Best New Horror #25 Edited by Stephen Jones

There are some readers out there who have missed one or two volumes in Stephen Jones’s long-running BEST NEW HORROR. So, with volume 29 now well underway and in order to help fans of quality horror fiction to fill in some of those frustrating gaps, we’re about to publish volume 25.

This 25th edition of Best New Horror showcases some of the very best short stories and novellas published in 2014. So get ready to spread your wings and take a bite out of this latest anthology of agony. And don’t forget to tell your fellow fiends about our new series of Best New Horror reprints. Just let them know who sent you . . . The Old Hag.

  • Introduction: Horror in 201
  • Who Dares Wins: Anno Dracula 1980 by Kim Newman
  • Click-clack the Rattlebag by Neil Gaiman
  • Dead End by Nicholas Royle
  • Isaac’s Room by Daniel Mills
  • The Burning Circus by Angela Slatter
  • Holes for Faces by Ramsey Campbell
  • By Night He Could Not See by Joel Lane
  • Come Into My Parlour by Reggie Oliver
  • The Middle Park by Michael Chisleet
  • Into the Water by Simon Kurt Unsworth
  • The Burned House by Lynda E. Rucker
  • What Do We Talk About When We Talk About Z— by Lavie Tidhar
  • Fishfly Season by Halli Villegas
  • Doll Re Mi by Tanith Lee
  • A Night’s Work by Clive Barker
  • The Sixteenth Step by Robert Shearman
  • Stemming the Tide by Simon Strantzas
  • The Gist by Michael Marshall Smith
  • Guinea Pig Girl by Thana Niveau
  • Miss Baltimore Crabs: Anno Dracula 1990 by Kim Newman
  • Whitstable by Stephen Volk
  • Useful Addresses

In-stock and available to order.

Sneak Peek Extract: Plague of Gulls by Stephen Gregory

November in Snowdonia. I’m in the caravan, up at the quarry. The gulls are going crazy, screaming and battering at the windows with their wings. I can hear the slither of their feet on the roof as they land and take off again. 

When I open the door, step outside and fling them a handful of bread and biscuit, they fight and gobble as though they’re starving and then they beat away from me, a white and black and grey cloud. I shut the door and walk to the edge of the quarry. 

It’s cold, eight o’clock in the morning. There’s a silvery drizzle blowing in the air. 

My stump’s hurting. The doctor said it’ll ache when the winter comes, he said I’ll feel the ghost of the missing finger when the days get colder. The ghost is haunting me already, a throbbing pain where the finger used to be. I cup both hands around my mug of tea and peer over the brink of the quarry.

My quarry. It still seems strange. It belongs to me, the hole, and everything in it. The gulls, all mine.

The birds calm down, once they’ve woken me and winkled me out of the caravan. And the pain in my hand eases a bit as I press it to the hot mug. Standing on the edge, I look down into the pool, a hundred feet below me. The water’s always different, it changes with the time of day and the light on the surface. In the mornings, before the sun’s risen over the hillside, it’s perfectly black, perfectly smooth, and I can see deeply into it. 

Dad’s car. I can make out the humped, rounded shape of it, lying in the pool like a dead whale. Dimly, the headlamps peer up at me. Shivering. Hard to believe, not so long ago it was August, the summer, the carnival in town. November … the word sends a shiver down my spine.      

I blink away from the round eyes at the bottom of the pool and look about the quarry. It’s littered with the rubbish which people bring up from Caernarfon: there’s a raggedy kind of avalanche, where people have driven up and slung their bags and boxes and broken machinery, unwanted bits of their homes, their gardens, their lives. A spillage of discarded stuff, snagged on the rocks on its way down to the pool …

A strange inheritance. I own a hole a hundred feet deep, and all the air and water in it. I own all the broken, unnecessary things which are thrown into it. And hundreds of gulls, which come to the quarry for the pickings and to wake me in the morning for their breakfast. 

My tea’s going cold. I sling the dregs onto the ground. I look up to the top of the hill, the iron fence and rusted barbed wire which are supposed to stop sheep and curious hikers from coming too close. Down to the town, miles below me: the gleam of slate from the rooftops, the towers of the castle no more than a glimmer of grey through the drizzle. 

Cold. I turn away from the quarry, with just a glance at the pool again. A flurry of a breeze picks up a sheet of newspaper. It whirls in the air, folding and turning this way and that, and a few of the gulls dive to the hole, as though they think the flutter of white is a gull from another quarry trespassing on their territory. But then they twist away, and the paper settles on the water. It spreads and darkens and sinks. The outline of the car blurs and disappears.

I turn back to the caravan. When I open the door, there’s a rush of air and some of the gulls drop to the roof and land there. They try to get into the door as I squeeze inside. For a mad moment, there’s a brawling of wings and their big rubbery feet and jabbing beaks around my shoulders, as they try to force themselves past me …

‘No, not you! And not you! And not you!’ 

I yell at them, and I beat them off with my hands. They clack on my mug with their horny beaks. And then, when they fall away from me, squalling among themselves, one of them springs forward again … 

Yes, you! Get inside!’ 

I let the bird come in, between my legs and into the caravan, and I quickly shut the door. 

Outside, the racket gets louder and louder. All the gulls in the quarry are banging at the windows and on the roof to try and get in. I pull the curtains shut and sit on the bed, with my hands around the cooling mug. Minute by minute, the commotion subsides, until my little space and the world outside are quiet again. 

‘You,’ I say to the bird. ‘This is all because of you.’ Right now, it’s standing on the end of my bed, rearranging a few ruffled feathers with the tip of its beak. At the sound of my voice, it cocks its head on one side and looks at me with a bright black eye. ‘Yes, you. What makes you think you’re so different from all the others?’

And you? the bird seems to say to me. What’s so special about you?

Nothing special. No claim to fame. I’m David Kewish, eighteen years old. Five years in a dingy little private school in Bangor and then I do so badly in my exams that not a university in the land will take me in.

David Kewish, sitting in a caravan in a Welsh quarry, with my gull. It pants into my face. I love that smell. The carpet feels damp, and the rumpled bed I’ve been sleeping on. I see myself in the wardrobe mirror. Funny, even when I’m tousled and bleary I look alright, a well-made teenage boy with a clear complexion and thick black hair. Nothing special. 

It was a strange summer. Some upsetting things happened. That’s why I’ve come up to the quarry, to let it all blow over. Rumours and whispers and tales about me. About the bird. About me and the bird. 

A strange summer. People got hurt. Was it one or two? Or three? Who’s counting?

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Remembering Gardner Dozois

Gardner [left) & Jack (right) photo courtesy of Scott Edelman

Drowning in Memory

It’s July 14, 2007, 1:30 am, and I’m trying to reach Gardner. I’m in Melbourne; he’s in an intensive care unit in Philadelphia. I finally get through by calling his partner Susan Casper’s cell phone. She hands the phone to him. His voice is craggy and breathy; he is still receiving oxygen.

“So I died and came back.”

“I told you you’d make it.”

“Well, it’s either on or off,” Gardner says. “I don’t think there is anything else, any kind of life after death. One instant you’re conscious. The next you’re not. Gone.”

“Well, you’re here.”

“If I wasn’t, you’d be writing a eulogy.”

“Yeah,” I say, remembering…remembering.

“I love you, Gardner.”

“Love you…”

#

And then it’s May 28th, 2018, 2:30 am, which is just few moments later in subjective time, that constructed metaphor we think of as our past. Gardner has been in hospital since the 3rd of the month. Congestive heart failure. But the prognosis was excellent that he’d be able to get out soon…after suffering through a few weeks of rehab. I had talked to him the week before, and he told me he was bored, anxious to get home, get back to work on his Best of the Year collection. A short, rather strained call, as I hadn’t been calling regularly after Susan had passed away in February of last year. Grief had somehow walled us away from each other.

But now, now that it was too late, I was calling, for I had just learned that Gardner had taken a turn for the worst. I called his son (and my godson) Christopher around midnight my time, and Chris told me that it was bad…very bad. Gardner had developed a systemic infection. Christopher was going to talk with the doctors in a few hours about his prognosis. I stay up, worry, and watch reruns of bad sitcoms.

It’s now the abovementioned 2:30 am, and I call Chris, who while calm and composed is shattered: “Gargy (our term of endearment for Gardner) is on a respirator, Uncle Jack. There’s no hope. We’re just waiting for some of the other relatives to arrive.”

Gargy impossibly incomprehensibly would be gone in a matter of hours.

And while Christopher holds the phone to Gardner’s ear, I say, “I love you, Gargy. I love you very much. I’ll see you on the other side.”

#

I don’t know if Gardner had enough function to hear me, to hear the words that still echo in my mind. Finally, I went to bed, but didn’t sleep…I waited up to somehow be present, even though I was ten thousand miles away on the other side of the world; and as I lay in bed, eyes wide and mazed with tears, images skittered through my mind, memories so bright and intense as to be hallucinatory. And I remembered the saying that drowning men see their lives pass before them.

#

It is 1971, and I’m with Gardner in my parent’s home. It is a square stucco house, all white except for a great blue front door and black trim along the edge of the roof. It’s summertime and Gardner and I are sitting on my bed in my old room, which has been kept just as it was when I left home. I can see into the back yard through the window over my desk. I look at the sunken garden and the broken white fountain and remember getting drunk in the back yard last night with Gardner and the woman we’re both in love with. It was a silly night, Gardner singing old rock and roll songs, all of us taking a walk down Ackley Avenue, then coming back and trying to turn on the spotlights for the fountain.

“We should make a pact,” Gardner says. He’s sitting beside my ebony black night table and leaning against the headboard of the bed. He has long blond hair, a light-complected face, and a thin curly beard. His eyes are pale blue, and he’s wearing his old, torn combat boots.

“Okay,” I say. We’ve been talking about writing, which is what we always talk about.

“And I think we should always write what we want to, whether it sells or not,” he says.

“Okay.” This is easy for me because I can’t imagine writing anything except what I want.

“We probably won’t make a dime, you know. We’ll probably starve.”

“I know,” I say, looking at the garden again.

I’m not worried.

#

It’s 1973, and I’m on the train with Gardner. We’re going to a workshop being held in Jack C. Haldeman’s rambling old mansion in the Guilford section of Baltimore: the Guilford Writers’ Workshop. I’d never been to a workshop and was understandably nervous as I clutched the manuscript I was going to submit. Gardner just chuckled and said, “Don’t worry about it. The worst that can happen is they’ll kill you.”

#

I can’t stop the procession of memories: a road trip with Gardner and Joe Haldeman…we’re on our way to Damon Knight and Kate Wilhelm’s Milford Writers’ Workshop. We’re driving and talking, we’re embarking on a lifetime of writing and talking, we’re our own heroes, and we don’t care that life is swallowing us up in great noisy gulps. I’m visiting Gardner and Susan in Philadelphia: I have just finished a novel, and I’m not going to leave until Gardner finishes his conceptual edit.

It never occurs to me, not even once! that I might be imposing.

The title The Man Who Melted was Gardner’s.

And then, as memories during grief are not necessarily sequential, I’m driving Gardner from New York to Philadelphia, which will become his new home: Susan lives in Philadephia; and then—

—I’m standing beside Gardner as his best man.

In a photo floating around in the æther of social media, I’m dressed in a grey suit with a relaxed, happy expression on my face. Gardner (also suited up) is, however, looking very, very serious…determined. This marriage is for life!

And so it was.

#

As I gaze through the dark—now as I can see through the perspective of time and memory—I can see that we spent our youth living our own version of Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. We didn’t know it then, but we were living the very life we dreamed of: we were submerged in the mystery, beauty, and excitement of words and ideas. Science fiction was an expression of beauty, of a sort of mathematical elegance, and we were writing it, reading it, and as time went on, editing it. Sitting together in the late hours in Gardner and Sue’s apartment on South Street and doing word counts…that was before word processing, but the quiet joy of selecting stories, determining the Platonic absolute of where each story should be positioned in an anthology, that elegant balancing that felt so much like the act of writing itself.

I don’t need to tell the reader that Gardner became one of the most important editors in the genre, as influential and essential to the mature state of science fiction as John W. Campbell was to its earlier formation. He was fine tuned to talent; he loved developing it in other writers; and that ability to nurture and develop so many writers, that ability to focus and shape the field…that was genius. Less known, sadly, is that he was a brilliant short story writer. The short form was his métier. Although he lamented that he wasn’t really comfortable with novel lengths, his oeuvre of what I think of as perfect short stories are second to none in or out of the genre. They are true expressions of the poetry that circulated through him like blood.

And as I surface from this sad, joyous, poignant reverie, I remember a special time of success, a period when Gardner, Susan, Michael Swanwick, and I were collaborating and workshopping like mad things. We secretly called ourselves The Fiction Factory. (Heaven forefend that word get out that we were hacks!) That was during the eighties when we were selling everything we wrote to the slicks, to PlayboyPenthouseOmni, and others, and making what was then serious money for our efforts. It was a time of compressed joy and friendship, a singular green time of youth, expectation, and creative awakening, and, of course, we thought it would go on forever.

It all started with…

No, there isn’t room here for that story, and for the myriad stories that, unleashed, would follow. Suffice it to say that Gardner and I have both published collections containing both fiction and nonfiction about that time. Gardner’s is called Slow Dancing Through Time; mine is The Fiction Factory. We explain it all in those volumes. (I can see Gardner standing up and shouting, “Yes, yes, buy these books by these shameless hacks!)

Lastly, I probably don’t need to mention that Gardner lived larger than life. He was welcoming to everyone, he was the quintessential Protestant schtickmeister, he could do stand up with the best of them, but safely hidden behind that comedic armor was a very private, intensely serious person. To have known that Gardner was and is one of the great joys of my life; and if you’d like to hear what love, friendship, memory, and pure silliness sounds like, I would refer you to the interview Gardner and I did for The Coode Street Podcast conducted by the excellent Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe. As they wrote in their tag-line: “We’re not sure any of it made sense, we do know it was a lot of fun to record.”

Coode Street Interview

So, dammit, Gardner, here I am writing your eulogy.

Don’t you remember? You were supposed to write mine!

Farewell, my brother.

I miss you!

—Jack Dann

Portions of this eulogy appeared in different form in Insinuations by Jack Dann (PS Publishing, 2010).

Sneak Peek Extract: ICE by Candas Jane Dorsey

To draw you into Candas’s oh-so-magical world, first, this: 

A naked woman working at a computer. Which attracts you most? It was a measure of Whitman that, as he entered the room, his eyes went first to the unfolded machine gleaming small and awkward in the light of the long-armed desk lamp; he’d seen the woman before.

—From ‘(Learning about) Machine Sex’

Okay, now: I defy you. Can you turn your back on what follows that? Or this: 

A school project to measure the size of the moon. What equipment will be necessary? The principal in his office has Rex Begonias in bloom; he rotates them from his greenhouse at home, bringing them through the cold corridors muffled in a quilt. He listens to the project idea expansively, but instead of granting permission begins to tell me about the cooking demonstration he gave earlier in the day. I haven’t eaten yet today and his description is tangible in my mouth.

—From ‘Sleeping in a box’

“Measuring the moon!?” C’mon now! Or perhaps best of all:

As we know, reality faulting was at first thought to be another kind of phenomenon altogether. The first National Geographic article was called “The Crack Where the World Closes”; it presented the facts known at the time, which were mainly about the gradual decrease in space being measured at certain locations. At that time the theory was sketchy and depended a great deal on a proposal that the phenomenon was due to the existence of a pair of minuscule black holes creating a long elliptical event horizon.

It wasn’t until the following year, in Scientific American’s summary “Reality Fault Lines: A Geotemporal Survey”, that the public became aware of an entirely new way of thinking about the problem.

—From ‘Turtles all the way down’

Or (just one or two more, bear with me now cos we’re almost done) there’s this:

In the dream I was confronting someone I thought I knew and he was turning out to be a total stranger. I thought it was the new lover in whom I believed, but when I woke up I realized it was my ex-husband. Furthermore, when I canvassed my dreams for the last two weeks, all the time I had been sick, I saw that he had been sneaking through every one, somewhere in the background, trying to move suitcases into (not out of!) the attic, or acting as if he still lived with me.

I looked back on my dreamlog and realized that he had been seen if not by me then by someone in my dream in at least fourteen separate instances, and in several consensual events. I filed a complaint with the Dream Board. On the basis of the resulting scan of his dreamtime, they issued him a ticket for several moving violations and in family court I applied for a restraining order.

You understand, said the judge, I can’t actually keep him totally away from your dreams. But if he shows up there, you can call the Dream Police and have him removed, or even arrested.

And what happens to my dream in the meanwhile? I said.

That’s the best I can do, said the judge, and his obvious sympathy grated like a layer of sand over the pavement of hard reality. It was the first time I heard that sound, but not by any means the last.

—From ‘Death of a Dream’

Oh, my! And finally. Here’s the cherry on the icing on the top of the cake, that runs thus . . . following after a tiny epigraph from Lewis Mumford (“In the city, time becomes visible”):

I have lived in cities until my heart is lost to them: beautiful random human constructions with their geometry chaotic and their rhythms arbitrary. I dive deep into their oblivious centres, and their darkness and danger does not deter me from loving them. To me, it is no surprise that cities are dangerous. Any lover so deep in the heart is dangerous. Any group of that many intentions, that many dreams and cynicisms, is bound to conflict and occasionally to terrify.

But set against that are the moments when the sun reflects from the mirrored glass of the old buildings and down into the shadowed streets, and walking through an alley I see a corner of even older brickwork alight with that golden reflexion. Restless energy, surprising times and places of tranquillity, dreamlike scenarios glimpsed from car windows: everything placed in conjunction, or maybe unplaced completely but still emerging arranged. still emerging arranged.

—From ‘Living in cities’

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The Difficult Third Collection: James Cooper

Review by Peter Tennant,

Black Static #63

It’s part of music industry folklore that artist’s will find their third album to be the “tricky” one, but fortunately that rule doesn’t seem to apply in the case of literature. And by way of proof I give you HUMAN PIECES (PS Publishing hc, 342pp, £20), the third story collection by Black Static irregular James Cooper. It contains twelve stories, but in the absence of any publishing history in the PDF I read I can’t say if any are original, but I did recognise four from the pages of Black Static and another that appeared in Crimewave. Cooper is a writer who wears his horror genre influences lightly, with Stephen King a particular inspiration, while themes of parental abuse and dysfunctional families populate nearly every story.

With two boys called Jim and Will, ‘Forever Boys’ gives a tip of the hat to Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, only the threat to family isn’t an external one for Cooper’s protagonists, but rather the evil comes from within courtesy of an abusive father. Underlying all this is the need for freedom and belief in the miraculous, while for Jim there is a rite of passage in learning how to responsibly use whatever power he has been gifted. It is a fantastic tale, one that offers no easy solutions to the problems posed by its narrative steps. Emma in ‘The Pig Farm’ is the victim of a dysfunctional family, abused and bullied by her two brothers, punished by her father for looking like the mother who died, punishment that takes the form of placing her on the Scarecrow at night to be found by the Weeping Farmer, a tormented spirit continually searching for his missing daughter. Again Cooper paints a terrible picture of abuse, with an attempt to understand if not justify the motives of those involved, and a feeling that really the supernatural aspects of the tale, whether true or not, are perhaps the only light of hope in this tragedy waiting to happen.

‘S.K.’ is pitched in epistolary form, a man writing letters to Stephen King explaining how reading his books to his dying son helps them cope with impending loss. It’s a heartfelt and moving story that celebrates the redemptive aspects of horror fiction and the power of literature to move us and help make some sense out of the nastier aspects of our lives. A teenager suffering from Renfield Syndrome keeps a dog prisoner in a haunted house so that he can feed on its blood in ‘Stray Dogs’, but while overtly horrific the true thrust of the story is about feeling alienated and how making a friend can transform a life. It is a sad story, one that shows us how our finer feelings can both elevate and demoralise us.

‘Night Fishing’ put me in mind of Raymond Carver’s story ‘So Much Water So Close to Home’ with its central premise of four friends whose fishing expedition is disrupted by the discovery of a dead body, but Cooper takes the story off in a different direction entirely, with the body simply a catalyst for tensions simmering away beneath the surface among the four men. You could make a case for it being the adult remix of King’s novella The Body, with the corpse finding them instead of the other way round, and the camaraderie they have shared since childhood disrupted by one of those “frozen moments when”, according to Burroughs, “everyone sees what is on the end of every fork”. There’s a bit of contrivance to my mind, in that all the men have secrets that so neatly dovetail, giving an overview of toxic masculinity, but the narrative voice and Cooper’s portrayal of his characters makes it work, grabbing the reader right from the start and carrying us to the inevitable tragedy of the end, or poetic justice if you would prefer.

The actor ‘Cushing’ becomes the focus of an unhappy and tragedy haunted family’s woes, with scenes from various films neatly intercut with the unfolding drama, throwing light on what takes place. It is a subtle and unnerving piece, one in which art imitates life a little too close for comfort, almost like the Addams Family given a twenty first century coat of cultural paint. Released from gaol, Boyd finds a way to atone for the mistakes of his past in ‘The River Remembers’, the story one that conflates family drama and gangster work, but while never less than entertaining, with perfectly realised characters and setting, it is perhaps the least interesting and original of what is on offer. In another setting it might shine, but not here. There’s another abusive son and stepfather relationship in ‘Man’s Ruin’, but Tommy is gifted a magical tattoo by his Grampa that empowers him to strike back. Human anger drives the story, giving us characters we can believe in and sympathise with, while the outré element seems almost incidental, albeit the thing that turns the plot round, and the humour in the relationship between Tommy and Grampa adds yet another dimension to the narrative.

‘Two Houses Away’ is a subtle and beautifully written ghost story of sorts, one that shows the lengths grieving people will go to for release from their pain and the power of love, while at the same time emphasising that you shouldn’t go poking your nose into things that don’t concern you. In ‘The Farmer’s Wife’ another Tommy returns to the scene of the crime to tell Mrs. Guddici the true story of what happened to her son Jed. At heart the story is about how we are haunted by the past and the need to restore some sort of balance in a universe that feels uncaring and indifferent. It’s an emotive piece, one in which Cooper doesn’t set a foot wrong as he gives his characters a depth not usually found in such outings. Mostly dialogue, ‘Coffee. Black.’ is an enigmatic piece with a conversation between two men at a late night coffee shop that touches on matters of faith and belief, horror fiction and real life terror. It’s suggestive and all the more effective for being left so ambiguous, with the reader invited to create motives and backgrounds for these strangers from the hints Cooper has supplied.

Sally, the final girl from Texas Chainsaw Massacre, is the protagonist of ‘Texas’, Cooper deftly delineating the aftermath of the atrocity, the way in which she still has to live with the horror of what happened and try to make sense of her own survival (more than an element of survivor guilt is present here). Scenes from the film, consultations with a psychiatrist, and a visit to the farmhouse (now a tourist attraction) combine to create a compelling and absorbing picture of what it means to be a survivor and the mechanisms that are needed to cope, adding a wonderful new dimension to the classic horror film. There’s more than a touch of King’s Secret Window about final story ‘End of Creation’ in which a writer who gambles away a story idea to a friend gets seriously bent out of shape when that friend makes a success of it. There are times when the story gets a little close to over the top, but Cooper just about manages to rein things in and give us a compelling and unsettling account of a personal descent into madness, while posing some interesting questions about the nature of creativity and originality along the way. It was a strong end to a collection that didn’t put a foot wrong, with some of the best stories in genre writing from an author who, while focused squarely on matters horrific, never loses sight of the human pieces.

Buy Black Static #63 or subscribe and get it free by using “BS63 FREE”.

Sneak Peek Extract: The Dragon’s Child by Janeen Webb

ON THE FIRST DAY OF THE CHINESE NEW YEAR, the Year of the Dragon, Lady Feng made a mistake.

A cool, sophisticated Hong Kong businesswoman, Lady Feng had just concluded her habitual retreat. As she emerged from hibernation she risked assuming her true form—the form of a Chrysanthemum Dragon. She took the chance. She needed to stretch her claws. The rush of air against her golden scales felt wonderful after those long weeks cooped up in her cave, weeks spent gestating and laying her eggs, watching over them as she checked and re-checked the treasures of her rich hoard to stave off the boredom that threatened to engulf her. Today, she was free.

Below her, the humans who lived in the remote village near her mountain lair were celebrating the turn of the year. Lady Feng dipped and soared, caught up in the moment, appearing, to the people in the procession below, as just one more pretty paper shape among the high-flying red and gold kites with their trailing streamers. She flew lower, and the people were overjoyed to see her: a real dragon had come to bless them. They drummed harder, danced faster.

Lady Feng flew even lower. In dragon form, she was thinking like a dragon. Just for an instant, her instincts took over: her control slipped. Intoxicated by the heady fog of incense, exhilarated by the drums and cymbals and firecrackers, the beautiful golden dragon permitted herself a small snack: a tender morsel, no more than a tiny mouthful. She knew she shouldn’t, but the snack was simply there to be had, resting in its wrappings like an offering on the steps before the Moon Gate, looking so silky soft, smelling so milky sweet. Before she knew it, she had dived: her jaws had snapped shut, and warm blood was filling her mouth. It felt good, so very good, as the juicy meat slipped down her cave dry throat.

But then the screaming started. Humans, she remembered too late, were unaccountably attached to their offspring. There were curses and shouts, and someone actually started shooting at her.

‘Avert!’ She raised her right claw, and hastily invoked a spell of warding.

The shot went wide, but it clipped a hind claw. Lady Feng barely escaped with her fine gossamer wings intact. She dropped from the sky to land behind the nearest building, where she changed back into her cramped human form to blend in with the frightened crowd. There was blood on her pale face and on her fine gold-patterned silk blouse, but she radiated calming thoughts, turning aside the minds of the people around her. A lot of villagers had been injured in their panic to escape the terrible dragon that had so suddenly, so inexplicably swooped upon them from the heavens, and with Lady Feng’s protective glamour fogging their minds, the tell-tale blood spatters passed unremarked.

Later she tried to make amends. Really she did. She limped back to her lair. At nightfall, when the sobbing young parents had subsided into sleep, she returned to the Moon Gate of the little temple with one of her own offspring, the smallest of her four precious eggs, its golden crackle-glazed shell glowing in the lantern light. The abandoned baby sling was still there. Lady Feng tucked her egg into it, swaddling it in the cotton padding to keep it warm.

A child for a child: it seemed only fair.

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Sneak Peek Extract: Les Vampires by Tim Major

Introduction

“My young friend, I know nothing about the Vampires, only that everyone fears them.” 

LES VAMPIRES (1915–16) is a mystery. It is justly famous, yet relatively rarely watched. Its imagery is iconic, but misleading: the famous image of a female vampire bat preying on a victim involves none of the main characters, and the serial features no mythological vampires. It is commonly classed as one of the longest films in the world, at around seven hours long, but this, too, is a misunderstanding given its serialised release, with ten episodes over nine screenings. Finally, while LES VAMPIRES was a contemporary success its reels narrowly avoided being destroyed in the 1930s, and the film wasn’t distributed in English-speaking countries until 1965.

So, like many modern viewers, I came to LES VAMPIRES with uncertain expectations. What I knew of the serial had been gleaned from stills in cinema history books, and from that terrific promotional poster image showing Musidora / Irma Vep entangled in a red question mark. I’d become interested in Victorian and fin-de-siècle crime fiction about rogues and gentlemen-thieves, progressing from E. W. Hornung’s A. J. Raffles, to Maurice Leblanc’s Arsène Lupin, to Marcel Allain’s and Pierre Souvestre’s Fantômas. This in turn led me to Louis Feuillade’s first great crime serial, FANTÔMAS (1913).

But it was within Oliver Assayas’ lively, strange film IRMA VEP (1996), about a French director unsuccessfully attempting to remake LES VAMPIRES, that I first saw a snippet of the serial itself. The fictional director, played by Jean-Pierre Léaud, demonstrates the magnificence of LES VAMPIRES and its greatest asset, the criminal Irma Vep played by Musidora, by screening a clip from Episode 6, ‘The Hypnotic Gaze’. Maggie Cheung, playing herself, is suitably impressed – and I was stunned. I was determined to watch LES VAMPIRES at the first opportunity.

Rather than consuming the serial in one go (see my earlier point about the length of the film – who would want to?), I worked through it in fits and starts. I watched episodes late at night, often the same episode twice in one sitting. I watched them early in the morning with my newborn first child. I packed DVDs to watch on hotel TVs when I worked away from home. I treated each new episode as a gift to myself, to be withheld and then savoured. Filmmakers and critics often talk of the ‘journey’ experienced by film audiences, but over seven hours the journey – and the relationship with characters – is more profound. Moreover, the tone of LES VAMPIRES takes a few episodes to ‘bed in’, after which point its tangents and about-faces become less jarring and more welcome.  The viewer is trained, gradually, to watch the serial and anticipate its internal logic.

Since watching the serial for the first time, I see its influence in more and more unlikely places. The hotel setting of Ingmar Bergman’s masterful THE SILENCE (1963) evokes the hotel in ‘The Hypnotic Gaze’, with its corridors that twist back on themselves, the deserted streets outside. Jacques Rivette’s CELINE AND JULIE GO BOATING (1974) not only features its leads wearing replicas of Musidora’s silk bodysuit, but also adopts Feuillade’s dreamlike tone and circuitousness. David Lynch’s TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN (2017) retains the episodic structure of LES VAMPIRES and also its obliqueness and the requirement of surrendering to its woozy logic.

After watching the serial the first time around I wished I had taken notes. So, when Neil Snowdon offered me the chance to write about a cult film as part of the Midnight Movie Monographs series, I was eager to choose LES VAMPIRES. It may not be an outright horror movie, and it may not have been a cult film at its time of release, but nowadays it exists in a strange hinterland: it is an accepted canonical classic that remains ‘under the radar’ for many cineastes. Writing this book allowed me not only to revisit the film and linger on its peculiarities – not least by writing tangential stories loosely inspired by each of the ten episodes[1] – but also to explore some of the context of the film that hadn’t occurred to me on first viewing. Why are the streets of Paris deserted in the film? Because not only was France gripped by the Great War, the front line was just outside Paris and artillery might strike the city at any time. Why does the leader of the Vampire gang change so regularly? Because male contributors to the film were regularly called away to fight on the front line. Why is Musidora always so compelling to watch? Perhaps that’s the most complex question of all…

I’ve watched LES VAMPIRES in its entirety countless times while writing this book, and I’m happy to report that it only improves with multiple viewings. It remains equally magical whether monochrome or tinted, whether accompanied by an orchestral score or a soundtrack of, for example, Porter Ricks’ Biokinetics, whether viewed on a widescreen TV or relegated to a window within a laptop screen (though I can only imagine the amplification of its magic when projected onto a cinema screen).

I think, perhaps, LES VAMPIRES may have become my favourite film. If nothing else, I hope that my enthusiasm for it is infectious.

Tim Major, York, January 2018

[1] One of them was written many years ago, though, and references a different film, in a nod to Feuillade’s incorporation of unrelated, previously-filmed material.

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What’s New? Forthcoming Titles from Electric Dreamhouse Press

We’ve now pretty much drawn the line beneath Neil Snowdon’s epic evaluation of the work of the great Nigel Kneale for Electric Dreamhouse, WE ARE THE MARTIANS. And now, as if that were not enough, Neil has just handed in three new Midnight Movie Monographs but I’m going to pass you across to the man himself to get the official lowdown.

Over to you, Neil . . . 

There are few things that make you happier as an editor than knowing that a reader loves your book. Doubly so when that reader has a direct connection to the subject. So it’s been immensely gratifying to see people’s reactions to the Deluxe Ltd Edition of WE ARE THE MARTIANS over the last week or so.

Thanks to everyone for their kinds words and for their patience as the last leg of the journey took a little longer than expected. I hope you’ll agree though, it was worth it. Please do tag us in your Twitter posts, and on Facebook etc if you’re sharing.

The book was a labour of love for all of us involved, and I know that readers share that love for Nigel Kneale and his work, so I think you’ll all appreciate how much it meant to receive a telephone call from his widow, the author and illustrator Judith Kerr, last friday who wanted to thank us for her copy of the Deluxe Edition, and to say how much she loves it. It’s as close as we can ever come to getting Nigel’s own approval, and it means the world to me.

With that in mind, it seems a good time to announce that work is underway on afollow up volume of essays, and a related project that I can’t quite tell you about just yet. But with Judith’s enthusiastic approval, we took the opportunity to start talking about something that Pete and I have both long dreamed of. Fingers crossed we’ll have something to announce soon!

Manuscripts for the the next three books in the Midnight Movie Monograph series are in with cover art and layouts being worked on as I type and I’m very excited about them. What are they you say?

Well, we’ve got Video Watchdog’s Tim Lucas writing about Euro Cult Poe Anthology SPIRITS OF THE DEAD (Histoires Extraordinaire) directed by Roger Vadim, Louis Malle, and Federico Fellini; a film that changed his life as a young teen. I always knew the movie was important to Tim, but what he’s written completely overturned the way I saw the film. You’re in for a treat! (I’ll be saying this a lot by the way, but one of the great thrills of doing the job I do is commissioning writers I love to cover movies that mean the world to them, and seeing the sparks that result).

We’ve also got UK novelist Tim Major, author of YOU DON’T BELONG HERE, whose work was new to me until about a year or two ago, and who has been a revelation. He’s written a monograph on the sublime silent serial LES VAMPIRES, and in the process reignited my own obsession with its director Louis Feuillade, and Paris in that period. One of the reasons I always wanted to approach authors as well as critics for this series was precisely the hope that they’d bring a different angle to that we might expect and Tim has delivered in spades. His book is part commentary and exploration of his own fascination with the film, and part metatextual fiction that responds to, and evokes, the uncanny texture of the dreamlike world of the film itself. (Check out the rough version of the cover art).

Finally, I think I may have birthed a monster. Or rather Stephen R. Bissette has, and oh my am I happy about it!

Perhaps you know Steve as the extraordinary comics artist of Swamp Thing (from the classic run with Alan Moore and John Totleben), or his own biography of a T-Rex,Tyrant. Or maybe you know him as the editor and publisher of Taboo, the groundbreaking horror comic anthology which birthed From Hell and many others. Or maybe you were introduced to him—as I was as a snot nosed pre-teen—in the pages of Gorezone, where he took over from the mighty Chas. Balun to write a column that was about so much more than ‘gore movies’. Hell, perhaps you know him from the many books about film and comics history he’s written over the years as well. If you know him at all, you likely know that he doesn’t do anything by half.

And so when I invited him to write for the series, and he suggested THE BROOD, not only did I leap on it, I knew it would likely be a little longer than the usual 30,000 words. And as the book came together and Steve kept me updated, we knew that indeed it would go long, it kept expanding, new avenues kept opening but I don’t think even Steve expected that it would come in at roughly 250,000 words! Steve is what you might call a ‘holistic film critic’ he doesn’t just look at a theme or the filmic history of a genre convention he looks at it ALL. The emergence of an idea within a culture, where and how that relates to the times in which the film was conceived and made, how that might have influenced the filmmakers in creating the film, and the audience in how they received it; the production history and where it sits within the chronology of regional and genre film making; the personal histories of the artists involved and of the critic who is writing this . . . why it was so desperately, and deeply important to him and so at odds with the critical establishment of the time, including critics that he has enormous respect for. One shys away from calling something a ‘definitive’ work, but I think it’s safe to say  this one is going to be a bit special.

I’ll leave it there for now. There’s more exciting stuff to come from Electric Dreamhouse this year, but I’d like to keep a few things to surprise you with!

The order page is up for LES VAMPIRES with the pages for THE BROOD and SPIRITS  OF THE DEAD to follow in the coming weeks.

Sneak Peek Extract: DISLOCATIONS by Eric Brown and Keith Brooke

DISLOCATIONS, the first volume of the Kon-tiki Quartet, tells the story of humankind’s last-gasp efforts to reach the stars, set against the backdrop of an Earth torn apart by looming environmental disaster . . .

Project Kon-tiki, the world’s first extra-solar colony expedition, is just weeks away from departure, and tension is mounting at Lakenheath Base. Psychologist Kat Manning is one of the eighteen specialist whose clone will be sent to the stars, and her job is to work with the original specialists, the ‘left behind’, to monitor and support them through their dislocation . . . But when Kat is kidnapped by the Allianz, a faction opposed to the colonisation program, more than just her safety is at stake. The entire mission is in jeopardy.

Sneak Peek Extract: DISLOCATIONS

TRAVIS DENHOLME LEFT HIS RENTED COTTAGE ON THE outskirts of Ely at three and arrived at Lakenheath Base forty-five minutes later. Dusk was falling, presaging another subzero January night. Even from a mile away, the halogen arrays illuminated the base with a glare that spread across the surrounding forest and obliterated any sign of the stars overhead.

The usual crowd of protesters was stationed on the approach road, their numbers increased due to the imminence of the launch. The local police and security guards drafted in by UNSA had done their job, and the two hundred noisy protestors were kettled behind carbonfibre fences well back from the road. Even so, the din of their voices increased as his car approached; just last week an activist had scaled the fence and flung herself in front of the little VW. The car’s systems had braked too late, and the woman had thumped into the grille and rolled over the bonnet, screaming her hatred through the windscreen. She’d dropped to the tarmac, picked herself up, and staggered off, seemingly unhurt, but Travis had been shaken by the incident.

As he neared the gate of the base, he passed the area to his right reserved for the protest leaders and their guests: B-list celebs attempting to up their failing profiles by identifying themselves with the Allianz. A dozen men and women stamped their feet around a plasma-burner, trying to ward off the Arctic blast, one or two of them turning to stare at his car as it braked before the gate. Beyond the small group, banners and placards gave voice to Allianz discontent: Project Kon-Tiki a Big Con, and Anarchists Against Colonisation.

Ute was there, as ever; tiny and looking perished in her green puffa jacket, a woolly hat pulled down over her ears. For a second, it seemed that their eyes connected, but he reassured himself that she wouldn’t be able to make him out through the side-window. He stared straight ahead at the slowly opening gate, wondering if he would have been on this side of the fence had Ute not finished with him ten years ago. The car rolled through the gate, braking before the second gate as the first closed behind him. A security guard stepped from a lighted kiosk, and Travis wound down his window and presented the biometric chip embedded in his metacarpus.

“Evening, Dr Denholme,” the guard said, scanning his hand.

“Here we go. Enjoy the party.”

Travis smiled. “I’ll do my best.”

The second gate slid open and the car drove on, Travis aware that he was moving from one world to another, from a world of deprivation and conflict to one of privilege—and, like a symbol of that privilege, a mile away across the frost-encrusted apron, the towering form of the shuttle stood beside the launch gantry. In four days the eighteen specialists would depart Lakenheath Base for the starship parked in geo-sync orbit, and a week later the Kon-Tiki would light out for the stars.

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ONE MORE KILL by Matt Hughes

Sneak Peek Extract:

ONE MORE KILL by Matt Hughes

For seven years, I’d thought of myself as a dead man walking. 

     Yes, I know it’s a cliché, but that was how I felt. Before those seven years of real-life zombiehood, I had spent more than twenty years as a US Army Ranger. The basic job of a Ranger is killing, so most of my Army years had been taken up with preparing to kill people or teaching others how to do it, interspersed with some brief periods actually devoted to taking lives. 

     But besides making me into a highly effective killer, the military had also made me a creature of routine. So once a month, during those dead-man-walking years, I would take the subway downtown to the VA center and wait in a big room full of plastic chairs and half-filled with people who didn’t talk to each other much, though some of them talked to themselves. I would wait until my name was called, then go into a small room where a youngish, moonfaced MD named John Oliphaunt – everybody called him Doc Ollie – took a few ccs of my blood. He slipped the vial off the needle and held it up to the light and said, “Well, you’re still a red-blooded American boy.” 

     Which was what he always said. And I always answered, “Then why didn’t the Army want me anymore?”

     He wrote a few words and numbers on an adhesive label then stuck the paper to the little container. “We’ll call you if there’s anything . . .” and left the rest of it hanging. Right where it had been hanging for every month of those seven years.

     After that, I would leave the VA Center and go on with the rest of my routine. I had been running a small travel agency in mid-town Manhattan since the Army had cut me loose on a medical discharge. So on this day like any other day, I rode the subway back, got off at the stop near the deli where I usually bought lunch, picked up four sandwiches and took them back to the office. Marj, who pretty much ran the business for me, looked a question at me when I handed her her ham-and-Emmental on pumpernickel. I shook my head and shrugged, told her, “Same old, same old.”

     Another cliché, yes. But there could be nothing new in my life, so there was no reason to find new ways to say the same old things.

     Shelley Cooper and Rosaline Amberson, my other two employees, were at their desks in the travel poster-decorated open area out front, both on the phones. I gave them their lunches, got smiles and nods of thanks, then went to my own little cubicle in the rear. I ate my roast beef on whole wheat and washed it down with black coffee from the carafe beside the sink. There was paperwork to do, so I did it. When I finished, I tidied my desk, got up and told Marj I was going for a walk. 

     “Be back before closing?” she said.

      I didn’t know. “If I’m not, close up, okay?”

     “No problem.”

     I went out into the fall sunshine. A few blocks east and I turned onto Eighth Avenue and went up to Columbus Circle then continued on to Central Park West. It was a toss-up whether I’d go into the park or stay on the sidewalk until I got to the Museum of Natural History. I’d had a thing about dinosaurs when I was nine or ten; it was the only part of my childhood I cared to revisit.

     But today it was the park. I walked about with no particular destination in mind, turning from one path onto another at random, thinking about nothing much because I had nothing much to think about. From the day of my discharge until my present age of fifty-three, I’d been like the man in the old Ian Tyson song: just getting up every day and walking around. Sometimes I’d sit on a bench to watch the passers-by, the tourists and the New Yorkers. They were all strangers to me. I had only ever made one friend in my life and, after he’d sold me the travel agency and arranged for me to take over the lease on his apartment, he’d headed south to play golf, drink whiskey, and let himself be chased by widows.

     When it started to get dark, I walked home. It had been a routine day, just like the one that came before it and just like the one after. But the one that came next changed everything, forever.

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