October Reloaded: Monthly Wrap Up

Updates

Happy November bookwyrms! October is over and that means it’s time for the first of my revamped wrap up posts. Looking back, I haven’t done one of these since April (jeez) so I’m excited to dive back in. Funnily enough I didn’t actually do much reading in October cos I spent a good chunk of it playing through The Last Of Us games, which was an unforgettably phenomenal experience. If you’re unfamiliar with these games they’re the absolute pinnacle of character-driven storytelling in video games, just viscerally emotional and like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. It takes place in a post-apocalyptic zombie-infested setting too, which made it a great horror season playthrough. In other news, I also tried my first ever pumpkin spice latte (can confirm I’m now addicted to their syrupy goodness) and went for lots of nice walks along the river and the old colliery near where I live, which has now been converted into a scenic park complete with ducks, swans and a lake.



I read two books in October; The Affair of the Mysterious Letter by Alexis Hall and The Patience of a Dead Man by Michael Clark. The former was an absolute delight, a queer af Sherlock Holmes reimagining in a chaotic Lovecraftian multiverse that was so unapologetically fun but also incredibly well-written. I loved it so much and will def be doing a full review at some point to sing its praises from the rooftops. The second book didn’t impress me though, it was just ill-conceived and badly-written with largely forgettable characters. I did review it here but the less said about it going forward the better.

I did post a bunch of fun stuff on the blog though, including reviews of Stephen Graham Jones’ new revenge horror The Only Good Indians and Deck Matthews’ epic fantasy novella The First Of Shadows (I also had the honour of interviewing Deck too, so make sure to have a peek at that – links to all this good stuff at the end of the post). I also officially started my project to read the entirety of Stephen King’s back catalogue with mini reviews for Carrie, ‘Salem’s Lot and The Shining.

And now that spooky season is coming to an end we’ve got SciFi Month to look forward to! Look out for my announcement post later today where I’ll be talking about my plans for all things cyberpunk!



REVIEWS:
The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones
Carrie, ‘Salems Lot & The Shining by Stephen King
The First Of Shadows by Deck Matthews
The Patience of a Dead Man by Michael Clark

INTERVIEWS:
Deck Matthews, author of The Riven Realm series and The Varkas Chronicles series


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Reading Update 31/10/2020

Updates

Hey bookwyrms, it’s been a few weeks since a good reading update cos I’ve been playing through The Last Of Us parts one and two for a good chunk of October and that had me utterly hooked and absorbed for a good week and a half. Very much back into the reading rhythm now though and this update straddles the gap between the end of Halloween and the beginning of SciFi month.



Recently Finished: THE PATIENCE OF A DEAD MAN by Michael Clark
I read most of my horror in September this year, starting off strong with Mexican Gothic and The Year Of The Witching. I really loved those books so was disappointed to end on such a low note with THE PATIENCE OF A DEAD MAN. This messy, ill-conceived and poorly-executed haunted house horror didn’t impress despite a few spooky scenes that weren’t enough to redeem the rest of the book. I reviewed it yesterday, and while it’s def not gonna be a glowing recommendation if you’re looking for your next horror read, it will at least make you appreciate the things we can often take for granted in the books we do enjoy.

Currently Reading: REPO VIRTUAL by Corey J. White
SciFi month is on the horizon and I’m making the transition from horror to my true love of science fiction in REPO VIRTUAL. I’m specifically focussing on reading a lot of cyberpunk this November. Some of you may be aware that Neuromancer is one of my all time favourite books but I’ve never managed to find another cyberpunk novel that managed to hit the same heights. I find a lot of more recent cyberpunk has abandoned the grimy, high-tech-meets-low-life grittiness in favour of empty aesthetics. Corporate skyscrapers and neon-lit back alleys without the class politics which, despite its flaws in 80s cyberpunk, was still present. Sorry, I have a lot of opinions about cyberpunk and the representation of class struggle, but I’ll park them for now. Suffice to say, I’m only three chapters into REPO VIRTUAL at the mo, but I’m glad to say I think this story about a virtual thief and his contract to steal the world’s first sentient AI is gonna be a good ‘un.

Next Read: GLITCH RAIN by Alex Livingston
You guessed it, more cyberpunk! There’s gonna be a theme this month, gang. GLITCH RAIN is a few years old now, published by Apex back in 2016. It’s a novella about Akuba, a low-level hacker for the wealthy elite, making just enough to keep the bills paid and the booze flowing. Her job is to scrub the social feeds for faces who don’t want to be seen, hanging out at parties to guard the elite from errant social media statuses and incriminating photo posts. But when an old debt comes due early, suddenly she’s the one who needs to keep her face out of the omnipresent eyes of the drones. Thrown into the high-stakes world of international cybercrime, Akuba has to outmanoeuvre unlimited surveillance, high-tech con artists, and an international hacker kingpin if she wants to survive. I’ve not read anything by Alex Livingston before and actually only found this because I was specifically looking through Apex’s backlist for cyberpunk titles because I’ve been so consistently impressed with the fiction they put out and think they deserve a lot more recognition as a small press publisher. Plus this story sounds like it kicks ass.


Let me know in the comments what you’re reading at the mo, I love to chat about the books we’re all reading. And hey, if you enjoyed this update why not follow the blog for more reviews and bookish chat.

Review: THE PATIENCE OF A DEAD MAN by Michael Clark

Book Reviews

I do love a good haunted house tale, and what better time to disturb the ghouls, ghosts and spirits than the height of spooky season? THE PATIENCE OF A DEAD MAN has that nice, simple premise – a haunted house with a dark mystery to solve before the spooks and scares get out of hand and escalate into something altogether more dangerous. Enter our main character, Tim Russell. Recently divorced and looking for a new business venture, Tim buys an old, dilapidated house in rural New Hampshire, looking to refurbish and flip it for a tidy profit. Things start going awry almost immediately though, when the ghosts of a little boy and a woman covered in flies make it clear he isn’t welcome there…



I said in a tweet once that the more notes I make while I’m reading a book directly correlates with my lack of enthusiasm for said book. Unfortunately I made a lot of notes about THE PATIENCE OF A DEAD MAN. For me the bedrock of any story is the characters. If an author writes good characters who feel like real people and make their mark on a story then I’m probs gonna like the book, even if it’s flawed in other ways. The characters here are just so forgettable though, I couldn’t bring myself to care about them or anything they did. A lot of things intertwine here (which is why ‘writing good characters’ isn’t a simple thing) so I’m gonna do my best to unravel why the characters, and ultimately the book, fell flat for me.

Ok, so the way the plot unfolds totally robs the characters of any agency. Once the story gets going the main thrust of the book is Tim and his estate agent/new girlfriend Holly (and boy do I have thoughts about that too) are trying to solve the mystery of the circumstances surrounding the ghost’s deaths. To give Clark credit, the mystery is actually quite interesting, but Tim and Holly don’t really do anything to solve it. Instead, most of the mystery is already laid out for them in a collection of journals the previous owner left and the only barrier to its resolution is just a matter of how quickly they can read the darn things. Holly has one proactive idea and any loose ends after that are simply relayed to them in their dreams while they sleep. The end result is they don’t even feel like characters, just avatars, lifeless puppets the author strings up and drags through the book as tools of the plot. It felt like they could be replaced with any two other random people, reskinned avatars, and the story would have played out exactly the same way.

Their behaviour was just nonsensical in places too. And I don’t mean that in the sense they made bad decisions – characters making bad decisions, throwing spanners in the works and dealing with the consequences is what gets me up in the morning man, that shit is my ambrosia – no, I mean these guys just flat out make decisions that make no sense, sometimes even in contrast to their own internal motivations. And again, the only discernible reason is so the author can drag them into scenes he wanted to write that otherwise wouldn’t happen. I just couldn’t accept their dialogue as real either. The way they talked to each other rang so false. It was stiff and drawn out and unnatural, just not how people talk.

One final critique before I finish on a positive note, and that’s the point of view. It’s written for the most part in third person omnipotent, meaning there’s an all-knowing outside narrator telling us the story. I feel like this was just a mistake and it was only written this way so we could be whisked off near the end of the book to tie up the loose ends of the mystery in what turns out to be quite an unsatisfying way and gives knowledge to the reader that Tim and Holly would have no way of knowing, given that these scenes are largely constructed out of second-hand journal entries. That’s sort of by the by though; for the most part I just though this was a mediocre and poorly-written book right up until near the end, where I felt like I was deliberately misled about An Event purely for a cheap shock. The supposedly ‘omnipotent’ narrator tells you something happens, only for that thing not to have happened at all and I just felt betrayed at that point. Like, pick your writing style and stick to it man. You can’t have an omnipotent narrator so you can skirt round the edges of resolving your central mystery, just to then decide to abandon it at the eleventh hour for a cheap shock.

Look, clearly I didn’t enjoy this book, but it’d be remiss of me not to mention the things I did think were good. There are some genuinely scary, chilling moments; I think Clark does a good job of writing the ghostly scenes and I genuinely shuddered at times with the creepiness of it. I have quite a vivid mind’s eye and the images he conjured in my imagination creeped me the fuck out at times (I’ll never look at at rolled-up newspaper the same way again, that’s for sure). And the mystery Tim and Holly uncover about the history of their spectral housemates is engaging and there was a period about halfway in where did feel like the book picked up and for a while I was actually quite engrossed, though in the end it wasn’t concluded in a satisfying way.

I’ll just finish by saying don’t necessarily take my word for it. I personally didn’t like this book, but Rin at The Thirteenth Shelf also reviewed it recently and had a better experience, so def check out her review as well. Obviously I wouldn’t recommend THE PATIENCE OF A DEAD MAN, but if you are looking for something to read over the Halloween weekend, check out my reviews of The Year Of The Witching and Mexican Gothic, two new horror releases I read and reviewed recently that I whole heartedly recommend.


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Review: CARRIE, SALEM’S LOT & THE SHINING by Stephen King

Book Reviews

Ok so a while ago I mentioned I was embarking on a project to read Stephen King’s entire back catalogue in order. I’m making very slow progress to be honest, other shiny books keep capturing my attention and keeping me from moving forward. I have read his first few though, and instead of writing full reviews for every King book I read (cos that guy has wrote a lot of books) I’m gonna do mini reviews three at a time. Here’s what I thought of the first three King books.



CARRIE
King’s debut novel revolves around Carrie White, an unpopular friendless misfit and bullied high-school girl from an abusive religious household, who uses her newly discovered telekinetic powers to exact revenge on those who torment her. I started this with little idea of what to expect writing wise. I’d seen the film before, so I knew the story, but this was my first foray into King’s fiction, and from the reputation the guy has I assumed this was going to be a great read. In the end, it was fine. A decent enough read at the time but hardly memorable, with some bits I thought just didn’t work. It’s a very raw book and is unrelenting in examining how cruel people can be and in the end is a sad tale of the tragic consequences of torment and revenge. Special mention to Carrie’s mother Margaret, who is a genuinely great character. A religious fanatic with a very difficult history, a woman full of bitterness and self-loathing that she projects onto her daughter in the most appallingly abusive ways. She’s a detestable woman, but someone with a wretched past that manifests itself in ways that you can abhor, but definitely understand. I didn’t get why this was an epistolary novel though? It added nothing to the story and distracted me quite a lot from what was going on. Also, having read King’s book On Writing before this, where he laments that ‘the road to hell is paved with adverbs’, I’m just saying there sure are a lot of adverbs in this book…

SALEM’S LOT
Salem’s Lot on the other hand is a much better story. It centre’s on main character Ben Mears, a writer who returns to his hometown to discover that many of the town’s residents are becoming vampires. Aside from having two deeply sinister villainous characters in Kurt Barlow and his ‘business partner’ Richard Straker, Salem’s Lot excels at pulling back the curtain on the dark, depraved lives people lead behind closed doors. The vampire story is good, but it’s the examination of this dark side of the people who live in Salem’s Lot that really made this story work for me. My main criticism is that King had a tendency to ramble on at times, a tendency I would soon discover was not, unfortunately, a one-off.

THE SHINING
The Shining centres on the life of Jack Torrance, a struggling writer and recovering alcoholic who accepts a position as the off-season caretaker of the historic Overlook Hotel in the Colorado Rockies. His family accompanies him on the job, including his young son Danny Torrance, who possesses ‘the shining’, a psychic ability that allows him to see the hotel’s horrific past. Before long a winter storm leaves the family isolated and the supernatural forces inhabiting the hotel start affecting Jack’s sanity, putting his wife and son in terrible danger. While I found Carrie a bit meh, and Salem’s Lot good-but-rambly, The Shining was the first time I was truly impressed by King. Watching Jack’s slow descent into menacing insanity, haunted by his past and the consequences of his alcoholism, was a distressing and unnerving experience and there were points in this book where I was genuinely fearful.


Since finishing these books I’ve also read The Stand (and have actually already read and reviewed Pet Sematary, way out of order) and hope to move on to The Dead Zone soon. I’m in two minds about whether to include his novels written under his pseudonym ‘Richard Bachman’, but at the moment I’m leaning towards ‘yes’, so there’s a decent chance I’ll also read Rage and The Long Walk before that. Anyway, I’ve been saying I’d start on this project proper for a while now, so I’m glad I’ve finally begun!


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Reading update 04/10/2020

Updates

Recently Finished: SOURDOUGH by Robin Sloan
This was such a delightful book. It’s basically just the story of a computer programmer who finds happiness in baking bread when her favourite soup and sandwich takeout closes and the owners gift her their (possibly sentient?) sourdough starter. It was recommended to me by eriophora (@BasiliskBooks) on Twitter when I asked for some nice gentle reads with little stress (I’m really feeling the need for those types of stories right now) and this really hit that spot. The highest the stakes get is wondering whether or not Lois will get a spot at the local farmers market. I loved it and if you want something nice and wholesome about someone just learning to be happy then I would definitely recommend Sourdough.

Currently Reading: THE AFFAIR OF THE MYSTERIOUS LETTER by Alexis Hall
I’m a few chapters in to this one and already I absolutely adore it. It’s a sort of Lovecraftian lesbian Sherlock Holmes reimagining where ‘Holmes’ is a drug-addled sorceror tasked to investigate the attempted blackmail of her former lover. Told from the perspective of ‘Watson’ (Captain John Wyndham) the duo are beset by criminals, menaced by pirates, harassed by vampires, almost devoured by mad gods, and called upon to punch a shark. It’s a joyous, bizarre and unapologetically fun story and again, a perfect fit for the kinds of stories I feel like reading at the mo.

Next Read: WHEN THE TIGER CAME DOWN THE MOUNTAIN by Nghi Vo
Tor Books sent me this ARC and I can’t tell you how excited I am to read it. It’s Nghi Vo’s follow up to her majestic The Empress of Salt and Fortune, which was a story whose words flowed through my mind like silk over soft skin. Set in the same world and part of The Singing Hills Cycle, it’s nevertheless a standalone that reunites us with the cleric Chih, who finds themself and their companions at the mercy of a band of fierce tigers who ache with hunger. To stay alive until the mammoths can save them, Chih must unwind the intricate, layered story of the tiger and her scholar lover – a woman of courage, intelligence, and beauty – and discover how truth can survive becoming history.


Let me know in the comments what you’re reading at the mo, I love to chat about the books we’re all reading. And hey, if you enjoyed this update why not follow the blog for more reviews and bookish chat.

Review: THE ONLY GOOD INDIANS by Stephen Graham Jones

Book Reviews

THE ONLY GOOD INDIANS is like nothing I’ve ever read before. Described as a tale of revenge, cultural identity and the cost of breaking from tradition, it follows four Native American men who are tracked and hunted by a malevolent entity after a disturbing event from their youth puts them in a desperate struggle for their lives, leaving them helpless as the culture and traditions they left behind catch up to them in a violent, vengeful way.



I’ll tell you what I loved about this book, and that’s the superb characterisation and atmospheric tension-building. Lewis, Gabe and Cass are such real characters. They’re no saints, they’re deeply flawed in many ways and yet they’re fundamentally good, worthy people. There’s an almost twisted slice-of-life vibe to the first part of the book where we’re invited into Lewis’ life as a postal worker, meet his partner, friends and his dog while slowly watching him psychologically unravelled by the weight of his guilt. One of my favourite things about this book is that for a long time I couldn’t tell if there was anything supernatural going on at all or whether this was more of a psychological horror about the effects of guilt, remorse and the lengths people can go to in their search for redemption. The truth is it’s both, and for me great horror writers are the ones who are able to tell a story about the human experience while tying it up in some aspect of otherworldliness. I realise that sounds pretentious as anything haha, but when you dissect good horror I think that’s what it is, and Jones excels at it.

There’s a fair amount of gruesome violence and I’d forgive you for rolling your eyes and dismissing this book if I was to describe it as slasher revenge horror, and it kind of is, except that it’s also very smart and doesn’t resemble any of the tropey mess that makes up the core of that genre. Instead there’s genuine tension and palpable fear, uncertainty is instilled in the minds of both the reader and the characters and the result is a story that feels both vibrant and unnerving. It’s a book whose premise is deeply-rooted in Native American history, mythology and culture and while I was unfamiliar with most of these references prior to reading the book, it was still accessible enough to someone as ignorant as I am to still grasp how important this culture is to the characters and still feel compelled by the plot. In fact one of the strongest parts of this story was the complicated relationship the characters have with their own culture and is a major theme of the book.

The Only Good Indians is a strange book with a unique writing style that worked for me in some ways but did leave me confused in others. It’s an unsettling horror book and there’s this combination of colloquial, but also disjointed, prose that’s pretty darn masterful at keeping you simultaneously comfortable and close to the characters and yet really on edge the whole fucking time. Having finished the book I can absolutely see what Jones was doing with his storytelling and I appreciate his skill in pulling it off (it’s actually quite impressive from a craft perspective) but sometimes it took a lot of work to keep on top of and there was more than one occasion where I had to skip back a few pages to make sure I knew what was happening. I went into this book knowing nothing about the author, or even a great deal about the plot, and just wasn’t prepared for how unorthodox the writing would be, so I’d say if you’re into unsettling horror with some pretty gruesome violence you should read The Only Good Indians, but be aware going in that you’re just gonna have to roll with the weirdness at times and accept it and I think you’ll get a lot more out of it that way. Overall an unnerving, challenging book with lots of smart things to say about the development of indigenous culture.


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State Of The Blog

Updates

Happy Sunday bookwyrms, hope you’re all having a lovely book-filled weekend. And hey, thanks so much for all the blogiversary well wishes, I was overwhelmed by all you fine folks getting in touch, you’re the best.

And on that note, having taken a week off to recover from the madness of the blog’s birthday week, I’m happy to say I’ve been busy preparing a new and improved schedule for Parsecs & Parchment! Long term followers probably know I’m not the most organised of bloggers haha. I have a very haphazard approach to what I post and when – a review here, an update there and no consistent days or schedule to set your watch by. But that’s all about to change!

So what can you look forward to from P&P in the future?

First off, the bread and butter of the blog isn’t changing; the backbone of the blog is still gonna be the much-beloved stalwart of the blogging community, the hardy book review, all meat and potatoes like. Only difference is I’ll be posting them on a regular schedule (get me, right?). So you can look forward to at least one review a week, posted every Thursday, and should I start building up a glut of backlogged reviews there may even be some super special bonus posts from time to time if you just can’t get enough review goodness.

Second (and I’ve been thinking about this for a while) I’ll be starting a Comic Club that I’ll be hosting at least once a month on a Tuesday, where I try and work my way through the significant pile of graphic novels and trade paperback comic collections that make up a significant chunk of my TBR. One post a month is a minimum so if I get really into something for a while there could well be some bonus posts here too.

Third, author interviews! In my head I wanted this to be a feature from the blog’s inception, but I just wasn’t organised enough to make it a regular thing. You can still check out my interview with the wonderful Gareth L. Powell, author of the superb Embers of War books, that I did back in September 2019. I’ve already got an interview lined up with Deck Matthews, author of The Riven Realm series, and lots of ideas for other authors I’d like to collar for a chat, so keep your eyes peeled for those.

On top of that I’ll still be posting my reading updates whenever I’ve got new stuff to talk about, as well as a periodic non-fiction edition that readers responded to very positively when I did this as a one-off a few months back. I’ll also be creating an archive page where you can easily access past reviews, as well as commissioning a custom logo for the site now I’ve proven I’m in it for the long haul. I’ve also been toying with the idea of a total cosmetic overhaul, though I’m still not sure about that. I actually like the minimalist aesthetic I’ve got going at the mo, but it does bug me that the homepage doesn’t have a layout that displays a bunch of recent posts in tidy little boxes for easy browsing. And finally, I quite like the idea of committed followers getting to know me a bit better. I do think my personality shines through in my writing somewhat but I think once a month I’m gonna start doing a round up of the month gone by, what I’ve read and reviewed, but also just a little bit about what’s been going on with me for those who might be interested. I know a few other bloggers who do this and I personally like it a lot, makes the community we’re part of feel that much more friendly and accessible, you know 🙂

That’s about it for now. There are a couple other things that I’d quite like to do, but at the risk of taking on too much at once I’m gonna hold back on them for now. In the meantime I hope you enjoy all the juicy goodness you can look forward to squeezing out of Parsecs & Parchment in the near future. Happy reading bookwyrms!


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1st Birthday Celebrations!!!

Updates

Cut the cake and pop the champagne, it’s Parsecs & Parchment’s first blogiversary! I feel like I’m stuck in some kind of time warp cos, despite 2020 lasting for seven years already, it only feels like yesterday I posted my first review. The world might be a trash fire right now but I’m glad to say amidst it all I’ve found a great community of like-minded book lovers to escape from it all from time to time.



I was actually on holiday in Nice, France around this time last year when I decided I wanted to start a blog (holidays, remember them?). I’d started listening to Calvin Park’s Under A Pile of Books podcast and binged through all the episodes while sitting on the balcony of my Airbnb sipping Carrefour rosé cider in the warm dusk of the Côte d’Azur. I’d also started following some of the folks from The Fantasy Inn on Twitter, noteably Sara and Jenia, who happened to be organising a readathon around the same time. I enjoyed getting involved in that and found this little community so welcoming I just wanted to be more involved. I don’t think they know it, but right at the start it was these three folks that did the most to make me feel welcome and encouraged me to be part of the online book community. So a special thanks to them, I raise my glass to you.

Obviously since then I’ve made new pals who share my love of all things speculative and found a bunch of other really quite wonderful blogs to follow. The recommendations I’ve got from you all have improved my reading life immeasurably.

I was a big SFF nerd beforehand obviously, but in hindsight the range of books I was exposed to was quite homogenous and I wasn’t adventurous at all, despite what protestations past me might have had if you told him that. Not to say none of those books were any good (I still think A Song of Ice and Fire is one of the best fantasy series I’ve ever read, despite how unfashionable that might be now) but over the past year my horizons have expanded beyond recognition and some of my now favourite authors are writers who I would likely never have heard of without the book community.

Jade City and Jade War by Fonda Lee are hands down some of the best fiction I’ve ever read; everything P. Djèlí Clark has ever written blows me away; Snow Over Utopia by Rudolfo A. Serna and Coil by Ren Warom, both published by small press Apex Publications; and most recently I’ve finally started getting into some of the fantastic self-published fiction that graces the shelves of the SFF world these days, with books like The First of Shadows by Deck Matthews and The Sword of Kaigen by M. L. Wang. These are just a small selection of the amazing books I’ve encountered over the last year that otherwise I simply would not know about.

So I owe a big debt of gratitude to all you guys, for your recommendations and insightful reviews, as well as for your kindness and warmth in welcoming a new member into your flock. Here’s to you all and long may our little community flourish. Cheers!


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Reading Update 20/09/2020

Updates

Recently Finished: THE FIRST OF SHADOWS by Deck Matthews
I decided to pick this up after reading Rin’s review on her blog The Thirteenth Shelf. Rin is someone whose reading opinions I value a lot when it comes to books I’d also like as we share a lot of opinions on what makes a good story. THE FIRST OF SHADOWS is a frenetically-paced high fantasy novella(!!!) that packs a ton of engrossing world-building and heart-pounding action into a very small space. I’ll be writing a full review soon and also delighted to announce an upcoming interview with Deck Matthews himself, so keep your eyes peeled.

Currently Reading: THE ONLY GOOD INDIANS by Stephen Graham Jones
This is my first Stephen Graham Jones book and I’ve struggled to settle into it. A dark blending of classic horror and dramatic narrative, it follows four American Indian men after a disturbing event from their youth puts them in a desperate struggle for their lives. Tracked by an entity bent on revenge, these childhood friends are helpless as the culture and traditions they left behind catch up to them in a violent, vengeful way. The story is interesting but the prose is quite odd and I find I’m having to do a lot of going back over stuff to understand what’s going on, which is affecting my enjoyment somewhat.

Next Read: THE SWORD OF KAIGEN by M. L. Wang
I’ve wanted to read this one for a while after hearing everyone in the book community rave about it for months. I don’t know anyone who has a bad word to say about it and I thought what better time to finally dive in than Self Published Fantasy Month 🙂


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An Experience of Horror & the Sacramental by Alexander Pyles

Updates

Before jumping into this, I do want to thank Jon for hosting me and helping him celebrate his blog this week! It was a lot of fun to contribute something and join all the other book lovers here!


I am a relative newcomer when it comes to horror. I have primarily been a scifi or fantasy reader for most of my fiction life. I have since only just begun reading the genre as of three to four years ago. I dipped in years previously, reading the occasional classic from King. It wasn’t until I read Thomas Ligotti’s THE CONSPIRACY AGAINST THE HUMAN RACE and David Peak’s THE SPECTACLE OF THE VOID that I realized that horror actually had a lot for me to consider.



My road to horror is certainly not paved by old 80s slashers or a love of the ghoulish, though I’ve come to appreciate the latter of late. I grew up in a fairly conservative household, which meant that I naturally avoided, if not outright scorned, these things. So it wasn’t until my direct encounters with lovers of horror that I became curious about it. I did have to shed some preconceived notions as well as ill formed misconceptions of horror and its enthusiasts, but what a surprise love that I have for the genre now.

Yet, what I keep being struck by is the intersection that horror has with my own dearly held religion, Catholicism. I was raised in a faith-filled home, driven by my mother’s own pious tendencies. There was a kind of strange relationship I had to balance with horror, because of the various subversive aspects of the genre. At least, that is what I had first believed, but thinking on it for a while now, I think it is because of my faith that horror actually makes more sense to me than any other genre.

This isn’t to say that Catholicism doesn’t have a rich history with horror. From William Peter Blatty’s THE EXORCIST to various tropes of the supernatural, cults, and the unseen, there has always been a strong, dare I say, religious undertone to the genre. Take this with a grain of salt, since as I said, I am a newcomer, but this is the source of my interest in horror as a subject.



The idea of fear and the unsettling aspects of human life are as prevalent in horror as they are in Catholicism. Horror is grounded in symbols and tropes that are made new by every writer that sets pen to paper. And like the genre, Catholicism has its own symbols in the sacraments that are repeated weekly by every member of the faith. These are the calling cards of both and they present their own similar rituals and deep faith in what they are.

The bodily experience that is perverted in say Clive Barker and others, also have strains in the experience of the martyrs. Look at some of the stories of the early saints: It has been told that St. Lucy scooped out her own eyes to deter a suitor, who admired them. St. Bartholomew, one of the twelve apostles, was flayed alive. When St. Agatha refused the local Roman Governor, he had her breasts torn off. This is not to ignore the focal point of Catholicism, Calvary and Christ’s crucifixion.

Maybe the strongest part to all of this, is the belief in something that is real. Most of horror is based upon things that were superstitions or terrible events taken to extremes. Some readers here may be quick to say that Catholicism is also based off of similar fables, of which my only response is, “Sure, if you say so.” Yet, when you sit down to read horror, especially a good horror, you give yourself over to a new reality, no matter how terrifying it might be. You live in that world for as long as the pages carry you.

Catholicism is also like this, but you carry it with you every day and every moment you are awake. Everything drips with the meaning of God and you have to choose to give yourself over to faith with every action you take. It is this tension between the two that I have found myself.

Despite the vast chasms in the subject matter at times, I cannot get away from these inherent qualities I have found in both horror and Catholicism. I’m thrilled that this is all still so new that these reflections will only grow deeper, but who’s to say if that will happen? I can’t say if the parallels drawn here will resonate with anyone or if these are just the scribblers of a novitiate, but it is my hope that maybe we can have a healthier and deeper conversation between horror and religion, wherever that might take us.


You can find Alexander on Twitter at @PylesOfBooks and on his website Pyles Of Books. Also be sure to check out his short story MILO, a science fiction tale that Gareth L. Powell described as “short, sharp and chilling”.