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Okay, we’re on the countdown to StokerCon

Which (all being well) should take place in Scarborough next month, Scarborough being one of the two primary much-loved northern England holiday resorts . . .

Scarborough on the east coast, and Blackpool across the country on the west coast. I scoured the back streets of Blackpool in the late 1950s, rescuing piles of DC comicbooks from spinning metal racks and a myriad Ballantine paperbacks from shops whose shelves sold so-called saucy postcards.

And why do I recall all this, I sense you wondering? Well, I mention it because StokerCon looks all set to beat those seaside shops and I’m already saving a comfortable welter of loot to purchase classic paperbacks, Can't wait. I think I’ll get to the Con early and camp under the tables. Whoo hoo!

Twenty-eight dealers on forty-three tables (five of which are PS—Yikes)

There’ll be plenty to look at including this fella (before we turn fully to the full convention line-up) that you may have missed from a few months back: CHASM by Stephen Laws, reviewed here by Dave Brzeski in SF Crowsnest. The review just came in yesterday so it seemed wholly appropriate to kick off this week’s special book extravaganza before we move hell-for-leather into the new titles. Take it away, Dave.

There were a couple of factors I wasn’t aware of when I accepted a pdf review copy of this book from PS Publishing: Firstly, that it was actually a new edition of a book that originally came out just over 20 years ago. In fact, this is the first book release of the complete, restored text of the novel, which was published by Hodder & Stoughton in 1998. That particular year had seen a collapse of sales in the horror fiction market, after the boom of the 80s. Authors were being dropped by the big publishers by the dozen and Laws reports that this novel also suffered from a rotating editorial staff, who all had their own views on what was best for the book. Scenes were cut, which Laws strongly disagreed with, but he lost the battle. The publisher was contractually obliged to publish it, but they needed it to be at minimal cost to them, which obviously led to a desire to reduce the size and therefore the unit cost by as much as possible. There was no publicity provided and the paperback was rushed out as fast as possible after hardback publication. I imagine it went out of print fairly quickly. Twenty years later, PS Publishing conducted a survey of their readership/customers and asked them which horror novel, now out of print, was the one they'd like to see again in a special edition. CHASM came out top of their list.

“The second thing I wasn’t quite prepared for becomes rather obvious when armed with the above information. It’s a big book! It’s a whopping 567 pages long! As a rule, I generally tend to prefer shorter novels and novellas. Nevertheless, I dived in. We are introduced to several characters who, in moments of extreme stress, find themselves caught up in massive earthquakes. We are introduced to the main protagonists individually as the cataclysmic event which completely upends their lives takes place. It has to be admitted that none of them have particularly great lives in any case. This is very much a story about how people may or may not be able to step up to the plate when the going gets bad. The question is would they survive this or would they all die?

“It’s not an easy book to talk about without revealing too much detail. When certain characters turn to the dark side, it’s not really that much of a surprise. I don’t believe the author really intends it to be, it’s more comparable to watching a crack grow wider prior to something breaking, so that’s no great of criticism. Laws writes so well that he manages to slip an idea like the Cherubim by me, despite the fact that it initially seems a little silly. I found myself wondering if there wasn’t a slight influence from those nasty little dolls in the ‘Barbarella’ movie. Everything eventually starts to take on a somewhat cosmic element as the story progresses. I think the best recommendation I can give is to say that I finished this rather long novel in just two sittings.

That’s a heck of rec, Dave so all of you out there should take a breather and think of some books you’d like to see available again.

So keep us posted, book-fans cos here at PS we listen to you when you talk to us and there could be other titles that you might think of which sets our juices flowing.  The next one later this year will Be T.E.D. Klein’s DARK GODS (You must remember THE CEREMONIES which we re-published a couple of years back, first as a super deluxe hardcover and then as trade paperback). Other jewels we’ll consider if there turns out to be interest—such as George O’Smiths HIGHWAYS IN HIDING and John Varley’s THE OPHIUCHI HOTLINE are two that spring immediately to mind. It would be nice to re-publish Rob Holdstock’s MYTHAGO series but I’m sure you have suggestions of your own.

Now on to the new titles. Six weeks of the blighters so be patient.

Here’s this from this week’s short stuff quartet taken from Michael Swanwick’s Introduction for the first of two glorious volumes of Darrell Schweitzer stories. Mmm, settle back now and put some more logs on the fire. S’gettting a little windy out there so better drop the key in the latch and pay heed to what Michael has to say. Listen up now.

It is appropriate that this volume should end with “He Speaks for Those Who Do Not Die.” For although the narrator is an adult by its conclusion, it’s all about a boy who is captivated by the occult and mysterious, the eldritch arts, dark imaginings as Darrell himself must surely have been at that age. I do not suggest that he is the protagonist’s original. Only that the acorn does not fall far from the tree. As a young man, Schweitzer fell in love with weird fiction, horror, the uncanny. He never fell out of love with them. 

To have a vision and to stay true to that vision are the two things that are the making (or, in their absence, the breaking) of a writer. Darrell Schweitzer was seized by the desire to write weird fiction and dark fantasy at a very early age, and has stayed the course through the ensuing decades. It is why he is still standing after all the vicissitudes of life and publishing, when so many other writers found themselves shut out of the market long years ago.

It is a rare honor for a writer to have the best of his short fiction collected in two volumes. It is a still moment in time when he can pause in his labors, draw a deep breath, and take stock of what he has accomplished and how far he has journeyed. It is also an opportunity for the person writing this introduction to say: Darrell, if you will, come forward. 

Please, take a bow.

So there you go, THE MYSTERIES OF THE FACELESS KING, 20 stories spread almost lovingly over 340 pages which is just about heaven on earth when it comes to dipping your brain into what truly represents—almost—THE DEFINITIVE best short fiction put together by a single author.

And why do I say almost like that? Well, because that’s only half of the whole story. Hey, stand back from the platform's edge cos here comes another train hi-balling it all the way to STRANGE as noticed by one of Nicky’s and my fave authors and the guest introducer to the SECOND volume, THE LAST HERETIC.

“Everything I need to know I learned from fandom.”

Darell is a fan in the same way that Robert Silverberg, Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, Isaac Asimov and a host of other great writers were fans. In other words, they came up as youngsters and young adults through a very unique and codified subculture that began in the days of Hugo Gernsback (or even earlier, if we count the Amateur Press Associations that shaped Lovecraft and his coevals) and which continued, basically undiluted, until the great fracturing brought on by the internet and social media. This “proud and lonely” subculture preserved and honored the whole continuum of fantastical literature. It encouraged sharing of knowledge, the expression of wit and originality and creativity, while tolerating eccentricity and different points of view. It promoted critical thinking, irreverence and deep friendships among a tiny minority of non-mundane folks. It was, as the saying went, “a way of life.”

Darrell’s immersion in this milieu, his adherence to its precepts and worldview, has carried over into his notable professional existence as a critic, reviewer, interviewer and anthologist. He operates from a fannish platform of seeking out fresh knowledge relevant to the field; encouraging those newcomers who share the same attitudes; honoring traditions and ancestral voices; and maintaining a balanced perspective on all these enterprises. For fandom was also, paradoxically, “just a goddamn hobby.” The current proliferation of savagery and nuclear-armed flame wars that occur all too regularly in the current degenerate state of fandom is antithetical to Darrell’s civilized and cultured take on the literature we all love.

Thanks, Paul.

Both volumes will be available at the PS tables in Scarborough in just a few weeks.

Also lining up for Scarborough are two remarkable anthologies from S. T. Joshi

First up is HIS OWN FANTASTIC CREATION an anthology that takes the figure of Lovecraft and enmeshes him in a series of bizarre and supernatural adventures.

Darrell Schweitzer and Kirk Sigurdson focus on Lovecraft’s childhood, when he was plagued with dreams of “night-gaunts” and was left bereft by the early death of his father.

John Shirley depicts Lovecraft as a gawky teenager evolving his notions of “cosmicism,” while Scott Wiley emphasises Lovecraft’s devotion to cats. Stephen Woodworth and Donald R. Burleson ring changes on the Lovecraftian theme of personality exchange. Lovecraft famously collaborated with Harry Houdini on a story. Donald Tyson and Jonathan Thomas write very different stories on the association of these two figures.

Mark Samuels focuses on Lovecraft’s creation of imaginary tomes of forbidden lore, while the stories by Richard Gavin, David Hambling, and S. T. Joshi supply broader ruminations on the origins of Lovecraft’s revolutionary motifs. While eschewing Lovecraft himself as a character, the tales by W. H. Pugmire and Simon Strantzas exhibit figures who reveal strikingly Lovecraftian elements while probing the psyche of the man from Providence.

H. P. Lovecraft’s work has captured the imaginations of millions—and now he himself has become no less fascinating. In every sense of the word he was, as Vincent Starrett said of him, “his own most fantastic creation.”

And then we have APOSTLES OF THE WEIRD an anthology exhibiting the wide range of themes, motifs, and imagery that weird fiction allows, as embodied in the work of some of the leading contemporary writers in the field.

The ghost or revenant is a venerable motif, and stories by John Shirley, Lynda E. Rucker, and Reggie Oliver ring fascinating changes on it. Allied to the ghost is the haunted house, and stories by Gemma Files and Jason V Brock present highly ingenious variants on the idea. The resurrection of the dead is treated in strikingly different ways by Clint Smith, Jonathan Thomas, Michael Aronovitz, and W. H. Pugmire.

Weird fiction has always exploited topographically remote areas of the world as a potent setting for horror. Here, tales by Cody Goodfellow, Lynne Jamneck, and Stephen Woodworth take us to unfamiliar realms where the weird can manifest itself. From a very different perspective, Richard Gavin and Darrell Schweitzer infuse their tales with elements of fantasy that allow for the maximum play of the imagination.

Science fiction has always been allied to the weird, and in this volume Nancy Kilpatrick and George Edwards Murray take us to a post-apocalyptic environment where the preservation of our very humanity is brought into question. Psychological horror, as represented here by the work of Steve Rasnic Tem and Michael Washburn, focuses on the dread that stems from mental aberration.

The eighteen stories making up APOSTLES OF THE WEIRD demonstrate that weird fiction is a multifaceted genre whose emphasis on fear does not preclude pathos, poignancy, and a brooding rumination on our place in this fragile world.

And that’s it for this week.

More—MUCH more—scheduled for your delight in the weeks ahead as we roll out the rest of the StokerCon launch titles. Stay well, look after each other and wash those hands! Hugs from the greensward . . .


PS Publishing

Grosvenor House, 1 New Road, Hornsea
United Kingdom

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