Still Warmth In These Bones

Scared Stiff is one of a few short story anthologies in Ramsey Campbell’s back catalogue to have a rather special status. As with most authors who produce a large number of short stories over a long career, most of Campbell’s collections are basically state-of-the-Campbell benchmarks, a grab-bag of the crop of material he’s churned out since his last significant collection along with, perhaps, an older item or two which hasn’t been previously collected and maybe a brand-new story if you’re lucky. That’s no criticism of them – when your ratio of hits to misses is as good as Campbell any random collection of stories is going to be pretty decent – but it does mean they tend to blend into each other.

Then there’s other collections which stand out for other reasons. There’s The Inhabitant of the Lake, for instance, which stands out simply because it was his debut collection and because it was so overwhelmingly dominated by the stylistic influence of H.P. Lovecraft. His second collection, Demons By Daylight, is perhaps even more significant; written largely as a piece, it found Campbell going the extra distance to find a distinct voice of his own.

Scared Stiff is significant not because of its impact on Campbell’s career but because it’s a thematic collection. Originally issued in 1987 before emerging in an expanded edition (with some stories from the 1990s and 2000s) in 2001, as its subtitle notes it’s all about sex and death, with a major emphasis on sexuality. These stories are explicit but not in a gratuitous fashion, because one of the big things Campbell does here is make sexuality central to the story, rather than lazily tossing in a sex scene to spice up an otherwise slack portion of a story.

All the sexuality and consent-related content warnings apply to this discussion, by the way; if you don’t want to read about rape and various other violations of consent at all in a horror story, no matter how thoughtfully the subjects are handled, this really isn’t going to be your bag and that’s fine.

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One Last Bite of the Cherry Pie

Twin Peaks co-creator Mark Frost’s tie-in novel, The Secret History of Twin Peaks, had the conceit that it was an in-character mass of documents that FBI Agent Tamara Preston was looking over and annotating after their discovery at a crime scene, thus providing a wealth of new information about the history of the town from before its founding right up to the end of the original series, recontextualising material, rehabilitating some of the dross from the limp end of series two, and acting as a delicious appetiser for the weird banquet that was Season 3. Like I said in my review of the Secret History, it was basically a Twin Peaks take on House of Leaves.

If the Secret History was an appetiser, The Final Dossier is a last cup of coffee and an after-dinner mint. Substantially shorter than The Secret History, it takes a similar premise but has a much more straightforward presentation, being a coda to season 3 assembled once again by Tamara Preston, detailing her various discoveries about what’s been going on with the town and its residents since the end of series 2. However, rather than being a lovingly compiled set of deliciously fabricated documents with Tamara’s commentary, it simply provides Agent Preston’s direct summary of her findings. (The sole exception is an autopsy report on a major character from the original series who was conspicuous by his absence from season 3.)

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The Downward Spiral

Kirie Goshima is an ordinary high school girl in the coastal town of Kurōzu-cho. She’s dating Shuichi Saito, an old friend who used to go to school with her in the town but ended up attending an out-of-town high school. One day, as Shuichi returns home for a visit, Kirie becomes aware that Shuichi’s dad has become obsessed with the symbol of the spiral. This apparently harmless aesthetic obsession runs out of control until Mr. Saito dies in a gruesome and nigh-impossible fashion; as his ashes spiral into the sky from the town crematorium, Mrs. Saito succumbs to a phobia of spirals just as acute as her late husband’s obsession, with equally grim consequences.

Shuichi, perhaps because of the perspective he’s been able to gain from being out of town, believes that there’s more to all this than mere mental aberration. He thinks that Kurōzu-cho as a whole is cursed by spirals – of both a physical and metaphorical nature – and whilst Kirie is at first sceptical, a string of increasingly overt and outlandish incidents makes this all too apparent. And whilst at first the incidents all seem to be isolated cases, they are all connected – like how every point on a spiral is connected as part of a single line. As the spiral corruption extends from the individual to the institutional and structural level, storms lash the town and it becomes isolated from the outside world, as bit by bit it descends into a helical hell…

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A Renegade Scientologist’s Creation Myth

The Gods of Eden is nothing less than an attempt to write a history of the world from its creation to the present day, and detailing how since prehistory a secret Brotherhood has manipulated society. Generally-accepted history is merely a scam, a cover story designed to obscure the Brotherhood’s role and to advance its agenda; when you peel back the curtain and look at the real story, which Bramley is happy to share with us, it becomes evident that the march of history is shoving us in a very dark direction indeed, as the Brotherhood speeds up their plan to establish a New World Order in which a world government exerting mass mind control will attempt to spiritually deaden us to prevent us attaining collective enlightenment.

The cruellest irony is that the Brotherhood, originally called the Brotherhood of the Snake, used to be benign – having been set up by one of the aliens who created humanity back in ancient days (whose deeds are recorded in Sumerian myth) in order to slip the truth out to us regular humans. Over time, however, the Brotherhood was infiltrated and corrupted by the more malevolent aliens, who realised that it made a very convenient basis for a secret government of Earth which they could use to pull our strings indirectly, and who used it to establish more or less all mainstream religions, either by fabricating them wholesale or by corrupting them and steering them away from their founders’ original intent. Only by waking up to the Machiavellian manipulation which keeps us warring constantly against each other can we face down these aliens, which the book refers to as the Custodians, and free ourselves from their manipulation.

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JFK Was a Diamond Geezer

JFK is the eternal president of the conspiracy theory community. Whilst conspiracy theories had been rife in American culture before his assassination – much of the entire previous decade had involved much fretting about the global Communist menace on the part of citizens and senators alike – the Kennedy assassination is perhaps the first such event which, thanks in part to the mass media age, almost instantaneously spawned its own subculture that could be described as a 9/11-style truth movement. You didn’t have World War II Truthers, after all… Though I guess the early Christians could be regarded as Crucifixion Truthers.

One of the heretical early gospels of JFK assassination theories is the famed Gemstone File. Supposedly a mass of letters written by the mysterious Bruce Roberts, the Gemstone File came to the public consciousness largely through Mae Brussell’s radio show, Roberts having given Brussell copies of the letters because he thought the conspiracy he’d stumbled on was responsible for killing one of Brussell’s daughters in a car accident.

Brussell was the queen of the conspiracy theorists back in the 1970s, offering a left-wing point of view which seemed all too plausible in the days of COINTELPRO and Watergate. After Brussell’s death, her voluminous papers ended up divided among various parties, and the original Gemstone File dropped out of sight – but as we shall see, a paraphrased summary of its contents circulated at first as mass-photocopied samizdat and eventually as a text file on the early Internet.

Come 1992 and the Gemstone File would become the subject of a book by Jim Keith – maverick conspiracy researcher and all round libertarian counter-culture dude. (He strikes me as the sort of libertarian less prone to Pinochet-inspired helicopter memes and who’s more keen on legalising weed.) Keith himself would become the focus of various conspiracy theories after he died in 1999 after complications arising from knee surgery, Keith having injured himself falling off a stage at Burning Man. (I told you he was a counter-culture dude.) Before that happened, though, he was an ex-Scientologist who, after dropping out of the Church, created the underground zine Dharma Combat, and for a space of time in the 1990s produced some of the most way-out-there conspiracy theory books you could hope for. The Gemstone File was his first book, largely a collection of key Gemstone-related texts and commentary thereon by various hands.

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New Blog!

You might have seen a new link in the blogroll now to Nothin’ Means Nothin!, my new pro wrestling-themed blog.

I’ve put pro wrestling stuff here before, and will likely do again, but that’s going to be for stuff aimed at a broader audience than just wrestling fans; Nothin’ Means Nothin’ is more about me, as one more irrelevant wrestling fan on the Internet, talking from a fan’s perspective and writing in a way that primarily addresses other fans (though I’ll try to keep it newbie-friendly enough to not drive away the curious).

The Exact Moment That I Stopped Bothering With Trying To Hateread Necroscope For Your Entertainment

Far and away the most significant work in Brian Lumley’s bibliography is his epic Necroscope series. The title refers to the main character, one Harry Keogh, who has a knack for conversing with the dead. Thanks to this talent he is recruited into E-Branch, a top secret, underfunded UK government spy agency specialising in what it punningly calls ESPionage – intelligence work utilising psychic powers. In the first novel, it becomes apparent that the Soviets have their own Necroscope – the cruel Boris Dragosani, who extracts secrets from the dead through torture and degradation in contrast to Harry’s vastly kinder methods. Dragosani, for his part, is being drawn into the web of Baron Ferenczy – one of the Wamphyri, a type of vampire unique to this series. The Wamphyri are powerful psychics and resemble less a person than a disease which infects people, the quasi-fungal substance of their offspring infiltrating the human body and expressing itself, when wanted, as bizarre transformations. (This is pretty much what the Tzimisce clan in Vampire: the Masquerade were a riff on.)

It all culminates in a big showdown in which Keogh and Dragosani must fight it out using the powers both have gathered over time – Dragosani through his new Wamphyri nature, Keogh through various secrets the dead have taught him over the years. Subsequent books involve return engagements between Keogh and the Wamphyri and related forces (including the Cthulhu Mythos – a certain Baron Ferenczy having played a significant role in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward), Keogh becoming more and more boringly overpowered until at the end of the fifth novel Lumley had to find a loophole to write him out of the cosmos. (The sequel series takes place on the Wamphyri home planet and is basically a very sanguinary take on sword and sorcery. It is imaginatively entitled Vampire World.)

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