Monday 18 February 2013

Dark, Darker, Darkest...

DARK MINDS took you from the trenches of World War One to Post-Apocalypse America, from the war-torn streets of Berlin to the streets where you live in a collection of twelve stories of dark fiction...

DARKER MINDS took you to the darkest recesses of the human mind, bringing you thirteen terrifying tales of madness, delusion and psychological horror...

DARKEST MINDS will take you places you don't want to go, a journey into a world of nightmares where your worst fears become reality. The darkest of places...

Dark Minds Press will soon be announcing their submission guidelines for their third anthology of dark fiction. Keep checking here for details.

Tuesday 12 February 2013

Where Furnaces Burn.

Where Furnaces Burn is a collection of stories by Joel Lane and is published by PS Publishing. There are twenty six stories in the book, all told in first person narrative and chronicle case studies of a policeman (enigmatically anonymous) working in the West Midlands. It's a stunning collection and is at the same time possibly the bleakest thing I've ever read.
The stories within these covers will take you to some very dark places and, in many instances will leave you there, many of the stories in here are open-ended, lack resolution, anyone looking for straightforward procedurals with neatly tied off denouments are going to be seriously disappointed. However, anyone looking for beautifully written prose examining the darkest reaches of human nature are going to revel in the goods on display here.
The first person narration turns this collection into more of an extended stream of consciousness. There's much abyss gazing here and, because the abyss does so much more than simply gaze back, the narrator becomes the most unreliable of his kind, casting a massive air of ambiguity over what he is describing.
The theme of decay runs throughout this collection, urban decay, the decay of society, the decay of the individual. The smell of rotten buildings is mentioned in many of the stories, descriptions of patches of mould and damp are rife, all serving to create an atmosphere of desolation, the external environment reflecting the inner turmoil of the narrator. It's a long dark night of the soul and there are very few moments of lightness, the  only humour present the in-joke of having two PCs named McMahon and Bestwick.
There's horror here aplenty, a supernatural aspect to the cases and the concept of a gradual descent into Hell with contact being made via arcane rituals, damaged individuals and portals appearing amidst decaying buildings. "There was no room for the unknown" the narrator tells us in the opening story, trying to explain why he chose the police as a career. The phrase reads as naive on first encounter, on completion of the book its irony is profound.
Where Furnaces Burn is a demanding read, disturbing and utterly bleak. The writing is superb though, poetic even (my favourite line compares a hole in the floor to "an infected wound in an old man's foot") and is as effective in describing the breakdown of the narrator's relationships as the supernatural entities and forces he comes up against.
Highly recommended.

Monday 4 February 2013

Little Star.

Little Star is the latest novel from "Sweden's answer to Stephen King" (as the Daily Mail calls him, a comparison just dripping with originality) John Ajvide Lindqvist. It's a follow up to his last novel Harbour which is a book I loved (I actually felt sad when I finished it because I was enjoying the experience of reading it so much) so I was looking forward to reading this very much. There's a definite style to Lindqvist's writing, one I find very similar to another of my favourite writers John Irving, a matter of fact, and yet at the same time quite arch telling of the story. There's a real sense of being "told" the story as you read it.
In keeping with this style, the novel begins almost as a fairy tale with a foundling child being discovered in a forest. The decision of Lennart, a musician who makes the discovery, to take the child home and keep the it a secret has profound implications for himself and his family. What follows is a grim fairy tale indeed.
There are many themes running through this novel, the notion of chance, and how small events and decisions can have massive, life changing effects is a constant throughout the six hundred and odd pages. The whole notion of identity is explored, and the development of character and personality (the young girl, who will come to be known as Theres, is exposed to video nasties at an early age and this, coupled with her "parents"' tactic of convincing her the outside world is a dangerous place full of monsters, is a major contributing force to what leads to the horrors that unfold, creating a skewed notion of what reality is).  
The brainwashing that occurs in Theres' early life is another major theme of the book and Lindqvist takes it and runs, turning the book into a devastating satire on the cult of celebrity, and in particular the manufactured reality of pop-idol shows. Despite having no discernible personality (having never been allowed to develop one), Theres becomes a celebrity and even attracts a cult following, in particular a group of teenage girls who hang on her every word and who will do anything for her...
That "anything" turns out to be the devastating finale to the book. It's controversial (so much so I'm surprised the Daily Mail were happy to praise the book) and horrifying. But then there are many controversial and horrifying things happening in this novel, made all the more so by the aforementioned style of writing. I for one will never be able to listen to Abba's Thank You For The Music in quite the same way again.
I loved Little Star though not in the same way that I loved Harbour. It's quirky, and leaves a lot of stuff open-ended and unanswered, and parts of it are disturbing to read, not because they're exploitative but because they are genuinely disturbing things that are happening. Yes, it's an allegory but the message is woven into beautiful prose that will keep you turning the pages.
Very much recommended.