Great horror writing is more than cheap scares and bloody fingerprints. When it’s really good, horror can push you up against the hard questions of existence. Nothing clarifies your relationship to other people and the world around you, to your future and your past, quite like a chainsaw massacre. And yet physical pain is not the point. We’re spectators, after all, experiencing fear without actual danger. What we get from horror is an appreciation for human resilience, and the gobsmacked realization that it is a miracle anyone survives in this cruel world at all.
If there’s a writer out there worth surviving for, it is Caitlin R. Kiernan, whose trippy, groundbreaking collection THE VERY BEST OF CAITLIN R. KIERNAN (Tachyon, paper, .95) is pure genius. Paging through it, I found references to David Bowie, the fossil record, H. P. Lovecraft, the Hindu Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, the massacre of a unicorn, life on Mars, Gustave Doré, absinthe, South American jungles and King Kong — and that’s just a cursory glance. There is simply nothing out there quite like her.
Which may explain why Kiernan, who has published over 250 short stories and 14 novels, is usually classified as a horror writer, that genre for all things weird and amorphous. In his introduction, Richard Kadrey suggests we call her a writer of “dark fantasy” or “weird tales” instead. I don’t care where you shelve her books — good writing is good writing, however you classify it — as long as we call Kiernan what she is: an underappreciated master whose vision expresses itself through vast geographic expanses, gender fluidity, geological upheaval, lingering forces of evil, the horror and beauty of the natural world and the mythic architecture of the human mind. Kiernan is transformative. Read her and be changed.
Take “La Peau Verte” (“The Green Skin”), for example, in which Hannah, who has been hired to entertain at a party, looks at herself in the mirror. “No — not her self any longer, but the new thing that the man and woman have made of her.” Thanks to “airbrushes and latex prosthetics, grease paints and powders and spirit gum,” Hannah has become a green sprite composed of “too many competing, complementary shades of green to possibly count, one shade bleeding into the next, an infinity of greens.” The color opens a maze in Hannah’s mind, inviting the reader in: “I could get lost in here,” she thinks, gazing into the mirror. “Perhaps I am already.” Such is the surreal beauty of Kiernan. Her stories saturate the mind with color.
In “The Ammonite Violin (Murder Ballad No. 4),” a collector lures a violinist to his home by offering her a priceless violin. The collector has two specialties. The first is his “vast collection of fossilized ammonites,” and the second is “all the young women he has murdered by suffocation.” Before he reveals his sinister motives to the violinist, he says, as if by way of apology: “The universe is a marvelously complex bit of craftsmanship. And sometimes one must look very closely to even begin to understand how a given thing connects with another.” This sentiment is an apt description of Kiernan’s stories. They are complex universes. The more you look, the more you connect.
Occasionally, however, the complexity becomes overwhelming. In the layered and gorgeous “Andromeda Among the Stones,” for example, the narrative moves between 1889 and 1914-15, and while the story left me with a powerful sense of doom, I read it three times before I finally found my bearings. Most story readers aren’t used to reading as an act of exegesis, but with Kiernan it is often necessary to take the extra time. Her imagination can also veer into the absurd, as it does in “The Maltese Unicorn” — a play on Dashiell Hammett’s “The Maltese Falcon,” only this story turns on the theft of a black enameled dildo carved from a unicorn’s horn. The dildo was so revered that it was placed in Solomon’s Temple alongside the ark of the covenant. While that’s the Indiana Jones sequel I’m waiting for, it may cause some readers to raise an eyebrow.
Whatever feelings her stories raise for you, they are sure to be intense. If you haven’t read her work before, these stories are a good place to begin. Like Hannah, you might find yourself getting lost in the mirror. The scary thing is, you’ll want to stay there.
While Kiernan is all about complexity, other kinds of horror writing succeed because of their parable-like simplicity. The murderer and the victim are on opposite sides of the dark hallway, one cowering in fear, the other lifting a bloody hatchet. In such tales, ambiguity is stripped away, exposing the sick pleasure of the powerful psychopath and the terror of his innocent prey. The excellent collection A PEOPLE’S FUTURE OF THE UNITED STATES (One World, paper, ) plays with this dynamic, presenting narratives in which the powerless openly resist oppression. The editors, Victor LaValle and John Joseph Adams, asked 25 writers to create stories that challenge “the chokehold of history” and give readers “new futures to believe in.” From this directive, you might expect a collection of dreamy political utopias. Instead, they created spaces of resistance that are often darker, and more frightening, than reality.
“The Wall,” by Lizz Huerta, was particularly haunting. It is a story about a barrier between Mexico and the “now defunct United States” that’s “meant to keep the empire safe: strrrrrrong empire, empire with mightiest military in the world, empire made of blood and theft, human and land.” There is a tangible sense of old feuds in this piece, the ancestral rising through the apocalypse to manifest in the present. Children are born without jaws; a food crisis has taken over. The narrator, Ivette, is part of a “sisterhood of equality,” whose “Mamita was one of the tenders, one of countless brujas who made hard choices to ensure we would survive what was coming.” Survival is uncertain. Ivette can do little but subvert the efforts of the powerful with her magic.
Subversion comes in many forms, and one of the most effective is dark humor. Charles Yu’s story “Good News Bad News,” a collection of headlines from the future, demonstrates how insurmountable our problems feel when presented in the chill language of journalese. As Yu rolls through the headlines, we learn that refugee families are settling on the moon; climate change is still being debated a millennium from now; scientists have confirmed that we’re living in a simulation; “delegates from Kingdom Plantae, the world’s first nation-state of sentient trees,” are going to the United Nations; and the 10-day forecast is:
“Hot.“Hot.“Hot.“Hot.“Really hot.“Dangerously hot.“What are we going to do about this hot.“Slightly less hot but still extremely troublingly hot.“Hot.”
Yu’s future is as depressing as it is hot. The human race is still running on the hamster wheel toward doom. Except for the sentient trees, “Good News Bad News” seems like mostly bad news to me.
Unbearable heat is also the central motif of Catherynne M. Valente’s story “The Sun in Exile,” a parable that illustrates the absurdity of climate change denial. The story opens in a scorched world, where everything is cooking down to its essence: “Tomatoes simmered on the vine … and an entire city evaporated into steam like so much water in a copper-bottomed pot.” Yet even as people fry, a leader named Papa Ubu denies that it is hot at all. He wears winter gear and gives speeches about the terrible cold, while his daughter, who is “as beautiful and unmoving as carved ice,” travels through the country handing out blankets to sweaty people who “shone like their skin was made of diamonds.” Soon the word “hot” is banned so as to “not torment the suffering.” Like “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” Valente’s story is a study in how the powerful, through manipulation and the suppression of speech, create an alternate reality for the masses, one that contradicts both fact and lived experience. Such dystopian fairy tales reduce complexity to its lowest point, and can be frustrating to read, but Valente successfully lays bare the dangers of a leader who creates his own reality. One leaves “A People’s Future of the United States” understanding that imaginary worlds can create a heaven or a hell, depending on your ideology. As N. K. Jemisin, whose work appears in this collection, is quoted in the publicity materials: “Imagination is where revolution begins. ”
While there is nothing particularly revolutionary about THE DEVIL ASPECT (Doubleday, .95), the beguiling and gruesome new horror thriller by the British novelist Craig Russell, it is a wildly entertaining story that grabs you on Page 1 and drags you into its dark world kicking and screaming. That’s a good thing, as far as I’m concerned. Russell has created a truly frightening story, one that gets under your skin slowly, then goes deep, like the tip of a butcher knife. I read the novel one snowy night by the fire, unable to sleep until I finished, then unable to sleep once I had.
Czechoslovakia, 1935: We follow Dr. Viktor Kosarek, a dashing, brilliant psychiatrist, as he takes his new position at the Hrad Orlu Asylum, a gloomy castle in the town of Mlada Boleslav. Kosarek, a former student of Carl Jung, has developed an experimental treatment he plans to try on the six criminally insane patients confined at Hrad Orlu, all notorious killers known as the Devil’s Six. As Kosarek takes these killers back through their crimes via drug-induced hypnosis, a detective in Prague leads an investigation into a Jack the Ripper copycat killer. The hunt for the murderer merges with Dr. Kosarek’s experiments on the Devil’s Six, creating a suspenseful psychological mystery. Mladek, a clown whose alter ego Harlequin killed children, says at one point: “The truth is the Devil comes into our lives, at least once, at one time or another. Everyone encounters him, but most don’t know he’s there.”
While Harlequin would have you meet the Devil in person, every witch worth her grimoire knows that evil is best carried out by a spirit companion, or familiar. Stacey Halls’s debut novel, THE FAMILIARS (Mira, .99), explores the power a group of witches wields over a small 17th-century English community. It is 1612 in the county of Lancashire, and the young and spunky Fleetwood Shuttleworth, wife of a rich country gentleman, desperately wants a child after three stillbirths. Pregnant and fearful, Fleetwood hires a midwife, Alice Gray, with connections to a group of women accused of witchcraft. For those acquainted with the history of English witch trials, and the famous conviction of the Pendle witches in Lancashire in 1612, Halls’s novel offers a rich and atmospheric reimagining of a historical period rife with religious tensions, superstitions, misogyny and fear.
We experience the story through 17-year-old Fleetwood’s perspective, with all her insecurities and ambitions. There are moments when Fleetwood’s many conflicts — with her mother, her servants, her less than lusty husband — feel a tad, well, familiar. That said, through Fleetwood’s dilemma we are privy to the atmosphere of paranoia and fear that accompanies a veritable mass hysteria. Now, with so many high-profile men claiming to be victims of a witch hunt, it’s good to understand what a real one looks like. In Pendle, 12 people were accused of witchcraft; 11 were tried. Nine were found guilty, one died awaiting trial and one went free. Not great odds, fellas.
Odds are better you’ll see a ghost, or at least find yourself spooked to the core by one of the chilling stories compiled by Lisa Morton and Leslie S. Klinger in GHOST STORIES: Classic Tales of Horror and Suspense (Pegasus, .95).
Morton and Klinger write in their introduction that the Victorians were crazy about ghost stories. Spiritualism, “which … held as its central tenet that the spirits of the dead continued to exist on another plane and could be contacted by human mediums,” was huge, and inspired a resurgence of ghost stories. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a spokesman for the Spiritualist movement. His second wife, Jean Leckie, was a medium.
Spiritualism may have gone the way of sniffing salts, but the ghost stories in this collection are as enjoyable now as they were for the Victorians. Some of my favorite 19th- and early-20th-century writers — Edith Wharton, Edgar Allan Poe, Wilkie Collins — are found in this collection, along with Charles Dickens, Henry James, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Sir Walter Scott and a slew of other well-known authors. But the real fun of reading this book was in discovering writers I had not known before.
[ Read the original 1904 review of Edith Wharton’s short story, “The Lady’s Maid’s Bell.” ]
My favorite: Johann August Apel, an early-19th-century German whose work inspired Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.” Apel wrote gothic ghost stories about “aristocratic families enduring melodramatic plot twists in isolated, haunted castles.” In Apel’s “The Family Portraits,” Ferdinand, the “only son, and last branch of the ancient family of Meltheim,” is out traveling to investigate his marriage prospects when he is invited to join a group of ladies trading ghost stories. Soon, a tale unfolds about Juliana, a young woman living in an ancestral chateau who was terrified by a family portrait. Juliana claimed that the figure in the painting looked at her as if “the lips were about to open and speak.” I won’t spoil the fun, but I will say that Juliana’s tale doesn’t end well. When it’s Ferdinand’s turn to tell a ghost story, he too has a creepy ancestral portrait tale, a story “too horrible for so fine an evening.”
The ladies beg him to continue, and he complies, because has there ever been an evening too fine for a horrible tale? I think not.B:
【于】【晨】【看】【着】【于】【晚】【勾】【着】【车】【钥】【匙】【从】【驾】【驶】【座】【上】【走】【下】【来】，【脸】【色】【变】【了】【变】，【再】【看】【于】【晚】【的】【眼】【神】，【又】【好】【像】，【还】【没】【那】【么】【糟】。 “【回】【来】【啦】。” “【哥】【哥】。” “【晨】【哥】。” 【于】【晨】【看】【着】【于】【晚】【把】【钥】【匙】【递】【给】【他】【后】【拉】【着】【向】【安】【进】【了】【屋】【里】，【想】【了】【想】，【发】【了】【条】【信】【息】【给】【向】【安】。 【等】【到】【吃】【完】【午】【饭】，【向】【安】【才】【看】【到】【于】【晨】【发】【来】【的】【信】【息】，【难】【怪】【刚】【刚】【吃】【饭】【的】【时】【候】【一】【直】【看】
【就】【在】【居】【间】【惠】【队】【长】【刚】【说】【完】，【这】【段】【感】【动】【人】【心】【的】【话】【之】【后】，【一】【道】【光】【芒】【闪】【过】，【居】【间】【惠】【队】【长】【转】【头】【望】【去】，【是】【汽】【车】【的】【车】【灯】，【它】【在】【照】【耀】【着】【沉】【睡】【的】【迪】【迦】。 【而】【与】【此】【同】【时】，【从】【城】【市】【的】【各】【个】【角】【落】，【不】【断】【跑】【出】【一】【大】【堆】【人】，【他】【们】【都】【拿】【着】【手】【电】【筒】，【有】【车】【的】【人】【开】【着】【车】，【都】【来】【到】【了】【迪】【迦】【的】【面】【前】，【把】【他】【们】【的】【光】【传】【递】【给】【迪】【迦】，【这】【是】【他】【们】【唯】【一】【能】【做】【的】【事】【情】。 “【迪】
“【老】【毒】，【你】【看】【林】【闯】【方】【才】【有】【何】【异】【样】？” 【毒】【宗】【之】【主】【时】【刻】【注】【意】【着】【投】【射】【中】【的】【林】【闯】，【摇】【头】【不】【解】【道】：“【方】【才】【他】【收】【下】【三】【枚】【印】【记】，【看】【似】【艰】【难】，【但】【却】【有】【种】【说】【不】【出】【的】【感】【觉】。” 【林】【闯】【身】【在】【幻】【想】【境】【域】，【完】【全】【不】【用】【为】【林】【闯】【的】【安】【危】【担】【心】。【而】【林】【闯】【的】【一】【举】【一】【动】，【却】【时】【刻】【吸】【引】【着】【几】【位】【领】【导】【者】【的】【目】【光】。 【代】【飞】【言】【道】：“【如】【鱼】【得】【水】。” 【毒】【宗】【之】【主】【一】宝宝心水论坛481555co【王】【世】【天】【看】【着】【这】【一】【幕】，【惊】【喜】【异】【常】，【知】【道】【现】【在】【不】【是】【墨】【迹】【的】【时】【候】，【于】【是】【仰】【天】【长】【啸】【一】【声】【就】【开】【始】【冲】【刺】。 【大】【阵】【在】【两】【人】【的】**【协】【力】【之】【下】，【终】【于】【被】【彻】【底】【毁】【灭】，【这】【个】【大】【殿】【也】【终】【于】【恢】【复】【原】【貌】。【既】【然】【大】【殿】【已】【经】【恢】【复】，【这】【也】【就】【意】【味】【着】【王】【世】【天】【再】【次】【拥】【有】【了】【大】【殿】【禁】【地】【的】【控】【制】【权】。 【他】【不】【再】【犹】【豫】，【伸】【出】【手】【将】【大】【殿】【控】【制】，【随】【手】【一】【挥】，【一】【道】【光】【芒】【就】【将】【两】【人】
【机】【箱】【的】【购】【买】【者】【很】【快】【就】【查】【到】【了】，【正】【是】【徐】【婉】【莹】【的】【父】【亲】，【冯】【老】【的】【女】【婿】。 【不】【用】【去】【找】【他】，【得】【知】【冯】【老】【病】【重】【的】【消】【息】，【徐】【父】【和】【徐】【母】【很】【快】【也】【到】【了】【冯】【老】【家】【中】。 【陆】【辰】【将】【徐】【父】【叫】【到】【了】【房】【间】【中】，【把】【冯】【老】【的】【情】【况】【讲】【了】。 【徐】【父】【惊】【讶】【的】【表】【情】【持】【续】【了】【几】【分】【钟】，“【被】【人】【下】【了】【蛊】？【真】【有】【蛊】【这】【种】【东】【西】？【小】【陆】，【你】……【你】【不】【是】【开】【玩】【笑】【吧】？” “【你】【不】【了】【解】
【顾】【雍】【缓】【缓】【开】【口】【说】【道】： “【沮】【先】【生】【方】【才】【所】【言】【也】【是】【个】【办】【法】。” 【顿】【了】【顿】，【他】【继】【续】【说】【道】： “【然】【则】，【下】【官】【还】【是】【建】【议】【主】【公】，【先】【举】【行】【这】【个】【相】【亲】【大】【会】，【然】【后】【在】【发】【兵】【讨】【伐】【不】【迟】。” 【沮】【授】【面】【色】【微】【微】【一】【变】， 【正】【准】【备】【说】【话】，【哪】【料】【到】【顾】【雍】【继】【续】【开】【口】【道】： “【非】【是】【元】【叹】【不】【明】【白】【沮】【授】【先】【生】【之】【意】，【只】【是】【这】【相】【亲】【大】【会】【如】【若】【要】【进】【行】，【定】【然】【耗】