Friday, May 15, 2009

The Sick Stuff

When I heard Ronald Kelly was going to release a collection of his more “extreme” horror stories, I’ll admit I was a little skeptical. Kelly’s work has been more the atmospheric horror than the gross-out contest type, and despite the sometimes fractious nature of the horror community, you won’t ever hear anyone say an unkind word about him, and there is difficulty imaging a very nice person writing hardcore stomach-churning stuff. Maybe I should be more wary of nice people, because Thunderstorm Books’ edition of The Sick Stuff proves Kelly can more than hold his own against the Edward Lees, Skipp & Spectors and the like.

Back in the late eighties, a new trend emerged in horror called splatterpunk, in which authors pushed the boundaries of what had been acceptable, and their stories became steadily more extreme. In the long run, this was bad for the genre, as too many writers focused on topping one another at the expense of a well written story. The good writers in this trend, Skipp & Spector, David Schow, et al, ended up somewhat drowned out by a sea of exploitation writers. But for a brief time, this sort of story was what editors wanted, and it was against that backdrop that Kelly wrote most of what is contained here.

It’s always difficult to go into too much detail about short stories without giving too much away, but I’m going to hit the high points of them. My favorite is probably the lead story, “Diary”, in which a serial killer writes his life story prior to execution, including the observation that the babysitters had barbecued the wrong twin. One that will stick with a lot of people is “The Abduction”. It’s a story that will require you to pay attention and think a little at the end to get the thrust of the story, and then you’ll want to instantly re-read it. “Housewarming” should keep anyone with a phobia about spiders from sleeping with the lights off for a long time.

There are seven stories in all, presented in an affordable, smaller-than-usual paperback format. This is another side of Ronald Kelly than we are used to seeing, but he brings the same level of talent to these stories, all of which are keepers. The book includes an introduction by the talented young writer James Newman, artwork by Zach McCain, and an afterword by Kelly where he talks about the inspiration and the history of the stories, something I always find fascinating.

If you are a fan of Edward Lee or any of the other writers known for walking close to the edge with their fiction, you should check The Sick Stuff out, because you would like it. If you are not already a fan of Ronald Kelly, you should be, and this would be a good place to start. It is priced very affordably, so it won’t strain your budget, and there are only going to be 250 copies, so you should grab one soon. You can order the book through the website of Thunderstorm Books, and it is also available through The Horror Mall and Cemetery Dance. Mention my name, and they’ll sell it to you at the regular price. ;-)