How I Spent July 2021

As I type this I’m a bit worn out from a day’s trip around town with a friend. Suffice to say that I spent much of July cracking on with my latest TV tie-in novel (hoping to have a draft finished next month), polishing off Splatterpunk Awards reviews and watching anime.

Articles of mine published elsewhere this month:

Article topics for August and beyond:

July 2021: A Month in Horror


One of the biggest horror releases this month was The Fear Street Trilogy, a series of Netflix films based on R. L. Stine’s teenage horror books that started in 1989. The series was well-received and there is already talk of a possible continuation.

In award news, Ladies of Horror Fiction announced the winners of their awards which include Agustina Bazterrica’s Tender is the Flesh, Alexis Henderson’s The Year of the Witching the graphic novel The Low Low Woods and more. The finalists for the World Fantasy Awards have also been revealed; amongst the horror titles are Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic and Stephen Graham Jones’ The Only Good Indians.

The month also saw a sequel to a controversy from June. Last month small publish Silver Shamrock performed a U-turn on trigger warnings, first denouncing the entire concept and later announcing that it would begin using trigger warnings for all of its books going forward. This month we saw the apparent result of this in a compromise that pleases nobody: Brennan LaFaro’s Slattery Falls, a new book from Silver Shamrock, was given a weirdly unspecific warning by the publisher that reads simply “This book may contain content that triggers undesired reactions.”

Bidding farewell…

Film director Richard Donner helmed a number of much-loved movies including Superman (1978), The Goonies (1985) and the Lethal Weapon series. His immortality in the horror field, meanwhile, was assured by his early film The Omen, originally released in 1976; he also produced the 2002 film Tales from the Crypt: Ritual. He died on July 5, aged 91.

Blood Relations by Kristopher Triana (2021 Splatterpunk Awards)

BloodRelationsKristopher Triana is well-represented at this year’s Splatterpunk Awards, with two novels and this collection on the ballot, and those who followed the award in previous years will remember his books Full Brutal and Toxic Love. A major theme throughout his work is that of utterly twisted relationships, and Blood Relations homes in on this: the volume contains story after story of family values gone horribly, horribly wrong.

The collection opens with “Thicker than Water”, about a father and daughter who are only able to see each other in brief periods during prison visiting hours. Parental angst builds up, with Triana’s florid prose bringing emotional weight to the macabre subject matter – the recurring image of a porcelain doll thrown from a Ferris wheel being particularly memorable.

“My Name is Chad” is another tale of a warped parent-child relationship, this time from the perspective of the younger party. While preparing for a move a man finds a box of old home movies shot by his father. Playing them, he sees footage of himself as a child, becoming embroiled in a disturbing situation that he no longer remembers, and which makes him question everything he knows about his family. The story has a steep emotional trajectory: the protagonist’s aching hope that the videos will contain footage of his sister, who died when they were children, turns into revulsion when he finds out what actually happened to her.

Continue readingBlood Relations by Kristopher Triana (2021 Splatterpunk Awards)”

Werewolf Wednesday: the Case of Dr. Broniervski (1912)

In the same chapter that it provides a detailed outline of a lycanthropy ritual, Elliott O’Donnell’s 1912 book on werewolves offers a supposedly true account of a meeting with such a shapeshifter. Attributed to one Dr. Broniervski, the story should be taken with the same helping of salt as all of the other “true” stories retold b O’Donnell, but even if fictional it marks an interesting blend of the werewolf theme with the intangibility of a ghost story.

Taking place ten years before Dr. Broniervski met O’Donnell (a date that is meaningless, as the book never reveals when the two met), the story begins with the doctor travelling in Montenegro. He hires a local guide named Kniaz, but his companion Dugald Dalghetty warns him against this choice: “Kniaz has the evil eye,” says Dalghetty; “he will bring misfortune on you. Choose some one else.”

Broniervski ignores this warning and sets off with Kniaz on a journey from Cetinge to a town called Skaravoski, the latter of which appears to have never been mentioned in any other publication. Along the way, the conversation turns to the supernatural:

He asked me several times if I believed in the supernatural, and when I laughingly replied ‘No, I am far too practical and level-headed,’ he said ‘Wait. We are now in the land of spirits. You will soon change your opinion.’ The country we were traversing was certainly forbidding—forbidding enough to be the hunting ground of legions of ferocious animals. But the supernatural! Bah! I flouted such an idea.

Continue reading “Werewolf Wednesday: the Case of Dr. Broniervski (1912)”

The Essential Sick Stuff by Ronald Kelly (2021 Splatterpunk Awards)

EssentialSickStuffThe Essential Sick Stuff is an omnibus edition of three separate collections: The Sick Stuff, More Sick Stuff and Even Sicker Stuff. The first of these, originally published in 2009, includes a few stories from the early nineties when author Ronald Kelly’s career was just beginning.

“Housewarming” is a fairly straightforward ghost story in which a man moves into the house of his deceased aunt, whose lingering presence is symbolised by an infestation of spiders. While this story reserves graphic horror for its very end, “Diary” – about a serial killer sharing memories of his formative years – is less sparing with the visceral details. A typical passage: “They sent me to reform school when I was seventeen for cutting off my girlfriend’s breasts with a pocket knife. After all these years, I still haven’t figured out what my true motives had been. Maybe someday I’ll call her up at the state asylum and ask her if she remembers why I did such a horrible thing.”

The other early story in The Sick Stuff shows Kelly’s propensity for the outright bizarre. Entitled “Old Hacker” it has a narrator reminiscing about a strange local man who had the disgusting habit of hacking up gobs of spittle – that turned out to be alive.

The remaining stories in the first anthology are comparatively recent, being originally published in either 2008 or 2009. Nonetheless, the themes of Kelly’s early work are still evident. His fondness for fiction about serial killers turns up in “Mass Appeal”, about an eight-year-old boy who is obsessed with mass murderers and has dreams of spending time with historical evildoers: giving Vlad the Impaler a cake for his birthday, sharing bubblegum with Uncle Adolf and having target practice with Charles Whitman. “Pins and Needles” is about a man who hides poison and sharp implements in trick-or-treat candy for the banal reason that he dislikes children, and then receives an ironic punishment worthy of an EC horror comic.

Continue readingThe Essential Sick Stuff by Ronald Kelly (2021 Splatterpunk Awards)”

Cerberus Rising by Patrick C. Harrison III, Chris Miller and M. Ennenbach (2021 Splatterpunk Awards)

CerberusRisingCerberus Rising consists of nine stories in all, with the three authors – Patrick C. Harrison III, Chris Miller and M. Ennenbach – each tackling three specific themes.

The first theme is cabin fever. “Insides Out” by Patrick C. Harrison III is set in a farmhouse were a family gathered together for Thanksgiving and then died, leaving the father of the house the sole survivor. Narrating the story, the father is in no hurry to divulge the exact cause of the mass death, instead showing a curiously apathetic attitude towards the relatives whose corpses now surround his house as he details events leading up to the tragedy. First comes weird atmospheric phenomena, then surreal body horror involving levitating organs, then the emotional deterioration of the survivors until the father reaches his present insensitive state. The familiar (to Americans, at least) annoyances that sometimes come with extended-family Thanksgivings are twisted into a grotesque parody.

Chris Miller’s take on the theme is “Into the Light”, the story of a family that has spent ten years in a bunker at the behest of its paranoid patriarch, who insists that “they” are on the outside. The narrator, Myla, was born on the inside. The story builds up the quirks that define each character: the father’s all-consuming fear of a “they” that he cannot even identify; the mother’s ability to draw a shell around herself and accept the situation as normal; the growing frustrations of teenager Bobby; and the unquestioning obedience of Myla, who simply knows no other existence. When Bobby breaks the family’s golden rule by taking a step outside, Myla is caught between her parents, her brother – and, perhaps, “them.”

Continue readingCerberus Rising by Patrick C. Harrison III, Chris Miller and M. Ennenbach (2021 Splatterpunk Awards)”

Werewolf Wednesday: “The Man-Wolf” by Émile Erckmann and Alexandre Chatrian (1859)

800px-Erckmann-Chatrian_woodburytypeThis week I shall be taking a look at an early piece of French werewolf literature, courtesy of authors Émile Erckmann and Alexandre Chatrian. The story was originally published in either 1859 or 1860 (the sources I have at hand are inconsistent) as “Hugues-le-loup”, while an English translation entitled “The Man-Wolf” was published in 1876 and can be read online here.

The story by Erckmann-Chatrian concerns a Germanic family cursed with a (possibly psychological) lycanthropy that dates back to their ancestor Hugues, whose name anglicises to Hugh. This is an interesting overlap with “Hugues, the Wer-Wolf” by the British writer Sutherland Menzies, published nearly thirty years previously, which involved a (supposedly) lycanthropic family surnamed Hugues.

Menzies appears to have borrowed the name from Hugh Lupus, a Norman earl; I know of no folklore association the real-life Hugues with lycanthropy, but his name fits. Were Erckmann and Chatrian also inspired by the same individual? It seems curious that two French writers would model a family of fictional German aristocrats upon a Norman-British personage, but the trnaslator’s note at the start of the story playfully suggests a connection:

The English reader will not fail to notice the correspondence between the title and the well-known designation of the illustrious head of the noble house of Grosvenor. Whatever connection there may or may not be between that German Hugh Lupus of a thousand years ago and the truly British Hugh Lupus of our day, all the base qualities of his supposed progenitor have disappeared in him who is adorned with all the qualities which make the English nobility rank as the pride and the flower of our land.

“The Man-Wolf” begins with the protagonist, a doctor named Fritz, being visited by his sometime foster-father Gideon Sperver. The latter reveals that his master the Count of Nideck is suffering from “a terrible kind of illness, something like madness” and needs medical help.

Continue reading “Werewolf Wednesday: “The Man-Wolf” by Émile Erckmann and Alexandre Chatrian (1859)”

Monster Hunters, Dinosaur Lovers has Begun Serialisation


Last month I expressed hope that I’d soon be able to start serialising chapters from Monster Hunters, Dinosaur Lovers (my long-gestating book about the stories caught up in the Hugos/Puppies controversy a few years ago) via my Patreon. Well, I made good on my promise and, if you’re a subscriber to my Patreon, you’ll now have access to the chapter in which I discuss Rachel Swirsky’s “If You Were a Dinosair, My Love”.

The chapter isn’t entirely new as it incorporates a few of the reviews I penned for Women Write About Comics, but I’ve greatly expanded upon them: starting with 2300 words’ worth of WWAC writing, I ended up with an essay of around 10,000 words. As well as outlining the backlash against “If You Were a Dinosaur” from right-leaning culture warriors, I discuss the story in relation to the recurring themes and techniques seen in Swirsky’s other work and confront a number of accusations: is it classist? Is it derivative? Does it deserve its reputation as an “SJW” story? Can it truly be termed SF/F?

In the final part of the essay I talk about the various parodies, written by authors ranging from Vox Day’s blog-bottom commentariat through to Swirsky herself (with a special appearance from the inestimable Chuck Tingle).

By the standards of modern short fiction, “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” prompted a large amount of discussion. With this essay, I may well have come up with the single longest piece of analysis yet written. Current patrons can read it already; anyone else is free to subscribe to my Patreon and gain access both to this essay and to subsequent exclusive posts.

Meanwhile, I’m still hoping to publish one chapter per month for the rest of the year. Stay tuned…