The high shaman of Canadian micropress erotic horror Scott R. Jones joins us to talk about formative horror experiences, his Christian Gnosticism, and worldview and philosophy in horror literature.
Faithful Frighteners is a series of interviews with persons of faith in the horror and weird fiction scenes.
Scott R. Jones is owner and project editor of Martian Migraine Press, a transgressive weird small press out of Canada. His latest anthology, Cthulhusattva: Tales of the Black Gnosis is available now.
JR: How, when, and why did you get into horror culture (film, literature, video games, etc)?
SRJ: If we’re going to go all the way back to the moment I became aware of horror, I would have to relate the moment in grade school when a classmate brought in the comics adaptation of the Creepshow anthology film. Something about the artwork (I think it was a predominantly Bernie Wrightson effort, wasn’t it?); I still vividly recall the revulsion I felt at the depiction of strands of saliva stretching between the teeth and lips of screaming victims. “Father’s Day,” and that one where the murderer buries his victims up to their necks at the shore before the tide comes in. The effect on me was deep; so troubling that when I heard Stephen King’s name mentioned on the radio weeks later, I burst into tears. But, y’know, I was ten.
I’m guessing it wasn’t until my early twenties that I got into horror fiction. I consider myself fortunate that my first adult exposure was to Ramsey Campbell (his Cold Print was a revelation), and from him I moved on into the other weird authors (Lovecraft et al.), many of which fared badly in comparison to Campbell.
Edited by Jack Burgos
Published by A Murder of Storytellers
Also available on Amazon
The democratization of publishing tools is a double-edged sword, for sure. You get a lot of people shoving out an unending sting of sub-par, shoddily edited (if at all) swill. I’ve listened to podcasts espousing the benefits of getting a ton of material out quickly—as in, 5,000 words or more a week—in order to start LIVING THE DREAM NOW. There’s reams of digital copy available online right now that would never pass muster with any self-respecting publishing outfit of any size.
The other consequence, of course, is that we now have access to the work of writers and editors who might not get a mainstream publishing opportunity. Few things are more enjoyable than when I discover a new writer (through a small press or self-published) whose work is unique and of high quality.
Broken Worlds is a book from an editor whose passion for genre literature is clear. This is the kind of book that has benefited from the digital and print on demand revolution. It’s got a ton of short stories from independent (and some underground-established) authors. The book is very uneven in terms of genre, writing styles, and arguably quality—but that’s what makes it charming. It’s big enough and diverse enough that you’re bound to find something you like. It’s books like this that represent the future of small press publishing: new editors and authors getting their sea legs under them, getting their work published and read, developing their voices and deciding where they want to go as artists—and those of us who take a chance on their work get to go along for the ride.
The book’s central theme is that we live in a reality of systems—and these systems degenerate or evolve (much like traditional publishing itself). Each story contains some sort of breakdown, whether of a social order, of innocence, or of reality itself. Beyond this wide apocalyptic conceit, however, the stories are very diverse in tone, style, and narrative. Again, this is both the book’s greatest strength and weakness. But it’s in this diversity that you’re sure to find something you like.
The stories I enjoyed the most were by a couple of authors I was already familiar with, and a couple that I had not heard of before. “The Wailing Women” by M. R. Ranier is at the front of the book and sets its tone as one of its strongest stories. “The Interview” by Shannon Iwanski is both hilarious and macabre, especially for anyone who has ever worked for a giant institution or government. Scott R. Jones is as always in fine form, this time offering us a story about language, words, and the unmaking of all things in “I Cannot Begin to Tell You”. Robin Wyatt Dunn’s “The Coens” mixes science fiction slipstream adventurism with cosmic finality. “Five Laments for the Horizon Summer Resort, to be Destroyed and Never Built Again” by Tom Breen (his short fiction debut) is a slow burn ghost story that reminded me of subtle yet emotionally powerful classical supernatural stories. I’d like to see what Tom can do in the full-on weird/horror forms.
The majority of the book’s offerings fall somewhere between science fiction and fantasy, but there are a few horror offerings here. That said, I wouldn’t recommend this for someone looking for a purely horror anthology. Reviewing such an eclectic book is difficult, as personal preferences in style and tone (and occasionally quality) vary so widely that I can’t really sum up a book like this. While I think the anthology would have benefited from a few less stories and a greater focus on theme (or genre), it’s still promising to see so many new (to me, at least) voices in a volume that is anything but another printing-mill short story anthology. It’s an exciting time to be a reader (and writer!) of genre literature, and Broken Worlds is a solid step forward into speculative fiction territory for young editor Jack Burgos and A Murder of Storytellers.
Cthulhu Fhtagn! Weird Tales Inspired by H.P. Lovecraft
Edited by Ross E. Lockhart
Published by Word Horde
If you’re like me, you’re burned out on Lovecraft.
That’s not to say that I don’t still read him at least once a year. Or that I’m suddenly too-cool-for-school when someone says “Lovecraftian fiction.” I discovered Lovecraft sometime early on in college, and thought I was the only one tracking the man’s bizarre work, which resonated with me in a way that few “old” works could.
That was naïve of me. Lovecraft and his legacy are now bigger than ever, which is, of course, a double-edged sword. I liked Cthulhu before it was cool, and all of that. But I am increasingly skeptical of the words “Cthulhu”, “weird tales,” and “Lovecraftian”, and no longer drawn in by those signifiers as I once was.
It’s with that disclaimer that I’m glad I gave Cthulhu Fhtagn! a chance. Word Horde (and its editor, Ross E. Lockhart) have an iron-clad reputation for quality, and they didn’t disappoint with this offering, well-worn territory or no. The stories here are all befitting the impressive roster, and you’ll find more than a few that you’ll like, and probably just as many as you’ll love. Many of the stories are classically Lovecraftian (in the best possible sense), and a few take those ideas, or parallel those ideas, and have some fun in the process.
This is a big book, with very diverse offerings. Yes, people discover Strange Things or Places and meet Terrible Fates, Lovecraft’s cosmic horrors find purchase in bizarre and clever science fiction venues, and poetic, dreamlike terrors haunt these many pages. There’s even some grotesque body horror, political posturing and allegory (your mileage may vary), fantasy, and meta-narratives here, some directly referencing the characters and motifs of Lovecraft, others content to chart their own paths.
My favorite stories were those that didn’t take themselves too seriously, and had more than a little fun with the ideas (and maybe even the character) of the Old Man himself.
“The Lurker in the Shadows” by Nathan Carson tackles two towering figures of pop horror—Lovecraft himself, and Stephen King—and imagines what if Lovecraft had found health, wealth, and literary success in life long enough to mentor and meet the young would-be [K]ing. It’s a story that is both a love letter to the work of both men, while still a clever and sinister weird tale in its own right.
“The Insectivore” by Orrin Grey is less a Lovecraftian pastiche and more a Bradburyian one, with all the trappings of youthful innocence crashing against the walls of reality.
“Aerkheim’s Horror” by Christine Morgan is an anachronistic Viking adventure saga gone wrong, with lots of fighting and blood and guts to keep up the pace.
“Love Will Save You” by Cameron Pierce is a haunting, disturbing, maybe even symbolic tale about floating orbs and lusts of the heart.
“Assemblage Point” by Scott R. Jones is a wicked, delightful little meta-story, which simultaneously mocks and embraces weird horror tropes. In the hands of a lesser writer, the concept could have slipped into condescension. Instead, the story is creepy and memorable.
Then there’s the final story, “Don’t Make Me Assume My Ultimate Form” by Laird Barron. I can’t say as I understood what, exactly, it was all about—but it was a fun read, and full of wild imagery: a Charlie’s Angels-style super team of assassins, ex-cons, and martial arts experts, a malignant entity inside of a doll, psychic powers, and overcoming childhood trauma.
The best story—in this reader’s opinion—is “The Curse of the Old Ones” by Molly Tanzer and Jesse Bullington. It’s funny, bizarre, and a page-turner. It features some very, very beloved figures of mid-century horror cinema dealing with our favorite occult terrors. It’s written with the pacing and flourish of a Hammer Studios or William Castle film. I had a smile on my face pretty much the whole time I was reading it. Kootulu is King of Hell!
So are you tired of Lovecraftian fiction? No? Then buy this book. Yes? Get this book anyway. These are all Lovecraftian stories, then, even if more than a few of them, this many generations hence, have moved well past the tropes and conventions the Old Man developed. This book shows us some of the best that pastiche, tribute, and evolution of the Lovecraftian Weird Tale can offer.
Edited by Scott R. Jones; Published by Martian Migraine Press
Available for pre-order now
“From Beyond” is a Lovecraft story that, while lacking the elegance and polish of some of his other works, is effective precisely because it presses the right buttons in very few words. It’s profoundly Lovecraftian in the hidden-world-higher-dark-power aspect. Human beings stumble blindly through magic and forbidden science to open up a dangerous and increasingly hostile new world that is always just out of sight. It’s only a few pages long, with most of the terrors generated by the reader’s mind. Lovecraft supplies us with just enough details to stoke the fires of imagination.
The film From Beyond, conversely, shows quite a bit—and liberally dumps buckets of slime and blood everywhere—while also under-explaining the true nature of the creepy-crawlies that float, bite, suck, consume, and ultimately corrupt and metamorphize the humans who come in contact with the infamous Resonator. Or, is it the bodies of that characters themselves that cause the corruption? Does the pineal gland, once stimulated, assume a life of its own, pushing the characters into new states of abominable evolution?
Martian Migraine Press has assembled an all-star team of horror writers who tackle these themes. In Resonator -New Lovecraftian Tales From Beyond, these writers pick up where Lovecraft and Gordon left off, tracking the fate of the Tillinghast family and the Resonator technology through a variety of weird and slimy tales of lurid erotica, old-fashioned splatterpunk, and paranoid science fiction-horror.
I feared that the collection would at one point run out of steam—after all, how many different ways can you rebuild and re-frame a concept like the Resonator technology? The writers of this collection—expertly assembled by Scott R. Jones—managed to write stories with common themes and gross-outs, but that stand on their own in setting, characterization, and creativity. None of these stories feel like repeats or filler; each new story has a fresh and viscous take on the terrors that lurk in the branes beyond and within the human heart.
While there are reasons to like every story in this collection, I have a few personal favorites.
“IPO” by Darrin Brightman explores the Post-9/11 commercialization of the Resonator technology. Brightman’s social critique is so on-the-nose it’s easy to miss: the very machines meant to protect us make us see monsters, everywhere.
“Film Maudit” by Christopher Slatsky explores one of my favorite horror tropes: that of a forbidden film and/or a haunted movie theater (see Mer Whinery’s “The Projectionist” in our upcoming High Strange Horror release). A gorehound who has seen it all attends a special screening of a supposedly lost art house/snuff film, with the experience enhanced by the RestoRed Oscillator, an almost-forgotten spookshow gimmick that thrills the audience in new and horrifying ways.
“Bug Zapper” by Richard Lee Byers follows a scientist and a team of Army Rangers—wearing armor and popping pills to keep them motivated—as they try to destroy a special tower the government built to keep the invisible monsters away. Turns out, we are far more connected to that invisible ecosystem than even Tillinghast could have imagined, and mucking around in t-space wasn’t the best idea after all.
“Parasitosis” by Lyndsey Holder is about a man with unexplained psychological issues—including the ability to see emotions and psychological states—exploring the meaning of memory and current experiential reality, one moment at a time. This story is disorienting as it is frightening.
“The Wizard of OK” by Scott Nicolay shows us an Aleister Crowley devotee as he uses an unspeakable mix of technology and blood sorcery to explore space and time, at the expense of one very lost and damaged woman and her son. There’s a demon-thing-god-worm-creature that defies the imagination, with a psychic and physical presence that preys upon our unsympathetic characters, resonating with both physical and emotional fear.
“The Divide” by Damir Salkovic is the soul-scarring final piece. It’s more of a science fiction sequel to the original story, with a near-utopian future consisting of a wealthy elite seeking greater and greater thrills and experiences that lead them all the way to the center of creation. There they encounter a fate—and a truth—far worse than they could possibly have imagined.
There’s plenty more to like. This is a creative exploration of form and content around the shared conceit of technology/sorcery and third-eye truth. In case you missed the original story, it’s included at the beginning of the collection, so don’t worry about being lost in the shuffle. Each author takes those primordial ideas and conjures up terrors both immediate and existential. In Resonator, merely getting eaten alive by unseen monsters from outside time and space is the least of your concerns, and one of the more noble fates the hapless characters end up suffering.
This book comes with my strongest recommendation for fans of both science fiction-horror and body-horror.
5/5 Resonance Waves