Jumping Gill-Men, It’s a Lovecraft!

Fresh off the suspiciously damp presses: the first 7 issues of Innsmouth Magazine (formerly Innsmouth Free Press) are now available as kindle and e-book purchases from Amazon.com. They come in two bundles: Collected Issues 1-4 and Collected Issues 5-7. That latter collection just happens to include my Best Horror of the Year honorable mention “On The Generation of Insects.” So get it now, while the getting’s good! Before an abominable Tcho-Tcho snatches it away!

Maybe Not So Honorable

First off, my sincerest apologies for the extended hiatus. I’ve been on something of a literary deep-sea diving expedition, and yes, I’ve caught a few unusual specimens. More news on that later.

For now, I wanted to emerge for a few moments to share the news that my short story, “On The Generation of Insects” (originally published by Innsmouth Free Press) was listed as an honorable mention for the Best Horror of the Year anthology, volume 4, edited by Ellen Datlow and published by Night Shade Books. Congratulations to the other honorable mentions (which included TC Boyle!), as well as to the authors included in the anthology.

If you made it to the Next Words reading at Pop Hop Books & Curio in Highland Park this past Sunday, you got a salty little taste of the subaquatic pursuit that’s kept me occupied these past months. It was a great reading, a wonderful crowd, and a very cool little shop. If you couldn’t attend, it’s time to tune your dials back to Yesterday…more announcements should be coming shortly (this time I promise it’ll be less than year between posts…probably).

I don’t look…that honorable, do I?

Eldritch Horror Weekend

I’m still working on deciphering that mysterious parcel. It’s a puzzle, alright, but for the time being, at least, it appears to be a benign one. I’ve still got my own (authentic) writing to worry about, so please bear with me.

In the meantime, my coverage of the 2011 H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival in San Pedro has been published at Innsmouth Free Press. If you’re thinking they just showed Re-Animator twelve times, you might be in for a surprise. Some of the most fascinating films were also the most unexpected, so it might be worth your while to give it a look even if you’re not a Lovecraft ghoul. You can find my review of night one here, night two here.

The End Is Come

There are some things that must be said for endings. That all good things, for instance, must come to them. That they tend to occur synchronously with new beginnings. That the existence or nonexistence of happy ones is ultimately debatable.

Here’s another one: that one has been reached with this, my final column for Innsmouth Free Press. And it’s a doozy. A few centuries shy of 3000 words, it tackles not one but four browser-based games from ludic experimentalist Gregory Weir. There’s also mention of china dolls, mold fairies, and antiquated handbills. It contains worlds, in plural. I won’t lie: this review is no fractal form. No snippety-snap can accurately portray its whole, just as endings may hint at, but never fully encapsulate, their beginnings (the reverse may not necessarily be true). However, in the interest of concluding on the same path we set out on, I’ve included a tidbit here, as is my tradition.

Organising the half-shattered china dolls in the attic of my ancestral home, I came upon yet another antiquated handbill, identical in nearly all particulars to the first. It read:

Greetings (or should it be Farewell?) Innsmouthians,

Leave-takings are such trouble. While we were not able, in the end, to provide quite the breadth of experiences I intended, I believe it has been a good season. We have shown you historic Silent Hill, as well as its renovated town centre. We have been to the rural Northwest; the campus of the G.U.E. Technical Institute; and we have ventured as far abroad as Norway and the Orient. We offered an extensive tour of New York City’s Central Park, and we have given you the thrill of a zombie infestation in addition to more prurient titillations.

Now, at the close of the season, A Pistol and a Flashlight would like to offer you something unheard of: For the price of a single ticket, you may embark on a fantastic, four-part adventure. The point of departure will be the depths of the ocean; we will stop in the Nameless City beneath the sands before journeying, via a special procedure, to dreamed-of reaches of space. Our final stop – the final stop for me – will be that archaeological wonder of ruins and shadow known only as ‘Looming’.

Following this “blow-out” tour, the doors of this establishment will be closed for the season – perhaps for good. I thank you, sweet Innsmouthians, for your valued patronage and remain, as always,


[the signature is as illegible as the first]

Read the full review here. And sleep safely.

~the end~

And It Gets Weirder

When I was a kid, I had an anthology called Microcosmic Tales. Correction: my brother had an anthology, which I frequently, and eventually permanently, appropriated. It was exceptional in that the stories were selected by Isaac Asimov, whose name I knew despite having never read his stuff, alongside Martin Greenberg and Joseph Olander, whose names I still don’t know despite having never read their stuff. The other defining characteristic of the book was that it featured 100 stories, and each of them was considered a “short-short,” often no more than two or three pages in length, some less.

I now know that calling something a short-short says just as much about its form as it does about its length. At that point, though, I barely even recognized how short those stories were; I was writing 2-3 page science fiction stories myself around then. What I did know was that these stories represented everything enjoyable about science fiction boiled down to its essence. There wasn’t room for them to be bad: they were barely long enough to establish a single concise idea or theme, then cap it off with an (often humorous) plot twist. It was like finding a VHS with the last 5 minutes of 100 different Twilight Zone episodes; in a word, utter mindfuckery. And thence began my love affair with idea-centric fiction.

That’s probably why I jumped at the chance to review the inaugural issue of One Weird Idea, a new e-format periodical, for Innsmouth Free Press. The really nice thing about idea-centric fiction is that, even if the writing is just awful, it always gives you something to think about. Like all those movies that fell off the Matrix train. To my great pleasure, the writing in OWI was surprisingly good…well, a lot of it was, particularly for such a self-consciously “genre” publication. I had this to say about the stories in general:

They traffic in predetermination, hyper-connectivity in the post-Information Age, or the triumph of New Age mysticism over scientific rationalism. In fact, the title’s a bit imprecise: It’s not the ideas that are weird, it’s the world shaped by them. What gives these stories their power is the same threat that has loomed over science fiction from the beginning: more than a “What If?” scenario, these are worlds on the verge of becoming, the imaginable – but not always desirable – futures nascent in the ideas and technologies of our age. In the end, they are always about human nature, and the latent question is always: Will we be able to adapt to the times, or will we change the times to adapt to us? Which possibility is the more horrifying?

Read the full review here.

Read the rest of this entry »

Robble Robble

How can I be so terrified by a game in which one of the enemies looks like she fell face-first into a platter of cocktail shrimp? In which all of the horrific mangling comes at the hands of the English (and I mean proper tea-and-crumpets English) dub? In which another enemy is the spitting image of the Hamburglar? In which, I must admit, I had absolutely no fun at all?

And there it is. Being scared isn’t fun, just like having fun isn’t scary. Some people seem to think I’ll receive prurient pleasure from seeing entrails exposed or topless women’s heads explode, but those kinds of things tend to be neither frightening nor pleasurable. But I’m starting to repeat myself.

The other day, I was helping to babysit an 8-year-old girl who wanted to be scared. So I showed her Siren. Specifically, I played the part where Harumi and Mrs. Takato are trying to escape the elementary school. I died maybe twenty times, sometimes within a few seconds, sometimes after fifteen minutes of cautious stealth. Most kids watching most games would have gotten bored by the first restart, but this one was utterly engrossed, shouting out instructions, gasping, and squealing (though she claimed not to have been scared). So was I, for that matter.

I wrote a review of Siren–one of my last columns for Innsmouth Free Press–but I think that anecdote says everything you need to know about the game. If you want more, here’s a sample of the review:

In XX prefecture, there are tales of a village lost in time. A village buried by a landslide 27 years ago, yet somehow still present on the outskirts of our reality. A village that still observes forgotten rituals, warped horrifically by intrusions from outside cultures. A village surrounded on all sides by life-giving red water, where a ghostly figure wanders the fog, endlessly reliving a senseless massacre of the past.

What madness possesses people in a life-or-death horror scenario to put themselves further at risk just to muck about with a face towel?

Read the full review here.

It’s Confessional Time

I’m afraid of bookmarks. As a youth, I learned to find my place by touch, flipping through the pages until I hit that tell-tale looseness in the binding. If a book required I skip around, e.g. for endnotes or color plates, I’d mark my place with my second or third digits; since I liked to read in the bath, I got pretty good at holding the book, turning pages, and marking my place all with the same hand. Choose Your Own Adventure titles were an exception, requiring creative applications of all ten fingers and the occasional chin.

I’m getting better. At present, I have somewhere around 15 bookmarks, a motley assortment of pewter and paper, holograms and candy wrappers, bookstore inserts and scribbled notepaper. It’s more than I know what to do with. Anybody who came across the stiff-tongued pile on my bedroom floor might assume I’m some kind of savant with a long memory or a short attention span. In truth, I’ve taken to using these surplus tags to flag future reads–rather than marking pages read, I’m using them to mark the pages I hope one day to find time to read.

My phobia extends to web-browser bookmarks as well, which is why I can no longer remember the title of the fascinating blog (written by an individual who could easily have been my apocryphal twin sister, so eerily similar were her interests to my own) in which I once read the speculation that a horror game doesn’t necessarily have to be fun in order to scare the pants off you. In fact, fun-ness often decreases a video game’s capacity to scare, since horror was never intended to be comfortable. I’ve since extended the same assertion to the measure of a game’s artistic value, but that’s a discussion for another time.

The point I’m trying to reach is that Alone In The Dark: Inferno is seldom fun or scary. The game is filled with combustible items of all sorts, but quite often all I wanted to burn was the game disc itself. Yet, at the end of the ordeal, I couldn’t help feeling I was glad I’d given it a chance, and wishing more people had done the same. I tried to capture this odd ambivalence in my review for Innsmouth Free Press, which also begins in the confessional mode:

It’s a funny thing about Lucifer. For most of my childhood, I thought it was simply another pen name of the Prince of Darkness, interchangeable with “Satan”, “Beelzebub”, and that all-time favourite, “Devil” with a capital D. To be completely honest, I had somehow gotten it into my head that Satan was the Devil’s wife, but that’s another story. It was only much later, after I was introduced to the fascinating and diverse history of those manifold appellations, that I hit upon the true reason that the Angel of the Bottomless Pit bothers to fill in all those name tags: if they do indeed refer to the same entity, each name serves to highlight a different aspect of that entity. Lucifer, literally “Light-Bearer” or “Light-Bringer”, refers to the morning star, the angel before the fall. Thus, Lucifer’s a bit of a two-faced figure: a force of good, a source of light and hope, a beacon for those lost on Earth’s unpleasant waters, but one whose destiny is to become the Dissembler, Angel of Darkness, mankind’s greatest Adversary.

Read the full review here.