Richard Wright

author of strange, dark fictions

Journal

Books 2006: Top Five

I managed to read far less this year than I wanted to (as evidenced by my buying nearly three times as many books as I was able to get through!), which is something I need to fix in 2007. Reading is a crucial part of writing, as it’s only be exposing yourself to the voices outside your head that you can hope to evolve the one within.

Of what I did read though, here are my own favourites.

She Loves Monsters by Simon Clark

Lon Chaney, HP Lovecraft, Tod Browning. Twenty years ago, Christopher Lake was hailed as all three rolled into one. After three cult films established him a living legend he embarked on his most ambitious feature yet, Vorada. However, fifteen years later Vorada has still to be released. Now Jack Calner has inherited a share of the film, and he is determined to stake his claim. As Jack approaches the remote country house where Lake has exiled himself his car strikes a naked woman. The body he expects to find vanishes. Bunny, the mild-mannered handy man is a secret wrapped inside an enigma. Christopher Lake isn’t what he expected. Neither is the famous lost Vorada.

The third hardback novella from Necessary Evil Press, signed and limited to 450 copies and sold out from the publisher (you might be able to track a copy down through independent bookstores, if you’re very lucky indeed). NEP produce gloriously beautiful books, and this was no exception. The story wraps you in a gloriously surreal, drug-laced atmosphere a world away from the standard horror effect, and all the more powerful for it. I’ve read many of Clark’s novels, and enjoyed most of them, but this particular piece is a level beyond where he customarily journeys to. If you get a chance to read it, it’s an absolute treat.

Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman

A stunning book of short stories by the acclaimed fantasy writer. The distinctive genius of Neil Gaiman has been championed by writers as diverse as Norman Mailer and Stephen King. With THE SANDMAN Neil Gaiman created one of the most sophisticated, intelligent and influential graphic novel series of our time. Now after the recent success of his latest novel ANANSI BOYS, Gaiman has produced FRAGILE THINGS, his second collection of short fiction. These stories will dazzle your senses, haunt your imagination and move you to the very depths of your soul. This extraordinary book reveals one of the world’s most gifted storytellers at the height of his powers.

Out now in hardback, and as above, it features the sort of publisher generated hyperbole on the press releases that tells you they really want it to do well. They shouldn’t really have worried, as Gaiman’s fan base is justifiably huge. His first collection of short fiction, Smoke and Mirrors, blew me away a few years ago. Much of this was the value of discovery – Gaiman in prose had slipped past me entirely, and that book was my introduction to him. Fragile Things had little chance of matching my love affair with the previous book, but the stories within are each a delight. The author’s curious, childish-wise voice infuses the collection with a genuine magic. I finished this just the other day, and would encourage you to explore this yourself.

Poe’s Progeny edited by Gary Fry

Too often contemporary horror fiction denies, forgets or is even unaware of its roots in classic dark literature. The man legitimately called the father of the genre, Edgar Allan Poe, thrust terror into the soul of humanity, while his illegitimate descendants located it in the cosmos, across nations, in science, through history, in nature, in the city – in short, wherever people come together and invariably attempt to dull their imaginations. But experience is always too cruel. This book aims to show how the ideas and techniques of the greats might be utilised to explore the modern world. Here you’ll find neither pastiche nor period prose, rather thoroughly contemporary visions whose aging, tell-tale heart still beats with dismaying memory of the past and irrepressible fear for the future… 30 original stories from some of the finest practitioners in the field, including a brand new tale from modern master Ramsey Campbell.

Thirty stories? An absolutely immense volume of short fiction from new faces and old masters from Gray Friar Press, and the range of voices and sources between the covers guarantees that there will be something inside that will hook you. For me, there are several, but if I had to pick one out it would be Steven Savile’s staggeringly good Idiot Hearts, which expands the playground built by the Brother’s Grimm in freshly emotive ways. Oh, the book isn’t faultless – there are a handful of styles and themes so loose that they really don’t belong in this book at all – but where the contributors do stick to the anthology’s brief of extrapolating from the old masters, it generally triumphs.

Dusk by Tim Lebbon

Dusk is set in the fading world of Noreela, where magic has withdrawn and nature itself is winding down. Machines lay dead and rotting across the landscape, crops fail, and the people of Noreela are mostly apathetic and accepting of their lot. But then the spark of magic appears again in a young farm boy, and he becomes the centre of attention for people – and things – that desperately want this new magic for themselves.

Lebbon’s first full step from horror into dark fantasy reads on the back cover as though it’s going to be yet another Lord of the Rings clone. Not at all. Instead, we have a twisted, beautifully written descent into a strange new world’s dying days. It’s visceral, horrific, and packed with jaw-dropping visuals that leave you shaking your head when you close the book. In short, it’s fresh, and original. It’s also the first half of a duology, with the sequel Dawn coming early next year. I can’t wait for the chance to go back to Noreela, and lose myself again.

Take the Long Way Home by Brian Keene

All across the world, people suddenly vanish in the blink of an eye. From their cars during the rush hour commute. From the shopping malls. Their homes. Their beds. The arms of their loved ones. Airline pilots. World leaders. Teachers. Parents. Children. Gone. Steve, Charlie and Frank were just trying to get home when it happened. Now they find themselves left behind, and wishing they’d disappeared, too. Trapped in the ultimate traffic jam, they watch as civilization collapses. And as the night closes in, darkness claims the souls of those around them. God has called his faithful home, but the invitations for Steve, Charlie and Frank got lost. Now they must set off on foot through a nightmarish landscape in search of answers. In search of God. In search of their loved ones. In search of home.

Brian Keene destroys the world again, in the fourth of the gorgeous NEP limited novella series (450 copies again, now sold out from the publisher). He’s done it with zombies. He’s done it with really big worms (in fact, it was a toss of the coin whether it would be this book or his paperback The Conqueror Worms that made this top five). Doubtless he has plans to do it in a variety of novel ways in the future. Here, he uses the Christian myth, and in doing so tells a tale that feels far larger than its page count. In fact, that’s the only real fault I can level at this angry little tome – it wants to be a longer story, deep down, and when the end comes, it feels abrupt. Despite this, I was gripped for the duration.

So there we have it. From now on, I’ll do my best to review what I’m reading as I go, the better to keep myself thinking about what I’m reading.

So, what books impressed you this year? What would you have me read?

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