Joel Lane (1963–2013) was surely one of the UK’s best and most distinctive, not to mention underrated, writers of weird fiction. Now, thanks to Influx Press, two of his short story collections – The Earth Wire and Scar City – are back in print, allowing his singular work to reach a whole new audience.
There’s a particular sort of magic felt by any Constant Reader who gets their hands on a new Stephen King novel. It’s a hard feeling to describe precisely, but it’s akin to coming home after a long time away. The writing style and characters housed within the novel’s covers amplify this comforting vibe by being completely new yet profoundly familiar.
Let’s get an admission out of the way before we begin: I never read Misty as a child. In my defence, I was barely three years old when it was merged into rival comic Tammy, effectively ending its run, but it was also, as the title of this cultural history of the comic defiantly reclaims, “for girls”. In the Lancashire of the late 70s and early 80s that, unfortunately, made it very much “not for boys”.
In his introduction to this anthology editor Mike Ashley reminds us that “although the history of the ghost story often emphasises the role of male writers … it is all too easily overlooked that the development of the field, helping the weird tale to progress, was as much the territory of women. And that was true from the very start”.
It’s almost a decade since Ahmed Saadawi wrote and published Frankenstein in Baghdad (2013). Yet with its English translation by Jonathan Wright only published in 2018, its impact has been felt belatedly in many Anglo-centric literary circles. One can’t help but wonder at the conjunction of the novel’s publication with the two hundredth anniversary of its predecessor. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was first published in 1818, and it’s tempting to think that the introduction of English-speaking readers to Frankenstein in Baghdad was deliberately timed, however unlikely that may be. In any event, Saadawi’s novel functions not only as a fascinating retelling, but also as a darkly funny and moving story about war, loss, and vengeful bodies.
There are some cities that are entirely transformed by the writers who reproduce them. Dickensian London is a unique entity entirely distinct and yet strangely akin to the real city that spawned it. Dostoevsky’s St Petersburg is a dark mirror of its more tangible yet no less monumental counterpart, filled with strange characters that channel the warped, often fantastical spirit of their surroundings. James Joyce’s Dublin is made up of multiple, unique voices and their own experiences of the city, a tapestry of individual spaces.
Embarrassingly, I’d never seen Near Dark before I started writing this review. I don’t know why, it just seemed to pass me by. I take some comfort in the fact that, at least on initial release, this vampire-noir-western hybrid passed a lot of other people by as well.
Where We Live, the debut collection from Tim Cooke, fits into an emergent tradition of writing that blends evocative depictions of landscape with a harder edge: harsh reminders of urban corrosion, intimations of horror.
There’s an affinity between horror and the avant-garde. From the visceral dystopian visions found in Burroughs’ Naked Lunch and Ballard’s The Atrocity Exhibition, to the gothic-infused surrealism of films like Jane Arden’s The Other Side of Underneath and Bill Gunn’s Ganja & Hess, and even to David Lynch’s projects over multiple mediums, experiments in form frequently amplify the nightmarish aspects of horror (both horror as a genre and horror as an emotion). Adam L.G. Nevill’s recent collection of stories entitled Wyrd and Other Derelictions is part of that avant-garde horror tradition.
In recent times, fans of literary horror have been treated to a remarkable spate of short story collections that explore the fuzzy boundaries between genres and between worlds. The writers of these books might be considered heirs to the “strange stories” of Robert Aickman or the “dark tales” of Shirley Jackson. The latest addition to this pleasing trend: Dan Coxon’s debut Only the Broken Remain.