Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Horror Paperbacks of Ken Eulo

Newark-born author Ken Eulo celebrated his 75th birthday this past November 17th, and although I've never read nor own any of his books, they were quite big paperback bestsellers in the 1980s. Certainly I saw dozens of copies of these titles while working in a UBS in the early 1990s but I wasn't ever drawn to them. His trilogy of "Stone" novels--The Brownstone (Oct 1980); The Bloodstone (Oct 1981); and The Deathstone (Nov 1982), all from Pocket Books--are set in the urban enclaves of Manhattan, and today are available as ebooks.

According to ISFDB, there is no artist credit given for any of these titles, and you can tell there are cutouts in the covers so we're missing some nice stepback images. The only actual stepback art I could find online was for the second book, The Bloodstone--and you'll note its similarity to the iconic Flowers in the Attic (1979). That art was done by a woman named Gillian Hills. Not the Gillian Hills, I can hear you saying. Well, brace yourselves: it is the same Gillian Hills! Perhaps she was responsible for the Eulo trilogy as well.

I never tire of skulls with flowing locks; Nocturnal (Dec 1983) really goes for it, bone by bone. The Ghost of Veronica Gray (Aug 1985) would appeal to teenage girls, I suppose, but certainly not to a teenage me.

Pocket Books stopped putting out horror fiction in the late '80s, so Eulo's next couple books were published by Tor. 1988's The House of Caine features a nicely sensual lady vamp, but according to some Amazon reviewers, it's fairly terrible. Then in 1991 came Manhattan Heat, which has an uninspired mainstream cover, very Joseph Wambaugh meets Jackie Collins. According to Eulo, though, it's "about New York City, the underground subways, and zombies." Read a good behind-the-scenes, where-are-they-now interview with Eulo here.

I end asking: anybody read any of these?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Tor Paperbacks of John Farris

It wasn't only Ramsey Campbell, Graham Masterton, and Charles L. Grant whose books were adorned with garish and graphic paperback covers when published by Tor--check out the '80s output from John Farris! Some titles, like The Fury, Shatter, The Captors, and All Heads Turn When the Hunt Goes By (check out snaky Ann-Margaret on that one!), were from the 1970s and then reprinted by Tor once Farris had signed with that publisher. He was quite prolific then, and still writes even as he nears 80 (Tor published his latest novel, High Bloods, just a few years ago).

Scare Tactics (1989, cover art by Carol Russo). A collection of short fiction. The cover "demon" was also used as the icon for Tor's horror line.

Catacombs (1987/orig. 1981, cover art by James Warren). I tried reading this one, not really my thing, although it was well-written. Apparently it's a kinda-sorta retelling of King Solomon's Mines.

The Axman Cometh (1989). Was Farris an O'Neill fan? In the intro, Farris instructs readers to read this one in a single sitting. Don't know why (although one Goodreads reviewer suspects it's so you'll miss cracks in plotting and some really poor writing!).

The Uninvited (1987/orig. 1982, cover art by John Melo). King quote, check! Not related to the 1940s supernatural chiller of the same title. Dig how the ghost likes a nice button-down.

The Captors (1985, orig. 1971). Probably could not quite get away with this kind of cover art today.

Minotaur (1985). Looks like a globe-trotting political thriller. I wonder if there's an actual minotaur at the center of it all?!

Nightfall (1987). Great Southern Gothic cover!

Son of the Endless Night (1986, cover by John Melo). I read this one a few years back; it's awesome in that over-the-top '80s-horror way.

Wildwood (1986). Do yourself a solid and watch this TV promo for the paperback, featuring Zacherle! OMG I wish more horror paperback publishers had done this.

Sharp Practice (1988, orig. 1974) Love the Looney Tunes-style imagery, absurd as it is.

Shatter (1986, orig. 1981) Nobody stayed up late working on this cover.

Fiends (1990, cover by John Melo). According to the PorPor Books blog, not a must-read.

The Fury (1985, orig. 1976, cover by John Melo) The novel that made Farris's career. Melo was a master of depicting '80s hair, wasn't he?

I have most of these on my bookshelf; I really need to get to reading 'em!

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Paperback Covers of Bram Stoker's Jewel of the Seven Stars

The 167th anniversary of Bram Stoker's birth was this weekend, on Saturday the 8th. In previous years I've featured the paperback editions of Dracula and The Lair of the White Worm; this year, check out the mostly impressive covers for The Jewel of the Seven Stars (1903), a less well-known work of Stoker's, about one man's attempt to resurrect an ancient Egyptian queen.  

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson (1908): Said Into That Great Void My Soul'd Be Hurled

An unassailable classic of supernatural horror and science-fantasy, The House on the Borderland is a cosmic hallucination, a phantasmagoria of time dilation and psychedelic imagery, a monster mash of mind-expanding terror and loneliness across multiple dimensions and numberless aeons. William Hope Hodgson (1877-1918) reached for the stars and beyond and gave us a novel that would deeply affect and influence H.P. Lovecraft (and of course many other genre writers); indeed HPL never hid the fact that he was indebted to Hodgson's visionary delirium [update: not as much as I'd previously thought; see comments]. It is the well from which so much weird fiction has sprung. But is that well still worth visiting today?

...perched almost at the extreme end of a huge spur of rock that jutted out some fifty or sixty feet over the  abyss. In fact, the jagged mass of ruin was literally suspended in mid-air. 
That's the house itself, as described by the two men who are tramping through the "dismal and and sombre" wilds of west Ireland. They come upon a striking landscape, a rushing waterfall and an enormous rocky cavern. Across it stands this house on the borderland, its crumbled remains high above the abyss. One of the men finds a crumpled old notebook in the debris; before the men can make their way back to their camp, an eerie wailing rises from the woods. Filled with "haunting dread," they hightail it out of there and read the manuscript later. Said manuscript is a nameless narrator's account of his life before this house fell...

Arkham House, 1946, cover by Hannes Bok

A widower who lives with his spinster sister and dog Pepper, the narrator relates how he'd moved into the garden-surrounded house 10 years before, that locals had said the devil built it, and that as years passed he became "aware of something unseen, yet unmistakably present, in the empty rooms and corridors." I'll say. Soon he's exploring the lightless depths of that chasm--"the Pit," he calls it--and battling with loathsome swine-monsters who swarm over the house! And that's not all.

One evening, the narrator is sitting in his chair and finds everything about him has become an insubstantial mist, and begins the first of several bodiless travels through the space/time continuum. It's the kind of thing would put the climax of 2001 to shame; eventually he's zipping along the cosmos, watching the Sun die, the earth freeze, stars born, collapse, and reborn. At one point he sees his own lifeless body still sitting in a chair and all covered in dust, sees his own home on a vast Plain in some other reality, crawling with creatures as in his own reality. Cosmic horror, complete with its incomprehensible deities and endless vistas, begins here.
Far to my right, away up among inaccessible peaks, loomed the enormous bulk of the great Ass-god. Higher, I saw the hideous form of the dread goddess, rising up through the red gloom, thousands of fathoms above me. To the left, I made out the monstrous Eyeless-Thing, grey and inscrutable. Further off, reclining on its lofty ledge, the livid ghoul-Shape showed--a splash of sinister colour, among the dark mountains. 
Hodgson was a badass athlete/author and died in battle in WWI

The ending itself you've read a million times before, but in the early 20th century I doubt it had been done much before then. Lovecraft popularized it but it quickly became a hokey cliché and I think you'll agree. And after the whirlwind of interstellar visions I think you'll find the climax a bit underwhelming. But. If you reorient your imagination by jettisoning from your memory the fiction it inspired, then House works like nothing before it. Even Hodgson's old-fashioned and comma-riddled prose can't impede on the power of some of the more hypnotic, disorienting passages.
Ace Books, 1962, cover by Ed Emshwiller, accurate depiction of events within!
House is almost two books in one, and my reaction to it was in places mixed. I enjoyed the adventure/horror of the narrator's battle with the Swine-people in the first part of the narrative but later found the seemingly endless pages of space-travel tedious. There seemed to be no anchor to the flights of fancy; just more and more riffing on the bizarre nature of traveling through the space-time flux, colored globes floating about, the sun speeding across the sky and changing colors, the world spinning faster and faster into the void--much like Lovecraft's fantasy tales, which were never my favorite of his. But Lovecraft shares with Hodgson a fascination, an obsession really, with the unexplored deeps beneath homes, beneath the earth, of places where other realities can slip through into ours, of an indifferent malevolence threaded through the very warp and woof of our universe.

Lots of good paperback editions have been released over the years, as you can see. My copy is the red one at top, Carroll & Graf, 1983; it and this one from Sphere, 1980, play down the cosmic angle in favor of the hulking, drooling, terrifying swine-people--and you'll note how prominently Lovecraft's name is featured on most covers (the quote is from his famed and essential Supernatural Horror in Literature).

The midnight-blues of this edition from Freeway Press, 1974 evoke the emptiness of outer space and the utter solitude the narrator feels when he's hurtling through it.

Manor Books, 1977. I'm struggling to recall if an ear of corn played any role in the story; that looks like a farmhouse on drought-struck land; pretty sure this cover was meant for a different novel entirely.

Panther Books, 1972. The ever-stunning Ian Miller's jacket art is delectably creepy and awesome; it well captures the wonkiness of Hodgson's visions.  

So in whichever edition you may read The House on the Borderland, it'll be easy to see how it achieved its hallowed place in the pantheon of classic horror fiction. It's not always scary but it is always weird. Hodgson wrote other highly-regarded fantasy novels, like The Night-Land (1912) and The Boats of the "Glen Carrig" (1907) but it's this House upon which his reputation is built.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Bloody Books of Halloween Continues!

Everybody be sure to read Grady Hendrix's latest Bloody Books of Halloween review of the outrageous 1991 novel Wurm by Matthew J. Costello! My God, what a blast it sounds like. Anyway Costello's got some other excellently skeletal '80s and early '90s paperback covers as well:


Friday, October 17, 2014

The Bloody Books of Halloween!

We had so much fun with the Summer of Sleaze series on that author Grady Hendrix and I are joining forces again in a kind of literary countdown to All Hallows' Eve. We've dubbed it The Bloody Books of Halloween! Here's my first post and here is Grady's. Today I have a review of a seasonal classic...

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Ringstones by Sarban (1951): When the Whip Comes Down

"The past is never dead. It's not even past." So goes one of Faulkner's great quotes and it applies to Ringstones completely. First published in 1951, it was written by British diplomat John William Wall (1910-1989), under his pen name Sarban, by which also wrote two other genre novels, The Sound of His Horn and The Dollmaker (all published Stateside by Ballantine Books in the early 1960s). Akin to the literate pagan chillers of Arthur Machen and set in a near-supernatural landscape such as Algernon Blackwood wrote of, Ringstones is an eerie, understated rumination on the ability of history to insinuate itself into the present in terrible ways.

That gloriously evocative paperback cover of the titular objects and the British moorland wilds seemingly aswirl with ghosts and fancies, by the legendary Richard M. Powers, is a tad misleading; only a couple scenes are so tinged with windswept mystery, and I didn't find the story really "mordant" at all, but perhaps if I were a British citizen of the mid-20th century I would have found Ringstones "having or showing a sharp or critical quality; biting" as the dictionary definition goes. But really, that is one helluva cover.

We begin with an unnamed narrator talking about "Daphne Hazel's manuscript," and how the woman was a school friend of the narrator's pal Piers Debourg. Piers has received this item in the post and wants the narrator to read it. It's a perplexing, unsettling document, written longhand in a school notebook. Could it possibly be true? She seemed such a level-headed girl. After a couple pages of this, we get to the tale proper, and we are reading Daphne's story.

Original 1951 hardcover, UK

A student at a girls' school that prizes physical athleticism, Daphne is told of a job by one of the students' favorite teachers, and meets with the man looking for a young woman to help care for children in his charge living on his family estate at Ringstones (again, I'm not a British citizen, so I guess these kinds of prehistoric "ringstones" are common in the countryside--all I know about this I learned from Spinal Tap). The man is Dr. Ravelin, a formal, studious, and elderly man, given to rambling lectures on archaeology, anthropology, and comparative mythology (reminding me of my days of reading Joseph Campbell) and the reader would do well to pay close attention, as sometimes Daphne Hazel does not. His estate sits on grounds of a vanished civilization from prehistory, and he ruminates moodily about it:
"Elves, fairies, giants, magicians--certainly not just ordinary human beings must have raised these circles... a church chooses to sit up a heathen temple. perhaps these ancient stones hold down something far more ancient, something far stranger than the men who placed them understood. Some queer feet have danced here, I feel."
She travels to Ringstones Hall and meets her charges: young teenage boy Nuaman and two girls, Ianthe and Marvan. They're not British, but she is unable to discern, or find out from the children themselves, where they're from or why they're there. The just are. But her time with them is idyllic, frolicking in the gardens or the green fields, splashing in nearby lakes and creeks, playing rambunctious athletic and made-up games: "They were creatures of summer and some country of the sun." The girls hardly speak but Nuaman is precocious, vibrant, secretive, and takes to Daphne with an open and eager manner, almost flirtatious even. It's all fun to read, as Daphne's writing is light but descriptive, insightful but not pedantic (compare to the unnamed narrator's convoluted stylings). Of the children, she writes:
Marvan and Ianthe followed [Nuaman and me] in our comings and goings, always reserved and shy and a little behind. He gave them little orders--or what seemed to orders--in their language, always softly and gaily, and they obeyed promptly, fetching and carrying for him as an English girl might fetch and carry for an adored brother years younger than herself...
(It's that phrase "little orders" that the reader should alight upon.) Also at Ringstones are Armenian caretakers the Sarkissians, a husband and wife. Katia is the young housekeeper, a Polish girl who doesn't seem to be quite all there. Is it simply the language barrier, or is her mental state compromised? Legends of invisible little troll-like people in the forest who kidnap young women frighten her, and she has a frustrating tendency to mispronounce English words and turn them into something more than gibberish; she mispronounces them into sounding like other English words. When she tells Daphne that she is a "displeased parson," it takes a few moments to realize Katia means she is a "displaced person," that is, someone who lost their home due to the war. Later, she will tell Daphne that Nuaman--"Mr. No Man" as she says--"weeps." This boggles Daphne's mind: surely such a self-possessed and authoritative teen boy does not weep.

Knowing Katia's mixing of vowel sounds, I said her words out loud in that order: weep. Wap? Wep? Wip? Wop? Wup? Nonsense. Wait. Wip. Nuaman wip... Got it! Nuaman whips. Oh. Shit. That doesn't sound good...

There are two major scenes that are perfectly composed: first, when Daphne gets lost on the boggy, almost hostile moors--as if the road hid itself, she notes--and second, a dream sequence Freud would have killed to analyze. Then, at the end of her narrative, Daphne wakes one night, walks out into the moonlight, and seems to find herself in Roman times, in that era Dr. Ravelin was fascinated by. Sarkissian appears, rough-edged and darkly-natured, and attaches to her bracelet a dog lead, and talks dirty to her in a coded, archaic country tongue: "You've a fancy to be yoked out, eh? Well, no man never drove a prettier pair. No, you're going to be put to school, Miss." Yikes! He will lead Daphne to Nuaman, to the mystery lurking in her dream, one that reaches out to the present day. The climax chills even as it confounds; we both understand and are mystified by Sarban's intimations.

I didn't read the back cover copy so as not to spoil my reading whatsoever; however that left me totally blind as to what was going on, even while it was going on! The more I thought about it, though, Sarban's shaggy-dog story rather came together. Now his other titles are definitely on my to-own-and-read list, and Ringstones is easy to recommend to readers who like their Machen and their Blackwood--although perhaps not to those who like their horror fiction loud and bloody. Me, I found the hints of ancient gods and mythical creatures, chthonic powers and illicit desires hidden in unspoiled nature just behind this veil of (oh-so-British) modernity, quite bewitching.

"I want to keep you here forever," Nuaman said, still gripping my hand hard.
"Ah well, you can't do that, you know. Everything has to end. Except a circle."
"A circle!" he exclaimed. "But Ringstones is a circle. And, look! We've made a complete circle now, and as we've made this we begin another. You never can come to the end of Ringstones." 
"Can't we?" said I.