I knew from the very first page of the prologue of Grady Hendrix and Will Errickson’s Stoker award winning Paperbacks From Hell it was going to be a winner. How did I know? A book that I consider a true gem of my own horror novel collection was on the very first page.
From that point on I realized that Paperbacks from Hell and I were going to have a clear understanding and settled myself in for what I was sure was going to be a wild ride. I wasn’t disappointed.
Always vibrantly illustrated, with almost photo-realistic cover art, that’s more than likely of a homicidal skeleton, horror novels of the ‘70s and ‘80s were something of a genre unto themselves. They were the ’90s book version of AOL CDs; staples of an era, to be found packing the selves at any Waldenbooks or small grocery store paperback section. Their content, often as taboo and controversial as their cover art, dominated paperback sales during the ’70s and ’80s and, as Grady Hendrix puts it in his book celebrating their boom and bust, “these stories are timeless in the way that truly matters: they will not bore you.”
The Exorcist as an ‘80s teen movie
Darling of the New York Times best seller list, Grady Hendrix sets aside his usual haunted Ikeas and vampire slaying book clubs to put together this compilation of some of the more farout paperback horror novels from the glory days of anything goes horror fiction. Every page of Paperbacks from Hell is filled with beautiful and shocking cover art, tongue and cheek book summaries, and engrossing biographies of authors and illustrators. The ridiculousness nature of some of the books’ plots isn’t lost on Hendrix, and there’s a vein of good humor that runs throughout, pointing out some of the more ludicrous horror concepts viewed with a modern day mindset.
Every chapter separates horror novels into easy to browse sections. Looking for books about houses with possible demon possessions? Try “There Goes the Neighborhood” under Chapter 4: Real Estate Nightmares. Craving some books about evil children who might possibly be hell spawn? You’re looking for “Parenting the Homicidal Child” from Chapter 2: Creepy Kids. Can’t forget about those apocalyptic bloodthirsty animal books; Chapter 3: When Animals Attack will have you fearing everything from cats and rats to killer whales and mutant moths. Or my own favorite section from Chapter 8: Splatterpunks, Serial Killers, and Super Creeps, “Won’t Somebody think of the Children?” where you can find the books I cut my own horror teeth on by the likes of R. L. Stine, Christopher Pike, and Richie Tankersley Cusick.
Everyone wants to be Stephen King but everyone is V.C. Andrews
While the giants of the horror genre (Jackson, King, Bloch, Rice, Levin, Blatty, Koontz, etc.) are certainly mentioned in Paperbacks from Hell, it’s really the lesser known horror authors that were influenced by them that Hendrix’s let’s shine in his book. Historical context is given to some of the most popular horror fads of the time, from the early days of gothic romance to the end times in the early ’90s as splatterpunk and serial killer suspense thrillers. Browsing though the chapters, odds are you may find some forgotten favorites, and some prospective new favorites. I wasn’t even to the first chapter before I had started making a list of books I wanted to look up later. By the time I finished the book my list of potential new books to read was about as long as a severed arm. And while I normally wouldn’t trouble with recommending a book be read in a certain format, there is something to be said about holding this phone book-sized glossy embossed tomb of horror history in your own two hands and being able to see the beauty of the cover art within up close and personal.
Is there ANY downside to this book?
If there’s one downfall to Paperbacks from Hell, it may be that it’s made some of the rarer horror novels mentioned in its pages even rarer and harder to find. But it’s also something like a treasure map, leading you to your local used bookstore to see what strange and unusual horror books you still might be able to find languishing on the shelves. Since Paperbacks from Hell has come out interest in some of the books highlighted by Hendrix has soared. Enough so that some have even been given a second life, getting reprints after having been out of print for years.
Certainly not every notable horror novel from the ’70s and ’80s could get a mention so I’m greatly looking forward to putting Paperbacks from Hell 2 on my shelf should one be on the horizon soon. Until then, I’ll see you at the used book store and happy horror novel hunting! (5 / 5)
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Blood Meridian, a Book Review
Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West, (1985) is a Western (or Anti-Western) epic novel by Cormac McCarthy.
Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West, (1985) is a Western (or Anti-Western) epic novel by Cormac McCarthy. This review discusses the digital copy of the First Vintage International Edition.
The kid wanders the West as a survivor and thug. After getting caught up with the ominous Judge Holden, his life remains forever entwined with the cruel force of the man. The kid becomes a soldier, a scalper, and an outlaw but always finds Judge Holden somewhere in the distance. Civilization approaches the untamable West, which forces the kid adapt or die. But it is Judge Holden who remains: an unchanging force of cruelty.
What I Liked
Cormac McCarthy remains one of the most brutal authors, both in narrative and writing. You will feel the danger of the West, its inhuman cruelty, and fear for the kid. Many often call Blood Meridian McCathy’s magnum opus. As a result, if this brutal novel satisfies your readerly tastes, you’ll have his entire collection to sample.
Judge Holden remains a true force of evil and cruelty masked in human form. McCarthy likes to represent forces of nature through his antagonists. Judge Holden doesn’t always directly antagonize, but his role becomes increasingly clear as the novel continues.
Few authors convey cruelty like Cormac McCarthy, who structures his writing so that sentences bleed into each other in frantic syntax. I mean this somewhat literally as he removes quotation marks in dialogue or creates blunt sentences to reflect the mood he wants to display.
Tired Tropes and Trigger Warnings
Era-appropriate (using “appropriate” loosely here) racism encompasses this novel in a rather uncomfortable and upsetting way. We are dealing with the West, where scalping earned payment and slavery was a debatable issue. McCarthy doesn’t shy away from this reality. It also should be noted that some characters thrive in such industries. This reality certainly doesn’t make the reading any less harsh.
There is graphic violence and cruelty in every chapter, altogether influencing nearly every page. It will be a hard read for those sensitive to any kind of abuse, because all kinds appear in this novel. Few horrors depict the cruelty of man like a Cormac McCarthy novel, and Blood Meridian is no exception. In fact, it might be the leading example.
What I Dislike, or Food for Thought
McCarthy provides brutal and challenging prose. Blood Meridian is more accessible than many of his other novels; regardless, it still provides a difficult reading experience for those unaccustomed to his style. After the first two chapters, you’ll grow accustomed to the style, or it might be a skip. I say the first two as Chapter 1 runs through the boy’s life to the point of his adventure, which might be its own sore spot for some readers.
Don’t expect realism in the novel. As mentioned, McCarthy favors villains that represent a force of nature. This stylistic choice often makes his characters, largely the antagonists, superhuman forces.
Following down this criticism, or consideration, also extends to realism holistically. McCarthy brings life to his interpretation of the West, the States, and Mexico. Don’t expect accurate descriptions of locations or historical events. I didn’t note many historical inaccuracies, however I’m also not versed in that era.
Blood Meridian deconstructs the pop-culture West, lingering on the horrors of the era and the indifference of the West. Expect the psychological nature of man to be the center of its haunting.
Cormac McCarthy earns his reputation as one of the great living American authors, and Blood Meridian remains one of his most haunting novels to date. Few authors dare to display the cruelty of man, producing emotional truth and horrid images that can twist a reader’s stomach. Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian dares all that and more.
(4 / 5)
A Pilgrimage of Swords, a Book Review
A Pilgrimage of Swords (2019) is the first novel of a grimdark fantasy series (The Seven Swords) authored by Anthony Ryan.
A Pilgrimage of Swords (2019) is the first novel of a grimdark fantasy series (The Seven Swords) authored by Anthony Ryan. The book is technically a novella, running slightly short of a novel-length, but reads like a collection of short stories. This review will cover Subterranean Press’ digital copy of the novella.
Desperate to change his fate, Pilgrim forfeits his name on his quest to meet a mad god. He and his fellow pilgrims travel a dangerous road filled with abominations and horrors in the desperate hope that they might have one prayer answered. With a twisted sentient sword, he fights his darkness and the God’s abominations in the hopes of something better.
What I Liked
As mentioned, this novella reads like a collection of short stories. Each story tackles a specific challenge and region. The strategy works well in building the torment of the journey and keeping the reader consistently engaged.
A voice plagues Pilgrim, constantly antagonizing him at every step of their journey. The style in which this “voice” delivers their intrusive thoughts, while not inherently unique, remains an enjoyable and satisfying read. The voice itself becomes a favored character of mine. Pilgrim and “voice” share a dynamic of brooding hero and antagonizer. Again, not unique, but done with great effect.
Despite the tight word count, several twists effectively engage the reader, helping to add to the world that we only get a glimpse of.
While the supporting cast doesn’t have as much time dedicated to them, they collectively add to the experience with unique perspectives and dynamics.
In terms of horror, the final chapter provides the most stunning examples. This review is spoiler-free, but the build-up certainly exceeds expectations for the first read.
Tired Tropes and Trigger Warnings
A Pilgrimage of Swords resides on the lighter side of grimdark high fantasy, but it remains grimdark. The world of A Pilgrimage of Swords is uncaring and cruel, producing characters that reflect that, functioning as opportunists.
Animals do die, and children are equally prone to potential death. Again, not entirely out of character for the setting, but it should be mentioned for readerly consideration.
As the description might indicate, torment and suffering are recurring motifs in the story. While the tortures certainly are sadistic, readers get the aftermath. The novel doesn’t linger in its sadism.
What I Dislike, or Food for Thought
As A Pilgrimage of Swords is a high fantasy novel with light grimdark elements, the horror reflects that concept. There are tense moments, and characters are prone to danger, but genuine horror remains lacking. The novel doesn’t claim itself as such, but our audience should consider this. However, walking gods of madness twisting their environment to reflect their psyche shouldn’t be ridden off too quickly.
While I mostly enjoy the brevity of the story and how the chapters read like short stories, it limits the time we have to invest in the characters and setting. This novel is the first of a continuing series, so this criticism doesn’t inherently apply to the other novels. This first introduction remains easy to recommend for those looking for a quick read, not a long investment.
Many plot beats are predictable and can somewhat underwhelm a reader when the obvious thing happens. I will admit that this isn’t too often a hindrance but compromises to accommodate the tighter word count. Luckily, there are plot twists to minimize this underwhelming predictability, but the chapters could still utilize an extended word count.
The name doesn’t exactly fit this first entry of the series. It might be a perfect name for the series, but this novel’s pilgrimage has little to do with swords.
A Pilgrimage of Swords has a few haunting moments but is an otherwise enjoyable and quick read. If a grimdark set in a high fantasy where cruel gods walk the earth sounds like an interest of yours, this will certainly satisfy that itch. While it remains a little too brief, this is by design and part of a larger narrative.
(4 / 5)
Horror in graphic novels
Creepy Comics Collages by Jennifer Weigel, Part 5
Well, you won’t get rid of me that easily… Ha ha, I lied about coming to the end and the afterlife in the Creepy Comics Collages segment, it was just an opportunity for rebirth. Besides, it’s World Collage Day! So having come into another comic book to rework, here we go again…
Creepy Comics Story 9: The Voice (of God or Reason or perhaps an homage to my ex)
“Come to me my children, the voice of God awaits!… Don’t let them escape!” Please beam me up out of this weird comic collage alternate reality. “God I am your hand! Lift me… to your place. I commend my spirit!” I want to go back to dreaming about starfish.
The computer programmer behind the scenes turns to face us and smiles. “Guardians! This is a place of God!… Come to the true voice of God!” “I am everything.” “Come to the voice!” And the horrific AI generated creatures abide by his every coded word.
Just like last night in the — signs posted for Nightmare, No Exit. The deer spirit faun screams in surprise, “Eeek!” “No! I defy you!” She returns to the form of a little girl with arms outspread to the open sky. “Y’know, a day like today makes all the stuff that happened last night seem just like a bad dream!” The dream seems so real…
Somewhere in the city, the computer programmer sits up at night in pensive monologue, “You try to make a difference… But it doesn’t really matter.”
Creepy Comics Story 10: The City (Metropolis becomes self-aware)
This segment is brought to you by Dead Artists and Talking Dinosaurs. No really, wait for it…
Woooooo Uhhhh Wooooooo Uhhhh… Wump! Uff! Wump! Uff! “She belongs to The City!” The Glenn Fry 1985 hit single looms ominously overhead as Metropolis becomes self-aware. “The City… will live!… The City… will breathe!” The City gasps for air, “Got to… breathe!… Got to… Breathe!“
Her breath is the wind… Her eyes are windows. Her heart pumps fluid through buried plumbing… “I’m The City!” Her mind is The City!
And we have a celebrity appearance by Rich Koz “Son of Svengoolie” WFLD 1973: “I take a nap for 10,000 years and look what happens… some-body builds a city!” Kerwyn chimes in, “Geez! Somebody’s been busy!” And we cut out to a scene of Svengoolie standing alongside his coffin.
Well, that’s all folks. Or is it? For now, any way… until I get more comic books… Duh duh DUHHHH…
If you want to see more art, check out more of Jennifer Weigel’s work here on Haunted MTL or on her writing, fine art, and conceptual projects websites.
October 29, 2020 at 12:56 am
Oh man Chris Pike. That takes me way back. First gay character I read in a book. Of course he died of AIDS ::eyeroll::
October 29, 2020 at 1:36 pm
For a sec I thought you meant Christopher Pike had died of AIDs and I was like, D: Luckily I looked it up and he is alive and well, probably working on The Last Vampire number 86 as we speak.