Tags: books

Laird Barron interview at Clarkesworld

Laird Barron is interviewed by Jeff VanderMeer in the current issue of Clarkesworld Magazine. His collection, The Imago Sequence and Other Stories, is the first step in what I predict is going to be a long and successful career. Aside from having all the qualities you'd want from horror stories for grown-ups -- they're all beautifully written, and nuanced, and they never condescend to you or resort to cheap tricks -- Barron's stories are also just plain fun. They involve secret agents, gunfighters, private eyes, and monsters! He is, seriously, the whole package. 

Here's Barron on the importance of the language in a story: 

"Noir is famous for this affiliation, but all of my favorite writing sings with poetry. Much of my admiration for Michael Shea, for example, stems from his lyricism, his ability to wield language in a manner that engages and enthralls — sometimes reckless and coarse, other times utterly mellifluous, but always layered, always multifaceted and as ornamental as it is functional. He's not satisfied to employ language as a necessity. Shea demonstrates that it's insufficient for prose to function as a utilitarian device when it can so readily transform literature, imbue narrative with a force capable of transcending the medium, of devastating the audience with a gesture."

20 great horror stories

There's a meme going around LiveJournal in which people list their top 20 favorite horror stories (or those they found to be the most influential). You can't cite the same author twice. Hmm. 

In no particular order:

1. "A Good Man is Hard to Find" by Flannery O'Connor
2. "Dread" by Clive Barker
3. "The Monkey's Paw" by W.W. Jacobs
4. "The Two Sams" by Glen Hirshberg
5. "October in the Chair" by Neil Gaiman
6. "Fall of the House of Usher" by Edgar Allan Poe
7. "Children of the Corn" by Stephen King
8. "The Dunwich Horror" by H.P. Lovecraft
9. "The Juniper Tree" by Peter Straub
10. "A Little Place Off Edgware Road" by Graham Greene
11. "This Is Now" by Michael Marshall Smith
12. "With Acknowledgments to Sun Tzu" by Brian Hodge
13. "The Windmill" by Conrad Williams
14. "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
15. "Gone" by P. Craig Russell and Mike Richardson
16. "The Turn of the Screw" by Henry James
17. "Bright Segment" by Theodore Sturgeon
18. "Old Virginia" by Laird Barron
19. "My Father's Mask" by Joe Hill
20. "Delta Sly Honey" by Lucius Shepard

As incomplete as this list seems, the compiling of it made me page through a lot of old books, recall a lot of old stories, and relive a lot of wonderfully creepy nights. It reminded me of why I love horror fiction so much: they're spooky and fun ("Children of the Corn"), heartbreaking ("The Two Sams"), awful ("The Juniper Tree", "A Good Man is Hard to Find"), cathartic ("My Father's Mask"), and sometimes they're all at once ("October in the Chair"). This is a rich genre, full of beauty and serious intent, and I'm proud as hell to be working in it. 

Looking for kids' books

Today I got a few more books for The Little One. She just turned seven and she's at the point where the world of young adult fiction is becoming accessible to her. I'm procuring these books by the handful, even in cases where I think it may be a bit more time before she's ready (case in point: one of the books I got today was The Blue Fairy Book, the first volume in Andrew Lang's retellings). Kelly and Gavin sent me home from Massachusetts with a small treasure trove of children's books, too.  

Looking over the shelves at Malaprop's Bookstore I found myself reliving the excitement I felt when I was a kid, imagining the stories behind each title, trying to decide which I would follow next. The field seems so much richer now than it did then, though. Or maybe it's just full of the kind of stuff I like now (fairies and giants and monsters), whereas before I seem to remember mostly kids' detective fiction (I always loved The Three Investigators -- remember Jupiter Jones?). 

Anyway, I'm still looking for suggestions for her. She's seven years old and precocious. I've decided that rather than hand her books I think she's ready for, I'm going to make a whole range of them available to her and let her dictate her own pace. She's always surprising me with her sophistication and maturity, with how much more she understands than I realize. I figure it's time to get out of her way and let her run. 

Here's one of the books Kelly sent me home with:


Listen to how wonderful this is: Lily's father works for an evil human-whale hybrid who is fashioning stilts for whales so that they can take over the world. She must stop him, with the help of two friends: Katie, who lives in a haunted neighborhood and routinely tangles with spooky monsters; and Jasper, the "Boy Technonaut." Why don't they write stuff this cool for grown-ups?

Best new year's best of the year

The genre is lousy with year's best anthologies. 

In addition to the old reliables edited by Datlow/Link/Grant and Gardner Dozois and Stephen Jones, we have recently seen new compendiums edited by Robert Silverberg & Karen Haber, Jonathan Strahan, and Rich Horton, among others. Several posts ago I mentioned reading Strahan's inaugural Year's Best Fantasy and Science Fiction and enjoying it. I couldn't help but notice, though, that there was a lot of crossover with the posted table of contents for the upcoming Year's Best Fantasy & Horror. I haven't seen or heard about the TOC for Year's Best Science Fiction, but I bet there's a healthy overlap. You can't really expect anything less: the genre is fairly narrow, and the best short stories tend to identify themselves pretty readily. Variances in editorial taste will guarantee that each antho will have its share of unique stories, but we come fairly quickly to a point of diminishing returns. Unless you're truly a hardcore genre enthusiast, it just doesn't pay to get each anthology (and if you're that hardcore, you're probably already reading the magazines and web sites they're drawn from, anyway). Me, I stick with the Datlow/Link/Grant anthology because not only are the stories reliably good, they have a bigger word count, which means I get more of them. Plus, I dig those massive, unwieldy summaries. I'll get the Dozois antho because really, that's all the science fiction I need for the year, thank you. I just don't dig science fiction enough to read more.  

So why should anybody be excited about Best American Fantasy, with series editor Matthew Cheney and first-volume editors Jeff and Ann VanderMeer? 

Because this one is different. In this anthology, it seems that the editors have taken it as a mandate to ignore entirely marketplace-inspired definitions of the word "fantasy" and to drop their lines into a deeper ocean. Glance at the table of contents and you'll see names like Ramola D, Robin Hemley, and Peter LaSalle. (Who?) You'll also see Kevin Brockmeier and Brian Evenson, as well as friendly, familiar names like Geoffrey Landis and Kelly Link. But I'll bet most hardcore genre-reading, magazine-subscribing loyalists haven't read even half the stories in this book. I know I haven't. And I don't know about you, but that really excites me.

Jeff has taken flack from some quarters for his overt efforts to knock down some of the barriers between genre fiction and mainstream fiction. I know many were dismayed, for instance, when the World Fantasy Award was given to Haruki Murakami. (update: Jeff just sent me an email informing me that the voting on this particular award was unanimous, and that he wasn't even the novel's chief advocate. That's me, jumping to conclusions.) The appropriateness of that is open for debate, but the fact remains that SF (used here in an inclusive sense, encompassing fantasy and horror too) is going through a change, perhaps as significant as that brought about by New Wave writers like Harlan Ellison and Thomas Disch. I have a sense that a lot of writers -- and, I hope, readers too -- are less patient with the boundaries as we've known them, and are more open to broader interpretations of the genre. 

There are those who react strongly against this trend; there were those who reacted against the New Wave as well. If SF was going through its adolescence then, experimenting with sex, drugs, and adult language, then perhaps now it's older, just a little more mature, and ready to leave home at last.


This is one year's best I'm definitely adding to my shelf. You can read comments from Cheney and VanderMeers One and Two on the book's webpage.

Readercon, and comments on a documentary

Right now it appears I may be able to go to Readercon. It depends on finances, mostly, but if I scrimp and save and basically feed myself and the little one with cockroaches, I think it's possible. I'd be flying up there with Dale Bailey, a good friend and a wonderful writer whose collection The Resurrection Man's Legacy should be required reading for lovers of the genre and lovers of beautiful prose. Lucius Shepard will be Guest of Honor there, which is reason enough to go all by itself. I first met Lucius a couple of years ago in New Orleans when he dropped by a SF writers workshop run by Andy Fox. He came to the bar where I worked the following day and drank a lot of Jack Daniels and told a lot of stories (including a couple sweet ones about Richard Ford), and I got to enjoy the rare experience of discovering that the writer I've admired for many years is actually a pretty cool dude in real life, too. But I also want to go because I've heard a lot of good things about Readercon, and because I was born in Massachusetts but haven't been there since I was a toddler, and because it'll be nice to hang out with Dale, and with Robert Wexler if he can make it, and ... well, you get the picture. It'll be cool. It might break me, but it'll be cool.

Last night I watched General Idi Amin Dada, the 1974 documentary by Barbet Schroeder, in preparation for finally watching The Last King of Scotland. Idi Amin, dictator of Uganda from 1971 to 1979, was practically a collaborator in this documentary, even getting credit for the soundtrack. It's a fascinating portrait. I confess I was lulled into laughter at some points in the film, especially during an absurd sequence in which he stages a mock invasion of the Golan Heights in a scene reminiscent of Malcolm McDowell leading the Romans in an attack against the ocean in Caligula. Idi Amin comes off as childlike: he is disproportionately proud of his military hardware, directing the cameraman to capture a couple of passing jets as they fly over, or a helicoptor as it comes in for a landing; he is petulant when confronted with uncomfortable questions or faced with even the mildest challenge to his authority; and he is remarkably vapid in his speeches to his cabinet and professional gatherings, delivering little more than vague pep talks laced with threat. The dark humor inherent in the film is of course undermined by the reality of the stacks of dead he left in his wake. If he was like a child, then he was like a petulant, unloved, unloving child filled with hubris and blessed with the awful gift of near-unlimited power. As if the death toll of approximately 300,000 wasn't enough, he managed to destroy Uganda's economy, as well, before living out his days in a peaceful exile in Saudi Arabia. 

Since I haven't yet figured out how to post a video in the middle of a real post, I'll link to a collection of scenes from the documentary here. Check it out.


“Why do dead men rise up to torment the living?” Captain Henry Baltimore asks the malevolent winged creature. The vampire shakes its head. “It was you called us. All of you, with your war. The roar of your cannons shook us from our quiet graves…. You killers. You berserkers…. You will never be rid of us now.”

From the book description on Amazon:

"When Lord Henry Baltimore awakens the wrath of a vampire on the hellish battlefields of World War I, the world is forever changed. For a virulent plague has been unleashed—a plague that even death cannot end.

"Now the lone soldier in an eternal struggle against darkness, Baltimore summons three old friends to a lonely inn—men whose travels and fantastical experiences incline them to fully believe in the evil that is devouring the soul of mankind.

"As the men await their old friend, they share their tales of terror and misadventure, and contemplate what part they will play in Baltimore’s timeless battle. Before the night is through, they will learn what is required to banish the plague—and the creature who named Baltimore his nemesis—once and for all."

Sweet mother of god, how cool is that? 

It might even be as great as The Amazing Screw-On Head!

B & B Paintworks is up and, uh, idling

Happy birthday to B & B Paintworks, our brand spanking new painting outfit. With a call to the IRS we have a tax ID, and with a trip to an insurance office we have general liability and workman's comp insurance. Just like that, we are officially a small business. Tomorrow and over the next couple of days my brother is going to connect with his contacts and try to score us a contract or two. In the meantime I will continue to die slowly waiting tables.  

In the meantime: this morning I continued work on my latest short story, currently entitled "Another Death." In a few minutes, after Mia is asleep, I'll get back to work on the White Wolf project. 

I'm halfway through McDonald's River of Gods. It's hard to find sustained tracts of time to read, and this book is dense enough that it isn't very forgiving of several days away from it. I'll probably fall asleep with it tonight. I've also been reading The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, edited by Jonathan Strahan and published by Night Shade Books. It's got a lot of good stuff in it, as you might guess. I liked Christopher Rowe's "Another Word For Map is Faith" and "I, Row-Boat" by my old Clarion-mate Cory Doctorow, even though hard sf isn't usually my thing.  I don't always pick up Dozois's Year's Best SF volumes, so I'm reading stuff I might not otherwise have seen this year, which is the chief virtue of these anthologies. I can't help but wonder, though, how much overlap there'll be with the upcoming Year's Best Fantasy & Horror. How many "Best Of" volumes can the market accommodate?