Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Day #14: {Intermission: Horror Books}

It turns out that watching 30 films (that I've never watched before) in 30 days is entirely possible but writing a short bit about them that does them justice or makes sense is harder than it seems.
There's some sh*t out there, worse than stuff I've written about, stuff I've tried to watch but had to turn off - I think suffering 'The Human Centipede 2' and 'The ABCs of Death' is a little much for one month and definitely tainted what I could watch after, and ultimately ruin the entire concept of horror for me - defining it as grotesque 'gore porn' with no real purpose.

So, I'm giving myself a break and writing about some other horror that I genuinely love. So, in no specific order, I present:

Horror Books That You Should Read (if you haven't done so already)

The Shining - Stephen King
Stephen King may not be on the top of his game lately, but his well-earned reputation as a master of horror was pretty much set in stone with books like this. Great broken characters who are scary without the looming horror-show, a haunting location, and King at the top of his game. This book appears on pretty much every list of great horror novels, and it damn well deserves to be too.
OK, he doesn't always nail the ending, but with a book this good I'll forgive that.
It also served as the basis for Stanley Kubrick's film of the same name; which earns the title of "Shit Adaptation, Great Movie In Its Own Right".

House of LeavesMark Z Danielewski 
This is a confusing claustrophobic nightmare of a book; well a book overlaid on another book and stuffed with appendices and references. This could easily be quickly described as 'The Blair Witch Project' of books, but it's so much more than any one description would cover. It's also quite a hefty book and because of it's layout can be quite difficult to read - one narrators text may be laid horizontally beside another's pages of vertical text, going on for pages without a break or a pause to give you a chance to read either independently.
If nothing else it's a fascinating book, that Danielewski hasn't quite matched since. This book though, even if you don't finish it it deserves a shot. It's haunting and unique.

John Dies At The End - David Wong
This is easily the dumbest entry on the list, and one of the most enjoyable. It's also the book I'll go full hipster on. The first copy of this book I bought was from David Wong's Cafe Press site, and as a result of that site I think I'm one of the few copies with no pages missing or weird misprints. Every subsequent printing I bought a copy of because what started as a few short stories on the internet grew and grew until it supported itself as a book and took off and I loved it so much that I wanted to be sure it had my support.
It's full of grand dick jokes, and subtle plays on words, but pure horror at its core. The film adaptation was a great companion piece but couldn't match the humour and horror in these pages. It also opened up the idea of the book to a whole load of new fans, this book deserves that kind of adoration because it's one of the first books I saw grow from the internet and still one of the best.

World War Z - Max Brooks
The film adaptation may have squandered every scrap of potential this book has, but that's underselling it. This book is what should define zombie fiction, and be the high water mark for all zombie fiction, films, books, tv shows - the audiobook version of this book also plays out as one of the best radio-plays you could imagine. 
Chapter to chapter features a different narrator as a journalist travels the world interviewing everyone in every area of society in an effort to make the most comprehensive oral history of the Zombie War. Seriously, even if you don't intend to read this book get the audiobook, the shifting narrators are all played by the greatest cast possible - Max Brooks, Carl Reiner, Simon Pegg, Nathan Fillion, Jeri Ryan, Alan Alda, Mark Hamill, Denise Crosby, Martin Scorsese for-cryin'-out-loud! The list goes on!
The stories are frightening and compelling telling tales of human and zombies horrors played out in the most realistic fashion that it makes you genuinely fearful of a zombie apocalypse, and with the saturation point on zombie-fiction having been breached a long time ago this book makes a great case to disregard everything else and hold this it in the highest regards.

The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories - H.P. Lovecraft
I honestly don't know what gushing I can do about Lovecraft that hasn't been done before. Haunting, frightening, and written in a genre defining gothic style. His influence is everywhere, but his tales and prose hold up so well as to make everything else seem like pale reflections which can never be anything more than sad shadows of this work.
Read these. Read all of these right now if you've never read one of his stories. Seriously. Stop reading this blog and anything else. Just these. Then come back.

Skulduggery Pleasant - Derek Landy
Irish writer Derek Landy, writer of horror films 'Dead Bodies' and 'Boy Eats Girl' found the best outlet for his style of horror and humour in his Skulduggery Pleasant novels. They feature an undead skeleton detective, the title character, who protects a young girl who inherited her uncle's house only to discover that the horror stories he made his money from are all pretty much accounts of Skulduggery's adventures. So, she eventually gets caught up in it all 
Yes, if you were going to put a label on it you might call it "Young Adult Fiction", but that'd be a really shitty thing to label it as, because if a book's a good book then why not just label it as a "good book".
For a while I used to mentally separate Young Adult Fiction as just books that don't have swearing or graphic descriptions or sex in them, but a lot of them deal with adult ideas a lot better than any supposedly "grown up" books I've read; so now they're just books, and if anyone asks me why I'm reading the "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events Books" it's because underneath their cartoonish fronts they address things like death and loss a lot better than most things I've read.
The Skulduggery Pleasant series do horror, and they do it well. Blades whose wounds never heal, dead gods rising to destroy the world, pretty graphic deaths, pretty much a lot of standard horror fare gets dealt out in damn well told and addictive way. These books wear their influences with pride, the Lovecraftian lore they're laid on top of give a nice familiar setting for horror fans while Landy lays his own story and characters on top of it.
The fact that the second book plays out like a creature feature (my favourite type of thing) with the attempted resurrection of a dead god, and the third like a cult-stopping detective story gives the books time to explore different sub-genres of horror stories within its own world. They're fun and definitely worth your time.

The Terror - Dan Simmons
It was a toss up between this and 'Song of Kali' for Dan Simmons. This won out because I can't even think of a single chapter without getting a chill down my spine. Figurative and literal chills, and the icy landscape is so well rendered and the struggles of the crew so finely told that it made me shiver every time I picked it up to read. A ship named The Terror, human terrors and a monstrous one pervade this telling of Captain Sir John Franklin's lost expedition to the Arctic.
In that classic sense, a book transports you to another place, this book does that and it's a cold and hostile environment.

Side Note: This book also hold a special place with weird coincidences for me. Soon after finishing it my girlfriend arrived back from a trip to London, having bought me souvenirs of old newspaper cuttings and vintage magazines with cool pictures on them. One of them containing illustrations accompanying a report on the incident from October 13th, 1849. Even by itself, without the book connection, it's a great looking extract that I have framed in my room:

Hellboy - Mike Mignola 
No, my love of books would not be complete without at least one graphic novel. I didn't know where to start with throwing my love of Hellboy into words so I just went with the very beginning. The arts, stories, and again delightfully played upon Lovecraftian lore of this series are a marvel. It's a beautiful piece of work, of which only a fraction came through in the film adaptation. Read Hellboy and enjoy every panel and word and familiar story tempered into a world where the solution is for a demon with a right hand of solid stone punches or shoots the shit out of it. Evil scientists, gods, demons, monsters from folklore all cross paths in an amazing piece of work that serves as one of my all-time favourite comfort reads.

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