Yes, I missed last week too; it was Canadian Tax Time, and I just ran out of steam. Some weeks I run out a lot faster than others (You Have Been Warned!). But I’m back, and let’s get to it! This week I’m presenting a blurb for a book I am going to review next week. Consider this an advance review, if you like; I have previously reviewed one of Matthew Hughes’s “Raffalon” stories in F&SF, and found it good. As I said in that review, Matthew’s Raffalon seems to have many of the best qualities of Jack Vance’s writing, with a healthy dose, it seems, of Fritz Leiber’s “Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser” thrown in for good measure. This volume—available as an ebook from the author and soon to be on Amazon—collects all the known Raffalon stories and adds another that you will not have previously read.
The book’s blurb says, in part, “In an age of wizards and walled cities, Raffalon is a journeyman member of the Ancient and Honorable Guild of Purloiners and Purveyors. In other words, a thief.
His skills allow him to scale walls, tickle locks, defeat magical wards. He lifts treasures and trinkets, and spends the proceeds on ale and sausages in taverns where a wise thief sits with his back to the wall.
But somehow things often go the way they shouldn’t and then Raffalon has to rely upon his wits and a well calibrated sense of daring.” If you just can’t wait for my review, I’ll tell you at this point that I have enjoyed the Raffalon I’ve read; I’m very fond of what I guess I’d call “sardonic writing,” embodied by the two authors I mentioned above… kind of a sly look at some of the fantasy that some authors write so earnestly. It’s well done, and I wouldn’t blame you if you clicked on the link above and bought yourself a copy without waiting.
Earlier this year—last month, to be somewhat more precise—something called “B Cubed Press,” in Benton City, Washington, published a new anthology dedicated to the proposition that all truths are not created equal. At least, that is, according to the new resident of the Besmirched House (formerly the White House) at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in the good ol’ US of A. This new anthology is called Alternative Truths, and will probably not be loved by any American who votes on the right-hand side of the political spectrum.
Edited by Phyllis Irene Radford and Bob Brown, this ebook, with a foreword by Rick Dunham (a well-known political journalist, and co-director of the Global Business Journalism program in Beijing) and, oddly enough, ebook layout by Vonda N. McIntyre (?), contains twenty-four new stories by a variety of authors (excluding the aforesaid Vonda). All are concerned, in one way or another, with the “post-truth” syndrome currently affecting all non-house-staff residents of the Besmirched House (see above). I won’t comment on all the stories; as is usual in anthologies, there is variable good (some of which, I must admit, may be subjective rather than objective) in these stories. In other words, some tickled my funny bone; some reminded me that the “winner” of the Presidential Race (I’m gonna see if I can do this column without mentioning a name [unless in a title]—you know which one I mean.) is more scary than funny, and some were just writing cautionary tales. Which is as it should be.
Adam Troy-Castro’s piece, “Q&A,” was short, but sweet, twitten—I mean “written”—from the first-person perspective; the second one, “The Trumperor and the Nightingale,” by Diana Hauer, is an attempt to use traditional fairy-tale tropes to tell (off) the would-be Führer. It worked to an extent, but in my opinion went on too long. The third story, Jim Wright’s “President Trump, Gettysburg, November 19, 1863,” made me laugh out loud. Really, I should have more self-control, but this one’s a bit of a gem. I won’t describe it; you’ll have to experience it yourself. Louise Marley’s “Relics: A Fable,” is a cautionary tale. Can this happen here (well, since I’m in Canada, maybe not—but “here”as in the United States)? I hope not, but it’s well written.
A couple of fantasies—maybe wish-fulfillment, maybe cautionary melded with wish-fulfillment—then follow. “Good Citizens,” by Paula Hammond, is written from the viewpoint of an “ordinary” citizen; I thought the ending was somewhat weak, though the writing was pretty good. Gregg Chamberlain’s “Alt Right for the President’s End” is definitely SF, and also wish-fulfillment, but well written and kind of fun. Sara Codair’s “Melanoma America” is all too likely, given what’s going on today with the ACA. I will say no more. “Patti 209,” by K.G. Anderson, is a sad story—and one that may stick with you a while. Like its predecessor, it’s written—and well written, too—from an “if this goes on” perspective.
Daniel M. Kimmel is obviously a Facebook user. I’ve seen nearly this exact scenario played out over and over on FB. FB users these days are often just looking for a reason to argue and/or disagree with each other. Is it the social medium itself, or a general tendency of popular Western culture? This story is exaggerated, but not by much. Okay, part of it’s unreal, but the rest? Moving on to “Letters from the Heartland,” by Janka Hobbs, this is scary and oh, too real. There are a couple of “Laugh Out Loud” moments—California seceded from the US, and apparently gave trees the right to vote!—but again, I’m not sure you can exaggerate these trends too much! The rest of the anthology, too, is based on the same alt-truth stance that the Besmirched House wants us to accept wholeheartedly; I managed to get through it without being depressed. There is enough humour leavening the anthology to keep it from seeming “real future fiction,” and therefore depressing. I do recommend it.
Okay, I confess it: I’m a Howard Phillips Lovecraft fan, and especially of good movies made—not necessarily of HPL’s stuff—in the Lovecraft vein (or as Robert Bloch and Mad Magazine used to joke, in a jugular vein). For that reason, although I’m as fond as anyone of Re-Animator, The Call of Cthulhu, Dagon and the rest, the Lovecraftian feel I look for is found in such movies as the Hellraiser series and In The Mouth of Madness. It’s not got a lot to do with gore; it’s more the feeling that the world we see is only some kind of façade over a bottomless pit of horror. That at any moment—as in Hellraiser—the walls could open and another dimension, one you are powerless to resist, and which can change you and your world in unthinkable ways, will appear. Yes, it wouldn’t be a horror movie without a little gore or a bit of ugly makeup, but that feeling of being stalked from beyond the borders of sanity is what really makes me jump, movie-wise.
Here’s the IMDB description of The Void: “When police officer Carter (Aaron Poole) discovers a blood-soaked man limping down a deserted road, he rushes him to a local hospital with a barebones, night shift staff. As cloaked, cult-like figures surround the building, the patients and staff inside start to turn ravenously insane. Trying to protect the survivors, Carter leads them into the depths of the hospital where they discover a gateway to immense evil.”
Pretty standard stuff, one would think. This description doesn’t do the movie justice… before Carter sees the man, we’re treated to a couple escaping from captivity in an old house; when they exit the door, she is shot and he surrenders. His captors immediately soak the woman’s body—and we’re not sure she’s actually dead—with gasoline and burn her; then we cut to Carter in his patrol car. The hospital Carter takes the man to is on its way to being shut down; there was a fire in the past, and many of the staff and patients have been moved to other hospitals, leaving a skeleton staff. Carter soon discovers that he—and the rest of the people in the hospital—are captives; there is a small army of cloaked people with triangular faceplates on their hoods laying siege to the hospital. When Carter attempts to leave, he is attacked by a pair of these hooded ones, both carrying long knives.
Carter’s superior, who appears to be the sheriff, comes to the hospital and is killed attempting to save him. And it gets weird from there. I really don’t want to tell you too much about this movie; I’d like it to be a surprise to you as it was to me. For fans of horror—as described above—I would seriously recommend this. (So if you liked Mouth of Madness, you will probably like this too.) And there are plenty of Canadian connections here, too (the doctor, played by Kenneth Welsh, has won Canadian and American awards, including something called the Earl Grey award. I doubt it’s for tea drinking, though).
Comments on this column are welcome. Comment here or on my Facebook page, or in the several Facebook groups where I link to this column. I read all comments, and don’t care whether you agree with me or not. My opinion is, as always, my own, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Amazing Stories or its owners, editors, publishers or other columnists. See you next week, Ghu willin’ and the crick in my neck don’t get worse!