The Unexplained Revisited: Spontaneous Human Combustion

Dk91Vc0W0AAnfRhIf, like me, you spent a significant portion of your formative years poring over dubiously-sourced books about paranormal phenomena, then certain images will be permanently burned into your memory: stills from the Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot film, the Surgeon’s Photograph of Nessie, a few Adamski flying saucers… and, perhaps, a severed limb with its charred stump lying in a heap of ashy human remains. Ah, yes. Spontaneous human combustion.

SHC is another topic introduced in the second issue of The Unexplained, the beloved 1980s paranormal partwork, with Fortean Times founder Bob Rickard showing us through the smouldering remains of his subject matter. The first instalment of Rickard’s three-part series, “Ashes to Ashes”, begins by pointing out that the basic idea of spontaneous human combustion stretches back into antiquity, even mentioned in the Bible: “By the blast of God they perish, and by the breath of his nostrils are they consumed.” Rickard goes on to mention Dickens’ depiction of SHC in Bleak House, and suggests that this scene was inspired by the fates of Countess Bandi and Grace Pett, who suffered mysterious fiery deaths in the eighteenth century.

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“Shoulder Pain” by Chandler Morrison (2020 Splatterpunk Awards)

macabremuseumPublished in the debut issue of The Macabre Museum, “Shoulder Pain” is a second-person story that places the reader headlong into a zombie apocalypse. But any preconceptions about the zombie genre can be set aside, as author Chandler Morrison makes a concerted effort to strip away all macho romanticism and antisocial wish-fulfilment:

You weren’t prepared for this.
The movies, the video–games, the television shows…they’d led you to believe that it would be different. That it wouldn’t be so dreadful. That, maybe, it would even be fun.
You imagined yourself lingering up headshots with ease. Hacking off necrotic limbs without breaking a sweat. Cruising down abandoned highways on a big, roaring motorcycle. You weren’t prepared for the bugs in your hair. Bugs that have gotten so big you could name them. Bugs that you can’t wash out because you haven’t bathed in weeks.
Nor were you prepared for the smell.

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Missing Comics of March

supergirl40Any comic fan will know about the industry’s disruptions in the age of Coronavirus, but not everyone will know about a specifically British disruption: at the start of the lockdown, the UK’s comic shops didn’t get the issues published in the final week of March.

More than a month later, however, those issues finally reached our shores. With the aid of my lovely LCS I was able to get my hands on the last few issues of my March pull-list (except for Wonder Woman #754, alas, which slipped through the cracks). I’ve now had the opportunity to appreciate these relics of a bygone age, a bit like that scene in Soylent Green where they’re eating salad.

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“Breaking the Waters” by Donyae Coles (2020 Splatterpunk Awards)

nightlightHere we have a first for the Splatterpunk Awards: an audio-only nominee. Donyae Coles’ story “Breaking the Waters” was read by Cherrae Stuart for a joint episode of the podcasts Nightlight and Pseudopod, the latter celebrating its 666th instalment, and can be heard here.

The story begins with a young woman named Bootsie being approached by a man with no face, clad in a pristine white suit. He claims to have known her deceased mother, and makes a strange offer. “This is our proposition”, he says; “you let us impregnate you, use your womb, and track your dreams. Before the thing sinks its tentacles into you, we’ll get rid of it. Everything will be taken care of. You just have to open your legs. You can do that, can’t you, Bootsie?” She is uncertain, but the faceless man makes it clear that he will pay little attention to a refusal: “You can say no but the answer is still the same. The asking is a formality.”

Over the course of three nights, Bootsie submits to the man with no face. She subsequently becomes pregnant, and is visited by a faceless man outwardly identical to the first – although she concludes that he is “a different man, exactly the same but completely different.” He announces that he and his vaguely-defined associates will keep an eye on Bootsie’s dreams “until the beast comes, until she blesses us with the waters of her birth, the milk of her many-titted chest.”

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The House of Eddas: Odin vs Ymir in Journey Into Mystery #98

Journey_into_Mystery_Vol_1_98Time for another issue of Journey Into Mystery, with two more stories: one another of Thor’s latter-day superheroic adventures, the other a retelling of a Norse myth…

“Challenged by the Human Cobra!” opens with Thor smashing up his office in a tantrum over Jane Foster leaving him in the last issue (“Even a thunder god can go on the rampage! Even the mighty Thor can lash out in a fit of uncontrollable temper! Perhaps you never thought of superheroes possessing the all-too-human qualities of jealousy, frustration, and violent anger! But Thor has emotions, even as you and I!”) He’s apparently noisy enough for Asgard to hear, as Odin calls him over for advice: “Put all thoughts of the human Jane Foster from out of thy mind! Forget her! Else, you will never know peace!”

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“Angelbait” by Ryan Harding (2020 Splatterpunk Awards)

BigBookBlasIn another story from The Big Book of Blasphemy (see also Jeremy Wagner’s “Norwegian Woods”) three people – Tilda, Michael and Isabella – awake to find themselves chained to a wall inside a dark building. They are being held captive by a man named Otis and his leprosy-scarred assistant Simon. When asked for an explanation as to why he is holding them prisoner, Otis answers, “I can almost feel the holiness radiating from you.” He knows about their personal histories: that Michael acted as a missionary and medical volunteer in the developing world; that Isabella works in a soup kitchen; and that Tilda witnessed an alleged miracle involving a radiant, bleeding statue of Mary. He also knows that all three live within fifty miles of one another, a fact that he finds deeply significant.

Otis’ theory is that Michael, Isabella and Tilda are living saints, and so he has captured them to make use of their gifts: he wants their help in capturing an angel.

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This Article is for Christians, Not Vampires

2020-05-07 12.59.56

I’ve got to hand it to the site’s stuck to its guns. It’s been online since the nineties and as far as I can tell has changed little since then, still proudly flying the flag for a specifically web 1.0 variety of kookiness. Once the insufferable MIDI file of religious music starts playing in the background, you know you’re in for a ride.

The site is run by Stan and Elizabeth Madrak of the End-Times Deliverance Ministry, although it’s published bits and pieces by a number of other writers. One of these is Michael Dawson, who contributed an article about vampires based on research that he conducted from 1997 to 1999. The article’s been removed – why, I have no idea, given that it’s hardly below the site’s overall standards – but you can still access it at While just as daffy as the rest of the site it’s a little more coherent than the Madraks’ own articles, so I decided to give it a closer look.

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“Censered” by Christine Morgan (2020 Splatterpunk Awards)

43351589._SY475_The Sixth Seal has been opened, the four horsemen are laying waste to the world, and seven archangels are brandishing trumpets – which leaves the eighth archangel, Tabaeth, feeling left out.

“Censered” is part of And Hell Followed, an anthology of stories inspired by Revelation, and it is one of the more humorous pieces in the volume. The central character Tabaeth is the youngest of the archangels, with the foul mouth and tantrum-prone temperament to show for it. “It’s fucking unfair!” he proclaims as the Four Horsemen ride out upon the Earth. “They all get trumpets! They all get to destroy shit!”

It turns out that Tabaeth’s irreverence is not down purely to immaturity: he has been speaking to beings from fallen pantheons, and noticed some suspicious similarities with his own Abrahamic heaven. Could this apocalypse, he wonders, be “just ripping off the Egyptian thing about Ma’at and Apep?” Indeed, pagan belief systems do seem to contain a lot of virgin births, resurrections, and evil serpents, suggesting a degree of divine plagiarism. And he fails to see how Yahweh comes out looking better than any of those rival gods, considering the harsh treatment afforded the likes of Adam, Eve, Lot’s family, Job and Ham:

And, hey, get a load of Mr. Build-An-Ark, wasted off his tits, rolling naked in the mud probably puking on himself; so Ham laughed, big fucking whoop, it must’ve been Goddamn funny! What does he get for it, though? Blammo, systemic bullshit racism for umpty-thousand years.

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The Continued Weaponisation of Marion Zimmer Bradley

2020-05-05 09.16.32John Scalzi posted the above tweet a few days ago. It seems to have drawn quite a bit of attention to the Marion Zimmer Bradley paedophilia scandal, as I noticed a spike in Google hits for this post I wrote on the topic. That was where I took a close look at how, after Bradley was exposed as a child molester in 2014, certain right-wing sci-fi writers (largely associated with alt-right guru Vox Day) tried to build a narrative — contrary to evidence — that liberal authors like Scalzi were covering up Bradley’s crimes.

I wrote the post in question back in 2017, so it’s a little out-of-date now. Given the renewed interest in the topic, I thought it was time to run a follow-up. In this post I’ll be looking at three subsequent incidents, each of which shows how a number of right-wing authors clung to their narrative no matter how many facts needed to be twisted along the way.

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