Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Book Review: Softly Walks the Beast


Book Review: 'Softly Walks the Beast' by Thomas O'D. Hunter

2 / 5 Stars

'Softly Walks the Beast' (205 pp.) was published by Avon Books in December, 1982. The cover artist is unattributed.

This is the only published novel by Thomas O'Driscoll Hunter (1932 – 2017) whose Wikipedia entry states that he was an actor in European films in the 1960s and 1970s. His memoir, 'Memoirs of a Spaghetti Cowboy: Tales of Oddball Luck and Derring-Do' recounts his experiences in that trade. He was  co-writer of the screenplay for the 1980 sci-fi movie The Final Countdown.

'Softly' is set in April 1988, five years after World War 3 has devastated the US. Fifteen survivors, representing a variety of ages and ethnicities, have taken up residence on the grounds of a former insane asylum in rural Georgia. Their leader, Dr. Frank Alden, keeps everyone alive and healthy via regular injections of a compound that staves off radiation sickness.

Despite the psychological trauma that comes with the awareness that They Are the Last People on Earth, the survivors enjoy a comfortable lifestyle; their only main concern is the sterility besetting the younger women, a sterility that bodes ill for any future for Mankind.  

As the novel opens two young men, Sonny and Billy Bob, decide to embark on a motorcycle trip into neighboring Florida and the Atlantic Coast. There are scenes of poignancy as they traverse deserted villages and towns where nature is well under way in reclaiming the Earth. However, when the boys stop to explore the ruins of an ICBM silo, they catch the attention of a sentient being lurking in the nearby undergrowth..........a being with a malevolent purpose.

All too soon, the survivors will find themselves in a life-or-death struggle against a new form of life that has persevered despite exposure to lethal levels of radiation and biological agents. Unless Frank Alden and his assistance Eric can find a vulnerability in the horrors attacking them, a grim outcome is assured......... 

Is 'Softly Walks the Beast' a classic Paperback from Hell ? 

Nope. 

It's something of a dud. It doesn't help matters that the novel takes an indolent approach to setting things up; indeed, the monsters don't make an appearance till page 65, nearly a third of the way through the book. 

After that, the narrative adopts the tone of a teen slasher film from the late 70s and early 80s, in which suspense is enabled by the willfully idiotic behavior of the potential victims. This behavior includes having horny teenagers groping one another in dark and empty places, a trope so cliched that it signals that the author was winking at the reader. 

Given that Thomas Hunter was a screenwriter, it shouldn't be all that surprising that 'Softly' is constructed like a screenplay, but the regular veering from horror to facetiousness starts to wear thin well before the novel's half-way point. 

Toss in passages in which our besieged survivors sing hymns to bolster their courage against the monsters fumbling at the doors, later followed by passages in which they sing sea shanties (?!), along with additional set pieces clearly designed to represent tongue-in-cheek homages to horror movie tropes, and I finished 'Softly' more from a sense of duty rather than because it was very entertaining.

The verdict ? Unless you are fixated on acquiring and reading every horror paperback published during the 1980s, 'Softly Walks the Beast' can safely be passed by. 

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Dracula: Vlad the Impaler

Dracula: Vlad the Impaler
by Roy Thomas (story) and Esteban Maroto (art)
IDW, March 2021
The Great Comic Book Boom of the early 1990s saw comic book companies issue trading cards.........and trading card companies issue comic books. So it was that in February 1993 Topps published the first of a three-issue series of color comic books about 'Dracula: Vlad the Impaler'.
Written by comics veteran Roy Thomas, and featuring art by the great Spanish artist Esteban Maroto, the series was one of a number of Public Domain properties issued by Topps from 1993 to 1998. 


In March 2021, IDW issued a 96-page graphic novel compiling all three issues, albeit in black and white rather then the original color. 

'Dracula: Vlad the Impaler' is a companion volume to other IDW graphic novels presenting past work by Maroto: 'Prison Ship' (2018) and 'Lovecraft: The Myth of Cthulhu' (2018).
Thomas's plotting for 'Dracula: Vlad the Impaler' relies for the most part on historical accounts of the rise and rule of Vlad, the Prince of Walachia in the 15th century. Throughout the Balkans and Eastern Europe, this was an era of fratricidal conflicts among the princes of the various provinces, who would occasionally cease from their infighting in order to take on the Turks and Sultan Mehmet II. 

Thomas portrays Vlad as a psychopath with a lust for cruelty and torture, which, if you believe the accounts of his life that circulated in the 15th century, is condign. It also makes for a provocative comic book, one with lots of scenes of blood and death and gore and, of course, impalements.
The supernatural / occult themes of the Dracula legend don't really show until later, in the closing pages of the third issue, but Thomas lays plenty of ground work in terms of presenting Vlad as someone predestined to become a villain of profoundly ill repute.

Maroto's artwork for 'Dracula' is really not his best. Perhaps because he knew the comic would be printed in color, Maroto used a loose, sketchy style that doesn't translate well when presented in back-and-white.

Summing up, I can't recommend this black-and-white printing of 'Dracula: Vlad the Impaler' as a must-have, like Maroto's 'Prison Ship' and 'Lovecraft' volumes. Given that the original comic book series can be found for a reasonable price, these better represent this franchise. Diehard fans of the artist, or those dedicated to early 90s comics, may be sufficiently motivated to acquire the IDW version of 'Dracula', but others can pass without penalty. 

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

My Top 17 Horror Stories

My Top 17 Horror Short Stories

I've been reading horror stories since 1970, when I was 9 years old and I saw a copy of Alfred Hitchcock's Monster Museum (Random House, 1965) on the shelf of my grammar school library. 

While most of the stories in the book were rather tame - it was aimed at an audience of juvenile Baby Boomers, after all - Joseph Payne Brennan's story 'Slime' immediately gripped my attention, and from then on, my interest in the genre began, and has lasted since.

After some contemplation, I've decided to stand forth with a list of 17 short stories that in my humble opinion are the better ones I've encountered in 50 years of reading all manner of horror fiction. Since it's the interval covered by this blog, I've concentrated on stories that first saw print from the 1960s into the mid-1990s. 

I've posted a brief, one-sentence  synopsis for each story, to jog memories or to give the reader a sense of what to expect.

One problem with focusing on such stories is that in many instances the books where they first appeared are long out of print, and copies in good condition have steep asking prices. Accordingly, where available, I've tried to provide alternate sources for obtaining these stories.

My Top 17, in chronological order:

The First Days of May, by Claude Veillot, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, December 1961; Tales of Terror from Outer Space, 1975

‘Alien invasion’ theme, well done.
***

Longtooth, by Edgar Pangborn, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, January 1970; The Best of Modern Horror, 1989

Eerie doings in the Maine woods.

***

Goat, by David Campton, New Writings in Horror and the Supernatural #1, 1971; Whispers: An Anthology of Fantasy and Horror, 1977

Creepy goings-on in an English village.

***

Satanesque, by Alan Weiss, The Literary Magazine of Fantasy and Terror, #6, 1974; The Year’s Best Horror Stories: Series III, 1975

Starts off on a thoroughly conventional note, then unexpectedly transitions into something entirely imaginative and offbeat.

***

The Taste of Your Love, by Eddy C. Bertin, The Year’s Best Horror Stories: Series III, 1975; The Whispering Horror, 2013

One of the better Serial Killer tales I’ve read.

***

What Dark God, by Brian Lumley, Nameless Places, 1975; Haggopian and Other Stories, 2008

Riding on UK trains never will be the same.

***

The Changer of Names, by Ramsey Campbell, Swords Against Darkness II, 1977; The Year’s Best Fantasy Stories: 4, 1978; Far Away and Never, 2021.

I've never been a fan of Campbell’s horror stories and novels, but his sword-and-sorcery stories featuring the ‘Ryre’ character are entertaining exercises in creepiness. There are metaphors and similes abounding in the Ryre tales, to be sure, but as compared to Campbell's horror stories the purple prose is reduced in scope, and plotting receives due consideration. 

While the Swords Against Darkness paperbacks have exorbitant asking prices, a new (October 2021) reprint of Far Away and Never from DMR Press collects all four of the Ryre stories, along with other fantasy tales from Campbell's early career.  

***

Long Hollow Swamp, by Joseph Payne Brennan, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, January 1976; The Year’s Best Horror Stories: Series V, 1977

Another great 'monsters-on-the-loose' tale from Brennan.

***

Sing A last Song of Valdese, by Karl Edward Wagner, Chacal #1, Winter 1976; The Year’s Best Horror Stories: Series V, 1977; Night Winds, 1978, 1983

One of two entries by Wagner, who wrote a lot of duds, but when he was On, he was On. This features his swordsman Kane, and an inn filled with sinister characters.

***

Window, by Bob Leman, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, May 1980; The 1981 Annual World’s Best SF, 1981; The Best of Modern Horror, 1989

Neat mix of sci-fi and horror.

***

Where the Summer Ends, by Karl Edward Wagner, Dark Forces, August 1980; In A Lonely Place, 1983; The American Fantasy Tradition, 2002
 
A second entry from Wagner. It’s hot, humid, and dangerous in 1970s Knoxville. Stay away from the kudzu !

***

The New Rays, by M. John Harrison, Interzone #1, Spring 1982, The Year’s Best Horror Stories: Series XI, 1983; The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories, 2012

A disturbing tale with Proto-steampunk leanings. 

***

After-Images, by Malcolm John Edwards, Interzone #4, Spring 1983, The Year’s Best Horror Stories: Series XII, 1984; Interzone: The First Anthology, 1986

Another fine melding of sci-fi and horror. It’s too bad that Edwards, a playwright and editor, didn’t write more short stories.

***

The Man with Legs, by Al Sarrantonio, Shadows No. 6, October 1983, The Year’s Best Horror Stories: Series XII, 1984

Two kids learn some disturbing secrets about their family history.

***

Mengele, by Lucius Shepard, Universe 15, 1985, The Jaguar Hunter, 1988

Troubling things are going on at an estate located in a remote region of Paraguay.

***

Red Christmas, by David Garnett, The Year's Best Horror Stories: Series XIV, 1986

What seems like a conventional Mad Slasher story has a neat little twist at the end.

***

Shining On, by Billie Sue Mosiman, Future Net, 1996

A mutant suffering from severe handicaps finds a friend online. But you know what they say about online friends……..just who are they in person ?

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Book Review: The Best Horror from Fantasy Tales

Book Review: 'The Best Horror from Fantasy Tales'
Fantasy Tales was a semi-professional magazine published in the UK from 1977 to 1991 for a total of 24 issues (spaced over two Volumes). 

Editors Stephen Jones and David Sutton consciously modeled their magazine on the classic pulp Weird Tales, and thus, Fantasy Tales published as many (if not more) horror stories than fantasy, and featured black-and-white and graytone illustrations by artists such as Stephen Fabian and Jim Pitts. 

Fantasy Tales can be seen as the British counterpart to American semi-professional magazines of the 1970s and 1980s, such as Whispers, GrueCemetery Dance, and Midnight Graffiti.

Along with reprints of vintage stories from the Pulp era, each issue featured new stories by contributors who would go on to become prominent names in the genre. For many of these contributors, their earliest works appeared first in Fantasy Tales, giving the magazine a special place in the hearts of British fandom.


After 1991 Jones and Sutton decided to discontinue publishing Fantasy Tales and instead went into assembling and editing anthologies of horror and fantasy fiction incorporating previously published content as well as newly commissioned stories. As of 2021 three volumes of these anthologies have been issued: The Best Horror Stories from Fantasy Tales (1988), The Giant Book of Fantasy (1991), and The Giant Book of Fantasy and the Supernatural (1994).

Jones has had a very prolific and very successful career as an editor and packager of books on all aspects of fantasy media, including the 500+ page Best New Horror series of trade paperbacks (which, as of 2020, was up to Volume 30).

This Carroll and Graf trade paperback edition (268 pp.) of The Best Horror from Fantasy Tales was issued in 2003, with cover art by Brom, and features the original illustrations that accompanied the stories when they appeared in the magazine. With the exception of the reprints of Pulp era stories, all of the entries in The Best Horror first saw print between 1975 - 1986. Some are the recipients of the British Fantasy Award and / or the World Fantasy Award.

My capsule summaries of the contents:

The Forbidden, by Clive Barker (1985): a graduate student named Helen Buchanan, who is writing her thesis on 'Graffitti: The Semiotics of Urban Despair', investigates a notorious murder committed in a public restroom of the Spector Street Estate, a decaying Liverpool apartment complex. This novelette later became the basis of the 1992 film Candyman. It remains one of the best of Barker's works, and is the standout piece in this anthology.

The Dark Country, by Dennis Etchison (1981): Jack Martin, an American, is living a dissipated life in a crumbling beachfront hotel in Baja Mexico when an incident involving fellow gringos places a pall on the holiday atmosphere.

This is not a horror story, but a crime story with a simplistic plot and a narrative overloaded with figurative prose and empty sentences designed to communicate a noir-ish atmosphere:

He had been lost in a nightmare of domination and forced acquiescence before people who meant to do him harm. It returned to him in fragments. What did it mean ? He shook it off and rolled out of bed.
  
'The Dark Country' wouldn't have passed muster in an early 80s crime magazine or digest but when submitted to a horror magazine it was considered a great example of Quiet Horror. Meh !

Dead to the World, by Allen Lucas (aka Allen Ashley) (1982): the first-person narrator finds himself beset with an unusual medical condition.

The Generation Waltz, by Charles L. Grant (1984): on a rainy Fall day in Oxrun Station, a man attends the wake for his late Gram.........yet another 'Quiet Horror' dud from Grant. The bulk of the narrative is devoted to creating a 'disquieting' atmosphere, so much so that the closing page is an exercise in hurried silliness, as if Grant suddenly realized he was writing a horror story and not a psychodrama and needed to interject Something Disturbing into his denouement.

The Frolic, by Thomas Ligotti (1982): cozy in their living room, a prison psychiatrist and his wife converse about a very disturbing inmate. This early tale from Ligotti suffers from turgid prose. I found the ending to be too contrived to be effective.

The Strange Years, by Brian Lumley (1982): the End of the World, related within less than five pages. Tries to do too much within too little space, and comes across as hasty and unconvincing.

Ever the Faith Endures, by Manly Wade Wellman (1978): a North Carolina man finds ancient evil lurking at the family homestead in the UK. Another well-crafted 'folk horror' tale from Wellman. 

Extension 201, by Cyril Simsa (1979): evil lurks in the dusty corridors of the Museum of Natural History........a 'traditional' horror story, done with straightforward plotting and competent prose (by an author for whom English was presumably not a first language, no less).

The Last Wolf, by Karl Edward Wagner (1975): in the future, books have been superseded by electronic-based media; the Last Writer stubbornly refuses to capitulate. This story is a homage to Ray Bradbury. I'm not a Bradbury fan, so I can't say it did all that much for me.

Tongue in Cheek, by Mike Grace (1984): When her car breaks down, Annabel is forced to walk down a dark, deserted road in rural England.......it's very spooky. This short story is amateurish, but it does feature an amazing illustration (below) by Mark Dunn.


The Bad People, by Steve Rasnic Tem (1984): another 'gringo in Mexico' entry. This time its uneasy single father Cliff, who encounters a strange apparition roaming the hot and dusty streets of Mexico. A standard-issue 'weird fiction' tale, where you can't tell if the Horror is external, or simply a manifestation of the protagonist's psychological trauma. Meh.

A Place of No Return, by Hugh B. Cave (1981): an arrogant American academic investigates rumors of zombis in rural Haiti. While most readers undoubtedly will see the ending coming from a long way off, as always, Cave's prose is straightforward and unadorned and a welcome alternative to the clotted style of the Quiet Horror practitioners.

The Terminus, by Kim Newman (1985): a policeman investigates disappearances in the tunnels of the London Underground. This story, from early in Newman's career, is only three pages in length, but its denouement is as effective a demonstration of 'Quiet Horror' as anything Charles L. Grant, Dennis Etchison, and T. E. D. Klein ever wrote.

The Green Man, by Kelvin Jones (1983): an Anglican pastor discovers that disturbing things are taking place on the grounds of his church. A successful effort at infusing the classic English ghost story setting with a modern sensibility.

The Voice of the Beach, by Ramsey Campbell (1982): two friends staying at a beach resort on the English coast see strange apparitions in the surrounding landscape. 

Reading this tale was like sputum forced from the distended lips of a sickly pensioner, clutching his stained tweed jacket with its odor of pipe tobacco left too long in its foil packet. I felt detached; why did the spectacle of the hazy sky project disquiet ?  A trash can, spattered with seagull droppings, trespassed on the pedestrian walkway. Crossing the sand provoked a feeling of helplessness; from the corner of my eye, I noticed a patch of darkness appear on the verge. Did it writhe ? Another glance and it was gone; it had never been.

There are a number of reprinted Pulp Era stories:  'Dreams May Come' by H. Warner Munn (1939), 'Don't Open that Door' by Frances Wellman (1940), 'The Sorcerer's Jewel' by Robert Bloch (1939), and 'In the X-Ray' by Fritz Leiber (1949). 

The black and white illustrations, done by Jim Pitts, John Stewart, Andrew Smith, David Lloyd, Dave Carson, Randy Broecker, Allen Koszowski, Alan Hunter, Russ Nicholson, Mark Dunn, and Tom Campbell, all are very good and perfectly capture the Weird Tales sensibility sought by the editors.

The verdict ? I finished The Best Horror from Fantasy Tales thinking that this anthology offered too little truly noteworthy material to be a must-have. 

If you are a dedicated horror fiction enthusiast, then if you find a copy of The Best Horror from Fantasy Tales on the shelves of a used bookstore, and it's reasonable priced, you might want to pick it up. But all others can pass.  

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Rodney Matthews, Michael Moorcock, and Fantasy Illustration in the 1970s

Rodney Matthews, Michael Moorcock, and Fantasy Illustration in the 1970s

The UK artist Rodney Matthews (b. 1945) emerged as a prominent commercial artist in the early 1970s when the Big O poster company began issuing posters based on his fantasy paintings.

At his blog, Matthews has an entertaining series of posts about how, in 1975, he initiated a collaboration with author Michael Moorcock about providing illustrations for the 'Elric' franchise. The collaboration is still going strong - as prints and NFTS - as of 2021. Matthews's posts also provide some interesting insights into the financial realities of being a commercial artist in the UK in the 70s and 80s.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Book Review: The Fog

Book Review: 'The Fog' by James Herbert
Signet paperback, US, 1975

New English Library paperback, 1975, UK

un-used cover artwork by Tim White for the 1975 New English Library edition, UK

5 / 5 Stars

If you read horror fiction at all during the 70s, then it's highly likely that at some point during that time you encountered a James Herbert novel, and it's also likely that none grabbed your attention quite the way The Fog did.......

I remember being intrigued by the Signet paperback copy of this book (275 pp) when it first was published in December 1975. 

I was then a sophomore in high school, and The Fog wound up being passed hand to hand among most of the kids in my class. It was like 'literary crack'.

The book's uncredited cover artist provided a masterpiece of lurid, eye-catching illustration........all you needed to see was the nude bodies smeared with blood, and the faces gleaming with Depraved Intent, to know that this was no 'traditional' 70s horror novel like The Other, Carrie, Julia, Burnt Offerings, or The Little Girl Who Lives Down the LaneMannered books, devoid of much in the way of explicit horror or violence.

The Fog, as is now quite clear, was - along with Herbert's 1974 novel The Rats - a primordial Splatterpunk novel. Even today, nearly 50 years later, both of Herbert's novels still retain their offbeat and provocative nature.

Steve Crisp's cover art for the 1988 New English Library edition, UK

I won't offer a full synopsis of The Fog, mainly because there are plenty of in-depth reviews available online. 

I will say the plot is relatively straightforward: a freak earthquake takes place near a small village located close to the Salisbury Plain in southern Britain. A strange gas escapes from the newly opened fissure in the ground, and begins to spread over the countryside. All people and animals exposed to the Fog undergo a rapid loss of their inhibitions, and revert into a crazed fugue state, one that sees them overly prone to carry out violent acts with no hesitation or remorse.

John Holman, a square-jawed, no-nonsense Department of the Environment employee, has survived a firsthand encounter with the Fog, and quickly becomes the lead actor in the government's efforts to locate, and counter, the phenomenon. 

But for Holman and the UK, time is running out. For the Fog is heading for London....... !

The main plot thread centers on the adventures of John Holman and his mission to defeat the Fog. 

This is interspersed with vignettes gleefully depicting the various acts of mayhem and gory atrocities that the Fog-crazed denizens of the British countryside and city are wont to indulge in. Throughout his novel, Herbert relies on a detached prose style that lends itself well to recounting the increasingly gruesome toll taken by the psychotic victims of the Fog.

And, Herbert avoids the obvious cop-out in making the Fog an occult or supernatural menace; there is a sf subtext to the plot that, in my opinion, gives the book an edge over his related work, The Dark (1980). In this regard, The Fog acquires the sort of quasi-documentary style that is typified by Michael Crichton novels.

Summing up..........if you haven't read The Fog (or for that matter, The Rats) then it should be on your reading list. 

It's by no means a triumph of 'literary achievement' (as such things might be counted), but it's a seminal novel in the birth of 'modern' horror.

Before there was Clive Barker, Tight Little Stitches in a Dead Man's Back, Book of the Dead, and Jerry's Kids Meet Wormboy - there was James Herbert and The Fog

Saturday, October 9, 2021

At the Library Sale October 2021

At the Library Sale 
October 2021
Time once again for the local library's Fall 2021 Used Book Sale. As always, I elbowed my way past the predatory Dealers who tote cardboard boxes and scan titles with apps on their smartphones, and carefully examined the sci-fi section. 

Amidst the predictable surfeit of books from Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Mercedes Lackey, James Blish, and David Webber, I was able to find some nice vintage paperbacks (above) for a buck each.

I also picked up a couple of hardcovers; one is a trilogy of 'Riddlemaster of Hed' novels by Patricia McKillip, the other, an anthology of Leigh Brackett short stories.
 
Always good to visit the Library Sale. You can find some offbeat little treasures.....

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Graveyard Ghosts by Gilbert Shelton

Graveyard Ghosts
by Gilbert Shelton
from Zap Comix No. 13, 1994

Gilbert Shelton - best known for 'The Furry Freak Brothers' - was a skilled draftsman, as demonstrated in this black-and-white two-pager from a later issue of Zap Comix.

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Book Review: The Architecture of Fear

Book Review: 'The Architecture of Fear' edited by Kathryn Cramer and Peter D. Pautz
2 / 5 Stars

'The Architecture of Fear' first was published in hardcover by Arbor House in October, 1987. This Avon Books paperback edition (278 pp.) was published in January, 1989. The cover artist is Tim O'Brien.  

Editor Cramer has assembled numerous anthologies in the horror, fantasy, and sf genres.

In his Introduction, editor Pautz, who takes himself very seriously, tells the reader that this anthology has a Purpose:

.......Always the stories. I hope they horrify you. I hope they awaken you, help you to do something about the horror. Call a cop, protect a child, vote, read another book. But do something !   

I'm afraid that for my part, with 'The Architecture of Fear', I simply was looking for some entertainment, not inspiration to take action against Social Injustice.............so call me brutish and uncaring, then.

My capsule reviews of the contents:

In the House of Gingerbread, by Gene Wolfe: Tina Heim's husband died of lung cancer, despite not being a smoker. The life insurance company sends an investigator to interview Tina about this peculiarity..........perhaps there something in the house that was responsible ?

Wolfe's prose style is surprisingly accessible, and although the story ends on something of an oblique note, it does feature some convincing villains.

Ellen, In Her Time, by Charles L. Grant: in their Introduction to this entry, the editors announce that:
 
....Charles L. Grant is a pervasive presence in contemporary fantasy.....a successful author who reads human reaction like a country physician. He is a writer who knows the darker sides of love.

'Ellen' sees our protagonist, Tim Edding, trying to climb over the wall into a Winter-time cemetery.........most readers will see where this story is going well in advance. I can't say that I found this story to be a remarkable exploration of the 'darker sides of love'. Maybe someone else did.

Nesting Instinct, by Scott Baker: Paris, 1968, and innocent young American girl Tracy arrives at a peculiar apartment building. The communal first floor toilet smells horrible (this is France, after all) but soon she learns there are much stranger things going on further up the staircase.......a decent tale.

Endless Night, by Karl Edward Wagner: a plotless series of vignettes about someone's nightmares. The Editors assure us that Wagner's contribution is a powerful reminder of The Banality of Evil. For my part, I thought this story was an example of how Wagner would meet commitments to anthology editors by grabbing something from the Reject Pile and turning it around with minimal effort............

The Fetch, by Robert Aickman: I had no illusions about a novelette from Aickman, and 'The Fetch' didn't steer me wrong. The plot has something to do with a haunted house situated in a remote area of Scotland. There is a housekeeper named Cuddy, who says enigmatic things. There is a caretaker named Mason, who serves overcooked steaks. There is a maid named Aline, who finds the house disturbing. None of these make the story at all interesting. 

Aickman's prose style is wordy and tedious; more talented authors would have taken the thin plot of 'The Fetch' and easily bounded it within a six-page story. Readers will need to prepare to encounter the words 'meiosis' (understatement), 'maquillage' (cosmetics, makeup) and 'hereditament' (an item of inheritance).

Trust Me, by Joseph Lyons: a 2-pager about the Boogeyman, competently done.

Visitors, by Jack Dann: A young man named Charlie, who is suffering from peritonitis, is in the hospital. He Sees Dead People. An effective story with an ending that avoids contrivance.

Gentlemen, by John Skipp and Craig Spector: what are the Splatterpunks doing in this anthology ?! 'Gentlemen' is about first-person narrator Dave, a Sensitive Guy who finds himself obliged to visit a Manhattan dive bar in order to comfort a girl he long has pined for. By the story's end, Dave has become a Real Man.

This story tries oh-so-hard to say something Important about misogyny and the corrupting nature of traditional masculinity, but comes across as preachy. It's saved by a stomach-churning description of the worst Bar and Grill men's room ever to be presented in a work of fiction.......... 

Down in the Darkness, by Dean R. Koontz: Jesus Gonzalez has purchased a very fine home in Laguna Beach, California. He discovers a door leading down to a basement. But the Realtor never mentioned anything about a basement.......didn't she ? One of the better stories in the anthology.

Haunted, by Joyce Carol Oates: Melissa and her friend Mary Lou like to visit the abandoned houses in their rural neighborhood. Someone should've told them to stay away from one house, in particular........I found this story to be a little too over-written (do we really need exhaustive descriptions of the interior contents of old houses ?) to be effective.

In the Memory Room, by Michael Bishop: while Gina Callan lies in her coffin, being viewed by her relatives in the funeral parlor (the eponymous 'memory room'), she has a telepathic conversation with the parlor hostess. More of a humor tale, certainly not horror or dark fantasy.

Tales from the Original Gothic, by John M. Ford: a team of paranormal researchers investigate the apparition of a haunted house. Things do not go well when a damsel seemingly in distress makes her appearance.

This is the worst entry in the anthology. I have no idea why editors Cramer and Pautz accepted it. Ford deploys a self-consciously 'metafictional' prose style that reads like something Philip Jose Farmer did in his New Wave stories, like 'Riders of the Purple Wage', back in the late 60s. 

If you can't work up a functioning plot and characters, then don't try and pass off stream-of-consciousness as coherence. Tell the editors 'sorry, I can't contribute', and let someone else get the call to contribute...........

The House that Knew No Hate, by Jessica Amanda Salmonson: middle-aged couple Nona and Donald move into the latter's childhood home. Soon Donald is seeing ghosts from the past.....or are they hallucinations ? Salmonson invests considerable effort in building up mood and atmosphere, but the denouement is too vague to be effective. 

The verdict ? 'The Architecture of Fear' is like the majority of horror anthologies that saw print in the 1980s: a surfeit of unremarkable, phoned-in entrants, along with a few worthwhile tales. I can't give it more than a 2-star rating.

Saturday, October 2, 2021

October 2021 is Spooky Stories Month

October 2021 is Spooky Stories Month at the PorPor Books Blog !

Traditionally here at the PorPor Books Blog we celebrate the month of October, and Halloween, by reviewing horror titles. 

For October 2021 we have a nice lineup of anthologies and novels..........look for reviews of these titles throughout the month !