REVIEW OF OCTAVIA BUTLER’S CLAY’S ARK

 

Four decades ago, L.A. sci-fi author Octavia Butler published Clay’s Ark with Warner Aspect. I recently re-read the novel and would say I did so on a lark, but for some reason, unstoppable diseases merged with cultural earthquakes have been on my mind lately.

A friend first introduced me to Butler’s writing around the year 2000. Her more popular works include Kindred and Parable of the Sower. Yet I didn’t start with those—I began with the Xenogensis series and Clay’s Ark, novels that seem still less well known, but I found hard-hitting in the manner I like with fantasy and sci-fi, namely the kind of works where the reader becomes privy to a revelation that the world wasn’t ever as we thought it was, and will never even be as we just discovered ever again. Though Clay’s Ark is the last published of Butler’s Patternist series, within the timelines of the stories, it does not appear in chronological order and can be understood if read before and/or apart from the other novels.

Clay’s Ark begins as an alien invasion story with a twist—the invader is a microbe that threatens to take over Earth in the form of a disease. Set in the near future in a dystopian western United States, the book opens with Eli Doyle, an astronaut, forcing his ship to crash land in the desert. He carries a microbe that gives him heightened strength and power but only for the sake of spreading the disease. He stumbles on a compound occupied by a Christian cult and spreads the disease to its occupants. The story then jumps forward to a family crossing the desert to carry a dying child to see her grandparents. The family consists of two sisters, Keira and Rane, and their father, a doctor named Blake. The sisters are of mixed racial background—a father of European ancestry and a mother of African ancestry. Keira is dying of leukemia and hopes only to see their grandmother one last time.

When their car breaks down, they encounter Eli, now the leader of the cult—though the cult is no longer religious. Instead, the infected former astronaut has been breeding half-alien children with the women of the compound. They have created an isolated society where they are committed to both perpetuating the disease by procreating and by preventing the disease from spreading by staying isolated and capturing and assimilating anyone who becomes exposed to it. Thus Keira, Rane, and Blake become their hostages with little hope of escaping.

Re-reading this story and its characters in 2020 was more intense than expected. The context of the Covid-19 pandemic and political and racial strife in the U.S. is enough to deliver a strong shiver while taking in the story. But what struck me more is how stark Butler is with her descriptions, how graphic she is when describing the inevitable violence resulting from the characters at first being unwilling to accept their new reality and then the permanent changes it brings.

The children born to those infected with the Proxi Two microbe run on all fours—they have heightened strength, speed, and senses. But they do not conform to any stereotype of being “advanced”, or even “good” or “evil”, for that matter. And though the character of Keira, who is sick with leukemia, becomes in a sense “healed” by acquiring the alien disease, it requires such a change in what it means to be human as to make one wonder if “identity” as humans once knew it can survive at all.

As I read the climactic scenes in which there are graphic depictions of rape, gun battles, desire for cannibalism (if not cannibalism outright), and threats of incest and parricide, I couldn’t help but wonder how this resonates with our current ethics when it comes to what is palatable in art and literature, and what the difference is between that which is exploitative and gratuitous and that which is pioneering and empowering. There are certainly some reviewers who have decided there is little value in what Butler is doing with this particular work (for example, here).

The fact that Keira, the terminally ill child, is the family’s only survivor and that even the cult leader Eli doesn’t achieve his ethical goal of preventing the microbe’s spread says something about what “good” really means in this author’s vision. I read the final scenes of this novel thinking that stretching my mind past good and evil, black and white, and even gray becomes necessary to try and understand its emotional reality. For in Clay’s Ark, the value and definition of survival itself is called into question—what does it mean to survive if you no longer know who you are and if you have been abused so badly that the acts of cruelty themselves lose form?

We often think of cults as evil and coercive, and in most stories, they are depicted as such. But beneath such clichés, Octavia Butler has something subtler to say about what happens when people and their world totally change and have to find a way to continue. She ends the novel with very few survivors and a scene with an alive yet infected Keira and her cult-member lover committing to stay together even after the horrors they have experienced. And even though their children won’t be human, the story points out that whatever the way forward might be, a companionship of kindred identities is all that might matter. However strange and alien, however shocking and unlikely, and however offensive to others that kinship might be, it is the closest thing many of us have to something good.

 

Carl R. Moore is the author of Slash of Crimson and Other Tales, and the forthcoming Chains in the Sky, with Seventh Star Press

A CONVENTION’S TALE—A JOURNAL OF IMAGINARIUM 2019

A Convention’s Tale

Thursday, 10/11:

A slight delay in Chicago landed me in Louisville around seven o’clock. Greeted Holly and Stephen and was pleasantly surprised that my partner-in-crime Daniel Dark was also already present. Set up my table alongside Dark and we went for dinner at a nearby Mexican restaurant and got to hear about each other’s new projects. As far as I was concerned, Imaginarium was already in full swing, as this type of exchange is what it’s all about.

After dinner we made our way back to the Ramada for a bourbon and a cigar. Ever prepared, Dark had black folding chairs with cup holders in his car. A kind of haunted midnight tailgate party ensued. Stephen, Holly, and family joined us, and all were in a good mood with the prospect of enjoying the convention ahead. Although I suck at smoking cigars, I managed to finish one this time around, and it probably also helped me set down the bourbon and say goodnight early so that I could wake up and finish the last chapter of Red December, a horror novel involving hunters and werewolves to be published with Seventh Star Press at a date to be determined. Getting the draft done “sooner the better” is a part of that determination.

Friday, 10/12

Up early and writing. I love writing in the hotel room’s spartan quietude. In many ways, basic is better. The uncluttered desk and the single functioning lamp on a dark, overcast day were the right magic. I finished the final scene, leaving only the epilogue and edits. It was pushing 11:00 a.m., so I would have to hurry to put the finishing touches on my vendor’s table. Happy though that I was disciplined enough to have rested and gotten work done.

Arrived in the dealer room and discovered that Dark and I were set up beside Steven Shrewsbury and J.L. Mulvihill. Was pretty stoked to see Shrews again and his impressive array of fantasy and weird west novels. It was also was a pleasure to meet Jen Mulvihill, and serendipitous to be among these cool folks as the convention kicked into gear in earnest and folks started coming to our tables.

Friday evening we had a fun on the Murder and Mayhem panel (moderated by Dark), followed by dinner with friend and writer Dean Harrison. We got talking and arrived a bit late at publisher Per Bastet’s room party, but had a great catch up chat with author Sara Marian Deurell of Per Bastet, along with R.J. Sullivan and many other friends old and new. By the time I made it back to the room I had a handful of books and business cards and a belly full of Kentucky bourbon. Life was good, but there was more to come, so tried to catch a few zzzz’s.

Saturday, 10/13

Was up reasonably early, made coffee and hit the writing. I had messed up the time the dealer room opened and arrived at my table at 11:00 a.m. instead of 10:00 a.m. Handed out a lot of Mommy and the Satanists flyers, and had a few people download it on the spot. Seems folks took the title in the spirit intended (so to speak) and hope those who downloaded it enjoyed the read. Also sold some copies of Slash of Crimson and Other Tales and swapped a few, too. Met and talked with Tommy B. Smith and Robb Hoff, who I hope to feature here on the blog in the future, and took a walk around to see the other tables. Highlights include the retro post-apocalyptic VW bus and getting to chat with Michael Knost, Stoker-winning author of Return of the Mothman and one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet.

Later that afternoon I saw him again at the Books and Booze panel. This was also moderated by Dark and featured several other authors and friends as panelists. Not going to say much more about this particular panel in order to, as Bon Scott once said, “protect the guilty.” Suffice it to say that the Imadjinn Awards and ensuing dance party that followed were extra-extra-festive for all who attended…

Sunday, 10/14

Wasn’t up early, but was up feeling good. Took some time to write, working on Red December’s epilogue. There’s always a bittersweet feeling on a convention’s last day, the coffee flows a little freer, wistful thoughts of the good times coming to an end mix with the excitement to roll up your sleeves and put to use all the new knowledge and inspiration. Went off to a How to Blog panel I had at 10:00 a.m. moderated by Marian Allen. There were only two of us on the panel but it was fairly well attended for a last-day mid-morning time slot. Had a lively discussion about blogging which feels a little eerie to write about while writing a blog post, like standing between a pair of mirrors and trying to see where the reflection ends…

Arrived a little late at the dealer room due to the panel. Some of the dealers had already packed up, but had a great afternoon with Dark and Jen Mulvihill. Good to keep your table open the last day if you can because a lot of folks decide which books they really want to buy that day. Sold the last of the paperback copies of Slash of Crimson that I’d brought with me and swapped a few for books I’d been eyeing over the weekend.

By evening it was time to say farewell and enjoy the traditional outting to the Troll Pub downtown Louisville. Had a great conversation with Ana Maria and Val Michael Selvaggio and family covering topics from William Gibson to how to draw forest elementals. And of course we all raised a toast to Stephen Zimmer and Holly Marie Phillippe of Seventh Star Press, the originators and organizers of Imaginarium. Without them, the convention would not be, and we thanked them with all our hearts.

Afterward, and since the convention was technically over and I wasn’t flying out until noon the next day, I recruited Dean Harrison to take an urban hike across Louisville and see a bit of the city. As an outdoorsman who has spend a fair amount of time in the woods, and someone who just likes travelling, I’ve always found the urban hike’s a great way to experience a city. Good to do them in stout company and with a certain respect for caution. But really, nothing like watching the neighborhoods and landscapes unveil themselves a block and a street at time.

Going on the good advice of Sara Marian Deurell, we set Highland Tap Room on Bardstown Road as our GPS destination. How we’d get there allowed for some improvisation. Though the “by car” directions call it 4.7 miles, on foot it’s a mere 2.4. Either way, it’s a short jaunt. We headed east out of downtown and ended up on East Jefferson Street. The walk had already taken us through some concrete landscapes dotted with the kind of trees and grass that grow wilder than expected in those corners between highway ramps and industrial lots. Once on East Jefferson, the architecture turned to a mix of historic-abandoned, historic-restored, and a few newly constructed large apartment buildings. Continuing east, we passed the original site of the St. Vincent Orphanage. The buildings had that low-roofed brick with slightly stylized cornices look I’ve taken to be somewhat trademark of southern and mid-western cities. A larger brick building loomed in back. It looked restored and repurposed, though a few of the smaller buildings look rather dark late on a Sunday night.

We moved on to pass under a railroad bridge where a graffiti-laden train slinked above us like a slow moving, tattooed serpent. Our right turn onto Baxter Street beckoned us on. Dean was great company on the urban hike, undaunted by ghosts or serpents, with his eyes on our prize of the refreshment ahead. We stopped briefly by the Bluegrass Canal which was lit up by some construction lighting. It was another spot where the vegetation and trees couldn’t be contained by the concrete and kept whatever secrets it had snug and unseen among its roots. Pressing ahead we discovered we had crossed into a neighborhood called “Nulu”, complete with an abundance of scooters and record stores. The 19th Century townhouses looked a little more restored here, and it wasn’t long before we found ourselves in an exquisite distillery, Prohibition Bar, which makes “Agave” spirits in bourbon barrels. I think the bartender thought we were the ghosts when we appeared late on a Sunday night. But he was a good dude for an original take on an Old Fashioned and took us on quick tour of their distilling room. By the time we were done, the bar filled up some and we learned Louisville is undaunted by some after-hours nightlife on a Sunday, hells ya!

Another half-mile past the Eastern Cemetery and some intricate and moderately creepy churches, and we made it to Bardstown Road and the Highlands Taproom. Looked like there were a lot of great vinyl record shops we would have stopped in along the way had it been earlier. And yet despite the late hour and missing the performance of a punk band intriguingly named Nice Job, we deemed the urban hike a success. We killed off the post-convention blues as well as celebrated those electric new prospects already coursing through our veins. The shots of Old Forester and Malort, chased down with a couple glasses of ale also helped. Farewell Imaginarium and Kentucky. See you next year!

Carl R. Moore is the author of Mommy and the Satanists and Slash of Crimson and Other Tales, published by Seventh Star Press.

REVIEW OF ARI ASTER’S MIDSOMMAR (WARNING: SPOILERS)

Graduate students Dani Ardor and Christian Hughes are suffering a meltdown in their relationship. Dani has suffered a shock—her parents and mentally ill sister have committed suicide. Christian has come to the realization both his anthropology thesis and his relationship with Dani are failing. They decide to take a trip to their friend Pelle’s home, a creepy commune in northern Sweden where the couple and their group of friends take a journey of self-discovery that parallels the unveiling of the darker plans the commune has in store for them. 

While MIDSOMMAR contains several familiar horror movie tropes—scary Scandinavia à la THE RITUAL, and the “we gotta get away from the twisted cult” of THE APOSTLE, it manages to steer off the heavily trafficked highway into its own territory. It dispels any typical “pagans are so wild and scary as opposed to what we’re used to” themes. It doesn’t go into great depth as to what the Hårga cult actually worships. In fact, Hårga’s cosmology/mythology is very sketchily drawn. It is refreshingly not “Cthulhu-esque”, there are no deities emphasized. Instead it is a kind of sun-cult mixed with a fear of a dark beast/devil from the woods. It draws in part from the lyrics of a folk song in which the young people of a village are seduced into an addiction to dancing. The cult’s beliefs center generally on cycles of nature drawn in basic terms.  

One twist is how the cult views time—on the one hand, it strictly delineates what is appropriate for each period of a person’s life. As Pelle explains to Dani, “spring” lasts until age eighteen, “summer” thirty-six, when a person is free to wander, “fall” thirty-six to fifty-two, when it is time to work, and “winter” lasting the remainder of their years until seventy-two, when it’s time to die. A time outside this structure is the Midsommar celebration during which the film takes place. This is a symbolic “time outside of time”. It parallels the period of life the main characters are going through, and the heavy ingestion of psychedelic drugs serves to prolong it. The lingering scenes where the Dani and her friends talk about their relationships and their careers meander from places of happiness and confidence to those of fear and anxiety about the future, and whether or not the members of the group will successfully transition to the next stage of life. They try and fail to escape their fates—they receive punishment for turning the cult into a graduate thesis, taking casual sexual pleasure from its members, and even for hubris at a simple potential marriage and career success. All collapses at the hands of the Hårga cult which itself becomes a metaphor for respect for the complexity of time, stages of life, and relationships. 

Dani remains the ultimate focus. The story belongs to her more than to the group and she and Christian as a “couple”.  As the cult dissects the group of friends, bringing them one by one to gruesome ends, Dani must navigate her own fate. Her family’s death and her flashbacks and memory of it also take on a metaphorical status. Her sister is very much her old self, and her parents a home that is now gone. Startlingly grotesque scenes follow, showing the price of failing to transition. The film takes on a feel more like a Grimm’s Tales for grownups than pagan bloodbath. Dani must outlast the Hårga cult members in a Maypole dance in order to become the May Queen. Christian must mate with a chosen maiden to supply new babies for the cult. They are two last chances for transition, but only one will make it through. 

In the end, MIDSOMMAR celebrates Dani’s awakening. She breaks free of the group that is slowing her down. She learns to show no mercy to the past and embrace her future, even if it involves the brutal sacrifice of those she once loved. Like a carnivorous flower, she gives us a new flavor of horror and follows through on how scary seeing the light can be.

THE REAL REASON THEY DON’T LIKE GAME OF THRONES

So it’s a thing now—to chat, post, go-off generally on how you’ve never seen Game of Thrones, don’t know no Game of Thrones, can’t stand the “G.O.T.” Some of this is honest apathy, nonchalant, “Sorry, just don’t know this stuff.” That perspective I certainly understand—I barely know who Kim Kardashian is myself. But for others, there is something more insidious going on. That’s right, there is an outright hostility toward the popularity of G.O.T. What is it? Is it the sex and violence? For some it may be. But I believe, deep down, there is something else at play—that’s right, somewhere between Jethro Tull, Dungeons & Dragons, and Revenge of the Nerds, what really gets the haters about G.O.T. is how it brings geek culture into the mainstream culture.

Imagine you see a geek at a bar (it happens—a lot of geeks make good money and enjoy good beer, right?) Imagine you see the same geek on a date with another geek—“Aw, look at those two little nerd-types out on a Friday night, aren’t they cute?” But then imagine this—you see a geek on a date on a Friday night and realize, “Hey wait a minute—what’s that D&D dude doing with the Miss All American Prom Queen? What’s that RPG chick doing on a date with the football star?” As Hamlet would say, there’s the rub. With the arrival of Game of Thrones, suddenly geek culture doesn’t know its place. Poindexter comes strutting into the club in a track-suit with diamond rings and an entourage. The Wall Street Journal is talking about nerd net worth. The President is referring to his office as the Iron Throne. You turn to your accountant husband to complain, but find he is halfway through A Storm of Swords. You tell your athlete wife a joke about the Throne-heads but she doesn’t laugh. This is a problem that needs to be thwarted, that deserves derision—geek culture is storming the gates of all we hold dear and must be stopped…

When I was a kid, to say you played Dungeons & Dragons was basically to say, “Hi, I don’t date. I’ve given up on a social life. PS, I suck at sports.” Not so anymore—it’s cool to post pictures of painted miniatures and having skills as a “dungeon master” is like being the lead singer for a band. RPG culture has developed a hip side, with all the positives and negatives that come with it. It could be argued much of this is owed to G.O.T.

But what about Harry Potter? Lord of the Rings, Twilight? True, these are popular fantasy stories. Yet none of them have a certain unique quality that G.O.T. possesses. Harry Potter, for all of its popularity among young and old is still mostly seen as a kids’ story. Twilight gets pigeonholed as teen romance. And while Lord of the Rings is arguably a forerunner of G.O.T., complete with a touch (but only a touch) of grimness, Lord of the Rings is ultimately Romantic with a capital “R” in that the good-guys prevail, the world is righted, light prevails over darkness and it reassures that epic fantasy is about saving the day.

What makes G.O.T, different is how it champions the beauty of Tragedy. It shows that the D&D players, the RPG fans, the nerd-world, can confront something the mainstream world usually has trouble contemplating, let alone enjoying—that is, real darkness, real tragedy. We are in the show’s last season, and we have yet to see whether George R.R. Martin’s once stated thesis—that the “bad guys” are just the “good guys for the other team”—will hold true to the end. But even at this point in the show’s narrative enough sympathetic characters have met tragic ends that we see this story, for all of its swords and dragons, has more to say more about real-world consequences than its critics want to admit. So let’s give it up for what fantasy can do when skill brings innovation to its clichés—it can make D&D as powerful as politics, give us a game where a checkmate is as potent as making—or losing—a touchdown.

Carl R. Moore is the author of Slash of Crimson and Other Tales and Mommy and the Satanists (Seventh Star Press).

REVIEW OF TOM PICCIRILLI’S SHADOW SEASON

Every March I start saying to my daughters, “This is the last cold day.” It begins early in the month and continues until a week or so after St. Patrick’s Day. Technically the first day of spring is March 20th, but here in Albany, New York, it’s about 30 degrees on March 23rd and it snowed last night. But today really is that last cold day, because tomorrow is in the fifties and the weather will stay over forty during the day until next fall. So that’s how I know today is meant for reviewing my winter re-read of Shadow Season by Tom Piccirilli.

For those not familiar, Tom Piccirilli is one of the late 20th – early 21st Century’s finest authors of thrillers, crime noir, and horror. I have featured his work on the blog before, and will again, because I feel his prose occupies a space that is uniquely insightful with regard to the crisscrossing of American cultural forces, and is also so skillfully rendered that it always reads with excellent pacing.

Shadow Season represents one of the novels where Piccirilli has already switched from crime noir-horror mashups to more straight ahead crime noir. It tells the tale of an ex-cop turned private school English teacher who is snowed in at his school’s campus in upstate New York. But Finn contends with something more than an already daunting list of trials from his time in law enforcement. Finn is also blind and must contend with a looming threat to St. Valarian’s Academy for Girls. Walking from building to building while three plus feet of snow is falling is no small feat even for one who is 100% fit—for someone who can’t see yet still detects that there is foul play afoot, it becomes intense and nightmarish.

Piccirilli already knows how to layer an elaborate description into a story without slowing the pace. But in Shadow Season, he delves into descriptions that are at once surreal in their engagement of a blind main character, but also stark in their realistic language so as to keep the mood of the sharp, hard-boiled crime novel alive. Many of the characters he interacts with are given faces from those Finn knew when he could see. This weaves in his backstory as a New York City cop without bogging the narrative down with backstory. It also meshes the present and past, the worldly and the dreamlike, in a web that is clear yet splendorous. When the plot reveals exactly what type of criminal threatens his colleagues and students, the reader has already developed an intimate concern for the Irish expat groundskeeper, the school’s alcoholic head mistress, and the deviant and snide, yet also talented and at times crying-for-help, students. The reader also witnesses a fusion of Finn’s quiet life as a teacher with his volatile past—the love of his life Dani, and Ray, his partner on the police force. Such are brought together in a story that walks the edge of triumph and tragedy, contrasts the animosity and kinship of the urban and the rural, and calls into question which is which.

So when winter comes around again, give Shadow Season a try. It will be there, as will all of this author’s many amazing books and stories, likely to continue to grow in their reputation and importance in the years to come.

 

Carl R. Moore is the author of Mommy and the Satanists and Slash of Crimson and Other Tales, published by Seventh Star Press. His lives with his family in upstate New York.

Welcome to the Deep Dark Night

So what’s up with the blog? I could come up with excuses—a trail of family health issues, domestic responsibilities, and as always, the rickety old house in need of attention. I could say it was overtime at the day-job (night-shift day job), that it was the polar vortex, the stressful political environment, the bastards who pass out drunk with a pile of losing scratch off tickets in my yard in Albany… But in years past I’ve been able to juggle all this and keep it up in despite, so really, what’s the difference?

Well—no excuses—in fact, only good stuff. In truth, I’ve been playing a lot of guitar and writing songs because I have had a few gigs. After the yearly nightmare of the commercial holidays, winter settles in to the part I love—February, the time for writing, reading, picking tunes by the fire with an ale. I’ve indulged in getting into the new novel I’m working on like it’s a game, an adventure in a snowbound forest with wolves and hunters, blood and lust. I have no apologies for having fun with it all. Because that’s what it’s supposed to be about, that’s why we do these things over others, the excitement, the discovery, the addictive dreams.

The time has come, however, to get things going again, yet with a few tweaks. The Crimes of Heaven and Hell blog as this has been named in the past, featuring the review/interview series Is That an Old Book? and Author’s Own Words has a new name and URL—Deep Dark Night blog—(www.deepdarknight.net).

The name change comes from a desire for a more fluid format. Some of my new material is still set in the Crimes of Heaven and Hell world, but I’ve also been having fun experimenting with more standalone work, the above-mentioned werewolf novel, and even dipping into some fantasy pieces. So I wanted a name that reflected this expansion in themes.

I think kicking off the new name dovetails nicely with Women in Horror Month. It’s always been my goal to read widely, review widely, and interview widely. My vibe is one that celebrates all the art and stories out there. I also try to avoid a lot of the bull. So it’s funny how many conversations I see on various social media platforms about the value of Women in Horror Month as if its existence should be debated. Egads—if nothing else can motivate us to be as inclusive as possible, can it not at least be that the promotions and celebration of women horror writers makes the genre larger, more interesting, and more fun? Any meat-headed resistance and stupid joking (like, When are we going to have Men in Horror Month? (gulp…)) is revolting beyond comprehension. It reminds me of that scene from the Simpsons way back in the day when the comic-book nerd finally finds himself talking with a girl. For a moment, it looks like he might have a real social interaction. Then she disagrees with him about a character and he’s like “Don’t try to change me!” Funny as it is sad and scary…

So for me this month has made me ponder not just who the new female voices in horror are, but also some of my favorite writers from the history of the genre. In keeping with my ‘antiquarian’ proclivities, it’s got me remembering the first time a friend turned me on to Clay’s Ark and the work of Octavia Butler. I think I might snag that one from the shelf and give it a re-read. And as I get the interview series going again, I most certainly be looking for the widest possible range of voices to feature here on the Deep Dark Night. Stay tuned and looking forward to digging into blogosphere once again!

Carl R. Moore is the author of Mommy and the Satanists and Slash of Crimson and Other Tales, published by Seventh Star Press. He lives in upstate New York with his wife Sarah and daughters Maddy and Izzy.

MOMMY AND THE SATANISTS EBOOK RELEASED TODAY!



Very excited to announce my new Ebook Mommy and the Satanists is now available from Seventh Star Press (also publisher of Slash of Crimson and Other Tales, July, 2017). A disturbing, fast-paced little piece of sardonic horror, it might just brighten your Halloween lights, bring you back up from a sugar crash, cure your hangover, and perform a resurrection on el día de los Muertos!

By way of synopsis:

Overwhelmed suburban mom Annette Williams enlists a Satanic cult to help with the house and kids. When her husband George tries to stop her, all hell breaks loose in their quaint Vermont home.

So have a gander at this evil little book in hopes it will serve as an appetizer for more new work on the horizon!

Hailz and Horns up!

 

 

 

Book Signing at Barnes & Noble

Welcome to the Crimes of Heaven and Hell–the author page for  Slash of Crimson and Other Tales by Carl R. Moore, published by Seventh Star Press, and a number of new works coming soon. This is also the home of the Is That an Old Book review series. Looking forward to many new announcements, the first of which will be a special Halloween Ebook release of the satirical horror novelette Mommy and the Satanists. For now and for those who have not yet picked up a copy of Slash of Crimson and Other Tales, please see the link below:

Thanks and read on!

Carl R. Moore

Author’s Own Words features Steven L. Shrewsbury’s and Brian Keene’s KING OF THE BASTARDS

Welcome to the fourth installment of Author’s Own Words. In this installment, we are honored to feature Stephen Shrewsbury’s and Brian Keene’s King of the Bastards, including an interview with author Stephen Shrewsbury.

Review:

On a bleak coast far from his homeland, Rogan, barbarian king of Albion, finds himself surrounded by deadly threats and spectacular wonders. Tentacles rise from the sea, winged beasts cast their shadows from above, and hungry corpses emerge from dark tides. For warrior-king Rogan, survival depends on steel, speed, muscle, and cunning. Thus opens Stephen Shrewsbury’s and Brian Keene’s King of the Bastards. A thrill ride of a novel with constant action, King of the Bastards satisfies fantasy, horror, and science-fiction fans alike with its blend of sword and sorcery, supernatural terror, and slight dash of speculative technology.

At first, the novel’s narrative arc is a straight shot—shipwrecked King Rogan agrees to save a tribal village from an evil wizard that has fortified himself in a mountain redoubt. The wizard Amazarek has summoned an army of undead humans, crossbred beasts, and Croatoan, a.k.a. Meeble, and ancient demon-like being. In Shrewsbury’s mythos, Meeble is one of the terrifying and fabled “Thirteen”—a group of elder and vaguely extra-terrestrial entities whose sole purpose is to glutton themselves on the suffering that results from torturing humanity. With this striking cast of villains in place, and with Rogan’s believable (if somewhat sardonic) sympathy for the abused villagers binding them together, the novel’s main confrontation draws its raw and enticing tension.

If Lord of the Rings is a heavy-crossbow of a fantasy novel, King of the Bastards is a light yet swiftly firing recurve bow. It is every bit as accurate in piercing the reader’s heart while also nailing the bullseye of its unique stylistic place across genres. In King Rogan, Shrewsbury and Keene create a character who echoes Howard’s Conan, yet who possesses a broader sense of humor and is embroiled in a more textured and nuanced type of political intrigue.

As the novel progresses, the authors weave in their own brand of alternate history. Even as Rogan and his companions—nephew Javan, a pair of amazon-esque archers, and a good wizard from the village—fight their way to Amazarek’s fortress, the dark waters of Rogan’s personal history, the kingdom and family he left behind, begin to tie-in with his motives. These factors intensify as Rogan battles furry mutants, deals with infighting among the tribesmen, and even enjoys a rough yet tasteful erotic scene. All of these elements mix well with the greater story of King Rogan’s life and fate of his kingdom.

When the climactic battle with Amazarek and Meeble arrives, the reader holds a strong stake in what success or failure means not just for Rogan himself, but for his family and dynasty. The climactic battle (without inserting a spoiler) is also where the speculative-technology aspect of the narrative comes into play and does so with the same ease and wonder with which the political-intrigue portion was introduced.

A unique gem in the vast trove of stories with epic heroes, King of the Bastards makes a strong claim to being a true classic. For all who enjoy musing on the various ways in which genre fiction can be served, this innovative novel provides food for thought that is both rare and bloody and offers an action-packed thrill ride into the bargain.

Interview:

Where did you first get the inspiration for writing a cross-genre novel?

SS: I never put on a cap and say THIS IS HIGH FANTASY but tell a story. The way I write comes out rough & brutal, be it a horror, romance or western. If anything, life is brutal and I try to be as close to real as possible. I don’t go out of my way to get my jollies being extreme… though some may think so. Life can be horrific and that is reflected in these tales.

Aspects of Rogan’s personality clearly echo Robert E. Howard’s Conan, and yet King Rogan has a certain rugged yet playful sense of humor that is quite original. What gave rise to this and other elements of his character?

SS: Well, I’d have to guess the dark humor that resides in Keene & myself. I think it’s good to temper such tales filled with action & gore with some humor… but I really don’t ever say I NEED A JOKE HERE. It just happens. A bit of us bleeds into Rogan. Plus, once the chains are off and a character has a broken moral compass, things roll.

While certainly a full-length novel, King of the Bastards is on the lean side for a story with strong fantasy elements. Yet it carries a great deal of depth when it comes to the characters and world building. Was rapid-world building something you thought about while writing the book, or did it come about naturally?

SS: World building is an interesting term. I hear it a great deal. Not a once in any book I do am I so worried about a map or the world that I let the story or characters suffer. I’ve seen folks labor over creating a fantasy realm or world and never start a yarn. I laugh at how folks are SO obsessed with setting such places on other worlds. HEY it’s the freaking EARTH in a different era. Jeez. I set this and my Gorias novels before the flood, in a long forgotten epoch where everything was possible. Certain weapons and metals were invented and lost in that epic apocalypse. Demons walk the earth. Angels too. The rules are fluid. But yeah, the story is pretty simple in KING. A forthcoming Rogan novel is very complex, though.

King of the Bastards is a co-written novel. What was that process like?

SS: Fairly straightforward. We kicked around ideas and lots, what we both wanted in such a work and I slammed out portions. We swapped things back & forth. Pretty fun really.

What makes the barbarian character so much fun, as opposed to say, knights in capes and shining armor?

SS: As I said above, Rogan has some sense of personal honor, but he’s raw, rough and has lived a long time. He will say & do anything to survive and gives all he has in a battle. At times, prolly cruel, but gritty and real.

This series features books both old and new, and King of the Bastards, while a fantastic read, certainly isn’t your latest work. Would you like to tell us about any particular upcoming releases?

SS: The sequel THRONE OF THE BASTARDS is out from Apex. My horror westerns featuring my one-armed ex-rebel Joel Stuart are out from Necro Publications; MOJO HAND, LAST MAN SCREAMING and BAD MAGICK. BEYOND NIGHT (written with Eric S. Brown) is a brutal fantasy about the Lost Legion out from Crystal Lake. Rumor is there is a third Rogan novel bleeding into existence. One never knows what else I’m working on.

 

Author’s Own Words thanks Steven L. Shrewsbury for taking the time for this interview. We wish to add here that King of the Bastards co-author Brian Keene has been badly burned in an accident. A GoFundMe page has been created to help with his medical expenses. Please use the following link if you would like to donate: https://www.gofundme.com/brian-keene-burn-fund

Steven L. Shrewsbury writes in the realms of horror and sword & sorcery. His novels include Within, Philistine, Overkill, Hell Billy, Blood & Steel, Thrall, Stronger than Death, Hawg, Thoroughbred, Tormentor, Godforsaken, and the just released Born of Swords.

Brian Keene is the Bram Stoker and Grand Master award-winning, bestselling author of over forty books, including Darkness on the Edge of Town, Take the Long Way Home, Urban Gothic, Castaways, Kill Whitey, Dark Hollow, Dead Sea, and The Rising trilogy.

Carl R. Moore is the author of Slash of Crimson and Other Tales, published by Seventh Star Press.

Author’s Own Words features Daniel Dark’s KNIFE’S TELL

Welcome everyone to the second installment of our review/interview series—we’re arriving in style with a new name for the series “Author’s Own Words”—and featuring an interview with the darkly elegant and ever enigmatic Daniel Dark! Enjoy!

“What desire can be contrary to nature since it was given to man by nature itself?”

― Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason

I have written on Jack the Ripper before, when I reviewed editor Ross Lockhart’s Tales of Jack the Ripper. For convenience, I will include that review’s opening lines here, pertinent to the current task of discussing a new face of this timeless horror:

Jack the Ripper—the name claims one of our culture’s eternal enigmas, at first calling to mind images almost innocent, a magician-like figure in a top hat, almost campy enough for a neighborhood Halloween costume. Almost—because in a time when the Internet (a term itself becoming as problematic and borderline-anachronistic as “TV”) makes every image that ever existed accessible in an instant, the photos of his victims still hold their own on the shock scale. If you’re over 18 and feeling cocky, Google an image search of “Mary Jane Kelly” and you’ll get shredded faces interspersed amongst nineteenth century photos of a woman in a dress along with a few color stills from the movie From Hell. You’ll also get the infamous crime scene image of a torn apart body lying on a bed. An appetizer of organs sits next to it on a side table. You can find all this with the SafeSearch “on”.

If one reads further in the review from which the above is cut, a hydra of Ripper stories comes to light. They are all offered from Lockhart’s 2014 anthology, which shows an impressive and diverse array of interpretations of this iconic figure.

Here, however, we are taking a turn down a different path. A darker alley awaits—indeed, turn with me and mind you don’t slip on the alley’s damp stones. Slickened with what substance, we cannot say, certainly some rain, some fog, certainly something else as well. When you come along on the journey that is author Daniel Dark’s Knife’s Tell, you are entering a blur of chaos, blades, and blood, but you are also entering something too real, and too authentic, to keep that chaos at a safe distance. In his remarkable novel, Mr. Dark doesn’t want you to merely hear the Ripper’s story, he demands you live in his world, demands you taste its flavors, its sweet, its bitter, its bloody, until you cannot decide whether to flee or join the cackling glee of its ruthless poetry.

Knife’s Tell opens as would an inviting diary—a recounting of the days of an intriguing English doctor. Never mind his name, he speaks in the first person and offers every other intimate detail of his life. In the reader he confides all, his profession as a respected gynecologist, his lovely wife Elizabeth and their adoration for their two-year old son. He introduces his servant Savant (dubbed so for her precocious talent for flowery décor, and because she herself is sweet as a flower), and the governess Narcissa (who combines her talents for Victorian etiquette with the appearance of a not-so-understated vixen). He tells of taking in a street urchin he dubs “Hardwick”, whom he plans on making his laboratory assistant and protégé. He even demonstrates a certain regard for the important role his coachman Howard plays in his life.

Without unveiling too many of the sumptuous pieces of Knife’s Tell’s feast, suffice it to say that this ‘days of the life’ of a Victorian gentleman and professional offers a highly atmospheric and masterfully easy stream of consciousness style. Daniel Dark’s strength comes from his ability to deliver accurate sensual details. As this author, in addition to writing, has worked as a professional Victorian chef, few can match his ability to convey a sense of realism to a bygone era. Victorian authors themselves— Shelley, Dickens, Thackeray, the Bronte sisters—may be said to leave out details which during their time could be taken for granted, but this author of historical fiction conveys a setting to a Twenty-First Century audience in a way that brings the late Nineteenth Century to life. The recipes alone—from roast pigeon to pig’s head cheese (that’s right—the novel includes a set of full recipes for the dishes described in the story) plant the reader jarringly in another time and place.

And yet Dark’s stream of consciousness style does not lack clear signposts. There exist enough touchstones of clarity in the sequence of actions and thoughts that the story’s “treasure map” of events and symbols can be swiftly followed. Indeed, as it progresses, new sensual delights are added to the early descriptions of London’s shadows, candles, ales, banquets, and fog—for the good doctor begins experiencing multiple laudanum-soaked trysts with his servants and a mysterious noblewoman from outside the city. Sex scenes as exquisite as the soft leather interior of a smooth-riding, well-polished coach take the reader for a ride that refreshes our already more than well-represented landscape of erotic literature.

But while we are enjoying these delights, the specter of murder is never far away. Bodies begin to appear in London’s Whitechapel district. The police recruit our good doctor to help with the investigation, and thereby the reader’s lusty feast begins to be laced with episodes of blood and body parts. We understand that the doctor is on a mission that involves finding a cure for his wife’s mysterious ailment, and that he needs something from the desperate ladies of the evening swarming in London’s slums. As the novel progresses, a tension both maddening and enjoyable grows as we fear what the doctor needs for his experimental cure while at the same time sympathizing with him and rooting for his success.

In the end, of course, any novel on the topic of Jack the Ripper must give the author’s take on answering the one all-encompassing question—Who was he?

In this Dark’s success rivals both the traditional and the outlandish. To both those who would say simply that it was a local madman such as Aaron Kosminski, to Patricia Cornwell’s baroque claims that he was modernist painter Walter Sickert, Daniel Dark counters with not only neither, but that there are far deeper shadows of motive moving beneath the surface, and should we not explore those? For in Dark’s novel he simultaneously paints a highly traditional figure in top-hat and cloak, and yet at the same time creates a person who serves as an intricate symbol of the end of one era and the beginning of another, and all the pleasures and madnesses that accompany them. For the doctor of Knife’s Tell becomes an ironic Prometheus—murder is as much self-sacrifice as it is assault. He is a figure that opens a dialogue with Mary Shelley’s Victor Frankenstein about the changing meaning of the heroic and the very nature of success. Without spoiling the novel’s climax and its actual answer to who the Ripper was and his motives, I will say that readers will an experience a satisfying shock and revelation when they realize the true facts of the darkness behind the debauchery. The novel reads with all the fun and sensuality of Stoker’s Dracula, but cuts back across with an apocalyptic and merciless conclusion à la Hardy’s Tess D’Ubervilles. Knife’s Tell’s ultimately beautiful and impossible fantasy is how it binds the future and past together by slicing them apart in so many darkly dazzling pieces.

Interview with Daniel Dark:

Have you ever eaten roast pigeon, and can you really pick your teeth with the talons?

In the cooking society today it is normally called squab. Yes I have eaten it, and if you have ever had quail you have tasted something similar to it. As to the picking your teeth with a talon, after they dried you could.

What first motivated you to become a Victorian chef?

I was drawn to the era in my younger days and as such all aspects of it. When I started studying as a chef it was easy to transfer that study into my passion. I have over thirteen hundred cookbooks in my library, and a few hundred from the Victorian era. Now the new ones that I’m collecting are from the year nineteen ten or before.

When did you begin writing? Was it a conscious decision to choose the novel as a form, or did it come about another way?

I have always written but in my younger years it was mainly poetry. Then after I had a stroke I wrote my first Victorian cookbook as therapy for my brain. It wasn’t until after that that I thought I could possibly write a novel.

You appear to have a very original take on the Ripper for an author so knowledgeable about traditions. How do you feel about Jack the Ripper as an iconic figure, and about “Ripperology”?

In my opinion the truth behind who or why Jack the Ripper existed will never be known. Every part of the case that we still have available has been written about. This is the reason I chose to write about a part of the case that has not been evaluated in a novel. What would cause someone to become the notorious Ripper?

Many of our images coming from the Victorian world today are those of stuffiness, uptightness, and repression. And yet your depiction of 1880’s London and Whitechapel gives it a wild, hedonistic allure. Do you feel that a Twenty-First Century audience has been missing out on the whole picture of the Victorian era, and all it has to offer?

The picture in most movies only shows part of the truth about the life in London during the late eighteen hundreds. There was a definitive stiffness in society, but there was also the underbelly that proper people didn’t speak about. The so called “unfortunates” were known and thriving in those days and people had to do whatever they could to survive.

Your novel makes the case that there may be something tragically heroic in the figure of Jack the Ripper and the Victorian ideal in general. Does the Ripper share anything with Frankenstein’s monster? Are the wages of genius, madness? And vice versa?

The fragility of the mind has always been known and the line between. Frankenstein made his man, and the public made him a monster. Likewise, in my novel, the pressures of life change the man into a monster.

Thank you, Daniel Dark!

Knife’s Tell is Daniel Dark’s debut novel. It can be purchased on Amazon.com.

Carl R. Moore is the author of Slash of Crimson and Other Tales, published by Seventh Star Press. News, information and more can be found at www.carlrmoore.com.