Brain Surgery and Spiders… on the Moon! Announcing Crypt of the Moon Spider by Nathan Ballingrud

Crypt of the Moon Spider is a dark and dreamy fantasy about greed, corruption, and selfhood. Together, they weave the stickiest of webs.

Tordotcom Publishing is delighted to announce that Ellen Datlow has acquired a standalone dark fantasy novella from Shirley Jackson Award-winning author Nathan Ballingrud titled Crypt of the Moon Spider. The deal for World English rights was brokered by Renee Zuckerbrot at MMQ. The novella is scheduled for late summer 2024.

Years ago, in a cave beneath the dense forests and streams on the surface of the moon, a gargantuan spider once lived. Its silk granted its first worshippers immense faculties of power and awe.

It’s now 1923 and Veronica Brinkley is touching down on the moon for her intake at the Barrowfield Home for Treatment of the Melancholy. A renowned facility, Dr. Barrington Cull’s invasive and highly successful treatments have been lauded by many. And they’re so simple! All it takes is a little spider silk in the amygdala, maybe a strand or two in the pre-frontal cortex, and perhaps an inch in the hippocampus for near evisceration of those troublesome thoughts and ideas.

But trouble lurks in many a mind at this facility and although the spider’s been dead for years, its denizens are not. Someone or something is up to no good, and Veronica just might be the cause.

From author Nathan Ballingrud:

Depression hums in the background of my life like an evil radiation. My whole family has wrestled with it for generations. When my daughter first started showing signs when she was young, I started thinking about what it was like before there was medication for it, before it was even acknowledged as a real condition. I thought about how women suffering from depression would sometimes be told they were insane and committed to asylums – a profound, hideous extreme of gaslighting. This called to mind gothic fiction, which in turn called to mind the cover art of mid-20th century gothic romances, and from there I thought of the gorgeous pulp magazine cover art of the 1920s and 30s … before I knew it, Crypt of the Moon Spider was beginning to take shape. This story took a long time to get from conception to completion, but once the pieces were all in place it pretty much guided itself home. I’m thrilled it’s found a home with Tordotdom, a publisher which has done extraordinary work in returning the novella to its rightful place of honor in the literary tradition.

From editor Ellen Datlow:

I’ve been enjoying Nathan’s short stories since 2003, when I published “You Go Where It Takes You” on the Syfy Channel’s website. In addition to being gorgeously written, his work is filled with memorable characters and always reaches into the heart of the matter. From a melancholy short story of domestic horror to a brash, vicious and visceral novella about pirates, Nathan takes chances, writing in different styles and tones and on different themes.

I was hooked from the very first pages Crypt of the Moon Spider introducing Veronica Brinkley, a young woman who is being committed by her husband to The Barrowfield Home for Treatment of the Melancholy—on the Moon. I’ve been working with Nathan on his short fiction for more than fifteen years and am excited to be accompanying him on his journey into new territory, combining pulp science fiction tropes, alternate history, and gothic horror.

Nathan Ballingrud is the author of The Strange, Wounds: Six Stories from the Border of Hell, and North American Lake Monsters, which won the Shirley Jackson Award. He has been shortlisted for the World Fantasy, British Fantasy, and Bram Stoker Awards. His stories have been adapted into the Hulu series Monsterland. He lives in Asheville, NC.


So, first things first, where did the idea for this book come from?

I was in the middle of writing a novel called The Strange, which is about living on Mars in the 1930s, so my mind was already turning over ideas about an alternate, pulp-fueled early 20th century solar system. I was also pouring over old Weird Tales covers, captivated by the garish art and the glorious, goofy titles. One night the hulking presence of Barrowfield Home rising over a web-shrouded lunar forest floated through my mind. I knew it was an asylum, I knew there was a mad scientist, and I knew the story would be a gothic. The rest soon fell into place. 

You write about terrifying things with such tremendous beauty that it makes those things almost easier to swallow, in a way. Is this a style you’ve cultivated over the years or does this dreamlike tone come naturally?

Cultivation comes from time and effort, so certainly there’s an element of that, but I think that approach to the horrific comes naturally. Beauty can be found in abundance within dark fantasy and horror. It’s banal to say that we’re surrounded by death, entropy, and collapse, but it’s true. Nevertheless there is so much beauty to be found in the world, even in those very elements. I look for it and I try to evoke it because I have to, if I’m going to live a meaningful life.  

Did a lot of research go into this book?

Not much. I’m a terrible researcher, trusting in imagination and narrative propulsion to see me through. I’d rather trust in dream than be shackled by facts. Because so much of it is about the stigmatization of depression in women, I did read Nellie Bly’s Ten Days in the Madhouse, her 1887 account of going undercover in a mental health asylum, but even that ended up having little direct bearing on the story. It is, however, a fascinating piece of journalism, and I recommend it to everyone with any curiosity on the subject.

What’s your relationship with spiders? Stephen King has mentioned in interviews that he’s afraid of spiders, and that’s why he writes them into his books. Can the same be said of you?

I love spiders. I think they’re incredible, fascinating, beautiful creatures. But even though I’m not afraid of them, it’s clear that they were constructed in a factory of horrors. That’s probably why I love them so much. 

Why the Moon?

Because it’s strange and beautiful. It’s a cultural lodestone. The moon has long been tied to the notion of madness, visionaries, transformation, transcendence. The Moon is romantic, wild, almost literally crackling with energy. For me, thinking about the Moon is like sticking my finger into a light socket. It’s the night sun, it illuminates everything I love in the world and in dreams. 

Crypt employs themes usually found in pulp horror, but spins them into something new and unique. What books or authors do you feel this novella is in conversation with?

I don’t think it’s in conversation with particular books or authors (at least, not consciously) as much as it is with traditions. It is very much steeped in gothic traditions, especially as manifested in the cover art of 20th century gothic romances: women holding lanterns or candelabras descending dark stairs, or looking over their shoulders as they flee a sinister house. It’s also in conversation with pulp stories from the old magazines. Not so much the stories themselves, honestly, as much as my perception of the stories as I read their titles and look at the illustrations. Crypt of the Moon Spider is more about how those ideas and images make me feel than the actual stories themselves. It’s a love song to an aesthetic, a product of the dream weather those images and ideas produce in my mind. 

Your first novel just came out—The Strange—and I couldn’t help but notice that it features Mars as a central setting. So now that you’ve got the Moon and Mars under your belt, where are we going next?

I’m not done with the Moon. I’m working on a novel, currently called Moon Country, which is not set on the Moon but features a father telling creepy bedtime stories about the Moon to his son. I’m also writing two more novellas to follow up Crypt, all sharing the same setting and some characters: one takes place in orbit around Ganymede, one of Jupiter’s moons, and the last takes place on a mausoleum ship on its way out of the solar system as it passes Charon, Pluto’s moon. I think of them as my lunar gothic trilogy. I’m very excited about them. 


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