Tag Archives: Gary McMahon
Tony Lovell’s cover:
Twenty-five Horror Stories written independently by twenty-five different authors
who responded to the theme ‘Horror Without Victims’. Their serendipitous gestalt
seems to aspire towards a curative force for all of us.
The order of contents in HORROR WITHOUT VICTIMS due to be published in 2013:
EMBRACE THE FALL OF NIGHT – John Howard
THE HORROR – Gary McMahon
CLOUDS – Eric Ian Steele
THE CARPET SELLER’S RECOMMENDATION – Alistair Rennie
WAITING ROOM – Aliya Whiteley
FOR AGES AND EVER – Patricia Russo
NIGHT IN THE PINK HOUSE – Charles Wilkinson
POINT AND STICK – Mark Patrick Lynch
THE BLUE UMBRELLA – Mark Valentine
LAMBETH NORTH – Rosanne Rabinowitz
THE CURE – John Travis
WE DO THINGS DIFFERENTLY HERE – David Murphy
LORD OF PIGS – DeAnna Knippling
LIKE NOTHING ELSE – Christopher Morris
IN THE EARTH – Rog Pile
SCREE – Caleb Wilson
THE WEEK OF FOUR THURSDAYS – David V. Griffin
IN DREAMS, YOU’RE MINE – Jeff Holland
WALK ON BY – Katie Jones
VENT – L.R. Bonehill
THE YELLOW SEE-THROUGH BABY – Michael Sidman
THE BOARDING HOUSE – Kenneth C. Wickson
THE CALLERS – Tony Lovell
STILL LIFE – Nick Jackson
YOU IN YOUR SMALL CORNER, AND I IN MINE – Bob Lock
Nemonymous Books for sale: HERE (signed by editor/publisher)
The one above contains:
- “The Robot & The Octopus”, Tony Ballantyne
- “Driving In Circles”, Iain Rowan
- “Running Away to Join the Town”, Paul Meloy
- “Solid Gold”, Rachel Kendall
- “George the Baker”, Anonymous
- “The Hills Are Alive”, S. D. Tullis
- “Huntin’ Season”, Monica O’Rourke
- “Well Tempered”, Neil Williamson
- “The Scariest Story I Know”, Scott Edelman
- “New Science”, Gary McMahon
- “Soul Stains”, Robyn Alezanders
- “Grandma’s Two Watches”, Lavie Tidhar
Image by Tony Lovell (2011)
My reading-lifetime’s Hall of Fame in no particular order:
Charles Dickens, Christopher Priest, AS Byatt, Enid Blyton, May Sinclair, HP Lovecraft, Barbara Vine, Reggie Oliver, Anita Brookner, WG Sebald, Jeremy Reed, Ian McEwan, Elizabeth Bowen, Stephen King, Oliver Onions, Marcel Proust, Salman Rushdie, Glen Hirshberg, Paul Auster, Mark Valentine, John Fowles, Edgar Allan Poe, John Cowper Powys, Lord Dunsany, Algernon Blackwood, Jack Vance, Philip K Dick, Jeff VanderMeer, Samuel R Delany, Anthony Burgess, Susanna Clarke, Rhys Hughes, Lawrence Durrell, MR James, Robert Aickman, Sarban, Ramsey Campbell, Thomas Ligotti, Tommaso Landolfi, Kazuo Ishiguro, Quentin S. Crisp.
This is a list including writers I once considered in my Hall of Fame but now rarely read, and new writers whose works I read quite a lot and have included in my Hall of Fame fairly recently and variations upon that, but all have been major reading experiences some time in my life. Apologies to those I’ve inadvertently omitted because of my semi-Proustian memory.
I’m starting below another of my gradual real-time reviews. This time it is of the fiction stories in TTA Press’s ‘BLACK STATIC’ – Issue 26 (Dec 2011 – Jan 2012). Received as part of my subscription to this magazine. As before, I shall attempt to draw out all the fiction’s leitmotifs and mould them into a gestalt.
CAVEAT: Spoilers are not intended but there may be inadvertent ones. You may wish (i) to take that risk and read my review before or during your own reading of the stories, or (ii) to wait until you have finished reading them. In either case, I hope it gives a useful or interesting perspective.
All my previous TTA Press reviews are linked from here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/09/25/tta-press-my-real-time-reviews/
All my real-time reviews are linked from here: http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/
There is no guarantee how long it will take to complete this review, whether days or years.
The stories to be reviewed have been written by Ray Cluley, Mark Rigney, Gary McMahon, Andrew Hook, Carole Johnstone.
NB: There is much else of value for the Horror reader within ‘Black Static’ in addition to its fiction: – www.ttapress.com
I Have Heard The Mermaids Singing – Ray Cluley
“My story will not need a firsthand account of mermaid song.”
A substantive story that the reader needs to dive deep within and not re-emerge too quickly – for best effect. I hate films, so to say a story is cinematic is often not a compliment from me. But here it is and it is. As well as the evocatively personal-internal, I truly relished this filmic Nicaraguan ‘genius loci’ and brilliant cast-characterisations of a Lobster-fishing ‘sweat-shop’ – and the protagonist (complete with maternal back-story) who grapples with various forms of image-hyperbole or mild elephantiasis of the Lungs as well as (in his life, at various stages, coming together here as an accreting analogy or metaphor that one truly can see on the big screen of one’s mind) of Bodily Strokes, Aspects of God, Bends, MRI Scans, Wheelchairs, Lobsters, Lethal-Chambers (my expression adapted from R.W. Chambers not this story’s) – plus the many skilful Compressions of Counterpoint between TS Eliot’s poetry and the events in this genuinely classic story that will no doubt be anthologised several times again – and of Mermaids. A fiction finger-holing the deck-bars of our own ship of reason from which we can swim hardly far enough?… (20 Dec 11)
The Demon Laplace – Mark Rigney
“Causal determinism. One thing proceeding from the next, ad inifintum.”
“Ad inifintum“, aptly working via some form of ‘casual’ rather than ‘causal‘ chaos-theory upon a mail-worker’s ‘tabula rasa’ destiny (here, in this story, tellingly, a “tabula rosa” one). I really enjoyed this story, as casual things became literally “causal“, indeed retrocausal, regarding a Faustian spectrum-of-importance from potato-peelers and bananas to love-life and the continuation of fate as a fruit of love-life into a continuation of life itself “ad inifintum“. Not only casual, “Most of it was banal.” But beautifully written and characterful. Seriously memorable story: a new O. Henry or Jerome Bixby? “…but he could not help casting back to how their blissful courtship had spilled itself out like some eager rolled-up carpet, as if it had all been pre-ordained.” An audit-trail of Fate as a tempting form of virtual watery-grave to go diving in with only makeshift breathing-equipment? (20 Dec 11 – another three hours later)
Remains – Gary McMahon
“She might panic and have some kind of episode. She was always having some kind of episode.”
A story with a lifetime or serial subscription in its midst: as if life needs the out-of-one’s-own-hand “hand of God” (compare and contrast: the Rigney) to renew, to allow it to keep coming back with episodic horrors. As if revealed by the MRI Scan from the Cluley, the bones show through. A classic McMahon, that takes place – with iPod – via an urban bereftness and, in resonance with the Cluley, via a mother as back-story, here with a poignant hauntingness that keeps on coming back. Underwritten: subscribed. (20 Dec 11 – another 2 hours later)
Dizzy Land – Andrew Hook
“Funfairs and the promise of something illicit always went hand in hand, despite the Hook the Duck attractions for the little ones.”
This story’s California Sands, Norfolk, I imagine, is a ‘genius loci’ similar to Jaywick Sands, Essex, near where I live – so I can fully empathise with the nature of a new funfair being built there. The story conveys this brilliantly (in and out of the cold desolate seasons) with a number of strident ‘funfair’ similes or analogies of its own (like the breakfast fried-egg: the eye in Un Chien Andalou…) — I can’t quite believe, also – in addition to its own stand-alone memorability – the strength of its synergy with the previous stories, particularly the first one. The Lethal-Chamber, now spinning; the Bends of the Heart both physically and romantically (cf the previous ‘female’ back-stories, here more in tune with the Rigney one); sinking or being sucked down towards this story’s version of Mermaids… A truly great story, made even greater by its surroundings in this magazine. Well, I’m a sucker for seaside funfairs, anyway. Especially those that truly live, like this one, a fixture as brash symbiosis between the local council’s needs for local empolyment etc and the protagonist’s needs, inter alia, to fill the holes in his heart. By contrast, travelling funfairs are here also explicitly related to the solar system: giving me a hint of astrological harmonics underlying all these stories, Hand of God or not. A fixture like the Sun or those spinning round it. (21 Dec 11)
The Monster of Venice – Carole Johnstone
“I however was my mother’s son – in all ways, as it would bear out to my cost -”
More often than not, an anthology (or, say, a group of stories in ‘Black Static’) ends with a story that presents a telling or oblique coda to the previous symphony of fiction. Here, however, this last story is the culmination of the symphony, leaving us – in equal tellingness – bereft of any coda. You see, Pain has done its work. The ‘dying fall’ of Mahler’s Ninth as climax, not coda. And Mahler brings me to ‘Death in Venice’: and its ending with Dirk Bogarde – well, you can all see what I mean when you read this story’s powerfully depleting (if that’s not a contradiction in terms) finale. This is 15th Century Venice (and it goes without saying with this author, masterfully done as a ‘genius loci’) – yet with the same commercial concerns as a Funfair in California Sands or the red “gold” of the Mermaids. This presents the now final accretion of the maternal back-story – and Pain as a living character itself. The protagonist even studies astrology to assuage it. And reaches towards, now, a ‘female’ front-story that he causes to “enfold” him by enfolding it (like the earlier lobster-sea or the lethal-chamber or the hand of god or the urban playing fields or the causally determined audit-trail). It’s as if this whole symphony’s arch of themes has come full circle but as an inevitable Wish-predetermined inversion of itself. The darkest possible finale to one of those overall gestalt reading-experiences you can now ‘bank’ and say to yourself: ‘there it sits’ … and, then try to get on with your life – and with the Christmas season as it happens to be as I write this. Not Easter. (21 Dec 11 – two hours later)
Interesting discussion here about saying what one writes is Horror or saying it is not:
I am proud to call it Horror when I write Horror or produce a book called ‘The Horror Anthology of Horror Anthologies’. But, equally, when I don’t write Horror, I’m proud and contented not to call it Horror.
Do some writers always write Horror and some other writers never write Horror?
As for myself, I think I always write Horror, but it is not always in the pure Horror genre.
I’m due to start below another of my gradual real-time reviews, turning leitmotifs into a gestalt.
And it is of a paperback book that I have just purchased. It is entitled DARK MINDS: including an original story by GARY McMAHON on front cover and on spine of book.
DARK MINDS: An Anthology of Dark Fiction on title page inside the book.
Published by the Dark Minds Press 2011.
There is no guarantee how long it will take to complete this review, whether days or years.
CAVEAT: Spoilers are not intended but there may be inadvertent ones. You may wish (i) to take that risk and read my review before or during your own reading of the book, or (ii) to wait until you have finished reading it. In either case, I hope it gives a useful or interesting perspective.
All my real-time reviews are linked from here: http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/
Authors: Gary McMahon, Benedict J. Jones, Stephen Bacon, Ross Warren (and the book’s editor), Shaun Hammell, Anthony Watson, Colin Hersh, Jason Whittle, Colin Drewery, Joe Mynhardt, Clayton Stealback, Carole Johnstone. Cover image: Vincent Chong. Interior Artwork: Will Jaques.
The Ghost of Rain – Gary McMahon
“…to hear it was to draw closer to something numinous…”
This story is classic McMahon, so utterly McMahon in fact I feel I almost hold his soul in my hand. One can never complain about a McMahon story. This one deals with a sound-file download that then, via an MP3 player, permeates and corrodes-in-backtrail the life-trodden protagonist with a spiritual tinnitus (my words not the book’s). Essential reading for the ever-growing number of McMahonites, threatening to swarm in torrents “…raging at the walls...” (22 Mar 11)
Berlin Sushi – Benedict J. Jones
“…victorious soldiers always want the same things.”
A brief but powerfully written story about the shocking brutality of war in post-victory peace, told from the point of view of a 15 year old girl Berliner. A “feld grau” mezzotint of 1945 subsumed by a visualised carnal-ibal aftermath … as nations as well as men fail to shuffle off their meat-coloured lusts…. (22 Mar 11 – two hours later)
[As an aside – although, so far, there have been no obvious typos, I feel the book’s paragraph/tab and line-spacing aspects have not been perfect.]
The House of Constant Shadow – Stephen Bacon
“He also raised the index finger, creating an obscene V, and waved that in front of her face, ‘ – bacon and eggs.’ “
A football stadium here, almost gratuitously, acts as an intangible metaphor – as the [for me, Cern Zoo image] lion did in the previous story. This is a very sad story. One where human beings (like animals in a random zoo) wreak pleasure and vengeance by turns, susceptible to all the mishaps of life – the temptations, the comparisons, the crude bodily outlets, bodily misalignments, all of which are so inextricably mixed with a desperate need for love as well as escapism – in an English terraced ‘inner-city’ scenario where Skegness is the only break-point. This is not a Horror Story. It is an effective human story, and that means it is also a horror story beyond any genre. (22 Mar 11 – another 4 hours later)
The Rat Catcher’s Apprentice – Ross Warren
This story is in the generally excellent “stories told by gentlemen around a log fire in an olde worlde Gentleman’s Club during a storm” tradition – vaguely reminiscent within this tradition but otherwise different to Charles Black’s story The Coughing Coffin with, in The Rat Catcher’s Apprentice, a character called Charles and another with the surname Black. Despite, I felt, some infelicities of style, there is much to admire of the gory and strange in the Warren where the Rat Catcher shows off his métier. A rumbustious shape-shifting tale corseted in civilised garb, with a slightly oblique or obvious ending. The Theatre of the Absurd mixed with the Theatre of Grand Guignol, all watched from the Vault of Evil. Despite a few shortcomings, I enjoyed its panache. (22 Mar 11 – another 4 hours later)
The Anchorite’s Daughter – Shaun Hammell
“The pungent rot of dead wood and understory would surround him like a warm breast,”
It’s not often that I encounter a writer whose name is new to me and, immediately, vow to watch out for more work by that author. This story – let me be frank – is a major reading experience, a substantial, almost collage-like, journey through some of the strongest ‘humanity’ horror (foreshadowed by the Bacon story) that I think I have ever read. It blends extremes like Mike Philbin and/or Bizarro with styles of literary figures like Graham Greene, Lawrence Durrell, John Updike…. The language is stunning in many ways and conveys a nightmare or two that will haunt and sicken and nag at the strongest mind-stomachs of seasoned readers in all parts of the Horror genre world. A new “feld grau” mezzotint thrown into the mezzanine of your mind like “jagged anarchal glass” to cause many gradual-merging colours of emotion to spill out all over you. (It must have been quite a nightmare, too, to prepare this text for publication and I compliment the presentation of it, despite a few accidental infelicities that I feel were not noticed by the editor.) (23 Mar 11)
Gehenna – Anthony Watson
“Men fall to the ground, some gently, as if simply lying down to sleep, others jerking violently…”
They keep coming. This is an impressively accomplished and memorable vision of Passchendaele, the trenches, the deaths seen from the Wilfred-Owenesque vantage point of those dying – but, above all, it fulfils a worthy goal of Horror Literature, here another ‘humanity’ horror in perfect metaphor provided by history, i.e. with the language of strong images, it conveys a Fable (as Berlin Sushi also conveys a Fable from another 20th century War), conveys it aptly as it does for us when the news today is full of Gaddafery and human shields etc.: a Fable obliquely akin to the Swiftian one in ‘A Modest Proposal‘ where Swift recommends the Irish should eat their babies to attack the Famine problem from both ends of its evil. “Man’s inhumanity to man provides our succour.” (23 Mar 11 – ninety minutes later)
Last Laugh – Colin Hersh
“Life isn’t unfair, it’s just life. It is what it is.”
Cumulatively within the context of this book so far, this story possibly represents the noumenon that is humanity horror fiction (a new genre?). It is a fiction-enabled monologue that would otherwise have been impossible, i.e a monologue by a stroke-stricken grandfather who has lived his life (including yet another different 20th Century War), who cannot communicate or move, peed off (in more ways than one) by the way his family treat him: it is so compelling I felt I was, am him (especially as my turn is nearer in time than many other people reading this story, I guess!). As in the previous story, it is a poignant visualisation of seeing death coming while you are still conscious but helpless… [I had my own visualisation just a few days ago]. He is left too long in the sun. I hoped that the “cloud brothers“, even “asocial clouds“, from the Hammell story, or the rain from McMahon’s, would rescue him… However, I’m not sure about the ending of this story (that I shall not impart). It may work, it may not. I am in two minds. I’d be interested to hear other readers’ views on this specific point. Maybe it was the author’s own ‘last laugh’ to fool or foil my expectations of another (better?) ending? (23 Mar 11 – another hour later)
The World Shall Know – Jason Whittle
“They should be vigilant in ridding the world of the Jew, and the talking ape, and the sodomite,”
Another Fable in the mould of ‘A Modest Proposal’: a SFtopia where ‘Scriptures’ and/or a previous plague involve anyone whose temperature exceeds 103 degrees being decapitated. A world of cynical self-satisfaction – but a world containing those who struggle to transcend the unwelcome Alternateness of an Alternate World and its Fantasy. And the only way to transcend such Fantasy is perhaps ironically by means of Horror. I am continually impressed by the standard of the stories in this Small Press Horror publication where its stories – many of the authors of which I’ve never heard of before – are generally exceeding (by far!) all my literary as well as Horror genre hopes when first approaching this book. This story included. Again, though, I’m not sure of its ending. (23 Mar 11 – another 3 hours later)
Blood Loss – Colin Drewery
A story of a ruthless debt collector in a gangland bordering, I guess, on the type of ambiance in the English streets portrayed in the Bacon story, also conveying a vision of encroaching death by the one dying, as in some of the other stories above. But here with a twist intrinsic to the Horror genre. This story has a style of language and plot that is not normally to my personal taste, so it was good to find it a workmanlike, sufficiently enjoyable page-turner – leaving me intriguingly with an abiding intangible image or metaphor (to compare with the lion and football stadium earlier): a floating “orange orb”… (23 Mar 11 – another 90 minutes later)
Vengeance of Hades – Joe Mynhardt
“A cold, rotten grip seized him, its blunt teeth tearing into his neck.”
A knifegun-gory companion-story to the previous one, and here another classic Horror leitmotif eventually takes centre stage – contributing, from yet another angle, towards this book’s ever-growing gestalt of the death process as seen by the dying. Humanity as Horror, in people’s actions and reactions to their own humanity and its loss. Here in a workmanlike and eventually poignant style. I’m again in two minds. Two dark minds. [And one or two typos.] (24 Mar 11)
Under a Setting Sun – Clayton Stealback
“‘Eluses are you here?’ he whispered.
‘Yes, I am,’ hissed Des Lewis (with “enormous face“). In many ways, this substantive text is an outrageous vision, one with crude, wild, sometimes gauche, yet admirable, enthusiasm for Horror clichés, yet the whole story definitely embodies tangible evil amid a Hellish, Boschian, Lovecraftian vision that follows an exorcism gone wrong. It works for me. It works for this book. It works within this book and this book’s now identified gestalt eschatology. In other ways, it is a companion to the Hammell story, i.e. two points-of-view protagonists in collage or synergy and a configuration of a dual soul (two dark minds) culminating in the Stealback with an image that would work for both stories: “Hanging above the church, a wild vortex had opened up, spinning colours of the most vivid purples and reds around its circumference.” [‘Vivid purples’ contrasting with my own stoic, sullen ones?] “Never converse with a demon; that was one of the golden rules.” Wow! (24 Mar 11 – four hours later)
Bury the Truth – Carole Johnstone
“We are all of us afraid of death. It is the human condition.”
Yet, the Hersh would have us know that “Life isn’t unfair, it’s just life. It is what it is.” [And in both the Hersh and the Johnstone there is someone with a catheter…] Those two quotes are important to this book. In fact the Johnstone – something I could never have predicted till I just finished reading it a few minutes ago – is the genuinely perfect coda to this book’s gestalt. I am astonished. But in the last two years or so I have become a fan of Carole Johnstone’s fiction, so I already expected something special with this story. And it is. But it is even more special thanks to someone’s skills in ‘building’ this book, whether the result was intentional or not. An imperfect book (I wouldn’t have wanted it perfect). It is perfect for what it is, for what it tries to be in all innocence. And the Johnstone is your vision of what your own death process is like as a delivery, when the mid-wife is yourself (my words, not Johnstone’s), with insidious things like Their or Them or They — all in upper case like God with His ‘He’ and ‘Him’ — waiting to share your witnessing of your own death in and out of character. A League or Company of those in the Dantean know… The Johnstone is extremely frightening, yet fulfilling, as a separate story. I need say no more, I feel. Other, perhaps, than that there was a “blank television screen” in the Stealback, and when I finally myself steal back from life to death I expect first to experience the static, then the hiss of McMahon’s rain. (24 Mar 11 – another hour later)
Many don’t find writing fiction a particularly mystical or magical experience but more a job of work…
But the TV series LOST, for example, and King’s huge DARK TOWER series of novels, I sense, are not pre-planned but continually absorb a certain amount of binding ‘power’ from who knows what forces out there.