Mike’s Prattle

Miscellaneous

Charles L. Grant ed. – Shadows; Paul Kane/Marie O’Regan ed. – Hellbound Hearts; Brian Aldiss – Moment of Eclipse; Fritz Leiber – “The Moriarty Gambit;” Manly Wade Wellman “But Our Hero Was Not Dead;” Robert Bloch “The Dynamics of an Asteroid;”

Posted by Mike on May 20, 2010

And even more books…

Shadows was the first in a long line of horror anthologies and I believe this volume won the World Fantasy Award when it was released. I’d already read the bookends, Avram Davidson’s “Naples,” and even longer ago, the Stephen King story at the end, “Nona,” (which was reminiscent of a much earlier Fritz Leiber piece, both about the darker influences a mysterious figure can have on someone, perhaps, suggestible), so I checked it out and read all the middle pieces. In particular I found Thomas Monteleone’s Sicilian gypsy story “Where All the Songs Are Sad” to be particularly creepy with very evocative imagery, if perhaps with a predictable ending. I’m surprised Ramsey Campbell’s “Dead Letters” didn’t make it to “Alone With the Horrors,” but not at all surprised with “The Little Voice” which I found significantly weaker. Michael Bishop’s “Mory” was also particularly creepy as a man witnesses over his life the systematic dispatching of everyone he ever cared for, for a reason the protagonist seems oblivious of. Dennis Etchison’s “The Nighthawk” about a child who starts out with a particular mythology that turns out to have a much more personal meaning, was also pretty decent. Overall I think an anthology like this seems to represent the “horror as suggestion” theme, almost as an answer to the splatterpunk and gorier works from the same period. I certainly find myself a lot more in tune with this kind of work, however in many instances the failings are that particular stories may not quite suggest enough, which is something, for example, I find in the weaker Campbell stories.

On the other hand you have the collection Hellbound Hearts which ostensibly suggests the opposite of Shadows. It’s of course an anthology of stories based on Clive Barker’s “The Hellbound Heart” and the subsequent series of Hellraiser movies and tends to run a wide range of styles and positions, from the more suggestive work of Conrad Williams and Tim Lebbon to much more graphic fare. I very much enjoyed its diversity, certainly many of these stories are far more interesting than the endless movie sequels. But in terms of an argument between the suggestive and graphic, unsurprisingly it’s the suggestive stories that are the most effective here. Perhaps Nancy Kilpatrick’s “The Promise” was the most haunting, this time about a group of unfortunates who are impelled to return to a graveyard and their teenage Cenobite experience. The horror of it is not caused by graphic examples of tortured victims but of the inexorable fate the group cannot in the end avoid. Likewise Kelley Armstrong’s “The Collector” turns the mythos on its head, as the protagonist encounters a website with a puzzle. Anyone expecting hooked chains to come flying out of a monitor are likely to be very surprised. Conrad Williams’ The Cold, is perhaps, the most literary work and more character study – unsurprisingly it’s one of the most tenuously related stories to the original mythos (as an analog it’s like a Lovecraftian story that doesn’t mention the Necronomicon). Gaiman and McKean’s illustrated work is surprisingly well done, even if the printing job doesn’t seem to do the art more justice, I almost got more out of the script provide at the end. In this case the connection to the mythos is via words and very clever. On the other hand, you get the type of fare that one might expect when the movies are the dominant influence such as Mick Garris’ “Hellbound Hollywood” which doesn’t seem to set up the story as much as wanting to reach a gory and shocking end or Barbie Wilde’s “Sister Silice” which seemed an exercise in masochism. But relatively these shorts are few compared to the more clever ones and I’d definitely add Lebbon, Golden/Mignola, Sarah Pinborough and Sarah Langan stories to the ones that didn’t just ape the whole protag-wants-a-secret-and-instead-gets-torture theme that seems to be the most common way one might interpret the mythos. Of course I probably would not have ever read this if I didn’t think the central conceit to be pretty terrifying at heart and ended up enjoying this collection a lot more than I thought I would.

Miles away from all this horror is Brian Aldiss’ early 70s collection Moment of Eclipse. One story in particular here “Super Toys Last All Summer Long” was the root story for the very bad Steven Spielberg movie “A.I.” with Haley Osment. Unsurprisingly the very short short story has little to do with the movie, except for an AI child, a mother and the kid’s talking teddy bear and as such it was a millon more time effective in portraying the difference between humanity and what amount to an android. But there’s better work in here, such as the trio of immortality stories starting with “The Circulation of a Blood” about a scientist in the near future that discovers a virus in certain animals that could lead to immortality for humans. Naturally this is all delievered in a very Ballardian, almost surrealist sort of way and focuses on the scientist, his wife and his child from his first wife and what happens among the relationships when he’s gone for months. In fact most of the longer stories in this collection seem to result from a visit or visits to India and the relationships and differences between English and Indian culture, indeed the second “immortality” shifts the characters, now immortal, forward in time to a dying Calcutta. Despite the central work here there’s also some diversity, including the brilliant “Heresies of the Huge God,” a future history which explains the past from when some gigantic object, perhaps galactic flotsam, lands on earth leading to major catastrophes as it shifts through the years, eventually inspiring the religion of the narrator. And “Swastika!” about a chat between the author and a still living Adolph Hitler who explains his “true” mission for the way and his opinion on then-modern politics.

The last three stories are all found in a Sherlock Holmes anthology, one I borrowed in order to read the Leiber short, a reminiscence of a chess match between Holmes and Moriarty. Naturally with all the grids, this is likely to be lost on anyone who doesn’t understand them. Wellman posits one of Holmes’ last encounters during World War II as a spy blunder across he and Watson living in retirement. And Bloch concentrates on a latter-years Moriarty attempting to find redemption for his prior crimes by assisting in the space race.

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