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Horror encyclopedia: My work is (almost) done

Horror_Literature_through_History_edited_by_Matt_Cardin

This week I finished the primary body of editorial work on Horror Literature through History: An Encyclopedia of the Stories That Speak to Our Deepest Fears. It has been my all-consuming focus on this vast project that has kept The Teeming Brain mostly dormant for most of 2016. I just now counted and saw that I have published a mere twenty-five previous posts this year. Quite honestly, in the past twelve months I have become something of an editor monk, devoting myself single-mindedly to this project during every “extra” (ha ha) hour, and working the equivalent of two (or more) full-time jobs.

This week, I sent the book’s edited contents to the publisher, after having already engaged in much editorial collaborative back-and-forth with my project editor there in recent months. There’s still a lot of work left for me to do, of course, when the galleys are ready, but the bigger part of it — which at several points got so big and complex that I wondered how I would ever complete the danged thing — is now done.

That means I’m now able to share the rundown of the total two-volume behemoth (something I’ll doubtless do again when the book’s publication date grows near in 2017). Here are the basic specs:

The encyclopedia contains more than 400 entries written by seventy contributors (or seventy-one, if you count my direct hand in a couple of them) from seven different countries. It is organized as follows: Read the rest of this entry

Beyond the Beautiful Darkness: Mark Samuels on Atheism, Christianity, Weird Horror, and the Road out of Hell

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EDITOR’S NOTE: The Teeming Brain interview with Mark Samuels has long been one of our most popular features, and with this post we finally welcome Mark to our Teem of contributors. Mark’s interview was published back in 2006, and it still continues to draw a steady stream of readers these seven years later. This is due, of course, to the fact that Mark’s reputation as a significant writer of weird fiction has continued to grow in the intervening years, with his corpus having expanded from  The White Hands and Other Weird Tales (2003), Black Altars (2003), and The Face of Twilight (2006) — all available at the time the interview was published — to include two more story collections, Glyphotech and Other Macabre Processes and The Man Who Collected Machen, both of which have received widespread acclaim. His work has been praised by the likes of Ted Klein and Ramsey Campbell. It has been reprinted multiple times in various “year’s best” anthologies. He was also personally fictionalized and lampooned — along with Thomas Ligotti, Ellen Datlow, Michael Cisco, Wilum Pugmire, S. T. Joshi, Gordon Van Gelder, and others — by Laird Barron in the story “More Dark,” which appears in Laird’s 2013 collection The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All (which recently won the Bram Stoker Award).

In the essay below, Mark speaks personally about the central role that religion has played in his life as a writer and a human being. As he traces his route from agnosticism to atheism to Christianity, and as he delves into the relationship between all of this and his attraction to weird fiction, he goes into greater depth and speaks more pointedly about some things he said in his interview. Like his chief literary idol, Arthur Machen, Mark’s Christianity is central to his writing (Machen was an Anglican, Mark is a Roman Catholic). And far from clashing with his weird fictional sensibility, this serves as its very source by charging the world for him with an all-pervasive aura of numinous mystery and an abiding awareness of the Hell that always accompanies the possibility of Heaven. This is, obviously, not a position unique to Mark. It doesn’t even qualify as especially rare among the ranks of his fellow horror writers. But his particular expressions of it puts him at odds with certain prevailing cultural attitudes both within and without the community of horror writers and readers, and Mark isn’t one to mince words. Time for me to be silent and let him speak for himself.

 

BEYOND THE BEAUTIFUL DARKNESS

I came to Catholicism when in my late twenties, having had a type of secular upbringing, at home and in school, to gladden the heart of the most fervent advocate of the neo-atheist movement. There was no Bible in the house. Christmas was just Yuletide, and wholly pagan. Easter was a time for chocolate eggs.

I do recall undergoing one term of mandatory Religious Studies classes, but these were centered around comparative religion, and the bald, white-haired teacher was regarded by the pupils as a legitimate target for some really vile abuse during his own lessons, over which he had no control. His tolerance was regarded as a fatal weakness. Strangely enough, at this hell-hole, all the other teachers would resort to corporeal punishment and thought little of maintaining order through physical violence, right up until the moment the practice was forcibly abolished in all U.K. state schools in 1983. He, however, refused to do so. In class he was shouted down, ignored, and swore at, and I joined in. We pupils learnt nothing during those classes. Looking back thirty years to those lessons now, I think I learnt more of true worth from his example of baffled dignity than from any other of the classes I took. Needless to say, every single teacher in that school was a good socialist and devout religious sceptic. And they made of me exactly the same thing.

Then, during my late teens, I discovered the works of Lovecraft. I admired his stories to the point of complete adulation. I wanted not only to write the sort of tales he wrote, but to be exactly like this great man himself. When I also obtained his selected letters and read through them, he became, as well my guide in literature, my educator. My vague, indifferent agnosticism was cast aside, and I became a militant atheist and scientific materialist. HPL knew everything (except when it came to his biological racism, but I glossed over this failing, as so many others did), and so I too knew everything, since in terms of his system anything that could not be empirically demonstrated was not worth serious consideration. All else was wishful thinking. I devoured the work of any atheist author I could discover, ignoring completely the other side, and became the master of confirming my own prejudices. Objections, rather than being looked into, were treated as mere trifles only deserving of a sneer or scornful words. Read the rest of this entry

Teeming Links – September 13, 2013

FireHeadImage courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Far Away from Solid Modernity (Revolution: Global Trends and Regional Issues)
Zygmunt Bauman on liquid modernity and our unfolding apocalypse. “[We live in a society] which, moving relentlessly towards the apocalypse, does not care (does not want to care or is not able to) about the security and well-being of human community spreading one’s ideas.”

The Tech Intellectuals (Democracy: A Journal of Ideas)
“The good, bad, and ugly among our new breed of cyber-critics, and the economic imperatives that drive them.” Henry Farrell argues that the “tech intellectual,” today’s version of the public intellectual, works in an “attention economy” that’s based on using digital media to attract enough notice to make a living by spreading one’s ideas.

Gobekli Tepe Was No Laughing Matter (Science 2.0)
“The circular stone enclosures known as the temple at Göbekli Tepe in southeastern Turkey remain the oldest of its kind, dating back to around the 10th millennium B.C. But Göbekli Tepe may also be the world’s oldest science building. Giulio Magli of the Polytechnic University of Milan hypothesizes it may have been built due to the ‘birth’ of a ‘new’ star; the brightest star and fourth brightest object of the sky, what we call Sirius (Greek for ‘glowing’). . . . Magli says this new star may have prompted a new religion that was not evident anywhere else. Or, as is the case of Stonehenge, it could have been a multi-purpose astronomical observatory that also became a religious site.”

Crimes Against Humanities (The New Republic)
Here is Leon Wieseltier’s brilliant rejoinder to Steven Pinker’s recent and deeply wrong-headed essay about the relationship between science and the humanities. “The superiority of the sciences to the humanities in Pinker’s account is made clear by his proposed solution to the crisis in the humanities: ‘an infusion of new ideas,’ which turns out to be an infusion of scientific ideas. There is nothing wrong with the humanities that the sciences cannot fix. . . . With his dawn-is-breaking scientistic cheerleading, Pinker shows no trace of the skepticism whose absence he deplores in others. His sunny scientizing blurs distinctions and buries problems.”

Beyond black: Laird Barron and the evolution of cosmic horror (Slate)
“What finally emerges from cosmic horror’s miasmic evolution over the course of the 20th century is a literary concept that is equal parts genre and philosophy, cerebral and primordial. . . . Enter the Alaskan-born Laird Barron, author of two novels and two previous story collections, who is equally concerned with mucusy gross-out and cosmic doom as he is with language, formal experimentation, and, above all, character.”

Teen’s hairy run-in with 7-footer probed as Bigfoot encounter (The Omaha World Herald)
“A hair sample found at the site was still being analyzed. A 15-year-old reported seeing the creature, which he said stood about 7 feet tall on two legs as it ran in front of the vehicle the youth was driving about 5:30 a.m. The creature then disappeared into the trees along the river. [Saunders County Sheriff Kevin] Stukenholtz, who became county sheriff six years ago after a long career with the Nebraska State Patrol, said he has no reason to believe the report was a hoax. . . . [Idaho State University anthropology and anatomy professor Jeff] Meldrum said he’s convinced that in the Pacific Northwest and other heavily wooded U.S. areas with proper rainfall there might be a ‘relic population of a rare primate.'”

Unafraid of alienating themselves (Portland Press Herald)
“Two Maine men who claim they were abducted by extraterrestrials aren’t shy about retelling their stories. . . . In the world of ufology — the oft-marginalized study of unidentified flying objects and the accompanying foreign beings that purportedly interact with people on Earth — the ‘Allagash incident’ ranks among the most substantiated in the United States.”

A New Golden Age of Horror Fiction?

We just may be living through a new golden age of horror fiction. That’s my diagnosis as I survey the range of wonderful books that have recently appeared, and that have been appearing for the past few years, and that are set to appear in coming months.

I make this claim in full awareness that the publishing world is currently experiencing a freak-out of historic proportions as various factors — including the e-book revolution, the transformative crisis in the economy, and questions about the demand for books in an increasingly aliterate population of visual media addicts — raise concerns  about the future of traditional written fiction.

Despite these mounting uncertainties, horror is booming, at least in terms of quality, at least judging from some of what’s being published.

I offer you only two examples. Please feel free to comment with more. Also feel free to tell me that you think I’m full of crap, and that I’m just cherry picking.

1. Laird Barron’s Occultation

A week ago Barnes & Noble’s SF and fantasy blog, Explorations, published one of the most hagiographic celebrations of an author that I’ve read in ages. Remarkably, I didn’t think it was overstated. So I’ll let it do the talking for me. Just please ignore the syntactical gaffe in the post’s headline.

“I have never come across a contemporary writer who even comes near to [Lovecraft’s] dark, bowel-loosening storytelling brilliance—until now. And his name is Laird Barron.

….”The bottom line is this: Laird Barron is to horror what Paolo Bacigalupi is to science fiction. In 2008, Bacigalupi was a relative unknown when he released his short story collection, Pump Six and Other Stories. Now he is a Nebula Award winning novelist (The Windup Girl) and science fiction’s brightest star. Laird Barron may be a relative unknown now but, trust me, when his debut novel The Croning is released in 2011, everyone will be talking about this guy and heralding him as horror’s next superstar.

“Why wait until next year? I’ll say it right now. Laird Barron is horror’s new messiah.”

— Paul Goat Allen, Explorations, Carnivorous Cosmos: Laird Barron — and His Lovecraftian Stylings — Is Horror’s New Messiah, July 28, 2010

Go read the rest of the piece for more words of a similar tenor, including ecstatic praise for Laird’s new collection, Occultation. I recently received a signed copy from the author (thanks, Laird!), and it’s the single book I’m most eagerly looking forward to diving into. Laird’s first book, The Imago Sequence and Other Stories, was nothing short of sublime. This new one promises to equal or surpass it. A Golden Age trend, for sure.

2. John Langan’s House of Windows

John Langan’s first book, the fiction collection Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters (2008), was oh-so-good. His first novel, last year’s House of Windows — a contemporary haunted house story that blends academic concerns with an entirely convincing portrayal of a haunting — isn’t just good, it’s great. As in, thematically substantial and brilliantly enjoyable at the same time. That’s the very definition of an Important Book.

I stand by what I said in my review of it for Dead Reckonings #7: It’s a scarifyingly assured debut. It’s one of those wonderful books where you realize only a few pages in that you can relax into it and trust yourself fully to the author, since he obviously knows what he’s doing.  Good fiction of this type conveys the sense that, yes, this is exactly what it would be like, and exactly what it would mean and imply for the everyday world of human life and interactions, if the plot’s central supernatural phenomenon were actually real. In House of Windows, John mounts an entirely convincing portrayal of a haunting, and of how an ontological intrusion from a spirit realm might appear to and impact a human subject.

Just two weeks ago I bought the current issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction specifically because it features a new story by John titled “The Revel.” It’s a werewolf story in metafictional form, and it’s brilliant, one of those stories that’s like nectar to the mind. Golden Age, anyone?

* * *

Not incidentally, I recently interviewed John for my Demon Muse blog: “The Secret to Writing Is Writing: A Conversation with John Langan.” I urge you to read it. Laird is also confirmed for a future interview.

Importantly, I could name more than just these two in support of my Golden Age hypothesis. Simon Strantzas’s short-lived first book Beneath the Surface — short-lived because the publisher went under immediately after it came out — is about to be released in a new edition from Dark Regions Press (with an introduction by yours truly; I love that book), and his second, Cold to the Touch, has drawn praise and even raves. Richard Gavin’s The Darkly Splendid Realm, also from Dark Regions, has received some excellent press, and I know from having reviewed Richard’s first book Omens for Dead Reckonings #2 that he’s a horror writer’s horror writer, with chops galore and a vision to boot. Mark Samuels, Kim Paffenroth, Nick Mamatas (who sometimes, but not always, writes horror), Sarah Langan (whom I haven’t read, but whose work promises to be wonderful when I finally do), Barbara Roden (I’ve read a single excellent story, and simply must get her debut collection) — I could name these and more as examples of authors who are presently producing some seriously high-quality horror fiction.

And it’s not just that they’re good, but that they represent a brand new phenomenon in the literary world. At the same time when some of the cream-of-the-crop authors from the original 1970s-to-1990s horror boom continue to write, and to write wonderfully (Stephen King, Peter Straub, Thomas Ligotti, Ramsey Campbell, Michael Shea, T.M. Wright, et al.), a whole new crop of amazing writers has sprung up in just the past few years and displayed a solid and collective feel for and appreciation of the tropes and themes that really define horror fiction — as opposed to a mere desire to cash in on a profitable publishing trend — combined with a real dose of literary skill and panache.

This is a good thing. It looks like Sturgeon’s Law (or actually, technically, Sturgeon’s Revelation) is in fact visibly working even as we speak. The explosive growth of the total number of people attempting to write and publish horror — courtesy of the Internet, print-on-demand publishing, and now e-books, all working in synergy with other long-brewing cultural forces — is producing a new and excellent class of horror writers right before our eyes. The same may well be true of other types of fiction, but horror is the one that’s nearest and dearest to my heart.

And it’s thriving.