Showing posts with label William Hope Hodgson. Show all posts
Showing posts with label William Hope Hodgson. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

#52Books - Uh, sometime in 2013

Now that the last minute panic of getting A Succubus for Remembrance is nearly out of the way (there will be a print version - details here as soon as that's out) it's time to catch up on some of the other posts, such as the increasingly erroneously named #52Books.  I'm a little further along than books 21-24, but I'm still going to fall short by some way.  I'll try again next year with the additional resolution of not imploding like the England cricket team in Australia the moment a submission deadline looms.

Here's what I was reading just before that aforementioned implosion:

#21: William Hope Hodgson - The House on the Borderland

Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland is a fairly important weird text as he was one of the first to plough down that particular furrow, and The House on the Borderland is a very weird book indeed.  The majority of the book is the account of the un-named protagonist of the various weird things that happen to him within the eponymous house, which seems to be some kind of dimensional nexus.

Hodgson doesn’t waste any time as within the first few chapters his protagonist is under siege from hideous pig men.  He fights them off and then the book swings off into an audacious flight of cosmic weirdness where the man sees time accelerate all around him, eventually seeing the end of the solar system and travelling through some kind of rebirth that places him right back where he started.  The final segment switches back to more conventional horror as a more hideous entity than the pig men creeps up on both the house and the hapless narrator.

It’s an old book, so it’s not an easy read, especially as Hodgson seems to regard commas as caltrops to be sprinkled liberally through the text.  Despite that I never found it dull and the crazy inventiveness makes it easier to forgive the barely coherent plot.  It reads more like Hodgson is letting his imagination tumble out onto the page rather than cynically exploiting the “Insert Own Plot” con-trick much over-used by modern writers.  It can be picked up for free from the Gutenberg project and is worth a look for fans of old weird fiction.

#22: Brian Lumley - Hero of Dreams

Yay, for nostalgia.  Lumley is probably better known for his Cthulhu Mythos fiction and Necroscope series, but he also found time to pen this fantasy series set in Lovecraft's dreamlands during the eighties.  It's an unashamed fantasy romp and the main characters, David Hero and Eldin the Wanderer, are loveable dolts that would last about two seconds in modern GRRM-influenced fantasy, but who cares, it's fun.

I remember it mainly for the Eidolon Lathi, a sexy (until you find out what she is) monster girl queen that fired the imagination of my teenaged self in ways that were probably not entirely healthy.  If you want insight on where my ideas come from, some of the blame can definitely be left at Lumley's door. :)

#23: Shane McKenzie - Jacked

I really like Shane McKenzie’s novellas.  They move fast, have interesting ideas and don't faff about.  No insert-own-plot or look-at-how-clever-my-writing-is wankery here, just a simple idea executed very well.

Jacked features two employees trapped in a gym after weird green slime starts pouring out of the ground in a river.  Anyone caught in the slime is turned into a squishy, slime-spewing zombie and soon Sid and Gabe are besieged.  Unfortunately for them, also trapped in the gym with them is Crow—a monstrous, crazed steroid junkie—and it’s only a matter of time before being outside starts to look safer than being inside.

Fast and fun.

#24: Edgar Rice Burroughs - The Land That Time Forgot

Time to take another dip into the copyright-expired Gutenberg barrel to dig out another pulp classic.  I’ve always had a soft spot for monster movies and the 1975 Amicus adaptation was a favourite of mine while growing up.  The dinosaurs might look rubbery and immobile by today’s fx standards, but it’s always been a fun adventure romp.

The first half of the book is a masterclass in pulp adventure writing.  There’s the dastardly shelling of an ocean liner, the heroic capture of a German U-boat, betrayals and reversals, until both crews end up having to co-operate after fetching up on the mysterious and dinosaur-infested land of Caprona.  The film version wisely decided to give Von Schoenvorts’ character a little more depth.  In the book the dirty Boche are a fairly one-dimensional bunch of backstabbing assholes (understandable given the book was written in 1918).

Sadly, the protagonist, Bowen Tyler, ends up getting lost and isolated for the second half of the book and the book ends up getting lost with him.  After a wham-bam start the book peters out.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

#52Books - July

September seems to have a bookish theme on the blog.  Don't worry, I don't believe in boring books - I like mine filled with sex and violence... ;)

#17: William Hope Hodgson – The Boats of the ‘Glen Carrig’

This is a real oldie, being first published in 1907.  You can pick it up for free from the Gutenberg Project here.  Most people associate weird tentacle horror with HP Lovecraft, but Hodgson predates him.  This is a weird horror tale concerning the adventures of a group of seamen after their boat sinks and their lifeboats encounter strange islands and an eerie weed continent.  The book was written over a century ago and the prose features a lot of quirks.  For starters there are no dialogue tags.  The entire book is written as an account of the narrator’s adventures.  Despite this I didn’t have any problems with the pacing and found it an enjoyable, if old-fashioned, yarn.

If you’ve devoured all of Lovecraft’s works and fancy something in the same vein, The Boats of the ‘Glen Carrig’ might be worth a look.  Hodgson has a similar flair for weird horror.  The weakness he has compared to Lovecraft is there is no over-arching mythos underpinning the work and it lacks the cosmic bleakness of Lovecraft’s stories—it’s more of a romantic adventure in a very odd setting.  The story is effectively eerie and creepy in places and worth reading for fans of old weird horror.

#18: Wrath James White: To The Death

Zombies meet MMA cage fighting in a satisfyingly brutal book from Wrath James White.  The default setting for the ever-popular brain munchers is zombie apocalypse, so it’s refreshing to read a book where the apocalypse sort of fizzles out and never materialises (there’s a minor subplot where an African warlord uses them as an army and fails).  The real focus of White’s book is to put an MMA fighter in a cage with a zombie and describe the messy results in graphic detail.  Being a former fighter himself allows White to bring a degree of verisimilitude to the brutal and pulpy fights.

And it is a pulp story—there are evil mob bosses, cops and a hard-up fighter trying to win his last lucrative fight and get out with the money before the authorities shut everything down.  Tyler Pope is the fighter, and waiting for him in the cage is the monstrous Lester Broad (I’m guessing an expy of the real-life Brock Lesner), a recently-deceased former professional wrestler, former MMA champion, and now returned as a hulking, two-hundred-and-eighty-pound, ravenous-for-human-flesh zombie.

The editing is a little sloppy, but thankfully this doesn’t detract too much as White’s entertaining slice of gore-noir zips along at breakneck pace.  I thought White might have missed a trick with the ending though.  One of the characters would have made a good foil to his recurring main villain, Vlad, in future books, but alas, a round two is not to be.

#19: Cameron Pierce – Ass Goblins of Auschwitz

My experience of Bizarro fiction thus far appears to be this:

Books written by Carlton Mellick III == good.

Books not written by Carlton Mellick III == meh.

This book was not written by Carlton Mellick III.

Pierce’s sophomore effort is a tricky book to write about.  It’s set in a suitably bizarro universe where nazi-themed ass goblins (asses on legs with eye stalks emerging out of the butt cheeks) abduct kids from Kidland and take them to Auschwitz to make toys out of children’s body parts.  Pierce has a fantastically loopy imagination and a flair for describing the gross and perverse.

The book didn’t really hit the spot for me.  Pierce is going hell-for-leather for total offensiveness and gross-out description, which is great to see, but the characters were too detached from reality for me to really care about the varied and highly imaginative indignities Pierce heaps upon them.

#20: Shane McKenzie – Bleed On Me

Fasten the seatbelts, this one is high-octane gore fuel.  Deadbeat slacker, Chris Taylor, goes down to complain about the noise his gangbanger neighbours are making and finds himself in the middle of a massacre.  The new drug they stole and tried out has the unfortunate side effect of opening up the body to demon possession.  And by possession I mean rip the body apart and reshape it in new and imaginative forms of body horror.

The book is short, fast and completely drenched in gore.  There’s barely a chance to pause for breath as Chris is pursued by twisted demons.  It would make a great action-packed horror film.  There are some weaknesses—McKenzie could have filled in some more of the background, in particular why a character’s blood does what it does—but overall the book is fun, fast-paced and perfect for gore lovers.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Japanese Mushroom People and Ghost Ships: The story of how I rediscovered William Hope Hodgson

I was a voracious reader as a child.  My school had a small library and I devoured all the horror, fantasy and science fiction I could find.  I loved (and still love) scary short story collections.  There were two stories I remember as really scaring the bejeebers out of me.

The first featured a remote part of rural America being slowly corrupted by a blight that came from a meteorite.  This blight took the form of a strange colour and caused plants and animals to grow in bizarre and horrifying ways.  I remember the plight of the hapless farming family, unable to leave despite knowing the colour is slowly consuming them from the inside.  The ending is unsettling as well.  On one hand it seems like it’s over—having eaten its fill, the colour shoots back off into space—but on the other the narrator reports seeing a residue still present at the bottom of the well.  Worse, the whole area is going to be flooded and turned into a reservoir, potentially spreading the contamination further.  For a child used to ghost stories with nice neat endings, an ending that implies it might not be over, that it might, in fact, get much much worse, gave me shivers.

Most horror aficionados will immediately recognise that as HP Lovecraft’s classic: “The Colour out of Space.”  I didn’t know who Lovecraft was at the time, but when I bumped into his work—and the Cthulhu mythos—again later, it was no great surprise to learn he was the writer responsible for a story that had left a mark on me.

The second story was about a group of sailors that found a queer abandoned boat.  The boat is floating in a patch of scum and covered all over in strange fungal growth.  As the sailors climb aboard, the sense of something being wrong deepens.  Below the decks they think they hear what sounds like the pumping of a great heart.  Then the fungus starts to move.  One man is gruesomely consumed and the others barely escape with their lives.  Worse, this is not a story that ends with the monster meeting a final and fiery end.  The narrator ends his story and the reader is left with the knowledge that the fungal ship is still out there.

Trying to identify this story was more of a puzzle.  Sadly, back then I was too young and stupid to actually pay attention to the names of the writers who provided me with these wondrous stories.  Or in this case even the title.  I knew it was a story about a creepy boat covered in man-eating fungus, but as I couldn’t remember either the writer or title, and had not come across it since, I figured this was going to be one of those pieces of nostalgia forever lost to the mists of time.

And so time passed...

Recently I watched the cult Japanese film “Matango.”  Fans of Kenkou Cross’s Monster Girl Encyclopedia will recognise that name.  It’s used for this entry:

No, not that Matango...

I don’t know if KC took the name from the film or both have the same roots in Japanese mythology.  (On a tangential note, Alraune, another frequently appearing monster girl, comes from German myth, and the Hanns Heinz Ewers novel of the same name has also spawned a few films)

Matango is an odd 1963 Japanese film where a bunch of characters get ship-wrecked on an island.  The interior of the island contains lots of strange mushrooms and they find the wreck of a research boat covered in strange fungal growth.  They avoid eating the mushrooms at first, but then food supplies run low and the horror kicks in when they discover eating the mushrooms turns you into a mushroom person (with appropriately icky slow transformation)

So far so Japanese.

Except it isn’t.  The plot is based on the short story “The Voice in the Night”, written by the English writer William Hope Hodgson.

“...boat covered in strange fungal growth.”  Could this be the mystery author of the mystery story that scared the bejeebers out of me as a child?

And indeed it is.  After a little digging through Hodgson’s bibliography and the wonders of out-of-copyright work being made available on the internet, I was able to rediscover “The Derelict.”

You can read it here.

“All about him the mould was in active movement. His feet had sunk out of sight. The stuff appeared to be lapping at his legs and abruptly his bare flesh showed. The hideous stuff had rent his trouser-leg away as if it were paper. He gave out a simply sickening scream, and, with a vast effort, wrenched one leg free. It was partly destroyed. The next instant he pitched face downward, and the stuff heaped itself upon him, as if it were actually alive, with a dreadful, severe life. It was simply infernal. The man had gone from sight. Where he had fallen was now a writhing, elongated mound, in constant and horrible increase, as the mould appeared to move towards it in strange ripples from all sides.”

Brrr.  Yep, still as creepy as I remember.

Hodgson came before HP Lovecraft and while his work lacks the core cosmic bleakness saturating Lovecraft’s works, he’s worth checking out if you like old weird horror.  His books can be found for free at the Gutenberg project here.  He also created the supernatural detective Thomas Carnacki.

And that, through a rather convoluted path, is how I rediscovered the stories of William Hope Hodgson, a writer who scared the bejeebers out of me as a child.