Way back when, I was a book reviewer for New York Newsday, and because I was writing novels with a supernatural bent, I was often assigned the more far-out and speculative books that came their way. I remember getting a galley of Clive Barker’s Weaveworld, and being asked to give it a fairly lengthy review.
Now I was already well acquainted with Barker’s previous work—the short stories in the Books of Blood, the Faustian novel The Damnation Game—and had been bowled over by their originality and imagination. They had really opened doors in my own mind—letting me see that all sorts of things, most notably a strongly erotic element, could also be permitted in the kind of fiction I was writing. I didn’t have to restrict myself to musty Gothic conventions, or hidebound effects. Barker’s books and stories were fresh, and contemporary, and scary as hell.
But when I read the précis of Weaveworld, a book in which a whole race of what were called Seerkind had embedded themselves and their world in a sort of magic carpet, in order to escape the terrible Scourge, I thought he might finally have gone too far. Tiny people? Hidden away in a rug? On an old lady’s floor in Liverpool? There’s a lot I don’t remember about the book today (it scares me how much I can forget, even when it comes to things that I’ve loved—does that happen to you?) but what I do remember is being transported into this fabulously-rendered world where Barker made everything—even the struggles of microscopic creatures in a Persian carpet—real and convincing and absorbing.
The fate of the Seerkind became vitally important, and even though the book was quite long, even by Barker’s standards, the pages flew by. I was not only enjoying the story, but feeling the immense relief that any reviewer experiences—and this is often not understood—when he or she encounters a book that can be whole-heartedly endorsed and recommended. People seem to think that being snarky is what a reviewer most enjoys—and maybe that’s because the cutting lines are the most memorable—but there’s little joy in that, trust me. In fact, I wish I could take back many a cutting remark I made when I was young and thought that being snide or sarcastic was the best way to make my mark.
The older I get, and the more books I write, the more I feel for the authors of the books I read, and occasionally still review. None of us sets out to write a bad or unsuccessful book; we are all doing our damnedest to bring to fruition some crazy story that’s been banging around in our head. Sometimes it comes out well, sometimes badly, but it’s never ever quite what we thought it was going to be. Some kind of transmutation takes place, and I am surprised not only by what gets in, but by what gets left out. The book I just published, The Einstein Prophecy, all began with an image I had in my head, based in part on something I once read in an old M.R. James story (and if you haven’t read James, treat yourself!), but guess what? That image, the scene that inspired me, never did make it into the final book. Somewhere it got lost along the way. It was the seed from which the whole thing grew, but you’d never know it now.
God knows what the seeds are from which Barker’s works spring, but they must be very rare and hard to find. I only hope he keeps on finding them.
Robert Masello is an award-winning journalist, television writer (Charmed, Sliders, Poltergeist: the Legacy) and the author of many historical novels of supernatural suspense, including Blood and Ice, The Medusa Amulet, The Romanov Cross, and most recently, The Einstein Prophecy, which hit the #1 spot in the Amazon Kindle store. He lives and works in Los Angeles.