The Side Effects Of The Medication is one of the strongest short story collections I've read all year, and almost certainly the best from a début authThe Side Effects Of The Medication is one of the strongest short story collections I've read all year, and almost certainly the best from a début author bursting into the party out of nowhere. The stories veer between horror, crime, and even science fiction. The tone is equally varied, James handling black comedy and grim horror with equal aplomb. She even writes a story in the second person that doesn't sound awful.
Fences starts the collection and it’s a riveting tale about the fear of our neighbours, and of trespass. Marianne and her husband have their garden invaded by their neighbour's big, black dogs, and put up a fence to stop them returning. But the intrusions, of various kinds, keep occurring... and escalating. As the plural title suggests, there are multiple boundaries erected and being crossed here, not just the physical one that marks off one property from another. The theme of lines being crossed – physical, mental, or ethical – and of boundaries being blurred is central to many of the stories here. As such, Fences is a perfect opening story to the collection, and one of my favourites.
Others that especially stood out were:
Cover Yourself – here James mixes science fiction with the kind of ambiguity found in the best weird fiction: although ‘what’ is happening is clear enough, the significance of it to those participating is vague; in fact exactly who is participating is vague. (As is this description, because I don’t want to ruin things for you.)
The Devils is the first of two stories about an exorcist called Reese Campbell, who deals with human created horrors as much as anything supernatural. The lesson being, I guess, that if we believe in devils and demons of any stripe we legitimise evil behaviour in ourselves. Not that this story is that simply black and white, for there is an outside evil here too. The final story in the collection, Full, is also about Campbell, investigating a too-perfect house.
Maybe best is The Side Effects Of The Medication - the title story contains the kind of surreal magic realism you might find in someone like David Barthelme’s work. In this story some people’s dreams are physical, fragile things like soap bubbles – these dreams are the ‘side effects’ of the title. And other, dreamless people, pay good money to see the dreams. Again, boundaries are crossed as the personal becomes public and all too visible....more
Gary McMahon’s Dead Bad Things is the second of his Thomas Usher novels (following on from Pretty Little Dead Things). Thomas Usher is a man who can sGary McMahon’s Dead Bad Things is the second of his Thomas Usher novels (following on from Pretty Little Dead Things). Thomas Usher is a man who can see the dead, following an accident in which his family died. As such, he is known to the Leeds police force for his ability to help them, although Usher views his power as a curse rather than a blessing.
If the first novel welded McMahon’s distinctly nihilistic and downbeat style of horror to the police procedural genre, this second seems to be influenced more by things like David Peace’s Red Riding Quartet, where the coppers have secret pasts and hidden loyalties of their own. Whilst Dead Bad Things does open with the discovery of a gruesome child murder by PC Sarah Doherty and her colleague Benson, the question of the identity of the killer is not really what drives the plot forward (although don’t worry, it is revealed). The bulk of the novel is about Doherty’s relationship with her dead father, a famous and well-liked policeman who in the privacy of his home used to rape his wife and cut his daughter with a razor blade. Sarah, who still lives in the family house, begins to investigate her father’s life and uncovers some dark secrets. And at the same time, she starts to see a strange figure in robes and a white cowl, haunting her.
Thomas Usher himself features less in this book than the first, although he is pivotal to how it progresses. He starts the narrative living in a very haunted house in London, trying to escape his past... but a man who sees ghosts should know more than anyone how impossible that is. He soon begins to hear voices and see strange visions calling him back to the North. As well as Doherty and Usher, there are two other viewpoints the action is conveyed from: one a character returning from Pretty Little Dead Things, and one from the viewpoint of…. well, something completely unexpected is all I’ll say here.
These multiple viewpoints and less conventional plot structure make the mechanics of Dead Bad Things occasionally seem a bit too exposed (in particular it seems to take an age to get Usher properly connected to the main plot) but it really doesn’t matter when a writer has such total command of suspense and atmosphere as McMahon displays. To call this book ‘dark’ would imply there’s some chance that your eyes might adjust to the lack of light here, but forget it: McMahon’s world is bleak and you’ll feel just as brutalised leaving it as you do coming in. But it’s a darkness that isn’t gratuitous (although there are some bravura ‘bad deaths’); it comes from looking at the world straight. And its uncompromising nature makes it as exhilarating rather than exhausting. McMahon’s prose and characterisation never falter and for all its heaviness Dead Bad Things is very readable, a genuine page-turner as it’s plot moves forward and its different strands start to connect.
The book ends with the faint suggestion of future hope for some of the characters; which is good for Thomas Usher but maybe bad news for those of us wanting a third book in this fantastic series....more
Interesting and well written (as is everything by Aickman) but a bit directionless. Very different in tone to his normal, excellent 'strange stories'.Interesting and well written (as is everything by Aickman) but a bit directionless. Very different in tone to his normal, excellent 'strange stories'. A flawed but interesting experiment, perhaps. ...more
As with all mags, some stories not to my taste. My favourite three would be those by Leslianne Wilder, Cate Gardner and the absolutely superb 'Leave MAs with all mags, some stories not to my taste. My favourite three would be those by Leslianne Wilder, Cate Gardner and the absolutely superb 'Leave Me The Way I Was Found' by Christian A. Dumais....more
On the day I was born, the headline in The Daily Mail was "WEREWOLF KILLER CAUGHT."
This is just one of many things I have learnt from Robert Dunbar'sOn the day I was born, the headline in The Daily Mail was "WEREWOLF KILLER CAUGHT."
This is just one of many things I have learnt from Robert Dunbar's new book, Vortex.(UK | US)
Vortex is a non-fiction book, and it is Dunbar's personal exploration of the roots of many of contemporary horror's best known beasts, plus a few lesser known ones as well. From the Jersey Devil to vampires, from sirens and mermaids to were-creatures of all kinds, Dunbar examines the roots behind these legends - how the stories have changed over time, and how they have remained the same. There are also some chapters on film, the most interesting being the one about the theme of 'the other' in horror movies - which groups society marks out as its 'monsters'.
Regular readers will know that Dunbar is one of the favourite horror authors I've discovered in recent years, so I wasn't surprised to discover how well written Vortex is. However, the tone is very different to his dense, thoughtful fiction, being a witty and frequently self-mocking read. It's certainly no dry-as-dust academic piece; in fact given that half the time he's talking about real life cannibals or witch-burnings or mass-murders, it's a very gleeful book. My favourite section was that about The Jersey Devil, a monster Dunbar has made very much his own in an early novel, in a deliberate attempt to move away from the over-used, over-European monsters that still rear their heads in such a great deal of horror fiction. Being a boring old European myself, this was all new to me. Like many other parts of this book, I learnt a lot, and had a blast doing so.
So, a thoroughly engaging and enjoyable ride through some of the most horrific myths and real-life events imaginable. Very much recommended for anyone with an interest in Dunbar's work, or in horror fiction in general. There were some sections I wish were longer and went into more detail, but maybe I'm just wishing for a sequel....more