Gary McMahon

“Horror Without Victims” ed. D.F. Lewis – A Review

horror without victims

(Megazanthus Press, 270pp, pb £9.50)

By some miracle of chance, I seem to have found my way onto a number of review lists. I’m not entirely sure how, as I don’t think my reviews are anything more than excited blathering about whichever book or film I’ve most recently read or seen.

But it does mean that I get to see a wide variety of books built around occasionally quite innovative ideas. I am, as regular readers will know, very fond of the short story as a form, and so multi-author anthologies are like a pick-and-mix grab bag of goodies for me.

I was especially interested when I received “Horror Without Victims”. As an idea, it seems so very simple. But when you sit and think about it for a bit, it actually subverts the very genre, being close to a contradiction in terms. I looked forward to a treat of top-of-their-game horror authors pushing genre boundaries.

I should also apologise to editor DF Lewis. He sent me the review copy some time back, but sadly it got misplaced midway through reading, during my great Essex-wards exodus. Thankfully it reappeared, allowing me to finish it and write this review.

Read on…

“The Unspoken” ed. William Meikle – A Review

the unspoken

(Karoshi Books, 140pp, eb £2.88 pb £8.99)

These days I tend to get quite a few books and anthologies to review. Which is nice. Free reading material, and clearly someone somewhere cares what I have to say about it. Which, as I say, is nice.

“The Unspoken”, however, is a bit different than most of the stuff that I get. For one thing, it’s a charity anthology. Billed as horror authors fighting back against cancer, it has seventeen stories from some of the big names at the ragged edge of modern horror (and, yes, some names I’m not familiar with too).

As far as pedigree goes, you don’t get bigger than Ramsey Campbell, the mainstay of British horror himself, writing the introduction. Ramsey rights about his own brushes with cancer within his family — a testament to how deeply its tentacles snake — and how people are never really gone as long as we hold onto their memory.

And roll on the stories, seventeen wordsmiths fighting back with their pens.

Read on…

“Eyepennies” by Mike O’Driscoll – A Review

“Eyepennies” by Mike O’Driscoll

(TTA Press, £5.99)

I remember when the first TTA Press novella came out, in 2010. I reviewed Gary McMahon’s The Harm back then, and was excited at the prospect of a series of such novellas. Over two years later I was beginning to lose hope. But here it is, the first in a series of five new novellas.

And what a start it is. Mike O’Driscoll will be known to some as a columnist from TTA’s Black Static magazine, writing about the nature of horror. This is the first piece of his fiction (I think) that I’ve read, and it gives me a whole raft of new respect for his non-fiction.

Told in a fractured, non-linear style, Eyepennies follows a musician called Mark, who after surviving a near-death experience faces feelings of depression, darkness, and a sense that he didn’t come back from the other side completely right.

This is classic psychological horror, and it’s beautifully written. The prose is a dream, and rolls poetically off the page into images and metaphors that O’Driscoll paints effortlessly and with such clarity that even the abstract nature of the subject matter cannot cloud.

The plot is loosely — and chillingly — based around the life and death of the real-world musician Mark Linkous, whom O’Driscoll credits in the introduction, and those allusions give the novella a sense of realism without feeling at all disrespectful. It creates a darkly beautiful picture of the cracks running through a life from the impact point of a trauma.

Would I recommend it? Absolutely. It’s one of those works where you keep reading section after section, even after having promised yourself that you’ll put it down and go to sleep. It gets into your mind and will stay with you even after you do finish it (and with the length of it at around 20,000 words, it’s something that can be read in one sitting), seeping into your thoughts.

Mike O’Driscoll has weaved an excellent novella, and weaved it well. It’s well written and the characters leap off the page with a flair that brings them  to life. If this is setting the scene for the four TTA novellas to come, then I’m feeling just as excited about the prospect as I was in May 2010.

Brave New Worlds…

Rather a sleek bit of kit, if I do say so myself.

Some of you may remember, earlier this year, I posted a blog entry decrying the rise of the e-format of fiction. Well, brace yourself for a hypocritical U-turn worthy of the Tory/Lib Dem coalition…

I got a Kindle for Christmas. Before you start breaking out the effigies, let me explain. My principle reason for this was academic. As a law student, I have to read a frankly stupid number of academic articles per week, and since reading from a computer screen gives me a headache I end up printing them out. Which costs a fair bit. Thankfully, I can instead download them for free and read them on my shiny new Kindle, without headaches. Primarily because it isn’t shiny.

But I’d been lying if I tried to claim that as the only reason I wanted one. After all, it’s not “Treason in the Age of Terrorism” I’ve been reading for the last few days, but Gary McMahon’s “Rough Cut”. Which I highly recommend, by the way.

No, I’m also very much interested in the fiction on offer. To be completely honest, I’m a little disappointed with the price of some e-books. Unless you’re after fairly underground stuff, or standard e-reader fodder by Dan Brown or Stieg Larsson, then you’re unlikely to pay any less than you would for the print version. Which seems a little odd. I mean, less needs to be spent on the physical production. So does more money go to the author? Doubtful, although if it does I withdraw all criticism.

But anyway, the actual Kindle itself is a pleasure to read. Light enough to hold for long periods of time without tiring, a screen clear enough to read in sunshine, and a tantalising selection of books at my fingertips. Not to mention that, as the more expensive 3G version, it also serves as mobile internet access. And all without the Apple-ness of an iPad.

So yes, I’m converted. I’m not swearing off paper books, and for my favourites I still want physical copies. Digital will always lack the enticing smell, feel and general experience of reading a paper- or hard-back book, but if digital is the future, then there are much worse places it could be headed than the Kindle.

Plus, I can get the Guardian on it!

“The Harm” by Gary McMahon – A Review

(TTA Press, paperback, 64pp, £5)

The first thought that struck me when Gary McMahon’s new novella slid through the letterbox was how pretty it looks. I know the old adage says don’t judge a book by it’s cover, but with Ben Baldwin’s cover art it’s extremely hard not to. And the size of it seems perfect for a bit of light reading (even though it’s immediately apparent that the subject matter will be anything but light). At 64 pages, it’s perfect for a quick dip into McMahon’s disturbing imagination, and as a fan of the novella, I hope that this marks the beginning of a new series of similarly sized publications from TTA (and Andy Cox has given every indication that such was his intention).

The novella itself is divided into four sections, focusing on the three victims of sexual abuse, and the sister of one of them, and the introduction immediately indicates the tone that the novella will take. I’m going to try to avoid giving away too much in this review, but anyone who is familiar with McMahon’s work will understand his tone. For those who aren’t, he managed to capture the psychological tone of such masterpieces as the old Silent Hill games. McMahon effortlessly blends the psychological traumas of his characters with a genuinely frightening supernatural force that stalks them. Such is the level of McMahon’s skill that the overwhelming sense of mystery leaves the reader unsure whether what befalls the characters is some supernatural force, or just the manifestation of the abuse they suffered.

The message of the fiction is probably the most important thing here. Certainly McMahon’s afterword indicates such, explaining his motivation and intentions with the story, and yet still leaving a modicum of mystery over the whole thing. And that is the most impressive part, from my perspective. Although what happens and what it means is stated with perfect clarity, the reader remains unsettled and curious as to the nuances of meaning.

But the plot, and the bizarre things which happen to the characters, are the unsettling part. As the novella states at the beginning, it is concerned with “the results of the harm“, and I’m quite sure that much of the novella is subject to the interpretation, and as with the finest traditions of psychological horror, the meaning will rearrange itself within McMahon’s clearly defined parameters, to touch the particular exposed nerves and fears of the reader.

Overall, this novella is triumph of genre fiction, demonstrating precisely how complex and effective such literature can be. It uses the fear that horror specialises in as a vehicle for commentary on the human condition, and in particular the very current issue of pedophilia. In terms of editing, it was up to TTA’s usual high standards, with the only fault I could find being a missing period at the end of the first sentence of the second part, a stumble, but not enough to trip the story up. If I have to criticise it, my only grounds can be the first thing I praised; the length. I read it on the train from Brighton to London, in just over an hour, which is a perfect length for a quick read, but does leave the reader wanting more. So if you’re unfamiliar with McMahon’s fiction, with it’s bargain price and easy length, this is a perfect read. And if you are familiar with him, this whole bloody spiel was probably completely unnecessary.