Horror Fiction

Kim Newman: Dracula Cha-Cha-Cha

Anno Dracula - Dracula Cha Cha Cha by Kim…

After Victorian England and World War I, the third volume of Newman’s Anno Dracula series moves to Rome in 1959 and (for the appended novella) London in 1968. As usual, this installement is crammed full with open and hidden references to all kinds of pop culture, sometimes just barely managing to not bury the story under the avalanche of allusions. It always manages to claw its way out from underneath them however, and both novel and novella remain great fun to read.

They are, however, quite different in tone, which I think is due not just to the varying length and different time periods, but also because they both follow quite different templates. The general atmosphere and elements of the basic plot both appear to be based on movies – for Dracula Cha-Cha-Cha that are the over-the-top, extremely artifial horror movies of the Italian Giallo genre of the 70s, in particular those directed by Dario Argento, and for Aquarius another italian film by an Italian director, namely Blow-Up by Michelangelo Antonioni. Some readers seem not to have liked the novella as much as they did the novel, but for my part I am very impressed at how different they are from each other and how Newman manages to adapt to the divergent period styles without being too obtrusive about it – he is actually treading a very fine line here, on the one hand to match his style to the time the stories take place in, and on the other hand to keep the voice of shared protagonist Katie Reed recognisably the same in both texts. It is a testimony to Kim Newman’s quality as a writer that he pulls off this balancing act and appears to do so effortlessly.

Overall, this is nothing too deep, but a great yarn that I found very enjoyable to read – not just for the story but also for the way Kim Newman presents and handles it; there is a lot to admire there. I really need to read more by his guy, and branch out to his non-Anno Dracula novels, too.

Kim Newman: The Bloody Red Baron

Kim Newman may not have invented the mash-up genre (but then, he possibly may) but he is undoubtedly its premier virtuoso: In his seminal novel Anno Dracula he presents readers with an appropriately grimy and realistic Victorian London, and then fills it with vampires and a whole host of literary characters. I hesitated quite a while before reading the novel, because even though the concept seemed like fun, I was not sure whether the execution would live up to it. As it turned out, it did, and then some; and in consequence I did not hesitate at all to acquire the sequel to Anno Dracula, which is at least as enjoyable as its predecessor.

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Amanda Downum: Dreams of Shreds and Tatters

I am a huge fan of Amanda Downum’s Necromancer Chronicles, and I have to confess that I was more than a bit disappointed to learn that her new novel, Dreams of Shreds and Tatters, was not part of that series (and I still hope that she’ll get the chance to continue it one day). That disappointment, however, did not even survive the five or so pages of the Prologue; by then I was totally gripped by what turned out another brilliant novel by that author (who is on her way of becoming one of my favourite writers of speculative fiction).

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Adam Nevill: House of Small Shadows

I’m not exactly an avid reader of Horror Fiction, but do enjoy the occasional foray into that area. When I do, one of the things I find fascinating about it is finding out what it is the author wants his reader to perceive as frightening. That’s not always as obvious as it might seem, but in the case of Adam Nevill’s novel House of Small Shadows, it’s fairly clear pretty much from the start: dolls and taxidermy – two things whose high creep factor will be obvious to most people.

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What I’m Reading: Phil Rickman – Midwinter of the Spirit

This is the second novel in Phil Rickman’s Merrily Watkins series, and like the first one it is an odd and unexpected mixture of cozy mystery and horror novel that manages to work surprisingly well. This time, Rickman moves the supernatural rather more into the foreground than it was in The Wine of Angels where it was only a very subtle presence that might very well not have existed at all. In Midwinter of the Spirit (I really love that title), we have ghosts, demonic possession, satanism – a whole range of supernatural phenomena. It is getting almost too much, and one can’t help but feel that Rickman is laying it on a bit too thick with an ending of almost apocalyptic proportions. Still, he manages to keep things in balance, if just barely, and never comes quite down on the side of a supernatural explanation of events; also there is a definite sense that human greed and ambition are at least as evil as any supernatural forces.

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Book Diary: Catching Up

Due to my recent blogging slump I’ve fallen far behind on keeping up with the books I’ve read, pretty much beyond hope of ever catching up by way of regular blogging (at least for someone as fundamentally lazy as myself). Considering that the main purpose of this blog is to keep track of my reading, I did not want to just skip them like I did last year in a similar situation (and still regret doing), but constantly dragging two months behind is not an appealing prospect either, I’m finding it rather more fun to write about books while they’re still fresh in my mind. So I’ve decided to do a catch-up post that will bring me up to date (or at least close enough) where I basically just write a sentence or two on most of the books that I’ve read in October and November. I’m hoping to be able to return to at least some of them (Checkmate and Hydrogen Sonata in particular) for a more extensive post, but at least they won’t drop completely under the table.

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What I’m Reading: Caitlín Kiernan – Silk

The author clearly loves language, and loves descriptions and every reader who loves those too will enjoy Silk immensely. It is a first novel, so there is some tendency to overindulge herself – there is hardly a sentence here that does not contain at least one metaphor or two similes, but Caitlín Kiernan’s prose is so luscious and sensuous that complaining about this in the face of so much too enjoy would seem rather petty.

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What I’m Reading: Adam Nevill – The Ritual

I suspect that one of the reasons why I do not read much horror fiction is that it just does not get at me. I can (and quite often do) tear up over a good Romance novel, but horror fiction, while I can appreciate and enjoy it intellectually, for the most part leaves me cold emotionally. Which The Ritual, Adam Nevill’s third novel (and his second one I have read), also did – but in the sense that it was giving me the chills. And on a hot day in July, too. This really is one scary novel, and if it even impressed me who am usually indifferent to that particular aspect of the genre, I assume that it will frighten the beejesus out of afficionados (unless they already are too jaded and barely twitch an eyebrow at even the scariest of tales).

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What I’m Reading: Robert Jackson Bennett – Mr. Shivers

This book had me hooked right from the first pages which consist of a highly atmospheric description of hobos riding a freight train in Depression era USA. It is not a realistic account (at least not necessarily so, for all I know it might be extensively researched and historicaRobert Jackson Bennett lly extremely accurate, I am simply not competent to judge), but the characters in Mr. Shivers move through a scenery that owes at least as much to myth and legend as it does to history. This is not quite obvious at the novel’s outset – at first it is just a nagging feeling that things are more than they appear and that there might be more to this tale of revenge we are apparently being told than meets the eye. As the novel progresses, that feeling continues to creep up on the reader, intensifying steadily; but it is only at the end, when all cards are on the table, that we find out what the true stakes are.

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What I’m Reading: Clark Ashton Smith – The Return of the Sorcerer

Like C.L. Moore, whose Jirel of Jory stories I read recently, Clark Ashton Smith was a pulp author writing during roughly the first half of the twentieth century; in fact, he was, besides Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft, one of the mainstays of Weird Tales. He is markedly lesser known and (supposedly) read than the others today, but not necessarily a worse writer for that; in many aspects I would even consider him the most interesting of the three.

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