Return of the Dead: REBORN (A Dead Man Adventure) by Kate Danley, Phoef Sutton, and Lisa Klink

Reborn by Kate Danley, Phoef Sutton, and Lisa Klink (47North, 2014)

zombies the dead man series pulp horror novels

Reborn is the conclusion to the second season of The Dead Man series. Series creator Lee Goldberg talks about its genesis on his blog:

“About six month ago, I gathered all the authors at my house and we broke the story the way we would in a TV series “writers’ room.” …We had a white board up on the wall, plenty of junk food, and only a general sense of where we wanted to go narratively. And then we brainstormed….

Reborn introduces Tanis Archer, a twenty-five year-old barista at a Dallas community college taking her time going through life. She’s half Greek, but has little to no memory of her father. She has a brother whom she respects, but endures life with her mother. It’s all typical Americana until her car goes out of control and she dies in the resulting crash.

But she wakes up days later on a morgue slab, much to the shock of everyone. She’s considered a miracle, but begins seeing people who resembles walking corpses. Psychiatrists can’t help and unknown individuals want to kill her. Her own brother comes at her with a chain saw. Fortunately, she makes a connection with Matt Cahill, the ax-carrying simple man of justice who himself has died and was reborn. With an army of mutant “freaks” in tow, they set off to do battle with the latest manifestation of The Evil which infests the world.

In this case, evil comes in the form of a sunken Byzantine ocean vessel which a research team has discovered on the bottom of the Black Sea. Against the better wishes of the captain of the ship a group of American archeologists are using, the ancient vessel is raised and the long-dead crew are taken on board. Naturally, the Byzantine crew doesn’t stay dead for long and proceed to slaughter everyone on board. Then they set sail with both vessels for the North American coast.

This is by far the longest Dead Man novel, nearly 300 pages in length. It was initially episode form as a Kindle serial: you paid for the entire book in advance, then received a new episode each week until the adventure concluded. It’s an older form of writing: Charles Dickens published many of his books as magazine episodes and would incorporate feedback from the letters he received into them.

I liked Tanis as a new character development. She has a lot of drive and wields a hammer just as fiercely as Matt swings an ax.I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of her.

However, I do hope Mstrs. Goldberg and Rabkin will return to the novella format they’ve used so excellently in the series. It allows many new writers a chance to play with a give character in a set universe. I’ve had a chance to discover writers I never would’ve read before.  It was also nice to see some of my favorites given a chance to work with the Dead Man series. I hope this continues.

 

 

 

 

Don’t Touch Me I’m a Real Live Wire: CORROSION by Jon Bassoff

Corrosion by John Bassoff (Dark Fuse, 2013)

pulp noir fiction new crime fiction horror novels crime novels

 

Corrosion by Jon Bassoff is an impressive first novel (at least under his own name). I’m not sure I’d agree with Desmind Reddick at Dread Media and say it was the “best thing I ever read”, but it is an impressive start. The author describes himself as a “noir writer” and the influences of Jim Thompson are evident. He has a few more in the works, one due out this October.

The novel is divided into 4 parts, told from 3 different points of view, who may be 3 different people. Or not. It only becomes clear in the final chapter and even then, there is a certain amount of ambiguity.

Corrosion is a trip inside the mind of a psycho killer. I don’t want to give any more detail, as I hate spoiling the plot for potential readers. You get to see the progression of someone into a state of total insanity. And you are left wondering if it ever could have been prevented. There are many questions left unanswered in this book, but such is the author’s intent. This isn’t a pretty book: if you are offended by scenes of violence against women, you might want to read something else.

The first narrator, Joseph Downs, claims to be a war veteran. He’s travelling to somewhere in Colorado when he gets stuck in a disgusting post-industrial nightmare town. His first action is to punch out a man abusing a woman at a bar. Later Joseph begins an affair with her as he works in town. Downs has a face scared beyond recognition and claims it to be the result of an enemy attack in Iraq.

The second narrator, Benton Faulk, is a disturbed kid living on a mountain in Colorado. His father is trying to create his own cure for Benton’s mother who appears to be dying of cancer. Benton avoids school and spends his time reading war comics. He also has a hide-out in the hills he created from an abandoned miner’s cabin. And Benton has an unhealthy interest in a waitress at the local diner.

The author writes conversation without quotation marks:

The office door was closed and locked. I pounded on the door a few times and waited. Some time passed before an old lady with long gray hair and a long gray nightgown appeared. Her face was groggy as she peered out the window. She unlocked the door and opened it. It’s late, she said.

Can you give me a room? I said. I’ve been traveling all day.She sighed. All right. Come on in.

In the corner of the office there was a potbelly stove burning and I walked over and warmed my hands. It’s getting cold, I said.She saw the blood on my hand, and her eyes narrowed. You okay there, son?

Sure, I said. Never better.

She handed me a key. Room three, she said. Check out is eleven. That’ll be thirty-eight dollars.

I pulled out my wallet and handed her the money. Sorry for waking you, I said. I just need a few hours of sleep.

Don’t worry about it, sugar. You have a good night.

It takes a little getting used to, but after a while, you don’t really notice.

The final narrator, and the most brief, is a crazed street preacher. He doesn’t have “Good” and “Evil” tattooed on his knuckles,but does wear a rubber mask.

I have to admit, I am getting sick of books and movies about crazed inbred hillbillies who go on the rampage. I had hoped Tucker and Dale Vs Evil would’ve sunk the genre in the swamp. But I guess there will always need to be a group the better educated and connected can despise.

This is a very dark book. Not for those used to happy and neat endings.

The List of Karl Edward Wagner

Here are the titles in KEW’s infamous list. Clicking on each will take you to the my commentary. All 3 lists were Published in Twilight Zone Magazine from June to August 1983.

13 Best Supernatural Horror Novels

1. Hell! Said the Duchess by MIchael Arlen

2.The Burning Court by John Dickson Carr

3. Alraune by Hanns Heinz Ewers

4. Dark Sanctuary by H. B. Gregory

5. Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg

6. Maker of Shadows by Jack Mann

7. The Yellow Mistletoe by Walter S. Masterman

8. Melmoth the Wanderer by Charles Robert Maturin

9. Burn Witch Burn by A. Merritt

10. Fingers of Fear by J. U. Nicolson

11. Doctors Wear Scarlet by Simon Raven

12. Echo of a Curse by R. R. Ryan

13. Medusa by E. H. Visiak

 

13 Best Non-Supernatural Horror Novels

1. The Deadly Percheron by John Franklin Bardin

2. Psycho by Robert Bloch

3. Here Comes a Candle by Frederic Brown

4. The Screaming Mimi by Frederic Brown

5. The Fire-Spirits by Paul Busson

6. The Crooked Hinge by John Dickson Carr

7. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Hanns Heinz Ewers

8. Vampire by Hanns Heinz Ewers

9. Fully Dressed and in His Right Mind by Michael Fessier

10. The Shadow on the House by Mark Hansom

11. Torture Garden by Octave Mirabeau

12. The Master of the Day of Judgement by Leo Perutz

13. The Subjugated Beast by R. R. Ryan

 

13 Best Science Fiction Horror Novels

1. The Death Guard by Philip George Chadwick

2. Final Blackout by L. Ron Hubbard

3. Vampires Overhead by Alan Hyder

4. The Quatermass Experiment by Nigel Kneale

5. Quatermass and the Pit by Nigel Kneale

6. The Cadaver of Gideon Wyck by Alexander Laing

7. The Flying Beast by Walter S. Masterman

8. The Black Corridor by Michael Moorcock

9. Land Under England by Joseph O’Neil

10. The Cross of Carl by Walter Owen

11. Freak Museum by R. R. Ryan

12. Frankenstein by Mary Shelly

13. The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

 

 

Dolly Deadly: BURN WITCH BURN by A. Merritt

Burn Witch Burn by A. Merritt (Benediction Classics, 2011)

pulp

Merrirr

#9-”Best known for his lost-race fantasy novels, this time Merritt is equally brilliant at modern horror, in tale of murderous dolls animated by the souls of their human counterparts. Filmed as The Devil Doll.”
-KEW, 13 Best Supernatural Horror Novels.

 

Abraham Merritt (1884-1943) was one of the highest paid writers of his day. Although many of his novels remain in print, much of what he has written is unread. Merritt wrote in a verbose form, not at all popular today with our short attention spans. I tried reading The Metal Monster years ago and never made it past the first few chapters. He was a great inspiration to many of the pulp writers.

Burn Witch Burn starts out sudden, but slow. Dr. Lowell is a distinguished physician working in New York City who suddenly has a new patient dumped on him. The patient, a confident of gangster Julian Ricori, is brought to him for treatment. The man, named Thomas Peters, is in a cataleptic state brought on by what appears to be fright. The man has been scared so bad he’s in shock. The gangster chief offers any help, any sum of money to find out what caused this to happen.

Puzzled, Dr. Lowell attempts to diagnosis the man’s condition by standard medical procedure. But he can’t figure out what has brought on the state. When Peters does die, all he can find is a tiny puncture wound, but no sign of poison.

Eventually, the trail leads back to a doll shop not far from Dr. Lowell’s hospital. After searching the records, he finds a number of similar deaths have occurred over the past few months which all lead back to the shop. Soon he finds the owner of the doll shop, Madame Mandilip, to be making very realistic dolls. And some of them resemble the murder victims.

The book starts to really take-off when Dr. Lowell realizes he may be dealing with something evil that is outside his experience or training. Although he continually brings up the concept of hypnosis (a popular excuse for many things before WW2), events occur in the novel which have no basis in normal reality. To Dr. Lowell’s credit, he understands there may be a set of laws at work outside his knowledge base.

Burn Witch becomes seriously creepy in it’s depiction of the animated dolls. Each one is unleashed to carry out an assassination, although we never know why the “witch” of the title is up to. We even see them “punished” for not carrying out the witch’s orders.

I dare anyone to read this book and look at a doll store again the same way.

First published 1/15/10

Mass Fear: THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE by Hanns Ewers

The Sorcerer’s Apprenctice by Hanns Ewers

pulp kew list horror novels

Hanns Ewers

#7 The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, by Hanns Ewers. The first of the Frank Braun trilogy. Braun hypnotizes a peasant girl into believing she has had a heavenly visitation, the isolated village goes mad with religious frenzy, and Braun is in over his head.
- Karl Edward Wagner, 13 Best Non-Supernatural Horror Novels (Twilight Zone magazine 1983)

 

One of the most interesting and controversial writers on these lists has to be Hanns Ewers. A brilliant writer in the early 20th century, he turned to Nazism in the late 20′s. But by the time Hitler and Co. had consolidated power in 1933, Ewers was proscribed and his writings were confiscated. He died in poverty during the next decade. As Karl Wagner said: “The question of who is the victim and the master was is a recurrent dilemma in Ewers’ work, one which the Nazis finally solved for him.”

Ewers’ novels are difficult to find in English editions. I’ve been lucky to either find them in older libraries or reprints. This one was richly illustrated by Mahlon Blaine. His decadent style fits the book perfectly.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is about Frank Braun, probably an alto ego for Ewers himself. He’s a sophisticated German who travels the world, witnessing some of the most bizarre things imaginable. In Alraune, he’s there for the birth of a woman without a soul, who causes damage to everyone around her. The Vampire finds him stuck in a hostile America during WW1. Here he decides to take a sabbatical to an isolated Italian mountain village to write. But the village is teeming with religious frenzy.

Braun arrives to this little collection of scrabble farmers to encounter a man who has recently returned from the United States after winning a big sum in a lottery. It seems “The American” had immigrated to the USA from the village of Val di Scodra thirty years previously. While in the States, he joined a Pentecostal church and became quite active in it. Now he’s back in town again with plenty of money to finance his missionary activities. The villagers have abandoned the local catholic church and are now attending The American’s frequent revivals. The catholic bishop for the area has decided to ignore the situation, least he create a bunch of martyrs.

Frank Braun finds this whole situation amusing. The only people who will have anything to do with him are the innkeeper, Raimondi, the local frontier guard, Aloys Drecker, Ramondi’s daughter Teresa, and a hired-hand named Angelo. In the first week, Braun has his way with Teresa, whose father just adds her to the bill.

Soon, Braun is using his elementary knowledge of psychology and hypnotism to bend both Teresa and The American to his will. He conveniences The American that he’s the prophet Elijah reborn. And just for kicks he then preaches to the man about the power of self-flagellation. Naturally, The American soon has his entire flock whipping themselves into a mass of blood to chase the devil out.

Very pleased with himself, Braun reflects on how he’ll sell the mountain village as a holy spot for all the religious suckers in the world. It seems a good way to make money, so why shouldn’t he get in on it? Besides, these rubes will do anything he says. Teresa he even adopts as a pet.

But one day Braun gets lost traveling through the mountains and doesn’t return to the village for several weeks. When he shows up at the inn, he discovers Teresa is being worshiped as a saint by the villagers. She’s received the stigmata and they are sure the Kingdom of Heaven is upon them. When Braun tries to exert his power over Teresa, he finds it useless. Now Teresa is in charge and she’s not about to let Braun leave the village.

The book ends with a description of a blood ritual straight out of Leatherface Central. To go into it further would spoil the ending. Just let me say this is not a book to conclude on a full stomach. However, it is an excellent novel about the power of mass hysteria.

 First published in 2011

Manufactured Destruction: THE DEATH GUARD by Philip George Chadwick

The Death Guard by Phillip George Chadwick (RoC, 1992)

kew list horror novels classic science fiction

The Death Guard, original cover.

A future history, supposedly written in the 1970′s, detailing the destruction of civilization through global war after Britain develops a synthetic life-form into the perfect soldier. Bleakly anti-war, this novel was published on the eve of Britain’s entry into World War II; rumor has it the edition was pulped. Only a handful of copies are known to have survived.
- Karl Edward Wagner, 13 Best Science Fiction Horror Novels (Twilight Zone magazine 1983)

 

Grim and depressing, The Death Guard is one of those books which originated between the world wars of the 20th century. The author was a prominent Fabian Socialist who was active on the lecture circuit. There is even a rumor that it was one of H. G. Wells favourite books. The edition I was able to obtain was the 1992 ROC reprint. More rumors surround the books scarcity until the reprint: some say it was banned by the British government; others claim the publisher was bombed during a German air raid. There’s even a notion the author died in combat during WWII, but my edition of the book claimed he lived till 1955.

Death Guard is the story of a renegade biochemist who hits on the idea of artificial life. A discharged soldier after the end of WWI, he hooks up with a large manufacturer and begins experimenting. His goal is to create the perfect soldier: a being who lives to kill the enemy. Such a creature would make any nation invincible, so goes his reasoning, because no one would dare attack. Thus, Britain will be safe from any future wars.

The book is told from the viewpoint of Gregory Beldite, the grandson of the industrialist who has sponsored the development of the Death Guard. He relates the first experiments by Gobel, the scientist who creates the life-form, to the eventual near destruction of Britain. Since Beldite opts to work in the production end of the process, he is able to recount the human cost of creating these things. We see the “Brothers”, as they are known, start in fermentation trays, born as “pugs” and finally nursed into 7 ft. killing machines. The Guard is designed to fight with a metal spear and kill any moving object other than its own kind. It’s not quite an animal, although it resembles a biped, which has disastrous consequences in the latter half of the novel.

The main criticism of the book is the racism on display in the first third. Needing a private facility to create his perfect soldier, Gobel has the Beldite company build a compound in the Belgian Congo. The warm weather is perfect for his research. He’s also provided with an endless supply of uneducated locals who know better than to ask questions about what they are doing. But rather than attack the exploitation of the African workers, Chadwick depicts them in the most vile, bigoted manner imaginable. The “N” word is constantly being used to depict these people and great lengths are taken to show them as a superstitious lot easily manipulated. Granted this book was written in the 1930′s when such attitudes were routine in the West, but that doesn’t excuse it. Even the 1992 introduction to the book, by British SF writer Brian Aldiss, describes this as “the most damaging aspect of the novel”.

Death Guard heats up when a training cadre of the Brothers accidentally slaughter a village in the Congo. The world suddenly discovers the British government paying for the production of a super soldier in clear violation of disarmament pacts (which seem to be in force). The combined Continental European powers send a detachment of soldiers to shut down the research facility in the Congo, but the force is wiped out. By this stage, the company responsible for the creation of the Brothers has already relocated most of its spawn to Britain. Threats begin flowing across the channel and war is imminent.

A lot of next section of the novel is given over to Beldite’s observations as a supervisor in his grandfather’s factory where the Brothers are being processed. There’s a particular gruesome scene where an office worker is gutted by one of the creatures when, for sport, the plant decides to turn a Brother named “Bloody Omega” loose on a cow. The author may have shown his own sympathies by making a pacifist one of the major characters in this section.

When war comes, it shrieks down on Britain from the sky. Chadwick did have a bit of foresight in showing how air warfare would change the nature of combat. Although the Death Guard repels the Continentals’ landing, the landscape is devastated by dive bombers, which the author terms “bomb-pluggers“. Chadwick envisioned small bombers attacking the ground from a flying mother ship.

Across Britain, workers are in revolt and the country continues to be blasted from the air. Famine is everywhere. The Brothers are a lethal force against the enemy, but they have to be destroyed immediately after deployment. They cannot distinguish human friend from foe, so the army has to deploy tanks in the rear of every Guard detachment. The Brothers who survive the engagement are blasted apart from the rear. And starvation brings about the worst thing imaginable: spores. Since the Brothers are more plant than animal, they reproduce as they decompose. Soon, the battlefields are covered with tiny Death Guards, who will grow up to be stunted, but still deadly, adults.

And then Beldite learns of the British government’s plans to launch Death Guards into Europe…..

The Death Guard is not a short book; my copy runs close to 400 pages. It’s fighting and not easy to put down. If not for its incidental racism, the book would probably have a larger following.

Finally, here is the blurb from KEW on the RoC reprint back cover:

“The Death Guard is a true “lost classic”…a terrifying novel if science fiction horror. It remains at the top of the ranks of all end-of-the-world novels written before or since. Read it, and you’ll understand why the few who have read it in the past have not let it be forgotten.”

First published 1/3/10

 

 

Future Insanity: THE BLACK CORRIDOR by Michael Moorcock

The Black Corridor by Michael Moorcock

kew list horror novels classic science fiction

The Black Corridor

#8 The Black Corridor by Michael Moorcock. As civilization plunges toward destruction, a few people escape in a starship bearing mankind’s last hope. The rest in suspend animation, one man remains awake to pilot the ship. Moorcock has never been better.

- Karl Edward Wagner, 13 Best Science Fiction Horror Novels (Twilight Zone magazine 1983)

 

A strange and short little book, Black Corridor is one of the best examples I can find of New Wave science fiction. Although the late writer Thomas Disch dismissed a lot of the New Wave as the triumph of style over substance, this particular school of SF literature did blow the cobwebs out of the older forms, obsessed with aliens and blasters. And the New Wave writers actually talked about sex, something difficult to find in much SF before 1964.

Written with his wife Hilary BailerMoorcock’s novel concerns the trials of Ryan, a British businessman who has managed to place his family and himself on the sole starship to leave Earth. Ryan is the only person awake for the journey to a planet in another solar system which may be habitable. The other crew members, mostly his family and relatives, are in suspended animation for the duration of the trip. But Ryan is starting to have problems with the isolation and loneliness. He’s beginning to hallucinate. He’s also having nightmares about the Earth they left behind.

And the Earth left behind is not a pretty place. Ryan had been a successful toy manufacturer there, but shortly before the events in the novel, Earth began going insane. Mass paranoia began breaking out everywhere, infecting the population at large. Large rallies take place in the streets by a group called The Patriots, who want all aliens forced out of the country. By aliens, the Patriots mean the non-English kind, but some of them believe nonhuman aliens are in our midst. Eventually the world breaks down into a variety of mini-states, with different parts of England bombing each other.

Considering when the book was published, the terrestrial portions of The Black Corridor seem to reflect the current racial tensions which raged through parts of England at the time. Immigrants from the Caribbean were appearing n substantial numbers. Racial riots broke out in several major cities. Politician Enoch Powell had already made his infamous “Rivers Of Blood” speech. I can’t help but wonder if these parts were penned in reaction.

Much of the book is also written in a stream-of-consciousness format. Ryan isn’t sure if he’s back on Earth or if he’s having another nightmare. Many of the pages are written in typographical art, which can be a little bit confusing if you’re used to everything being created with a word processor.

An interesting little book from the list.