I like to have a theme with the books I read. At the start of October, I was determined to consume every weird fiction book centered around a city (there are a surprising number of them) to inspire me for my own collection.
This started out all right, but a vacation to Palm Springs and a week and a half of feeling under the weather diverted me from this mission. I didn’t read as much, and the books I chose were more conducive to my slothful state. I’ve resolved to continue the theme next month. Until then, here’s what I’ve read:
Gathered Dust and Others by W.H. Pugmire
I’ve been meaning to read W.H. Pugmire for quite some time. This collection, like much of his work, is inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos. And like Lovecraft, he can chill his readers with a single description. Pugmire is known for his poetic prose, weaving together beautiful and disturbing images with an antiquated vocabulary. Despite this, none of the stories stood out for me. Rather they seemed to mush together as I read. While I feasted on the words themselves, I was left wanting. Still, some of those images will stick with me for a long time.
Perdido Street Station by China Miéville
This may be my favorite genre novel of all time. Miéville is certainly one of my favorite authors. Every book I read by him pushes him further to the top of that list. The true brilliance came from his immersive worldbuilding—to the point that I believed I was on the streets of New Crobuzon rather than here in Seattle. Miéville melds hard sci-fi with steampunk and fantasy, using vibrant prose, earning his place at the forefront of the New Weird genre. The book was full of (semi-pseudo) science, but rather than having it bog down and confuse me, Miéville’s explanations allowed even a right-brained dunce like me to understand.
‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
For my trip to Palm Springs, I wanted a vacation read. I also wanted to broaden my knowledge of Stephen King’s oeuvre. ‘Salem’s Lot accomplished both. As King’s second novel (written in 1975), I felt he was still figuring things out. The characters didn’t have the richness of his later work and the subject matter—vampires—didn’t bring much new to the trope. Nevertheless, it was a strong sophomore novel and an addictive page turner. The ending could have been a little more satisfying, but as vampire novels go, it’s one of my favorites.
Seventeen Names for Skin by Roland Blackburn
Weirdpunk Books describes their fare as “weird horror” and this might be the weirdest one I’ve read yet. I adored Blackburn’s bizarro novella The Flesh Molder’s Love Song and was eager to read more of his work. With her cancer diagnosis, Snow has only six months to live and hires her own hitman to end it all. But something goes wrong, and she finds herself brutally transforming into different creatures each night. Body horror is one of my favorite subgenres and Blackburn uses it masterfully, supplementing it with humor and a healthy dose of the bizarre.
The Lost by Jack Ketchum
I like my horror supernatural–books like Cujo don’t usually do it for me. Ketchum’s novel is a rare exception. He shows the true monsters are human. Ray Pye murders two women to see “what it feels like.” Years later, having escaped the law, Ray is pushed to the edge, his savagery inspired by the Manson Family murders, concurrent with the story. Ketchum is a master at creating strong, realistic characters that you genuinely care for, driving the story home to its emotional conclusion.
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