How I Spent September 2022


Well, I wasn’t as active as I would’ve liked. I was hoping to finish off the Splatterpunk Award reviews and also to give A Long Year’s Dreaming a good shove, but neither is coming along as quickly as I would prefer.

That said, I’ve put significant work into my big Halloween project for WWAC, so you can expect rather more activity come October…

Articles of mine published elsewhere this month:

Article topics for October and beyond:


September 2022: A Month in Horror

Well, as any horror enthusiast will know, September is the month where we start to see the early glimmers of Halloween, while the bigger events are saved for October proper. Cinemas got a few of the cinema’s earlier horror realeases, including Smile (82% on Rottentomatoes), Spirit Halloween: The Movie (50% on Rottentomatoes) and Rob Zombie’s Munsters reboot (42% on Rottentomatoes… but I’m still looking forward to watching it, because I’m exactly that sort of person).

And while the new version of Hellraiser won’t debut on Hulu until October 7, Jamie Clayton’s version of Pinhead has already become one of the horror icons of 2022. Roll on Halloween!

Bidding farewell…

Peter Straub, who passed away on 4 September, will need little introduction to horror readers. Debuting in 1973 with his novel Marriages, Straub began exploring supernatural themes with Julia in 1975 and ended the decade with 1979’s Ghost Story, one of the biggest hits of his career. His subsequent novels include The Talisman and its sequel Black House (both co-written with Stephen King) along with a string of Bram Stoker Award winners: Mr. X, Lost Boy, Lost Girl, In the Night Room and A Dark Matter.

Martin Barker, who passed away on 8 September, was a left-wing film critic and cultural commentator whose writing on media violence is characterised by a strong anti-censorship stance. He was one of the comparatively few media figures to speak out against the moral panic over “video nasties”, which he deconstructed in his 1984 book The Video Nasties: Freedom and Censorship in the Arts. The same year also saw the publication of A Haunt of Fears: The Strange History of the British Horror Comics Campaign, in which Barker examined a similar moral panic from the 1950s. Barker would continue writing on topics from Judge Dredd to The Lord of the Rings into the twenty-first century.

Werewolf Wednesday: Sabine Baring-Gould Chapters 11-13 (1865)

Sabine Baring-Gould’s Book of Were-Wolves devotes chapters eleven through thirteen to a single case study: that of Gilles de Laval, Maréchal de Retz — more commonly known today as Gilles de Rais. “The history of the man whose name heads this chapter I purpose giving in detail,” writes our author, “as the circumstances I shall narrate have, I believe, never before been given with accuracy to the English public.” Crediting Paul Lacroix as his main source, Baring-Gould then warns the reader that his summary of the case will cover “horrors probably unsurpassed in the whole volume of the world’s history.”

I don’t really need to summarise these three chapters, as the life of Gilles de Rais has been covered extensively elsewhere (with more up-to-date research than was available in the 1860s, as well). Suffice to say that Baring-Gould’s distinctive blend of the matter-of-fact and the macabre is on full show: “Henriet counted thirty-six children’s heads, but there were more bodies than heads. This night’s work, he said, had produced a profound impression on his imagination, and he was constantly haunted with a vision of these heads rolling as in a game of skittles, and clashing with a mournful wail.”

And if you’re wondering whether Baring-Gould is making the case that Gilles de Rais was a werewolf, the short answer is no. By this point, he seems to be filing any acts of extreme sadism in the category of lycanthropy.

Werewolf Wednesday: Sabine Baring-Gould Chapter 10 (1865)

Khara the Râkschasa

The tenth chapter of Sabine Baring-Gould’s Book of Were-Wolves tackles the “Mythological Origin of the Were-Wolf Myth”:

It was not merely a fancied external resemblance between the beast and man, but it was the perception of skill, pursuits, desires, sufferings, and griefs like his own, in the animal creation, which led man to detect within the beast something analogous to the soul within himself; and this, notwithstanding the points of contrast existing between them, elicited in his mind so strong a sympathy that, without a great stretch of imagination, he invested the beast with his own attributes, and with the full powers of his own understanding. He regarded it as actuated by the same motives, as subject to the same laws of honour, as moved by the same prejudices, and the higher the beast was in the scale, the more he regarded it as an equal

He illustrates this with two examples: one, a scene from Iceland’s Finnboga Saga in which Finnbog speaks to a bear; the other an Osage story recorded in J. A. Jones’ Traditions of the North American Indians that deals with anthropomorphized beavers.

Continue reading “Werewolf Wednesday: Sabine Baring-Gould Chapter 10 (1865)”

“The Transition of Osoosi” by Ozzie M. Gartrell (2021 Ignyte Awards)


Published in Fiyah #13, “The Transition of Osoosi” takes place in an apartheid United States of America where the population is divided into the elite True Americans and the second-class Citizen Americans. Being in the latter category is dangerous indeed, as CAs are not even protected by laws against murder. The protagonist, Mal, is a CA with the gadgets to help him get by – although, as his augments are not officially registered, they raise the stakes should he get caught:

Despite the dark, the officer wears mirror shades. I narrow my eyes a fraction and specs flood my interface. Recording sunglasses. Standard law enforcement issue. Filters sunlight, but enhances night vision. Adds to the loom factor and faux badassery. My reflection, distorted by his mirror lenses, sneers at me. Coily hair, streaked with purple and emerald, sweeps back from an unremarkable face with narrow black eyes and a broad nose. My dark skin looks mottled in the lengthening evening shadows.
The officer is careful to keep his patrol car between us. Smart. He’ll later claim it was because he’d “feared” for his life.

In this society, virtual reality is a popular form of escapism – and it is permitted to exist so long as its content is sanctioned by the True Americans. However, Mal’s closest friend Machine develops a new media technology, augmented immersion, that offers broader potential – including the capability to tell the stories of the underclass. Machine sees the opportunity for disseminating peaceful protest, but Mal is unconvinced by his ambitions:

Machine eyes the simdisc as if I cradle pure magic between my fingers. “I needed to mark that moment, y’know? As i coded it, I wanted to fuse virtual reality with art and history–our history. I want it so they know, so they feel what our people felt. To be unable to turn away.
Unable to turn away. I like the sound of that. I toll Machine’s peaceful protest between my index finger and thumb. It’s a quaint ideal, but peaceful protests didn’t stop the water hoses, it doesn’t stop the beatings and homicides.

And so Mal turns to a notorious hacktivist group that is working to bring about social reform –no matter high the price — and who might have a use for this new technology…

“The Transition of Osoosi” is a story oozing in unadulterated cyberpunk chic. It creates the kind of world where being a rebel inevitably involves looking cool, a fact signified here by the hacktivist group == members of which base themselves upon figures from African myth, each one with an eye-catching avatar. The story aims for rather more than just superhero-costume escapism, however, and provides the necessary bite of social commentary,

The story is well-paced and works a good degree of tension into its short length. Like any successful thriller, the stakes are not confined to immediate material concerns – in this case, whether or not Mal will be apprehended by the police – and instead reach into something less tangible. Mal’s very ethical principles are at stake: will he follow the agenda of the hackers to its conclusion, even though doing so will irreparably damage his present relationships? It is surely no coincidence that the hacker he admires the most, Ogun, is named after a deity associated with sacrifice.

Quieter moments are used to articulate the everyday cruelties and inequalities that are part of this dystopia. When Mal’s twin sister Mar, who is transgender, uses the ladies’ restroom, she is surrounded by hostile whispers – like trans woman today, albeit exacerbated by a biochip that amplifies every murmur:

I killed the feed and elbowed past gawking TAs. Mar didn’t protest when I lowered her shades to hide her tears, tucked her against me and headed for the dining area. The crowd parted like sticky-sweet soy sauce. I tugged on Mar’s right earlobe so that her biochip would filter out their hateful whispers. Their susurrations – freak, pervert, he shoulda called the cops – rolled off Mar and stuck to me.

Elsewhere, an intimate encounter between Mal and his lover Vee is undercut by the fact that Vee’s very body is being used as advertising space – an example of the story’s social commentary manifesting in the strikingly visual manner of political cartoon:

The advertisement swells over Vee’s brown breast, plunges into her cleavage, and swoons over the other. Problems with your most important Member? Use Viagrix to set the Mood! I’d wondered what it felt like, having advertising scripts crawling over your skin eight hours each day, but Vee only shrugged and said the money was good and she rarely noticed anymore.

All too easily reduced to a commodified aesthetic, cyberpunk is a genre that has seen something of an identity crisis in recent decades. “The Transition of Osoosi” is simultaneously a story about rebellion, a meditation on the uses of media in the face of oppression, and a ripping story; and on top of this, it is a plea for the continued vitality and relevance of cits genre.

Werewolf Wednesday: Sabine Baring-Gould Chapter 9 (1865)

An illustration by Jean de Bosschère for The Golden Ass.

The ninth chapter of Sabine Baring-Gould’s Book of Were-Wolves, “Natural Causes of Lycanthropy”, will be of interest less to those studying folklore, and more to those investigating Victorian attitudes towards criminal psychology.

The author spends much of the chapter waxing philosophical about the human capacity for destruction and cruelty: hunters and fishermen; children who gloat over wounded animals; sadistic murderers; and tyrants like Nero, Caligula and Robespierre. Cannibalism soon becomes a focal point, with Baring-Gould finding some interesting incidents to back up his arguments:

An abnormal condition of body sometimes produces this desire for blood. It is manifest in certain cases of pregnancy, when the constitution loses its balance, and the appetite becomes diseased. Schenk gives instances. A pregnant woman saw a baker carrying loaves on his bare shoulder. She was at once filled with such a craving for his flesh that she refused to taste any food till her husband persuaded the baker, by the offer of a large sum, to allow his wife to bite him. The man yielded, and the woman fleshed her teeth in his shoulder twice; but he held out no longer. The wife bore twins on three occasions, twice living, the third time dead.

Continue reading “Werewolf Wednesday: Sabine Baring-Gould Chapter 9 (1865)”

“Fireflies and Apple Pies” by Thomas R. Clark (2022 Splatterpunk Awards)

58330440._SY475_In the introduction to his novella The God Provides, Thomas R. Clark explains how the first portion of the narrative – “Fireflies and Apple Pies” – started out as a short story before being expanded to fill a slim book. Yet it is the first stretch, rather than the novella as a whole, that found its way onto the Splatterpunk Awards ballot; and so, this review shall set aside the latter portion of the book and concentrate on the opening.

The story takes us to the Tully Foothills, where October has started – bringing with it the annual Apple Festival. But this year, the festival becomes the site of the town’s first murder in a century:

At first, it appeared as though preschoolers went to town practicing covering her mouth with lipstick.
“She looked like she stuck her face in a can of strawberry jam.” One of the workers told a TV reporter.
But no.
A closer examination revealed someone ripped out Sandy’s tongue and left her to bleed to death, alone in the dark. The girl graduated a year ago and, like many locals, she worked at the festival to make a few extra bucks. The day before her smiling face could be seen at a Fritter booth. Now no one could find her tongue.

Continue reading ““Fireflies and Apple Pies” by Thomas R. Clark (2022 Splatterpunk Awards)”

Werewolf Wednesday: Sabine Baring-Gould Chapter 8 (1865)

The story of Guillaume de Palerne (or, William and the Werewolf)

The eighth chapter of Sabine Baring-Gould’s Book of Were-Wolves is entitled “Folk-Lore Relating to Were-Wolves” and feels like something of a round-up of miscellanies. The overview opens in Britain, with a brief reference to werewolves in the ballad of Kempion: “O was it a war-wolf in the wood? Or was it a mermaid in the sea?” This is followed by namechecks of  “William and the Werewolf” in Hartshorn’s Ancient Metrical Tales and “The Witch Cake” in Crumek’s Remains of Nithsdale Song.

Baring-Gould notes that, because England has killed its wolves, the country’s witches are instead imagined as transforming into cats, hares or (in Devonshire) black dogs. After an untranslated excerpt from Gervaise of Tilbury’s Otia Imperalia, he moves on to legends relating to cannibals — but not shapeshifting cannibals.

Continue reading “Werewolf Wednesday: Sabine Baring-Gould Chapter 8 (1865)”