Grave Tidings

So as I wrap up my September of Steampunk reviews I’ve started looking towards next month. Since I enjoyed working on a theme for my reviews this month I figured it might be fun to continue that next month. Since October is incoming I figured that I’d throw myself headfirst into some new horror titles. An idea that, as it turns out, isn’t quite as simple as it sounds.

I fully admit that horror is a genre I am not terribly well versed in, but it is a genre that from time to time I enjoy exploring. Over the years I have found that it has grown increasingly difficult to find new and interesting horror titles that interest me. While I am entirely open to the possibility that the problem is me it isn’t an idea I am entirely sold on. Before I delve into my misgivings about the current state of horror let me highlight the titles I’m looking to read in October.

First up there is the novella The World More Full of Weeping by Robert J. Wiersema and ChiZine Publishing (ordered directly) which already in earns some kudos by borrowing its title from a Yeats poem (The Stolen Child).  Chizine’s blurb reads:

Eleven-year-old Brian Page spends every waking moment in the forest behind the house where he lives with his father. But forests are always deeper than anyone can know. Secrets are hidden in the eternal twilight of the trees. Those secrets emerge into light when Brian disappears in the forest, as his father did three decades before. His father, however, came home with no memory of the events in the depths of the forest. What has drawn Brian away? Will he emerge, shuddering and broken, as his father did, or will the forests close around him, as they have done so often before?

Which to me at least, sounds like a meaty read even if in the frequently all to brief length of a novella.  Next up is The Space Between by Erik Tomblin from Blue Fairy Books which delves into some somewhat sappier territory that seems to mix a haunted house tale with a time displaced romance.  Here is Amazon’s blurb:

Two years after the sudden death of his fiancé, up-and-coming musician Isaac Owens is still grieving, haunted by memories of his tragic loss. Fresh off a world-tour, Isaac decides to seek solitude in the woods of South Georgia where he has recently inherited a house. It soon becomes apparent he isn’t alone there after all. As he delves deeper into the mystery surrounding his inheritance, Isaac is drawn into its secrets whose only key to unlocking them lies behind a door that shouldn’t be. Weaving the past with the present, he finds himself falling in love with a woman trapped in a time long before his own. When he realizes his new love is in danger, Isaac must decide whether to leave history alone or succumb to a fate he might not survive.

The plot actually bears some similarity to the recently reviewed The Red Tree by Caitlin Kiernan (creative type retreats to isolated location to recover from loss of a loved one only to find a supernatural mystery/horror).  I don’t know if it will be particularly scary but I’m of the opinion that haunting, with all the nuances that word often carries, can often be as chilling as outright horror.

Rounding out the two above titles are what appears to be a humor-infused horror novel, The Revenant Road by Michael Boatman which received a pretty favorable review from Horror World.  Amazon only had 1 copy left so hopefully I managed to slip my order in before anyone else ordered it.  Additionally I plan on a reread of David Wong’s John Dies at the End, which will be out in hardcover from St. Martin’s at the end of the month.  Four titles, especially with lighter page counts, won’t make a month of reviews but they are at least a start.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to come across a few other titles over the course of the next few weeks that’ll spark some interest.

Now, back to my earlier comments about the state of horror fiction, I know that over the last decade or so horror has not been the most popular genre in print and in recent years seems to have dropped almost completely off the mainstream radar.  Sure occasional new entries will surface, like Joe Hill’s excellent Heart Shaped Box or this years’ The Strain by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan, but by-and-large the ability to stumble across new horror has become increasingly difficult.  There was a time when bookstores used to have a horror section; Borders in particular held out for a long time (I don’t know if they still have one) with a horror section occupying maybe a bay and a half  at the tail end of sci-fi/fantasy and right before the also shrinking western section.

For those that don’t know 2008 also marked the discontinuation of the International Horror Guild awards leaving only the Bram Stoker Awards (The HWA’s Stoker list is a year behind, newest winners are here) and the Shirley Jackson Awards as the only two major horror awards (the Jackson award is perhaps slightly more diverse).   I would argue that the smaller a genre gets, or the more niche it becomes, the fewer awards it can support.  To contrast the Locus Awards Index lists 9 major science-fiction/fantasy related awards, discounting the Stoker and not including the annual Locus poll.  One might also look to the community surrounding the genre for clues to its health as their is a ribald list of Sci-fi/Fantasy blogs and where there seems to be a relative dearth of similar content covering horror fiction (if I’m wrong let me know as …With Intent to Commit Horror, Horror World, and Fangoria were the best I could find).

Now I could be wrong about all this.  I admit my tastes in horror may not be universal, but I’ve seemed to notice an increase in horror that focuses on the extreme end of things with a tendency towards gore and physical horror over atmosphere.  Even The Missing by Sarah Langan, which I did enjoy, tended towards a more visceral view of horror; on the physicality of everything over an atmosphere of dread and foreboding.  Even The Strain, entertaining take on vampirism though it was, was very much focused on the physical appearance and biological nature of its vampires.  While The Red Tree had its share of visual chills it was more intensely focused on the psychological state of its narrator and the atmosphere of fear and oppression generated by her deteriorated mental state and isolated location.

I think I’m rambling a bit here and I’m not even sure I have an accurate definition of horror that I could throw out here.  I have this ill-defined vision in my head, or perhaps a summary of sensations that reading provokes that doesn’t necessarily jive with some of the content I’ve seen in my searching.  What I’m looking for I suppose is that moment: that sudden realization of fear and terror that I first encountered when I managed to fully decode the Whalestone letters, or the oppressive weight of the starless night that first time I read ‘Salems Lot, or that sense of desperation and finality the minute I finished I Am Legend, or that final shot from the recent Frank Darabont version The Mist.

Any suggestions?

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