Back to Japan! So, a few weeks ago, my friend Edward Lipsett over at Kurodahan Press asked me to get Master of the Uncanny into the hands of a few reviewers, I said sure, of course and as a thank you, he sent me a few books.
Guys, if you know anything about me, I am a complete and utter sucker for weird and horror fiction written between 1920-1940. It’s a weakness, a disease, a need. On top of that, you may know that I have been explicitly seeking horror written by Japanese authors that focus around the time period of the Samurai.
Okamoto Kido was a young man at the end of the Edo period and grew up in the first days of the Meiji era. Meaning that he was smack dab in the waning days of the Samurai, something that figures into many of his stories. These stories are all at once a lesson in actual Japanese history penned by an artist who was witnessing it, and a brilliant collection of stories in the same vein as the pulp writers of the time period that I love so much.
I wrote about the cultural differences in American and Japanese horror literature a bit already, but it is even more pronounced in Master of the Uncanny. Each story is subtle, blending slice of life with tiny backdrops of supernatural elements that could almost be thought to be coincidence.
The smallness of the supernatural elements, combined with the often tragic events of their passing leaves one cold, uncertain, afraid. This book was a tall glass of water for my throat that was parched for subtle and sublime horror. I absolutely recommend this collection to anyone who enjoys understated and masterful weird fiction.
Here’s a full disclaimer, I am both a fan of and a critic of Japanese media. I love Kurosawa, Toho is my lifeblood, I enjoy samurai and ninja in books, comics and movies. But at the same time, I mostly strongly dislike anime and most jrpgs. Manga is always a mixed bag. I’ve had an easier time finding horror and cool things I like in Manga form, though a lot of what I have enjoyed actually came out of Korea. So understand that there are aspects of Japanese media and culture that I love and fanboy out over, and aspects that I just straight up cannot stand.
Junji Ito’s Smashed straddles the line between the two things fantastically. I picked it up because I had just finished the PS4 game Ghost of Tsushima. I wanted more samurai stuff, I wanted Kurosawa. I wanted samurai, but I also wanted it to be frightening, I wanted horror and weird fiction to creep into my gritty samurai shit. Most of what I found was American made, which didn’t interest me at all, until a certain publisher approached me, but I’ll save that for next week…
I bought Smashed on Halloween and began reading. The first thing I have to state, emphatically, is that there is a beautiful display of different cultural ideals here. Some of these stories were extremely lame to me. They had no bite, they had no fear or interesting build-up. They had no tension. Other stories were fantastically horrifying. But you had to understand how they wove in and out of Japanese culture and the Japanese understanding of fear and creepiness.
At the end of the day, I have to recommend Smashed, not because it was particularly amazing, it wasn’t. But because the stories grow on you. At first glance they may seem boring or devoid of creepiness. But they evoke a fantastic otherness, a normalizing of supernatural elements that seep into your mind and make you realize that these small terrors are in the end, the things that creep you out.
Book 1 of the Splatter Western books from Death’s Head Press. I got this book by trading away a copy of Treif Magic to the publisher. I gotta tell you. I like anti-heroes. I like books and stories that are told from the perspective of a villain. And the Magpie Coffin delivers that in spades.
Salem, our titular Black Magpie is a reprehensible sack of shit who murders, whores, and steals. He’s a man who collects trophies from the men and women he kills so that he can use those body parts in black magic ceremonies. Who admits to having twisted the mystical traditions and teachings of not one, but three different cultures.
The book is also comforting as hell, it hits the beats of a traditional mystical gun man book. It feels like a warm blanket wrapped around a story of revenge. Salem’s indigenous teacher is murdered, and then Salem goes on a quest to murder all those responsible. It feels familiar, like you’re watching a old western movie you’ve seen a thousand times. But like all good horror, Young twists those tropes and motifs to something darker, something that suits a murderer.
And lets get one thing straight, nearly everyone in this book is a piece of shit. Salem is a piece of shit, the whore he travels with for a bit is a piece of shit, all the murderers are pieces of shit. His hostage is a super racist piece of shit. So, as pain is visited on them, as they get torn apart by bears, or get curb stomped with spurs or hung, you never feel guilty about celebrating the violence.
I enjoyed it, I think you will to. Pick it up here.
As a lot of you know, I’m a publisher as well as an author. You may also know that I do the podcast circuit. So it isn’t unusual for other presses to reach out to me to interview the author of a book they have coming out. Perpetual Motion Machine Press did that with Antioch, and while reading it I thought, I should review this book. And here we are.
Antioch by Jess Leonard is a thriller. It has all the elements of a thriller, it has a serial killer, a strong woman who lives alone, the possibility of corruption with red herrings and perhaps a deep dark rabbit hole of conspiracies that swirl around the story like a maelstrom of constant confusion and obfuscation.
The first thing I noticed was that this book read like watching a movie, it had cinematic beats, tropes I have seen in crime movies and ghost movies, but mingled together in a way that reminded me heavily of 2013’s “Gothika”.
The first chapter was good, really good, it introduced ideas and concepts and ideas that seemed minute in the moment but were interesting, allowing the seeds to rest and later fully bloom into something dark and sinister. I almost set the book aside during the second chapter, a slice of life for the protagonist, but I pushed through because of the power of the first chapter. And I was rewarded because the book didn’t slow down from there. I don’t know that I would call it a non-stop thrill ride, but it was constantly engaging and constantly interesting.
There are places where the narrative is harder to follow than others, but by the time you finish will understand how and why things come together the way they do.
Antioch is a puzzle, made of pain, anger, and deception, putting it together is delightful is somewhat unnerving.
Godzilla is one of the most famous monsters in the entire world. He has reigned as the king of monsters on the big screen, cartoons, and comic books. (We won’t mention the video games). But are Godzilla movies ‘horror’ movies. And how would a giant monster truly fit into the literary world?
Godzilla (1954) was an incredible film, full of despair and the full realization that the threat of radiation and nuclear weapons was ever-present. Godzilla, was terrifying because he represented the specter of Japan’s powerlessness in the face of the nuclear bomb, as well as the crippling of their rights as a nation after WWII. It is about the dangers of an arms race and the loss of humanity that must go hand in hand with developing horrifying weapons.
Many of the movies that followed lost the nuance of these monsters as parables, either ignoring the idea altogether in favor of a giant monster melee or being so obvious as to be cartoonish and garish (I’m looking at your Hedorah). These fights are much beloved, including by me, the spectacle of giant monsters fighting filling the silver screen fills me with adrenaline, it allowed Godzilla, and his cohorts in Gamera and the Ultraman mythologies to all flourish. Beneath these fights, there is always some sort of message. Some lessons to learn, but it’s often drowned out by explosions and, let’s be honest, for many of us, bad dubbing.
Shin-Godzilla changed that. The movie has action, sure, but Godzilla is the lone giant monsters and spends much of the movie standing still and resting, or just moving forward. The action is on the red tape and panic of the Japanese government. The contrast between the older generation maintaining the status quo and the younger who seek to make Japan better. All the while the rest of the world threatens Japan with nuclear weapons if they cannot stop the Kaiju. It is an amazing film and deserves every award it has received.
This is where the kaiju fits into literature. Yes, it’s a set piece of action against which our protagonists can flee or try to fight. But to truly to the strange beasts justice you have to remember their original purpose: parable. Kaiju should be used to represent some implacable danger, something that man cannot fight with weapons or military. Something that, without some type of adaption. The kaiju is a force of nature that must be addressed by changing as a species. That, in my opinion, is the kaiju’s place in modern horror.
Whenever I mention Jewish Horror, I am met with blank stares, confused faces, and admissions that my choice of genre is not one they have heard of. Sure some people will jump on the golem bandwagon, but most people seem confused that Judaism could ever enter the realm of speculative fiction. Or maybe they think religious-themed horror and literature have to be the sole domain of Christianity.
I’ll tell you what I tell everyone, Judaism has been around for a very long time. Due to the diaspora which scattered the Jewish people to nearly every corner of the world, you can find Jewish themes and mythologies hidden within the folk tales of nearly every culture. And, just as importantly, you can find bits and pieces of those cultures within the greater body of Jewish folklore and mythology.
This means once you set your mind to it, Jewish speculative fiction can borrow more freely than many other forms of ethnic fiction and fantasy. The wide breadth of Jewish history, both what we know as reality and that which has fallen into legend, allows for the stories that Jewish authors write to take place in nearly any time period.
When we consider Jewish horror specifically, people tend to assume there will be nazi zombies. Again, we can remember the full array of people that have set themselves against the Jewish people throughout history, not the least different factions of Jewish people. There is no reason to be derivative, boring, or predictable.
Is the world ready for Jewish horror? Absolutely, younger readers especially crave and seek out new twists on tropes and legends they have heard before. People want to be steeped in the alien and strange while still seeing something familiar, even if it is twisted. So, through the lens of folklore and mythology that has saturated the wide world while maintaining its own peculiar flavor, we can give our readers exactly what they are craving.
I am so excited to destroy the world with you, above, embedded firmly in the code is the very first live reading of the very first commissioned piece of kaiju fiction, aimed at Rockaway Beack in New York!