Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Strange in a Good Way

From the latest review of my novelette, At First, You Hear The Silence:

"This is a dark fantasy novelette; a strange (in a good way!) mix of sci-fi, horror, fantasy, rural life… it’s a short, tense read that starts off slow and creeps up behind you...

"The horror side of the story is well done. The birds are subtly introduced, and the silence that comes with them is as terrifying as the raptors themselves. I loved that Philippe has to get himself out of a bad situation, and his solution is masterful; I sometimes feel as if horror victims are too passive, and it added a nice air to have Philippe’s rescue of himself go so-nearly-wrong several times -- the suspense was excellent. The actual background to the horrors is nicely vague; we (and Philippe) don’t know what they want, why they’ve come, what they’re going to do next -- and it lends a suitably terrifying edge to the second half of the book that pervades the ending and leaves you feeling unsettled even after you’ve finished...."

Sunday, June 19, 2016

My Father's Eyes



My father was a good man, and for that reason, opaque to me. We had been close when I was a child, but when I was nine years old, we went our separate ways, emotionally; the fault was mine. And although, in his later years, I did what I could to gain some understanding of his inner life, something within me always blocked the way.

In 2004, he died suddenly and horribly on his living room sofa; my face was the last thing he saw.

After his death, I inherited his computer. One day, by accident, I found a series of digital photographs he had taken just a few months before he died. I recognized their purpose right away: he had formed a partnership with several other people to bring wireless, high-bandwidth internet service to the community, and he had mentioned to me that he needed "line of sight" information on locations where the mountains would not interfere with signals. For that perspective, he had taken these photos from one of the highest hills in the region.

I had climbed this hill many times. Even without snow, the possible ways up were never easy. My father had been a university athlete, but in his old age, he suffered from several ailments and a bone chip under one of his kneecaps. This made walking hard for him, to the point where he avoided the icy, unpaved roads all around us. Yet somehow, despite the ice, the snow, the jagged rocks, and the wind, he had climbed that mountain and taken the photos he needed.

I often think of him standing up there, in pain, with only three months left to live, doing what he had to do for the sake of his project and for the people who relied on him. From that height, he would have seen a landscape that I loved and that still reveals itself in dreams, but what he might have thought, or how he might have felt, are beyond my capacity to know.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Oh, That Wretched Book!

From: Mark Dillon
Newsgroups: alt.books.ghost-fiction
Subject: ***  The MEDUSA Fun-Time Quiz  ***
Date: 13 July 2001 --  20:00:41 GMT



Ahoy, shipmates! And welcome to me very own

* * *  MEDUSA Fun-Time Quiz  * * *


You are E. H. Visiak, noted authority on the life and work of John Milton. You intend to write a tale of "mystery, and ecstasy, & strange horror". Very well, then.  Do you --

1] Conjure up an atmosphere of mystery through the careful employment of verbal effects?

2] Suggest a mood of ecstasy through elaborately detailed sensual impressions?

3] Induce a strange horror in the reader by eschewing mystery, ecstasy, vivid description, local colour, suspense, spectral atmosphere and characters with character?



You are a young lad on a sea voyage into the Unknown. En route, which is your most remarkable adventurous experience?

1] You glimpse a volcano, briefly, through the distant haze.

2] You buy a parrot.

3] You study Latin.


  
You are the owner of a ship at sea, and your crew has sighted a monster on board!  Do you --

1] Search the ship to find the monster?

2] Question the pirate passenger who was seen many times, on land, accompanied by a monster?

3] Do *nothing* -- and tell the crew to trust in God?



You, the author, have just revealed the monster. How will you sabotage the dramatic effect of this "savage strange hideous creature"?

1] Have the monster knock on the door and... walk away.

2] Have the boatswain remark, "I see not why we should be in much dread of him...."

3] Make a joke about less-than-pretty mermaids.

4] Name the monster Jerry.

5] All of the above, dammit.



With only three chapters left before your epic anti-climax, do you, the author --

1] Hasten the action to build suspense?

2] Heighten the mood of spectral dread?

3] Halt the story to discuss the spiritual symbolism of "Psyche and Eros"?



Your protagonist is threatened by a mutant octopus!  How will you, the author, suck all the fear and wonder from this anti-climactic moment?

1] Make sure that nothing much happens.

2] Hint vaguely of a spiritual threat without bothering to convey its effects or implications.

3] Have your protagonist escape with ease after eight dull pages of twilit fumbling with a tentacle.

4] All of the above, while refusing to explore the imaginative possibilities of your half-assed novel.



Which passage quoted below best conveys the flavour of this tedious book?

1] "...One of the most truly original fantastic novels in the English language.  The prose is a joy to read, the vocabulary of Milton [sic] couched in the grammar of Stevenson [sic], while the plot is a heady amalgam of a boy's pirate adventure and metaphysical romance.  A voyage to the South Seas culminates in a rendezvous with the sunken demesne of the monstrous octopoid Medusa, last [sic] of a prehistoric race that achieved inter-dimensional travel [?].  It seems vaguely reminiscent, in this, of Lovecraft's "The Call of Cthulhu," but is utterly unlike in spirit.  Visiak achieved [sic] the terror and wonder, the sense of awe, that Lovecraft could only grasp at."
-- R. S. Hadji, TWILIGHT ZONE MAGAZINE, August 1983

2] "I believe that I once described MEDUSA as the probable outcome of Herman Melville having written TREASURE ISLAND while tripping on LSD.  I can't add much to that, except to suggest that John Milton may have popped round on his way home from a week in an opium den to help him revise the final draft.  We're talking heavy surreal here."
      -- Karl Edward Wagner, HORROR: 100 BEST BOOKS, 1988

3] "He told me that he saw no light, but that, on a sudden, the sea was changed into a delectable land; a country of enchantment, having great tall trees, whereof the branches, with their massy broad leaves, did cast a cool delicious shade as green as emerald; and all about them, amongst bushes, bearing huge crimson blossoms, there appeared feminine and ravishing forms, all softness and delight, lifting up their alluring arms with a powerful strong enticement to come down to them.
 
"He said that he was exceeding fain to yield, though an old man, and though he had confidently supposed and hoped he had long ago overcome the lusts of the flesh and the seduction of the eyes, and was, indeed, in the very action of clambering over the bulwarks to cast himself incontinently down, as the rest did, into those blissful and delusory bowers, when (as he vehemently affirmed) he beheld the arm of the Almighty stretched out before him harder than granite.

"The awful spectacle took his soul with such a mighty rapture, and sense of abounding, adoring gratitude as to dispel that inordinate fleshly desire in a moment; whereupon, the airy charm dissolved and vanished away.

"These, to the best of my recollection, are his very words; and, indeed, they were lively imprinted in my mind.  I am only careful to set them down; not to comment upon them -- nor on their substance either. Let them explicate this mystery who can; I leave it to the philosopher."
-- E. H. Visiak, MEDUSA (final chapter), 1929

And there ye have it, mateys: a few short paragraphs that show, with a greater force beyond me, the pointless waste of time that luckless readers call MEDUSA.



Mark Dillon
Quebec, Canada

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Ingmar Bergman's PERSONA

One of the great strengths of horror is that it's not a genre, but a mood, a perspective, a suspicion, and so it can use any approach, any type of plot, image, or character, to achieve its ends.

Bergman understood this, and reaped the benefits.

He also understood that few things are more disturbing, more alien, than a human face.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Rebellion

I'll go anywhere I can to learn about writing, and tonight I was drawn to a play by someone I'd not read before: Henry Arthur Jones.

I was prompted by a statement of William Archer's, in his book, Play-Making, A Manual of Craftsmanship (1912):

"The first three acts of [Mrs Dane's Defence] may be cited as an excellent example of dexterous preparation and development. Our interest in the sequence of events is aroused, sustained, and worked up to a high tension with consummate skill. There is no feverish overcrowding of incident.... The action moves onwards, unhasting, unresting, and the finger-posts [the foreshadowing details] are placed just where they are wanted."

Out of curiosity, I read the play, and it was indeed well-handled. It held my attention from the first page to the last, which is more than I can say for too much of what I read these days, or try to read.

Beyond the craftsmanship, though, what struck me was the writer's attitude towards the conventional sexual morality of his day (1905). This play about a "fallen woman" does not lack compassion, but it does lack rebellion, or even perspective on the social and political nature of morality:

MRS. DANE: Good-bye, Sir Daniel. Don't you think the world is very hard on a woman?

SIR DANIEL: It isn't the world that's hard. It isn't men and women. Am I hard ? Call on me at any time, and you shall find me the truest friend to you and yours. Is Lady Eastney hard? She has been fighting all the week to save you.

MRS. DANE: Then who is it, what is it, drives me out?

SIR DANIEL: The law, the hard law that we didn't make, that we would break if we could, for we are all sinners at heart -- the law that is above us all, made for us all, that we can't escape from, that we must keep or perish.

I can just imagine Oscar Wilde, H. G. Wells, Anton Chekhov, Guy de Maupassant, or Henrik Ibsen raising their eyebrows at this idea of "the hard law from above." But it does make me realize that almost every writer I've taken to heart over the decades has been oppositional, individualistic, skeptical, or humane enough to pick a fight with conventional ideas from his or her own time, to the point where I expect this opposition automatically.

I'm glad that I read Mrs. Dane's Defence, but not only because it's a well-crafted play; it also reminded me that rebellion, in art as in life, is exceptional, never the norm.