Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Genre Coughs up a Good One.

For most of my late youth and almost all of my adult life I have enjoyed reading and writing horror fiction. However, while I have discovered many quality works of horror in the short form, and many skillful practitioners of horror fiction of shorter length, there have been very few novels within that genre that actually achieved what I suspect their authors set out to do.

So, about ten years ago I found myself reading less and less horror, either in the short story form or in the novel format. With the contraction of the magazine markets I really couldn't locate much in the way of short horror fiction, and almost all of the novels I was picking up just left me cold.

And that sent me to looking over my vast library of horror fiction and judging it. I own quite a lot of horror anthologies and collections and I attempted to reread material that had held my interest in earlier times.

On resurrecting this stuff, I found it better left in its pulpy graves. No new authors have appeared recently that have impressed me, at all. I grab horror novels in the shops and read the first chapter or two and…well, just put them back on the shelves.

Today, I walked into a local booksuperstore and walked down the aisles looking for something to buy. I read a lot of non-fiction, so buying something there wasn't going to be a problem. I read a lot of mainstream fiction, so picking out something along those lines that would interest me wasn't going to be much of a stretch. Even science-fiction has produced so many good authors and interesting ideas in the past couple of decades that I can almost always find a good sf novel of recent vintage that won't leave me regretting my purchase.

But I wanted to find a good horror novel, by Crom. Something with teeth. Something with wit. Something with style.

And I actually located a new book by probably the only horror writer who's walked up out of the horror ghetto in the past thirty years who seems to know how to write a good book:

Joe Lansdale.

Unlike too many writers today, the man has style. You don't have to see the name on the cover to know that you're reading a Joe Lansdale book (or short story). And, as I am out of the genre fiction news loop, I didn't realize that he had a new horror novel out there—one LOST ECHOES. I read the jacket blurb and the bare bones plot synopsis and while it didn't scream of innovation, it did grab my interest.

And then I opened it up and the book just fell open and my eyes nailed this line:

As his father said, "If it cost a nickel to shit, we'd have to throw up."

I don't know if Lansdale coined that himself, or if he heard it from one of the east Texas folk with whom he was raised. But whichever, it was a line I'd only be likely to see used (and used right) in a Joe Lansdale novel.

So I bought the book (the last copy on the shelf), and I'll have it read as soon as I get back from bushwhacking to the summit of a NC mile-high peak. Horror fiction seems to have come through with at least one book worth reading today. I reckon there's hope for that steaming, rotten, backwater, closed-up, decrepit, wandering-in-circles, dying genre yet.

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