"Welcome to Count Gore De Vol's Tomb of Dark Delights. I'm J. L. Comeau, horror writer and resident Tomb Keeper. I have been charged with the daunting task of sorting and cataloging the Count's vast library of horror, science fiction and fantasy. Take a torch from the wall and follow me down the stone stairway into the darkness deep beneath the Dungeon. It's cold and damp down here--perfect for the kind of reading we're going to do. Never mind the shambling figures in the shadows, they're probably just some friends of ours looking for a good book. If you click on the cover, you'll be taken to a wonderful place where you can buy the book.
Now, let's reach into the musty stacks and see what we can find..."
(Clicking on the covers gives you more information and prices from Amazon.com and other outlets.)
With the the passing prolific Scottish author Iain Banks in
2013 I decided to rummage through the Tomb and read more than a dozen of his
superlative novels. He has written a wealth of diverse fiction, including
horror and science fiction, and I thought I would recommend to you the two
novels that first secured me as lifelong fan. Let’s celebrate a rare talent
this week, shall we?
THE WASP FACTORY by Iain Banks
Back before the days of Amazon.com and other online bookstores, I recall driving from book store to book store searching for this obscure and controversial horror novel I had been hearing about through fellow members of a newly formed Horror Writers Association™ (then called H.O.W.L) and word-of-mouth recommendations from like-minded friends. I finally found a copy in a tiny shop called Hole in the Wall books in Falls Church, Virginia (still in operation), and subsequently stopped at the closest restaurant to the shop and dove into the text. I was not disappointed. THE WASP FACTORY is a jaw-dropping gem of psychological horror so audacious in its time that I finished reading it in one day, and then read it again from start to finish again the following day. The story is narrated by a clearly disturbed teen named Frank Cauldhame who lives with his father on a tiny Scottish Island barely tethered to the mainland by a rickety bridge. Frank is awaiting the return of his brother, who has escaped a mental institution and is making his way home leaving a swath of destruction and death in his wake. Poor Frank is not right at all, and he delights in killing animals and people employing unique methods. The Wasp Factory of the title is actually a cunning device Frank has made from a clock that kills wasps in various ways. Frank also has a penchant for constructing explosives, and he delights in making bizarre fetishes out of creatures he’s killed and placing them around the island to fend off…what? Written in such nimble prose, the horrible acts committed by Frank take on a blackly humorous Gothic cast that produces a sense of guilty pleasure to the absolutely horrendous proceedings. This is one of the touchstone novels of my life, a beautifully wrought, claustrophobic and very personal experience. Brilliant is the word for THE WASP FACTORY.
CONSIDER PHLEBAS by Iain M. Banks
Mr. Banks wrote celebrated science fiction as well as mainstream and horror, and he separated his SF writing persona by adding his middle initial to his byline. CONSIDER PHLEBAS is the first in Iain Banks’ Culture series, a monumental space opera that opens in the center of a vicious interstellar war between two galactic empires that each believes their positions and governments are morally superior to the other. We are introduced to the main character, Horza, who personally despises his home government, the Culture, which he feels has placed too much emphasis on artificial intelligence and technology in general, making his confederates lazy and stupid. But when Horza seeks to make an alliance with the Culture’s enemies and fight for a more perfect moral society, he discovers that the enemy, the Idirans, which he has embraced believing them morally superior, are actually a bunch of religious zealots and racially intolerant fanatics adhering to standards of behavior whose origins even they seem to have lost touch with. Horza falls into insane battles he really does not believe in, pin-balling through war and involving himself in situations he cannot imagine could possibly exist. As with the all superior science fiction, Mr. Banks asks universal questions and makes cogent points about humanity and society that are thought-provoking and unsettling. Funny, sly, wise and gritty, CONSIDER PHLEBAS can best be summed up as a techie CATCH 22 in outer space. The Culture series is not to be missed.
Finding a good book can be difficult in these days of self-publishing and
micro-publishing. Often is a good idea to hark back to authors one knows and
can rely upon for quality fiction, so here you go!
A QUIET NIGHT OF FEAR by Charles L. Grant
Who can recall the great hey-days days of horror that saw such great authors as Stephen King and Charles L. Grant emerge from a field of mucky garbage that included really dumb giant crab and rat monster novels? Me! Richard Matheson ushered in a new wave of grand horror storytelling and, as genres tend to do, horror split into distinct sub-genres. Two distinct types of horror emerged in the 1980s, a graphic, gore-drenched style called Splatterpunk, helmed by bad boys Skipp and Spector, and Quiet Horror, a literate, atmospheric style championed by Charles L. Grant and his contemporaries. The late, great Mr. Grant’s chilly brand of terror, exemplified by his award-winning Shadows series of anthologies, ran into the 1990s and included some of the finest horror fiction of its day. His collection of novellas entitled Nightmare Seasons won the world Fantasy Award, and his unforgettable short story, “A Crowd of Shadows” won one of his two Nebula Awards. One of the most talented and versatile genre authors of his generation, Mr. Grant also produced the occasional science fiction/horror hybrid tale such as this, A QUIET NIGHT OF FEAR. In this novel published in 1981, Carole Drake, editor for a large publishing company, finds herself embroiled in a nightmare when she takes a vacation in a seaside resort called Starburst. When vacationers begin dying, it becomes evident that time-travelers are involved and the killer may not be human. Suspenseful and atmospheric, this is a literary treat for fans of “quiet horror.”
BLOOD SACRIFICE by Barry Hoffman
Veteran genre author Barry Hoffman kicks off a brand new thriller series with BLOOD SACRIFICE, a police procedural with supernatural kick. Mr. Hoffman’s trademark minimalist style elevates the terror of this tale of homicide detective, Thea Hughes, who not only faces down society’s killers, but must also face an openly hostile working environment of her interdepartmental colleagues. Thea was the first uncloseted lesbian graduate of her police academy, and the great majority of her working partners want nothing to do with her. Her latest police partner, Ariel, can’t come to terms about anything until they are confronted with a serial killer case. The body of a young runaway whose body was left painted in her own blood becomes the focal investigation lead by Thea and Ariel. Thea becomes involved with another teen runaway named Ali, a young woman with a preternatural ability to heal emotionally damaged people. Ali and Thea come to share an intense bond, but Ali believes she can form an emotional connection with the killer terrorizing the Philadelphia area, hoping to heal the killer, thereby placing her own life in danger. It’s a cat and mouse game that could lead to the death of both Ali and Thea. Former inner-city school teacher Barry Hoffman knows the mean streets where he’s placed his narrative, and the results are riveting. To learn more about the author and to purchase this novel, head on over to www.gauntletpress.com
And, if you think you don’t have time to read? What the heck do you
think you’re doing on Twitter and Facebook? Log off the social networks once in
a while and you’ll have plenty of time for reading these fabulous short tales.
Am I right? Enjoy!
CHILDREN OF NO ONE by Nicole Cushing
What is art? This is an ongoing question that confounds and inflames, but for which no satisfactory answer has ever been established. Author Nicole Cushing has created a horrifying novella that embraces the darkest nature of artistic expression, a “behavioral art” installation that employs kidnapped children as media and a pitch-black labyrinthine underground structure as the canvas. Buried deep beneath the southern Indiana town of Nowhere, a pair of brothers struggles to navigate the cave darkness of the only world they can clearly remember: a pitch-black maze they must navigate to find the food they depend upon for survival whenever they hear a bell ring. It is impossible to memorize the layout of the maze because its makers change the corridor configuration regularly. The monstrous engineer of the maze is a man named Krieg who sells discreet viewings to wealthy patrons with sadistic tastes. Financed by a mysterious Englishman called Mr. No One, the maze draws the most nihilistic consumers of merciless cruelty. In addition to his interest in the art of nihilism, Mr. No One is a practitioner of magick who plans to use the labyrinth as a staging area for an arcane ritual that will summon the God of Nothingness from the Great Dark Mouth. An overarching tone of bleak dread is a coiling serpent that encircles and grips the reader until the final sentence. For more about Ms. Cushing, please visit her online resting place at www.NicoleCushing.com.
BEFORE AND AFTERLIVES by Christopher Barzak
This is a truly masterful retrospective collection of short stories, seventeen shivery delights that surprise, astound and unfailingly satisfy the reader. The theme of the collection is ghosts, but these are no ordinary ghost stories; you’ll find no sheet-draped revenants or moaning specters within these pages. The hauntings you will encounter here are regrets and lost moments, desires and imaginings where we each haunt our own lives. Strange occurrences and beings rove and wend their way through these tales, a boy who is gradually disappearing, a woman who takes home a mermaid she finds on a beach, a humorous take on survival after an apocalypse, bodies transformed by rewritten genes, madness and a familiar girl named Alice, a ghost hunter whose daughter conveniently speaks with the departed, a letter to a deceased friend denying that the death actually occurred, a woman named Angela who is tormented by her doppelgangers, and more. This beautiful volume published by Lethe Press is my introduction to this author’s beautiful dark fantasy fiction, and I am now a solid fan. BEFORE AND AFTERLIVES is filled with wisdom, sly dark humor and humanity rendered with a breathtaking range of tone and structure. These are quietly brilliant stories that I urge everyone who has ever loved a Shirley Jackson tale to read. You may visit the author at www.ChristopherBarzak.com.
To get even more information about these titles, including some of the best prices on the Internet, just click on each of the book covers and you'll be connected to
To visit the individual writer's website, just click on any underlined name.
About the Tomb Keeper (Or, who is this person of mystery)
J. L. (Judy) Comeau is an award winning short story writer whose work has appeared internationally in major horror and dark fantasy anthologies such as the Borderlands series, Best New Horror, The Years' Best Horror, the Hot Blood series, and the Dark Voices series in the UK. She is an active member of the Horror Writer's Association, and she lives in the Washington, DC area where she also teaches short story writing. Click on FIREBIRD to read one of her most anthologized stories.
To learn more about the Horror Writer's Association, just click on their logo!