Thursday, June 28, 2018

RIP Harlan Ellison (1934-2018)

The inconceivable has happened: we now live in a world without Harlan Ellison. It is not exaggeration on my part when I tell you that he was perhaps the most important writer for me, an author whose words and ideas were apocalyptic when I began reading him in the mid-1980s (thanks to Stephen King's Danse Macabre, which I believe is where many fans of my generation first learned about him). My library includes more books, both in paperback and hardcover, by him than by any other writer (and I'm still searching for various editions).

I can still recall the excitement with which I read his classic collections Strange WineDeathbird Stories, and No Doors, No Windows these many years later. And of course it wasn't just the stories! No, it was the introductory essays and think pieces and forewords and such that really opened up my head, that put me in touch with a righteous anger and passion that I had never encountered before. Harlan Ellison pulled back the curtain on the writer's life and duty and I had never seen those workings before. I will never be able to thank him for that.

Below is an old blog-post of mine from 2007 that only scratches the surface of how I feel about Harlan.

Since the death of Tom Snyder several weeks ago, I got to thinking again about "the irascible science fiction writer Harlan Ellison," who Snyder interviewed famously many times over the years. One of my most favoritest writers ever of all time, I was introduced to Ellison's writing when I was around 14 or 15, when I borrowed Strange Wine from the local library after reading about Harlan in Stephen King's Danse Macabre. And in those many years since, I've amassed nearly 30 copies of his books, most all of which are long out of print but can be found through diligence and patience scouring used bookstores. 

Deathbird Stories, a collection of his early ’70s works, is one I had not read in some time. It's essential Ellison. It contains some of his tightest, most controlled works: moody and enigmatic, laced with an existential dread while displaying an unnerving knack for an ugly, yet appropriate, climax, like a crack of the whip—or a snap in the neck. The collection is subtitled “A Pantheon of Modern Gods,” which is the height of irony—is there anything less modern than a god? That’s exactly the point: people are still desperate to worship, to prostate themselves before some imagined superior power or any strange artifact that can somehow impart meaning upon this random and unexplainable life.

And Ellison, despite his compassion for such poor souls, spares none in these moral fables. "I am a religious man," states the melancholic protagonist of "Corpse." "One would think that would count for something. Apparently it does not." Then there's the gut-wrenching "The Whimper of Whipped Dogs," in which Ellison recreates the chilling murder of Kitty Genovese as an act of sacrifice to a new and terrifying god. "The Deathbird," the final story, is an emotionally exhausting reimagining of the origin of evil—in the form of a multiple-choice final exam.

I can still remember the first time I read these stories, a hot summer in 1988 sitting in the stifling office of the gas station I worked at, filling my head with Ellison’s rants and ravings and obscure references that didn’t make me feel stupid or inferior—no, it was exciting, it made me feel like I had a lot to learn, and I had better get caught up fast. As he states in the intro, “As the God of Time so aptly put it, It’s later than you think.”

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Horror Fiction Help XIX

Can you help ID these forgotten horror novels and stories? Thanks in advance!

1. I think it's from the 1980s and it takes place in the country. A young boy begins to receive body parts in the mail and I think the killer ends up being the town doctor? Towards the end, one of the boy's family members goes on a shooting spree and kills most of his family. Maybe there was a grim reaper on the cover?

2. Published between 1980-1983, featured a “butcher cleaver” on the cover that I think is smashing through glass or a window or something. Found!

3. The best description I can give of it is that its set in a semi modern urban environment, a western city, not dystopian of any kind. It follows a couple characters, and the discovery of a creature that follows a victim based on a gifted object, secretly containing a foul smelling scrap of fabric. Its slowly understood that this item and the ‘curse’ of death via this creature can only be passed on by gifting the object to another person and thereby transferring the way the creature tracks you down. Its a pale hunched creature, (I always imagined it looking much like the urban legend of The Rake that circulates the internet every so often, but not inspired by it as I read this novel far before I knew of the legend) and comes for you while you’re asleep, and you are seemingly unable to escape it. The characters discover that the creature travels through the sewers, and is very old and has been around the area for a while. After finding an entrance to the sewer through a cupboard in a house they discover the bodies of all the creatures victims hanging from the ceiling in the creatures lair/home rotting and they realize this is where the scrap of fabric came from.

4. It was a white or cream colored paperback on the slim side and I remember the copy on the front maybe said “more terrifying than Psycho” (definitely something relating it to Psycho)-it looked 60s and like it was definitely written to cash in on the Psycho hype. The picture, I THINK, was almost like a big drawing of a cracked egg with something unidentifiable and ominous seeping out-very odd because it didn’t seem to relate to the plot. I think the lettering was in black or red. The plot centered on a teen (or slightly younger) girl who, in some way, “wasn’t quite right.” I think she was described (unfortunately) as being “slow” in some way, but there was the suggestion that there was more of a calculating mind hidden behind the mask. I remember a sinister and possibly alcoholic mother, and the story began with the girl’s new tutor showing up, a college coed (I think). She was replacing the odd girl’s previous tutor who I think was a college guy (possibly the boyfriend of the new tutor?) and also was mysteriously missing (I bet you can see where this is going). I didn’t get further than about 10 pages in, so don't know much more, but I get the sense I put it down just before a series of people are dispatched in suspicious ways-clearly in some way by this underestimated kid (I remember thinking the plot really paralleled Psycho, with the girl being like a seemingly harmless Norman Bates type, and the story starting with the missing person in her orbit).

5. A book that I owned during the late nineties/early 2000s (I'm thinking 2000s more than the 90's) that was about a woman's husband was murdered in a way where he was badly burned and after , looked like a ' monster '. The woman had bad dreams every night about him and she stopped dressing in ' sexy ' clothing after his death and only wore baggy clothes and his shirts. The villains in the story were an older woman that was a case worker / social worker (?) who liked torturing her female clients and a younger man (he may have been a gang member?). They were in a Satanic cult and had a mother and son type of friendship. I remember clearly one scene where the older woman ties up a young woman in the kitchen and fixes the ice maker to keep dumping ice on her. The pair kidnap the widowed woman for their sacrifice and raising demons (or) the Devil in a mall. The murdered husband , back from the dead, goes to rescue his wife and heads through the sleazy parts of the city / town where he meets a young woman who is blind or a prostitute or both. She falls in love with him but he won't have sex with her because he still loves his wife.

6. It was about a couple struggling to have a child who move to a small town (American setting I think) with a doctor with some unusually high success treatment for conception via IVF methods.The lady becomes pregnant but notices the others Kids turn out weird and disturbing. really violent etc, I remember it was incredibly gratuitous in its violence, gore etc. Other things i vaguely remember are there where lots of twins as a result of the experiments in it and I seem to remember one of the messed up kids killing a crow or eating it or something, and an evil doctor and a monster of sorts providing the sperm.

7. I'm looking for a book that was released maybe 20 years ago. I actually never read it; I didn't have the money to buy it and then when I did I could never remember the title. Anyway, the only things I remember is that it was a horror novel that took place after something snuffed out the sun - everything was in perpetual blackness; and I feel like maybe the author was some sort of martial arts expert. (It's not Lansdale's Drive-In!)

8. A teenage boy dies in an accident, wakes to find his brain and eyes have been removed. Part of his brain gets put into a computer and given to another kid. The computer makes kid suspicious, so he takes it apart and discovers the chunk of brain inside. Slutty teenage girl gets abducted and raped by some pink tentacle machines hooked up to a blue alien dude. Other girls are there and pregnant. Bluish hybrid people run the "prison" and are children of the alien and abducted girls. I swear the cover of the book was a white on black drawing of a house that was screaming or looking angry, with swirls around it. Found!

9. From what I remember it had an eyeball in a Petri dish or something like that on the front cover, the cover was red, it was a collection of short stories, can’t remember if it was adult or teen, doubt it was goosebumps though.. one of the stories was about an old recluse who lives in a shack that was surrounded by thorns, then the recluse disappeared, some kids spurred on by this old legend, decide to visit the shack, but one by one the meet an untimely end in the Thorns. I remember something about spiders that bore the resemblance to the old hermit as well, they may have contributed to the kids' deaths.