Monday, February 27, 2012

The Ten Best Horror Short Stories (Pre-1960)

I haven’t done a list in a long while, but they are always a way to fill space, er, present informed opinion. This one isn’t exactly new, to be truthful. I was taking some time to go through some old post on previous blogs (this is my fourth blog, and it was depressing to see that I seem to write worse and worse as time goes on) and came across an old post which contained a list of my favorite horror short stories published before 1960. The usual problem with making lists is that, since they are personal preference, the order/content of them changes almost immediately. (I found a list I had made of my favorite horror novels of the 21st century, and was so repelled by the books on it I can only conclude I had a secret drug habit in 2007, secret even from myself.) This list, however, seems to have held up pretty well, and doesn’t really change on casual observance.

Largely to limit the Lovecraft content, I limited the list to one story per author. There were several stories by Arthur Machen and William Hope Hodgson which almost made the list, so those are the most notable snubs/omissions. Most people would go with "Pigeons From Hell" for the Howard story, but an explanation for my choice can be found here.

1. “The Colour Out Of Space”, H. P. Lovecraft
2. “Who Goes There?”, John W. Campbell, Jr.
3. “Dig Me No Grave”, Robert E. Howard
4. “The Graveyard Rats”, Henry Kuttner
5. “The Lottery”, Shirley Jackson
6. “The Damned Thing”, Ambrose Bierce
7. “Second Night Out”, Frank Belknap Long
8. “The Ash-Tree”, M.R. James
9. “Yours Truly, Jack The Ripper”, Robert Bloch
10. “Born of Man and Woman”, Richard Matheson

Sunday, February 26, 2012

WITA #4: Tim Lebbon

Trying to return to a steady post count here, I am once again reprinting an interview I originally did for Cemetery Dance. This gives me new content with minimal effort and ensures that none of the brilliant work I've done shall ever disappear from the internet. This piece originally appeared in Cemetery Dance's newsletter and on their website in August, 2010, and appears here courtesy of Cemetery Dance. As usual, bear in mind the interview is a year and a half old, and when the author talks about what is coming soon, he means something that is an old release to him now. This interview is with Tim Lebbon, one of the better contemporary writers. It appears just as it did originally, bad jokes and all. All mistakes in the text are mine and mine alone.

Interviewing authors is a tough job. Matching them drink for drink in sleazy bars, violent confrontations when the questions probe too deep, making permanent enemies. Well, I mean, it isn’t that way for me, I just sit here in my comfortable chair and ask questions of gracious and accommodating authors, but for those poor souls who are assigned Nicholas Sparks or Stephanie Meyer, they’re gonna lose some teeth. (Just kidding, Twilight fans. Please don’t burn down my house.)

Welsh author Tim Lebbon has been making waves in the horror field since the publication of his first book Mesmer in 1997. His awards for his fiction include the Bram Stoker Award (for his short story “Reconstructing Amy”), the August Derleth Award (for his novel Dusk) and the Scribe Award (for the novelization of the film 30 Days of Night). His current release from Cemetery Dance is the short story collection Last Exit for the Lost. Tim lives in Monmouthshire with his family, and took time from his busy schedule to answer a few questions.

WITA - Your recent collection from Cemetery Dance is Last Exit for the Lost, 19 of your shorter works in a 560 page volume. Tell us a little about this book.

Tim Lebbon - It's my first collection since 2003's WHITE AND OTHER TALES OF RUIN (which was a novella collection from Night Shade Books), and collects my best short fiction from 2000 to 2006, as well as the novella In Perpetuity from NIGHT VISIONS 11. It also contains Pay the Ghost, which Dennis Iliadis is soon to direct for Sidney Kimmel Entertainment. I don't write nearly as many short stories as I used to, which is a shame because I love doing them, so this collection is a bit of a milestone, and I'm very excited to see it out at last. Even though timewise it stops around 2007 (when the two original stories were written), it gives a pretty good cross-section of the sort of stuff I write. If a new reader asks 'what should I read of yours' I usually point them to one of my collections, and now that there's this new one to share. There's a new collection coming soon from PS Publishing, too, collecting my work from 2006 to 2010 (with some original work on there). I suspect that might be the last for a few years...

WITA -In a recent discussion I had with a friend about your work, we agreed that you are one if not the best contemporary writers when it comes to novella-length work. Not to slight any of your other stories, but would you agree that the novella seems to bring out your best, and if so, why?

Tim Lebbon - Thanks, that's very kind of you. I'm very proud of my novellas, and I'll be writing more in the near future. I'm not sure why it is that they seem to have more of an impact than my novels, and to be honest trying to analyse this troubles me. I guess sometimes in my novels, a weakness of mine is detailed plotting and seeing the big picture. I hate planning a book, so I usually head in with an idea and see where it takes me. With novellas, it's easier to do this and come out the other end unscathed, because although the ideas can sometimes be as complex as those for a novel, getting there is quicker.
I'm also quite an impulsive writer - and very fast, once I'm in the flow of a story - and I think an intensive writing period suits a novella more than a novel. If it's flowing well, I'll write a novella in a week then be exhausted. Not so easy to remain as focused and energised for the duration of a novel.

WITA -You are the most prominent Welsh writer of horror and fantastic fiction working today, in a lineage that goes back to the great Arthur Machen. In past times, the English viewed Wales as a land of dark magic and sorcery (see Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part I). Is there something in Wales and being Welsh that lends itself to dark and fantastic fiction?

Tim Lebbon - Machen is one of my favourite writers, so thank you. Wales is certainly steeped in history, myth and legend, and perhaps that bleeds from the rocks into the writers who live here. As for me, I'm deeply affected by landscape, and the place where I'm lucky enough to live has some of the most beautiful countryside in the British Isles. I take daily walks in the local woodland, and that certainly recharges batteries and sometimes helps me see my way past, or through, a problem I might have come up against in my writing. From my front window I can see the Sugarloaf mountain, a beautiful scene. I'm very lucky. I've always been interested in humankind's interaction with the natural world, and I guess living where I am, I'm well-placed to see many of the effects.

WITA - You are a prolific writer. At what point in your career did you look at what you had written and say “I am a professional writer, and this is my future”?

Tim Lebbon - Making the transition into doing this for a living was a very gradual process. I guess I've known since a very early age that I've wanted to be a writer, and I worked hard at it all through my twenties, seeing short stories, novellas and my first novel or two published. I've been earning a living doing it for almost eight years now - four of them still doing some part-time work, and the past four years writing full-time. It has its pressures - my first month without a paycheck was a bit of a shock - but the positives outweigh the negatives by about, ooohhhh, seventeen million to one.

WITA - You are from the UK, but a sizeable proportion of your audience seems to be in America. Do you find that some themes don’t translate as well across the Atlantic, and do you find yourself tailoring your work for those of us who spell “colour” without the “u”?

Tim Lebbon - I certainly don't tailor my work any particular way, I just write the story I most want to tell. My first few horror novels were set in the UK and published in the USA by Leisure Books, and ironically my new SF/horror novel COLDBROOK was first sold in the UK, and is set almost exclusively in the USA. Locations suit the story, or the idea. There's that interesting language barrier that pops up in editing sometimes, and my good friend and collaborator Chris Golden often screams at me 'turn on US spelling, for f***'s sake!' I keep it off just to annoy him. I like him having to cut out all those 'u's

WITA - What should we look forward to seeing from Tim Lebbon in the future?

Tim Lebbon - Right then ...
Out on 27th July (the day before my birthday!), the new Hidden Cities novel with Chris Golden, THE CHAMBER OF TEN, and next year sees the fourth book, THE SHADOW MEN. Later this year Bantam will publish my new stand-alone fantasy novel ECHO CITY, and Orbit will publish that in the UK next year. Also next year comes COLDBROOK in the UK, a huge SF horror novel. And then HarperCollins in the US will publish the first book of mine and Chris Golden's series THE SECRET JOURNEYS OF JACK LONDON, called THE WILD. This has also sold to Fox 2000, and Chris and I are writing the screenplay right now. There's another movie going into production this fall, PAY THE GHOST (mentioned above). There's a collection and a novella from PS Publishing, and a few other things still under wraps. Busy times ahead, but exciting times too.

WITA - Thanks, Tim.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Thing (2011)

It's not human. Yet.

Like a lot of horror fans, I have a special place in my evil heart for the 1982 version of The Thing directed by John Carpenter. It’s probably my favorite horror film, and there are a lot of people who agree with me, it seems. That’s quite an achievement for a movie that was critically reviled and a commercial dud upon its theatrical release, but home video has been very good to it.

I had mixed feelings when it was announced that a prequel was being made. The 1982 version was a masterpiece of paranoid, claustrophobic horror, and it was difficult to see how it could be matched. Still, there was always the sense we had seen the middle of the story, and didn’t know exactly what had happened before the infected dog reached Outpost 31, or anything about what happened after the ‘82 movie ended. I was pretty eager to see it but it met with a similar fate as the first one, with a poor box office and terrible reviews, and it disappeared from local theaters quickly. I had to wait until the blu ray was released to see it.

As you probably know, the movie shows us what happened in the Norwegian camp before Carpenter’s version. A group of Norwegian scientists working in the Antarctic discover an alien spacecraft frozen in the ice, and, more ominously, a life form frozen nearby. The head of the expedition, Dr. Sandor Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen) calls in a paleontologist, Kate Loyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) to help study it, keeping the discovery secret from the larger world from the time being. As you can guess, the thing in the ice isn’t nearly as dead as the scientists think, and it wakes up, breaks free of the ice, and, to quote the ’82 movie, is “weird and pissed off.” Soon the human numbers begin to shrink, and they discover what the scientists of Outpost 31 did/will: the creature can devour and replicate any living thing. Once this realization is reached, the survivors become locked in a struggle not simply to live, but to keep the thing from reaching the rest of Earth.

The filmmakers were in a damned-if-you-do/damned-if-you-don’t situation with this movie. If their version was too close to the Carpenter film, they would get savaged for copying the “beloved” classic. If they made it too different, they wouldn’t be true to the source material. I really don’t think there is anything that could have been done to satisfy the true fanboys. They did try to protect the earlier film as much as possible. The studio originally wanted to do a full-fledged remake, but the producers and director (Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.) argued the ’82 version was too good, and swayed them to a prequel instead. The prior film was praised for its use of practical effects, so the effects were practical wherever possible, with some CGI enhancement. Instead of the somber mood of the Carpenter version, this is a more action-oriented film, and Winstead’s character owes more to Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley than Kurt Russell’s MacReady.

So, is it any good? I think so, yes. It isn’t as good as the 1982 movie, but almost no horror films are, in my opinion. It does manage to pay careful homage to the first film while presenting something new. The alien in this one is more given to overt attacks on humans rather than the stealth we have previously seen, but that is logically explained as it learning to be a little more cautious after being set on fire a few times. A new test is devised to determine that some people aren’t the thing, which is low-tech and fairly clever. The cast acquit themselves well, and the ending, although pre-ordained, is clever. If you measure the movie in your mind against the version you love, it will probably come up short, but if you approach it with an open mind, I think it will be enjoyable. I’m looking forward to watching the two movies together to see how it works as a double feature.

I do think many of the characters could have been developed further. Other than Loyd, Halvorson and the helicopter pilot Carter (Joel Edgerton), most the characters are just meat for the grinder. Halvorson also comes across as a bit of a stock scientist villain. Winstead was criticized by a lot of reviewers, but I think she does a good job of portraying the outsider in the camp who has to take over in a crisis because no one else can.

I’ll address a couple of the message board concerns from before the movie’s release. A lot of fans of the first were upset that two women are in the cast of the new version, whereas the first movie is generally believed to have an all-male cast (it doesn’t, but most people don’t get it). I can’t help with that, since fear of a vagina is a matter for psychiatrists. If you are one of these, you may be comforted by the fact that Halvorson treats Loyd and the other female scientist like dirt. There was also quite a bit of noise from the “remakes are bad and ruin the first movie” crowd. I’ll just point out that Carpenter’s film was a remake of the 1951 film The Thing from Another World, and leave it at that.

New Ronald Kelly Story

Ron Kelly's daughter Reilly is going on a People-to-People Student Ambassador trip to Europe this summer, and Ron is using his skill in an unique fundraising capacity. He has written a new short story "Beneath the Bed" which will only be available for donors. The story will be signed, dated, and numbered, and will include original artwork, and is limited to only 250 copies. The story will be "retired" after this, so this is the only way to read it.

Ron is requesting a donation of just $10, plus $3 for shipping and handling. Payment made be made through Paypal to Ron's email address, dixiedarkun@yahoo. You may also mail a check or money order to: Ronald Kelly, 25 Cherry Circle, Brush Creek, TN 38547. Sounds like a winner!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

R.I.P. Ardath Mayhar

As per an article posted on Locus' website yesterday, Ardath Mayhar has died. Ms. Mayhar was a prolific writer across many genre, from science fiction to horror to western. She was a great writer, if not as well known as she deserved.