12/12/18

Brad Phillips - 'Essays and Fictions' navigates the never-ending work of undoing oneself, whether that be through drugs, sex, art making, or finding a connection with someone worth living for.

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Brad Phillips, Essays and Fictions, Tyrant Books, 2019.


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Brad Phillips' collection of short stories adeptly walks a very thin line between taboo and propriety, with rigorous self-awareness and generosity.
By confusing ideas around fiction and autobiography, Phillips writes with painful sincerity about shame, addiction, trauma, and the more troubling outreaches of sexual desire, with wit that is at odds with the subject matter.


"Essays and Fictions navigates the never-ending work of undoing oneself, whether that be through drugs, sex, art making, or finding a connection with someone worth living for. Amidst the ugliness of the human condition, this book’s beauty sneaks up on you." - Chelsea Hodson

"One sign of encountering a great writer for me is envy. I'm envious of the way Brad Phillips writes. I'm envious of his honesty as a writer. I'm envious of his bone-dry turns of phrase and his sarcastic observations. I'm envious of the slack alacrity with which he attacks such morbid subjects as suicide, addiction, pain, and death. I'm envious of the utter fearlessness he displays. Writing is dead, but Mr. Phillips, decidedly, isn’t.” –Bruce LaBruce

"Brad Phillips says, at the beginning of this incredible book, that honesty eludes him. Obviously, that’s a lie. When you read Brad Phillips, you understand why nice women write love letters to men on death row." –Sarah Nicole Prickett

"Last week, Giancarlo Di Trapano turned me on to Suicidal Realism, a short memoir by the Canadian painter Brad Phillips. It’s not exactly an edifying book. Phillips’s main themes are drugs and sex, in that order: “People who like to get fucked up with other people are not people I like to get fucked up with.” But Phillips has a watchful intelligence and self-knowledge, and an impatient sincerity, that sneak up on you (or at least, snuck up on me). He doesn’t ask to be liked, even by his groupies, but he does want to communicate: “I’m not interested in the ones who are drawn to the creator of the work, I’m interested in the ones who are drawn to the content.” ―Lorin Stein

"Searingly honest, brilliant and disturbing . Brad Phillips peels back the skin and bone and stares right into the human soul." - Anthony Bourdain




Wary readers might stumble into this book with one big worry: Is familiarity with Brad Phillips’ way of life and art—some awareness of his other output—necessary to make sense of this work?  If not, would ignorance breed misunderstanding? After all, Brad Phillips has spent most of his career as a photographer, visual artist, and provocateur. He’s primarily a graphics man, a bit of a Vancouverly con, a post-modern appropriation artist, and look at him now, writing guileless autobiographical hybrid fiction. What’s a reader holding his debut wildcard supposed to think?
Phillips has written critical essays on art history and art markets, but prior to this collection he is best known for his art and a sizeable Instagram following. Some of his paintings are photo-realist (a series of Patricia Highsmith novels reflected in mirrors, his wife in poses that are, uncannily, both alluring and asexual) and others that are word-based. For instance, a 60 x 48″ oil on canvas, Sad Story/True Story 1988/2002 (2016) which proclaims in black letters on a flat blue background: “Being kidnapped for ransom was incredible for my self-esteem.”
Upon examining the cover of Essays and Fictions, the first thing one notices is a bold sense of style : its stylized coptic lettering, that tell-tale “A,” its punctuating glyphs, the earthy red background a foundation for bright calligraphic flourishes. Perhaps you’ve seen this before. Consider the 1956 Benjamin Kopman edition of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment.  Slipping on Dostoevsky’s jacket is quite the bold boost.  Recently, Eminem did something similar with his Kamikaze cover—a direct design lift from the Beastie Boys notorious License to Ill, art by David Gambale.  It might be wishful thinking to imagine that somehow Phillips will touch upon Dostoevsky’s themes of pride, nihilism, murder, and redemption, but given his known work as an artist, it may be more of a Kopman homage, recognizing great design. It’s a sweet cover in the best basic sense.
 Cracking the book open, what do we have? Phillips’ eleven stories provide plausible autobiography. He’s on trend with current indie lit mavericks who scumble lines between fiction and nonfiction.  Elizabeth Ellen drilled hard down in this genre in 2017’s Person/A.  A newish literary journal, Always Crashing, says in its submission guidelines that it accepts nonfiction, “though we prefer not to be told if it’s nonfiction.” Like Tim O’Brien, in his 1990 groundbreaking collection of linked stories, The Things They Carried, Phillips seems to ask: Can one reconcile past experience with today’s truth? Can fiction operate as a redeemer, a memory sculptor? Although Phillips is not a war veteran, his figurative “Viet Nam”—the place where he copes and masks the truth with this literary mark-making—is his inner-scape of pain management and addiction.
Phillips’ debut is ambitious. But how does it fare? It teeters on the cusp of greatness. He has taken time to think about life and the path he is navigating through it, and found solace, perhaps affirmation, in documentation and appropriation. It’s a memoirsy collection of stories and essays, recollected speeches, fragments, rants, letters-to-be-opened-in-the-case-of-death, and yet the best moments may well be the ones where he provides intentional story structure.
The king of this collection, “Ophelia,” arrives first. It’s fantastic.
In it, a man undertakes a monomythic journey to self-discovery (at least as far as scrip renewal), including an existential bus ride to some Lynchian intersection, where a mysterious BDSM club and  his shady psychiatrist’s den are both located. There are some dream elements, some nightmares, and some desire to undertake action harried by the desire for zero progress. It is, in essence, a story about an endless consumption of services powered by a penchant to waste time, underscored by the pleasure of being scammed while scamming.
Psychoanalyst Leslie Morris may be Phillips’ keenest creation. He has absolutely no intention to tell the truth. His office is papered with false documents, populated by prop women (patients? partners? grifters?) coming and going. The narrator, Brad Phillips, is his patient. With an acute sense of detail and an eye for all the major, minor, and disturbing objects in his doctor’s office, he is no more inclined to be honest. The reader is pulled into in Phillips’ trap as much as Phillips is caught in Morris’s. At one point, strangely alone in the office, Phillips sees a framed picture and is terrified:
The man in the middle was me. I was wearing a sweater I had worn the week between my first and second visit, an old sweatshirt from the Universidad de Salamanca. The women were both smiling, while I was staring somewhat apprehensively at something ahead of me. In the far distance of the photograph I saw a mirror. I picked the photo up and held it closer. Barely reflected but still legible I saw the word Ophelia in reverse, tinted neon red. I took the photo and my file and went and sat in the comfortable chair.
I took out a cigarette and lit it, staring at nothing, unsure of what I was thinking. I looked at the photograph and my file again. I ashed my cigarette on the carpet. Then I saw and reached for a very large ornate Africanesque clay pot—the staple of any therapist who wants you to know he’s cultured—and I pulled it off the shelf. I put it on the floor in front of me and continued to smoke, as I used my lighter to set my file on fire. First, I lit the edge of the cardboard, then I tilted the file so that the flames attached themselves to all of the paper within, and I deposited it in the bowl.
I took the photo of myself out of the frame and lay it on top of the burning file. I watched the image of myself curl and ripple then turn to smoke and begin to rise out of the bowl. Small black embers floated gracefully then vanished. When I finished my cigarette, I put it in the bowl and sat there until everything had burned away.
This story sets Phillips’ tone (toward the subject of himself) for the rest of the collection. There is fear, self-loathing, and humor (including a great Pen Collector running gag), and Phillips explores the real struggle between desiring notoriety vs maintaining privacy. Big themes swing at his head, like bike locks whipping dangerously close to his temples, but he is in charge. Or this world, and those weapons don’t make contact. Yet.
Another strong scene comes in “The Barista, the Rooster, and Me.” The title sounds like a joke with a set-up and punchline, but it’s about anger, about how when people put selfish demands on neighbors—to lower music, to tolerate intrusive pets—there are consequences. There are short fuses burning all around, working in and against our favor.
Finally, there’s a great nod to Patricia Highsmith, a girl who loved her con men if ever there was one, in the penultimate story of the collection, “Deep Water.” Here, the Brad Phillips character takes action to eliminate a person who has secret information on Phillips.  (Sidebar: a long time ago there was a Gary Indiana story called “Pillow Talk” in Bomb Magazine. It has a line in it I’ve never forgotten: “You’re brilliant and you’re handsome, but deep down where the icky fish of your mind really swim, you’re sick.”) So, now there’s this guy who knows something about Phillips, something Phillips can’t handle facing, and rather than avoid this threat, Phillips lures his mark into an olive grove (drolly, the grove is located in Sezze, Italy, the Italian headquarters of Tyrant Books) and deploys a Highsmith solution. “I lifted the rock far over my head, bringing it down with all my strength and the kindness of gravity….”
As a collection, there are remarkable moments.
Finally, three other random things arose in the reading of this book. I put the text down to look up “cold water extraction” techniques, something Phillips gives passing mention to, and discovered opioid addicts do this to avoid inevitable liver damage.  The word “scrutiny” also triggered a lot of thought, to the point of seeking its etymology and learning “Perhaps the original notion of the Latin word is ‘to search through trash,’ via scruta (plural) ‘trash, rags’ (‘shreds’).” Knowing that made me happy to continue reading, feeling somewhat vindicated for thinking there was a bit of trash-picking in the process. I also found myself thinking about another recent ode to narcing up, Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation. But only because deploying the word argot is to Phillips as pilly is to Moshfegh.
As a project that stands somewhere between fiction and nonfiction, one might wonder if Phillips’ debut is more satisfying as a set of stories or as essays. I found it satisfying as both. As essays, each is focused on memories and meaning-making. These are all very personal, particular experiences that speak to the larger human experience. Yet Phillips is also freewheeling enough to follow where his mind wanders. There is, for instance, this scene in “Boo Hoo in Three Parts” where he encounters and parties with his junky father’s decaying corpse. Believe me, that story haunts. But these are essays that clearly evoke places and times, populated with characters who are inconsistent in the way good fiction should be. Phillips is a fiction writer, writing in a style so close to what we often expect from nonfiction, that a reader cannot tell what is true or not.
I had a chance to attend a reading from Essays and Fictions in Brooklyn this past November. In person, Phillips is slender and angular and friendly. Dressed in a simple gray tee, a gold chain, and workman’s pants, he delivers a quiet, almost tentative reading of his own words. His body language telegraphs discomfort, his tall frame cants back and leeward from the mic, his head and its shaggy shingle of bangs, salt-and-pepper, crick occasionally toward a shoulder. He is a soft reader, eyes down, and in a beautiful open space, the audience listened quietly in return. “My job is to make paintings,” he began from “The Dumb Tide.”  “I’ve been doing it for a long time.”
It’s easy to like Phillips’ honesty as an essayist, and a storyteller.  He doesn’t have to be one or the other. As a matter of fact, as he says in “Suicidal Realism,” he wants to live a life spent “scattering behind me paintings and writing and women’s underwear as I go.” - A. E. Weisgerber
https://www.3ammagazine.com/3am/coper-doper-kopman-spy/

Steve Anwyll - In wakeful, rhythmic prose, Anwyll writes a mirror for our double vision and the selves we don't want ourselves to see. There's no getting out of Welfare

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Steve Anwyll, Welfare, Tyrant Books, 2019.
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Welfare is wholly made up of four-line paragraphs and has a cadence that is uniquely its own. A high school student leaves his parents’ home to live on his own with friends and with the help of government aid. The narrator becomes your best friend on the first page.
I walk down the slight slope of their driveway. A backpack full of t-shirts and socks and underwear and books on my back. I have $50 and 2 packs of cigarettes in the pocket of my army surplus jacket. But no lighter. You can’t have everything I tell myself.


“Steve Anwyll's entrancing novel about a 16-year-old on welfare surprised and moved me, made me smile and laugh a lot, and increased my appreciation for life. I recommend it and look forward to reading it again.” –Tao Lin

In wakeful, rhythmic prose, Anwyll writes a mirror for our double vision and the selves we don't want ourselves to see. There's no getting out of Welfare. The voice stays in your blood. - Mila Jaroniec


When Stan turns 16, he decides that he can no longer take the fighting with his indifferent dad’s new wife, and he hits the road in Anwyll’s solid debut. His sketchy plan involves moving in with free-spirited friend Greg, 20, whose life in his small Canadian fishing village on Lake Erie is not so idyllic up close. Greg’s all-night benders and Stan’s inability to pay his share of the rent spell an end to this arrangement. He ends up with another friend, sharing a beach house, applies for welfare, and gets a caseworker. From there, it’s slowly downhill: his welfare application fails; he finds another apartment with an explosive landlord; school becomes a struggle because Stan’s poverty means he rarely gets enough to eat. He develops a crush on his caseworker, who sends him to a tough counselor, who enrolls him in a resume writing workshop, and so on. A series of demeaning jobs, financial panics, and insecure living situations follow. Anwyll’s coming-of-age novel sometimes reads more like sociopolitical allegory, but the authenticity of its first-person voice, and of its plot, which moves in deliberate, subtle steps, immerses the reader in Stan’s struggles. Stan’s story resonates with relevance and heart. - Publishers Weekly


King of the Park (story)

Mark Samuels - Cryptic and potent languages, bizarre cults, mysteries that span the gulf between life and death, occult influences that reverberate through history like a dying echo, irresistible cosmic decay, forces of nightmare that distort reality itself, gateways to worlds where esoteric knowledge rots the future.


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Mark Samuels, Prophecies and Dooms, Ulymas Press, 2018.


A collection of essays on authors of classic weird fiction.


A contemporary author, Mark Samuels writes about the fundamental fears of modern life, especially the effects of isolation and the dislocation that city dwellers can experience in their inhospitable man-made environment.

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Mark Samuels, A Pilgrim Stranger, Ulymas Press, 2017.

Alfredo Salgado, Catholic schoolboy and proud Spaniard, wages his own personal offensive against the dictates of modernity and the enemies of Orthodoxy and the Old Faith. Set in 1981 and 2015 against a backdrop of societal upheaval A PILGRIM STRANGER is an ebullient satire of contemporary values.


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Mark Samuels, The Prozess Manifestations, Zagava, 2017.

Mark hardly needs an introduction – this is his 6th collection of short stories following on from 2016′s instantly sold-out “Written in Darkness”.

I received a free copy of this stylish, numbered edition from Zagava. As you can see it's got one of the least expressive covers of our time. But perhaps that's the point, as The Prozess Manifestations is a thoroughly dark book. The contents are:
“Decay”
“An End to Perpetual Motion”
“Moon Blood Red – Tide Turning”
“The Crimson Fog”
“The Court of Midnight”
“In the Complex”
The central conceit linking all but one of these tales is an offstage character called Doctor Prozess, who is responsible for various baffling and disturbing events. Howeve, Prozess is not mentioned in the longest story, 'The Crimson Fog', leaving this collection almost but not quite themed. A fault, a joke, a deliberate snook-cocking? I don't know.
In the first story a convincingly unpleasant Silicon Valley type sets off in search of a possible solution to the problem of Artificial Intelligence. Carlos Diaz spends so much timed and money on prostitutes and drugs that he fails to notice civilisation collapsing around him thanks to a mind-destroying game based on Mandalas. He eventually encounters 'Doc Prozess', in a way, and the big reveal is nicely done. But this is really a science fiction story of the sort one might find in Interzone, and therefore a bit outside the scope of yours truly.
In 'An End to Perpetual Motion' we jump back in time to the Thirties, and a successful British writer on his way to Hollywood to script 'talkies'. You know how sometimes a trivial blunder can ruin any feeling of authenticity? Well, that happened for me here, as the first person narrator tells us that his old trouble with insomnia recurred 'at the end of the first week' of his trans-Atlantic voyage. If a liner took more than a week to cross the Atlantic back in those days there was something seriously wrong with it - 5-6 days was average.
That gripe aside it's a decent enough story. Man encounters stranger who seems obsessed with the speed of the ship, and afraid it might stop. Stranger has significant name of Zeno, who demonstrated the theoretical impossibility of motion a while back. Ship, inevitably, stops. We learn that Doctor Prozess is the stranger's pursuer. The conclusion is not especially startling but it satisfies.
'Moon Blood Red - Tide Turning' is my favourite, perhaps because it is short and concise. Here the narrator is a rather Aickmanesque figure, someone who moves from one minor publishing job to another, and encounters an actress (we're in the late 20th century, at first). The narrator attends a performance of an experimental play by Doctor Prozess, during which a lunar eclipse plunges the Cornish outdoor theatre into darkness. Decades later, the narrator encounters the cast again.
'The Crimson Fog', a science fiction novella, paces restlessly between Ballard and Lovecraft, and can't seem to settle. A remote region of Asia is covered by the eponymous fog, a mysterious phenomenon that brings with it alien flora and huge, tick-like predators dubbed 'friends'. The Crimson Fog grows and will soon cover the earth unless it is stopped.
This setup is strikingly reminiscent of the film Annihilation, based on a book by Jeff Vandermeer. But, as I said, the mysterious 'Zone' that fascinates and then destroys the adventurer, the visionary, and the boffin is a venerable concept. The bar is correspondingly high, I feel.
Conventional military assaults on the Crimson Fog fail, but one officer - a Kurtz-like figure - survives to transmit gnomic shortwave messages. A squad is sent in to rescue a man who is assumed to have the secret of beating the fiends. Things go pear-shaped quickly in a plot that creaks a bit when considered simply as an adventure narrative. I must admit it never really engaged me.
'The Court of Midnight' sees us in the Old World, a Europe devastated by a war that may be Great. This is a parallel universe-ish tale of a refugee in a once-great city stricken by a 'lunar plague'. The plague is particularly lethal to the creative, so artists and writers are more likely to fall victim than mere commoners. There's a touch of Kafka about the plot and the style, as narrator Melchior receives messages informing him that Doctor Prozess will be personally attending him.
Finally, 'In the Complex' offers a view of the world as a kind of concentration camp-cum-sanitarium. The protagonist here is taken to a vast asylum-like building and subject to a brutal and terrifying regime. Kafka meets Clive Barker as bits of the narrator's body are removed by way of a punishment that is also a kind of surreal therapy. We end where we began, with a bleak vision of an irredeemable world. - http://suptales.blogspot.com/2018/04/the-prozess-manifestations-review.html

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Mark Samuels, The Man who Collected Machen & Other Stories, Chomu Press 2011.

Cryptic and potent languages, bizarre cults, mysteries that span the gulf between life and death, occult influences that reverberate through history like a dying echo, irresistible cosmic decay, forces of nightmare that distort reality itself, gateways to worlds where esoteric knowledge rots the future.
Here, from Mark Samuels, the author of 'Glyphotech and Other Macabre Processes' and modern exemplar of mystical horror, is a collection of tales that forms a veritable Rosetta Stone for scholars of cosmic wonder and terror.

The Man Who Collected Machen & Other Stories is possibly Samuels’s finest collection to date. Like most writers who are confident of their own abilities Samuels is not afraid to acknowledge influences. Hints of Machen, Poe, Lovecraft, Borges and Ligotti are to be found in these stories, but the dominant figure is always Samuels. … What all these stories possess is a rich literary and intellectual subtext.” - Reggie Oliver

Homages to the work of some of fantastic fiction's best and brightest writers stand out in this journeyman weird fiction collection. In the title tale, an enthusiast of classic supernaturalist Arthur Machen achieves a rapport with the writer that few fans ever could—or would ever want. "Nor Unto Death Utterly by Edmund Bertrand" is a pastiche of Poe's death-and-the-maiden scenarios, while "A Contaminated Text" evokes Borges in its account of an accursed book that taints all books housed with it in a Mexican library. Though several premises are too forced and self-consciously allegorical, other selections are effective dark fantasies, notably "A Question of Obeying Orders," which includes a well-executed shock ending. Samuels (The Face of Twilight) is clearly well-read in fantastic fiction, giving these accessible tales a not unpleasant air of familiarity. - Publishers Weekly

I had no prior knowledge of Mark Samuels or his work. Picking his collection, The Man Who Collected Machen and Other Weird Tales, was the result of Samuels’ comparison to Howard P. Lovecraft, as promoted in his bio, and a very bizarre title. I admit to being frivolous in how I choose my reading materials, but so far, I have yet to see my intuition mislead me.

Mark Samuels proved to be the perfect introduction to the sort of weird horror I have been in search of these last few months. At the same time, the similarities with Lovecraft’s works help to anchor me within something familiar. The main parallel between Samuels and Lovecraft is to be found with the narrator. With the exception of “The Age of Decayed Futurity”, all of the stories feature the familiar male narrator, with a Caucasian-sounding name and inclinations of the scholarly variety, who leaves the confines of the modern and known world and enters a new, unexplained one that has been there all along.

More of Lovecraft can be discovered in Samuels’ “The Black Mould”, the story of a sentient mould that comes to be in the crater of a dead world, orbiting the rim of the universe. There is the familiar fear of the cosmos, present in Lovecraft’s fiction, as the mould evolves into one of the most frightening consumers of worlds and stars alike. As the mould grows and develops a hive-mind consciousness, it suffers from endless nightmares, which trigger its reproductive system as a means to seek release. What strikes true fear in “The Black Mould” is the mould’s complete unawareness of the apocalypse it’s ushering in. The mould is as much the victim of its nightmares as all other life forms in its path. Unlike with Lovecraft, there is no black-and white-situation, where the extraterrestrials seek out life for their own malicious purposes. In a sense, we’re even less significant to our harbinger of death; this cosmic horror is itself plagued by a pantheon of horrors.

Further similarities can be found with the Voolans, the race that lives below the surface of the world in “A Contaminated Text”, and the manner with which narrators either disappear or die or lose their sanity. At the same time, one cannot say that Samuels borrows from Lovecraft in excess. While Lovecraft opts for the sudden revelation of the Other, the alien and monstrous face of the world as a means to emphasize the horror, Samuels submerges the reader gradually. Lovecraft chooses to destroy his narrators with a sudden jolt and tremor, while Samuels has the weird and the terrifying assimilate and digest the narrator.

The opening story, “Losenef Express”, is exemplary of Samuels’ technique as the narrator, one Eddie Charles Knox, begins the tale drinking in a café, then commits murder and, upon fleeing, boards the Losenef Express, a train full of the dead that reaches the starting point rather than the ending point of the journey. Samuels provides no explanation for what’s happening. It just does and the reader has no choice but to accept the irregularities in the space-time continuum as something inherent to the world. The paradox of the tale reminded me of the impossibility of the Penrose Stairs, otherwise known as the “Impossible Staircase”.

“The Man Who Collected Machen”, the titular story of the collection, remains one of my least favourite ones, because I know nothing about Arthur Machen, which I think is a prerequisite to enjoying the story to the fullest. Samuels adopts a similar approach of submersion, having the narrator Robert Lundwick, a great Machen enthusiast, perform his research routine, but then use the introduction of Aloysius Condor as a trigger to transport Robert into the alternate city of London. To the outsider, the story is unremarkable, but to the ones already indoctrinated in the works of Machen, I assume the pleasure will be ,as there are several references to the “Lost Club”, a story by Machen that has been cut off from all archives and also the name of the “Condor’s Society of Arthur Machen”. While I cannot connect the dots, I’m positive of their significance as an important nuance in comprehending the text.

I didn’t feel confident about Samuels’ appeal, until I read “THYXXOLQU”, and the rest of his stories dealing with language and its different manifestations. Words have power. Everybody has heard this expression, and devoted readers rely on words to transport them into new worlds and replace one reality with another. Following this thought, isn’t it logical to assume that the true fabric of reality consists of words and languages, rather than atoms? In “THYXXOLQU”, Samuels presents language as a disease that alters and disfigures our dimensions. Infection of reality as a trope is also present in “A Contaminated Text”, in which a single book contaminates all others in the newly opened Megabiblioteca in Mexico. The contamination is so potent that it affects the people who have read the diseased text, and their sanity. However, while the events in “THYXXOLQU” are real, the contamination in “A Contaminated Text” appears to be all in the minds of the victims.

Language, however, is not always the culprit. In the story “Glickman the Bibliophile”, the written word is the victim as the Apocalypse of Information takes place. This story taps into the horror of all bibliophiles – the destruction and desecration of the written word. As with “A Contaminated Text”, a madness spreads through humans worldwide and they turn into savages bent on the destruction of all books. Through the eyes of the author Henry Glickman, as he’s given the grand tour of his new publisher Nemesis Press [the name of the press is a warning sign], the reader learns that the people behind Nemesis Press are, in fact, anti-thinkers who seek to eradicate culture. Apart from the hard-hitting images of books being devoured and then vomited, the true horror comes from the realization that the most passionate advocates of this apocalypse are the ones who once praised books and knowledge.

What I love about The Man Who Collected Machen and Other Weird Tales is the multiple use of themes, tropes and elements. It’s as if stories nod to each other, in appreciation of each other. For instance, both “Xapalpa” and “A Question of Obeying Orders” share the dark ritual of decapitating a corpse and staking its body in its grave as a means to prevent it from rising. I spotted Hitler as a recurring name and Mexico as the setting of “A Contaminated Text” and “Xapalpa” alike. In theory, this repetition should reflect negatively on Samuels, as he is, to a point, recycling ideas and imagery. However, Samuels is such a master wordsmith in his worlds that even repeated ideas take on a new and potent meaning. At the same time, the collection comes off as cohesive and arranged with a clear idea as to why these stories are featured.

“The Tower” serves as an excellent closing story. I think Samuels has written it to serve as an afterword and meditation on the themes present in the collection. The fact that the story has not been published prior to this anthology, unlike all the others, reinforces my suspicion. While I did nod and agree with all the opinions the narrator presented in the story about the nature of society and the state of the world, I felt as though nothing happened and that Samuels hijacked the narrative in order to deliver his personal views.

Even so, The Man Who Collected Machen and Other Weird Tales remains a dark delight. I have found all tales within these pages highly entertaining, as well as thought-provoking. You won’t make a mistake with this collection. - Harry Markov


The stories in the collection The Man Who Collected Mache and Other Weird Tales by Mark Samuels are as creepy as any by H. P. Lovecraft that I have read. Probably the one that makes you shiver the most is “Nor Unto Death by Edmund Bertrand” which tells the tale of a doctor tending to his dying patient. Death terrifies many people and the appearance of occult anti-religion makes it even more so. Mark Samuels leads you step by step into wanting to know more about the beloved lost wives.

I was surprised to find myself really like a zombie tale in the collection called “A Question of Obeying Orders”. The hero confronts the evil ones without even a shiver but the twist at the end of the tale is the skill set that makes a good tale.

Even the horror of dying worlds in a pseudo-science fiction tale is included in the collection in a tale called “The Black Mould”.

What makes this a fun collection to read is the mode of writing in the same style as those early horror tales with formal language and settings built as if they existed in the netherworld. These are stories where everyone seems to whisper and creep, except they aren’t very predictable. The heroes have a believable, confiding style of telling the tale and what hooks the reader by their ability to share what they learn but also in their ultimate experience with the weird.

Quite a few of the tales have the element of language embedded in them. In “THYXXOLQU” the hero finds himself speaking another language and the world slowly changing around him. In “A Contaminated Text”, events unroll at a library with the book referred to in the title acting as the creepy. The “Man Who Collected Machen” is the hero of the tale and the title, about someone with a collection mania that knows no bounds almost. “Glickman the Bibliophile” has the most horrendous tale of all; he gets to meet an editor.

For readers that like to shiver, visit graveyards and lose control of reality, these tales are sure to delight, all well told. And they have sorcery embedded in them, one day a reader starts reading, the next thing they know is that they aren’t where they’ve been before, no matter what they dreamed. - Sheri Harper


There is a sinister world just veiled beneath the world we see every day . . . at least that’s how it seems in the world where Mark Samuels’ short stories reside. In his collection, The Man Who Collected Machen and Other Weird Tales, relatively ordinary, but not quite innocent, people discover dark and sometimes unpleasant things reside right here and now, hidden from view by the thinnest of veils.

From an author who gets sucked into an anti-book demon cult to a man that discovers he’s infected with a deadly language, the tales within this compact book are at times almost mundane, but by the time you reach the end, leave you feeling just this side of disturbed. Many are infused with hopelessness . . . that there is no way to escape the macabre fate of intergalactic mould or towers that appear only to the chosen.

Mr. Samuels’ work has been compared to Arthur Machen, a Welsh author who wrote tales of the macabre in the 1890s and early 20th century. And, at least to the degree that his style is very much of that time period—even when talking about things that happen in the modern world—this is true. Many of the short stories in The Man Who Collected Machen feel old-fashioned, as if the author was a contemporary of H.G. Wells (1866-1946) and Ambrose Bierce (1842–1913). There is a dated style to word choice and sentence structure that, in some cases, enhances the mood of the story, giving it a musty, decaying ambiance, but in other stories just distracts.

The endings to many of the tales sneak up on you and drop in your lap in the last paragraph with a flourish. Sometimes this is effective, creating an “Oh!” moment, but at other times not so much, leaving you scratching your head and wondering, “What?”

As a whole, the stories in The Man Who Collected Machen and Other Weird Tales weave a feeling of dis-ease, a sense that things are not well with the world, and you better watch your back or you’ll find yourself confronted by the things that terrify you the most.

Individually, the stories are inconsistent, but get better the deeper into the collection you read. The writing style keeps you at arms length from the protagonist and the things going on in the tale. Therefore, this collection is not for everyone . . . it is an acquired taste.

Modern readers who are used to and prefer modern writers are advised to skip this book; however, if you don’t mind a little old school story telling and are brave enough to open the closet door when you’re done reading a horror story, Mr. Samuels’ little anthology will take you to strange places and reveal divergent realities in unlikely places. - Carma Spence



I am becoming convinced that Mark Samuels is incapable of writing a bad story. No writer is perfect, and there are a couple of "misses" in this collection, but none of the stories are bad. And while I didn't find The Man Who Collected Machen and Other Weird Tales to be as strong as The White Hands and Other Weird Tales, it is still essential reading for lovers of "weird" fiction (whatever that means).
Unfortunately, this collection got off on the wrong foot for me. Thankfully, it recovered gracefully and continued on in a remarkable manner. The opening story, "Losenof Express" is a predictable, pedestrian effort for a writer of Samuels' caliber. I expected much better. I can only give this story 3 stars. I'll be honest, this was an inauspicious start that caused me to put my guard up with repeated chantings of "please don't suck, please don't suck, please don't suck".
The title story soon resolved my concerns, and in a very powerful way. I thought that Samuels had stumbled again when I read the rather abrupt, and particularly jarring phrase: I had the bizarre notion of having entered into occult territory, a phrase that seemed to artificially "push" the story in a self-aware way that smacked of railroading the reader. But while this sentence seems to tear the narrative structure asunder, it also serves as a segue into a very different voice that ultimately resolves in a most satisfactory way. It's the closest thing I've ever seen to a literary Hegelian dialectic. I am not certain if Samuels did this with intent or not, but either way, it is extremely effective in pulling the reader down the rabbit hole, shedding disbelief the whole way down and transforming the mindscape in such a way that one feels fully immersed in strangeness. I had wondered why this story was used as the title for the collection, but after feeling the sheer muscle of this story, I now know why this 5 star tale should lend its name to the whole collection.
Of course, stories after the titular tale are always disappointments, right? Wrong. In fact, "Thyxxolqu" is a perfectly-paced story about language and its corruption. It is a dark revelation, a creepy peek into forbidden enlightenment. You speak into the abyss until the abyss speaks back and you come to a full understanding of its words. This reminds me of the game mechanic in the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game, in which a character sees dreadful things or is given unholy revelations that drive her sanity over the edge. If she sees too much at once, the game dictates that she must do what is called an "idea" roll. Usually, you want to pass your idea roll, as it gives you insights into things you might not otherwise realize. Unfortunately, when faced with cosmic horrors, you want to fail your idea roll so that you do not come to the full realization of how awful the universe and its shadowy denizens are, in reality. You want to fail that roll so that you do not come to that full realization, saving you from potentially permanent insanity. To put it in these terms, the protagonist of "Thyxxolqu" . . . well, you'll see. 5 dreadful stars.
"The Black Mould" is the most "Lovecraftian" story I've read by Mark Samuels. Or, maybe that's "Ligottian". In any case, it's a baroque non-story of existential, even nihilistic dread. Beautifully written, yet it tries so hard to be significant that it becomes insignificant. I'm still giving it 4 stars for the writing, though. The writing is amazing, and if there were a bit of plot, it would have received 5 stars.
It seems like every horror short-fiction author just has to write a scary story about Mexico and strange old cults. They can't help it. Simon Strantzas' collection Burnt Black Sons has a couple, I believe the collection The Gods of HP Lovecraft has one, and I could probably point to a few more with little effort. "Xapalpa" is Samuels', and it's very, very good. 5 stars.
Once in a while, an author seems to be trying to mimic another author's style (note I said "seems" - this is not to say that this is intentional) when the other author has already done something so perfectly as to ward off all pretenders. I got this feeling while reading "Glickman the Bibliophile". While it is a good piece of conspiracy literature with a philosophical bent, it isn't up to snuff with Brian Evenson's works (whom it seems Samuels might be imitating, though I don't really think he was intentionally doing so) in the same vein. Here, Samuels' work is a shadow of Evenson's, I am sorry to admit. Still, a good story, well written, if a little rushed and somewhat hollow. 3 stars.
"A Question of Obeying Orders" finishes with a nice O'Henry ending. And while that twist can get old, if overused, it hit all the right spots for me here. Prussian soldiers and seances, a sense of twisted cosmic justice, and abominable things-that-should-not-be. Vampyres? Fah!!! 5 stars.
"Nor Unto Death Utterly by Edmund Bertrand," despite it's somewhat overwrought prose, is an existential tale worth the read. It pulls primarily from the 19th-century decadent tradition interwoven with threads of very modern cosmic horror. If you can stomach the first few treacle-smothered instances of narrative extravagance, the read is extremely rewarding in the end. 4 stars.
"A Contaminated Text" is a simultaneous ode to and metatextual subversion of Lovecraft, Borges, and Bierce. It is a story that invades the reader's brain, but only once one is finished reading it. I think this one bears a few re-readings. It is, structurally and thematically, a labyrinth. One doesn't realize where he is in the trap until it is far too late. 5 stars and my favorite story of this collection.
"The Age of Decayed Futurity" is a pop-culture conspiracy-cum-contagious-paranoid-fantasy that provides a peek "behind the curtain," a'la The Matrix, but with an even more sinister antagonist: the spirits of the dead from the future who work through Hollywood celebrity to create a world of TV-entranced zombies. Now, I'm not a big TV watcher to begin with, as I'd much rather be reading and writing and playing games than watching TV most of the time. And I'm a bit of a snob when it comes to knowing everything about celebrity lives, who was in what movie, blah, blah, blah. Honestly, I couldn't care less, for the most part (there are exceptions). But I don't know that I've ever felt that the Illuminati have infiltrated Hollywood. But now I wonder. Suddenly, late night TV static has a much more sinister connotation. 5 stars.
While I typically love stories with strong philosophical underpinnings, particularly those of existentialism, I felt that "The Tower" might work better if stripped altogether of any pretense of "plot" or "story", rather than being a mass of philosophical muscle hung on an etiolated skeleton of prose fiction. Still, it is a solid piece with great eerie moments that warrants 4 stars.
While the average star rating of the stories, collectively, is 4.45, I have to round up based on the strength of a couple of the stories. The title story and "A Contaminated Text" alone give reason to push this one up into 5 star territory. If you haven't read Samuel's work before, I'd recommend going with the stronger collection The White Hands and Other Weird Tales first, then take in The Man Who Collected Machen and Other Weird Tales. - Forrest Aguirre



Now I’ve retired (except when people pay me to write which, perhaps surprisingly, remains moderately common) I get to spend my days doing what I like the best which is reading and writing for fun. For all I’m reading professionally most of the time, the motive remains the same — to find authors whose work is interesting. With tens of thousands of books published every year, there’s no way I can read them all, and with Sturgeon’s Law endlessly proved correct, it’s a case of serendipity or following the recommendation of others to find the good stuff. With The Man Who Collected Machen by Mark Samuels (Chômu Press, 2011) it’s a punt into the small press world to try someone new to me. We start of with “Losenef Express”. This is rather elegant as a piece of atmospheric writing. We’re so far off the beaten track, even the track has given up caring where it is. Eddie Charles Knox, a disillusioned human being, looks up from the bottom of a bottle and sees a man in the shadows watching him. When the man leaves and goes into the foggy streets, Knox follows. It may not be the most original of plot ideas but the execution works well as an exercise in existential despair. The titular “The Man Who Collected Machen” plays with another well-known trope as a poor man who’s fascinated by the author but can’t afford to buy collectible editions, meets a man who’s been able to put together an impressive collection of books and ephemera. The outcome is rather pleasingly Machenish as a veil is lifted.

Now I’ve retired (except when people pay me to write which, perhaps surprisingly, remains moderately common) I get to spend my days doing what I like the best which is reading and writing for fun. For all I’m reading professionally most of the time, the motive remains the same — to find authors whose work is interesting. With tens of thousands of books published every year, there’s no way I can read them all, and with Sturgeon’s Law endlessly proved correct, it’s a case of serendipity or following the recommendation of others to find the good stuff. With The Man Who Collected Machen by Mark Samuels (Chômu Press, 2011) it’s a punt into the small press world to try someone new to me. We start of with “Losenef Express”. This is rather elegant as a piece of atmospheric writing. We’re so far off the beaten track, even the track has given up caring where it is. Eddie Charles Knox, a disillusioned human being, looks up from the bottom of a bottle and sees a man in the shadows watching him. When the man leaves and goes into the foggy streets, Knox follows. It may not be the most original of plot ideas but the execution works well as an exercise in existential despair. The titular “The Man Who Collected Machen” plays with another well-known trope as a poor man who’s fascinated by the author but can’t afford to buy collectible editions, meets a man who’s been able to put together an impressive collection of books and ephemera. The outcome is rather pleasingly Machenish as a veil is lifted. - David Marshall



Chômu Press continue their mission of “publishing fiction that is both imaginative and unhindered by considerations of genre” by producing this marvellous collection. Previously available as a limited edition collection from Ex Occidente this edition is a much more affordable way to sample Mark Samuel’s work. And for those who already have the limited edition version this also contains one brand new story, The Tower and believe me that alone is worth the cover price.

These eleven stories explore the dark corners of Mark Samuels earth in extraordinary fashion, beginning with the eastern european weirdness of the Losenef Express. A gritty and dark drama with a neat twist takes us to a place in a “state of decay” and a mind almost as dark. The Man Who Collected Machen not only invokes the dark glories of Arthur Machen via the title but also in style. A collector of Machen’s work is invited to sample the most “obscure Machenalia” but ends up paying a high price in a journey into an “occult territory” with its own hill of dreams.

THYXXOLQU explores the power of language. Owen Barclay finds himself confronted by increasing examples of a strange script in everyday circumstances. Eventually becoming aware that “language is the foundation of reality”. The Black Mould is a cosmic horror of Lovecraftian proportions with a distinctly (and very welcome) old school feel. Xapalpa takes us to strange and very weird ceremony in an obscure mexican town.

Glickman The Bilbliophile sees random acts of book destruction occurring and gradually escalating. Henry Glickman discovers the dark forces behind these acts and “the falsity of literature”. A Question Of Obeying Orders is a dark and atmospheric wartime tale of Vampyr, but far stranger than typical vampire fare. Nor Unto Death Utterly invokes the spirit of Poe in an excellent journey to a remote abbey a “place isolated… by an aura of spiritual desolation”. A Contaminated Text returns us to a library in Mexico where a virus infects the text of the books with devestating consequences.

The Age Of Decayed Futurity takes us into a world where “dreamlike visions from the depths of imagination take over completely”. It’s a devestating account of the power of mass media and its possible consequences. Finally The Tower is a remarkable exploration of the human mind. Full of powerful, visionary, poetic imagery with a dark nihilistic worldview this is a tale of despair that is both wonderous and frightening at the same time. Here Mark Samuels stands alongside the likes of Thomas Ligotti as a true master of the bleak word.

It’s hard to review such a fine collection without choking on hyperbole but Mark Samuels has, within 178 pages, created a masterpiece to stand alongside the likes of Ligotti, Machen, Poe and Lovecraft. This is a beautifully written, powerful yet accessible book. The world of Weird fiction is often obscured by the shadowy wraiths of the past masters but with this collection Samuels shines a torch on them all, invokes their spirits and shows that he has every right to join the pantheon. - https://theblackabyss.wordpress.com/2011/03/07/the-man-who-collected-machen-and-other-weird-tales-by-mark-samuels/


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Mark Samuels, Written In Darkness, Egaeus Press 2014.

These nine tales are apocalyptic in the truest sense—they lift the veil and uncover what is hidden. Europe decays, but the Bloody Baron’s spirit will not rest. A lone yachtsman is becalmed at sea, and confronts madness, or something greater than madness. A condemned office building is besieged by the forces of transcendent decay. In the city of exiles, an unguessable secret awaits. These and other strange encounters, intrusions and transformations are to be found within the pages of this volume, Written in Darkness.

...Written in Darkness, represents the quintessential statement of Samuelism. “I believe that mental isolation is the essence of weird fiction” he wrote in The White Hands and the isolation of the individual in society is still a major preoccupation, coupled with a singularly vivid understand-ing of the elusiveness of human identity. This last notion is at the roots of some of the greatest “horror” fiction of the past [....] but it is being tackled today, not least by Mark Samuels, with equal if not greater imaginative insight. - Reggie Oliver; from his introduction


I've been a fan of Mark Samuels ever since I read The White Hands in early 2013. Afterwards, I went on to buy every book he's written, even hunting down a copy of his long out of print first collection Black Altars. Written in Darkness sees Samuels teaming up with Egaeus Press, a publisher who is putting out some of the finest books weird fiction has to offer.

The nine stories within are sure to please any Samuels fan. As usual with his works, the prose has a certain formality, bringing to mind some old school weird fiction. They are narrated in an erudite manner, which seems to fit the image of the lonely academic, which lends itself to the themes of much of his fiction. In the introduction, author Reggie Oliver used a phrase from Samuels' The White Hands, which sums this up well: “I believe that mental isolation is the essence of weird fiction.” The characters in his stories are isolated, they tend to be loners who don't fit into modern society. They struggle with many concepts and themes: decay, change, technology.

My favorite stories:

The Other Tenant follows a man with no friends or family, on early retirement due to an illness. He is not a likable man, and is rather honest about only caring for himself. At night he is bothered what seems to be a television program or recording of a very dubious nature that is playing in the neighboring apartment.

Technology, and more specifically the dehumanization due to technology, comes into play in An Hourglass of the Soul and Outside Interference, which are my two favorite stories in the book. In the first story a man is sought out and hired by a new company, and within days is sent on a business trip to a remote area in Mongolia. The pace is fast, and readers are just as flustered as the protagonist as he is quickly whisked away on his trip, arriving only to be taken straight to the job site where he finds something he isn't expecting. Outside Interference stands out for not following a lone person, but focusing on an entire group. It takes place in a recently abandoned office building in an abandoned business park, which makes for an excellently creepy venue. A few slacker types are left behind in a company's move in order to transfer their paper records onto the computer. Things seem bad enough when a blizzard begins and they fear being snowed in, but when the elevator door opens and unleashes what was once their minibus driver it is apparent that the blizzard is the least of their worries. Both stories show a fear of technology and what it can do to people, and the "static zombies" of Outside Interference are rather symbolic of today's smartphone culture.

While the previous two stories both included some corporate, Ligotti-esque horror, it is The Ruins of Reality which, to me, is the most Ligottian story of the bunch. A decayed, urban setting is filled with the desperate dregs of society and when recruitment posters for the mysterious "N Factory" show up around town, they are overtaken by a wary sense of hope. The story is dreamlike and surreal, and what seems like a possible answer to the problems of the people seems to instead be a fate much worse.

In My World Has No Memories a man wakes on a boat in the middle of an ocean. He doesn't remember anything, and can't seem to get his bearings due to malfunctioning of compasses and stars that don't match his star charts. His predicament is frightening enough in itself, but once he discovers a glass jar filled with some of migraine and vision inducing growth, he learns what frightening really is.

My Heretical Existence first appeared in an anthology in tribute to Bruno Schulz, and is a story of a man seeking something more, when he stumbled onto a mysterious, hidden area of the city, and a tavern full of very different people. He then begins his own transformation.

The collection finishes with In Eternity Two Lines Intersect, a story in tribute to Arthur Machen. A man is released from some sort of institution and takes up residence in an apartment of a missing man. He tells the building's owner that he doesn't have to throw away the missing man's effects, that he will take care of them himself. As he settles into his new home he becomes fixated on these belongings, a church across the street, and an area of woodland on a nearby hill. As the days wear on he finds his thought patterns changing, and begins to wear the missing man's clothes, which fit perfectly. He reads his books. He begins to have dreams and visions, sometimes waking up from dreams clutching an object he was not in possession of before. Reality and dream become blurred as the man has a spiritual awakening, leading others into the woods for a celebration of transcendence.

Overall this is a very enjoyable, if short, collection, and in line with other offerings from Egaeus Press the book is very aesthetically pleasing. Titles are done in calligraphy by Geoff Cox and the book features haunting endpapers. - http://www.arkhamdigest.com/2014/12/review-written-in-darkness-by-mark.html


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Mark Samuels, Glyphotech & Other Macabre Processes, PS Publishing 2008.

In the introduction to this collection Ramsey Campbell states that the two modern masters of urban weirdness are Thomas Ligotti and Mark Samuels. Inside this book you will find weird things indeed, not least the likes of:
The fungus-riddled mannequin in the lunatic asylum
The reconstruction company that works with life and death
The legal nightmare where the sane are guilty
A horror writing convention taken over by black magic cannibals
The Punch and Judy show broadcast live after death
The strange fate of the reincarnation of H.P. Lovecraft


Mark Samuels blew me away with The White Hands and Other Weird Tales. I found his first collection, Black Altars to be good but not great, more of a showcase of potential. His third collection, Glyphotech and Other Macabre Processes is another top notch collection in the vein of The White Hands.
In the introduction, Ramsey Campbell calls Mark Samuels a modern master of urban horror and compares him to the great Thomas Ligotti. Campbell is completely accurate in this description, and Ligotti's influence can be seen throughout the collection.
Glyphotech is an interesting collection. Many motifs recur throughout the stories: trains, mannequins/puppets, asylums, madness and paranoia. Samuels excels at writing alienated, awkward characters who manage to find themselves in inescapable situations where surrealism takes over and everything becomes a downward spiral.
The collection opens with the title story, Glyphotech, which serves as a prime example of urban, corporate horror. An already estranged man disagrees with his company's new direction, and finds himself the target of a mysterious outside corporation which seems to spread like a disease.
Sentinels brings a loner detective into the horrific underground in a story that can't help but bring to mind Clive Barker's Midnight Meat Train. This tale is perhaps the most visceral of all the terrors to be found in this collection, and the implications of the city being involved makes it all the scarier.
Patient 704 first appeared in Black Altars, and is the one story from that previous collection that Samuels deemed worthy of saving. The story also has the distinction of being one of my favorite asylum stories. The deterioration of the narrator's mental faculties is handled brilliantly.
Shallaballah brings readers into a nightmarish "medical center" in a surreal exploration of possible life after death in a world of urban decay. After reading this story Punch and Judy shall never be seen in the same light again.
Samuels visits a mysterious small town in Ghorla, where an irritable scholar seeks out the sister of a deceased and mostly unknown horror author. The weirdness of the story leads to a crazy ending, which is equal parts laughable and disturbing.
Cesare Thodol: Lines Written On a Wall has readers visiting yet another asylum, as the narrator unravels the mystery involving a contagious madness that involves mannequins and fungus. A great example of how talented Samuels is at writing original stories in the vein of classic weird horror.
Satire and horror combine in The Cannibal Kings of Horror. A horror fan goes to a convention with the hopes to meet his idol, only to receive a wake-up call. The story is over the top, and despite being humorous has a grisly ending.
Destination Nihil by Edmund Bertand pretends to be a story by reclusive, abrasive author Edmund Bertrand, a character from The Cannibal Kings of Horror, in which this story in particular is read by the main character. This one is short, and is a story about identity taking place on a bizarre train.
The Vanishing Point sees a man at the end of his rope. Samuels evokes hopelessness and slowly turns it into horror as the protagonist's already miserable reality becomes terrifying.
Regina vs. Zoskia is a great story about the sane being guilty, as a lawyer is drawn into an absurd case involving an asylum and it's sleepless residents.
A Gentleman From Mexico was actually the first story by Samuels I read, in Lockhart's Book of Cthulhu II. The story is another fine example of how Samuels can blend humor and horror equally, and works as a great homage to the Gentleman From Providence.
This collection is perfect for any fans of weird horror. It's not as available as The White Hands, as it's run was rather limited, but I would be confident in saying that for fans of The White Hands this book is worth every penny. - www.arkhamdigest.com/2013/05/review-glyphotech-and-other-macabre.html


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Mark Samuels, The Face of Twilight, PS Publishing, 2006.


In the seven years of their existence, PS Publishing have maintained an extraordinary standard of work. Their output has grown exponentially it seems, as has their silverware in the form of the many awards and accolades they've deservedly received. In fact for a small press, there's little about them that can be described as such – they are very much a giant amongst small presses.

Though the books themselves have seen some physical changes (all improvements) over the years – a redesigned logo, experiments with flaps, black and white covers becoming colour, the addition of slipcases – the quality of the works that PS have published has remained stellar without exception. But perhaps the most impressive thing about PS Publishing is that in spite of their success, their critical acclaim and the biggest name genre authors being at their calling, they still remain faithful to the core principles of what a small press should be about – that being to bring new writers/writing to the fore. I am therefore, hugely grateful to PS for bringing to my attention authors who might otherwise have slipped under my radar – and likewise I have been able, I hope, to bring them to your attention. If you've missed any of our reviews, check at the foot of the page for a linked index of some of PS titles that have been covered here on SFRevu.

In this tradition then, I picked up one of PS latest releases, The Face of Twilight, a novella by British writer Mark Samuels. Previously I had not been familiar with Samuels' work, but a quick Googling reveals him to be the author of two acclaimed collections of strange and disturbing stories – The White Hand and Other Weird Tales, published by Tartarus and Black Alters, released in 2003 by Rainfall Books - furthermore his is a peculiar branch of weirdness focusing specifically on London, the city where he was born and still lives.

Like Samuels, Ivan Gilman, the protagonist of The Face of Twilight, is a writer living in London. If the comparison stretches any further, I don't really want to know, for Gilman is not the most likable character I've come across. He is a loner, sour in temperament and outlook. His two published novels have barely kept him in beer money and remain only largely ignored and mostly incomprehensible. At the start of The Face of Twilight – a journey that for the reader begins in shadow and gets progressively darker – Gilman is moving into a squalid little flat he can't really afford in London's Archway district, a part of the outlying city on the rise up towards Hampstead, Highgate and Muswell Hill. Samuels depicts the area in fine detail, focusing on the grubbier and more disconcerting geography – the huge hospital that dominates the road side, the nearby famous Victorian cemetery and the Archway Bridge which spans Archway Road and is a well known magnet for suicides.

During his move, Gilman briefly meets his neighbour, Mr Stymm, on the stairs, - a little bald man with a scarred head, Stymm is monosyllabic and not at all welcoming, a disconcerting neighbour to say the least. Nevertheless, Gilman believes that this new abode will allow him to concentrate on the writing of his third novel, the one that will salvage his career and give him the credit he deserves. This is, as one might expect, far from what transpires.

It's hard to relate to you exactly what does take place in The Face of Twilight – in short it's a story of rapid descent into madness and death. Essentially Gilman becomes aware of a conspiracy at work, one in which the dead are replacing the living. The progressive way Samuels conveys Gilman's slippage into this new reality is as creepy as hell. For a long while it's not at all clear whether all that's occurring is just in Gilman's head. There is such a solid and soiled sense of surreal detachment and decay working inside this narrative that for while it seems the deterioration we’re witnessing can surely be only that of Gilman's mental state. His binge drinking becomes more excessive, his paranoia builds, his dread increases, and as it does so, so does our own. Soon enough though, the scale of things becomes clear. London, and perhaps the whole of our world has become suffused with something nasty, something dead. The experience is akin to time-lapse footage showing a bowl of fruit going bad or the contents of a refrigerator furring over. It's a very unsettling and effective vision that Samuels creates, his city corrupt and overgrown, and one that made me feel distinctly uncomfortable, though that may be largely due to my familiarity with the geography involved. The Face of Twilight is compelling reading, but if you've not been before, it's story that might make you think twice about a visit to our nations great capital!

I must make special mention of James Hannah's superb cover art for this edition – for it captures the strangeness and ghoulish essence of Samuels' story perfectly and very much reflects what you'll find between the covers. It might also keep you awake if you stare at it too long, as it will if you read this novella late at night – especially if you're in north London when you do! - John Berlyne



The good news for every reader (including myself) who got enchanted by Mark Samuels' remarkable collection The White Hands and other weird tales is that he's back with his debut novella.

The bad news is that , at least in my way of thinking, the novella is a disappointment.

Ivan Gilman is a writer with a pronounced inclination for the booze, seeking inspiration for his third novel but actually just scribbling down notes here and there, mostly in his favourite pub.

Recently moved into a new flat, Gilman is made uneasy by the presence of a strange character living in the floor below, a certain Mr. Stymm. The enigmatic Stymm gets apparently involved in the disappearance (which will turn out to be a murder) of a woman occasionally met by Gilman in the usual pub.

A series of puzzling events will lead to the discovery of a terrible truth: the world is being taken over by a bunch of "necromorphs". I won't add further details in order not to spoil the (few) surprises that the story has in store.

The novella confirms once again that Samuels is a great writer, endowed with an elegant, effective and captivating writing style. He's a master in creating dark and disturbing atmospheres and in eliciting a sense of mystery with a few sentences (an outstanding example is the passage where he evokes the disused stations of the London underground).

But when we come to the story itself then it's a different matter entirely. The plot , rather ordinary at the best of times, becomes embarrassingly implausible on more than one occasion.

Moreover, once the core of the storyline is given away, the following events are more than predictable and the whole narrative runs out of steam.

Samuels is prodigious in managing to maintain the alienating, claustrophobic mood surrounding Gilman's desperate attempts to restore the appearance of "normality" and to preserve his own mental balance, but, as the story goes on, it becomes increasingly difficult to the reader to keep up his suspension of disbelief and, more simply, his attention to what's taking place on the page.

So, I'll stop beating around the bush and tell clearly and plainly the naked truth: the book is boring.

I'm sure other reviewers will rave about The Face of Twilight and I won't be surprised should the novella be nominated for an award or two or even get one.

As far as I'm concerned I'll be patiently waiting for Samuels' next book, hoping that in the future his enormous talent will be serving at last a passable plot. - Mario Guslandi


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Mark Samuels, The White Hands and Other Weird Tales, Tartarus Press 2003.

This is the first collection of strange stories by contemporary writer Mark Samuels. The themes that thread through these nine accomplished stories are drawn from the great tradition of the twentieth-century weird tale, and they are suffused with a distinctly cosmopolitan, European feel. Mark Samuels writes about the fundamental fears of modern life, especially the effects of isolation and the dislocation that city dwellers can experience in their inhospitable, man-made environment. H.P. Lovecraft wrote about entities beyond human comprehension that might be summoned from beyond the stars, but did he ever consider that they would feel quite at home in the sodium glare of some run-down inner-city? When one of Samuels’s characters stands alone looking up at the vast, illimitable darkness of space, the reader is forced to wonder if there is much difference between the hopeless emptiness of eternity and the bleak interstices between the concrete and steel of their daily life?

“In The White Hands, Mark Samuels earns a reputation as the contemporary British master of visionary weirdness.”- Ramsey Campbell


“An impressive debut collection, The White Hands is an unexpected dark miracle of invention, tradition, and archetypal revision…. The author exhibits in this carefully arranged onslaught of weird fiction individualistic taste, thoughtfulness, and a strict control of literary subtlety. Re-envisioning the archetypal images and concerns of traditional supernatural fiction with distinctly contemporary, urban settings and bleak if heartfelt characters, Samuels weaves a deceptively subtle, menacing web of wizardry.” - William Simmons


“…dark, tragic, ominous but ultimately a reflection on ourselves and the society we live in. Mark Samuels, like Thomas Ligotti, looks beyond the supernatural into some dark void which lurks in our minds, he then proceeds to show us the really scary stuff that lurks in that darkness. [The White Hands] is a marvelous collection…” - Highlander’s Book Reviews


I first stumbled upon Mark Samuels when I read his story A Gentleman From Mexico in the Book of Cthulhu II. I found the story showcased an easy, confident writing style and it really made an imprint on me. Afterwards I ordered copies of his two in-print collections: The White Hands and Other Weird Tales and The Man Who Collected Machen and Other Weird Tales (I also recently ordered a copy of Glyphotech, a short collection from PS Publishing that is now out of print).
It took me a couple months before I cracked open The White Hands, but it only took me a couple days to zip through it. When I started I was wondering if the stories were going to be nearly as good as A Gentleman From Mexico, and as I finished I scolded myself for waiting so long before reading Mark Samuels.
The stories within are all exemplars of weird fiction. Samuels writes clear and concise, and is not shy about showing his influences. I knew going into this one that Lovecraft and Machen were influences on Samuels, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that some of the stories within echoed Thomas Ligotti's bleak, nihilistic style of horror.
The collection opens with The White Hands, a tale that reads like pure, classic weird horror. An academic decides to study a near-forgotten author named Lilith Blake, whose fiction is extraordinarily dark and bleak. He must use the collection of a former professor named Muswell, a hardcore Blake enthusiast. The story is an excellent opener, and reading about the protagonist's growing obsession with Blake's work is good fun. Following this story is The Grandmaster's Final Game. An enchanted chess set brings about a rematch between a priest and a wicked former opponent. The story starts off strong and keeps going right up until the finish.
The middle section of the book are the tales that to me are most reminiscent of Thomas Ligotti's work. Mannequins in Aspects of Terror is a creepy urban tale. Mannequins are creepy anyway, and Samuels takes it to a whole new level with this story, set in a mostly abandoned office tower which becomes a place of fixation for the narrator. Apartment 205 is another tale concerning a character who becomes enchanted and obsessed, only this time it's a certain room in a neighboring apartment which keeps drawing him in. Another tale with dark, pessimistic undertones, the story just gets creepier and creepier. The Impasse, one of my favorite stories of the collection, is 100% Ligottian corporate horror. The story is surreal from the start, and details a mans first day on the job at a strange firm. Events get stranger and stranger as the story goes on, and a feeling of hopelessness pervades throughout the story. The next story continues the theme of obsession, and similar to The Impasse it has a surreal feel early on that continues throughout. The protagonist of The Colony becomes enamored with a run-down, shady part of town that he stumbles across. He finds himself attracted to the bleakness of not only the place, but the denizens he encounters on his nightly jaunts. He decides to move into the desolate neighborhood, and the places pull on him intensifies further, culminating in a terrifying conclusion.
Although the previous four tales are the ones that seem to be the most influenced by Ligotti, the tale that follows reads like a Ligotti/Lovecraft mashup. Vrolyck follows a misanthropic insomniac who is more than he lets on. He meets a woman also suffering from insomnia in a cafe, which sends events spiraling. The tone is Ligotti but the plot is Lovecraft, making for quite a brilliant story.
The Search For Kruptos is yet again another tale dealing with obsession. The protagonist is a student who becomes obsessed with finding Kruptos, the unpublished magnum opus of an exiled author from days of old. The story takes place during the second World War, and although dealing with the idea of worlds in between dreaming and waking has a jarring ending that threw me off.
And finally, Black as Darkness brings readers full circle, as references to characters in the first story create a sense of a bigger picture. The tale follows two old men who have been lifelong friends, and what happens when a mysterious, bootlegged video tape shows up and dirty secrets are aired, leading to yet another bleak ending.
In conclusion, The White Hands and Others is a brilliant early collection. Readers of weird horror will find much familiarity here, although the voice is Mr. Samuels's own. I can't imagine any fans of the weird being disappointed in this collection, and I even find it hard to bring criticism against it myself. This book should be a welcome addition to any bookshelf, and since it's an in-print paperback from Tartarus Press (a wonderful publisher) it can be easily found online. - http://www.arkhamdigest.com/2013/02/review-white-hands-and-other-weird.html


Altogether, there are nine stories in Mark Samuels’ debut collection, and each one contains a germ of dread that imprints itself upon the mind, is resistant to reason and persists long in memory. To induce such dread, Samuels does not, however, have recourse to blood and gore. Instead, this author is able, by employing a subtly restrained prose of great literary quality, to create and sustain his own peculiarly individual atmosphere of unease and disquiet.

The curiously titled “Vrolyck” was my favourite tale, a subtle and clever hybrid of science-fiction and horror. It is set, or seems to be set, in our world, on the eve of an extraterrestrial invasion (or perhaps it is about a person deluded enough to believe that he is an extraterrestrial). Vrolyck is an extraterrestrial who has recently arrived on earth – he is one of the first – and now inhabits a human host. He is beginning to make contact with others of his kind, including one who inhabits the body of a young woman. Here is how the story ends:

She knew now, as did I, that we are here only temporarily, until these physical shells rotted away. Then we would have to move on again, fleeing the death that pursued us. But for now, like me, she was trapped within the human carcass, suffering the horrifying existence of the biped simian, the maddening trace-memories lingering within the fabric of their brains: a dead person’s memories, names drawn in the sand just beyond the reach of the black ocean before it. (pp.107-108)

This passage impresses both because of the quality of its prose and because it offers a sympathetic view of the alien as body snatcher, where the horror is to be human;and it gains its power because it is not unlike our own individual experience of mortality. The alien’s predicament is ours too.

Throughout, these stories are full of fascinating notions. In one story, “Apartment 205”, we are told that “it is the dead that sustain the structure of the waking world through their dreams … all living existence is illusory“(p.58); in another, “Black as Darkness”, a story about a cult film that causes misfortune to all who view it, we are told of “the bizarre claim that Blake’s work was not fiction at all but a series of cryptic incantations, whose dissemination could lead to disturbing consequences”(p.129). The Blake referred to here is not the Romantic poet, but Lilith Blake, an imagined (as far as I’ve been able to ascertain) Victorian authoress who also makes an appearance (as the Goddess in her deathly, leper-pale aspect) in the title story; the cult film in question is based on an adaptation of one of her fictions.

Certainly it is clear that, for Samuels, horror fiction is cerebral as well as visceral, and provides an opportunity for metaphysical speculation. And often it is not suspense, the vexed question of “what happens next?”, but rather seeing what use the author makes of his ideas that enthrals the reader. An example par excellence of this is “Mannequins in Aspects of Terror”, which takes as its subject a visit to an artist’s installation. The tale includes a manifesto in which the artist explains the rationale behind his work; here is part of it:
The greatest fear of which I can conceive is not that of murder or torture, or any of the so-called horrors that man inflicts upon his fellow man. The greatest fear is the prolongation of life indefinitely, where all thoughts are endlessly revisited, where every memory loses its meaning by repetition, where all thoughts finally blend into one: consciousness doomed to immortality – a mind filled with the nightmare of its own being, a mind that is dying in perpetuity without final release. (p.43)

The mannequins are meant not only to tap into our sense of the uncanny (which, as Freud said, is derived from the uncertainty of whether something is dead or alive); they are also simulacra that make clear the falseness of much of the everyday. For the installation takes place in an abandoned office building and the puppets are posed as though carrying out the many routines of office life. T.S. Eliot once famously wrote that life is composed, in the main, of horror and boredom; and one suspects that Mark Samuels might go further and assert that the two are closely intertwined. For boredom, and especially the interminable boredom of office life, is a theme in other stories too. In “Colony”, it is a symptom of ennui, drawing the victim out from the crowd, towards his fate:
As the weeks wore on my life beyond the quarter seemed like a garish hallucination and I gradually lost all interest in it. I resigned from my job. My work had ceased to be intelligible anyway, and the company gratefully accepted my offer to quit. (p.87)
Finally, another tale, “The Impasse”, has a definite Kafkaesque quality and is, on one reading, a black comedy about the absurdity of office life.

The White Hands and Other Weird Tales is a highly impressive, extremely well-written book that will appeal to all with an interest in contemporary horror or “weird” fiction. This is one to place on the bookshelf in the company of Robert Aickman, Elizabeth Hand and Thomas Ligotti. - Paul Kane


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Mark Samuels, Black Altars, Rainfall Books 2003.


Des Lewis' reviews of Mark Samuels:



To begin with, I urge you, my eager reader, to hop on over to Mark Samuels’ website — www.marksamuels.net — and read the brief biography of him that’s available there. It’s customary for interviewers to begin by providing a biographical sketch of their subjects, but nothing I could write for you would do the job as well as that one. [UPDATE July 2016: Mark’s original website is now defunct. You can find him blogging prolifically at marksamuels.wordpress.com. He has also written a piece for The Teeming Brain now, and there is thus a bio of him on our Teem page.]

Mark and I met back in 2000 via our mutual love of Thomas Ligotti and his work. Mark had read my story “An Abhorrence to All Flesh” at Thomas Ligotti Online. He wrote me an email in praise of it and sent me a copy of his own novelette-length story “Dedicated to the Weird,” which I devoured in one sitting. I wrote back to him to express my amazement at the way our thematic interests came together not only in general terms, but in many of the specific images and turns of phrase that we used. He agreed. And this proved to be the start of a wonderful friendship. We exchanged more of our stories in manuscript form. We talked about philosophy, literature, and life in general. We finally met in the flesh in 2002 at the World Horror Convention. Then we met again at the 2003 convention. We enjoyed each other’s company as much in person as in cyberspace.

My story “An Abhorrence to All Flesh” went on to appear in my first fiction collection, Divinations of the Deep, in 2002. Mark’s “Dedicated to the Weird” went on to appear in his second fiction collection, Black Altars, in 2003. So it now seems our respective writing careers are running a roughly parallel course. The difference between them, however, may be found an observation offered by an astute reviewer at Fantastic Metropolis a few years ago. In a review of Mark’s The White Hands and Other Weird Tales the 2003 fiction collection that established his reputation — Gabriel Messa wrote, “Thomas Ligotti has become an inescapable influence on the younger crop of promising writers of literary horror like Matt Cardin, Stephen Sennitt, Quentin Crisp, and Mark Samuels.” He then wrote what ought to be put in italics, boldface, caps — whatever will draw attention to it: “Samuels may be the best of the lot.”

Or perhaps it would be better to end this introduction with a quote from Tom Ligotti himself, since he serves in so many ways as the master magus who, often without even meaning to, sits at the center of a massive web of literary and spiritual influence: “[The White Hands] is a treasure and a genuine contribution to the real history of weird fiction.”

The following interview was conducted over the course of about a month in August and September of 2006.

THE INTERVIEW

MC: Thanks for sitting down in cyberspace to chat with me, Mark. I’d like to start by asking you about the very beginnings of your writing life. Every writer was originally drawn to the craft by a deep love of reading. What were the earliest literary experiences that affected you this way? Who are the authors who inspired you to write?

MS: The main impetus behind my wanting to write fiction was my discovery of H.P. Lovecraft’s tales when I was fifteen. Lovecraft, for me, made the world itself much more interesting, providing it with a sense of charnel glamour for which I’d been searching during my youth. I very much saw everything through his eyes for a period thereafter. Later on, I discovered the work of Arthur Machen, which, I think, has been an even greater influence upon my adult life and attempts at fiction.

MC: That forms a really interesting inverse parallel with the experience of Tom Ligotti, who discovered Machen and Lovecraft in the opposite order and found Lovecraft to be the greater influence. Can you say what it is about Machen—the man, his work, his creative vision—that appeals to you so much? I know you’ve produced some solid scholarship about him, so maybe you’ve already answered this question in print elsewhere.

MS: I’m really not much of a scholar. I know a lot of Machen enthusiasts who are able to write much more authoritatively than I can on the subject: the likes of Roger Dobson, Ray Russell, Gwilym Games, Godfrey Brangham, Aidan Reynolds, etc., etc. This year I became General Secretary of the Friends of Arthur Machen, and hope to use what little standing and influence I might possess to keep the memory of this great author alive.

As for the reasons behind his great influence on my life, Machen had a significant advantage over Lovecraft for me, in that he was a Londoner like myself. So I could immediately identify with the locales he describes in much of his fiction in a way that I couldn’t with Lovecraft’s Providence and Rhode Island. Machen’s vision of London as some interminable labyrinth of mysterious wonder and horror took firmer hold of my imagination, since I experienced it on a daily basis. Now one could argue that this is just an accident of birth and has no bearing on their respective literary merits, which I think is true. In terms of their contribution to the literary weird continuum, I would place them on an approximately equal level. I don’t think Machen’s work is, overall, necessarily superior to Lovecraft’s. Only HPL could have produced a story as relentlessly cosmic in scope as, say, “The Colour Out of Space” or “At the Mountains of Madness” (although I think he faltered by humanising his star-headed Old Ones in that novella). On the other hand only Machen could have produced something as profoundly representative of transcendental evil as “The White People” or as elegiac and poisonously beautiful as The Hill of Dreams. Both men were remarkable prose-stylists who recognised that the creation of atmosphere in a supernatural horror tale required a language of heightened sensitivity.

I also find Machen a more sympathetic individual than Lovecraft in terms of recognising more of my own mature attitudes, biases and concerns in his life and work. But this is only a prejudice on my part and no indicator of anything other than a preference for mysticism over scientific materialism. I think that it is a mistake to ascribe greater artistic merit to literary works simply because we happen to personally share whatever underlying philosophy we can detect within them.

MC: Does your preference for Machen’s mysticism, as opposed to Lovecraft’s nihilistic scientific materialism, indicate something about your personal spiritual outlook or religious beliefs? If so, have these found their way into any of your stories?

MS: I am a Roman Catholic. But I really wouldn’t dream of trying to incorporate any moral teaching into my weird fiction. I am not a proselytiser. What attracts me most about the Church is its mystical dimension. I also believe that we exist in a fallen universe and that human nature is immutable. But I don’t see myself as a Gnostic. The Gnostics were not as glamorous as we have been led to believe; in fact most of their conclusions would not have been out of place in the current Methodist Church.

“I don’t really see my writings in the supernatural horror genre as representative of my religious beliefs, or of the totality of my experiences. I see them as almost exactly the reverse, as if these fragments of a sub-created literary universe must, inevitably, be wilfully nightmarish in order to succeed aesthetically.”

MC: Have you ever felt any kind of internal conflict between your Catholic religiosity and the supreme cosmic and metaphysical grimness that characterizes your fiction? Any thoughts or doubts about whether and how these can coexist? Any sense of internal dividedness? In my own experiences, I’ve found that I do experience an internal spiritual-philosophical conflict stemming from the interplay between my “real” outlook and my “fictional” one — note that the quotation marks are significant there — and that this leads me to gravitate naturally toward a position that’s very much akin to the attitude of equipoise favored by the ancient Greek skeptics. Except mine’s considerably darker than their relaxed attitude of intellectual repose. But I can’t help wondering whether the fundamentals, the philosophical bedrock, of your Roman Catholicism, as opposed to the Zen-flavored outlook of my generalized nondualism, might make it more difficult for you to reconcile your religiosity with the deep cosmic darkness that characterizes all weird fiction, including your own.

MS: I don’t really see my writings in the supernatural horror genre as representative of my religious beliefs, or of the totality of my experiences. I see them as almost exactly the reverse, as if these fragments of a sub-created literary universe must, inevitably, be wilfully nightmarish in order to succeed aesthetically. However, this attitude only applies to my work within this particular genre. When it comes to the fantasy novel I’m currently writing, whose provisional title is Chthonopolis, my perspective is much wider, more personal and concerned with redemption (without, I hope, straying into allegory).

MC: In addition to Machen and Lovecraft, who do you identify as some of the other greats, both past and present, in the field of supernatural horror fiction?

MS: I think my list of great weird fiction authors of the past would include all the usual suspects: Machen, Lovecraft, Borges, Poe, Blackwood, M.R. James, Fritz Leiber, and so on.

The greatest living author of weird fiction is Thomas Ligotti. A reasonably close second would be T.E.D. Klein. I have a great deal of admiration for Ramsey Campbell’s more cosmic-oriented works, such as “The Franklyn Paragraphs,” “Cold Print” and “The Voice of the Beach.”I wish we could see more from him in this vein.

When it comes to other present day writers, I have a great fondness for those weird fiction authors who are every bit as deserving of attention as their more commercially successful literary cousins but who haven’t necessarily reached that wider audience. I mean the likes of Reggie Oliver, Eddy C. Bertin, Ron Weighell, Quentin S. Crisp, Terry Lamsley, Mark Valentine, Joel Lane, Paul Pinn and some fellow named Matt Cardin. There are quite a few up and coming horror writers that are well worth my mentioning in this connection too: Richard Gavin, Stuart Young and Simon Strantzas, for example. I also very much appreciate the relentlessly bleak prose nightmares conjured up by the likes of John B. Ford and Eddie M. Angerhuber.

MC: That’s an interesting list, although I’m not so sure about the inclusion of that Cardin fellow. The general slant of your choices leads me to wonder whether you hold any strong theoretical views about supernatural horror in general—its nature, boundaries, meaning, and function—and whether and how these views play into your fiction. I’m also interested in your thoughts about cinematic horror, since I know you’ve recently done a bit of writing about horror films.

MS: I’m not sure that there’s much I could add to the vast body of horror film criticism. Whereas in theory I should only applaud the vision of works like “Night of the Living Dead,” “Carnival of Souls,” “Nosferatu”, “Dead of Night” and so on, in practice I enjoy trashy and schlock horror movies (especially 70’s portmanteaus) as much as the next zombie.

As for horror fiction, I’m very conscious of writing primarily in the tradition of cosmic horror. Unfortunately, it’s a dying form. Horror fiction is now an almost entirely anthropocentric genre. Listening to the views of modern horror writers, one would be right in thinking that their prime objective is to try and raise the literary standards in an admittedly over-commercialised range of genres. This is laudable. But we also find that this objective often incorporates the assumption that serious literature should act as a vehicle for socio-political commentary.

My response to this is that it doesn’t matter if a writer believes he or she utilises the living dead as a symbol of the dispossessed proletariat, hairy succubae as a sign of misogyny or carnivorous fungi as representative of global capitalism. Art proceeds from Mystery. What matters is the treatment of the theme, the skill in the telling of the tale, and how successfully the atmosphere surrounding the phenomena is evoked. If these criteria are met, as judged by a common emotional response, then the story is effective.

What we need is more quality fiction on the horror, SF and fantasy shelves of booksellers, and not an absorption into the mainstream. I think it better for those of us writing supernatural horror fiction to take pride in what sets us apart, and what elements make our tradition distinctive and unique.

MC: What do you see as some of these distinctive elements?

MS: Well, an obvious one is the view that the human paradigm can be contextualised. This school of thinking came to produce what was known as “cosmic horror,” in which man was seen in relation to infinity and eternity, and his own self-importance diminished. Unfortunately, this approach has been overshadowed by the demand for an emphasis on characterisation and “psychological fidelity.”

Horror authors ought not to be valued simply as social commentators or political theorists who hold views with which we agree, and who appear merely to have condescended to write horror fiction rather than mainstream fiction. There is no need for us to make excuses for our art, insinuating that the best supernatural horror fiction simply utilises metaphors in order to deal with more pressing societal or psychological issues. Even when an accomplished author attempts to write horror fiction on this basis, the outcome is often that the work transcends whatever socio-political message has been imposed upon it, and still savours of the ineffable.

After all, what could be more vital than the awful mystery of our own existence and the enigma of this spectral cosmos we all inhabit? It has been an integral part of man’s experience since one of the first of our ape-like ancestors stood on two legs, turned its gaze upward to the night sky and felt a holy dread. Supernatural horror fiction remains a valid artistic end in itself, a response to being alive.

Jorge Luis Borges once made the claim, and it’s one that I think is credible, that philosophy is just another branch of fantastic literature. A combination of mere words cannot contain all the truth about the universe. This might also be the case with politics. The post-Holocaust Necronomicon is Hitler’s Mein Kampf. And Karl Marx in his monumental Das Kapital often seemed to draw upon the model of the sensational gothic novel for his effects. Politics can proceed from aesthetics, rather than the other way around.

“Supernatural horror fiction remains a valid artistic end in itself, a response to being alive.”

MC: I find such comparisons fascinating.In a slight twist on this type of thing, I’d like to ask you what may seem a rather odd question: As a sensitive reader with a wide-ranging literary knowledge, can you think of any particular literary theory, or novelistic worldview, or political or philosophical system, that in your opinion reflects the felt experience of our present 21st century life? Or to put it much more concisely, if we were living inside a book or an author’s mind, given the state of the world as you observe it right now, what book or which author do you think it would it be?

MS: If it’s literary prophets one’s seeking, then I suppose, from the West’s perspective, that Borges, Philip K. Dick or J.G. Ballard fit the bill.

MC: Those are some fairly dystopian sounding choices, if I’m reading your meaning correctly. So what’s the social environment like in England right now? Over here in America, I’m gripped by the distinct impression that life is spinning out of control as it dances to the tune of economic globalization, the West’s (or maybe just America and England’s) “war on terror,” fears about oil depletion and other energy issues, a collapsing real estate bubble, fears about catastrophic climate change, and more. Does this resonate with anything that you’re observing or experiencing across the pond, either in your own personal life or in life at large?

MS: I think the debate here in the UK is every bit as polarised as it is in the USA. It seems to me that people arrive at their conclusions in very complex political or philosophical matters not by assimilating all the relevant information about the subject but rather by filtering out those aspects that are not in accord with a pre-theorised worldview. These worldviews are simply narrative structures. We invest value in these narratives to the point that, when they come under threat from an outside source, we react with dialectics or violence. The more we have psychologically invested in the integrity of these narrative structures, the greater the adverse response is likely to be when they are challenged. This can even extend to entire societies. Post-Enlightenment thinkers tend to consider reason as being autonomous. I see reason as more of an aspect, just like emotion or perception, subject to the total human paradigm.

MC: Returning to the subject of your writing, can you offer a window into your creative process? How does a Mark Samuels story first take root? What do you think, feel, intuit, experience, that lets you know the muse is speaking, or a new shoot is sprouting, or the engine is running (pick your metaphor)?

MS: It usually begins with an image that I can’t shake off. If it plays around in my head for long enough I start to imagine a narrative forming around it. I spend a lot of time thinking about a tale before I muster the courage to write anything. I have to be excited about the prospect of bringing the whole concept into existence. Otherwise, it just doesn’t work.

MC: Can you share an example of one or more of those starting images? Say, with regards to “The White Hands” (one of my favorites) or any other stories of your choice?

MS: Well, “The White Hands” had a literary rather than real-life genesis from an image. My friend, Joel Lane, recently remarked to me that the story reminded him a little of Eddy C. Bertin’s tale “Like Two White Spiders”. This, in fact, is a story that I first read many years ago, perhaps as far back as 1983. So that image of disembodied hands seems to have been buried in my mind until around ten years later when I wrote the first draft of what was to become “The White Hands.” So, in that instance, the transformation of an isolated image into full-blown weird tale proved an unusually lengthy process. I suspect that, in turn, Bertin’s own story might derive from William Fryer Harvey’s earlier “The Beast with Five Fingers” and that one, in turn, was probably influenced by Guy De Maupassant’s “The Hand.”

MC: During your several years of authorial silence in the mid- and late 1990s, did these types of images stop coming to you? Or was it simply that you had lost the will and/or motivation to carry through on them?

MS: Not really. I have a notebook full of such images but, at that time, had no confidence in my ability to incorporate them within the wider fictional context.

MC: Many writers have talked about their little authorial rituals, such as specific times, places, equipment, and circumstances that need to be in place before they can write. Do you have anything like this?

MS: Generally, I write in the evenings. This is the price of holding down a day-job. But I don’t have any rituals of which I’m aware. I suppose I prefer to write with some appropriate mood-music playing in the background. That’s about all.

MC: What kind of music?

MS: I can’t concentrate on lyrics while I’m writing prose; in fact I find singing conflictive to the task in hand, so most of the stuff tends to be instrumental. Film soundtracks by composers such as Philip Glass and Clint Mansell work well for me.

MC: You mentioned your day job. How well does this interface with your writer’s life?

MS: It scarcely interfaces with it at all. They’re two almost entirely separate aspects. There might be some incidental details that creep into my writing; for example, the tower described in “Mannequins in Aspects of Terror” is directly visible from the window in the office where I work, and my duties entail some knowledge of copyright as in “The Impasse.” I can’t think of any other correlations right now.

“Post-Enlightenment thinkers tend to consider reason as being autonomous. I see reason as more of an aspect, just like emotion or perception, subject to the total human paradigm.”

MC: How has married life been interacting with your writing? I ask because I know you’ve only been married a relatively short time, and during my own nearly 14 years of marriage I’ve had great difficulty finding a workable balance between family life and creative endeavors.It seems I’m always short-changing one side or the other.

MS: Married life hasn’t impacted on my writing at all. My wife, Adriana Diaz-Enciso, is actually better known as a writer in her native Mexico than I could hope to be in my native England. We both recognise the importance of time and space for our respective literary endeavours and support one another absolutely.

MC: That sounds like a wonderfully liberating arrangement for the both of you.Given such freedom and support, what’s your ultimate intention with your writing endeavors?Do you harbor any authorial ambitions that drive you onward?Are there any ultimate goals you’d like to achieve?

MS: I’m not aware of having any such aims. Things like awards, for example, which seem important to many writers, are just a bizarre form of popularity contest, and of real significance only to publishers. Most author interviewees would, I fear, at this point, be playing to the gallery by claiming that they have a long and potentially highly successful commercial career as an author in prospect. I can’t say that about myself. I have no idea what will happen in the future.

MC: What can you tell us about your current writing projects and forthcoming publications?

MS: My next collection of short stories is to be published by Midnight House. Its provisional title is Glyphotech and Other Macabre Processes. I wouldn’t expect this to see print until 2008 or 2009. I’m in the middle of writing Cthonopolis, the full-length dark fantasy novel I mentioned earlier, and am around 45,000 words into it. But this is not, overall, a work of supernatural horror fiction, although it contains this element. I have no idea whether or not it will see print.

MC: For readers who are new to your work, where would you suggest they start? What story or book do you think best represents you as the author you want to be, or which of them are you the most satisfied with?

MS: 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.

MC: Mark, I want to thank you again for your time. I’m sure we’ll be hearing a lot more from you and about in the future.

MS: Thanks for saying that. I’ll do my best to try and stick around for a while longer yet.

Interview by Matt Cardin


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