New Release: HIVE by Alex Smith

Muzzleland Press is proud to announce the release of HIVE by Alex Smith, a descent into urban and body horror. Now available on Amazon for Kindle and in paperback.

“Alex Smith takes the bleakest feelings of forced change and weaves into it the monstrous embodiment of creation, of wicked evolution. HIVE is a gruesome reminder that our cyclical lives are constantly thrust into this terrifying, blood-soaked battle of rebirth, of emergence, against the dark evils we must defeat if we have any chance of surviving the chrysalis.”
– Philip Fracassi, author of ALTAR and MOTHER

“Rarely have I encountered such a fantastic debut. A deliriously dark masterpiece worthy of Cronenberg, HIVE is a shining black gem in this weird world.”
-Brian O’Connell, Editor at the Conqueror Weird

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Faithful Frighteners: Daniel Mills

Faithful Frighteners is a series of interviews with persons of faith in the horror and weird fiction scenes.

Daniel Mills (http://www.daniel-mills.net) is the author of Revenants (Chomu Press, 2011), The Lord Came at Twilight (Dark Renaissance Books, 2014), The Account of David Stonehouse, Exile (Dim Shores, 2016), and the forthcoming Moriah (ChiZine Publications, 2017).

 

JR: How, when, and why did you get into horror culture (film, literature, video games, etc)?

D Mills Author Photo (1)
Daniel Mills

DM: It’s difficult to pinpoint a “when” or a “how” since as far as I can remember I have always had an interest in horror. I can recall being four years old and watching Disney’s Darby O’Gill and the Little People then repeatedly rewinding/re-watching the climactic scenes with the banshee and phantom coach. I was also deeply affected by Schwartz and Gammel’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark anthology series and remember reading myself into a frenzy of terror night after night long after I was old enough to know better. Continue reading “Faithful Frighteners: Daniel Mills”

The politics of horror (and the horror of politics): An interview with Jason V Brock

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Jason and his wife Sunni.

It was a pleasure to meet you at World Horror Con. The convention was a bit… Sparsely attended, so I enjoyed our conversations. What was your experience?

Jason V Brock: It was awesome meeting you and your wife as well! I was on about eight panels, so it’s all a bit of a blur now. In addition, we attended StokerCon in Las Vegas two weeks later, which was fun. But I must observe that the attendance to both cons was a little on the low side, likely due to the two of them being so closely scheduled.

I’d say that World Horror was better organized, whereas StokerCon was more of a party. Both have their advantages and drawbacks.

What were some other positives about this year’s convention, despite its lack of attendees?

Brock: The best part is hanging out with people, of course. It was great to talk more with old friends such as Jack Ketchum, Michael Bailey, the Collings family, Bailey Hunter, Kevin J. Anderson, Linda Addison, Jeff Strand, and so on. It also affords a chance to make new friends—such as you guys, Darren Shan, and the fine folks working the convention—especially when there are not so many things going on at once, as there was in Vegas, which was a bit jammed with activity. All the panels that I saw at WHC were very good, too.

Another thing I didn’t appreciate until Vegas was how clean the air was in Utah! HAHAHAH! Vegas was just dreadful with the smoking in the casino. Continue reading “The politics of horror (and the horror of politics): An interview with Jason V Brock”

Telepathic Dolphins and Von Däniken Pseudoarcheology: A review of Alectryomancer and Other Weird Tales by Christopher Slatsky

Published by Dunhams Manor Press

Available Here

Ancient civilizations are rising from the earth. Pseudo-religious philosophy rewrites itself in your journal. And every myth, rumor, and conspiracy theory you’ve heard, and every creeping suspicion you’ve ever had about yourself and the world—is true. It’s all true, and more.

Grab your dictionary, your alternative history texts, and watch the skies. Alectryomancer and Other Weird Tales by Christopher Slatsky is a compelling, frightening, mind-altering journey into the depths of unknowable outer space and inner space alike. It’s a bad mushroom trip while watching Ancient Aliens intercut with Super 8 footage of your darkest childhood memories.

Each story’s characters, settings, and laws of reality and consciousness are unique. But they all share the same general thematic conceit: as the characters inevitably suffer some sort of apocalyptic psychological breakdown, so too does the world upon which they’ve based their foolish assumptions about cause and effect, good and evil, history and fiction, meaning and chaos.

If that sounds heady, it is. It’s also a wild ride. While several of the stories are more experimental and introspective, most of them are also compelling and entertaining. Slatsky’s writing here gives you just enough bread crumbs as you make your way into the nightmare forest, step by anxious step. While his interests in philosophy, alternative history, occultism, cryptozoology, ufology, and high strangeness are all on full display, he doesn’t lose sight of the fact that horror audiences want to be entertained. Sometimes the best form of entertainment is being strung along, first by interesting characters and settings, then by a smattering of hints of the otherworldly, and finally by the promise of seeing what’s behind the pulsing, slime-ridden Door of Mystery. With each story in this collection, Slatsky asks us: Are you sure you want to know what’s on the other side?

About half of the stories here are reprints of his previously published work, including his contributions to anthologies as well as his chapbooks. But even if you’ve read his work before, this collection is still worth picking up, as the new stories are just as strong as his previous work. Put simply, this is one of the best books I’ve read all year. I sincerely look forward to revisiting some of these stories, and have already begun recommending the collection to friends.

Standouts include: “An Infestation of Stars” about occultism and insect worship; “Corporautolysis” which is a tale of fungal infestation and corporate drone horror; “No One is Sleeping in This World” as a tale of urban decay and nihilistic artistic adventurism; “The Ocean is Eating Our Graves” about Native American reservation culture and succeeding waves of genocide and occupation; “Tellurian Façade” about underground civilizations, veteran paranoia, and child abuse; “Film Maudit” about forbidden film and a certain Tillinghast Resonator; and my personal favorite, “A Plague of Naked Movie Stars”, a throwback to childhood Halloweens and Satanic cult paranoia.

Slatsky’s knowledge of the occult, alternative, and conspiratorial dwarfs my own, which is no small feat. His stories seemed almost perfectly tailored to my taste and interest for the High Strange. He often relies on references to the field that may be lost on the average reader (more than a few were lost on me), but those examples only help to hint at the broader, unseen world that so many of us suspect but often cannot see. The title tale, “Alectryomancer”, abuses this conceit somewhat, with not much in the way of payoff. Still, it was a strong story, and more than makes up for the author’s indulgence in pseudoacademic rambling with beautiful, terrifying imagery and bizarre characterizations.

While it may be easy for us to ignore the various references to occultism and conspiratorial history, Slatsky’s characters do not have the luxury of ignorance. What is secret does not remain hidden. Sanity is suddenly a commodity; each world descending into inexplicable, psychedelic chaos, births and deaths, rebirths and undeaths.

Then again, who’s to say any of these characters were sane in the first place?

Who’s to say the same of us?

Tellurian Façades, indeed.

5/5 Hyperboloid Ceilings with Infinite Expansion

Book Review: Black Wings of Cthulhu, volumes I-III, edited by S.T. Joshi

Review by Michael Bryant

S.T. Joshi is the foremost literary scholar on the life and labor of Howard Phillips Lovecraft, who is considered by many to be the father of modern horror. In his Black Wings of Cthulhu series, Joshi brings us  stories from many authors, all of which pay tribute to and emulate the thematic achievements of one of the genre’s most significant patriarchs.

If you’re reading this review, you are almost undoubtedly familiar with the early twentieth century writer H.P. Lovecraft and his work, if not directly then at least indirectly (oh yeah, that book from the Bruce Campbell movies!).  For those of you who don’t know his story, allow me to indulge my biographer’s streak.

Howard Phillips Lovecraft was born in Boston in 1890 and spent most of his life as a son and resident of Providence, Rhode Island. He demonstrated a voracious literary appetite from an early age, and began publishing his own amateur newsletters as a child. His tastes settled on weird fiction.

Lovecraft’s first professed love affair with literature was with The Arabian Nights which would influence the development of his alter ego, Abdul Al-Hazred.  His biggest overall influence was inarguably Edgar A. Poe, but he also became obsessive over the Sherlock Holmes tales by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He cites Machen as one of his greatest thematic influences and calls Algernon Blackwood’s “The Willows” the greatest work of weird fiction of all time. The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers is another clearly influential work, published when Lovecraft was about five years old. However, it is not clear at what point in his life that he read it.

As Lovecraft matured, he devoted himself exclusively to the weird or horror genre. Lovecraft would go on to create such modern horror icons as the nefarious book of the dead known as the Necronomicon, as well as the tentacled god from the stars who lurks beneath the sea–not dead, but dreaming–Cthulhu.

Lovecraft’s stories fused the atmosphere and gothic sensibilities of Poe with the cosmic themes of Blackwood, Chambers, and Machen. He structured his own Mythos in the pantheonic tradition of Lord Dunsany, while pushing horror out of the traditional gothic trappings. His work—and his extensive correspondence with his fans–galvanized a generation of fanboy writers such as Robert Bloch, R. H. Barlow, and Robert E. Howard, who would go on to write some of the most popular weird and horror fiction of the twentieth century. His influence only continues to increase in the modern age, reaching to film (Guillermo Del Toro, John Carpenter, Stuart Gordon),  music (Gwar, Metallica), board and video games (Call of Cthulhu, Arkham Horror), plush toys, and of course, contemporary horror literature.

Joshi’s editorial series Black Wings of Cthulhu showcases some of the best literary short works in the Lovecraft spirit. I say “in spirit” because these stories do not adhere exclusively to the Lovecraft Mythos—that is, they do not all take place within the same world as Lovecraft’s famous gods, monsters, and doomed cosmos.  Although many of the stories do incorporate monsters and characters taken directly from Lovecraft’s stories, others exclude the Mythos entirely and take an original approach to the cosmic horror theme.

Still others put Lovecraft in the story as a central character, subject to the horrors of his own demented fantasies. The series is home to stories by noted horror authors such as Caitlin R. Kiernan, W. H. Pugmire, Laird Barron, and Ramsey Campbell.

Volume I is one of the strongest anthologies I have ever read. I would encourage any horror fan looking to discover new writers to read it for its broad sampling of contributors. Each of the included stories is engaging and imaginative, and I would not consider any of them to be “filler”.

“Pickman’s Other Model” by Caitlin R. Kiernan opens for the collection, giving us a familiar footing in the ghoul-metamorphosis arena. Kiernan writes in a poetic and engaging style, and loves to make the reader squirm at times, although not with blatant gore/sex shock tactics, but through awkward nuance. Kiernan centers in on an element that is present in Lovecraft’s original work in mere suggestion only–sexuality. Kiernan does not, however, adopt such lazy, insulting critical theory as “Cthulhu equals vaginal horror”, but instead integrates the erotic with the cosmic in a sensually alluring yet grotesquely repugnant atmosphere.

“Tempting Providence” by Jonathan Thomas features an appearance by Lovecraft’s ghost, or what the narrator perceives as the writer’s ghost, only to find it a luring semblance for a predator with a three-lobed burning eye. “Lesser Demons” by Norman Partridge explores the human coping mechanisms for dealing with the unnamable in an apocalyptic setting, providing a fresh take on a supernatural-influenced collapse of civilization in a genre oversaturated with zombies. “Passing Spirits” by Sam Gafford plunges the reader into horrible melancholy as we experience the hallucinations of the narrator’s diseased and dying mind, and come to the brutal truth at the center of cosmic horror: life is pointless and the universe is an uncaring void which we are destined to return to as ignorant dust.

I would suggest reading some of Lovecraft’s more popular works, especially the stories that referenced by the authors in this anthology, but one can still enjoy this collection without having read much, if any, of his work.

Black Wings of Cthulhu Volume I – 5/5 Nameless Horrors

Volume II of Black Wings continues with the thematic and literary standards set down in Volume I, although this is definitely the “B” version. Many of the authors from the first volume return alongside some fresh faces. While every story in Volume I left an impression on me, upon revisiting Volume II I had to jog my memory on many of the tales. A couple are below par. That said, there are still some fantastic stories in this volume.

My favorite is “The Skinless Face” by Donald Tyson. An archeological expedition in the Gobi Desert unearths a desecrated idol from a lost civilization. Using computer graphing, the team reconstructs a digital image of the smashed idol’s face. Beholding the face of this forgotten god spells doom for the expedition, and possibly the world. “The Skinless Face” is a fresh, original concept in the tradition of cosmic horror and, as a character-driven story, is the stand out of the collection.

“Bloom” by John Langan is a biological horror piece in which a couple happen upon a genetic abomination that brings about mutations in the doomed protagonists. “The King of Cat Swamp” by Jonathan Thomas features a sorcerer of the Cthulhu Cult who brings about his own distinct form of vengeance on the new inhabitants of his old haunt.  “Appointed” by Chet Williamson features a demon in the semblance of “The King in Yellow” who bargains renewed life and vitality to aging, washed-up inhabitants of celebrity zoos at horror conventions.

Black Wings Volume II – 4.5/5 Insanity-Inducing Stone Idols

In Volume III, we start to see some more “filler” stories. “Hotel Del Lago” by Mollie L. Burleson reads more as a template example of how to write a horror tale in the Lovecraftian style, rather than a real story. It has the classic traveler meets ghosts in a ghost town approach, with the addition of a ghost lake behind the ghost hotel where robed cultists summon a large and mysterious creature from the depths. The protagonist flees the scene in the night and makes it to the next town, where he is told that there is no such place that he describes. He returns the next day, and lo and behold, it’s a vacated ruin with a dried-up lake bed. Nothing original or new, just a classic format with a couple of cultists and tentacles sprinkled in for flavor.

I bought the Kindle Version of these books, and Volume III is put together with far less care than its predecessors, with numerous typographical errors throughout the anthology. It’s also rather sloppy in the layout. I’m not sure if these format problems extend to the print edition or to other e-formats.

In spite of these problems, Volume III is still a must-read in my opinion. “Spiderwebs In the Dark” by Darrell Schweitzer follows two companions flying through space and time on the cosmic strands of ethereal webs—or perhaps they’re both suffering from delusional insanity.  “Waller” by Donald Tyson explores parallel realities as our protagonist falls through the planes of existence and meets the Gods who demand our cancerous fruit. “The Megalith Plague” by Don Webb goes for a bit of the “high strange” treatment with a nod to Lovecraft, and “China Holiday” by Peter Cannon exposes the forces behind China’s recent economic explosion and secretive police state.

Black Wings Volume III – 4.5/5 Cancerous Life Seeds

There isn’t much more I can say about these anthologies without spoiling the fun. So treat yourself and pick up the Black Wings of Cthulhu series, grab a stiff drink, turn down the lights, and settle in for some not-so-comforting tales of cosmic horror.

The collections are available through all major online retailers.