No, it was high time for Barker to step up to the bestseller world of Stephen King, Anne Rice, and Peter Straub, get him into the all-important literary and fantasy book clubs of the day. This was how he became not just another acclaimed paperback horror writer with a King-size blurb, but a brand-name author with huge publisher promotions behind him and TV and radio appearances - which Barker, not unaware of the origin of his name, took to like a natural.
I well recall the excitement I felt when I saw Barker's latest was in hardcover; the intent to build prestige for him worked on me and I started to really see him as a serious writer - or more importantly, that other people saw him as a serious writer. And the stories themselves are a solid, inventive, original bunch that more than justified the hardcover and the wider-spread readership that would bring. Right after this would come his major bestselling novels The Damnation Game (1986) and Weaveworld (1987).
With hints of Hellraiser, Weaveworld and The Great and Secret Show (1990), the title story is an enigma ultimately about, of all things, evolution. A puzzling cord of knots stolen from a vagrant mesmerizes a young criminal; their unloosening begets raw-fleshed monsters. Classic Barkerian moment: when the first of the monsters hides in shadowed trees, the criminal says to it, "Show yourself... I'm not afraid. I want to know what you are." The playful and absurd "The Body Politic" is referenced on the dust-jacket for both editions of Condition: human hands take up arms against their oppressors and cleave themselves to freedom, scuttling in the darkness like errant crabs, eager to be away with their leader. Neat imagery - the fires escape [was] solid with hands, like aphids clustered on the stalk of a flower - and a cool twist ending; a good example of the author's more lighthearted weirdness.
Barker's own painting is featured on the paperback from his UK publisher Sphere; this happy fellow is obviously from "The Age of Desire," in which an experimental aphrodisiac maddens and arouses at once; no nook or cranny or cop is safe from this man's advances. This was one of Barker's tales that I read with glee in high school, passing it along to a couple other friends who bothered to read at all. Barker's repertoire has always included an unflinching and perverse sexuality but his approach is more Georges Bataille than the juvenile or mainstream t-n'-a that one usually finds in horror fiction.
It was a new kind of life he was living, and the thought, though frightening, exulted him. Not once did it occur to his spinning, eroticized brain that this new kind of life would, in time, demand a new kind of death.
Rather an odd one in the entire Books of Blood, "Down, Satan!" is a story only a few pages long, no dialogue, no characterization really. This one is more like a fable, a fable of Gregorius, a sickeningly wealthy man who has lost his faith and is determined to meet the Dark Prince face-to-face, and has built a suitable palace of horrors for just such a happening. Surely the Devil could not resist such a roost to call his own, hopes Gregorius. For God was rotting in Paradise, and Satan in the Abyss, and who was to stop him?
Set in the hinterlands of Texas, "Revelations" reveals the prosaic banality of the afterlife: no cosmic justice, just the shades of a murderess and her husband the victim who, on the anniversary of death, return to the scene of her crime. But that motel room is now occupied by an evangelist obsessed with (the comic-book terrors, fit to scare children with) St. John the Divine, and his suffering wife. In Clive Barker's imaginings, arousal extends into eternity...