Thursday, September 22, 2016

Clive Barker's Shadows in Eden, ed. by Stephen Jones (1991): Of Minds to Madness, Flesh to Wounding

"I don't scare easily," said Clive Barker to a journalist in 1990, while promoting his then brand-new novel The Great and Secret Show. Barker continued: "But I'm terrified of two things. One is the general condition of being flesh and blood. Of minds to madness and flesh to wounding. The other is banality. My characters are constantly escaping from banality." That quote struck me back then and it still strikes me today. The great thing about Barker is that he's so in tune to his own wavelength; he knows just what and why he's writing and what he wants his readers to experience, and he's eager to talk about it too.

And that's just what Clive Barker's Shadows in Eden (Underwood-Miller, Oct 1991) gives us. An anthology of interviews, discussions, reviews, quotes, and endless illustrations, it's a beautifully produced hardcover. At 450+ pages, this is Barker unadulterated, talking at length about his art, his influences, and anything else he might want to expound upon. Shadows covers the gamut of his early career: his plays (and minor forays into stage acting), stories, novels, movies, and comics. I can hardly overstate its importance for the Barker fan. I bought this lovely title from the specialty-press Underwood-Miller as soon as it was published, and have happily revisited it for 25 years.

"I was very aware that if I was going to rise I was going to have to be a proselytizer for my work. I'm aware that many writers are actively reluctant to do that. They don't like to do public readings, they don't like to do television and so on... I have, no pun intended, something of the carnival barker in me."

Disturbingly erotic yet humorous front/endpiece art by Stephen Player.

Shadows in Eden is littered with Barker's sketches in the margins and rough drafts of paintings, some representative of characters and scenes from his fiction, others simply unlimbered escapees from his fevered brain. Some years ago I was waited on by a bartender who had a tattoo of one of these sketches and I said as she served me my beer, "Hey, that's a Clive Barker!" She told me I was literally the only person who'd ever recognized it.

Who doesn't love seeing their favorite writer's handwritten manuscripts?! Critical essays are also included, exposing the metaphors and subtleties—and yes, when necessary, the weaknesses—of Barker's literary output. Alas, Shadows doesn't include anything about Barker's magnum opus Imajica, since that novel was published pretty much concurrently.

Creepy art—Brother Frank?—and Ramsey Campbell's original introduction to the first editions of the Books of Blood. I'm still not sure what a Balaclava is and now I don't even want to find out, I enjoy the tantalizing mystery of it.

Of course: the first time I ever heard the word "meme" and learned what it was was reading this conversation between Barker and Neil Gaiman. They talk comics and how, in the late '80s and early '90s, they were rather like twins, figuratively and literally. And literarily. (Gaiman doesn't get the definition of meme exactly right, but ah well, the point is made.)

Movies: Hellraiser and more are featured. Nightbreed was going into production as Shadows of Eden was being put together, so it was cool to see some behind-the-scenes goodies. Here Barker's with illustrator icon Ralph McQuarrie. And then there's some stuff on, uh, Rawhead Rex.

The great Lisa Tuttle, who'd been featured with Barker in Night Visions III, contributes this wonderful piece in which she and Clive discuss Cabal and all manner of horror and art. "Whenever Clive and I have met to discuss horror, writing, fantasy and similar topics—whether on a public platform, or in private—I've always enjoyed it. More than enjoyed it: found it exhilarating. There's an intellectual rapport, so that even though we don't agree about everything, we're on the same wavelengths, shortcuts can be taken, intuitive leaps made; we spark responses in each other. I find what he has to say invariably interesting, and often illuminating, not only about his work, but about my own, as well as about art and life in general."

A treat from the Barker scrapbook! My God I can't imagine a bigger treat than sharing a bottle with Barker and discussing Books of Blood. Except maybe sharing a bottle with Barker and King and discussing Books of Blood (see below).

You'll recognize lots of the journalists and writers included: J.G. Ballard, Douglas E. Winter, Dennis Etchison, Kim Newman, Philip Nutman, Stanley Wiater, and oh yeah good ol' Steve King, whose piece "You Are Here Because You Want the Real Thing" opens Shadows. He recalls the first time he heard the name "Clive Barker" (New Haven World Fantasy Convention 1983, "drunk, drunk" as he puts it) and mused, since there was so much talk about him being a real game-changer, on the famous quote about Bruce Springsteen back in the mid-1970s, "I have seen the future of rock'n'roll, and his name is Bruce Springsteen." (King—drunk, drunk—misremembers and misattributes the quote, according it to Rolling Stone mag founder Jan Wenner. Not so but ah well, the point is made.) Of Barker King says: "And, oh my God, can the man write. No matter how gruesome the material, you are witched into the story, hooked, and then propelled onward."

My goodness what a perfect image for Barker's work. Jesus wept.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Reaping by Bernard Taylor (1980): Make It Real Not Fantasy

Who doesn't love a creepy fetus with devil horns smirking at you from the womb on a horror paperback  cover? That thing's practically about to wink at you, isn't it? There's no actual evil fetus in The Reaping (Leisure Books, Feb 1982) so that might bum some of you out; no, Bernard Taylor (British author of quiet, effective horror novels like Sweetheart, Sweetheart and The Godsend) doesn't stoop to such crass imaginings. Taylor is more interested in taking his sweet, character-developing time, guiding the patient reader through a subtle psychological tale of grown-up concerns and fears before deploying the malevolent goods in what I found to be a satisfying, unsettling, and successful climax. Sure, I mean it's kinda ridiculous after all the care that's gone before, but I can overlook that. The book is out and done before 250 pages are up.

The Reaping isn't the type of novel I'm gonna get in deep about, you can get the gist of it from back-cover copy. You wouldn't get it from that freaky fetus cover, but Taylor writes well of intelligent, thoughtful yet flawed adult humans and their often painful relationships, their disappointments, their compromises and their regrets (as I've said before, many many horror writers have no idea how to describe adulting). I mean, the main character is an artist who, when not painting the commissioned portrait, relaxes with the novels of Muriel Spark and Thomas Hardy. With the subject of his painting, the mysterious and shy and lovely Catherine, he discusses the novelistic merits of the Brontë sisters. Don't know about you but I like when characters in horror exist in the real world and not just as fodder for supernatural or psychopathic evil.

 1992 Leisure reprint

Rigby's desire to actually be an artist, working and paid and successful, rather than just a widowed shop owner who lost children in a car accident several years prior, motivates him to accept that commission. But what strangeness ensues in that countryside estate! And hot sex. And the most cringe-worthy massage this side of George Costanza. Guess he should've known... Suspense builds in workmanlike style, heading toward a finale the clues to which I actually was unable to spot and which I think Taylor kept well-hidden. But it all makes sense in the end, which is more than I can say for other novels, right?
1980 UK hardcover, Souvenir Press: quite accurate

Want a none-too-taxing read written by a grown man who knows his way around the English language, who presents his characters in a relaxed, believable manner, and who can raise a goosebump or two about the invisible machinations some people will undertake to gain ultimate power? Maybe check out The Reaping: it's not gonna change your horror-loving life or anything, but don't you want people to see you reading a book with such delightful cover art? Of course you do! *wink wink*