Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Review - The Anniversary of Never

The Anniversary of Never

Swan River Press has published the first posthumous collection of Joel Lane's fiction. It is, of course, a very good book, but the fact that the unifying theme is the afterlife naturally prompts mixed feelings. It is a tragedy for those of us who enjoy good short stories that Lane will produce no more. But it is heartening to realise that the body of work he produced was substantial, and a definitive collected edition will one day be with us one day.

I owe a lot to Joel Lane, who supported ST in its early years, and wish I could have known him well. In the meantime this excellent book, with a moving introduction by Nicholas Royle and wonderful cover art by Polly Rose Morris, is a literary memorial service I can attend.

Of the fourteen stories here, three are original to this collection. The rest appeared in anthologies and magazines, with a roll-call of editors such as Andy Cox, Ellen Datlow, Peter Crowther, and D.F. Lewis. Joel Lane's range as a writer was far greater than some of us realised. I certainly associated him, at first, with a particular sub-genre of Brit horror often called 'miserablist'. But in fact, as this book quietly demonstrates, his approach ranged from science fiction horror to the subtleties of modern ghost story. His interests were as broad as his creative imagination was profound.

Thus the first tale, 'Sight Unseen', is a Lovecraftian work with echoes of Stephen King's 'I Am the Doorway', A man learns that his estranged father has died, and tries to make sense of the apparent madness that gripped the man. A journey back to Manchester is also an expedition to the wilder shores of his father's imagination. As in all Lane's work, the visionary and the mundane are combined to powerful but understated effect.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Jordskott (2015)

Imagine a TV show that combines the format of the Nordic crime serial with The X-Files. Well, you'd end up with something very like Jordskott, a co-production between Sweden's STV and ITV (a British commercial broadcaster and long-time rival to the BBC). Jordskott was shown in Britain this summer. At the time of writing it's not clear if a second serial will be commissioned, but on the strength of the first one it should be.

Into the Woods...

The story has all the ingredients fans of the Danish/Swedish crime genre go for - secrets, conspiracies, detectives of conflicting dispositions, a cast of civilians ranging from the stiffly orthodox to the total misfit, and a fair amount of violence, much of it committed in the shadows. What creator Henrik Björn has added to the mix is the paranormal, and I think he got the proportions more or less right - no mean feat over ten hour-long episodes.

The story begins with detective Eva Thörnblad (Moa Gammel) facing down a man who's about to kill his estranged wife in front of their small daughter. Eva is shot, but survives thanks to a bulletproof vest. The scene might seem gratuitous but, as with many incidents, it becomes relevant later. Eva then has to return to her home town in wilds of northern Sweden to attend her father's funeral and settle his affairs. When she arrives she discovers that a child has vanished without trace - just as Eva's daughter Josefine did seven years earlier. Suddenly Josefine reappears, not just older but strangely transformed. The girl is suffering from a mysterious ailment caused by a parasite. The final scene of the first episode makes it clear that this is no ordinary infection, and we're into the weird zone.

Unconventional Medicine

Friday, 21 August 2015

A Short, Whispered History of Quiet Horror

I use the term 'quiet horror' to suggest, hint, or otherwise gesture at the general kind of story I like to publish in ST. But what does it mean? A quick Google reveals references to Shirley Jackson, Charles L. Grant, Susan Hill, Phil Rickman, and quite a few others. Also, vegetarianism is mentioned, meaning that quiet horror offers no raw, bleeding flesh. This is fair enough, but is quiet horror something relatively new, or does it in fact have its roots firmly in the same Gothic tradition as the noisy/garish stuff?

Nathaniel Hawthorne

I think so. I recently re-read Nathaniel Hawthorne's 1836 story 'The Minister's Black Veil'. It is of course a moralising fable (you could only stop Hawthorne moralising by stuffing socks down his throat), but the driving motor of the tale is horror. It is well worth a read. The story is simple, A kindly but ineffectual New England preacher one day adopts a black veil, consisting of a simple fold of crepe that covers his upper face. This transforms him into a powerful force in the Puritan community; sermons that were once seen as innocuous become terrifying simply because of the Black Veil:
The subject had reference to secret sin, and those sad mysteries which we hide from our nearest and dearest, and would fain conceal from our own consciousness, even forgetting that the Omniscient can detect them. A subtle power was breathed into his words. Each member of the congregation, the most innocent girl, and the man of hardened breast, felt as if the preacher had crept upon them, behind his awful veil, and discovered their hoarded iniquity of deed or thought. Many spread their clasped hands on their bosoms. There was nothing terrible in what Mr. Hooper said, at least, no violence; and yet, with every tremor of his melancholy voice, the hearers quaked. An unsought pathos came hand in hand with awe.