Three Tips For Writing Reassuring Horror Fiction

Well, I recently ended up thinking about the topic of reassuring horror fiction recently. And, yes, I know that this sounds like a contradiction in terms – but, horror fiction can be reassuring.

A day or so before I wrote this article, I was stressed out by various things and I also realised that I had to start reading another novel if I wanted to post a review here tomorrow. I’d planned to read a more high-brow novel, but I just didn’t feel in the mood for it.

So, I started reading a sci-fi horror novel (“Aliens: Rogue” by Sandy Schofield) instead. This was the kind of cheesy horror novel I used to read all the time when I was a teenager and it just felt reassuring to be reading this type of fiction again. Like watching a favourite old film or playing an old computer game you really love.

So, I thought that I’d offer a few tips for writing reassuring horror fiction because, yes, horror fiction can be reassuring. So, let’s get started:

1) Unrealistic horror: One of the first ways to write reassuring horror is to make sure that the horrors in your story are clearly unrealistic.

Whether they’re zombies, monsters, vampires etc… the trick here is to come up with a story that will be grippingly suspenseful but, when it is over, your audience will have no reason to keep feeling afraid. This helps your audience to feel tough and fearless and, as such, will make your story feel considerably more reassuring.

And, yes, familiarity helps a lot here too. A classic cinematic example of this is the first “Nightmare On Elm Street” movie. The film itself contains some inventively macabre moments and some nail-biting suspense, but the horror doesn’t linger afterwards for the simple reason that Freddy Krueger is such a pop culture icon. He’s an over-the-top, fantastical monster who is conceptually scary (eg: the idea of a monster who haunts people’s dreams) but, because he’s so well-known, he isn’t likely to shock or disturb the audience too much.

A good literary example is probably Clive Barker’s “The Scarlet Gospels“. This novel is an incredibly gruesome, fast-paced horror thriller – but it isn’t really that scary for the simple reason that the novel’s main villain is such a well-known horror monster (after all, Clive Barker created the “Hellraiser” franchise). So, the reader gets to experience a grisly trip to hell and back without feeling too scared because, chances are, they’ve already seen at least one or two of the “Hellraiser” films and know what to expect.

But, of course, if you’re writing your own horror fiction, then you’ll either have to come up with your own horror monsters (make them witty, over-the-top, slightly silly etc..) or use popular types of monsters that aren’t copyrighted (eg: vampires, werewolves, zombies etc…).

2) Tough protagonists: Real, frightening horror is all about vulnerability. It’s about being alone at night and hearing something approaching. It’s about finding yourself out of your depth. It’s about bleakness, hopelessness and sorrow. It’s about facing certain and inevitable death. All of this stuff is, as you might have guessed, not particularly reassuring.

So, a good way to make your horror fiction a bit more reassuring is to give your protagonists the means and skills to confidently fight back against the horror.

For example, I recently read a novel called “Patient Zero” by Jonathan Maberry. It’s a military action-thriller novel with zombies in it. It was quite a lot of fun to read, but not particularly scary for the simple reason that – even when the main character is unarmed – he’s a well-trained soldier with lots of martial arts experience. As such, whilst the novel is certainly gruesome and suspenseful, you get all of the drama of a horror novel without any of the lingering unease or fear.

The best examples of this sort of thing can, of course, be found in computer and video games. For example, the reason why horror-themed first-person shooter games like “Doom II“, “Left 4 Dead 2“, “Quake” etc.. aren’t very scary is because you’re usually playing as either a well-armed soldier or part of an expert team.

By contrast, a game like “Silent Hill 3” is about fifty times more terrifying for the simple reason that your character is a lone teenager who isn’t very good with weapons (and the game’s combat system is deliberately slow and imprecise to reflect this fact).

So, if your main character is tough and has the means to confidently fight back against the horrors they encounter, then your horror story will be a lot more reassuring.

3) Gory horror: This might sound counter-intuitive but, just because you’re writing a reassuring horror story, don’t be afraid to make it really gruesome. There are a couple of reasons for this.

First of all, gruesome horror is only scary when it also includes other forms of horror too. So, if you don’t include those, then you can make your story as gory as you want whilst also making your audience feel brave and tough because they aren’t feeling too scared by it.

For example, compare the films “Shaun Of The Dead” and “Saw III” – both films contain buckets of stage blood, but “Shaun Of The Dead” is a comedy about zombies. It’s gory, but it isn’t frightening because there are no other types of horror present.

On the other hand, “Saw III” is a scary, shocking, disturbing and unsettling film (people actually fainted when it was shown in cinemas) for the simple reason that all of the film’s gory scenes are accompanied by “realistic” examples of several other types of horror – such as vulnerability, cruelty/sadism, hopelessness, certain death, psychological horror etc….

Secondly, over-the-top gory horror isn’t inherently scary if it is presented in a clearly unrealistic context. In essence, the less likely something is to actually happen in real life, the less genuinely frightening it will be (and the more “fearless” your audience will feel whilst reading it).

This is why, for example, an ultra-gruesome zombie apocalypse novel probably won’t be very scary, but something like a short description of realistic horrors (eg: warfare, disease, violent crimes, natural disasters etc..) will be disturbing. So, if your horror story takes place in an unrealistic context, then you can make it as gruesome as you want without disturbing your audience too much.

So, yes, reassuring horror doesn’t have to mean sanitised horror.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

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Three Tips For Finding Your Own “Style” Of Horror Fiction

If you’re interested in writing horror fiction, then one of the things that can really surprise you is when the type of horror fiction that you enjoy reading isn’t the same as the type that you are best at writing.

So, I thought that I’d offer a few tips for finding your own “style” of horror fiction.

1) Experimentation and introspection: As any evil scientist will tell you, nothing beats good old-fashioned experiments. Simply put, the best way to work out whether a particular type of horror fiction really works for you is simply to try writing some of it. In addition to showing you what you are good at, it’ll also show you what doesn’t work for you.

And, as I mentioned earlier, this might catch you by surprise. The things that you enjoy as a reader might not be the same things you really thrive at writing. This can happen for a number of reasons – perhaps it was written in a different context to the one you’re writing in? Perhaps you don’t know enough about your favourite genre of horror to feel confident enough about writing it? Is the stuff you enjoy reading too intellectual or not intellectual enough? Who knows?

Once you’ve got over the shock of “I can’t write this, but I really enjoy reading it”, try to work out why. As soon as you work out the reasons for this, then you can either take steps (eg: research, writing practice etc..) to get better at the genre of horror you want to write or, more interestingly, you can use what you’ve learnt in order to find genres of horror fiction that do work for you.

2) Other influences: Another way to find your own style of horror fiction is just to look at your other influences and see if you can find a way to add a bit of horror to them. And, yes, you should have influences from outside the horror genre too. In fact, you almost certainly already do.

I mean, unless you’ve spent your entire life watching nothing but horror movies, reading nothing but horror novels, playing nothing but horror videogames and listening to nothing but the growlier types of heavy metal then you’re going to have other influences, whether you know it or not. And this is a good thing.

Why? If you want to come up with your own unique, distinctive “style” of horror then you’re going to have to introduce stuff from outside the horror genre. After all, fans of the horror genre are already familiar with everything within the horror genre. So, if you want to create horror fiction that’s a bit more unique and a bit more “you”, then you’re going to have to look outside the genre at the things you love for inspiration.

And, sometimes, the style of horror fiction you thrive at writing might be different to the type you enjoy reading. One reason for this can simply be that the greatest influences on your writing come from outside the horror genre. So, try to find a way to add some horror to them rather than just trying to copy the horror novels you enjoy reading.

3) Your own fears and sensibilities: Although the old advice to write about what actually scares you might seem simplistic at first glance, it’s actually really clever advice – if you put some thought into it first. In other words, instead of just copy-pasting your phobias and nightmares onto the page, try to work out why they scare you so much.

Once you’ve worked this out, you can take the basic underlying idea and apply it to much more interesting and imaginative situations. You can give your story a level of personality and depth that a simple monster story cannot.

And, yes, many of the famous tropes of the horror genre started out this way. For example, although zombies might be grotesque-looking walking corpses, this usually isn’t the main source of horror in a good zombie story. In a good zombie story, the zombies will often be a metaphor for some other, more realistic, fear – such as disease, loss of individuality, societal collapse, mortality, bereavement/grief, existential meaninglessness etc…

So, yes, do a bit of introspection and work out why your fears exist – then take that knowledge and use it in a new and imaginative way.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Review: “The Scarlet Gospels” By Clive Barker (Novel)

Back in 2015, I was delighted when I heard that a new horror novel by Clive Barker had been released πŸ™‚ Not only that, it was also a sequel to Barker’s “The Hellbound Heart” – the novella he used as a basis for the film “Hellraiser“.

Unfortunately, I heard this awesome news during the 3-4 year period when I didn’t read much. But, I added “The Scarlet Gospels” to my list of books that I meant to read sometime.

Yet, when I got back into reading regularly again, it took me more than fifty novels before I eventually got round to reading another Clive Barker novel (one from the 1980s called “Weaveworld). It was then that I remembered “The Scarlet Gospels” and, to my delight, I was able to find a cheap second-hand hardback copy of it online πŸ™‚ So, this review has been a long time coming πŸ™‚

So, let’s take a look at “The Scarlet Gospels”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2015 Macmillan (UK) hardback edition of “The Scarlet Gospels” that I read.

The novel begins in a gloomy, candlelit crypt. Five magicians have gathered around the grave of their fallen friend, Joseph Ragowski, in order to raise him from the dead. When – much to his annoyance – Ragowski returns to the realm of the living, the news isn’t good. The five magicians who raised him are the only magicians who are still alive. Something has been systematically killing the world’s magicians and stealing their knowledge. Something that has just found the crypt…….

Meanwhile, hard-boiled paranormal detective Harry D’Amour is drinking in a bar in New Orleans and reminiscing about his past. He has been sent to the city by his old friend Norma, a blind medium who has been contacted by the ghost of a recently-deceased lawyer who wants someone to get rid of his secret occult love nest before his family find out about it.

When Harry finds the house, everything seems relatively normal. But, after a bit of searching, Harry finds a secret chamber filled with magical grimoires. And, whilst searching this hidden room, he finds a mysterious puzzle box that starts to solve itself…….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is Wow! Oh my god, this novel is amazing πŸ™‚ Yes, it might lack some of the sophistication of Barker’s earlier works, but it more than makes up for this by being this utterly badass combination of an old-school splatterpunk horror novel, a hardboiled noir detective story, a heavy metal action thriller that could give the original “Doom” a run for it’s money, an epic dark fantasy story, a cheesy late-night horror movie and so much more πŸ™‚ This novel is one of the coolest novels I’ve read in a long time.

I guess that I should probably start by talking about the novel’s horror elements. First of all, imagine the movie “Hellraiser”. Compared to this novel, “Hellraiser” is a Disney movie. In addition to some intriguing paranormal horror and some delightfully grotesque body horror, this novel is the kind of gloriously over-the-top ultra-gruesome splatterpunk novel that could easily have come from the 1980s πŸ™‚ Seriously, imagine all of the grisly horrors of the original “Hellraiser” movie, but turned up to eleven, and you might begin to come close to the macabre majesty of this novel! Seriously, this is a Clive Barker novel πŸ™‚

But, although this novel isn’t exactly scary, it is a joy for any fan of the horror genre to behold πŸ™‚ The novel is saturated in gothic darkness, “film noir” gloom, cackling malevolence and diabolical delights. It is the kind of novel where, like in any good 1980s/90s horror movie, you can practically feel the ominously gloomy lighting. It is the kind of gloriously uncensored, over-the-top, darkly imaginative medley of the macabre that will probably cause you to grin with immature, rebellious delight for at least an hour or two after reading the first half of the story.

Another interesting thing about this novel is that it’s a thriller novel. Yes, it slows down a little bit in some of the later parts, but it is about a million miles away from the slightly slower and more contemplative fiction that Barker is famous for.

The first half of the book is a little bit like one of those awesome noir-influenced gothic horror thriller movies from the 1980s/1990s like “Jacob’s Ladder” or “Angel Heart” or something like that. The second half of the book is kind of like a cheesy heavy metal-influenced 1980s dark fantasy epic πŸ™‚ Seriously, this story is a lot more fast-paced and gripping than I had expected πŸ™‚

The novel’s fantasy elements are kind of interesting too. Although the novel starts out like a really cool urban fantasy novel, it eventually turns into more of a dark fantasy/high fantasy story.

Even though the scenes set in hell initially seem to be pulled straight from a heavy metal music video or a level of the original “Doom” (which certainly isn’t a bad thing), the novel’s mythos gradually becomes a bit more interesting and a fair number of the hellish locations and creatures display some of Barker’s uniquely twisted imagination πŸ™‚ Likewise, the novel also includes a rather interesting take on the topic of Lucifer too, and some truly epic scenes later in the story too πŸ™‚

Yes, compared to the sophisticated imagination of some other Clive Barker novels like “Weaveworld”, “Abarat” etc.. this novel isn’t as unique or imaginative. But, surprisingly, this doesn’t matter. It’s a badass, fast-paced horror thriller novel that is almost like heavy metal music in book form. Yes, some aspects of the location design might be a little bit cheesy or cliched (eg: a building covered in lots of spikes, which are also covered in spikes etc..) but this is half of the fun of a story like this πŸ™‚

Another cool thing about this novel is that, like any good Clive Barker novel, it isn’t for the prudish or narrow-minded either πŸ™‚ In addition to taking a glorious delight in frequent descriptions of the male anatomy, this novel is the kind of story that is both gleefully anti-conservative and “politically incorrect” as hell. Seriously, this novel is a rebellious delight πŸ™‚

As for the characters, they’re something of a mixed bag. Whilst many of the supporting characters (eg: a muscular tattooist, a cute guy from New Orleans, a medium etc..) don’t really get that much characterisation, this kind of lends the story a wonderful “cheesy B-movie”-like quality. Plus, it leaves more room for the stars of the story to really shine. Whilst Harry D’Amour is a typical hard-boiled detective, the real star of this story is the Hell Priest. Or, as he hates to be called, Pinhead.

And, yes, if you’ve seen Doug Bradley’s performance as this character in “Hellraiser”, then this novel will be such a delight to read πŸ™‚ In addition to having lots of wonderfully malevolent lines of dialogue, the Hell Priest also has a really interesting story arc which really helps to explore and define this mysterious monster. In a story that mirrors Lucifer’s fall from heaven, he is a chillingly tragic figure whose ruthless ambition proves to be his undoing.

As for the writing in this novel, it works surprisingly well. Whilst some parts of the novel’s third-person narration have the kind of rich, descriptive style that you’d expect to see in a Clive Barker novel, other parts of the story are written in a more unsophisticated and “matter of fact” kind of way. This helps to keep the story reasonably fast-paced and, although some of the story’s dialogue is corny (even by B-movie standards), the less sophisticated parts of the narration really help to add some fun to the story. Seriously, as long as you don’t go into this novel expecting to read a work of literary fiction, then you’ll probably enjoy the narration.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really good πŸ™‚ From what I’ve read about the long history of this novel, it was originally going to be a giant tome at one point. Fortunately, the hardback edition I read had been edited down to a much more efficient 361 pages πŸ™‚ Not only does this help to keep the story streamlined and gripping, but it also means that the pacing is really good too. Yes, it slows down a little in some of the later parts, but for the most part, this is very much a thriller novel πŸ™‚

All in all, this novel is amazing πŸ™‚ Yes, it isn’t as sophisticated as some of Barker’s older stuff. But, this is like comparing an elaborate classical symphony to a modern album by a 1980s heavy metal band. Yes, one might be more complex and sophisticated, but the other is a lot more fun to listen to. And, yes, this what I love about this novel. It is fun. It is a gloriously over-the-top heavy metal horror movie of a novel πŸ™‚ And it is just so much fun to read πŸ™‚

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get six six six.

Today’s Art (9th April 2019)

Well, since I was slightly tired and in a bit of a rush, today’s artwork is 100% digital. It was a quick digital painting (made in about 20-25 minutes) that I made, which was based on this photo I took of the hallway/staircase near my room after I noticed that, thanks to the way that my digital camera works, the light tended to look more orange in low-light environments.

So, after turning some lights off, I was able to take a photo that reminded me of the tenebrist art of old (my favourite type of historical art). In addition to this, thanks to the orange light and some of the digital techniques I used, I was also able to take inspiration from an amazing classic horror videogame called “Silent Hill 3” whilst making the digital painting too πŸ™‚

As usual, this digital painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“Low Light – Silent Hall” By C. A. Brown

Review: “Dead Man Rising” By Lilith Saintcrow (Novel)

Well, after reading Lilith Saintcrow’s “Working For The Devil” a week or two ago, I’d planned to read more books in Saintcrow’s excellent “Dante Valentine” series – especially since I found a cheap second-hand paperback omnibus online. So, I thought that I’d take a look at the next novel in the series – “Dead Man Rising” (2006).

Although this sci-fi/urban fantasy/horror/detective novel can theoretically be read as a stand-alone novel (since it contains recaps), it is best read after “Working For The Devil”. Not only will some elements of the story make more sense, but this novel will also have a much greater emotional impact if you’ve read the previous one first.

So, let’s take a look at “Dead Man Rising”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2011 Orbit (UK) paperback omnibus which contained the copy of “Dead Man Rising” that I read.

Set in a futuristic cyberpunk-style city called Saint City, the novel starts with half-demon necromancer Dante Valentine and her ex-boyfriend Jace in the middle of a dangerous bounty hunting mission. After the events of the previous novel, Dante has thrown herself into her work in order to distract herself from the emotional and physical pain that she feels.

However, after the bounty has been caught, Dante gets a call from her old friend on the police force. There have been a series of grisly murders and a clue found next to one of the bodies suggests that Dante and one of the victims have a common history. Despite the fact that Dante is still deeply troubled by this distant part of her past, she agrees to help investigate the case…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is both very gripping and it also contains far more horror elements than the previous novel did πŸ™‚ This novel is also more of a character-based drama too, with lots of emphasis placed on Dante’s emotional battles as well as more physical conflicts. So, yes, the emotional tone of this story is a lot darker and grimmer than the previous one, although this segues quite well with the ending of the previous novel in addition to emphasising the horror elements of the story too.

Talking of which, I cannot praise the horror elements of this story highly enough. Although this novel contains a decent amount of gory horror and paranormal horror, there’s also a chilling focus on the nightmarishly dystopian psychic school that Dante was forced to attend when she was younger. Whilst the reader is given enough grim details about this to make them recoil and shudder, there’s also the creeping sense that these details are just the tip of a very disturbing iceberg. So, unlike the previous “Dante Valentine” novel, this novel is actually a horror novel.

The novel’s detective elements are reasonably good too, since they lend the story a level of claustrophobic suspense and gritty tension that the previous novel lacked slightly. Although the solution to the mystery is something that you might guess about half to two-thirds of the way through the story, it includes some really clever flourishes – such as a variation on the traditional “locked room mystery” sub-genre of detective fiction.

In a lot of ways, the detective elements of this story reminded me a bit of both Mike Carey’s excellent “Felix Castor” novels and the “Blackwell” computer games (which I reviewed here, here, here, here and here). Not to mention that they help to keep the story moving at a reasonably decent pace too.

But, whilst this novel is more of a traditional detective/horror thriller, there are still a few action-packed moments too – the best of these being a really cool, if somewhat superflous, fight scene set in a vampire nightclub – which reminded me a little bit of Jocelynn Drake’s excellent “Dark Days” novels (which is never a bad thing πŸ™‚).

In terms of the writing, Saintcrow’s first-person narration is as good as ever – and it is written in the kind of informal “matter of fact” way that you would expect in a good thriller or noir novel. Like with the previous novel in the series, the narration also includes a few mildly cyberpunk flourishes (eg: futuristic jargon like “holovids”, “plasguns”, “plasteel” etc..) in addition to including a fair amount of introspection and characterisation too.

As for the characters in this novel, they’re reasonably good and this story devotes quite a bit of time to characterisation too. However, the characterisation in this story is very much on the “gritty drama” side of things, with lots of scenes showing how traumatic effects have affected the characters. Likewise, the story’s main villian is left mysterious enough to be genuinely creepy too. So, yes, the characterisation in this novel is pretty interesting.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is ok. Whilst the omnibus edition of “Dead Man Rising” seems to be an efficient 250-70 pages in length, this is only due to larger pages and smaller print. Looking online, the stand-alone paperback edition of this novel is about 416 pages long. Still, the novel never really felt like it was too long. Likewise, even though some of the gloomy introspection slows the story down a bit, this novel was still gripping enough for me to binge-read most of it within the space of a single day.

All in all, this is a gripping paranormal detective thriller/horror novel πŸ™‚ Yes, the emotional tone of this story is a bit on the depressing side of things – but, despite this, it is still a creepily chilling and grippingly compelling novel.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.

Review: “Piercing” By Ryu Murakami (Novel)

Well, it has been way too long since I read a Ryu Murakami novel. After discovering Murakami’s excellent 1997 horror novel “In The Miso Soup” in a Waterstone’s during my early twenties, I ended up reading translations of several of his books (“Audition”, “Almost Transparent Blue” and possibly “Coin-Locker Babies”, if I remember rightly) over the next year or two.

At the time, I must also have bought a copy of his 1994 horror/thriller novel “Piercing” (translated by Ralph McCarthy) but, for some reason, I didn’t get round to reading it.

So, when I was working out which book to read next, I happened to spot “Piercing” in one of my book piles. And, since it was both a refreshingly short novel and it was a Murakami novel I hadn’t read, I thought that I’d check it out.

[Edit: Interestingly, in the months between when I first prepared this review and the time of posting it, an American film adaptation of this book (also called “Piercing”) was announced and released. Since I haven’t seen it at the time of writing, I can’t really compare the two things.]

So, let’s take a look at “Piercing”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2008 Bloomsbury (UK) paperback edition of “Piercing” that I read.

Set in Tokyo, the story begins with family man Kawashima Masayuki standing over his baby daughter’s crib one night. For reasons he doesn’t quite understand, he has stood over the crib for ten nights in a row. Every night, he holds an ice pick and wills himself not to harm the baby. Every night, the baby is left unharmed. And, thankfully, this night is no different.

When he tries to work out what is wrong with himself, Kawashima is racked by traumatic memories of his childhood. Overwhelmed by the furious intense rage within him, he decides to act upon it in the hope that this will cause it to go away. So, coming up with an excuse, he leaves home for a few days and stays in a hotel in another part of Tokyo – where he begins to plan a grisly murder…..

One of the first things that I will say about “Piercing” is that it is an incredibly gripping horror thriller that isn’t for the easily shocked. However, by the high standards of Murakami’s other horror novels, it falls short somewhat.

If you’ve read “In The Miso Soup” or “Audition”, then you’ll know that Murakami is famous for gradually building suspense over the course of a novel, only to finally release it in a truly shocking moment of extreme horror. Well, this novel does the literal opposite of this.

In other words, a lot of the really shocking, creepy, dark and horrific stuff happens in the earlier parts of the novel, and although the novel still works reasonably well as a fast-paced and gripping thriller, all of the novel’s chilling suspense eventually descends into something of a grim farce (like a “romantic comedy from hell” or something like that) that ends in a rather random, abrupt and ambiguous way which is about a million miles away from the usual jaw-droppingly shocking Murakami ending.

Likewise, the almost unrelenting barrage of horror means that some of it comes across as a bit “over the top” in a corny late-night movie style way or as an immature attempt at being “edgy”. Although there is a small amount of contrast between the horrific and the mundane, there really isn’t enough of this to make the novel’s scenes of horror really stand out in the way they do in Murakami’s other horror novels.

Still, as a horror novel, it works incredibly well. This novel contains a disturbing plethora of different types of horror including violent horror, character-based horror, psychological horror, sexual horror, criminal horror, poverty horror, suspenseful horror and some hints of paranormal horror. And, yes, this is a very grim and disturbing novel too – with lots of bleak background details, traumatic flashback scenes and creepy psychological moments.

So, yes, this really isn’t a novel for the easily shocked. Still, the novel includes some moments of dark comedy (like Kawashima ranting at himself in his notes, some quirky background details etc..) that help to lighten the bleak tone somewhat.

As for the characters, they’re reasonably well-written and are the source of a lot of the novel’s horror. Most of the novel focuses on both Kawashima (who is disturbed by traumatic memories, fairly misogynistic and a serial-killer-in-the-making) and a sex worker called Chiaki who, unknown to Kawashima, also suffers from traumatic memories and violent impulses (and also has a hatred of men that rivals Kawashima’s hatred of women).

The characters in this novel are disturbingly compelling and the story devotes quite a bit of time to characterisation.

Interestingly, this novel also seems to be the literal opposite of another extreme horror novel I read in my early twenties called “Exquisite Corpse” by Poppy Z. Brite.

In Brite’s “Exquisite Corpse”, two serial killers end up having a beautiful romance that is filled with stomach-churning horror. Whereas, in Murakami’s “Piercing”, the fact that Kawashima and Chiaki are kindred spirits makes their meetings fairly awkward and eventually ends up cancelling out the horror of the story (since they both try, and fail, to kill each other before having a rather bizarre and ambiguous moment together the following morning).

In terms of the writing style, whilst I can’t comment on the original Japanese text, Ralph McCarthy’s translation is incredibly readable. It reads a lot like a classic pulp novel (a bit like a more modern version of Mickey Spillane, Jim Thompson or Dashiell Hammett), with some more descriptive and poetic flourishes. In other words, this is a fast-paced, gripping thriller novel.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. At a lean and efficient 185 pages in length, this novel remains streamlined and morbidly compelling throughout. However, the pacing is definitely better in the first half of the novel than the second, although both halves are still reasonably suspenseful.

As for how this twenty-five year old novel has aged, it has aged reasonably well. Not only does the story remain grippingly compelling, but the story’s many moments of horror are still as disturbing as ever. Likewise, although there are some brief mentions of 1990s technology, the story has a timeless quality to it (and could easily take place in the present day or the 1970s or whenever). Still, there are a few elements of the story (eg: how Kawashima and Chiaki both despise the opposite sex) which, although integral to the story’s suspenseful drama, irony and dark comedy, would probably be considered “politically incorrect” these days.

All in all, whilst this novel doesn’t quite reach the horrific heights of some of Murakami’s other horror novels (“In The Miso Soup” and “Audition”), it is still a grimly gripping and deeply disturbing read. If you want a story with creepy characters, a grim atmosphere and a fast-paced plot, then this one might be worth checking out.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about get a four.

Review: “Something Wicked This Way Comes” By Ray Bradbury (Novel)

The very first time I read a Ray Bradbury book was when I was seventeen. I was going through a “1950s/60s sci-fi” phase at the time and I distinctly remember binge-reading a second-hand copy of “Farenheit 451” over the course of two days (I also did this with Frank Herbert’s “Dune”, and I was really proud of reading a whole book in two days. Little did I know it would become standard for me in the future).

But, although I really liked that novel, I never got round to reading anything else by Ray Bradbury.

That was, of course, until last March when Bradbury’s 1962 novel “Something Wicked This Way Comes” was recommended to me in a comment below a short story I’d written at the time. Of course, thanks to my article schedule, my review of it is only now appearing nearly a year later. Still, I have a lot to say about this amazing book.

So, let’s take a look at “Something Wicked This Way Comes”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2015 Gollancz (UK) paperback reprint of “Something Wicked This Way Comes” that I read.

The story begins in an idyllic small American town on a gloomy October evening, a week before Halloween. Two teenagers called Will and Jim are given a free lightning rod by a mysterious travelling salesman who tells them that lightning will strike Jim’s house when the next storm arrives. After attaching it to Jim’s house, they decide to visit Will’s eccentric father who works as a caretaker in the local library.

But, as the evening draws on, the storm does not arrive. However, the people of the town start to notice adverts for a travelling circus appearing around town. In a shop window, a block of ice with a life-like hollow in it appears.

Then, at 3am, both Will and Jim are awakened by the sound of a train thundering into town, accompanied by the haunting music of a calliope. After realising that the train belongs to the circus, they sneak out and decide to take a look. Needless to say, Cooger And Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show is no ordinary circus…..

One of the first things that I will say about this book is.. WOW πŸ™‚ Although it took me a while to get used to Bradbury’s writing style and I was initially uncertain about whether I liked the novel or not, the story just got better and better as it went along.

By the end of it, I realised that the last time I’d read something that had such a profound emotional effect on me was when I read Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” comics about nine and a half years ago. And, yes, this book is that good. And then some. Seriously, it is practically magical.

This novel is so many things at once. It is a vivid work of art painted with words. It is a story for young people. It is a story for old people. It is a genuinely chilling horror story. It is a magical, uplifting fairytale. It is a story about life. It is a story about death. It is a story about friendship and family. It is an exuberant tale about quiet introspection. It is a story about good and evil. It is a beautiful nightmare. It is a Hitchcockian masterpiece of suspense. It is a profound tract about the meaning of life. It is so, so many things.

But, I’ll start with the novel’s horror elements, because they are wonderfully creepy πŸ™‚ Like all good horror stories, this one includes multiple types of horror – which include things like supernatural horror, gothic horror, implied horror, moral horror, atmospheric horror, carnival horror, body horror, suspenseful horror and character-based horror.

Seriously, I absolutely loved the horror elements in this book. This is the kind of book that won’t outright scare you, but will make you squirm and turn each page eagerly, nervous about what will happen next. And there are some wonderfully disturbing and unsettling moments here too.

Yet, this isn’t really a horror novel. All of the novel’s horror is counterbalanced by moments of joy, profundity, beauty and warmth that may well make you cry. The horror and non-horror elements play across the book like a dance of light and shadow. And this contrast is really what this novel is about. If anything, the word “contrast” sums up this novel perfectly. Or, more accurately, this is a novel about what happens when contrasting things merge.

Whether it is how the two protagonists are both good and bad influences on each other, whether it is the kindly small town and the bizarre circus, whether it is about how good can gradually turn into evil, whether it is about old people wishing they were young (and vice versa), whether it is about life and death, whether it is about the ordinary meeting the fantastical or a hundred other things, this is a novel about contrasting opposites sitting next to each other and what happens when they do. And it is astonishing.

The novel’s characters are really interesting. Whether it is the complicated friendship between the conscientious Will Holloway and the impulsive Jim Nightshade, whether it is Will’s eccentric father who stays up until 3am to read books and talk to himself, whether it is the chillingly creepy owners of Cooger And Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show, the characters are brilliant. Even the background characters usually seem like interesting and/or ordinary people.

The writing in this novel is, in a word, poetic. It is art made with words instead of paint. It is atmospheric. Yes, it’ll probably take you a little while to get used to Bradbury’s writing style, but it is well worth putting in the effort. Each sentence is beautifully-crafted in a way that will probably make your jaw drop.

This novel often uses long, complex, flowing, detailed, descriptive sentences that are best read at a hundred miles an hour. And, the effect that this has is amazing. It’s like reading a cyberpunk novel from nearly two decades before the cyberpunk genre was even a thing. It’s like reading beat literature. It’s like reading 1990s authors like Alice Hoffman and Poppy Z. Brite three decades early. It is, in short, amazing πŸ™‚

To show you what I mean, here’s a random descriptive sentence from the novel: ‘The small calliope within the carousel machinery rattle-snapped its nervous stallion shivering drums, clashed its harvest-moon cymbals, toothed its castanets and throatily choked and sobbed its reeds, whistles and baroque flutes.‘ Seriously, the novel’s narrative style can take a little while to get used to, but it is utterly magnificent.

In terms of length, structure and pacing, this novel is really good. Although it starts out slowly, you’ll soon start to realise that these early parts are there to build suspense. And, soon, you’ll find yourself absolutely gripped as the story’s chilling events unfold. The novel also includes a few interesting structural flourishes too, such as a chapter that is exactly one sentence long.

As for the novel’s length, it’s really good too. The edition I read was an efficient 260 pages long πŸ™‚ Thanks to the story’s vivid, descriptive and poetic writing style, it’ll feel like both a longer and a shorter story at the same time. This is a story that feels like it is exactly the right length. Not to mention that, and I say this in many reviews, I really miss the days when novels could be short if they needed to be πŸ™‚

In terms of how this fifty-seven year old novel has aged, it has aged reasonably gracefully. The writing is still beautifully vivid, intense and poetic, some of the themes are timeless and the story is still alternately gripping, chilling and profound when read today. But, at the same time, it is a noticeably old-fashioned story.

The rose-tinted small town setting, the “gee whiz” late 1950s/early 1960s-style dialogue, a few mildly dated descriptions, the story’s gender politics (it isn’t obnoxiously old-fashioned, but it was definitely written in an age where people thought that men and women were more different than they are) etc.. give it a somewhat old-fashioned tone when compared to more modern works.

All in all, this novel is a masterpiece. Yes, it might take you a while to get used to the poetic writing style, some elements of the story will seem a little old-fashioned and the story doesn’t start to become really gripping until a few chapters after you’ve started reading it but, if you can deal with this, then you will be richly rewarded! This story is something that has to be experienced in order to be fully understood. A mere review really doesn’t do it justice.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least a five.