- The Inhuman Condition by Clive Barker - Barker rose to prominence in the mid-80s by, of all things, writing short stories. They were so imaginative and evocative that they picked up a lot of admirers, and were collected into a series of compilations called the Books of Blood. This is the fourth volume in the series, published as The Inhuman Condition in the US. I picked this up at a used book store on my recent vacation, thinking that it would be perfect 6WH reading, and I wasn't wrong. Barker is an excellent writer of horror, able to tap into something deep and archetypal, while still feeling fresh and new. I don't often read short story collections because of their inherent inconsistency, but this is a particularly good set of stories (even for the Books of Blood). I won't detail each one, but the opening story is a sorta proto-Hellbound Heart with a group of punk kids beating up a vagrant and stealing a piece of string that has a series of knots that represent a sort of puzzle that once opened... well, I'll leave it at that. There's another story about our hands rising up in revolution (that was not a typo), one about a preacher, his wife, and some ghosts, one about a man who attempts to create hell on earth, and finally, a story about a potent aphrodisiac that works a little too well. This might be the best entry in the series, which is rapidly dwindling for me (only the 6th volume remains). Fortunately, it's looking like Barker's Scarlet Gospels will finally (after 20+ years of teasing) be published, so look for a review next year. In the meantime, this is a solid set of horrific short stories.
- The Burning Men by Christopher Farnsworth - I've long been a fan of Farnsworth's Nathaniel Cade novels where a vampire serves the President of the United States by fighting off creepy ghouls and the like. Yes, it's very trashy, but a whole boatload of fun (for reference, the best description of what you're in for in this series is this moment from the second book, which "opened with Bin Laden's assassination-by a vampire who stuffed a grenade in his mouth and then threw him over a cliff so he exploded in midair. Also, Bin Laden was actually a giant lizard, genetically modified by a vast international conspiracy of reptilian humanoids.") The last book, Red, White, and Blood was actually fantastic, but Farnsworth has taken a break from the series to tackle some other novels. In the meantime, he wrote this quick novella where Cade and his human handler Zach fight an outbreak of spontaneous human combustion. It turns out demons are responsible! Or something like that. It's not a particularly meaty tale, and there's not really much of a challenge for Cade, but it's just fun to be around these characters. Alas, it will probably be a while before the next book in the series... but I will read it when it comes out.
- Weird Pennsylvania: Your Travel Guide to Pennsylvania's Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets - There used to be this newsletter called Weird NJ, where these guys would travel all over New Jersey and find local urban legends, crazy happenings, and other things. It became so successful that the guys have expanded to other states, recruiting crazy people to track down all the wacky hauntings and weirdness local to whatever state. A well researched academic take, this is not, but it's always fun reading about urban legends, like Pittsburg's Green Man or one of Kaedrin's local tales - Satan Church. Much of this is creepy, but a lot of it is just silly stuff, like the quest for Midgetville (a rumor that seems to exist all throughout the country, but persists particularly in this area). Ghostly handprints, closed roads, Satan's grave, portals to hell, and hey, Spontaneous Human Combustion! It's a fun little book, if a little slight. Still, I could see some of these stories as being ripe for further exploration (and many would make an interesting story)...
6WH: Season's Readings
During the Six Weeks of Halloween, I like to read a few tales of terror in addition to the usual onslaught of trashy horror films that I normally gravitate towards. Some of these are perfect fits, others are less so, but I read them anyways... So here are a few things I've read during holiday horror seasons: