By 2017, Mark Samuels was admired enough by his fellow weird fiction writers that a tribute anthology was published by Snuggly Books (also the publisher of both Brian Stableford original works and some of his translations from French). Of course, being a Samuels fan, I had to check it out.
As you would expect from this sort of book, you get people doing takeoffs on Samuels stories and themes, authors presenting some version of Samuels the man – including some fantastically ironic ones, and some stories that are only tributes to Samuels in the author’s minds.
It’s a thick book and most of its stories are worth reading.
The author notes from Thana Niveau describes the first category thus
If Mark Samuels is high quality cocaine, this book is like the weird diluted version that’s possibly cut with bleach and maybe even hallucinogens; it’s still going to get you messed up, but possibly not in the way you were expecting. Real Mark books = brand name prescription drugs, this book = generic version from a third world country.
Niveau’s own “Language of the City” channels his dislike of cities in a story about a woman who grew up in Devon and had a frightening experience when traveling to London as a child. Studying art and interactive media in York, she begins to have visions, intimations of York’s past and of a city alive and ready to attack. Years later, after she’s returned to Devon, her husband disappears in London, and she will come to realize a truth:
It’s not the death of civilization, because there is no civilization. There is only the city. We delude ourselves into thinking we built all this, that we conceived it and designed it to serve our needs. But that’s not true. We’re the constructs. We’re the ones who were built.
As seems to often be the case in the few Oliver stories I’ve read, this story is about showbiz.
Our narrator is the host of the tv show I Can Make You A Star, and the story is propelled by a woman, Jill Warburton, whom our narrator, Danny, fancies. He does not find her exceptionally beautiful, but he likes her personality.
To be close to her, he agrees to help her on a restoration of the Old Essex Music Hall, a dump of a building in London that has a bad reputation and, says Danny, has only survived because “some nutter slapped a preservation order on it.”
A lot of the story is Danny’s asides on various characters and his own life rising from humble beginnings. It opens with Danny going, for the first time, to the Old Essex with Crispin de Hartong and Jill. Danny does not like Crispin because he’s clearly putting the moves on Jill even though he admits Crispin is much closer to Jill’s age. Crispin is an architectural expert and hosts a minor house hunting show called Premises, Premises . . . .
The Old Essex is on Alie Street in the Whitechapel district. It was partly destroyed in a fire after the last Ripper murder in the area and has been a hangout for junkies and bikers for years. It’s a much larger building than Danny expects.
This could have been titled Best British Weird Stories 2018 because the anthology has some of the flavor of those Year’s Best Weird Fiction put out by Undertow Publications. Most of the stories are not horror of the visceral, gruesome, and frightening sort. They range from surrealism – mostly pointless – to well-done variations of old horror situations.
The Reggie Oliver stories did not disappoint even if one, “A Day with the Delusionists” is a satire on poets and Oxford University, wit and no horror though there is a murder. The Delusionists is an Oxford club of students, and, at one of their costume parties in 1973, an aging poet ends up dead.
The other Oliver story is decidedly something else. First appearing in a theme anthology built around Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, “Love and Death” reverses Wilde’s premise of a portrait that absorbs the moral and physical failings of its subject. Here the circus strongman, who stands as the model for Love in the titular painting, begins to weaken. Too late, the painter realizes that, John Keats to the contrary, beauty and truth are not the same as the figure of Death changes in the painting. Continue reading →
This is another ghost story from Oliver and one drawing on his theatre background. Like most Oliver stories I’ve read, it can, from a certain perspective, be seen as a ghost story, but it’s also more than that.
There are menaces from the past and a play that may drive people mad and secrets to be pieced together from old letters and theatrical memorabilia.
The story starts on December 1, 1987 and is narrated in the first person. Continue reading →
Good weird fiction doesn’t lend itself to long reviews. The powers of the story are weakened when surprises are prematurely revealed. The effects of carefully paced narration are distorted or not conveyed. Latinate words like “alienation”, “identity”, “penance”, and “transformation” are cold and insufficient words of thematic taxonomy.
And Samuels’ collection is good weird fiction of a bleak yet, as Reggie Oliver notes in his introduction, exultant sort. The tone and effect may remind one of Thomas Ligotti, an author Samuels has called the greatest living writer of weird fiction. Yet Samuels rejects that writer’s materialistic nihilism.
So, I’m going to lightly touch on the stories first and then wrap up with some thoughts and analysis laden with spoilers. Continue reading →
Much more interesting than their usual talk about awards. It featured a interview with Elizabeth Hand about her most recent book, Wylding Hall, the influence of Arthur Machen on her and many other writers, and her interest in depicting artists and the numinous in her work.
It’s just possible I’ll give her Cassandra Neary mysteries a try since it sounds like the series will start to involve matters of the arcane, occult, and ancient sort as it progresses.
My exposure to Hand is pretty perfunctory. I found her “Chip Crockett’s Christmas Carol” pleasant enough, but, not having any childhood memories of a beloved children’s tv show, there was nothing in my background for it to resonate with.
I was unaware, until I looked at her Internet Speculative Fiction database entry, how much critical work she had done since I’m not a regular reader of the Washington Post or The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.
The only other fiction I’ve read by her is “Near Zemnor” … and that’s why you get a retro review, from September 18, 2012, of the book it appeared in.
You can ignore the short introduction which claims this anthology is out to reclaim the label “horror” for scary stories. Not all the stories here are scary. Some aren’t even dark fantasy. And some left me somewhat unsatisfied.