Monthly Archives: March 2015

Prisoner 489 by Joe R. Lansdale

I first heard of Joe R. Lansdale when I was working at Barnes & Noble. My manager at the time had ordered the latest Lansdale book and I was taken in by the cover. To be honest, I don’t remember which book it was, but I filed the name in the back of my head for future reference. At that time, the vast majority of Lansdale’s works were out of print and hard to find. So, whenever I hit the used bookstores, I kept my eye open for a copy of Savage Season (the first in the Hap and Leonard series), which my manager said would be a great place to start reading Lansdale. I eventually tracked down the first two books in the series and devoured them rapidly. The mix of humor, characterization, and compelling crime plots hooked me right away. Then, around 2009, the floodgates opened and Lansdale’s books began to be reprinted in a myriad of formats, a trend that is still going strong, and that has led to my current obsession. Finding myself a devoted fan for many years, I naturally jumped at the chance to kickstart a new Lansdale novella being put out by Dark Regions Press as part of their Black Labyrinth series (a planned series of 10 horror novellas by today’s top writers).

This story, being the second in the series, is entitled Prisoner 489, and concerns a rather odd trio of caretakers: Toggle, the gravedigger; Wilson, the young gardener; and Bernard, their supervisor. These three men are caretakers of a small island which is home to a prison graveyard. The prison, supposedly run by the United Nations, is located on a much larger neighboring island and serves as an internment camp to an ambiguous group of criminals who are deemed “different”. A few times a year, our trio receives a freshly executed inmate via boat and buries them in a grave marked only by a numeric designation on its epitaph. One night, they receive a corpse packaged unlike any they have seen before. Instead of arriving in a flimsy pine box, this particular stiff is in a metal coffin, chained and padlocked shut. Along with this unwelcome deviation, comes an unsettling story from the boat captain, Kettle. While thoroughly unsettled by the rumors surrounding this now thankfully deceased individual, the men set about burying their latest guest and calling it a night. Of course, if that was all that happened, there wouldn’t be much of a story here, and as you can imagine, it’s not long before all hell, and something else, breaks loose.

This story is divided into two simple parts: the events before the “turn”, and after. Before the supernatural element comes into play, we have a nice character piece, punctuated by two creepy, atmospheric passages. The first involves the electric lights on the island. When a prisoner is executed at the neighboring prison, the lights on the island will noticeably dim, due to the power usage of the electric chair. This has become an expected event on the island, as it signals the arrival of a new corpse to be buried. However, in this case, the lights dim twice, then go out all together several times. Our characters are unsettled by this, never having remembered so much juice and so many attempts being needed ever before. The second creepy moment involves Kettle, the boatman, telling of the rumors he’s heard about this particular prisoner. These two passages do an excellent job of unsettling the reader and building anticipation for the inevitable events to come. The second part of the book stands in rather stark contrast to the first. Most of the creepy element is replaced by white knuckle action. Thankfully, Lansdale is highly capable at both suspense and action, so the tonal shift isn’t as jarring as it might have been in lesser hands. While some readers may be disappointed in such a shifting of gears, the second act is still punctuated by the occasional macabre moment.

Altogether, I’m quite happy with this story. While I might have preferred that the action be downplayed in favor of the more macabre elements, good writing is good writing. Lansdale never fails to entertain and impress and this novella is no exception. If you’re interested in picking up a copy, you can purchase the paperback directly from the publisher here, or in either paperback or e-book formats from the usual retailers.


3 New Titles From Hippocampus Press

H. P. Lovecraft: Letters to Robert Bloch and OthersEarlier today, Hippocampus Press made available for pre-order, three exciting new weird publications due out in May. The first is the next title in the Collected Letters series featuring correspondence between H. P. Lovecraft and a young Robert Bloch. Below is the description from Hippocampus’ site.

H. P. Lovecraft’s generous tutelage of younger literary colleagues earned him their lifelong devotion and admiration. Few profited more by his assistance than Robert Bloch, who went on to become the celebrated author of Psychoand other classic works of horror and suspense. Establishing a correspondence with Lovecraft when he was sixteen, Bloch learned so much about the craft of writing—and about other matters—that he later stated: “Lovecraft was my university.”

This volume brings together Lovecraft’s complete extant correspondence with Bloch as well as with such other young writers, editors, and fans of the 1930s as Kenneth Sterling (who collaborated with Lovecraft on “In the Walls of Eryx”), Donald A. Wollheim (editor of the Phantagraph and a leading figure in science fiction in the decades that followed), Willis Conover (whose Lovecraft at Last is one of the most poignant books ever written about the Providence writer), and others.

As in all previous volumes in the Collected Letters series, these letters have been meticulously edited by David E. Schultz and S. T. Joshi, two of the leading authorities on Lovecraft. Also included are many rare and pertinent writings by the various correspondents, which shed light on their relationship to Lovecraft. An exhaustive bibliography and a comprehensive index conclude the volume.

I particularly like the Psycho style lettering effect on the cover. I’m also excited because I recently acquired the Underwood-Miler three volume Selected Stories of Robert Bloch, so this will make an excellent supplement.

The Bleeding Edge: Dark Barriers, Dark FrontiersThe second title is a reprint of a 2009 anthology of tales entitled The Bleeding Edge: Dark Barriers, Dark Frontiers, edited by William F. Nolan and Jason V. Brock. Originally published by Cycatrix Press, I have to admit of never having heard of this one. Based on the description below from the website, it sounds like a must have.

This acclaimed volume features one of the most distinguished lineups of any original anthology published in recent years—ranging from legends such as Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, George Clayton Johnson, Earl Hamner, Jr., and Dan O’Bannon to such leading contemporary figures as Nancy Kilpatrick, John Shirley, Joe R. Lansdale, and Steve Rasnic Tem. While basically hewing to the genre of weird fiction, The Bleeding Edge runs the gamut of subject-matter, from the ghost story to Lovecraftian horror to fantasy. There is something for everyone in this wondrously diverse book—the only point of consistency is the exemplary quality of the material.

A House of Hollow Wounds by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.The final title is a new collection by author Joseph S. Pulver, Sr. Much to my chagrin, I’ve never read anything by Pulver. I imagine this should be a good place to start and, once again, Hippocampus’ description is very enticing.

Over the past decade, Joseph S. Pulver, Sr. has attracted a worldwide audience for his stories, vignettes, and prose-poems—works that expand the boundaries of prose expression and evoke scintillating images of wonder, fear, terror, and heartbreak. In this fourth collection of tales, following Blood Will Have Its Season (2009), SIN & ashes (2010), and Portraits of Ruin (2012), we find imaginative riffs on Edgar Allan Poe, Robert W. Chambers, H. P. Lovecraft, and others—but more than that, we find the evocative melding of horror and plangency that makes Pulver the most distinctive voice in modern weird fiction.

All three of these titles are available for pre-order now from Hippocampus Press. The Bleeding Edge: Dark Barriers, Dark Frontiers is currently being offered at discount.

Adepts Gambit: The Original Version by Fritz Leiber

ADEPT'S GAMBIT: The Original Version by Fritz Leiber edited by S. T. Joshi (Signed limited edition hardcover) I purchased this book on a whim, and shortly thereafter wondered if I had not made a bit of a mistake. For years I’ve owned the first paperback of Leiber’s Lankhmar tales published by Dark Horse, but at every attempt to read it, found myself unable to get into the opening story. I had chalked this up to Leiber’s uniquely florid style. It was the inclusion of Lovecraft’s critique and the fact that this is edited and notated by S.T. Joshi (who I am at times a mawkish fan boy of) that drove me to spend forty-five dollars on such a small tome. I am glad to say that my purchase is not one I regret.

As I came to find out, Leiber’s style was not a stumbling block for me when I sat down to read this story, as it had been previously. At first it was rough going, but I quickly fell into a comfortable rhythm. I now feel that my problems in the past with the Dark Horse volume are clear. This story jumps right into the relationship and lives of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, whereas the Dark Horse volume begins with a slow and methodical origin of each character, eventually leading up to their meeting. Also, while the draft of Adept’s Gambit found here is the earliest known manuscript and lacking a great deal of polish, the quality of storytelling, humor, action, tension and horror is undeniably high. If I have any quibbles with the story it’s that the climax is a bit too drawn out for my taste and the villain’s dialogue and motivation feels a bit flat.

This book ends with a reprinting of Lovecraft’s critique of the story. Having never read any of Lovecraft’s correspondence despite the multitude of collections available, I found his thoughts and feelings deeply interesting. In this short letter he displays a kindness, humor, knowledge, pedantry, insight, and humanity that I have not previously discerned in such a direct fashion; my knowledge of his person being previously obtained only through the filter of his fiction.

I cannot recommend this book enough to the Lovecraft and/or Leiber fans out there. I am now determined to read more of Leiber’s output and would also like to pick up a copy of Fritz Leiber and H.P. Lovecraft: Writers of the Dark.

The Green Book Issue 5 Pre-order

The Green Book: Writings on Irish Gothic, Supernatural and Fantastic Literature
is a biannual journal published by Swan River Press. Today, they announced that issue number five is available for pre-order for €13.00. You can pre-order your copy here. If you’re unfamiliar with The Green Book, here’s a short description taken from the official website.

Aimed at a general readership and published twice-yearly, The Green Book features commentaries, articles, and reviews on Irish Gothic, Supernatural and Fantastic literature.

Certainly favourites such as Bram Stoker and John Connolly will come to mind, but hopefully The Green Book also will serve as a pathway to Ireland’s other notable fantasists: like Fitz-James O’Brien, Mrs. Riddell, Lafcadio Hearn, William Allingham, J. Sheridan Le Fanu, Cheiro, Harry Clarke, Dorothy Macardle, Lord Dunsany, Elizabeth Bowen, C.S. Lewis, Mervyn Wall, Conor McPherson . . . and this list is by no means exhaustive.

It should be noted that the word “Irish” in the journal’s title should be understood as inclusive rather than exclusive. The Green Book will also feature essays on Irish themes — even if by non-Irish authors. We hope that you will find something of interest here, for there is much to explore.

Swan River Press is a wonderful specialty publisher and I hope you’ll consider picking up the latest journal or ordering one of their other titles. You can find the Facebook pages for Swan River Press and The Green Book here and here, respectively.

New Publisher Links

While I created this blog as a means to preserve my thoughts and exchange them with others, I also wish to make this site a resource of sorts for fans like myself. My first step is to create a series of pages that can act as a sort of directory to other online resources. I’ve just launched the first of these pages, a list of specialty publishers of weird and horror fiction. You can click the link above the header image or simply click here and check it out. Hopefully you’ll stumble across a publisher or book you never knew existed or didn’t know you needed.

Dagon Graphic Novel Kickstarter Ending in 37 Hours

For those not in the know, comic artist Ben Templesmith launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a new book commemorating the 125th birthday of H. P. Lovecraft. Watch the video below and read the description to get the low down.

Here’s what the Kickstarter page has to say about the book:

DAGON is a short story written by H.P. Lovecraft in July 1917 and one of his earliest published works. The story is the testament of a tortured, morphine-addicted man who plans to commit suicide over an incident that occurred early on in World War I when he was a merchant marine officer. It’s an amazingly powerful and visceral story whose concepts and creatures directly connect to Lovecraft’s later and far more famous Cthulhu works.

DAGON will be adapted and drawn by Ben Templesmith, New York Times best selling comic book artist who is Co-Creator of 30 DAYS OF NIGHT with Steve Niles and FELL with Warren Ellis, as well as Creator of WORMWOOD: GENTLEMAN CORPSE, THE SQUIDDER, and WELCOME TO HOXFORD. This story has preoccupied and haunted Ben since he first read it 20 plus years ago, a time before he’d published any of his own work or knew that he ever would.

You can check out all the pledge levels and other cool stuff over at the book’s Kickstarter page. Pledge now and secure your copy of what looks to be an awesome book.

Alan Moore’s Providence

On March 5th, the website Bleeding Cool posted an interview with writer Alan Moore concerning his new Lovecraft inspired comic book series Providence. This is not Moore’s first comic to deal with the themes and writings of HPL. Back in 2012, Moore’s comic Necronomicon won the first ever Bram Stoker award in the newly created graphic novel category. The following is a description of Providence, taken from Avatar Press’ website.

The most important work of 2015 begins here with the long-Providence01-Portraitawaited arrival of Alan Moore’s breathtaking epic PROVIDENCE with his artistic partner Jacen Burrows. In his most carefully considered work in decades, Moore deconstructs all of Lovecraft’s concepts, reinventing the entirety of his work inside a painstakingly researchedProvidence01-Pantheonframework of American history. Both sequel and prequel to NEONOMICON, PROVIDENCE begins in 1919 and blends the mythical visions of HPL flawlessly into the cauldron of racial and sexual intolerance that defined that era on the East Coast of America. Every line from artist Jacen Burrows is perfectly honed to complete this immersive experience. The result is a breathtaking masterpiece of sequential art that will define modern horror for this generation. Invoking a comparison it to a prior literary masterpiece is not something to be handled lightly, but in scope, importance and execution: Providence is the Watchmen of horror.

Providence01-WomenofHPLMoore has designed every cover, every single page, and every nuance of this work to create his most fully-realized vision to date. There are no ads, all 32 pages are written by Moore, and Jacen Burrows has spent the past two years slaving over the finest detail possible on the pages. The entire work is already written, intricately crafted to tie the most nuanced threads together over the breadth of the series. Painstakingly researched, meticulously produced, this is a sequential masterpiece that will serve as important a call to the next generatioProvidence01-Wrapn of comic book writers as Watchmen did 30 years ago: this is a definitive demonstration of just how good a comic book can be. Available with Regular, Pantheon, Portrait, Dreamscape Wraparound, Women of HPL, and a special Ancient Tome Incentive cover, all by collaborator Jacen Burrows.

While I am a big Alan Moore fan, I’ve not read any of his previous HPL inspired comics due to mixed reviews. However, what I’m reading about this new series has peaked my interest and I plan on picking it up and reviewing it here on the site. If you’ve read Moore’s older HPL works please share your opinions in the comments below. I’d like to hear what people have to say. Again, you can check out the interview with Bleeding Cool here.