybe I’ll play a solo game of Cursed City if I become extremely ambitious. More likely, I’ll just work until late and then watch a witchy devil movie like Curse of the Demon, City of the Dead, or Curse of the Crimson Altar. How are you celebrating witch’s night?

The benighted year that is 2020 has given us a great many things, almost all of them bad. But it has also given us not one but two collections-in-translation from the “Belgian Poe” himself, Jean Ray (actually one of the numerous pseudonyms of Raymundus Joannes Maria de Kremer) courtesy of translator Scott Nicolay, bringing the total of Nicolay’s translations of Ray’s work into English to four volumes, all available from Wakefield Press.

When writing about Cruise of Shadows, the second collection and, to this point, maybe the best, I said that Scott was doing the proverbial Lord’s work, and that remains true. In fact, enough can’t possibly be said about the translation job he does here, which goes far beyond translation and into the realm of annotation, providing extensive translator’s notes that fix historical precedent, explain unusual turns of phrase, and expound upon Ray’s many instances of wordplay and allusion.

The other thing that Scott does is to provide (also extensive) afterwords that help to fix the book in question not merely in history or in the timeline of Ray’s career, but as it relates to the specific field of weird fiction. As Scott rightly points out in the afterword of Circles of Dread, the latest translation and maybe my favorite to date, though we’ll get to that in a minute, the notion of weird fiction as a mode didn’t really exist yet at the time that Ray was writing.

Nevertheless, Scott identifies only two of the stories in Circles of Dread as being capital-W Weird, and, given that he’s the Ray scholar of the two of us, I’m certainly not going to argue with him. Ray’s undisputed masterpieces of the weird fiction mode are the two stories that anchored Cruise of Shadows, “The Gloomy Alley” and “The Mainz Psalter,” but some of his other tales, including “The Marlyweck Cemetery” in Circles of Dread, certainly deserve to rub shoulders with them.

But I said up above that this was maybe my favorite of the four Wakefield Press collections so far released, and that is because – regardless of the number of Weird tales contained herein or not – just about every story in Circles of Dread is a masterpiece of the gothic and macabre, and one that only Ray could have written.

Indeed, tales like “The Moustiers Plate” are so fanciful as to almost rub up against something like magical realism, while others, such as the inspiring “Hand of Gotz von Berlichingen” which opens the collection are nearly traditional ghost stories, but told in the always indirect way in which Ray specialized and which Scott calls “punching around corners” in his afterword.

Writing about Cruise of Shadows, I said that, “The majesty of Ray’s prose is in its ability to conjure – not a clear image of a thing, but a clear feeling of it.” That’s true here, as well, and while these stories (“Marlyweck Cemetery” notwithstanding) may be less Weird than those, they’re no less masterful, and I love a good ghost story, gothic tale, or supernatural yarn as much as any Weird fiction.

And these are about as good as they come.

“One can ask only so much of possessed alchemical objects.”

Yesterday was the official book birthday for It Came from the Multiplex, an anthology of stories inspired by ’80s midnight movies and the places where we watched them, edited by Josh Viola and released by Hex Publishing.

Back when I was first approached to contribute a story for this anthology, the plan was to release it in tandem with the Colorado Festival of Horror. Then 2020 happened. But, even if we’re stuck in our homes, menaced by an invisible threat and devastated by natural disasters, at least you can still read about movies and monsters and monster movies.

My story “Screen Haunt” follows a filmmaker whose best friend vanished years ago, making a movie inspired by notes in her missing friend’s journal, and maybe conjuring up more than just memories.

I’m far from the only name in the credits, though. My story is joined by tales from the likes of Betty Rocksteady, Stephen Graham Jones, Mario Acevedo, Steve Rasnic Tem, and others. Plus, the book looks amazing, with a cover by AJ Nazzaro and interior illustrations by Xander Smith.

While some copies have already made their way out into the world, you can order yours now by clicking right here.

Speaking of great-looking books, Word Horde always puts ’em out, and now you can try an impressive sampling of their titles, including my own Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales, on the cheap – while also supporting Planned Parenthood, if you feel like it!

I haven’t read all of the books included in this impressive Storybundle, curated by Molly Tanzer, but I can vouch for Word Horde, in general, and tell you that everything I have read from them has been imminently worth your time. (And I’m not just saying that because they often publish my stuff.)

Paying just $5 gets you a pretty nice spread, including John Langan’s must-read epic novel of cosmic horror, The Fisherman, as well as Nadia Bulkin’s bombshell of a collection, She Said Destroy, and three other titles.

For the full effect, though, and to snag a copy of Guignol, you’ll only need to pony up $15, which will get you Kristi DeMeester’s Beneath, Tony McMillen’s An Augmented Fourth, Scott R. Jones’ Stonefish, Livia Llewellyn’s Furnace, Molly Tanzer’s Vermillion, and others. It’s a hell of a deal, and should keep you in good, shivery stories long into the night for many nights ahead.

Speaking, as I was back toward the beginning of this post, of film festivals, we’re coming up on the Halloween season, and with it the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival and CthulhuCon. Normally, I try to make it out to the show, an event I love so much that it features prominently in the opening story of Guignol, but this year, the show is going online instead of in person, which has the advantage, for everyone who can’t make it out to Portland (which is currently on fire anyway), of being much easier to attend.

If you want to get your tickets and support some cool, weird cinema, you can do so by hitting up their Kickstarter, which is live as I write this. Because of the streaming nature of the event, airtime is at a premium, so I am not currently planning to do any panels or readings this year, though that’s subject to possible change.

What I am hoping to be involved in is the Screenland Armour’s annual Shocktober programming, which will be happening via a dynamic and mixed methodology in order to try to still have Halloween in the midst of social distancing.

I’ll have more news on that as it develops, but for Kansas City readers of “Screen Haunt” in It Came from the Multiplex, let’s just say that the Galileo theatre in that story may seem pretty familiar to devotees of the Screenland…

Scott Nicolay is doing the proverbial lord’s work in translating the weird, short fiction of prolific Belgian author Jean Ray (not getting into his many pseudonyms, of which this is actually one) into English.

In this game, we talk a lot about H.P. Lovecraft and less than we should about folks like William Hope Hodgson, Manly Wade Wellman, M.R. James, E.F. Benson, Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood, and the like. But even they get more attention in the anglophone weird fiction community than Ray, whose work deserves every bit as much good press as any of their number, in my humble estimation.

My introduction to Jean Ray may well have been the two stories that wrap up Cruise of Shadows, Ray’s second collection to receive English-language translation by Nicolay. These stories, “The Gloomy Alley” (under its alternate English translation “The Shadowy Street”) and “The Mainz Psalter” were previously reprinted in English in Ann and Jeff VanderMeer’s The Weird.

tumblr_m1xz59FxVZ1qf0717o1_500From there, I read everything I could conveniently get my hands on in translation, which mostly amounted to the old paperback of Ghouls in My Grave (pretty much the only Ray collection available in English for a long time) and Ray’s brilliant weird novel Malpertuis, one of those extremely rare long-form masterpieces of the capital-W Weird.

In fact, I even tracked down the (weird, indeed, but also more than a little disappointing) 1971 film version of Malpertuis, featuring an aging Orson Welles.

From that minuscule aperture into his oeuvre, I could tell that Jean Ray was a classic Weird writer quite unlike any other I had ever read. I was hooked and had to have more, but, being relatively poor and unable to read French, my options were limited. That is, until Wakefield Press began putting out this indispensable series of Jean Ray collections, in new translations by Scott Nicolay.

The previous volume, Whiskey Tales, was a rare jewel for someone like me, who was already thirsty for more Jean Ray stories. But, though it made Ray’s reputation in his native language – a reputation that was shortly ruined when he went to prison – it has less to offer those who are not already aficionados of the weird and macabre or fans of “the Belgian Poe,” as Ray was sometimes called.

There are classic stories of the weird and ghostly in Whiskey Tales, to be sure, including one which had appeared in Ghouls in My Grave under the title “The Cemetery Watchman,” which Nicolay’s translation renders as “The Cemetery Guard,” but many of the stories are little more than vignettes, and while all share the unmistakable absurdity and melancholy of Ray’s voice, several lack any overt supernatural element.

In his translator’s afterword, Nicolay makes the argument that Cruise of Shadows may be Ray’s masterwork of the Weird, and I would not be disinclined to agree. All of the stories in Cruise are longer, more refined, and more overtly supernatural than many of those in Whiskey Tales. The virulent antisemitism that marred those earlier stories is here also at least deflated somewhat, if not gone completely.

The joy of reading Ray is, in no small part, the joy that he takes in language, and Nicolay retains that joy in his translations. Even the three stories in this latest volume that I had read before felt fresh and new here, not least because, in “The Mainz Psalter” – possibly Ray ‘s most famous short – there is an entire section that is newly reinstated that was not present in the previous translation.

Accompanying each of the stories are extensive translator’s notes that help to explain the idiosyncrasies of the language and to supply context for the tales. For all their many allusions to things of the day, their intentional archaisms, and so on, these tales feel vital and fresh and modern in ways that make Ray’s contemporaries – including Lovecraft, to whose writing I mean no slight here – feel old-fashioned and straightforward by comparison.

Ray’s writing is conversational. These are – often literally – tales told in bars, spoken by tongues loosened by drink. They take circuitous routes, become infected by the obsessions, the whims, the tics, and the cul-de-sacs of their narrators. In many ways, this very circumlocution grants the stories much of their weird power.

The majesty of Ray’s prose is in its ability to conjure – not a clear image of a thing, but a clear feeling of it. An atmosphere – oppressive, claustrophobic, inescapably strange – that is called forth like a poet, out of a handful of allusions and carefully-chosen words.

All of the stories in Cruise of Shadows demonstrate Ray’s mastery of that ineffably weird, almost absurd atmosphere that is, at every moment, teetering on the brink of tipping over into comedy, which makes its icy fingers all the more chilling.

The famous diptych that closes out the collection – “The Gloomy Alley” and “The Mainz Psalter” – may be Ray at his best, but my favorite among the new-to-me stories in this volume was probably “Mondschein-Dampfer,” which Scott Nicolay also singled out as his favorite of the bunch.

The “deal with the devil” motif is a favorite of mine, and the mephistophelean moment of that deal in this story is one of the best of its kind I’ve ever read. Others offer similarly uncanny moments, including the delightfully spooky “The Last Guest,” which was previously translated as “The Last Traveler” in Ghouls in My Grave, and “Durer, the Idiot,” which, along with “The Gloomy Alley,” seems to prefigure some of what Ray would later get up to in Malpertuis.

For fans of Weird fiction or “the Belgian Poe,” both of these volumes (and all others that are forthcoming) are must-haves. For those whose affections toward the genre are more diffident or who are simply new to the works of Jean Ray, I would recommend starting with Cruise of Shadows. Then, once you’re hooked, you won’t be able to get enough.

 

Let us not bury the lede here: There is just over a week left to pre-order Revenge of Monsters from the VaultYou can get it direct from the publisher, avoid putting money in Amazon’s pocket by putting a little extra in mine, and get some special deals that you won’t be able to get any other way. If you’re planning to order, pre-ordering now is definitely the best way to do it! Go forth! Click!

It has obviously been a little while since I updated here. I didn’t post any kind of wrap-up of the Outer Dark Symposium on the Greater Weird in Atlanta because, frankly, the trip was a bit of a whirlwind, and I’m just now getting more-or-less fully recovered. Tyler Unsell of Signal Horizon and I drove overnight to get there, had a full day of programming, and then drove all day coming back. Not an ideal itinerary for restful cogitation.

Highlights, of course, include the various panels and readings of the Symposium itself, meeting Ben Thomas for the first time face-to-skull, hanging out with old friends like Jesse and Selena, and, of course, the Silver Scream FX lab where the Symposium was held, which was piled to the brim with monsters and magicians. Any more in-depth an exploration is simply beyond my capabilities at present.

monsters single coverI managed to come home without loading up on too many books, though I did pick up a copy of Whiskey Tales. I’ve been a fan of Jean Ray’s weird fiction ever since reading “The Mainz Psalter” and his classic weird novel Malpertuis, and I have been frustrated by the paucity of Ray stories that have been readily available in English, so it was with great pleasure that I learned that Scott Nicolay was taking it upon himself to translate the body of that writer’s collection of tales of the fantastique and with equal enjoyment that I read through this first installment, even if the stories themselves are a tad more prosaic than his more famous works–and a lot more anti-Semitic, more’s the pity.

In the time since my return from Atlanta, several things have happened that are worth noting, at least in brief. For starters, I received the gargantuan box containing the first part of my Hellboy boardgame, which I Kickstarted from Mantic Games some time ago. The box is as enormous as predicted, and filled with room tiles, miniatures, delightful cards, and all manner of fun stuff. To date, I’ve only essayed a couple of missions, but it has been a great deal of fun so far.

Speaking of all things Hellboy, well, there are lots of things Hellboy to speak of. Hellboy Day, marking the 25th anniversary of the series, happened while I was in Atlanta, and I was forced to miss the festivities, though I marked them as best I was able with an essay in appreciation of Mignola’s work that is included in the Symposium program book, alongside an illustration by Mignola himself.

Then, last weekend, the latest attempt at transposing the comics onto the big screen, this time helmed by Neil Marshall, hit theaters. So of course I went to see it. My reaction was… complicated. If that’s not enough of me rambling about it, you’ll be able to hear more when I’m a guest on the Nightmare Junkhead podcast soon, where we’ll be talking about the movie.

What’s more, yesterday saw the publication of the last issue of the regular B.P.R.D. series, which rings down the curtain on at least the “present day” of the Mignolaverse titles. There’s plenty of “Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.”-style adventures still left to see print, I’m sure, but this is certainly the end of an era, and it was delivered with sufficient pomp and circumstance.

I also published a few more reviews of older films for Signal Horizon and have penned more that are forthcoming over at Unwinnable, and I appeared on Monster Kid Radio talking about The Vampire Doll. If you like what you hear there, The Vampire Doll is just one of the many, many, many classic (and not-so-classic) monster movies I cover in Revenge of Monsters from the Vault, which, once again, you can pre-order right now!

Were you ever watching, say, a late-era Friday the 13th sequel only to find yourself thinking, “This could really use a lot more alien abductions/occult conspiracy theories/apocalyptic visions/nefarious cults/metafictional tangents”? Well, have I got a book for you!

file_2957e4f480_400wThe elevator pitch for Camp Ghoul Mountain Part VI by Jonathan Raab would probably sound something like, “What if Stephen Graham Jones was hired to write Cabin in the Woods but specifically for late-era slasher sequels?” But that logline, while descriptive enough, is also unnecessarily reductive. It leaves out the particular affinity that Raab has for high strange weirdness, for ufology, for apocalyptic conspiracy theories, dire warnings about the American Nightmare and “tragedy in Babylon.” Without that affinity, this could feel like a pastiche, but with it, the book transforms, sometimes subtly and sometimes not-so-subtly, into something else altogether.

If you don’t already know what high strange weirdness is, don’t worry, you will before you’re done reading Camp Ghoul Mountain. While nominally a novelization of the sixth installment in a fictitious (or is it?) slasher franchise, Camp Ghoul Mountain breaks up that flow with footnotes and intertextual chapters detailing the troubled production history of the film, the cast and crew’s odd encounters with strange lights in the Colorado sky, its unlikely success as a midnight movie mainstay, and Raab’s own struggles in adapting the film to novel format–all of which are, of course, as much a part of the story as anything that happens “on screen.”

If you come to Camp Ghoul Mountain looking for a straightforward narrative, there are plenty of opportunities to be disappointed. The stakes are suitably apocalyptic, but also necessarily uncertain, in keeping with the book’s chosen form. This may frustrate some, but for the book’s target audience, like myself, it’s a feature, not a bug.

Similarly, the writing, especially in the “novelization” chapters, is rarely showy, and often pedestrian. This works to help you feel like you really are reading an adaptation of a relatively formulaic slasher flick, and Raab is ready to break out into more evocative prose when things start to get really strange, such as this encounter in the dark woods midway through the book, “More movement ahead, darkness unfolding from upon itself, a great writhing mass of shadow as what could only be limbs moved through the night air with deliberate patience, followed by the soft impacts of great flesh-wrapped trunks of bone stomping along the ground.”

For those who can enjoy the bloody camp of a slasher flick but might enjoy it a little more if things got a whole lot weirder before all was said and done, Camp Ghoul Mountain Part VI: The Official Novelization is a ride like no other.