Wednesday, September 4, 2013

93. Horror fiction notes (6/7) } a call & Mark Samuels.

Earlier this summer, before I reread David B. Silva’s “The Calling,” I dreamed I was at a roundtable with Silva and a group of other horror authors. In my waking life, I never met him, nor had any interest in his work. His The Horror Show ended its run before I was really aware of the horror small press—I never read an issue. We sat at the table—this dream Silva and me—and enjoyed a pleasant conversation.

Today, in preparation for writing this post, I learned that Silva died earlier this year, in March.

According to Locus magazine’s obituary for David B. Silva, he won a Bram Stoker Award in 1990 for “The Calling.” The Stoker is hardly a reliable measure of greatness, but “The Calling” is undeniably powerful. The horror is cancer and Silva’s portrayal of a son caring for his mother as she dies is harrowing. The end is silly—a risk Silva took—and obviously many readers felt otherwise.

In 1991, Ellen Datlow wrote, “Until a couple years ago, David B. Silva… was primarily known for his editorship of The Horror Show. This prestigious magazine’s last issue came out this past spring, giving Silva more time to write.” The Locus obituary begins, “Silva is best known for editing influential magazine The Horror Show, which ran from 1982-1991 .”

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My summer reading was not devoted exclusively to the 1991 edition of The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror. I at last read the Chomu Press re-print of Mark Samuels’ The Man Who Collected Machen and, from Tartarus, The White Hands. I preferred The White Hands, which cohered a little better, but both are well-constructed collections.

The horror across all the stories is hopelessness. Story after story revealed any hope to be false. This is perhaps most obviously epitomized by “The Black Mould,” a story about a terrified life form that destroys what it encounters—and it encounters all.

A recurring “black mould” in these collections is infection. It sometimes acts as a doppelganger—ultimately replacing its victim with a sort-of copy—read “Vrolyk” but also “THYXXOLQU” and even “Glickman the Bibliophile,” in which a book lover is transformed into a reverse image of himself through the mechanisms of Nemesis Press. These stories are also about the decay of language and the power of that decay. Another black mould is the corporation—an easy target, but brilliantly portrayed in “The Impasse,” a story that perfectly describes the easy way a person can surrender themselves to something idiotic and monstrous: “Despite being utterly confused by the sheer waste of effort and time his work seemed to involve, he resolved that, as his employers were paying him so well, he should think to fulfill his obligations.” And for that pay, he is damned. 

The horror of hopelessness is the horror of Dante’s Hell. Everyone Dante meets in Hell thinks there’s a chance they can somehow improve their situation—even Satan keeps flapping his wings in order to fly away free, but all he accomplishes with his wings is to harden the ice that keeps him where he is. No one in Hell really understands the inscription on the gate: abandon all hope ye who enter here. So it is for the inhabitants of Samuels’ fictions.

In spite of the coda—which isn’t exactly disappointing, and, if I consider it in the right light, is a better end than the ellipsis that precedes it—“The Search for Kruptos” may be the best story of the lot. In it, all of Samuels’ fascinations are on display. A narrator who believes that books are important, but who is wrong, a text that infects, and hopelessness, with a European, World War II backdrop. Samuels seems to concur; in an interview conducted by Matt Cardin, he is asked where a new reader of his fiction might begin and replied:
I expect that “The White Hands” (in the restored version contained in The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror #15) or “The Search for Kruptos” would prove good starting points. If a reader enjoys those two tales I’d suggest that they try The Face of Twilight, which is my short novel published this year by PS Publishing. I think this is probably the most interesting work that I have thus far produced.
I did enjoy both, so I'll try The Face of Twilight, and let the infection progress.