joysilence: (Purple and Smirky)
[personal profile] joysilence
In my last post I said I was going to review David Rix's Eibonvale Press novel What The Giants Were Saying, so here is the promised (though possibly not much awaited) thoughtsplurge.

David Rix is the proprietor and general headperson of Eibonvale, and has been publishing his own work alongside a roster of other writers' for a few years now. In days of yore, the term "self-published" would have set alarm-bells ringing in my head, redolent as it is of vanity publishing and delusions of literary greatness entirely unsupported by fact. But over the last decade there has been something of a sea-change in genre fiction. As mainstream publishers have become increasingly unwilling to take a punt on any original new horror/supernatural writing (unless, of course, it's some juiceless pastiche penned by a "proper" writer from the literary establishment) and modern technology has made desktop publishing easier and cheaper, many genuinely talented authors overlooked by the big publishers have decided to "self-publish and be damned". This seems to be especially common among authors of innovative weird fiction that experiments with the boundaries of the horror novel, such as Quentin S. Crisp, whose last novel Remember You're A One-Ball" was self-published, and none the worse for it! So I tried to approach Rix's book with an open mind, which wasn't all that difficult given the high quality of the tales he's submitted to the Tartarus Press Strange Stories series. I especially loved his novella-length effort "The Magpies", which dabbled in strange new themes amid the Dartmoor landscape but displayed the sort of confident writing it takes good old-fashioned technical expertise to pull off.

Out on the wild and windy moors... )

In short, I shall definitely be keeping a look-out for more David Rix! And a subsidiary "well done" to Tartarus for including him in their anthologies when it seems the major publishing houses are happier to wallow in the Meyer of paranormal romance [SEE WHAT I JUST DID THERE?]and third-rate faux Victoriana.
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[personal profile] joysilence
LJ-SEC: (ORIGINALLY POSTED BY [personal profile] dfordoom)

Paul Féval was a frighteningly prolific French author of roman-feuilletons, novels published in serial form which enjoyed enormous popularity in the 19th century. Most of Féval’s work could perhaps best be classified as crime melodrama but he dabbled in the gothic as well, with books like the amazingly strange The Vampire Countess, published around 1855.

read more )

joysilence: (Manhunter)
[personal profile] joysilence
I have recently discovered the small publisher of weird and slipstream fiction Eibonvale Press. I bought a couple of paperbacks from them - What The Giants Were Saying by David Rix (I'll post about him later) and Nina Allan's short story collection A Thread of Truth. I was especially keen to read the Allan book as I've been greatly tempted by samples of her work in various horror magazines and anthologies recently. Eibonvale's prices are also pretty tempting - they seem to be aiming for the impoverished student market rather than the collector of luxury first editions. This means typos and slightly amateurish (though enthusiastic and original!) jacket art, but it also means I paid less than a tenner for these books, so I can definitely put up with the lack of luxury. In any case the binding and paper are pretty solid - we're not talking Wordsworth cheap-and-nasty here. But enough about the carapace and onto the interior.

The Truth, The Whole Truth and Nothing Oh Alright I'll Get My Coat )

This collection is a few years old now, and so doesn't contain her recent excellent story "The Lammas Worm" (which deserves to become a classic of the genre) but that one's been in several big horror anthologies recently anyway! And several stories in this early collection of Allan's work more than approach the greatness of her recent stories. Not that I've read many of the really recent ones! I really must buy more books. I don't need to eat every week surely.
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[personal profile] joysilence
LJ-SEC: (ORIGINALLY POSTED BY [personal profile] dfordoom)

This one’s not quite horror, but Vampires of Mars does contains several kinds of vampires and it’s definitely non-mainstream, and it dates from 1908, so people here may be interested.

read more )

Blog Query

Feb. 3rd, 2011 12:29 am
joysilence: (Default)
[personal profile] joysilence
As we all know, Livejournal has been sliding slowly downhill for several years. Over the past year I've got fed up of its owners' money-grabbing antics and tolerance of spam and have decided to take Darkling Tales to the "blogosphere" by setting up a DT blog! This would also have the advantage of allowing people who aren't registered with LJ to comment on it - a few times people have got in touch with me to say they wanted to comment on DT but couldn't! I'm not abandoning LJ completely though, and even when the blog is up and running I will still be cross-posting here for as long as there is a demand for it!

Anyway, I've created both Wordpress and Blogspot blogs (to be used with Disqus for more flexible commenting), but there's nothing in either yet as I'm still not sure which is the best blog provider of the two. I know a lot of you have blogs, so can you advise? Or perhaps you can suggest a different provider altogether? Thanks! And let me know if you would be interested in contributing to the blog - I know some of you post regularly here so it's conceivable that you might want to post to the blog too!
joysilence: (Cat ghosts)
[personal profile] joysilence
While browsing the Journal of Dracula Studies recently, I came upon a rave review by Nikki White of a vampire novel called Fangland by John Marks. She claimed the novel was a refreshing update of the Dracula myth, with some fine descriptions of modern-day Eastern Europe. The latter consideration was what did it for me - like most Westerners I know very little about life on the other side of the Iron Curtain (as was), but what little I have heard has intrigued me, so I was anxious to find out more about countries like Romania and Albania, beyond the horrors showcased in films like Severanz. A few mouse clicks and a protracted postal interlude later, I had a copy in my hot little hands.

Some minor spoilers )

I probably wouldn't bother with this book unless you are a hardcore lover of vampire fiction. It's a shame to see Marks set up so many opportunities for himself - all those original ideas! - only to have them fall through when the writing quality fails to do justice to the plot. Let's hope Marks develops into a better writer with time!
joysilence: (Little Owlowl)
[personal profile] joysilence
Readers of my post about The Owl Service will be aware that Alan Garner is a jolly good author. Recently I tried two more of his books: 1981's Red Shift and his latest novel, the much more recent Thursbitch. (Both links are to reviews, the second one by the mighty M John Harrison!)

Red Shift )

Thursbitch )

Unlike The Owl Service (which remains my favourite Garner book) I wouldn't recommend either Red Shift or Thursbitch to everyone. There is no exciting supernatural plot like in The Owl Service and to really enjoy them you'd need an abiding love of nature and an interest in the pagan history of our isle to see you through these at times rather challenging novels. But they do reward the careful reader with a unique vision of a special part of Britain and some trenchant psychological and social insights. Where Thursbitch is concerned, I recommend you buy the hardback second-hand as it is very nicely made with a pretty jacket, and should only be a couple of quid via the Fantastic Fiction website! While you wait for it to arrive, you can look at some pictures of the featured countryside here on the unofficial Alan Garner website - quite apart from anything else, it'll really help you make sense of some of the descriptions of weirdly-shaped rocks and gives you a better picture of the lie of the land!
joysilence: (I'm living in a neon house)
[personal profile] joysilence
I've just read two more novels by Christopher Fowler, Rune and Red Bride. A brace of Fowlers if you like. Here is what I thought:

Rune )

Red Bride )

There you have it - these Fowlers are definitely no turkeys [see what i just did there?] and I recommend them both.
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[personal profile] joysilence
LJ-SEC: (ORIGINALLY POSTED BY [profile] pgmcc)



I was recently introduced to Stefan Grabinski and have just read his collection of dark stories, The Dark Domain.

He has been called the Polish Poe. On the face of it the only similarity with Poe is the era and the style. His stories are different, and follow a slightly different path from that tred by his North American counterpart.

The stories cover a range of topics and several of them deal with trains. His writing is very atmospheric and I thought some of his themes were like some Ligotti tales. In several stories the demon comes from within, but how he brings them out varies.

I am glad someone told me I should read his work.
joysilence: (Great Horned Owl (bubo virginianus))
[personal profile] joysilence
Well, since January is fast running out I suppose I'd better post my thoughts on 2010's Best Horror of the Year vols 1&2, edited by Ellen Datlow. Datlow, like Jones, is an editor who's been on the scene for decades now. Some of her previous collections are terrific (the mixed-bag anthology The Dark), some less so (her collection of non-sanguinary vampire stories Blood is not Enough was disappointingly dry and bloodless, if you'll forgive the atrocious pun.) And, unlike some editors I could mention, you never know what you're going to get with a Datlow anthology. So I was quite excited when I embarked on reading these two volumes. They certainly look nice - good-quality paper and bindings, with stylish illustrations based on old woodcuts, far removed from the satanic moles and exploding heads marring too many horror collections! But what's inside?

Vol.1 )

Vol. 2 )

So there you have it - for my money, you'd do best buying Volume 2 and leaving Volume 1 well alone this year. It's a shame Datlow felt the need to stretch to two volumes and didn't just put out one anthology composed of the best stories of both volumes, as that would've been terrific!
joysilence: (Diana Rigg by "softlyspoken")
[personal profile] joysilence
Well, with 2010 just over it seems like as good a time as any to review the 21st Mammoth Book of Best New Horror, the latest book in the long-running series edited by Stephen Jones (see linked page for a list of contents). Last year's Best New Horror was exceptionally good, and I didn't really expect number 21 to live up to that standard. But in fact, the quality is still there. Its contents list almost reads like a round-up of all my favourite ghost story authors working at the moment - Reggie Oliver, John Gaskin, Terry Dowling and more!

The Oliver story, "The Game of 'Bear'", may be of especial interest to lovers of M R James, as it is a completed version of an unfinished James story. We all know how tiresome pseudo-Jamesian authors can be, with their unconvincing period lingo and excessive nostalgia, but Oliver actually manages a credible "impersonation" of James and I certainly didn't notice the join, if you know what I mean. It's not the most terrifying piece of Jamesiana I've ever read, but it's frightening enough and makes good use of that underused source of quiet horror, the Victorian cautionary childrens' tale. The Gaskin story "Party Talk" visits a Jamesian landscape of graveyards and mouldering relics that should on no account be brought into the house, but with a convincing twist of "womens' issues" making it read more like an updated Mary Elizabeth Braddon or Elizabeth Gaskell story (which is high praise!) Another great "old-school" story is "The Axholme Toll" by Mark Valentine, in which a reclusive writer delves into the past of the inland island of Axholme in Lincolnshire and its links with the murderers of Thomas Beckett. It contains several very creepy moments (all the more so for being rooted in historical fact!), but what makes it outstanding is Valentine's finely developed sense of the past (which never descends into syrupy nostalgia) and fund of weird local lore.

All the authors I've just mentioned are British, and indeed the Brits seem to have taken over this year, with the large majority of tales coming from my native land. However, there are a few tales from abroad, and several of the stories have a pleasantly exotic, travelogue feel about them. A couple are taken from a recent anthology called Exotic Gothic 3: Strange Visitations (which I may well have to buy!) Simon Kurt Unsworth's "Mami Wata" is an interesting rejig of an old Zambian legend situated in a modern-day Zambian mine, and Terry Dowling's "Two Steps Along The Road" offers a haunting visit to a remote corner of rural Vietnam, where one of fiction's less annoying "psychic investigators" is summoned to look into a case of possession. Meanwhile, Simon Strantzas' eerily beautiful "Cold to the Touch" takes us on a trek through the snowy tundra of the Arctic, where a devout Christian scientist finds his faith tested to the utmost by an enigmatic circle of standing stones. It's quite the world tour!

Fortunately, Jones has refrained from including the usual mediocre stories by Kim Newman and Neil Gaiman this year. But that doesn't mean the collection is entirely clunker-free! It is perhaps telling that the worst stories in the book have been written by the biggest names in horror. Stephen King and his spawn Joe Hill have collaborated to spew forth a truly wretched tale called "Throttle", which purports to be a homage to Richard Matheson's excellent story "Duel". It's nowhere near as good as "Duel", and is crammed with mawkish father-and-son sentimentality and nostalgia for, of all things, the Vietnam war. King has been getting very uppity lately, vehemently criticising other authors in a series of pot/kettle scenarios, and I think it's time he was put out to pasture. "Throttle" wouldn't have even got published if it hadn't had "King" on it. I don't like Hill much either, I think he's a misogynist and a lazy writer, but that's a whole other rant.

Equally disappointing is Ramsey Campbell's "Respects", about a lonely widow haunted by flowers in the wake of a young neighbour's death during a police chase. It's typical, predictable Campbell fare, and it is made more unpalatable than usual by the vicious stereotyping of the "chav" characters who harangue the widow in a horrendously two-dimensional fashion, spouting cliches left right and center. It's not the flowers that are the bogeyman in "Respects", it's the single mum and her brood of feral children, and I found the overt snobbery and hatred of the working class far more terrifying than anything else in the story! Campbell is another repeat offender who could really do with a rest, and he hits a new low with this tale.

More generally, I was disappointed by how small the book is this year! Perhaps it's a symptom of the destructive impact of the recession on horror publishing (genre imprints tend to be the first to get the chop when publishing houses start to fail..) But quality is more important than quantity, and it's good to see that the cream of the crop are still out there writing great stories! I would've liked to see a story by Steve Duffy, who has two new collections out, and there are a few too many appearances from stories I've read before in other collections, but the new stuff is easily good enough to justify the expenditure of the £5-£10 price! If I were you I would put Best New Horror 21 somewhere near the top of my wish-list!
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[personal profile] joysilence
LJ-SEC: (ORIGINALLY POSTED BY [personal profile] dfordoom)

Pierre-Alexis Ponson du Terrail enjoyed immense popularity in mid-19th century France. This was the great age of the romans feuilletons, potboilers published in serial form. Rocambole was his best-known work. The Vampire and the Devil’s Son (La Baronne trépassée) which appeared in book form in 1852 is of exceptional interest.

read more )

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[personal profile] joysilence
LJ-SEC: (ORIGINALLY POSTED BY [personal profile] dfordoom)

Jean Ray’s 1943 novel Malpertuis is a strange little book indeed. It’s not immediately obvious wherein lies the strangeness, but don’t despair. If you like weirdness, there’s plenty of that to come.

read more )

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LJ-SEC: (ORIGINALLY POSTED BY [personal profile] dfordoom)

One doesn’t normally think of decadent literature and the detective story as having very much in common with each other. Be that as it may, somehow or other M. P. Shiel managed to combine the two in his Prince Zaleski stories.

read more )



x-posted to [community profile] vintage_crime
joysilence: (Nite Owl)
[personal profile] joysilence
In my last post I mentioned W.F. Harvey as a close literary relation of John Metcalfe. As luck would have it, I stumbled on Harvey's "The Beast With Five Fingers" last week (the old Dent edition, not the longer collection of the same name by Wordsworth.) It contains a generous 20 stories, only three of which I'd ever seen anthologised before! ("The Clock", "Across The Moors" and "August Heat" and "Miss Cornelius", for pedantry's sake.)

The bore with five paragraphs )

So, a great collection and well worth the couple of quid I paid for it! Of course, the Wordsworth collection is longer (according to an Amazon reviewer, there are over fourty stories in it! Fourty!) and doubtless just as cost-effective, but you can't beat a pre-war paperback for charm, I always say. The Dent edition also has a rather nice introduction by Maurice Richardson, a leading critic of the day, who has taken the trouble to arrange the stories in such a way as to create two dramatic peaks, apparently. Richardson dips into the Freudian concept of the "unheimlich", but does not linger in Sigmundland for too long, thankfully (in any case, it was Jung he should really have been citing...) That said, it's interesting to compare our modern psychological terms with the vocabulary of Richardson's time - for instance, "hysteria" seems to have been a catch-all term for anything from severe anxiety to outright sociopathy! Of course, Harvey avoids all such jargon, so the tales themselves don't seem dated at all - so I suppose that's writers 1, critics 0! The Introduction also contains a lot of interesting information about Harvey's life and past as a war hero. I was disturbed to find that "The Dabblers" is based on a true story though...
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[personal profile] joysilence
LJ-SEC: (ORIGINALLY POSTED BY [personal profile] dfordoom)

Wordsworth Editions’ new collection of Aleister Crowley’s short fiction, The Drug and Other Stories, is a very mixed bag indeed. The good news is that it contains some strange and wondrous gems.

read more )

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[personal profile] joysilence
LJ-SEC: (ORIGINALLY POSTED BY [personal profile] dfordoom)

Edith Nesbit is best known as a Victorian author of children's stories, most notably The Railway Children. She was also one of the most interesting writers of ghost stories and gothic tales of her day.

read more )

joysilence: (Pretentious Old Goths Are Go)
[personal profile] joysilence
I've just come across another academic journal that may be of interest to supernatural fiction fans: the Journal of Dracula Studies, which obviously covers Bram Stoker's vampirey novel from every angle imaginable. It's in a slightly unusual format - a Wiki page linking to a host of essays in rtf. format, to be read in Word or a similar programme - but don't let that put you off! My favourite essay so far is Elizabeth Miller's Coffin Nails: Smokers and Non-Smokers in "Dracula", which explores the fact that all "marginalised" characters in the novel (i.e. vampires and lunatics) just happen to be non-smokers, while the heroes and heroines puff away like splendid, upstanding young chimneys throughout. Of course I could have told you myself that anti-smoking crusaders are evil and bonkers and headed for Hell, but I suspect that Miller's axe-grinding is more sophisticated and readable than my own ;)
joysilence: (Owl from the silvergoth)
[personal profile] joysilence
Does anyone remember those old 50s "Century" anthologies (A Century of Horror, A Century of Creepy Stories etc.) - great big fat red books packed with good stories from the leading horror authors of the day, and (nominally) edited by the likes of Hugh Walpole and Dennis Wheatley? I remember many happy hours wading through these massive books as a child, and one story that especially marked me was the John Metcalfe story "Mortmain" from the Second Century of Creepy Stories. Ever since I began buying fiction over the internet I've been keeping an eye open for affordable Metcalfe books. Annoyingly, although he is barely remembered by the mainstream horror-reading public, Metcalfe still seems to have a devoted fanbase today - devoted enough to push prices for Metcalfe collections such as Nightmare Jack and The Feasting Dead well over the £100 barrier! But the other week I finally lit on a cheap copy of his collection The Smoking Leg, courtesy of Cold Tonnage Press. It was a 60s ex-library copy from Georgia with zero re-sell value, so it only cost a few quid! So here is a little review of the book.

Some more thoughts )

All in all, The Smoking Leg is not a collection of cosy round-the-fire tales, but it has much to interest the lover of "strange stories" a la W.F. Harvey, William Sansom or John Collier. (If you want a taster, you can read "The Bad Lands" here at Horrormasters.com!). It would be nice to see a cheapo Wordsworth reissue of this book and his other anthologies!
joysilence: (Toyah! Ownage!)
[personal profile] joysilence
Do we have any fans of Margaret Irwin here? She's a very well-respected author of historical novels with a romantic flavour, who churned out large numbers of such books between 1920 and 1954 or so (I think her most famous one is Young Bess, about a young Elizabeth I.) But she also had a darker side! I have just finished Bloodstock, a mixed bag of Irwin's short supernatural and weird fiction, some romances and a couple of historical tales.

The history girl )

All the stories are characterised by a lightness of touch of the kind you don't see very often these days (I wonder exactly when literature became so serious?)a dry wit and profound insights. Irwin is able to make people from any era of history spring right off the page, as it were, and her hauntings are equally convincing. I've often suspected that a true sense of the past is a key requirement for any supernatural fiction author to possess, so it's not really surprising that an author of historical fiction should do so well! I do think it's a shame that Irwin didn't make more forays into supernatural fiction (I think her only other contribution to the genre is her first ever novel And Still She Wished for Company, which apparently has a plot similar to Charlotte Sometimes, though I've yet to read it.) But what she did write in the genre is definitely worth a look at. And the good news is you can bag a charmingly antiquated 1953 hardback edition of Bloodstock second-hand via Abebooks for just a few pounds!

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