Monday, October 31, 2016

So this is happening

Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

Friday, October 14, 2016

Went to the Auckland Botanical Gardens. Lovely time. Except for the 19-year-olds under the cherry blossom trees shaking off the blossoms so they can get a goddamn selfie. Millennials saving the planet? Give me a fucking break.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Review: The Fisherman

It's 6:00 and someone opened the trapdoor to heaven - the perfect time to write down my thoughts on John Langan's The Fisherman.

Yes, this is a cosmic horror novel, one of relatively few, considering the outpouring of short fiction in the genre. Its narrative structure, the telling of a story within a story, works particularly well in terms of conveying a sense of time long-passed, of leviathan forces beyond our knowledge waging cosmic war in the unobserved background, puny humans blissfully unaware.

But among us there are always those who notice the blurred edges and the things that live in them.

The Fisherman, aside from being an enormously addictive read, is a powerful example of the impact that the act of storytelling can have on our lives. Imagination, unrestricted by the forces of logic and rationale is what connects us to the Other. The Fisherman employs this link to enforce that we are inherently and inexorably drawn to what scares the shit out of us. That slumbering need to understand the darkness within while at the same time being repulsed by it. As Van Gogh is reported to have said, "The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore."

Biblical notes further underscore a sense cosmicism in Langan's novel and, for me at least, rendered the story more mythologically dense than would have, for example, purely Lovecraftian infusions. The latter is certainly present, too, perhaps no more so than in the title character; however, Langan portrays him with a sense of depth that eventually delivers an infinitely more humanistic climax than anything Lovecraft ever would have considered.

At its core, The Fisherman may intrinsically be about the horror of being human and everything this state of being entails. If you've never considered yourself a "horror" reader, this may be the book that changes your mind. And be prepared to put everything else aside once you start reading it.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Dreams from the Witch House Review

Via Goodreads, a great review for Dreams from the Witch House: Female Voices of Lovecraftian Horror. All kinds of awesome.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Broken Hours Review

"What is it about the darkness which draws us?... I, who feared once, as a child, not the witching autumn, but spring, that clear-lighted season of ghosts... There was something in me, I knew, something perhaps in us all which, no matter our rational selves, was haunted."  -- The Broken Hours

The Broken Hours by Jacqueline Baker is a dreamlike novel, a haunting narrative that serves as a framework for the psyche of a writer that is today more popular than ever.

The year is 1936. H.P. Lovecraft lives in a house that itself appears to be haunted, but not so much by a ghost than by the deteriorating writer that occupies it.

A contemporary literary ghost story, The Broken Hours is an unsettling novel that plays with the reader's perceptions of the real. Notions of madness, which are often central to Lovecraft's fictional universes, are employed to great effect when protagonist Arthor Crandle accepts a position as Lovecraft's assistant. Ideas surrounding identity and how we perceive reality are elevated in the interplay between Lovecraft and Crandle (the latter's name, in  both  appearance and phonetically somehow quintessentially Lovecraftian). Lovecraft communicates with Crandle only via letters; the two almost never speak face to face. On the main stairwell of the house, Arthor more than once experiences an ominous presence and at night, when Lovecraft writes in his study, the light is visible from underneath the door inside the house, but not from outside the house, looking in.

The Broken Hours is a lyrical homage to the weird that employs one of the genre's most recognisable figures as a signpost around which a maelstrom of psychic elements collect. The dreamlike quality of the language contributes to a building sense of unease, of feeling lost, of not being able to distinguish fiction from fact. I expect that those looking for details of Lovecraft's more well-known fictional creations may be disappointed. Rather, Jacqueline Baker's "novel of H.P. Lovecraft" is The Turn of the Screw gone Weird in the best possible way. Highly recommended, even if you know little about Lovecraft's own fiction; in fact, the novel may serve as an enlightening foundation for reading his fiction for the first time.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Product of your time? NO

I'm currently writing a story for a project that addresses Lovecraft's racism through stories that put all kinds of minorities front and centre. Of course, some people decided to piss and moan about this because "pandering blah-blah-blah" and "Lovecraft was a product of his time".

Product of your WHATEVER

So here's my response to this, which I will repeat here from the FB group page for this project.

"Product of his time" is too often used as an excuse. People are not mindless automatons. We have free will. We can decide what we want to believe.

I am South African and as such, racism has been a present force in my life for a very long time. Of course, as a child it was a force due to its pervasive absence - not talked about by adults or the media. 

As a teenager I was able to actually start thinking for myself, as was the case with many of my peers. Schools became bi-racial when I was around 16 and of course, unlike adults, teenagers were like, what the fuck is the big deal? Then Nelson Mandela was elected president and for a couple of months, South Africa basked in the glow of democracy and everything was rainbows and unicorns.

Then everyone got angry. Real angry. People who had been oppressed horrifically for years were in a position of power, were making the new laws of the country. God bless Nelson Mandela, because that man didn't have an ounce of hatred in him. But once he was no longer president, things began to turn ugly. People were drawing strength from hate. And once Mandela died, there was no reason for anyone to any longer hold to the ideals Madiba proposed. 

Today, there is a great deal of positivity in South Africa, but there is also still very defined racism. Blacks against whites, whites against blacks, black tribes against one another - it's a long list. 

Was Apartheid a "product of its time"? Fuck no, it was a choice. Because in the midst of Apartheid, there were thousands of whites who chose to accept black people as equals, who fought alongside them for the same rights bestowed on those of the so-called "Vaderland".

Hating someone because they are different is a choice. It's like saying homophobia is a product of it's time. Well, homophobia is still very rife, and we live in the 21st century. So no. 

I wrote my MA thesis on Lovecraft. I like the guy. I think he wrote about very important things before anyone else, and these themes are still extremely relevant today, which makes him a kind of visionary. But he was a jerk in terms of how he viewed those who were different from him. He clearly wasn't a hick in terms of how he thought about Big Ideas. But it's easier to hate something you don't understand than to actually look at your own shortcomings and fears.

[Project Editor] - when I did WITCH HOUSE, I luckily only got a small number of people complaining about publishing a Lovecraftian antho with women only. Those people missed the point of the antho entirely. Someone is always going to complain, you can bank on that the way you bank on the sun rising each morning. It's not a reflection on you or anything you're doing. If anything, you're confronting people with their own biases, and that's a good thing. You're doing just fine.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Friday, May 6, 2016

Black Wings of Cthulhu 5

Black Wings of Cthulhu V (ed. S.T. Joshi) featuring my story "In Bloom" is now available for preorder at Subterranean Press!

"This fifth instalment of S. T. Joshi’s critically acclaimed Black Wings series features twenty stories that use H. P. Lovecraft’s mythos as the basis for imaginative ventures into the weird and terrifying. One of the central themes in Lovecraft’s work is the problematical nature of science in human affairs, and in this volume we find stories by Caitlín R. Kiernan, Lynne Jamneck, and Donald R. Burleson where scientists come face to face with the appalling implications of their discoveries."

While the implication of "In Bloom" might be appalling, I sometimes think that the outcome of the story might be a better option, considering what we're doing to the planet.

Read more about BLACK WINGS V at the Subterranean Press website.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Forthcoming Short Story

Something something PLANTS I have a story in the upcoming Black Wings of Cthulhu V (Ed. S.T. Joshi) alongside some other splendid writers.

Interview for Fantastic Stories of the Imagination

Brian M. Sammons interviewed me for Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, where I talk about Lovecraft being a genius, a jerk, and blue ducks in your stories.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Recently Read

Man, I am so woefully behind on my reading list. There's a digital pile of awesome on my tablet and not nearly enough hours in the day.

However, I did finish two books recently that I'd very much recommend, not only to readers of the Weird, but anyone who enjoys speculative writing. Actually, if you never read any fiction at all, you're missing out and should read them, too.

Molly Tanzer's Vermilion (Word Horde) is a highly entertaining read that blends the weird with the Wild West and the paranormal in a way that reminds me of Bravestar and Big Trouble in Little China. Protagonist Lou Merriwether is a psychopomp who aids the transition of the dead to the afterlife. It's a sometimes dull, sometimes risky job, but it's one Lou's good at, having learned the business from her father. Lou chain smokes and carries a big gun for a little girl. But she gets into trouble when she decides to investigate the mysterious sanatorium known as Fountain of Youth, who she begins to believe is responsible for the disappearance of numerous Chinatown boys, lured from Lou's own city of San Francisco by the promise of work on a railroad that shouldn't exist.

If you like unconventional, gender-bending heroines, Vermilion will no doubt appeal to you. Tanzer's novel is also a great introduction to the weird for those who want to get to know the genre better, but not necessarily via its pulp roots, which are set firmly in the early 20th century.

The Year's Best Weird Fiction Vol. 2 (Undertow Publications) edited by Kathe Koja and Michael Kelly. I'm a huge fan of Koja's writing, and knowing that she had selected the stories for this volume was for me, essentially, a moth-to-a-flame affirmation. While it's always difficult to pick favourites in a collection like this, I will highlight Nathan Ballingrud’s “The Atlas of Hell”, which I really loved (more so than "Skullpocket", actually), and as a result, I know have another book added to the ever-growing pile, Ballingrud's "The Visible Filth".

Weird fiction is not always an easy genre to penetrate, but then, I don't particularly think it is supposed to be. Which is what makes it so enticing. Like Vermilion, The Year's Best Weird Fiction Vol. 2 is perfect for introducing new readers to weird stories. While not every single entry might speak to you, the ones that do will keep at it for a long time to come, even when it eventually dies down to a whispering worm in your brain.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Dreaming in the Witch House

I received my copies of "Dreams from the Witch House" today. I am slightly in awe of the incredible job Chris Morey, Daniele Serra, and everyone at Dark Regions Press have done in bringing this book to press. Also noting that WITCH HOUSE would never have been published without the support of every single IndieGoGo backer who helped us make it a reality, whether through your financial support or spreading the word about the campaign via the web and social media. Thank you!

The interior illustrations - one for each of the twenty stories - pop off the page beautifully. Chris Morey investigated several options prior to printing to get this perfect, because the mood reflected by each image serves to accompany and complement their specific stories.

I'm extremely proud of this book. The wonderful stories, the cooperation between creative individuals and the process of working with loyal readers all came together in an exciting synergy to produce something very special.

Happy Monday, everyone!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Second brew fermenting!

So a couple of days ago, I made a second beer brew, this time a Dutch Lager. Apparently, lagers are more complex to brew, which is one of the reasons we decided on a porter as our first batch, just to get into the swing of things (I also love porters, not gonna lie).

For the lager, I dry-pitched the yeast at 24C. For the first couple of hours there was no sign of fermenting and I thought I'd killed all the yeast babies (even though the directions say pitch the yeast between 18-30C). Shit.

But when I went to check on it the next morning, the airlock was bubbling away, so it all seems to be going according to plan!

The Dutch Lager recipe doesn't specifically call for adding additional hops, so I'm not quite sure whether I want to add hops or not. I quite like a hoppy beer, but I'll do a bit more research first and see what I come up with.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

First brew bottled!

So a couple of days ago, we bottled our first home brew, a porter called "The Nightwatchman". It smells deliciously fruity and I can't wait to taste the final product! The beer has to stand in a cool dark place for 3-4 weeks before it's ready. In the meantime, we are going to start a second brew, a lager this time.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Dreams from The Witch House e-book available!

"Dreams from the Witch House: Female Voices of Lovecraftian Horror", fully illustrated by British Fantasy Award winner Daniele Serra, is now available as part of a fantastic e-book bundle from Dark Regions Press.

WITCH HOUSE includes stories by Joyce Carol Oates, Caitlín R. Kiernan, Gemma Files, Molly Tanzer, Lois H. Gresh, Nancy Kilpatrick, Karen Heuler, Marly Youmans, Lucy Brady, Tamsyn Muir, Colleen Douglas, Cat Hellisen, Kelda Crich, Amanda Downum, Christine Morgan, E.R. Knightsbridge, Sarah Monette, Storm Constantine, Elizabeth Bear and Sonya Taaffe.

The bundle on offer is yours for a $15 steal - check out all the other fantastic books included in the offer HERE.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Brew Update

Quick update on the home beer brew.

The wort has been in the fermenter for ten days; five days ago we added the hops pellets, which actually smell quite amazing, despite looking like some kind of dried poop.

Today, we took a SG (Special Gravity) measurement. The brew we are making "The Watcman" (or "Jack", as we've dubbed it, after Jack the Ripper) needs an SG of 1009, and we are currently on 1010. Almost there. The SG has to then remain stable for 24 hrs before we carbonate and bottle.

Took a sip of the test as well; quite fruity, and I can imagine, after being carbonated and the three-week maturing period it's going to taste rather good.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Brewing, Bru.

Bit the bullet and got a starter kit for brewing beer. Made a first wort two days ago and started the fermentation process last night. Five days now until the hops goes in and then another five days brewing.

First brew is a porter, "The Nightwatchman".

 Ferment, baby, ferment!

Friday, February 12, 2016

Review: Leena Krohn: Collected Fiction

I like snow. I like ice. I like cold things.

There is something about that which makes us shiver that sharpens the senses, flints focus. It also tends to turns reflection inward. Is that why Scandinavians all seems so...evolved?

Leena Krohn: Collected Fiction (Cheeky Frawg Books, 2015) is a perfect introduction to the gorgeous writing of a Finnish writer I cannot believe took me this long to discover.

With a foreword by Jeff Vandermeer, the collection is a hefty treasure, with more than 800 pages of dreamlike, haunting language that will stay with you long after you've done-and-dusted the final page.

It's difficult to pick favourites, but in a pinch, I will single out the novella Datura, or a Figment Seen by Everyone as a personal favourite. Slipping in and out of reality (or reality as we like to clarify it), the novella plays tricks with the reader at a level that eventually construes an entirely untrustworthy narrative (yay!). BUT - Krohn's beautifully subdued writing renders this instability somehow stable, contributing to the overall surreal effect of a story that cuts bone marrow close - if we're willing to honestly read what is on the page.

Pereat Mundus will also fry your metaphysical brain, but in a way you will be forever grateful for.

Birds talk. There are giant insects. The nature of intelligence and reality is skilfully probed and prodded - sometimes with a little help from nature. And what is Nature?

If any of the above rings your bell, I highly recommend reading Leena Krohn: Collected Fiction. Read it. Then read it again. Then put it aside, but close by, because you're going to want to read it again.

Magpie Bonus: Gorgeous cover.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Review: "A Head Full of Ghosts"

I read Paul Tremblay's A Head Full of Ghosts in about a week, which is pretty much rocket-speed when you consider that I am no longer a teenager who can spend two days behind a closed bedroom door, reading a novel over the course of one week-end.

POTENTIAL SPOILERS (depending on what you consider spoilers)

Having been raised Protestant (not zealously, but enough so that I went to church just about every Sunday morning, including Christmas morning BEFORE presents), and having had an acute anxiety disorder (for which I need to take medication every day) for the better part of 15 years, A Head Full of Ghosts struck a very close chord with me.

Tremblay plays off the psychological horror of being afflicted with a mental illness against the seductive power of religion as presenting an instant cure in return for unquestioning faith. The novel pits this tension within the context of familial relationships, the likes of which are, inevitably and inherently already imbued with their own complex set of tensions.

The previously-mentioned Protestantism (now entirely lapsed and well-buried), as well as my interests in psychology and the mind, has kindled in me a fascination with the concept of possession. A Head Full of Ghosts addresses this both subtly and horrifically, but the horror here is compounded by the novel's domestic setting, rendering it an all too real potential experience for all of us.

I don't generally read YA, and I suppose, because of the novel's "retelling" narrative framework, it can be labelled as such. This tactic renders the adult Meredith, who relates her childhood experiences to a journalist writing a book about the incident, to some degree an unreliable narrator. Does she correctly remember the events that took place when she was only 8 and her sister 14? Did she interpret them correctly at the time? This sense of uncertainty runs throughout A Head Full of Ghosts; at times, the novel is clearly about the breakdown of a family, yet there are instances where the uncanny creeps in and the reader is left to wonder - is there something more going on?

The novel also comments on how modern ideas about demonic possession has influenced our psychological response to such a notion. Tremblay addresses the relentless psychological power of religion as a means to an end, as well as the consequences of such blind trust without preaching to his reader, something that is not always easy, considering the subject matter.

If you are looking for an engaging read, and you have a penchant for the psychological and/or religious, I highly recommend A Head Full of Ghosts. Be prepared to come to your own conclusions, however; there are not always definitive answers, but this is an aspect of the novel that I believe renders it even more powerful, and certainly, more thought-provoking.