Monday, August 20, 2007

Dr. Z's Library of Terror!

Often – this blog focuses so much on the visual sort of horror. Movies, and such. One thing to bear in mind is that I am also a writer and, in order to be a good wirter, a writer needs to read. And I read a lot. I often have four or five books going at any time. In fact, Mrs. Zombie honestly considered not marrying me because she was concerned about the inordinate amount of money I spent on books. Fortunately, I wooed her enough to get her to see past any misgivings, and I also got much more sneaky about my book buying behavior (Halfprice books is Doctor Zombie’s friend and book addiction enabler!).

I love movie horror, but – just as much – I love horror writing also.

So, I decided to put together a couple lists of things that I’m currently reading, and current authors I’ve been especially fond of and that I consider great additions to any horror fans personal library. I need to qualify that... my literary tastes change and fluctuate so frequently that this list, unfortunately, has a shelf life of about two or three months. I've tried, however, to include some additions that have staying power, but no promises.

Also, these lists are in no way complete, but they’re a good start…

Essential Authors
HP Lovecraft – The father of modern horror. Lovecraft’s 1920’s and 1930’s pulp horror is absolutely breathtaking in its scope and language. Any horror writer alive today would most likely list Providence RI’s dark son of horror as an influence. Lovecraft encapsulated the paranoia of a world on the cusp of scientific exploration, and melded it with old world horror. He was the first writer to scare the hell out his readers with the idea that there may be Others out there – Others who don’t care about us or our meaningless lives - as well as older, more ancient evils; evils that predate humanity and have haunted our nightmares since our first hairy and barely bipedal forebearers crouched in terror in their caves, trembling at the darkness outside.

Stephen King – I love old Stephen King, before he became a parody of himself. And there are snobs out there who don’t consider what King does literature. (I know. I’ve argued with college English professors about this.) The fact of the matter is, regardless of how many copies he sold, no matter how mainstream is works are, no matter how many movies are made of his work, King is prolific. History will view him as a literary master. He crafts an excellent story and his exposition and dialogue are always tight. His earlier works (Carrie, Cujo, The Shining, The Stand, etc.) are classics of 20th century literature. My first King novel was Salem’s Lot. I was nine or ten when I read it and it scared the ever living crap out of me. Some 25+ years later, I still can’t walk past a window, late at night, without getting a twinge of fear at seeing a small boy floating there with pale skin, sharp canines, and long dirty nails tapping on the panes. “Let me in! Please…let me in.”

Richard Laymon – If you’ve never experienced Laymon, you don’t know what you’re missing. Laymon wrote about thirty books before his death in 2001 from a massive heart attack. What I so love about Laymon is his willingness to show the dark side of humanity. Also, he starts the action of his novels within a page or two of it starting. Unlike King, he just jumps right in and begins the horror show. His mix of wit and terror and raw human sexuality is unique and his death was a loss to the world of horror fiction.

Poppy Z. Brite – Poppy Z. Brite is one of those authors that bends the definition of literary genre. Her early horror works are luscious tales of young gay goth men in the south. Almost like a twisted, pro-gay southern gothic style reminiscent of Tenessee Williams, Poppy populates her stories with vampires, ghosts, and deep southern voodoo. She has a singular vision and is a writer firmly of my own generation that encapsulates the transitional horror of the that liminal period at the end of 20th century. Her horror is visceral, bloody, and always deliciously, decadently sensual.

Chuck Palahniuk – the author of Fight Club has other works out there that are seriously all about the mindfuck. The book that sold me on his genius, though, was Haunted. I bought this because I’d heard – anecdotally – that one of the stories in it had actually caused several people to faint at his readings and signings because it was so ghastly. My first, highly cynical thought was that it was just a ploy by his publisher to sell books. And then I read the story. Called “Guts”, this story was terrifying, creepy, and altogether emotionally disturbing. As I was reading it, I got light-headed and started to get a little dizzy. The rest of the novel is a rollercoaster of chilling vignettes. Palahniuk is a genius of going to the edge of sanity and blithely dancing across the line to the deeper, darker recesses of the human mind.

Honorable mentions…
Dean Koontz – I read Koontz and think two things. 1) Sheer genius! and, 2) I so could have written this! (But probably not as well. Dammit.)
Brian Keene – Keene is re-imagining the zombie genre. A bit dark and pessimistic, it’s always a joy to read about some flesh-eating zombie goodness.
Edward Lee – A new writer who’s work focuses on the Mephistopholis – the city that spreads like a throbbing, pulsing, malignant cancerous growth over Hell. Very imaginative and great characters.
Neil Gaiman – Not necessarily horror, but awesome fantasy. Gaiman has a flare for imagining new worlds that live at the very periphery of ours, sort of a tamer version of…
Clive Barker – Man, back in the day Clive was a fucking genius! He hasn’t really done much lately that is truly horrific, but when he does he goes full balls out. Reading Clive is like taking a roadtrip into madness.
Max Brooks – Of course, the author of The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. Again – a reinvigorating shot in the arm of the zombie genre…

Doctor Zombie’s Current Reading List
Richard Laymon – Among the Missing
- Fantastic. Classic Laymon. I’m slowly working my way through all of Laymon’s books (I just discovered him last year) and have yet to be disappointed.

Dean Koontz – Forever Odd
The second in Dean Koontz’ newest series features a young man named Odd Thomas who speaks to the dead. I should finish this in the next day or so and then begin begging Mrs. Zombie for the money to buy the newest in the series – Brother Odd.

Slavomir Rawicz – The Long Walk
A re-read. I go back to this book every 6 months or so. It’s an incredible story. The book was written because a journalist went to England to interview to an old man who had supposedly seen a yeti in the Himalayas in 1940. It was basically a puff piece. When the journalist asked why the man was in the Himalayas, the funny piece about the Abominable Snowman was dwarfed by Rawicz’ story. Rawicz was a Polish officer captured by the Russians in 1939, he escaped a Siberian gulag and WALKED 4,000 miles to India. He walked OVER the Himalayas. He walked THROUGH the Gobi desert. He transversed the ENTIRE Asian continent. A story of incredible human endurance and perseverence – this book is just inspirational.

Donald Tyson - Necronomicon: The Wanderings of Alhazrad.
A beautifully twisted fictionalized translation of the necronomicon. Tyson fully captures the evil, degenerate evilness of the mad arab, Abdul Alhazrad.

Matthew Reilly – Scarecrow
A guilty pleasure, this is the third in a military action thriller series about a special forces soldier with the code name of Scarecrow. Simplistic, unrealistic, tactically ridiculous, and action-oriented, it’s still a good read and I like the characters.

Now - away with you! I just got a line on a copy of the Necronomicon Ex Mortis, bound in human flesh. Some guy named Ash has a copy he's willing to sell for a six pack of beer, some chainsaw bar oil, and a a box of shotgun shells...


Chuck said...

I considered Stephen King a guilty pleasure a few years ago. I was actually a little embarrassed to admit that I liked such mainstream fiction. Nowadays I consider Pet Semetary my favorite book ever. (the movie? meh.) and have been re-reading his older stuff. Currently half-through Christine and liking it.

Thanks for the suggestions on some new authors to look into.

Phronk said...

What amazed me about Guts was that it so over-the-top gross for the sake of being gross, but at the same time he's got this repetitive looping style that's almost poetic and beautiful.


in order to be a good wirter, a writer needs to read

A typo so ironic it must have been intentional? :)