Archive

reading materials

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.

This has been a rough year in the Grey demesne. We started 2018 on a raft of health problems that we rode well into the middle of the year. And even once they were (mostly) resolved–honestly, do health problems ever really get completely resolved?–we spent the rest of the year paying for them. I lost a big paying client. And in spite of my best efforts we still haven’t tunneled into the timeline where Howard the Duck is president.

2076490

On the plus side, though we stand on the cusp of 2019 bruised, battered, and low on health potions, the teeth of the universe haven’t yet torn the charge from our atoms. I ran a game of Iron Kingdoms in 2018, and we just completed out last session. Two of the characters were incapacitated, and one of the two who remained standing was holding on by the narrowest thread. That’s kinda how it feels like we’re going into 2019.

Which is not to say that the year wasn’t full of good things, too. I went to Panic Fest and the Outer Dark Symposium on the Greater Weird, which meant that I got to visit the Winchester Mystery House for the first time. I watched a lot of movies and made some new friends. I found a weird board game in the trash and took a picture of In the Mouth of Madness that I had always wanted to take. I became the Monster Ambassador at Signal Horizon and published stories in seven different venues, including my second appearance in Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year. I had a whole book come out!

Of all the things I’m proud of in 2018, however, I think I’m most proud of the small things I did that were steps outside my comfort zone. I carved jack-o-lanterns at Halloween, made a necklace that I love, and made divinity, an overly sugary candy concoction that I remember fondly from my childhood. I didn’t do any of those things entirely by myself. Grace helped me with all of them, sometimes overtly, as with the divinity, and sometimes just by giving me the confidence I needed to try something that I might not be good at right away.

I watched 269 movies in 2018, 163 of which were new to me, keeping with my goal of watching more new-to-me movies than not each year. Of those, roughly 35 were released in 2018. My biggest months were October with 39 movies and, thanks to a couple of marathon days, December with 33. My favorite movies that were released in 2018 were, in no particular order, ErrementariLowlifeTigers Are Not AfraidAvengers: Infinity WarBlack Panther, and Apostle. There were a lot of movies I really wanted to check out that I haven’t gotten a chance to watch yet. The last movie I watched in 2018 was The Boxer’s Omen (1983), which was a good way to close out this weird and crappy year.

I didn’t read very many books in 2018, but of those I did read my favorite was probably Caleb Wilson’s Polymer, which I recommend very highly. The first book I read in 2018 was Kaibyo: The Supernatural Cats of Japan and the last was Matthew M. Bartlett’s Of Doomful Portent.

There’s probably a lot that I’m forgetting as I pen this end-of-the-year wrap-up, but honestly I’m just in a hurry to show this garbage year the door. Don’t let it hit you in the ass on your way out, 2018!

 

 

It’s the first day of December, which means that I’ve finally started reading Matthew M. Bartlett’s Of Doomful Portent, illustrated by Yves Tourigny, which has been sitting on my shelf, taunting me for some time now. The plan is to do it up like a proper advent calendar and read one story a day from now until Christmas.

18813232_10155351687761085_3256160783227208950_n

In the meantime, for those who can’t get enough of hearing me ramble about movies, you’ll be pleased to know that I’m going to be reviewing a lot more of them in the near future. Most of them won’t be here, however, they’ll be in various other venues, notably Signal Horizon, where I have the title of “Monster Ambassador,” maybe the best business title I have ever gotten, and Unwinnable.

Right now, you can read my recent reviews of the 40th anniversary Blu-ray of Lucio Fulci’s Zombie (which I had never actually seen before) and the Unearthed Films Blu-ray of The Unnamable (which I had also never seen before) over at Signal Horizon, and a double review of Torso and The Wizard of Gore are coming soon to Unwinnable.

If you’re really eager, you can catch up on previous reviews of Blade of the Immortal and Toho’s “Bloodthirsty Trilogy” that I wrote for Unwinnable while you wait.

I haven’t written a review for it anywhere, but if I only convince you to watch one movie in the immediate future, make it Errementari on Netflix. In a year without a Lowlife, Errementari would have no trouble being my favorite film of 2018 so far. As it is, the two are neck-and-neck. For some idea of what Errementari is like, think a Basque version of Pan’s Labyrinth set during the Carlist Wars, with suit actors playing devils that look like medieval drawings. In other words, it is extremely my jam.

As with most people, I’m sure, money is a bit tight as we head into the holiday season. If you happen to have anything to spare that you’d like to throw into my proverbial hat, this is my periodic reminder of my Ko-fi account, where you can help me pay for monster movies or (as is the more likely case of late) vet bills. Or, you can always buy yourself (or someone on your gift list) a copy of Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales or one of my other books. Every sale helps!

Odds are you don’t need me to tell you that 2016 was a rough year. Even leaving aside any political… happenstance, we lost a lot of great people in 2016. Some were losses shared by the world, others hit closer to home. But if I restrict my sights to only those things that were localized entirely within the walls of my house, 2016 was actually a pretty good year. Freelance work picked up considerably from its low point in 2015, Grace got a new job that she is extremely happy with, and I published two books: Monsters from the Vault, a collection of my Vault of Secrets columns from Innsmouth Free Press, and The Cult of Headless Men, a chapbook novelette from Dunhams Manor with an incredible cover by Michael Bukowski.

Since my first collection, Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings had fallen out of print at the end of 2015, this past year also saw the launch of a successful Kickstarter to get it back in print in a deluxe, fully-illustrated hardcover edition featuring killer art from my good friend MS Corley. The new edition is due out sometime this year from Strix Publishing, and should be available for order direct from them for those who missed the Kickstarter.

Following on the heels of the Kickstarter, the last few months of 2016 were a little hectic for me. I ended September with a tonsillectomy, which more or less put me out of commission for the month of October, and then spent November and December writing my first novel in only 53 days! For those who missed the previous announcement, that novel will be a Protectorate of Menoth novel set in the world of the Iron Kingdoms from Privateer Press. It’s the first in a proposed series called Fire & Faith, and the book itself is going to be called Godless. It’s due out later this year. I’ll be posting a lot more about it–and the process of writing it–once things have gone a little farther, but for now you can read a brief interview with me over at their blog.

Over the course of the year, I published only 6 new short stories (not counting The Cult of Headless Men), but I’m pretty proud of all of them. They showed up in venues like Autumn CthulhuSwords v. Cthulhu, Children of LovecraftEternal FrankensteinThe Madness of Dr. Caligari, and Gothic Lovecraft. (Lots of “Lovecraft” and “Cthulhu” titles this year.) Thanks to Children of Lovecraft, I finally got to check my lifelong dream of appearing behind a Mignola cover off my list, and my story from Autumn Cthulhu made the Bram Stoker Award reading list, which I think is a first for me. I also made my debut in the pages of Nightmare magazine, albeit in nonfiction form, writing an entry for their H Word column about creating and consuming horror that isn’t meant to be scary.

I didn’t read very many books in 2016 (a little less than 30, most of them graphic novels), but of those, a few were actually published in 2016 and were legitimately great, perhaps most notably Matthew M. Bartlett’s Creeping Waves and Jon Padgett’s The Secret of Ventriloquism. I was also lucky enough to provide blurbs for a couple of books that came out in 2016, including Pete Rawlik’s most recent addition to his rollicking Wold Newton-ish universe Reanimatrix, and Jonathan Raab’s The Lesser Swamp Gods of Little Dixie. (Though really, with a title like that, why do you need a blurb from me to sell it to you?)

I did watch a lot of movies in 2016, however. 333, to be exact. 47 of those were in the month of October, which is what happens when you have a tonsillectomy and can neither sleep nor do much else besides lay on the couch and watch movies. In continuing my efforts to see more movies that I haven’t seen than ones that I have, 197 of those movies were new-to-me, though of those only about 25 actually came out in 2016. Nothing I saw in 2016 ever managed to beat the first movie that I saw in theatres last year, so The Witch is probably still my favorite movie of the year. Other good ones that I saw include Green Room, I Am Not a Serial Killer, Ouija: Origin of Evil (yeah, I’m as surprised as you are), Captain America: Civil WarThe Nice GuysZootopiaThe Shallows, and the first half of The Autopsy of Jane Doe. The last movie that I watched in 2016 was Blood Diner, and the first one that I watched in 2017 was Cellar Dweller, so that seems about right.

In breaking with my annual tradition, there probably won’t be a Year in Creatures this year because, frankly, I just didn’t see enough movies in 2016 that had creatures in them. The big alien in Independence Day: Resurgence was totally wasted, and besides it and a few ghosts there was, what, a shark and that thing from I Am Not a Serial Killer? I guess Black Phillip would about have to be the Monster of the Year in 2016, though if there are good creatures I’m missing in movies that I didn’t see do please let me know, because I want to track them down!

In 2017 I’m hoping to read more books, which may entail watching fewer movies, but we’ll see how the year pans out. I’ve already picked up my full-weekend pass for Panic Fest this year, so that’s a pile of movies I’ll probably be seeing later this month. There’s a lot of cool stuff in the works for 2017, including that aforementioned novel, so you’ll be hearing from me more down the line. For now, let’s finish kicking the detritus of 2016 to the curb, and set our sights on getting through the next few days, months, and then years.

 

swamps_godsI’m pretty new to the notion of being a big enough deal that anyone would even think that a blurb from me would go any distance toward helping sell their book (and probably still a long ways off from that actually being true). The first book I was ever asked to provide a blurb for was an odd choice, a fascinating nonfiction tome on the confluence of Lovecraft and actual occult practices called, reasonably enough, H.P. Lovecraft and the Black Magickal Tradition. I liked it, and said so, though I imagine that my poor blurb was overshadowed by praise from such luminaries as Cherie Priest, Nick Mamatas, and Richard Gavin, to name a few.

More recently, Jonathan Raab, publisher and proprietor of Muzzleland Press and my co-conspirator on the occasional Creature Feature Conversation, asked me to read his latest novella, The Lesser Swamp Gods of Little Dixie. I was happy to do it, and once again I was happy to provide a blurb, though honestly, between that title and that cover, I doubt most readers of this blog need me to say anything in order to convince them to pick it up. If you do need a little extra push, though, here’s what I had to say about Mr. Raab’s delightful little book:

“It’s all-too-easy for fun stories to sound brainless, or for smart stories to come off as dry. With The Lesser Swamp Gods of Little Dixie, Jonathan Raab walks that tightrope, keeping the humor sharp, the action pulpy, the stakes human, and the weirdness weird, without ever stumbling on one side or the other. A rare gift indeed.”

You don’t have to take my word for it, though. There’s also a glowing recommendation from no less a figure in weird fiction than Christopher Slatsky, whose debut collection Alectryomancer and Other Weird Tales I have on my shelf but haven’t yet gotten the chance to read. Plus, the whole thing’s only $8, and, let’s be honest, you’d probably just waste that money anyway…