Friday, 28 October 2016

Horror Week 2016: The Birth of the Modern Vampire: Lord Byron, John Polidori, and The Vampyre

John Polidori.
Everyone knows the scene. On a stormy Transylvanian night lit by a full moon and serenaded by the howling of a wolf, a mysterious coach pulls up to a dilapidated castle. Timidly, the coach’s passenger makes his way to the castle door. As the door slowly creaks open, we finally see the lord of the manor—a formally dressed nobleman with regal bearing—a creepy and ironic image of a proper European aristocrat.

At which point, Count Dracula bids us welcome.

Dracula is not like other traditional monsters. His elegance and sophistication set him apart. Much like a Bond villain, Dracula could almost pass as a head of state or a captain of industry. The horror comes from our knowledge that underneath that polished exterior lurks a creature ripped out of nightmares and campfire stories. And that contrast between the outer and inner character provides the complexity that separates not only Dracula, but most modern vampires from all those more interchangeable creatures that go bump in the night.

Horror Week 2016: “The Masque of the Red Death” by Edgar Allen Poe

You don’t have to look any further than kids’ campfire stories to realize that the best scary stories are timeless. Good horror can seize you by the throat no matter how much time has passed since its inscription. Perhaps that’s why, autumn after autumn, year after year, readers return to the works of Edgar Allen Poe, a 19th century master of the macabre.

When Mario asked me to be part of this project, I knew I wanted to revisit “The Masque of the Red Death.” Even though this story was written in 1842, it continues to be hauntingly timeless, touching on the same horror themes that scare readers still today. Better yet, enough time has passed that it’s now in the public domain, and anybody can read it for free.

In 2016, it may often feel like the world is ending, and that’s a theme we visit often in contemporary fiction. I can think of at least two modern bestsellers that explore the idea of a plague that eradicates society, prompting an apocalypse: The Stand by Stephen King, and Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. Poe’s “Masque,” however, is one of the earliest. In this story, the Red Death’s excruciating pain is matched in terror only by its guarantee of death.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Horror Week 2016: Turn of the Screw by Henry James

Turn of the Screw is a novella penned by nineteenth century British author Henry James. Considered to be part of the literary ghost story genre, the novella was originally published serially between January and April of 1898 in Collier’s Weekly Magazine, being later compiled into a single volume the following October.

The novella provides a ghost story that is unlike many of the ghost stories being produced during the nineteenth century, which is what makes it so fascinating to me. Rather than having a purely supernatural gothic story, James’ tale creates a sense of anxiety through eerie realities. Its unnamed narrator is a young woman who is hired as governess to two children at Bly, a remote English country house belonging to the children’s family. What begins as a pleasant summer in the country soon turns  distressing and traumatic as the governess becomes convinced that the children are consorting with a pair of malevolent ghosts. The ghosts you see are of two former employees of Bly: a valet, one Peter Quint, and a previous governess, Miss Jessel. In life the two of them had been scandalously discharged for their forbidden sexual transgressions with one another, and their spectral visitations with the children hint at Satanism and possible sexual abuse. Clearly, as the governess sees it, ten-year-old Miles and eight-year-old Flora must be protected. But her attempts to protect the children from hazards that are possibly immaterial, she instead winds up traumatizing the little girl and killing the little boy. 

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Horror Week 2016: “The Boogeyman” by Stephen King

While I'm not a huge horror or scary-movie fan, as in a fanatic, I did love watching the Nightmare in Elm Street series, American Werewolf in London, and a number of other movies back in the 80s and 90s. The scariest movie I've experienced was 1979's Alien. I watched that movie, ill-advisedly in hindsight, with my younger siblings back in 1985 in my basement bedroom. That night, after my siblings went upstairs to go to bed, I found myself alone in my room. I then realized what a stupid thing I had just done. Needless to say, I didn't sleep the whole night because of the sheer terror I experienced watching Alien. To this day I remember that night and how terrified I was and how impossible it was for me to sleep in the basement, alone, with the darkness in the room and just beyond my bedroom door. The slightest sound would jolt me from the bed so I ended up cowering in a corner of my room just praying for the sun to come up.

I haven't watched a proper horror movie in many, many years. As I've gotten older the genre just doesn't appeal to me anymore. The most recent "horror" movie I saw was Tucker & Dale vs Evil. It was just enough to remind me of the experiences I was missing out on -- watching horror movies -- but not too much to keep me awake at night. These days I need only to look at my bank account statements or bills, but I digress. Tucker & Dale vs Evil was a beautifully well-executed movie that is a perfect example of its genre, i.e., horror-comedy.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Horror Week 2016: “Children of the Kingdom” by T.E.D. Klein

T.E.D. Klein
T.E.D. Klein is one of the great could-have-beens. He wrote some of the best and most memorable horror stories of the seventies and early eighties. Derived from his first published story, “The Events at Poroth Farm”, he wrote the masterful, if lengthy, novel, The Ceremonies (1984). His 1985 novella, “Nadelman's God” won the 1986 World Fantasy Award for best novella. It, along with three other novellas, was published in the 1985 collection, Dark Gods. And then he started to fall silent.

According to his entry at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database, he only published a few more stories. Wikipedia credits him with co-writing the screenplay for Dario Argento's 1993 Trauma. A second collection of stories, Reassuring Tales, finally appeared in 2006 to little fanfare. Over the years, it was reported he was working on a second novel, but writer's block kept it from ever materializing. Despite considerable acclaim over the years from writers like S.T. Joshi and Thomas Monteleone, he's just faded away, someone known to horror connoisseurs but little beyond their circle.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Horror Week 2016: Exorcising the Shame and Guilt – How I Learned to Love Horror

Regular readers of the blog (if there is such a thing here at SUR) will know that I’m not a huge horror fan. It’s something I’ve actively avoided in my fiction for years. There are a few reasons for this. I’m generally not too keen on the esthetics of the genre. Slasher films as a whole and specific film series of the “torture porn” variety like Saw and Hostel where the examples of the genre that popped up in my head when I thought of horror. The biggest reason for my dismissal of the whole thing is that I came to it with preconceived notions of what any given book or movie would be when it’s labelled as horror. I watched those movies and attempted to read those books with the intent of finding those things I didn’t like as a way to prove that yes, indeed, horror as a genre is a piece of shit and it is best avoided.

I’ve reconciled with a lot of that thanks to Stephen King, particularly thanks to one of his most famous books Salem’s Lot. I mentioned some of that in my review of the book and there was certainly something cathartic bout the whole admission of guilt and wrongdoing towards the genre. It’s still occasionally difficult to admit that I was so dismissive. I dismissed it all, regardless of when or where a piece of horror fiction came from, it all ended up in the same space in my brain: the trash bin.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Short Story Sunday 18: Reading Neil Gaiman’s Trigger Warning, Part One

I’ve been a fan of Neil Gaiman’s writing since my early teens. Surprisingly, I discovered him through his novels and not his comic book work. I say it’s surprising since I fell into the world of American comics in just a couple years later. No matter, I’ve followed him across genres since I first finished American Gods and I’ll continue to read anything I come across that has his name on it. I’ve rarely been disappointed by this decision.

Sadly, as life takes it course you sometimes find yourself with a shortage of spare time. When that happens, things like picking up any new book by a favourite author don’t always happen as planned. It’s for that reason that I’m only reading Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances now. I’ll be reviewing each story and poem here as a series of post for Short Story Sunday. This is the first one of these posts.


“Making a Chair” by Neil Gaiman
Read in Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances (2015)
First appeared in print in Trigger Warning (2015), but previously appeared on the CD An Evening With Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer (2011)

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Short Story Sunday 17: John Moore and Harry Turtledove

This is an exciting installment of Short Story Sunday. Well, maybe not for you, but it is for me. This marks the first collection that I’ve reviewed in its entirety (except for all of the non-fiction articles). I hope to review many more science fiction and fantasy stories and I hope you stick around and get inspired to read a few of your own.

For a long time I completely ignored short fiction, but in recent years it’s become an important part of my life. Due to an increasingly busier schedule and new responsibilities, I’ve got less time to read novels. I was sad about that at first (and I still kind of am) but I decided to view this as an opportunity to explore another part of literature I didn’t pay much attention to before. Like everything else, not all of the short stories I read are good. Some, even with their short length, aren’t even worth my time. Still, I’ve read plenty of good-to-great stories to remind me of how satisfying short fiction can be. Below are just a couple of good examples.


Sunday, 20 March 2016

Short Story Sunday 16: “The Blabber” by Vernor Vinge

This is our first Short Story Sunday edition where I write about only a single story. I’ve tried to avoid that as I’d prefer to showcase more than a single author by post (special editions notwithstanding) and more than a single story. Variety is nice and so are posts that are longer than just two hundred words. This post is different because the story being reviewed is quite long. It’s a novella, really. Still, it’s science fiction, it’s short, and it’s really quite good.


“The Blabber” by Vernor Vinge
Read in New Destinies Volume VI/Winter 1988 (1988), edited by Jim Baen
Originally published in Threats … and Other Promises (1988), editor unknown (but might also be Jim Baen)

“The Blabber” is part of Vinge’s Zones of Thought series which include a trilogy of novels that begin with the award winning A Fire Upon the Deep. Not only is that an excellent title, but it’s said to be an excellent read. I wouldn’t know as my copy remains unread. I’ll get around to it one day and likely sooner now that I’ve read this novella which takes place just after the events of the first book.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Short Story Sunday 15: Catherynne M. Valente and Rick Cook

No introduction this post, we're heading straight into the reviews.

“How to Become a Mars Overlord” by Catherynne M. Valente
Read in Year’s Best SF 16 (2011), edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer

“How to Become a Mars Overlord” is written as a seminar intended on providing guidance to people interested in conquering the prized planet, Mars. Valente is more interesting in recreating a sense of wonder and yearning for the red planet than she is in telling a story. All of her examples of Mars overlords are pastiche or echoes of pulp stories featuring the titular planet. If they’re not recognizable as a creation of another author, then they’re created by Valente with that same spirit in mind. The whole thing is very inventive and full of energy but it’s done in a style that doesn’t work for me.