Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Out of the Pan and into the Pit (Part 2)

Still not the collection cover.

I'm back with more horror for you today! After last week's trio of stories, it was pretty clear Mr. Paget would really have to outdo himself here to keep up with the craziness. But these stories are not as insane as those were, though a few have some issues of their own. Let us continue the spooky fun with my ongoing look at The 27th Pan Book of Horror Stories. It promises to be an interesting ride.

First let's look at Spiders by Buzz Dixon. This one centers on an unattractive lower middle class man named Marvin who has a phobia of spiders. The plot has Marvin seeing spiders, calling an exterminator, dealing with his woman, and then dealing with more spiders. I'm simplifying it a good deal, but its a pretty typical monster tale, and not too badly done. There is some decent creature craziness here. But the bigger problem is how nasty it is.

In around the 1970s, horror began to change from being about fear of the uncertainty and sin to being about how normality is just as bad as the unknown. Every character in this story is a dirtbag. Every single one. You don't feel anything when bad happens to them because they're such bad people, and when the ending comes you simply shrug and turn to the next story. This obsession with staining normality with "Realism" and making the people just as bad as the monsters is what killed horror in the mainstream to where all that is left are these sorts of stories.

Horror is supposed to be about dread and terror, and the hope of escape to something better. Even Lovecraft didn't have to rely on normal people being terrible to get his point across, and they still held the hope that maybe they could get away from the terror. A fundamental rule of the universe is broken and the protagonist has to get it back in order. Whether they succeed or not is up to the author.

But if there's nothing to fight for? If there is no one to fight for? If nothing matters to begin with?

And there is the problem with modern horror.

The next story we'll look at is J. Yen's A Weird Day for Agro. A man hears a story in a pub from a guy with a nigh incomprehensible accent obscuring most of the anecdote.

I'm not a fan of frame stories. If a writer is telling me a story, I would like to get as close to the action as possible. This was my problem with Abraham Merritt's Through the Dragon Glass. He was telling a story from the point of view of a man telling a story to the main character. It pulls me too many steps away from what is going on. That said, I can deal with them.

The bigger issue is the accents. If you write that the character has a brogue to him, I can use my own imagination to understand his voice. Writing out incomprehensible words to mimic an accent is torture for the reader. Any writers out there, please take my advice. Do not write out accents unless they are a word or two every now and then. Few things will completely take readers out of a story harder than not understanding what the heck you just wrote.

All that aside, those two devices work against anything this story has, which is a horror that isn't well explained at all.

Lastly, there is Pebbledene by Alan Temperley. A convict gets released from jail and, because he has no family, gets taken to a farm to work and gets pampered by the women living there. You probably already know the ending to this without knowing the rest of the story. It's a really long piece despite having such a predictable plot and characters. Any chance the author has of using a Chekov gun to take a detour into an interesting direction is never fired for barreling to a conclusion that I'm sure readers in the '80s already saw coming.

There isn't really a point to the story except to see an ex-con have sex with random women and then get his just desserts in the end. There's nothing here.

And that's probably the most disappointing part of this batch of stories. There's nothing really to talk about because there's nothing scary or interesting here. I thought horror was supposed to frighten or shock? Well, I'm still waiting. So far, about halfway through and I've laughed far more than anything, and I don't think I'm supposed to. Hopefully the second half of the collection delivers.

In other news, StoryHack #3 is out today, and I have a story in it! My piece, Inside the Demon's Eye, is fantasy quest inspired by the likes of CL Moore. An adventurer gets dragged into the Black Lands in his hunt for a treasure, but a mysterious creature is also in pursuit of him. Can he make it out in one piece, or his destined to die like so many others have in the land under demon eye?

I had a lot of fun writing this one, so I hope you enjoy reading it. This was really new territory for me, and I would be grateful to hear your thoughts.

And that's all for today. Until next time!

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