The Unexplained Revisited: Black Holes

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As well as spontaneous human combustion, the second issue of beloved eighties parteork The Unexplained introduces a topic that its readers might have found a little unexpected. For the first time, the magazine was delving into a topic that exists well within the boundaries of accepted science: black holes.

In his article “Black Holes: Where Time Stops, Space Collapses”, astronomer Nigel Henbest delivers a popular introduction to the subject:

A black hole is quite literally a hole in the fabric of space, torn from our Universe by a star collapsing in on itself. It is a region into which matter has fallen and from which nothing, not even light itself, can escape. Within the black hole, there is no up or down; no left or right. Time and space have changed roles with one another.

Just as we on Earth cannot help by travel forward in time, so any space traveller unfortunate enough to fall into a black hole would be sucked into the centre by an infinite density and crushed out if existence. Around the black hole itself is left a gaping hole, a few miles across, where space does not exist. Here, the pull of gravity is stronger than anywhere else in the Universe. Nothing can ever escape from it.

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Polish Extreme (2020 Splatterpunk Awards)

52852716._SX318_SY475_Polish Extreme is an anthology of horror stories originating in Poland – or, at least, themed around Poland. The book opens with Tomasz Czarny’s “Can of Coke” in which Meg, a busty Goth girl, works at a delicatessen and puts up with the unwanted attention of her lecherous boss Sloan. As unpleasant as Sloan typically is, when Meg walks in on him indulging a drug habit, he soon manages to take a turn for the worse. In terms of storytelling aesthetics, rather than subject matter, this is the oddest entry in the anthology. Its plot hinges on an awkward turn of phrase (which may well have sounded more natural in Polish) and it lacks any structure of the sort that is conventional in English-language horror: there is nothing that can really be termed a surprise twist, for example, no revenge to follow the rape. It is primarily a character study in grossness that grows until it reaches a brutal climax.

Next comes “Vomit Your Soul” by Lukasz Rasecki, the monologue of a man who kidnaps and tortures to death members of heavy metal subcultures. After a graphic description of his latest victim (a seventeen-year-old grindcore guitarist) the narrator divulges his motivations, revealing that he is a religious moralist who sees himself as punishing sinners. The character portrait is thick with irony: the torturer tolerates music that glorifies Satan, on the grounds that doing so implies a belief in God, but despises metal that glorifies death and nihilism; he disdains cruelty to animals, but sews them inside his victims; and he shows an in-depth, almost fanboyish knowledge of the bands he loathes (the author is himself a metal musician). The ultimate irony is that he has become a figure worthy of the death metal songs that he so despises.

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Midnight in the Graveyard (2020 Splatterpunk Awards)

52948330._SX318_SY475_This anthology of ghost stories opens with two tales that, while very different, each succeed in creating a dense, oppressive atmosphere. “Devil’s Dip” by Shannon Felton is about a bitterly disappointed man who gets a call from an old friend, reminding him of a teenage incident on a reputedly haunted stretch of highway. Meanwhile, in Chad Lutzke’s “Tug O’ War” a bleakly unromanticised depiction of a dying man surrounded by his loved ones is followed by a climactic séance going horribly wrong.

The next few stories are gentler, although they tend to reach macabre conclusions. In “Euphemia Christie” a student becomes obsessed with a local grave, but faces hostility when she investigates the life of its occupant. “Justin’s Favorite” by Jeremy Hepler is the story of a woman who, while alone in her new home, meets a malevolent spirit with a connection to her partner. Todd Keisling’s novelette-length “Holes in the Fabric” examines the aftermath of a religious sect’s mass suicide, with a woman being forced to revisit bad memories and confront her religious faith when she meets the ghost of a childhood friend who joined the order. Kenneth W. Cain ‘s “Dog Days” is an epistolary narrative set in a house where, for decades, dogs have gone mad; the letters that make up the story turn out to have been written by now-dead occupants. Then comes Hunter Shea’s “Drown”, about two paranormal investigators visiting a haunted bed and breakfast.

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My Novel The Omega Factor: Divinity is Out Now!

2020-07-14 12.53.34My tie-in novel for the vintage paranormal investigation series The Omega Factor is now available for you to buy! I was given the opportunity to explore events that happened before the main plot of the series took place, and I’d say that the resulting story will be accessible even to those unfamiliar with the show — although if you haven’t seen it, then I’d recommend digging out a DVD for full enjoyment.

Here’s the official synopsis:

When Tom Crane is sent to the sleepy village of Coldad to investigate a poltergeist, he expects to uncover nothing more than an elaborate hoax. Then the terrified Wright family invite him to spend the night in their haunted house, and he gets to experience the unsettling phenomenon at a closer range than he might have liked.

The investigation takes an even more personal turn when Anne Reynolds turns up an old interview, hidden on a dusty cassette in the Department’s archives.

Who was Margaret Grange, and why was Department 7 so interested in her life story? And could Coldad have a sinister connection with Edward Drexel, the evil magician who killed Tom’s wife?

You can also find out more about the book in this issue of the Big Finish magazine.

The Omega Factor: Divinity is available in audiobook-only format, narrated by series star Louise Jameson.

The Big Book of Blasphemy (2020 Splatterpunk Awards)

BigBookBlasHot on the heels of And Hell Followed we have another religiously-provocative anthology, The Big Book of Blasphemy. The volume includes a total of thirty stories, including the Best Short Story finalists “Norwegian Woods” by Jeremy Wagner and “Angelbait” by Ryan Harding.

The anthology opens with “Faith”, a short piece in which the late Charlee Jacob gives a typically poetic, dreamlike and opaque treatment of the blasphemy theme. She takes the topic of martyrdom as a prism through which to examine male violence against women and children, the sex lives of saints, the concept of free will, and the idea of a mother goddess. All in all, a good introduction to the collection and its recurring motifs.

There are devils aplenty in The Big Book of Blasphemy, from the disfigured nun who welcomes a doomed army ambulance driver in Lucas Magnum’s “Sister Scar” to the demons in Ryan Harville’s “Selling Salvation” who take on the forms of a grotesque male predator and an unearthly temptress to put the faith of two Christian teenagers to the test. Angels are present, as well, if not always in reassuring form: “Sweeter than Honey, More Precious than Diamonds” by Mark Mills is a brief, surreal story that opens with the sentence “The rest of the congregation wanted to rape the angel before they ate it, but Fenton was having none of that” and continues along similar lines.

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