Needling at Society’s Wounds: Horror in Pop Culture, From the 1950s to True Detective

Monday, October 5th, 2015 | Posted by Samuel Sattin

Invasion-of-the-saucer-men 1957 poster-smallIt appears near impossible to pinpoint what drives popular culture as it develops. If you look back through science fiction and horror of the nineteen fifties, you can hone in on Cold War undertones in retrospect, on the painful obviousness of America’s paranoia during its long conflict with the USSR. Fiction, and especially genre fiction, is a sponge for social anxieties. Horror in particular, since it thrives on fear, excels at needling at society’s wounds.

One need only turn to the seventies, as America moved beyond the optimism of the previous decade into a chilly, post-Summer of Love winter, to see the dynamic at play. The horror fiction during that time is so spectacular precisely because of how it responded to the decaying optimism of the previous generation. With the dream of Civil Rights leading to widespread racial inequality, with the closure of Vietnam, the introduction of long feather haircuts, the dissolution of the Beatles, and the rise of disco, society was wide open for big budget, socially scathing works of terror.

The eighties turned towards renewal and perceived stability, creating prolonged franchises and creature features that intermixed humor and gore with boatloads of camp. The nineties brought forth a self-referential realism that, in this author’s opinion, accompanied the economic boom of the Clinton years, where pre-9-11 excess bubbled in size and gave way to less politically indulgent modes of entertainment. In the current moment, however, in the wake of terrorism, global economic crisis, and two wars, one thing seems abundantly clear: we’ve returned to championing bleakness in pop culture that feels in many ways similar to what was seen in the seventies. But bleakness weaned on a new generation of plenty that can make the convention feel plastic, and even hypocritical, in nature.

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New Treasures: A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

Monday, October 5th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

A Head Full of Ghosts-small A Head Full of Ghosts-back-small

Paul Tremblay is the author of No Sleep till Wonderland, The Little Sleep, and (with Stephen Graham Jones) Floating Boy and the Girl Who Couldn’t Fly. His latest, A Head Full of Ghosts, has perhaps the most intriguing premise for a horror novel I’ve read in years — and it’s getting some of the most breathless reviews of the year, as well. Is it worth the hype? Here’s the lowdown from Nathan Ballingrud:

I just finished Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts. The hype is not hyperbole; this book is outstanding. Creepy, surprising, occasionally funny, always compassionate, and both a love song to horror fiction and an interrogation of its assumptions, this easily stands as one of the best horror novels I’ve read in years.

I’m definitely looking forward to this one. Here’s the description.

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SeptOberFright 4: Gene Luen Yang on His First Night Terror: The Headless Bride

Monday, October 5th, 2015 | Posted by Nick Ozment

Illustration is from the vintage book of horror stories Short and Shivery. This one accompanies a retelling of Irving's "Adventure of the German Student."

Illustration of a retelling of Irving’s “The Adventure of the German Student” in the vintage book of horror stories Short and Shivery

An ongoing theme that arises when I write about horror entertainment is that of tackling the perennial question: Why do we like it so much? And then there is the related question of what possible benefits horror stories might impart.

For this week’s SeptOberFright installment, I’d like to share another voice addressing that idea of horror as healthy. Gene Luen Yang writes Avatar: The Last Airbender — Smoke and Shadow for Dark Horse comics, and he contributed the June 2015 installment of “Horsepower,” the editorial that runs in Dark Horse comic books each month. I came across it in the back of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 10 issue 16.

Like many others who have given the question “Why horror?” any thought, Yang suggests that horror stories help prepare us for the truly scary things in life. What makes his take particularly fun is his anecdote about his own first encounter with a horror story. To read Yang’s anecdote, which comprises the first five paragraphs of the editorial, click on “Read More” below. For the complete column (in which he goes on to discuss his work with artist Gurihiru on Avatar), hunt down any June 2015 Dark Horse comic book (I’m not sure if these are archived online somewhere, but a quick Google hunt yielded no results).




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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: After the King

Monday, October 5th, 2015 | Posted by Bob Byrne

AfterKing_CoverBack in January, I wrote a post on Terry Pratchett’s Cohen the Barbarian. It was primarily based on the short story “The Troll’s Bridge,” which was included in the anthology, After the King. That anthology was subtitled, ‘Stories in Honor of J.R.R. Tolkien.’

It included tales by nineteen fantasy and sci-fi authors, ostensibly all told in the style of Tolkien. The more cynical among us might view this as a cheap way to cash in on the Tolkien name (back in 1992, pre Game of Thrones, et al, Tokien still had a bigger grasp on fantasy publishing).

But not so much. The stories in this collection don’t bring to mind Michael Moorcock, Steven Erickson, Fritz Lieber or Robert E. Howard. My idea of a dragon hunt looks a lot more like a Dungeons and Dragons game than Patricia A. McKillip’s “The Fellowship of the Dragon.” Elizabeth Scarborough, Andre Norton and Jane Yolen don’t bring to mind Glen Cook. The stories in this collection do have more of a Tolkien, mythic, “pastoral” feel.

With the possible exception of Terry Brooks’ The Sword of Shanarra (which is the subject of an upcoming post by Fletcher Vrendenburgh), Dennis L. McKiernan’s Mithgar stories are as close to Tolkien pastiches as we’re likely to get this side of a novel commissioned by the Estate. He’s present with “The Halfling House.” I recently re-read his first Mithgar work, The Silver Call (written as one novel but issued as two books) and it’s as Tolkien as it gets (more on that in an upcoming Mithgar post).

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Future Treasures: She Walks in Shadows, edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles

Monday, October 5th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

She Walks in Shadows-small She Walks in Shadows-back-small

Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles were the editors of the marvelous Innsmouth Magazine, which released its last issue last summer. But they haven’t been resting in the interim — if anything, in fact, it seems like they’ve revved their engines, releasing the Swords & Sorcery/Cthulhu anthology Sword & Mythos, and this brand new collection of Lovecraftian fiction and art from women creators.

She Walks in Shadow ships next week, and includes 25 short stories by Gemma Files, Penelope Love, Angela Slatter, Molly Tanzer, E. Catherine Tobler, Mary Turzillo, Wendy N. Wagner, and many others.

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Things Your Writing Teacher Never Told You: Pro-Tips From Cat Rambo

Sunday, October 4th, 2015 | Posted by Tina Jens

Cat RamboAhead of her trip to the Midwest for writerly things, this Nebula and World Fantasy awards nominee offers up two Pro-Tips for the blog this week. Chicagoans will have the chance to hear Cat Rambo read from her debut fantasy novel, Beasts of Tabat, at Gumbo Fiction Salon on Wed. Oct. 7th.

I have trouble finding the right starting point for my story. Got any suggestions?

Start writing in the middle of it and worry about the beginning later. Often the beginning is something I don’t finalize till the very last end of the draft, and often looking at how the story ends will provide me with ideas for an ending that returns in some way to a moment, location, theme, or other structure from the beginning and helps create a sense of closure. At the end of a story, you need to hear the click of its door swinging shut, and part of creating that is opening the door into it in the right way.

What’s one thing I can do to improve my writing?

Read it out loud. This is perhaps the single best piece of advice I can give any writer other than get your butt in the chair and start writing. Reading out loud will help you create something that sounds good in a reader’s head, as well as to catch all sorts of errors, typos, and ungraceful things.

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Vintage Treasures: The Ballantine Paperbacks of Vincent King

Sunday, October 4th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Light a Last Cande Vincent King-small Another End Vincent King-small Candy Man Vincent King-small

The sixties and early seventies were a very fertile era for science fiction in America. Writers like Frank Herbert, Roger Zelazny, Samuel R. Delaney, Ursula K. Le Guin, Anne McCaffrey, and many others were busy launching decades-long careers. Their books are still read and enjoyed today.

And then there are those writers who weren’t so lucky. Who never really connected with a wide audience, and whose entire catalog has been out of print for three decades or more. Folks like the British writer Vincent King, who published three paperbacks through Ballantine in 1969-1971, all with eye-catching covers by Robert Foster and Dean Ellis. None of them was ever reprinted in the US, and they quickly vanished.

There are no digital editions. King is the kind of writer who can only be enjoyed the old-fashioned way: by hunting down his books.

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Galaxy Science Fiction, December 1952: A Retro-Review

Sunday, October 4th, 2015 | Posted by Matthew Wuertz

Galaxy December 1952-smallThe cover of the December, 1952 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction was creating using a technique called “Camerage.” Editor H. L. Gold describes it as

A three-dimensional montage effect — but it’s not a montage… All the objects in the picture are assembled at one time, illuminated by projected colored lights… and are shot by a number of cameras placed on different planes.

To me, it looks a little odd — or at least this particular use of the technique looks a little odd. (Click the image at right for a bigger version.) Seeing an image online doesn’t quite match up with what you see on an actual copy of the magazine; I can’t quite explain the difference. But however you view it, the cover still doesn’t connect with me.

Ring Around the Sun (Part 1) by Clifford D. Simak — It started with a few inventions — a cigarette lighter, a razor blade, and a light bulb. These items would last forever, the manufacturers claimed. Additionally, another group supplied synthetic carbohydrates for consumption, helping humanity’s food supply. Each had its own effect on the economy, in both subtle and obvious ways.

Jay Vickers learns of the newest arrivals — the forever car and the forever house — with indifference. He doesn’t need a new car and doesn’t like the idea of a new house, no matter how reasonable the financing may be, even if it seems like they’re being given away.

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October/November 2015 Asimov’s Science Fiction Now on Sale

Sunday, October 4th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Asimov's Science Fiction October November 2015-smallAsimov’s Science Fiction October/November issue — the traditionally “slightly spooky” issue — contains a huge new 34,000-word novella from the brilliant Aliette de Bodard, the sequel to her Hugo and Nebula Award nominee, On a Red Station, Drifting, plus stories from Alan Smale, Ian Creasey, Rick Wilber, Ian McDowell, and many others. Here’s the description from the website:

Aliette de Bodard’s October/November 2015 cover story is an enormous new novella that plunges us into a far future where various factions struggle to find the lost “Citadel of Weeping Pearls.” Success will require travel through time and space. The journey could result in death, or it could give the empire the weapon it needs in a war against archenemies.

Our traditionally “slightly spooky” issue is full of outré stories of the macabre. A trio of tales makes use of English and Irish locales and lore. Alan Smale entices us to the West Midlands for a chilling look at “English Wildlife”; Ian Creasey draws us further north to York, and, then through hyperspace, to listen while a young girl spins a sinister yarn about “My Time on Earth”; and Rick Wilber takes us from the beaches of West Ireland to the coast of Massachusetts for one character’s just rewards in “Walking to Boston.” We remain in the U.S. for Sandra McDonald’s ghostly account of “The Adjunct Professor’s Guide to Life After Death”; venture to the old west for Ian McDowell’s uncanny legend of “The Hard Woman”; and voyage through time with Timons Esaias to find out what happened in “Hollywood After 10.” Daryl Gregory escorts us to another realm for a surprising twist on a familiar tale of witchcraft in “Begone”; and new author Brooks Peck lures us to a space station in Earth’s Orbit to view the consequences of living “With Folded RAM.”

The striking cover art this issue is by Maurizio Manzieri, for “Citadel of Weeping Pearls.”

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Win a Copy of Carter & Lovecraft by Jonathan L. Howard

Sunday, October 4th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Carter & Lovecraft-smallJonathan L. Howard, author of the Kyth stories (BG 13 and 15) and the Johannes Cabal novels, is well know to Black Gate readers. We gave you a peek at his upcoming dark fantasy novel Carter and Lovecraft a few months ago.

Daniel Carter, ex-homicide detective, teams up with Emily Lovecraft, last known descendant of H.P. Lovecraft, to investigate a series of impossible deaths — and discovers the truth behind Lovecraft’s fiction, and horrors that make the terrible things he witnessed chasing a serial killer years ago seem very tame, indeed.

Now, with the generous support of the book’s publisher, Thomas Dunne Books, we’d like to offer you a lot more than just a peek at Carter & Lovecraft. We have a pair of advance review copies to give away to two lucky readers.

How do you enter? Just send an e-mail to with the subject “Carter & Lovecraft,” and a one-sentence suggestion for the ideal Lovecraft team-up — and what dark horrors your dream team should investigate. We’ll announce the winners the week before the novel is released, and present some of the best entries here.

Two winners will be drawn at random from all qualifying entries. All entries become the property of New Epoch Press. No purchase necessary. Must be 12 or older. Decisions of the judges (capricious as they may be) are final. Not valid where prohibited by law, or anywhere postage for a hefty trade paperback is more than, like, 10 bucks (practically, that means US and Canada).

Carter & Lovecraft will be published by Thomas Dunne Books on October 20, 2015. It is 320 pages, priced at $25.99 in hardcover and $12.99 for the digital edition.

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