Thursday 9 October 2014

Horror Uncut.

If one of the functions of horror fiction is to hold a mirror up to society, to reflect real life fears and concerns, then right now must feel like a literary feeding frenzy for purveyors of the weird with the global recession rumbling on and a set of austerity measures put in place by a group of millionaires suffering from the unfortunate delusion that they know what's best for everyone. Perhaps the best line of fiction to arise from the present climate is David Cameron's claim that "we're all in this together", the utter-bullshitness of which must place it high in the list of all-time How Stupid Do You Think We Are? quotations, (or the Clarkson List as it's coming to be known), but now we have Horror Uncut from Gray Friar Press which contains seventeen stories of "social insecurity and economic unease" which provides a much higher quality of fantasy writing altogether.
The collection is edited by Tom Johnstone who completed the book after the tragic death of its co-editor Joel Lane and who provides a thoughtful and insightful afterword to the stories.
Specific policies provide the inspiration for many of the stories, including Ptichka by Laura Lauro, A Simple Matter of Space by John Forth and The Ghost at the Feast by Alison Littlewood, the latter the only story in the collection to directly feature the politicians responsible in a story which examines the relationship between MP and constituent.
As an employee of the NHS I'm all too aware of just how "safe" the institution is in the hands of the present government and the threat of privatisation and its general mismanagement provide the basis for David Williams' The Procedure (which unfortunately I felt got the tone wrong and suffered from a twist that was obvious early on) and Joel Lane's A Cry for Help which opens the collection with perfectly pitched, biting satire. Funding - or lack of - for mental health services is the subject of one of the best stories in the collection, Thana Niveau's No History of Violence which ends the book on a truly chilling note.
Supernatural themes are relatively scarce for a book of horror stories but are employed most effectively in Gary McMahon's Only Bleeding (whose title gives a hint as to which metaphor is put to use in it) and Simon Bestwick's The Battering Stone, another story of his to feature the character of Paul Hearn and which hints at ancient forces feeding off misery and austerity.
Capitalism rears its ugly, greedy head in Priya Sharma's The Ballad of Boomtown and Stephen Hampton's The Sun Trap in which the family unit becomes allegory for the banking crisis in a story that's probably a little too predictable and which suffers from a few too info-dumps.
Exploitation is the keynote of Anna Taborska's The Lemmy/Trump Test, David Turnbull's The Privelige Card and another trademark John Llewellyn Probert piece The Lucky Ones. The exploitation is of the poor, by the rich - a scenario that forms the backdrop to John Howard's Falling Into Stone in which metaphor and harsh realism mix together perfectly.
 A more subtle, tangential approach to the effects of the austerity measures on individuals is exhibited in Roseanne Rabinowitz's Pieces of Ourselves and Stephen Bacon's The Devil's Only Friend, affecting ghost stories both.
Optimism of a sort is provided by Andrew Hook's The Opaque District which is set in a future where queuing for food is the norm and where protagonist Jay is offered a glimpse - a promise  - of somewhere better... Better times ahead then? Maybe not.
Horror Uncut may not change minds or influence policy but it's an excellent collection of stories that do have important things to say. It has to be said it's unlikely to appeal to Daily Mail readers - which is about as high a compliment as I can pay it.
Highly recommended.

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