Monday, July 25, 2011

Joshua Hoffine's "Fears of Childhood"

I just discovered horror photographer Joshua Hoffine thanks to a random post on an imageboard of some of his "Fears of Childhood" series, including the one above (my favorite).  Striking, to say the least. 

 Hoffine, whose website is here, frequently uses friends and family, particularly his daughters, as models.  He also maintains a blog, which is very interesting for a behind-the-scenes look at how he goes about creating his horrific images.
Hoffine's photography has been featured in Famous Monsters of Filmland and Fangoria, among others.

Monday, July 18, 2011

George R.R. Martin Writes Horror, Too

Photo by David Shankbone
I tend to pick up anthologies randomly at used bookstores instead of actively seeking them out.  Naturally, they can be a mixed bag, but anthologies have introduced me to a number of authors I really like.  For instance, I started George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series relatively recently, not because it had been recommended or because I’d seen the HBO series, but because I’d read a really enjoyable Martin story in an anthology.  It was “The Monkey Treatment” in Masters of Darkness II. 

In “The Monkey Treatment”, first published in Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine, Martin introduces us to Kenny, an obese compulsive over-eater.  Martin lovingly describes Kenny’s disorder in a way that makes the reader never want to eat again, before moving on to the real fun, as Kenny meets a formerly obese friend, who is now svelte, though haggard.  His friend introduces him to a new diet, the monkey treatment, administered in a back-alley “clinic”:

“…a high-pitched chittering sounded suddenly from behind him, sharp and rapid as fire from a machine gun.  Then another voice took it up, then a third, and suddenly the dark was alive with the terrible hammering noise.  Kenny put his hands over his ears and staggered through the curtain, but just as he emerged he felt something brush the back of his neck, something warm and hairy.”

Things go rapidly downhill for Kenny now that he has a monkey on his back.  Martin states that he wanted to write a story that was “genuinely funny and genuinely horrifying”, and he succeeded.  It was a finalist for both the Hugo and Nebula awards.  

In his note about the story, he also compares the marketing of fiction to selling ice cream, everything in a separate tub:  “…I’ve always been the sort who gets scoops of two or even three different flavors on my sugar cones.”  That’s what I like about Martin: he’s able to blend genres unexpectedly and inject a lot of novelty into his writing.

“The Monkey Treatment” led me to the entertaining science fiction novel Hunter’s Run (which Martin co-wrote with Gardner Dozois and Daniel Abraham), some of the Wild Cards series (which I found overwhelmingly dull, even Martin’s contributions), and finally to A Song of Ice and Fire, which was highly enjoyable until A Feast for Crows.  Fevre Dream (vampires and 1850’s Mississippi paddlewheelers), and his werewolf novella “The Skin Trade” are next on my list.  

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Fontana Book of [mostly] Great Ghost Stories, Volume I

In his allusion-rich introduction to the first Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories, Robert Aickman states that “there are only about thirty or forty first-class ghost stories”.  The long-running Fontana series published several hundred, and most were at least pretty good.  Aickman, who edited the first eight volumes of the series (1964-1972) before turning over the reins to R. Chetwynd-Hayes, suggests that many of the best are from the early Twentieth Century, “The pre-1914 Eden with the snake only just stirring”.  Indeed, almost half of the stories in this volume are from before the First World War.  

The Travelling Grave, by L.P. Hartley, is a unique, bizarre tale of a deadly contraption perambulating around an English country house.

The Ghost Ship, by Richard Middleton, cozily describes the effect of a ghostly pirate ship running aground in a turnip field adjacent to an already-haunted village.

Squire Toby’s Will is one of J.S. LeFanu’s classic chillers, involving a family squabble that continues after death.

William Hope Hodgson’s The Voice in the Night is an overwrought tale of fungus among us.

Three Miles Up, by Elizabeth Jane Howard, concerns the explorations of two young men on a canal boat.  Three Miles Up originally appeared in the Howard/Aickman collaboration We Are for the Dark, and it is so Aickman-esque I have a feeling that writing it was a very close collaboration indeed.  Aickman himself was ambiguous about this, as quoted here. I haven't read the rest of Howard's stories from We Are for the Dark, but this blogger has.

D.H. Lawrence’s The Rocking-Horse Winner is memorable and sad, a cautionary tale about the pursuit of riches.

The Wendigo, by Algernon Blackwood, is a story I first read as a kid, and the cry, “Oh, oh!  My burning feet of fire!” has always stuck with me.  Rereading this tale of a Canadian woods-spirit was a great reminder of Blackwood’s mastery of the horror and mystery of wild places.

The Crown Derby Plate, by Marjorie Bowen, is a succinct and creepy tale of mistaken identity, but one of the less memorable stories in this collection.

As he did in six of his eight Fontana collections, Aickman includes one of his own, The Trains, first published in We Are for the Dark.  It concerns two young hikers who come upon a house by an isolated but busy rail line.  Despite my great enjoyment of Aickman, I have to admit that The Trains is not one of my favorites.  It has its moments.

The Old Nurse’s Story, by Mrs. (Elizabeth) Gaskell, is the most old-fashioned ghost story in the collection (not surprisingly, since it was originally published in 1852).  It contains nothing unexpected, but it satisfies.

The collection finishes with Seaton’s Aunt, by Walter de la Mare, in which the titular character exerts a malign influence on her young nephew and the reader is never quite sure if the supernatural is involved.  De la Mare makes you wish poor Seaton would just get haunted by ghosts instead of being haunted by his aunt’s psychological torture.

Nitpickers, of which I am usually one, may remark that not all of the works in the collection are strictly ghost stories, but all in all, the first Fontana Collection of Great Ghost Stories does provide a number of great stories, and some good ones.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Ramsey Campbell's The Influence

I read The Influence (1988) in yet another Tor edition with a great keyhole cover (recently I’ve had to resist an urge to collect books with keyhole covers – someone must do it).

In The Influence, young Rowan’s great-aunt Queenie dies, but doesn’t want to stay that way.  It appears she might be trying to use the little girl as a gateway back to the land of the living.  Queenie’s a well-realized character, a believably poisonous influence on others in life and beyond.  Can Rowan be saved from her malice?

Like most of Campbell’s work, The Influence is set around Liverpool, but the city doesn’t play a major role.  Instead, Queenie’s house, nearby Wales, and the routes between them are the locations.  As always, Campbell provides us with a lot of geographical details, so entwined with the story that the places are almost like characters themselves.

Campbell is skilled at providing his protagonists with mundane stresses along with the supernatural ones; Rowan’s dad is an underemployed electrician, there’s marital strife, and Rowan was a “mistake” who worries about burdening her parents.

Despite the familiar elements, The Influence strays a little from Campbell’s usual style; it has more of a traditional, almost old-fashioned feel to it.  The most memorable part of the story is Rowan’s solitary trip back from Wales to Queenie’s house after a series of traumatic events.  Campbell makes it lonely, bleak, and menacing.  The novel loses steam later on, but overall The Influence is an enjoyable chiller.