I’m still sorting through all the books I brought back from the World Fantasy Convention this year (which is kinda par for the course — it usually takes me 4-8 months to unpack from that con). Based on reading time and enjoyment over the past few months, my most productive period of the entire convention was the 10 minutes I spent in the Valancourt Booth.
I’ve already talked about several of the books I purchased there, including Michael McDowell’s The Complete Blackwater Saga and Harry Adam Knight’s The Fungus. But I haven’t yet mentioned Steve Rasnic Tem’s new book Figures Unseen, a fabulous collection of 35 of his best tales, as selected by the author.
In his long career Tem has received the World Fantasy, British Fantasy and Bram Stoker Awards. His novels include Excavation (1987), The Man on the Ceiling (2008, with Melanie Tem) and Blood Kin (2014), and his many collections include City Fishing (1999), The Far Side of the Lake (2001), Celestial Inventories (2013), and Out of the Dark (2016). Dan Simmons calls Tem “One of the finest and most productive writers of imaginative literature in North America,” and this collection is the perfect place to start if you want to sample some of his finest work. It includes many of my favorites — including the brilliant “City Fishing,” the tale of a father who takes his son on a very unusual fishing trip in the heart of an ancient city.
Figures Unseen also includes a fine introduction by Simon Strantzas, which I think explicates the effectiveness of Tem’s work better than anything else I’ve read. Here’s a small excerpt.
That’s what Steve Rasnic Tem writes instead of stories. He writes experiences. You are meant to feel them. This is why plot is often not the point in Tem’s work. Instead, it acts as the frame on which to hang those experiences he wants to convey. A lot of horror fiction tends to be investigative: where stories are plot-driven explorations into a mystery whose solution turns to horror. It could be a small town with a secret the protagonist discovers, or an ancient book whose contents set a group of people on a quest….
Tem’s style of experience horror is more uncommon in the field. With his work, we don’t worry about where characters are traveling or what mystery they are solving. Instead we worry about who they are as people… This fiction doesn’t lead the reader along a path toward a discovery; it instead tries [to] elicit a transformation in the reader by brute force. It wants to change some fundamental part of you. It wants you to come away affected. What’s remarkable is how often it succeeds.
Valancourt Books has produced some really great books for dark fantasy and horror fans over the past few years. Our recent coverage includes:
Bringing Neglected Classics Back Into Print: The Horror Catalog of Valancourt Books
The Late Breakfasters and Other Strange Stories by Robert Aickman
A Southern Tale of Spectral Revenge: Cold Moon Over Babylon by Michael McDowell
Nathan Ballingrud on Robert Marasco’s Burnt Offerings
Stories of the Strange and Sinister by Frank Baker
The Great White Space by Basil Copper
New Treasures: The Elementals by Michael McDowell
New Treasures: Blackwater: The Complete Saga by Michael McDowell
The Valancourt Book of Horror Stories, Volume One
The Valancourt Book of Horror Stories is a Master’s Course in Classic Horror
A Spectacularly Gruesome Nasty: The Fungus by Harry Adam Knight
The Return of a Fantasy Landmark: The Unfortunate Fursey by Mervyn Wall
Figures Unseen: Selected Stories was published by Valancourt Books on April 17, 2018. It is 338 pages, priced at $34.99 in hardcover, $17.99 in trade paperback, and $7.99 for the digital edition. The cover is by Henry Petrides.
Our previous coverage of the books of Steve Rasnic Tem, including Ubo and Deadfall Hotel, is here.
See all our recent New Treasures here.