Vastarien, the horror journal established and launched in 2018 by Jon Padgett and me (with crucial input from a couple of other valued friends) has just been named Magazine of the Year in the annual This Is Horror Awards. In addition to launching the journal, Jon and I co-edited the first two issues, after which I had to bow out due to other mounting obligations (including an insane year at my college VP job plus a mountain of necessary work on my dissertation). Jon has headed up two more issues since then, with all issues being published by his Grimscribe Press.
The awards in question are based on reader votes and conducted by This Is Horror, the online horror mini-empire consisting of two popular podcasts — This Is Horror, hosted by Michael David Wilson and Bob Pastorella, and The Outer Dark, hosted by Scott Nicolay — plus a thriving website and a publishing arm. You may recall that in 2017 and 2018, Jon and I made appearances separately and together on both podcasts (This Is Horror 177, This Is Horror 178, This Is Horror 193, The Outer Dark 031). We talked specifically about the birth of Vastarien on TIH 193 and TOD 031.
Here is Jon’s public statement about winning the TIH Award:
Vastarien: A Literary Journal was conceived five years ago by a handful of people who wanted to see more writing about and in response to the work of writer/thinker Thomas Ligotti. Since then, our publication has been bombarded with stellar, but unusual, work by authors and artists — many of whom are underrepresented and/or newer voices. Without them and the incredible support Vastarien continues to receive from its devoted readers, this singular journal never would have come to fruition. Thanks so much to all of you and the staff of This Is Horror for this wonderful award.
—Jon Padgett, Editor-in-Chief of Vastarien: A Literary Journal
THIS IS HORROR FICTION MAGAZINE OF THE YEAR
Click to see the full list of 2019 This Is Horror Awards, which includes novels, novellas, short story collections, anthologies, magazines, publishers, and podcasts.
I’m quite proud of what Vastarien has brought to the world with its mission of publishing work that A) illuminates the work of Thomas Ligotti and/or B) shares a kind of Ligottian DNA. Thematically, it encompasses the swirling sea-galaxy of writers, thinkers, ideas, philosophers/philosophies, spiritual traditions, artistic traditions, etc., that intersect with the Ligottian literary cosmos. Formally, it encompasses fiction, nonfiction, poetry, art, and liminal and hybrid works of fiction/nonfiction/poetry. It gives a platform to both established voices and newcomers. It provides an outlet for ideas, perspectives, and emotions that are not often expressed elsewhere. The fact that it has been so well-received by readers is a welcome — and, quite honestly, surprising (at least to me) — validation of this approach. It’s also a testament to the able guidance of Jon, who has captained this ship and stood at the center of the whole project. After the publication of the second issue, Signal Horizon declared Vastarien “the most exciting thing in horror lit right now.” A year later, the TIH crowd has chosen it as their favorite magazine of 2019. Clearly, Jon is leading it from strength to strength. As for me, I’m looking forward to returning for some editorial involvement in the near future.
On a related note, Tim Waggoner’s short story “How to Be a Horror Writer,” which Jon and I accepted for publication in the second issue, is currently nominated for a Shirley Jackson Award.
During my senior year of high school, I was introduced to the writings of Richard Bach. I started, appropriately enough, with his first book, that ultra-mega-bestseller from the 1970s, Jonathan Livingston Seagull. I read it in my high school’s modern literature class, taught by Mrs. Ellis, who included it on a list of books from which students could choose. She conducted the class in an independent reading mode, where we could each choose our books individually, spend time in class reading them, and then write reports and deliver presentations. It ended up being one of my favorite classes in all of high school, not least because Mrs. Ellis accepted suggestions for books not included on her provided list, which is how I came to read The Vampire Lestat and Stephen King’s It while sitting in first hour.
But back to Bach. I thoroughly enjoyed Jonathan Livingston Seagull and grokked it at a deep level (although I didn’t know the term “grok” at that point in my life). I then chose to read his Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah on my own time. It was a pure joy, and I still love it all these years later, even though I’m not really aligned with its central New Thought-inflected philosophy (although I do find value in some aspects of that). Something about Bach’s truly engaging and elegant way of presenting spiritual philosophy through the vehicle of a winsome semi-fiction, the way he combined his real-life experiences with an obviously fantastic story of how he ran into a bona fide messiah (now retired, having decided to quit the job when nobody would understand him) while making a private living flying an old biplane around the American Midwest and giving three-dollar rides, really enraptured me. I think it also added impetus to my then-developing penchant for books that deal with philosophical and spiritual ideas; shortly after finishing it, I started on Alan Watts, Robert Anton Wilson (including his nonfiction, although the boundaries are nebulous for him), and Nietzsche. Bach was also a featured author in the creativity class taught by Dr. Betty Scott that I took at the University of Missouri, which I talk about in my post “Shadow Visitors: Sleep Paralysis and Discarnate ‘Dark Ones.'”
Years later, when I was a hardcore reader of Wilson’s books, I learned from his The Illuminati Papers that Bach had been one of the experimental subjects in Russell Targ’s and Hal Puthoff’s remote viewing research at the Stanford Research Institute. At the time, I was only just learning about that whole wing of paranormal history, and its connection with Bach blew my mind. It was some time later that I discovered this info wasn’t exactly a secret, as Bach had written the foreword to Targ and Puthoff’s semi-classic 1977 book Mind-Reach: Scientists Look at Psychic Abilities (which also featured a foreword by Margaret Mead [!]).
Which brings me to this: A few days ago I stumbled across the following eight-minute clip from Jeffrey Mishlove’s Thinking Allowed in which Bach talks about his experiences at SRI. This discovery was thoroughly accidental, and it resurrected all those old feelings of affection for Bach’s books. This was helped by the fact that in the clip, he presents what seems to me one of the most candid and enjoyable accounts of what went on at SRI during those heady years. He starts by talking about the relationship between fiction, reality, and the ideas that seem to guide one’s life because they feel native when one first encounters them. The part about remote viewing starts at 2:33 and features Bach’s detailed account of one successful experiment that blew his mind.
I look back now on the last twenty years of my life and say, “Now, Richard, what have you been doing?” What I’ve been discovering is the power of the imagination and how ideas translate into what we call the real world around us. . . . [Russell Targ] said, “Richard, next time you’re on the west coast, stop by [SRI], please.” I did, and I walked into this room, and they shut the door behind me, and they closed the blinds. I said, “What’s going on here?” He said, “A fellow experimenter, Hal Puthoff, is somewhere in the Bay Area. You have no idea where. Now just relax, Richard, and tell us where he is. Describe what he’s looking at this minute.” “Well, what do I do, Russell? Do I open my eyes? Do I close my eyes? What am I supposed to do?” “Anything. If you want to leave your eyes open, that’s fine.” So I closed my eyes. I opened them again and said, “Russell, I’m making it up.” He said, “That’s right. You’re making it up. Tell us what you make up.”
In light of yesterday’s awful mosque attacks in New Zealand, I feel led to start with this except from a 2003 PBS interview with Thich Nhat Hanh. After an extensive conversation about Buddhism, Christianity, mindfulness, and other such matters, and their relationship to gritty large-scale matters of war and violence, the interaction ends with this:
Q: What is so tantalizing about talking to you is the wonderful promise of your teachings at the personal level, and the frustration of not seeing how it can change the policies of big institutions, such as government.
A: It is the individual who can effectuate change. When I change, I can help produce change in you. As a journalist, you can help change many people. That’s the way things go. There’s no other way. Because you have the seed of understanding, compassion, and insight in you. What I say can water that seed, and the understanding and compassion are yours and not mine. You see? My compassion, my understanding can help your compassion and understanding to manifest. It’s not something that you can transfer.
Are you burned out on collapse? According to a recent article on “the hidden psychological toll of living through a time of fracture,” you’re not alone. As the writer astutely observes, “When reality itself has turned into something like a grotesque, bizarre dystopia, then just making contact with it is deeply psychologically stressful.”
Douglas Rushkoff has offered a brief and typically insightful reflection on the deep cause and possible cure for our culture of doom and collapse: the Internet is acid, and America is having a bad trip. (Seriously, his thesis is profound.)
Meanwhile, journalist and author Nick Bilton writes in Vanity Fair that “No One Is at the Controls” as “Facebook, Amazon, and Others Are Turning Life into a Horrific Bradbury Novel.” It occurs to me that his thesis — that the Internet now runs itself, that “nobody is behind the curtain” of our digital dystopia — resonates with the horrific discovery of the empty movie theater projection booth in Lamberto Bava’s Demons. The characters storm the booth after the horror movie they’ve been watching comes to life and fills the theater with raging, murderous demons. But their horror is compounded when they discover there’s no projectionist. In other words, nobody is responsible. Nobody is making the nightmare happen. The equipment all just runs on its own. As one of them fearfully observes in a line of dialogue that resonates with overtones of cosmic nihilism, “Oh, God, then that means no one’s ever been here!” (Watch the scene.)
By contrast, this is quite lovely: Composer James Agnelli created music by using the position of birds on electrical wires to represent notes. Then he facilitated the production of this short film about it. Also see the brief explanation of further background at The Daily Grail.
In his recent commencement address to graduates of the Bennington Writing Seminars at Vermont’s Bennington College, poet and author Garth Greenwell communicated some riveting advice and wisdom on living the writer’s life: “To write a story or a poem or an essay is to make a claim about what we find beautiful, about what moves us, to reveal a vision of the world, which is always terrifying; to write seriously is to find ourselves pressed against not just our technical but our moral limits. . . . That intimate communication between writer and reader, that miracle of affective translation across distance and time, is the real life of literature; that’s what matters.” His words on the place of literary awards and sales figures are particularly astute: “The soul one pours into a novel or a collection of poems, the years of effort a book represents — what possible response from the world could be adequate recompense for that?”
This explain a lot: A secret brain trust of scientists and billionaires, unofficially headquartered at Silicon Valley, has embraced belief in UFOs as a new religious mode.
And then there’s this: “The British military is recruiting philosophers, psychologists and theologians to research new methods of psychological warfare and behavioural manipulation, leaked documents show.” Apparently the project comes with a communications campaign to help manage “reputational risks” for participating academic institutions. Quoth one Cambridge scholar interviewed for the linkedGuardian piece, “Now I don’t want to be too academic about this, but it’s very striking that a programme designed to change people’s views and opinions for military purposes would spend some of its money changing people’s views and opinions, so that they wouldn’t object to changing people’s views and opinions. See what they did there?”
An essay at The American Scholar titled “The Sound of Evil” provides an interesting cinematic-cultural-sociological analysis of the avenues by which classical music in movies and television have become synonymous with villainy
A free symposium titled “Detecting Pessimism: Thomas Ligotti and the Weird in an Age of Post-Truth” will be held this June at Manchester Metropolitan University’s 70 Oxford St. The announcement explains that “Ligotti is increasingly seen as one of the key literary horror and weird fiction writers of recent decades whose works present a unique, bleak and controversial portrayal of both human existence and society.” The symposium “will comprise of [sic] two panels with papers delivered by staff and students on Ligotti and the weird mode, and will include a keynote delivered by weird expert Professor Roger Luckhurst. They will explore the works, philosophy and influence of Ligotti within a diverse range of contexts, from philosophical nihilism and pessimism, weird fiction and horror to his impact on film and television.” (Tangential side note: About half the presenting scholars were involved in my Horror Literature through History encyclopedia.) Even if you, like me, will sadly be unable to attend, you can still read this piece containing brief interviews with some of the participants about their thoughts on Ligotti and his work.
While the rest of the US raves breathlessly on about AOC and Wells Fargo or whatever, I much prefer to slow down and savor a delicious interview with Whitley Strieber about his outlandish experiences and the way his career as a major and still-rising horror novelist was derailed when he became America’s most prominent paranormal lightning rod.
December saw the publication of Peter Bebergal’s Strange Frequencies: The Extraordinary Story of the Technological Quest for the Supernatural. Teeming Brain readers will recall that Peter was one of the panelists on the Teeming Brain podcast “Cosmic Horror vs. Sacred Terror.” His new book offers “a journey through the attempts artists, scientists, and tinkerers have made to imagine and communicate with the otherworldly using various technologies, from cameras to radiowaves.”
T. E. (Ted) Grau, who produced a handful of fine articles for The Teeming Brain a few years back, is presently on the final ballot for the Bram Stoker Award for his novel I Am the River. Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review, saying that “Grau’s poetic prose and stunning evocation of time and place, from the killing fields of Vietnam to the haunted alleyways of Bangkok, form a fever dream of copious bloodshed and many shades of gray.”
Speaking of horror, the crowd-funded documentary In Search of Darkness is in its final stages of production. I only learned about the project recently via a tweet from long-time Teeming Brain friend and fellow religion/horror adept John Morehead. Here’s the official description, followed by the official trailer. The description reads like a feast, while the trailer feels like a time warp to my misspent, VHS-saturated adolescence.
Featuring compelling critical takes and insider tales of the Hollywood filmmaking experience throughout the 1980s, In Search of Darkness will provide fans with a unique perspective on the decade that gave rise to some of the horror genre’s greatest icons, performers, directors and franchises that forever changed the landscape of modern cinema. Tracking major theatrical releases, obscure titles and straight-to-video gems, the incredible array of interviewees that have been assembled for ISOD will weigh in on a multitude of topics: from creative and budgetary challenges creatives faced throughout the decade to the creature suits and practical effects that reinvigorated the makeup effects industry during the era to the eye-popping stunts that made a generation of fans believe in the impossible. In Search of Darkness will also celebrate many of the atmospheric soundtracks released during that time, the resurgence of 3-D filmmaking, the cable TV revolution and the powerful marketing in video store aisles, the socio-political allegories infused throughout many notable films, and so much more.
Finally, a recent piece by Glenn Greenwald deserves to be read by everybody of all political persuasions: “NYT’s Exposé on the Lies About Burning Aid Trucks in Venezuela Shows How U.S. Government and Media Spread Pro-War Propaganda.” It presents an utterly damning account of collusion between the U.S. government and U.S. corporate media to foment Venezuelan regime change through brazen lies, thus perpetuating a long and sordid tradition in America’s international relations.
To my own considerable surprise, Leviathan is finally on the way to being roused. After a six-year delay that was entirely my own creation, I can now announce that my third collection of horror fiction, To Rouse Leviathan, will soon become a reality. I recently submitted the final story — a comprehensive revision and expansion of a collaboration between Mark McLaughlin and me that was first published in the early aughts — to Hippocampus Press. Presently, I’m given to understand that cover art has already been developed and preorders will open soon. I’ll share information about both when it’s available.
Currently, you can read the collection’s table of contents at my author site. Be advised that the cover image there is just a mockup of my own creation. The contents themselves comprise the complete set of stories that made up my first collection, Divinations of the Deep (with one of them being substantially revised), the stories from my second collection, Dark Awakenings (but not the essays; see below), and a third section titled “Apocryphon” that brings together four previously uncollected stories.
There’s been some discussion about another collection to follow this one. It would bring together many of my nonfiction writings about the confluence of religion, horror, creativity, and related matters, including the essays/papers from Dark Awakenings and various uncollected items. I’ll say more when the time is right. For now, I’m just sitting here contemplating the unaccountable return of my fiction writer’s muse, who went into hibernation in 2013 due to various factors and then emerged late last year to enable completion of Leviathan. It’s a strange business, this discipline of living and communing with a demon muse.
Recently, I was interviewed for the excellent Weird Studies podcast. The episode, titled “On Speculative Fiction, with Matt Cardin,” dropped yesterday. You can listen to it with the player above or by clicking through to the site itself. Here’s the episode description:
Neil Gaiman wrote, If literature is the world, then fantasy and horror are twin cities, divided by a river of black water. Flame Tree Publishing underwrites this claim with their recent publication, The Astounding Illustrated History of Fantasy and Horror. The book is a veritable gazetteer of these two cities in the heartland of the imaginal world. Writer and scholar Matt Cardin, founding editor of the marvellous Teeming Brain, wrote a chapter for the book focusing on the books and films of the Sixties and Seventies. In this episode, he joins JF and Phil to discuss the kinship of horror and fantasy, the modern ghettoization of mythopoeic art, the prophetic reach of speculative fiction, and the cauldron of cultural transformation that was the Sixties and Seventies.
Be advised that Teeming Brain readers will likely find Weird Studies to be an essential addition to their listening schedule. It was launched in 2018 by hosts J. F. Martel and Phil Ford. J. F. is an author, screenwriter, and film & TV director from Ottawa, Canada. In 2015 I interviewed him here in connection with his truly wonderful book, Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice. Phil is an associate professor of musicology at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music whose books include Dig: Sound and Music in Hip Culture and a currently in-development project on music and occult styles of thought. The tagline of Weird Studies is “A filmmaker and a professor talk art and philosophy at the limits of the thinkable.” A browse through past episodes uncovers a rich feast.
I’m pleased to announce that The Astounding Illustrated History of Fantasy and Horror, just out from Britain’s Flame Tree Publishing, contains a chapter by me. S. T. Joshi served as consultant editor for the project. He also wrote the book’s introduction. Ramsey Campbell provided the foreword. Other chapter contributors include Roger Luckhurst, Mike Ashley, Michael Carrigan, Dave Golder, Russ Thorne, and Rosie Fletcher. The book is lavishly illustrated and fairly gorgeous; check out the preview at the publisher’s site.
My chapter focuses on fantasy and horror in the 1960s and 1970s. This means writing it felt a bit like conducting an archaeological excavation of my own most primal memories of the literature and cinema of fantasy and horror. A very enjoyable authorial experience indeed.
Here’s the full publisher’s description:
Companion title to The Astounding Illustrated History of Science Fiction, this new book reflects the same roots in Gothic literature but follows a complementary path through the 20th century, to the movies of Peter Jackson, the success of streaming TV series such as Grimm, and the fantasy of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. From the wellspring of Frankenstein, Germanic fairy tales, and heroic, epic myths, a dark and fantastic path can be found to the fragmentation of the 1930s: the schlock horror of early modern movies, the invention of High Fantasy by Tolkien and fellow Inkling C.S. Lewis, and the pulp magazine powerhouse Weird Tales with Robert E. Howard’s sword and sorcery archetype Conan. A brilliant concoction of movie posters, stills, book covers, fantastic art and incredible timelines.
It’s available from Amazon and elsewhere.
This short film from 2016 is the official video accompaniment for Jóhann Jóhannsson’s “Flight from the City,” the opening track from his sublime final album, 2016’s Orphée.
Orphée traces a path from darkness into light, inspired by the Orpheus myth. A story about death and rebirth, the elusive nature of creation and art and the ephemeral nature of memory. It’s an album about change, love and art — a reflection of our relationships, as is the film Flight from the City, directed and produced by Clare Langan.
The film itself has been further described as a reflection on “connection, love and separation” that “focuses on the bond between a mother and daughter.”
Released this past March (to coincide with International Women’s Day), Ama is a short film by French free-diver, dancer, and underwater filmmaker Julie Gautier. As related by the website Colossal, “The piece is titled after the Japanese word for ‘woman of the sea,’ which is also the name for Japan’s traditional shell collectors. The film is a metaphoric nod to these united women, while also representing the relationship that connects women from all over the world.” Gautier herself describes the film this way:
Ama is a silent film. It tells a story everyone can interpret in their own way, based on their own experience. There is no imposition, only suggestions. I wanted to share my biggest pain in this life with this film. For this is not too crude, I covered it with grace. To make it not too heavy, I plunged it into the water. I dedicate this film to all the women of the world.