Friday, December 23, 2011

Favorite Fiction in 2011

2011 the Year in Books

Not all of the books listed here were published in 2011,
but these are the best books that I happened to read in 2011.

Enemies & Allies by Kevin J. Anderson
The Cleaner by Brett Battles
The Black Stiletto by Raymond Benson
Dimiter by William Peter Blatty
Feast Day of Fools by James Lee Burke
The Burning Soul by John Connolly
Zombie Pulp by Tim Curran
The Jungle by Clive Cussler and Jack Du Brul
Dead Man’s Brand by Norbert Davis
Phantoms in Bronze: The Phantom Detective by Laurence Donovan
Inside Out by Barry Eisler
Cryptozoica by Mark Ellis
Shiloh by Shelby Foote
To Hell On a Fast Horse by Mark Lee Gardner
Yesteryear by Tommy Hancock
The Phantom Patrol by L. Ron Hubbard
Dead Zero by Stephen Hunter
All the Earth, Thrown to the Sky by Joe. R. Lansdale
Ghosts of War by George Mann
The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candice Millard
A Transaction in Diamonds by Talbot Mundy
Gather My Horses by John D. Nesbitt
The Spider: City of Doom by Norvell Page
Zombies! Zombies! Zombies! edited and compiled by Otto Penzler
Viktoriana by Wayne Reinagel
The Buntline Special by Mike Resnick
The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
Death Rattle by Jory Sherman
The White Sybil and Other Stories by Clark Ashton Smith
Kiss Her Goodbye by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins
The Consummata by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins
The Stonehenge Gate by Jack Williamson

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Shopping at Macy’s: A Christmas Story

Shopping at Macy’s
A Christmas Story
Thomas McNulty

Not that it matters but most of what follows actually happened in 2008

Once again we made our annual pilgrimage to Chicago’s Christkindlmarket in Daley Plaza where I bought some trinkets, drank some glug and mourned my frozen blarney stones as the winds swept in from Lake Michigan and turned Chicago’s Loop into an iceberg. Our intention was to get some Christmas shopping done but I ended up sampling the various intoxicants instead. I was cold so I drank more glug, and then some beer. Then I drank another cup. glug is a fascinating drink; in this instance a combination of brandy and fruit juices, heated and served in a small ceramic cup. I drank some more. I also drank some heated wine in a Christmas mug. For those that haven’t visited Chicago, let me describe the cold – the wind comes in over Lake Michigan and curls into a gigantic pit bull in heat and then slashes your balls off. Real nasty. The only remedy is glug and various alcoholic drinks, but you won’t know this until you’ve gulped down some glug. You get the idea.
It was in this intoxicated state that we pressed on through the concrete wasteland and sought refuge in Macy’s Department Store. Immediately a female Macy’s employee approached me and said, “Would you like to meet Jessica Simpson?” She handed me a small white card that said: Jessica’s Fancy. I wasn’t certain who Jessica Simpson was. I know that she’s a media favorite, and that she’s competing with Britney Spears as Dumbest Blonde of the New Millennium. But I didn’t know the details. My perplexity must have shown in my face. “Smell the card.” The woman said. I pressed the card to my nose and instantly my eyes crossed and my throat constricted as if I’d inhaled mustard gas from the Argonne forest in France, circa 1917. I suppressed the gag reflex and tried to wriggle my wooden tongue loose from the top of my mouth. Somewhere in the dark labyrinth of my mind I may have smelled perfume, and a momentary image of nights in white satin flashed through my befuddled mind. Meanwhile, my wife and daughter continued on their way, oblivious to my plight. 

Then the Macy’s employee explained that for eighty dollars I could buy a bottle of Jessica’s perfume and receive a “free” gold lamé handbag along with a ticket to stand in line and have Jessica sign a glossy photo for me. I wasn’t sure about the perfume. There wasn’t much I could do with it. I wondered if the woman thought I was gay? And the gold lamé handbag was too large and looked like something a cross-dressing Santa would carry around on Chicago’s preppie north side. Maybe I could pour the perfume over my brawny body next summer and see if it worked as a sun-tan lotion? No, I had to snap out of it. I lurched sideways, still clutching the card.

“No, no thanks, “I stammered, “My wife doesn’t like me talking to strange women...” and I stumbled away, shoving the card into a mannequin’s panties. I caught up with my family and hastily explained to them that Jessica Simpson was here and my daughter, knowledgeable twenty-three-year-old that she is, quickly filled me in on Jessica’s claim to fame. She’s a singer (I haven’t heard any of her songs), she’s a wannabe actress (I haven’t seen any of her movies) and she’s stupid (dumb blondes were put on this earth for a reason). Then my daughter explained that on television once, poor Jessica was filmed eating Chicken-of-the-Sea tuna and asked someone “Is it chicken or fish?” Thus, her nomination as Bimbo of the Year was secured. I filed away this pertinent information for later use.
We went shopping. By the fifth floor I realized the booze I’d been drinking in Daley Plaza was fermenting. I reeled through the Men’s Clothing section and found a glimmering rack hung with black wool jackets with military style insignia and skulls emblazoned across the breast pocket. I veered toward the shirts and they all had skulls, skulls, and more skulls either embroidered into the fabric or screen-printed onto the chest. I deduced skulls are big this year. I browsed in a blur among the negligees. I found some I really liked, but then I realized my wife might protest if I asked the attractive brunette salesgirl to try them on. I sort of skipped back over to the Men’s Department where I looked at a designer T-shirt silk-screened with skulls. The price tag said $90.00. I had an idea that I could save myself $90.00 by taking a black Sharpie and drawing a skull on one of my T-shirts. Brilliant thinking! I sauntered over to my wife and told her my plan. She looked at me and said, “How much of that heated wine did you drink?”
Dejected, I meandered along, lost in a blue funk. I examined the men’s briefs. They had Metallica briefs, Guitar Hero briefs, Batman briefs, Superman briefs, Spider-Man briefs, ACDC briefs, and skull briefs. I wondered why there wasn’t such a thing as edible Elvis panties. Imagine the image of a young Elvis on a pair of petite Ladies edible panties. Another brilliant thought! I went over and told my wife my brilliant plan. She looked at me and said, “Don’t wander off and get lost. You’ve had too much to drink.” While the girls were chattering away in the Dress Department, I wandered off. Then I heard the crowd scream downstairs and I knew that Jessica Simpson had entered the building. I went back and talked my wife and daughter into joining me in ogling Jessica. “It’ll only take a few minutes,” I said, “We can’t be in the same building with her and not take a peek.” So we went to peek at Jessica.

Big mistake. Thousands of people had escaped the cold and crowded into Macy’s to stare at Jessica Simpson signing autographs. The crowd was enormous and in all of the hustle-bustle I became separated from my wife and daughter. I pressed ahead, the crowd surging against me, and I was swept along like driftwood on the Colorado River. The crowd merged with other crowds. The crowded crowds came to a standstill and there she was. They had her under the lights and signing photographs at a table. I was mesmerized. I fought against the ceaseless tide and was pushed into a corner next to a redheaded mannequin with perky nipples. From this vantage point I could observe Jessica unhindered. She seemed pleasant enough. But then I remembered the Chicken-of-the-Sea story and I despaired. Could this be what they mean by “Pretty Dumb?” But I thought maybe this was all unfair to poor Jessica. She wasn’t acting stupid. In fact, she appeared to be quite friendly. The thought crossed my mind that Jessica Simpson wasn’t stupid at all. At eighty dollars a bottle she had Macy’s packed with admirers, and this during an economic recession. By God, she was a genius! What I needed was a hot ass, a pretty face and a bottle of perfume! I’d clean out their wallets and retire!
In my alcohol induced state I mused on these, and other politically incorrect topics. Perhaps the glug was working on me, but I suddenly felt sorry for Jessica Simpson. I decided she was attractive enough, even if I hadn’t been drinking glug, beer and wine, and bless her heart! Somewhere in the distance Perry Como was singing a Christmas song but I wasn’t in the mood for Perry Como. I was in the mood for that alternative rock band from Boston, Dropkick Murphys, and I thought I’d rather be listening to them as Jessica Simpson danced naked for me. I pondered this image a moment. Yes...
“Yo, Pops, you gotta move along!” I looked up and a tall, imposing security guard was frowning at me. This man had just called me Pops. I made a mental note to dye my goatee red in the morning. I stumbled away and happened to glance at the escalator. There was my wife gliding upward and snapping pictures of Jessica over the railing (photo attached). I waved my arms wildly but she was lost in the crowd. I ventured into “Christmasland” where little Christmas packages shimmered beneath gigantic red and blue ornaments and squeaky little wooden elves buggered each other beneath the mistletoe. No, wait, that can’t be right. That was the booze talking.
Leftward I skipped merrily along and made a full circle before stepping onto the escalator. The crowd surged again as we rose above Jessica, cameras clicking, and the escalator stopped. I stared down at Jessica. Something that once might have been glug bubbled to life in my belly. Whatever sympathy I once felt for poor Jessica was obliterated by a glugish recapitulation that hopped, skipped and jumped into my nervous system. Suddenly overcome with emotion, I yelled “Jessica! Jessica!” She might have heard me as she looked up, but then her admirers (predominantly young girls of mixed ethnicity) thronged forward. I sucked in a breath and bellowed: “Hey Jessica! You know what would have happened if the pilgrims had picked a donkey instead of a turkey? We’d all be having a piece of ass at Thanksgiving!”

And then my ears popped and the escalator jerked to life and I was propelled heavenward. Jessica dwindled to a blonde speck and I was slammed up and up by the pure unadulterated forces of greed, money, fanaticism and booze. I came to a rest on Level Eight, broken and exhausted. Now I had to reunite with my family, my dalliance with Jessica Simpson but a cherished memory. So down I went, past the salivating crowd, down to Level One where the glittering decorations undulated with an eerie glow. I thought my wife and daughter would be extremely pissed-off by now. The clerk allowed me to use Macy’s house phone to call my wife’s cell phone. I blurted out my location and begged forgiveness. My wife, observing me over the balcony on Level Two, screamed down at me; “Don’t move until I get down there or I’ll kill you!” I threw up my arms in defeat.
Reunited at last, we were all famished. We found the cafeteria on the lower level but the crowds here were greater than those drooling over Jessica Simpson. To make matter worse, the shortest food line was serving rare, spotted dorsal fin of some weird creature flown in from the Caribbean and sautéed in mushroom sauce. My loyal family was content with sipping a few Cokes but I needed sustenance immediately, so I ordered the fins and ate them greedily. My wife and daughter watched in amazement as I gulped down the fins. Finally, my wife asked, “What’s it taste like?”

“Doesn’t matter.” I said between bites, “After drinking all morning everything tastes like chicken.”

Eventually, we traveled up and out, pushing ourselves onto State Street where the wind whipped us with its cold lash. Carolers were singing hymns and gentle flakes drifted down, the street thrumming with noise, the shoppers moaning with pleasure. A sense of peace at last washed over me. I stepped up to the curb as a cab driven by a swarthy looking gentleman took the corner at full speed, the cab’s tires spinning on the ice, the slush and soot-blackened snow drenching me from head to foot.

“You scum-sucking low-life!” I screamed, shaking my dripping fist. “I’ll rip out your goddamn throat you pig humping leech!”

And may we all enjoy a safe and
Happy Holiday Season!

(...and go easy on the booze)

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Author David DeWitt

My good friend and blood brother David DeWitt is a superb writer in addition to managing the best blog about Errol Flynn in cyberspace. Please take a look at David’s blog, Zaca Publishing, and follow the links to order some of his e-books. I don’t own a kindle or nook myself but those of you that do will enjoy some of David’s science fiction stories. You can visit ZACA PUBLISHING by clicking HERE! And for the best Errol Flynn fan page please visit The Errol Flynn Blog right HERE! Kudos to David DeWitt!

Review: Cryptozoica by Mark Ellis

Cryptozoica by Mark Ellis should have been a New York Times bestseller. It was better than anything I saw on the New York Times bestseller list this year (or most years for that matter) and outside of Viktoriana by Wayne Reinagel there is no other book I’ve read recently that told such an epic story so well. And epic is the key word here. This is one of those books that you pick up and begin reading and within a few pages you say to yourself WOW! Cryptozoica represents how pulp style adventure novels not only should be written but how they should be presented. Superior illustrations by Jeff Slemons and designed by Melissa Martin-Ellis, this book is a visual delight, superbly packaged and quite clearly lovingly produced by all participants. Cryptozoica puts other trade paperback designers to shame. This book is an instant collector’s item just based on the excellent illustrations and design. Then, of course, there’s the actual story itself. Mark Ellis has published widely under the name James Axler and tells a riveting tale. Stylistically, he tells a story with the correct balance of descriptions and exposition unlike so many of today’s bland thriller writers who rely on minimalism and terse dialogue. The plot: a group of fortune hunters and adventurers on a forgotten island hunting the key to humanity’s lost origins. A diverse and memorable group of characters – Tombstone Jack Kavanaugh, Augustus Crowe, Honoré Roxton, Aubrey Belleau, and Mouzi – all make for some lively reading. With Ellis you’ll see the story, smell it, feel it and sense it just the way old-fashioned adventure stories were meant to be. There is a superficial resemblance to Michael Crichton’s classic Jurassic Park, but that’s ok because there is a superficial resemblance between Jurassic Park and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World and At the Earth’s Core by Edgar Rice Burroughs. In other words, Cryptozoica joins the growing bookshelf of dinosaur laden adventure novels. Cryptozoica is better than a Saturday afternoon movie serial from the mid-1940s although it moves at the same break-neck pace. This the best whiz-bang science-adventure-slugfest punctuated by those tell-tale bursts of automatic gunfire that’s you’ll read for a very long time. I don’t think Mark Ellis AKA James Axler can top even himself, but I sure hope he tries. Kudos!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Imagination Science Fiction Magazine October 1957

Here’s a fun blast from the past, the October 1957 issue of Imagination science fiction magazine, published during that bygone era when readers bought magazines because the covers were simply too cool to turn down. Quite often the interior stories failed to realize the creative imagery found on the covers, but readers seldom complained. This issue is actually quite good, coming as it did at the tail end of the pulp era. And pulp is the key word here. The cover story, You Can’t Buy Eternity by Dwight V. Swain, even features chapter titles such as “Hunt the Man Down,” “Smell of Death” and best of all “Write it in Blood!” This is a pulp action story all the way. The second story, John Holder’s Weapon by Robert Moore Williams, is a futuristic thriller pitting the protagonist against communists; The Mannion Court-Martial by Randall Garrett involves a space officer charged with leading an android rebellion (but did he?); The Overlord of Colony Eight by Robert Silverberg, who was a regular contributor to Imagination, is a bon-bon among cashews, as is The Ambassador’s Pet by Alexander Blade (a house pseudonym). Barnstormer by Tom W. Harris, is the final story and the weakest. In the back pages editor Henry Bott reviews Robert A. Heinlein’s The Door into Summer, and Robert Bloch meanders through several pages of meaningless commentary in his regular feature “Fandora’s Box” which waxes less than eloquently on the state of science fiction fandom. Overall a minor issue but You Can’t Buy Eternity by Dwight V. Swain was pure pulp fun. And in addition to the cartoon reproduced here, you’ve gotta love the cover.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Dark Beasts by Frank Belknap Long

For this month’s retro paperback review I grabbed The Dark Beasts by Frank Belknap Long from my bookshelf...

Frank Belknap Long (1901 - 1994) isn’t quite as well known as his contemporaries – H.P. Lovecraft and Clarke Ashton Smith – but his stories are worth checking out. The Dark Beasts is a 1964 paperback from Belmont Books that includes nine of the stories that appeared in Long’s acknowledged classic collection The Hounds of Tindalos. Of these nine I think the best known are “The Ocean Leech” and “The Flame Midget.” Long’s stories are sometimes derivative of other writers from the golden age of pulps. For example, I could easily detect the influence of William Hope Hodgson and John Collier in several passages. Such an influence isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Long’s stories often fall into the category of short-shorts (six to ten pages) but never give the impression of having been rushed. Throughout his career Long produced entertaining tales of the weird and fantastic and interested readers are encouraged to hunt down this paperback if you’re interested in introducing yourself to the weird and wondrous world of Frank Belknap Long. The nine stories included here are: “The Dark Beasts,” “The Ocean Leech,” “The Flame Midget,” “A Stitch in Time,” “Death Waters,” “Step Into My Garden,” “It Will Come to You,” “The Census Takers” and “The Refugees.”
Frank Belknap Long

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Trail of the Snake by Norvell Page

Here’s yet another outstanding collection from Black Dog Books. The legendary Norvell Page, best known as the scribe of The Spider, also wrote westerns. His output in the pulp western genre was modest compared to others, but the five stories collected here are action packed tales in the grand tradition of the pulps. Page’s westerns offer the requisite imagery: “The crash of the six-guns swelled the walls, let them clap back together again. The invader’s arm flew in a wide circle. His six-shooter slammed into the wall. The impetus of that bullet-driven arm hurled the man to his knees. Cougar Charlie held his gun poised – and saw that the man he had wounded was his enemy, Flash Burden! He laughed harshly.” (p. 42, from Brand of the Cougar, from 1935). The earliest story, Coralled, collected here dates from 1930. Also included are Trail of the Snake (1935), Secret Guns (1936), and Hell’s Backtrail (1935). Page’s westerns come across as derivative of Zane Grey and Max Brand which wasn’t all that unusual for the period. Zane Grey set a high standard for westerns and Max Brand was, at best, an emulator of Grey’s style. Still, Page does well with his westerns although having read his crime stories it’s obvious this was a genre that he wasn’t completely comfortable with. I enjoyed Trail of the Snake and recommend it for fans of classic pulp westerns. The brief bio on Page by Tom Roberts along with the introduction by Bill Crider are well written and informative.

You can visit Black Dog Books HERE!

Shadows From Boot Hill by L. Ron Hubbard

It’s refreshing to see such noted writers as James Reasoner and Will Murray make public statements acknowledging L. Ron Hubbard’s talent as a pulp writer. I began reading and writing the occasional review of this historic reprint series from Galaxy Press commencing in 2008. Incidentally, my reviews have nothing to do with religion but rather stem from a love of reading and an abiding interest in the pulp era.

Originally published in a 1940 issue of Wild West Weekly, Shadows From Boot Hill was Hubbard’s only western with supernatural elements. That he added a supernatural slant to the story isn’t unusual because by 1940 had had begun writing fantasy and science fiction steadily, but adding such an element to a western was a first. The genre we now refer to as “The Weird Western” had yet to be invented. Shadows From Boot Hill must certainly qualify as among the first weird westerns. The plot is straightforward but far from typical: When the murderer Brazos encounters a witch doctor he soon thereafter discovers he has two shadows. Brazos gets involved with additional mayhem in addition to extracting gold from an oxide ore. The story breaks from tradition with its lack of redeeming characters. There are no heroes in Shadows From Boot Hill but in the end, of course, justice of a type is served. Told in four brisk chapters, Shadows From Boot Hill is a typically action-packed piece of pulp fiction. I was surprised that Hubbard chose to make it a character study of an outlaw who gets what he deserves in the end. This is a tight, fun story to read. Its unique plot twists make it a special story among connoisseurs of pulp fiction. This volume also features the western stories The Gunner From Gehenna and Gunman! Both are from the golden age of pulp western fiction and feature Hubbard’s trademark action and pacing.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Remembering Edgar A. Poe on Halloween

Edgar Allan Poe - He was an orphan, an alcoholic, a temperamental and often highly emotional man, and gifted with an imagination that served him well as a writer. Today I’m saluting Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849). Poe’s literary output needs no introduction from me. Stories such as “The Black Cat,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,” The Cask of Amontillado,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “The Masque of the Red Death,” and “Morella” are among the finest tales of mystery and horror ever created. Such poetry as “The Raven” and “The Bells” are hauntingly beautiful.
(Photo on left, early image of Poe -
Photo on right last image of Poe the year he died)

I recommend Kenneth Silverman’s 1991 biography as the definitive bio of Poe and the Doubleday Complete Stories and Poems as the definitive companion volume.

The photographs reproduced here are the best known of Poe. To the best of my knowledge, there are perhaps only one or two other known photographs, but these are the best, including the last one taken the year he died.

Be silent in that solitude,
Which is not loneliness – for then
The spirits of the dead who stood
In life before thee, are again
In death around thee – and their will
Shall overshadow thee: be still.

Spirits of the Dead, stanza 2

Friday, October 28, 2011

Happy Halloween Weekend!

Yes, this is where I live. Rather quaint don’t you agree? But you don’t have to worry that much because everything here is dead. Sorry about the smell. I guarantee that over time you’ll come to love the smell of pulp paper, dying willow trees, autumn mist and the cool unyielding surface of a marble headstone. Would you like to begin with the books? Naturally Lovecraft is pre-eminent amongst the authors whose shadows pace back and forth so restlessly in a room lit only by candles. That little fellow in the corner is Poe. He casts a long, withering shadow that often strangles other shadows. It’s one of his many unpleasant habits but I can’t fault him for it. I rather enjoy the sound of bickering spirits.
Clark Ashton Smith, Joseph Payne Brennan, August Derleth and Robert E. Howard have come to stay. If you don’t enjoy their company then you’re not welcome here. What’s that you say? Yes, that’s blood on the floor. Why should I bother mopping up the blood when it adds such intricate Rorschach speculation to your consideration of the tiled floor? I knew a fellow once who insisted that I mop up the blood. That’s his shrunken head nestled between Norman Partridge and Joe R. Lansdale. I stitched his lips together using fishing tackle. I think Hemingway would have approved. All of the world’s dark places are collected here along with a few dark places of my own creation. I don’t expect you to approve. After all, bloody popcorn is the diet of vampires and ghouls. The dead feed on dreams of the living. You can count on that. When you entered this room you forfeited your right to sunny days and grandmother’s delicious apple pie. I serve platters of blazing six-shooters, galloping horses, strange winged creatures and memories of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu.
Forry Ackerman and Chaney and Karloff and Lugosi all visit every year at this time. They’re quite a pleasant bunch. But I’m not sure who or what that is living in the corner. It’s eyes change color every hour and it smells like offal thrown into the brine. Sometimes when I’m sleeping I can sense that it’s watching me.
Thank you for visiting my digital home. I hope you don’t mind a little blood on your hands. We’ll get back to our regularly scheduled addictions after Halloween. Meanwhile I have some experiments to conduct. Ygor has just brought me a fresh corpse. It’s a young and tender thing who died of apoplexy. I have plans for its spleen and liver. Its retinas will read stanzas from the Book of the Dead; its fingers will seek a fresh throat to crush... Something inhabits the darkness. It’s ancient and cold and thrives on fear. It knows what you’re thinking. It whispers arcane secrets using the books as a conduit. It’s funny, you see, because you thought Halloween was all about the candy and the plastic masks. How very naive of you. Now you’re about to click off this webpage when a shadow falls across your shoulder. You the smell fathomless sea and images swirl in your mind like bloody milk. You’re about to laugh self-righteously, smugly, when a paralysis grips your body. Then you see what it is that pursues you and you can’t move. Membranous wings beat slowly against your flesh and tendrils wrap themselves about you. Iä! Iä! Cthulhu Fhtagn!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Scary Books

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”
            - H. P. Lovecraft, Supernatural Horror in Literature

It’s nearing Halloween and time once again to curl up with a scary book. You know the ones I’m talking about. Those special books that struck a macabre chord with you. The ones you keep for yourself and never loan to friends.
The books that remind you of graveyards. The ones that whisper to you in the dark.
Here there are demons and monsters and strange spirits. You covet them. The ghosts are like family. You share an affinity with the monsters, those poor misguided brutes with malevolent souls.
It’s all here: the putrid scent of death, the presence of pure evil, the phantasms of the mind that infest your dreams like maggots on a slice of decaying meat.
The paperbacks and comic books and limited editions and chapbooks and short stories. Vampires, werewolves, monsters, witches and ghouls all parading before you, a regiment of Satanic relatives arriving unannounced for a long visit. Aren’t you lucky?
Can you name the fallen angels? Their names are written in these forbidden tomes and when you speak their names they may answer you. Make no mistake about what I am telling you. They are listening. And they dwell in those place just beyond the shadows.
The lonesome places that August Derleth wrote about. Places that are darker than dark. Places where the evil sucks the breath from your lungs without warning. Suddenly you’re on your knees gasping for breath, a spinning cyclone of black stars bursting under your eyelids.
And you say to yourself: This is fine. This is what I wanted. Something oozing with primordial, ancient evil whispering obscenities into my Calvinistic ear. I promise not to tell! And the darkness engulfs you.
Pray tell, traveler in cyberspace. Have your wanderings along the digital highway always taken you to cemeteries? Do you sometimes lie down among the headstones when the sun is still sending its golden shafts through the treetops only to fall asleep and awaken when the shadows have begun to lengthen? Of course.
Now find a scary book and turn the page. Smell the musty scent of pulp paper – and something else. Something that’s neither alive nor dead. It thrives there in the gloom, watching, listening, and waiting to take you someplace else. Someplace dark, someplace that isn’t so easy to return from....

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Frankenstein’s Monster

“His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun-white sockets in which they were set, his shriveled complexion and straight black lips.”
            - Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, Chapter 5
You know him well.
When you look at him you instantly recall those frightful childhood nights watching him on Television shambling along some dank cavernous hellhole. You remember his slow gait, the outstretched arms, the powerful grip of his undead hands. He lurked in every shadow, every dark secret place in town; he was under your bed and in your closet. You remember the malevolence in his eyes.
He wanted to send you straight to hell.
That was the part that really chilled your soul. For he had emerged from hell itself, this Titan of darkness, and he had no more sympathy for you than a reptile that knows it must feed. And no matter that Hollywood put him in oversized boots because you could never out run him. He would always emerge again from the gloom somewhere else, an eternal undying creature of evil.
Fear tingled in your scrotum and crawled up your spine.
You’re a coward! The words spit like venom through your fevered dream. You couldn’t escape him. A creaking door swings open and there he stands, calm, dark and incredibly patient. He would wait forever just for an opportunity to get his green, clammy hands around your throat and begin slowly squeezing the life out of you.
And which evil incarnation frightened you more?
Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, Jr., Bela Lugosi, Glenn Strange, Christopher Lee and dozens more have donned the graveyard pallor and stalked the celluloid shadows. Mary Shelley’s Modern Prometheus of 1817 has endured beyond her expectations. Today there are even those misguided souls in the academic community who have mistakenly promoted her work as a feminist manifesto. Don’t let the pantywaist crowd fool you. This is a Horror story – Horror in its primal form; vengeful, calculating and incredibly powerful.
“I too can create desolation; my enemy is not invulnerable; this death will carry despair to him, and a thousand other miseries shall torment and destroy him.”
            - words spoken by the monster in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Chapter 16
He dreams of electricity.
These galvanized shadows jerk in his mind like dark puppets on a string; all phantoms struggling to get free. When he wakes up he’s become a pop culture maestro – a comic book, a toy, a pulp story, a screen treatment. He can’t escape his destiny.
Here is the lesson of Prometheus.
Steal fire from Heaven and suffer then eternal torments as daily the great winged creature comes to feed on your liver. And each morning the act begins anew; it’s an existential punishment of unrelenting agony. The monster and his maker understand this torment very well.
Something evil lurks in the darkness.
The tall figure of a man in his grave clothes; an unholy fire smolders in his yellow eyes. An outcast deprived of love, self-educated, constantly hungry and constantly hunted, he waits forever in those dark places where dwell the ghouls. And very soon – when he finds you – the cold kiss of the grave will be your epitaph. 
“I, the miserable and the abandoned, am an abortion, to be spurned at, and kicked, and trampled on. Even now my blood boils at the recollection of this injustice.”
            - words spoken by the monster in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Chapter 24
Frankenstein’s monster is all too human and that’s what makes him so scary.
He’s just like you and I.