I’ve read a lot of books. Some have been modest little stories; entertaining, but slight. And that’s fine. Others are written by craftspeople. Meticulous prose with riveting plots. Then there are writers who elevate fiction into works of art. Elizabeth Engstrom falls into the latter category.
I first encountered the work of Elizabeth Engstrom in a book called When Darkness Loves Us. I heard that Engstom had been mentored by the great Theodore Sturgeon, and that alone was enough to convince me to give it a try. When Darkness Loves Us is a collection of two novellas. That’s common today, but back in 1985 it was nearly unthinkable. Especially for a virtually unknown author.
Both stories in When Darkness Loves Us are excellent, but the title piece is more than that. It is a masterpiece.
As much as I love When Darkness Loves Us, it isn’t my favorite Engstrom. One of her novels hit me harder, in the places that really count. That novel is called Lizard Wine.Continue Reading
Ex-Library books. They are the bane of collectors. You can hear howls of rage from sea to sea when secondary market sellers pawn them off as “Very Good” condition. Ex-Library books are the red-headed stepchildren of the publishing world. I think they deserve a lot more respect.
At one time, in the much-heralded horror boom of the 1980s, Richard Christian Matheson was one of the biggest names in the field. Of course most knew well that his father, Richard Matheson, was one of the most important writers in all of literature. It was curious that, even though they collaborated now and then, Richard Christian’s writing bore little resemblance to his father’s style. In fact, R.C. Matheson’s writing was completely unique.Continue Reading
Many look back to the Splatterpunk days of Skipp, Spector, and Schow for the birth of heavy metal horror. And, certainly, The Scream and The Kill Riff were extraordinary examples of groundbreaking, rock and roll horror of the time. But they were not the first.
My social media feeds are filled with talk about Game of Thrones. The beloved show has finally ended, and the last episode was hotly controversial. George R.R. Martin is the most popular fantasy writer since J.R.R. Tolkien, but once upon a time Martin was poised to be a horror writer.Continue Reading
Nearly everyone I knew professed to hate the network, but I don’t know many who didn’t watch MTV. It was perfect background fodder for the burnout generation. You could laugh at what you hated, but sooner or later something you wanted to see would air.
One of the mainstays of early MTV was Greg Kihn. Kihn had a few hits, rocking out with cheerfully depressing songs like “The Breakup Song” and “Jeopardy.” I neither loved nor hated Kihn. His stuff was harmless and rather pleasant, but I didn’t buy his records.
I don’t think anyone could have predicted that, out of the blue, Greg Kihn would publish one of the best horror novels of the ’90s. The perfectly titled Horror Show was an immediate favorite of fans everywhere.Continue Reading
Do you ever think back to times you spent with books? Reliving pieces of your life and the books that defined your existence? Yeah, so do I.
Lately I was thinking of a night back in the winter of 1986/1987. It was a cold year, and I was living in less than ideal accommodations. I was still pretty poor at the time. I had enough for the monthly bills, and I ate reasonably well. Books were a luxury. Well, new books anyway. I mostly did my reading purchases through the local used bookstores. Remember when they were everywhere?Continue Reading
I readily admit that I spend much of my horror ruminations on days gone by. Many consider the 1980s to be the Golden Age of Horror. It was an unparalleled time of creativity and fun in the genre. Horror fiction was going crazy, with many old masters still crafting great stories, and brash newcomers were shaking the foundations of traditional horror storytelling.Continue Reading
The year was 1988. I had been a serious horror reader for years and things were really starting to get interesting. We had it all then. Big names, legends, were still publishing: Robert Bloch, Ray Russell, Manly Wade Wellman, Hugh B. Cave, and others. Newer writers like Dennis Etchison, Richard Christian Matheson, Ramsey Campbell, and Michael McDowell were getting into high gear. Writers were migrating from the SF field. And there was a new, streetwise style of horror breaking barriers, from writers like John Skipp, Craig Spector, David J. Schow, Ray Garton. It was a heyday, and it seemed like every new author on the scene I heard about was well worth my time and money.
So when I read a triple review by the great Stanley Wiater in Fangoria magazine about a writer named Joe R. Lansdale, I took notice. The reviewed works in question were Act of Love, The Nightrunners, and Dead in the West.Continue Reading
It was the early years of my decades-long love affair with horror fiction. I blazed through the Stephen King books that had been published at the time, with Pet Semetery being the most current. It was 1983 — a very good year for the genre, with even better things were on the immediate horizon. I eagerly devoured the Peter Straub books that were available, and they were among the finest pieces of fiction I had ever read. I enjoyed books by James Herbert, Whitley Strieber, Ramsey Campbell, John Farris. I read landmark novels by brilliant talents such as F. Paul Wilson and T.E.D. Klein. There were numerous markets for short fiction, and I was blown away by pieces from Karl Edward Wagner, Richard Christian Matheson, and Dennis Etchison. And of course I marveled at the works of Charles L. Grant. The field was on fire, and it was an incredible time to be a fan.Continue Reading
I first read F. Paul Wilson’s The Touch way back in 1986. I was a twenty-five year old boy, rabidly in love with horror. And after The Keep, The Tomb, and some short pieces I had read, F. Paul Wilson was one of my favorite writers.
There’s a section near the beginning of The Touch. It’s describing a seafaring historical area of a small town…
The Illusion almost worked. He could almost imagine Ishmael, harpoon on shoulder, walking down the harbor toward the Pequod…passing the new Video Shack.
Well, nothing was perfect.
I loved that. I was a modern young man and I was head over heels for the home video explosion. It was a perfect time for me. A perfect time to be a horror fan.Continue Reading
When you bring up the pioneers of hardcore, extreme horror fiction, you’re most likely to hear names like Jack Ketchum and Richard Laymon. As well you should, because these guys were important—important to the fans who were raised on George Romero, Tobe Hooper, etc., and wished to read more than traditional supernatural horror. We wanted, or perhaps we needed, to see the genre tackle more explicit subject matter.
But as great as Ketchum and Laymon are, James Herbert was there first. It’s almost hard to believe now, but Herbert’s first book, a gruesome novel called The Rats, came out in the same year as Stephen King’s Carrie.Continue Reading
I often tell people that the first book I ever read was (Robert) Heinlein’s Have Space Suit-Will Travel. It’s sort of true, and it sort of isn’t true. In one sense Space Suit is the first novel I read, yes, but that does not count Doc Savage books.Continue Reading
I’m only just getting started, but I am already enjoying this column. Reading books from a time before cell phones. When people stopped their cars and jumped into a phone booth to make a call. When they went to libraries to do research. When damned near everything and everyone wasn’t available right at your fingertips. A time when people got up and out of the house to buy books at stores. Before we all (yes, I am guilty as charged) had our faces perpetually locked into electronic pacifiers.
A better time? I like to think so. Some will disagree, claiming that we are armed with information at our fingertips at all times. There may be some truth to that, but I think that all too often real information is drowned in misinformation, distortion, misdirection, propaganda, and outright lies.Continue Reading