Tag Archives: Ramsey Campbell

Shades of Lovecraft in Weirder Shadows Over Innsmouth

WEIRDERCoverFront_-_Copy_largeThe story behind the anthology Weirder Shadows Over Innsmouth is almost more interesting than the stories in the book itself.  It’s the third in a series edited by Stephen Jones, all inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s 1931 tale “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” featuring the mutated denizens of Innsmouth and following in the damp, amphibious footprints of Shadows Over Innsmouth (1994) and Weird Shadows Over Innsmouth (2005).  Both of the prior volumes were published by Fedogan & Bremer, a press that specialized in handsome hardcovers in the vein of Arkham House until ceasing operations after the death of co-founder Phil Rahman.  After several years of dormancy, F&B was revived in 2012 by co-founder Dennis Weiler, with Weirder Shadows being the second volume issued since the press’ return from the dead.

As with the prior volumes, editor Jones has assembled an impressive list of contributors, with authors such as Caitlin Kiernan, Conrad Williams, and Ramsey Campbell headlining the line-up of seven original stories and ten reprints. So, to start… since I cherry-picked those three author names, let’s start by taking a look at their contributions.

Kiernan actually has three stories included here, all reprinted from her subscription-based online periodical, Sirenia Digest, and two are excellent.  “Fish Bride” is related via the post-coital bedroom conversation between one of the blasphemous fish-people and her human lover.  Between the dialog and the human’s internal monologue, the tale perfectly captures the tensions of the cross-species relationship. “The Transition of Elizabeth Haskings,” meanwhile, begins as a story of a lonely, repressed female librarian and her relationship with her gay male coworker, but is gradually revealed to be something much more.

Conrad Williams offers up “The Hag Stone,” a lengthy tale of a recent widower who decides to get away to a remote inn in the Channel Islands, but soon finds the locale less than idyllic, plagued as it is by invaders from the nighttime seas. I’m a huge fan of Williams’ work, and this unfortunately isn’t as good as he’s capable of, but it’s still an engaging piece. Finally, Ramsey Campbell’s “The Winner” is likewise set far from the original Innsmouth stomping grounds, but the chosen locale — a bizarre pub, where a man and his family find themselves stranded after their ferry to Dublin is canceled — is suitably damp and disturbing.

The danger with any tribute anthology like this — and especially with an anthology series that stretches to three volumes — is that the stories will start to seem too familiar, too rote, and that is occasionally an issue here, but for the most part, contributing authors manage to put an interesting twist on their events.

Take, for example, Reggie Olive’s “The Archbishop’s Well,” which successfully merges Lovecraftian horrors with an antiquarian ghost milieu of the sort that Oliver frequently employs.  Or Brian Hodge’s “The Same Deep Waters as You,” which marries the Innsmouth basics with recent political events, resulting in a fast-paced and intriguing story of Innsmouth residents forcibly relocated to a Gitmo-style prison, where they exert a strange influence on the female protagonist, who was recruited by the government based on the work she’d done on her Discovery Channel show, The Animal Whisperer.

Michael Marshall Smith’s “The Chain” is another tale that transports the Lovecraftian terrors far from their origin, to the unlikely destination of Carmel, California, a picturesque coastal town that’s strangely devoid of any homeless population. Simon Kurt Unsworth’s “Into the Water” is perhaps my favorite story here, a quiet chiller in which global warming and dramatically rising waters afford the Innsmouth amphibians the opportunity to expand their territory.

Of course, as is almost often the case with a sizable anthology, there were other tales that didn’t work so well for me, such as those by John Glasby, Kim Newman, and Adrian Cole, to name a few.  Nonetheless, Weirder Shadows is overall a strong gathering of admirably diverse stories, nicely buttressed by a wonderful Les Edwards dustjacket painting and interior B&W illustrations by Randy Broecker.  Fedogan & Bremer has another anthology, as well as a collection by Scott Nicolay, scheduled for the coming months, and I recommend you put this reemergent press back on your radar.

Q2 2013 Roundup of New Publishers

First off, apologies for the lack of any new reviews from me lately.  I started a new job in late March and have been busy drinking from the proverbial firehose.  As fate would have it, the period leading up to mid-June is the busiest time of the year for the group I work in, so I’ll continue in slightly-overwhelmed mode for a couple more weeks, but have a ton of stuff queued up for review and will start catching up asap, starting with a two-fer review of a pair of titles by Ian Rogers.

In the meantime… it’s been more than six months since our last roundup of new publishers, so let’s take stock of who’s newly entered the fray (or recently been discovered):

Biting Dog Publications – A past publisher of titles by Nancy Collins, Neil Gaiman, and Jack Ketchum, Biting Dog had been moved from the Active Publisher list to the dormant and defunct section, but recently re-emerged with more than 30 ebooks.  Authors include Collins (eight titles), Neal Barrett, Jr. (seven titles), Sara Brooke (four titles), and John Paul Allen (three titles).  Several of their “titles” are just short stories, but they also have some book-length works as well.  There’s no editorial presence whatsoever on the website — no indication of why BDP went dormant for quite a while, why they’re suddenly back, or whether they intend to publish any more print books.

$(KGrHqYOKnUE1OjcYQmiBNdZSC!bCQ~~_35Dybbuk Press – Another press that is getting promoted, at least temporarily, from the dormant section back to the Active Publisher list, although it’s not clear whether Dybbuk is really back to stay.  The last post on their website, from August 2012, indicates that they’re almost done reading for an anthology entitled King David and the Spider From Mars.  The lack of any further updates in nine months doesn’t seem promising. To date, Dybbuk has published eight titles, in both trade paperback and ebook format, in their nine-year history, with the most recent titles being an anthology and a collection by Michael Hemmingson. I’ll give Dybbuk the benefit of  the doubt for the moment, but their stay on the Active Publisher list may be very short-lived.

HM2800_600Horrific Tales Publishing – A UK-based publisher that has released two books to date, the werewolf novels High Moor and High Moor 2 by Graeme Reynolds, with each available in trade paperback and ebook format.  As far as I can so far tell, HTP is not a self-publishing enterprise, but if I do find that to be the case, then I’ll remove them from the list. Edit: in late-breaking news, I just confirmed that HTP is, in fact, Reynolds’ own site, so I won’t be adding the press to the list of legitimate publishers (unless/until they publish work by other authors).  I will, however, go ahead and leave in this description so that it’s apparent why they’ve been excluded. 

 

Frights Cover 3-22-12Horror Zine Books – This press is an offshoot of horror website thehorrorzine.com (which has been around since 2009, but unfortunately looks like a GeoCities site circa 1996), and the brainchild of author/editor Jeanni Rector.  HZB has produced A Feast of Frights, an anthology edited by Rector, as well as her novel Accused, a predisposition towards the publisher’s own work that is often not a good sign (at least not if you’re seeking, like me, to track true independent publishers, and not self-publishing enterprises).  However, Rector’s website and anthology efforts have garnered praise, and contributions, from some fairly big names in the genre, including Ramsey Campbell, Simon Clark, Joe Lansdale, and Tom Piccirilli.  I think the two titles mentioned above are the only ones HZB has published, but I’ll be damned if I can tell for sure: the website’s organization is an abomination; for example, clicking on the Books link in the navigation bar leads not to a page on the books HZB has published, as one might expect, but rather to a page of book reviews.  Two earlier Rector-edited anthologies promoted on the site, What Fears Become and Shadow Masters, were produced by a different publisher (Imajin Books).

headerinsidenuovohome1bMezzotints – An Italian publisher that primarily produces genre work in the Italian language (with roughly 8 titles to date), they recently published an English-language-version ebook of Samuel Marolla’s Black Tea and Other Tales.  The thin collection gathers three previously published (in Italian) tales and is edited Benjamin Kane Ethridge, with an introduction by Gene O’Neill.  It remains to be seen whether Mezzotints will produce further English works or if this was a one-off curiosity.

 

DeadSoulsWS-e1358463780350Omnium Gatherum and Odium Media – Omnium, Odium… oh my!  OK, where was I?  Omnium Gatherum has actually been around since 2011 and is focused on, in the publisher’s own words, “providing unique dark fantasy fiction in print, ebook and audio formats. Dark fantasy fiction, as we define it, combines the best of fantasy and horror to comment on history, science, society or the human condition.” Of their 18 titles, the most notable are probably two titles, Knock Knock and Delphine Dodd, by the highly regarded S.P. Miskowski.  Odium Medium, meanwhile, is the publisher’s horror imprint.  They state that the imprint publishes “horror fiction with young adult protagonists and bring(s) classic horror tales back into print.” The YA focus of their original titles is interesting, if seemingly a bit inconsistent with their reprint philosophy.  Titles to date include reprints of Michael Laimo’s Dead Souls and Rick Hautala’s The Wildman, as well as an original novel by Dean Harrison.  Strangely, there seems to be no links from the Omnium Gatherum site to the Odium Media site.  Equally strangely, the idea of actually selling books seems somewhat foreign to the Omnium site — there is no e-commerce aspect to the site, and links to Amazon are somewhat hidden (only available by clicking on book covers).  It’s worth noting that the two website have some some intro graphics that are cool if you’re working with plenty of bandwidth, but annoying if you’re not.  Finally, The founder of the twin imprints, Kate Jonez, is also a writer, with a debut novel due this summer from Evil Jester Press.

cover-art-pstd-3-feb-26-version-2Postscripts to Darkness – I’m going to with this as the name of this publisher, even though the actual publisher listed on their titles is “Ex Hubris Imprints.”  But the latter doesn’t have a website (or any web presence) while the former does have a site… and as far as I can tell, the two are one and the same.  Regardless, PSTD (their website tagline rather cutely says “Pssst…Dear Darkness…Are you there?”) is a Canadian publisher of three anthologies, entitled Postscripts to Darkness volumes 1, 2, and 3.  Publisher Sean Moreland was apparently inspired by a locally-funded visit to Canada by Glen Hirshberg and Peter Atkins’ long-running annual Rolling Darkness Revue, and he formed PSTD as a result.  Their volumes are short (at least one running less than 100 pages), composed of short-short stories and some non-fiction, available in hard-copy format (either trade paperback or chapbook — I’m not sure of the binding) and are planned to appear twice yearly.  There’s no indication that they’re looking to publish anything beyond this anthology series.

The_Wicked_-_James_NewmanShock Totem Publications – Many publishers in the horror genre first get their feet wet printing a magazine before graduating to books, and Shock Totem Publications is a perfect example of this.  Shock Totem magazine debuted in 2009, with six issues having appeared so far, and fiction by the likes of Cate Gardner, Jack Ketchum, and John Skipp.  The move to books came in 2012 with a limited-edition reprint of James Newman’s novel, The Wicked, which featured a nicely done, retro-style cover with faux creases and bumps.  A collection by Mercedes M. Yardley has followed, with the limited edition including a separate chapbook.  Shock Totem’s regular editions are available in both trade paperback and ebook formats.

SWVol2-WebTradeCoverSomething Wicked Books – Similar to Shock Totem above, Something Wicked began its life as a print magazine in 2006, publishing both horror and science fiction, before converting to an online magazine in 2011, with 19 total issues published to date.  SWB is unique on our list, being the only South African publisher, meaning that many of the authors they’ve published in the magazine and in their two, annual, trade-paperback Something Wicked anthologies are unfamiliar names to U.S. readers (even though SWB points out that they buy from authors all over the globe).  A few of the bigger names include Abigail Godsell, Nick Wood, Lauren Beukes, and Cate Gardner (mentioned above as a Shock Totem author as well).  As with Postscripts to Darkness, the actual publisher listed sports a different name but doesn’t really represent the publications in question (Something Wicked’s publisher, Inkless Media, does have a website, but it contains no direct information on the books published), and so the Something Wicked magazine site is what I’ve linked here.

theamulet_medValancourt Books – This is a truly borderline inclusion, as I’ve excluded many publishers from the list for the reason that the majority of their titles are non-horror, and Valancourt Books certainly meets that description.  I can’t bring myself to exclude them, however, given the roster of horror names that they do publish: John Blackburn, Basil Copper, Gerald Kersh, and Michael McDowell, to name a few.  Valancourt has been around since 2005, when they were formed with the idea of using “modern technology to restore widespread access to rare, neglected, and out-of-print literature.”  Their titles are published in trade paperback form, and they have several book lines, with the most notable being 20th Century Classics, Gothic Classics, and “Valancourt Classics.”

As may be apparent from the descriptions above, it’s starting to feel like we’re scraping the bottom of the barrel when it comes to finding new publishers.  Not surprising (nor necessarily a bad thing), given that there’s the rather astounding total of 185 publishers on the active horror publisher list.  When I started compiling this list a few years ago, even though I considered myself something of an authority on the small press at the time, I had no inkling the list would grow to include so many publishers.

Is the large number of publishers a sign that the economy is better than believed, at least when it comes to genre book buyers and b00k collectors?  Or is it a case of too many people who don’t know what they’re doing throwing their hat in the publishing ring and producing works that perhaps shouldn’t see the light of day?

You decide.

Aickman’s Heir – Simon Strantzas’ Nightingale Songs

In his engaging Introduction to Simon StrantzasNightingale Songs, John Langan strategically invokes the names of both Ramsey Campbell and Robert Aickman, the former anecdotally because both Langan and Strantzas are big fans of Campbell, and the latter for comparison to Strantzas. If you’ve read and admired the work of either of those two authors, you’re liable to find quite a bit to your liking in this 12-story collection (four original) published by Dark Regions Press.

The opening story, “Out of Touch,” is a perfect example of what’s on offer here, as a man recollects a summer from his youth, when he and his ailing, infirm friend Mitch investigate a seemingly long-abandoned house that is strangely an  object of obsession for Mitch.  When the two boys visit the house,  there are dire consequences , but it’s unlikely that the specific nature of those consequences are what you expect. Looking back from his adult vantagepoint, the protagonist muses:

“Maybe the answer to everyone’s problems was staring us right in the face, and though we were all too blind to see it, I was the only one foolish enough to ruin it. Or, perhaps there are some things that will come for you no matter what you do, no matter where you hide. Some things are inevitable, and you can only hide from them for so long. Eventually they’ll find you.”

In “The Deafening Sound of Slumber,” the employees of a sleep-disorder clinic are kept in the dark about the true nature of the experiments being conducted by the clinic’s reclusive Director, and as a result allow two particular patients to come in contact with one another, with disastrous results, as alluded to here: “Fisher screamed, afraid to turn and face what was coming for him. It sounded of storms and mistakes and regrets.”

“Tend Your Own Garden” is rich in symbolism, focusing on a divorced man who returns to his former house, where his ex-wife lives with her new mate, in search of some items left behind in the basement, only to find that the layout of his former abode, in fact its very foundations, have shifted on him. “When Sorrows Come” involves a couple that’s still together, but in a clearly doomed relationship, on a vacation that’s not going well, when one of the pair chooses to take the path less traveled through the woods. The enigmatic “Mr. Kneale,” meanwhile, effectively utilizes the backdrop of horror conventions and fandom in relating the story of an author who abandons his literary approach and sells out, but at a rather stiff price.

Aickman preferred the term “strange stories” to describe his tales, and that’s an apt descriptor for Strantzas’ work as well, even if sometimes the point is somewhat elusive. A prime example is the impenetrable “Her Father’s Daughter,” in which a student on her way home from school to visit her father experiences car problems and calls upon the nearby home of two eccentric old sisters. Ambiguity follows, and I’m at a loss to say what else.

More often than not, though, even Strantzas’ overly-opaque efforts, like the somewhat meandering “An Indelible Stain Upon the Sky,” can offer up resonant passage of mystery and beauty such as this:

“I carry that image of her in my head still, and sometimes it amazes me it’s there at all when so many other things I wish I could recall have been forgotten. Memories are strange and elusive, yet they can return at a moment’s notice and from out of nowhere, appearing so vividly it feels as though time has not passed. But time has passed, and those memories that return most often have crashed just off the shore of my life, and the dark sweep of destruction continues to move toward me over the churning water’s surface.”

Best absorbed in small, potent doses, Nightingale Songs is a strong collection that shows Strantzas growing into the role of prime purveyor of strange stories for his generation.