5 Books About Folk Horror

It’s nearly impossible for me to choose five favorite horror novels. I simply can’t name a favorite (except in one case, as you’ll see below). But I can narrow it down a little and compartmentalize my preferences. In that way, even though I’m certain I’m forgetting something, the slight won’t seem too terribly egregious.

I grew up in rural North Carolina, amidst tobacco fields and scuppernong grape orchards, and in the Missouri Ozarks, amidst scorpions and tarantula herds. Living in those areas, I developed an appreciation for the folktales and ghost stories that run rampant among country folk. That upbringing has wormed its way into many of my own stories. With books like Harrow County, from Dark Horse Comics, I’m able to revisit some of my old haunts, if you’ll pardon the pun.

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Stories Within Stories Within Nightmares: Dale Bailey’s In the Night Wood

There’s a point midway through Dale Bailey’s novel In the Night Wood wherein protagonist Charles Hayden ventures out to the forest around the English manor where he and his wife Erin have relocated following a tragedy on the other side of the Atlantic. In his exploration, Charles discovers a part of the forest that seems somewhat different from the rest: some of that can be chalked up to a sense of fundamental wrongness, and some of that can be be ascribed to a difference in temperature. But the sense of two places bordering one another, similar but with fundamentally different properties underlying their very nature, is a convenient metaphor for this novel as well, which is both a story about literary obsession and a story whose twists and turns may well lure in literary obsessives.

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“I don’t like bullies” — Captain America: The First Avenger

In 1940, the United States hadn’t yet entered the war after the War to End All Wars, but two comics creators didn’t like what they were seeing. Two young Jewish men, who were born Hymie Simon and Jacob Kurtzberg, but who changed their names to Joe Simon and Jack Kirby to better assimilate, saw what the Axis powers were doing to Europe in general and to their fellow Jews in particular, and were angry and frightened.

And so, in December 1940, Captain America #1 debuted. Dressed in a costume with a flag motif and carrying a red-white-and-blue shield, the cover of the first issue had Cap punching Adolf Hitler in the face. The character was very polarizing—Simon and Kirby got several death threats interspersed with the avalanche of fan mail, as there were plenty of people in this country who wanted to stay the hell out of the fighting overseas—but ultimately proved hugely popular, especially after the bombing of Pearl Harbor a year later put the U.S. in the war.

After an awful movie serial in 1944, two terrible TV movies in 1979, and a 1990 film that never got (or deserved) a theatrical release, Captain America finally got a proper feature film seventy years after Pearl Harbor.

[“What is it?” “Steak.” “What is in it?” “Cow.”]

Series: 4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Great Superhero Movie Rewatch

(Semi-)Plausible Strategies for Moving a Whole Damn Planet

Has this ever happened to you? You’re living on a perfectly good planet in orbit around a perfectly acceptable star—and then suddenly, the neighbourhood goes to crap and you have to move. For a lot of people, this means marching onto space arks.

Recapitulating Noah on a cosmic scale is such a pain, though. All that packing. All that choosing who to take and who to leave behind. And no matter how carefully you plan things, it always seems to come down to a race between launch day and doomsday.

Why not, therefore, just take the whole darned planet with you?

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The Power of Language: The Black Khan by Ausma Zehanat Khan

The One granted the world the gift of the Claim, holy words used to summon magic. Arian is one of those who can wield it: the daughter of linguists raised in a scriptorium, her entire life has been dedicated to the Claim. In fact, Arian has been one of the Companions of Hira—a group of women who study and use the Claim—since she was a child. But across Khorasan, a man known as the One-Eyed Prophet has led the rising Talisman group in a campaign to dominate civilization, subjugating the women of Khorasan and destroying libraries and knowledge in the process. The Companions seek to overthrow the Talisman—but they need a text called the Bloodprint first.

Spoilers for The Bloodprint, book one of the Khorasan Archives, follow!

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City of Broken Magic Sweepstakes!

We want to send you a galley copy of Mirah Bolender’s City of Broken Magic, available November 20th from Tor Books!

Five hundred years ago, magi created a weapon they couldn’t control. An infestation that ate magic—and anything else it came into contact with. Enemies and allies were equally filling.

Only an elite team of non-magical humans, known as sweepers, can defuse and dispose of infestations before they spread. Most die before they finish training.

Laura, a new team member, has stayed alive longer than most. Now, she’s the last—and only—sweeper standing between the city and a massive infestation.

Comment in the post to enter!

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. A purchase does not improve your chances of winning. Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States and D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec). To enter, comment on this post beginning at 3:30 PM Eastern Time (ET) on October 18th. Sweepstakes ends at 12:00 PM ET on October 22nd. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Tor.com, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.

Delicate Magics: Sylvia Townsend Warner’s Kingdoms of Elfin

At the entrance to the town they put on visibility. It made them no warmer, and impaired their self-esteem.

In the last decade of her life, author Sylvia Townsend Warner (1893-1978) told an interviewer that “I want to write about something different.”

That different turned out to be fairy tales. Warner had played with themes of magic and enchantment in her work before, and always had an interest in folklore, but for this project, she tried something a bit different: interconnected stories of other and fairy. Most were published in The New Yorker from 1972-1975, and collected in the last book printed in Warner’s lifetime: Kingdoms of Elfin (1976). Regrettably out of print for decades, the collection is now being reissued by Handheld Press, with a foreward by Greer Gilman, an introduction by Ingrid Hotz-Davies, and extensive footnotes by Kate McDonald.

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Neukom Institute Literary Arts Award Opens Submissions for Second Year Honoring Speculative Fiction

After a successful inaugural year, The Neukom Institute for Computational Science at Dartmouth College has announced the 2019 Neukom Institute Literary Arts Awards. Established in 2017, the award honors speculative fiction works in book form (debuts and otherwise) as well as plays. It also recognizes the relationship between science and the arts, the latter which the award website describes as “[a]cting as gadfly for the good, provocateur and satirist when the sciences overreach, but also far-seeing prophets of scientific potential.”

The inaugural winners were Juan Martinez for Best Worst American (in the debut category), Lavie Tidhar’s Central Station and Corinne Duyvis’ On the Edge of Gone (in the open book category), and Jessica Andrewartha’s play Choices People Make.

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Five Books About Heroes Who Shouldn’t Babysit Your Kitten

Who doesn’t like kittens? Kittens are what cats used to be before the irony of a two-legged universe got to them, making them the moody judgmental purring balls of fur they are today. Kittens are fun. Kittens are daring. Kittens are little evil feline ninjas with razor teeth and spikey claws. Kittens wake up every morning and treat the world like it’s their own personal frat house and the air is spiked with catnip. I love kittens. I also love me righteous protagonists in books and comics. So, I was wondering the other day—I’d trust these folks to save the world, but would I trust them to babysit a kitten?

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Series: Five Books About…

Haunted by the Past: Lila Bowen’s Treason of Hawks

At the end of Malice of Crows, Rhett experiences a loss so devastating, he doesn’t think anything could ever be worse. Treason of Hawks proves him wrong time and time again. In fact, “worse” is an understatement. Rhett goes through hell physically, psychologically, romantically, emotionally.

The fourth and final book in Lila Bowen’s excellent Shadow series picks up right where the third book left off, and never lets up on the tension. Wicked Ranger Haskell and his band of brutes are harrying Rhett’s trail as a gang of chupacabras taunt his motley crew. Meanwhile, an unknown fiend is picking off the people from Rhett’s past, leaving them dry, desiccated husks. And on top of all this, supernatural beasties from all across Durango are making their way to Rhett’s camp at Inès’ mission. Something is drawing them to the Shadow, and whatever it is, the Shadow knows not everyone will make it out alive. All he wants is a quiet life of cattle ranching and romancing Sam, but what Rhett wants and what the Shadow demands are two separate things. The fight of his life is coming … and Rhett isn’t ready.

[“You’re the Shadow! People need you!”]

A Good Horror Story Needs to Be Sincere

I watch a lot of horror movies. However many you’re thinking right now, I regret to inform you that you have woefully underestimated the number of horror movies that I have watched in my lifetime. I watch a lot of horror movies. My earliest cinematic memories involve horror movies—Alien when I was three years old, sitting on my uncle’s lap in the living room of our old apartment; The Blob after a midnight trip to the emergency vet to have a cattail removed from my cat’s eye; Critters in my grandmother’s living room, elbows buried in the plush beige carpet, dreaming of marrying the handsome red-haired boy in the lead role. So many horror movies. The only form of media that has arguably had more of an influence on me than the horror movie is the superhero comic book (which is a whole different kettle of worms).

The standards of horror have changed with time, of course. The things we’re afraid of now and the things we were afraid of fifty years ago are not the same, and neither are the avatars we choose to face those fears. We’ve gone from jut-jawed heroes to final girls to clever kids to slackers who somehow stumbled into the wrong movie, and when it’s been successful, it’s been incredible, and when it’s failed, we haven’t even needed to talk about it, because everyone knows. But there’s one ingredient to a really good horror movie that has never changed—that I don’t think ever will change—that I think we need to think about a little harder.

Sincerity.

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Dragons and Scholars, and the Stories of My Heart

I grew up with dragons and scholars: the rồng, the dragons of my mother’s and grandmother’s tales, old and wise spirits that lived beneath the rivers and seas who brought rain and floods to bless the fields and the harvest. Rồng are a meld of animals: they have the antlers of a deer, the mane of a lion, the body of a snake, though they also have short, stubby legs.

They can be born from eggs, but the legend I grew up with was that of the Dragon’s Gate, which is a waterfall at the top of a legendary mountain. Carps can swim upstream against the current, but they have to be strong and brave to leap over that final waterfall, and those who do transform into a dragon: the dragon’s scales are meant to recall their origin from the fish.

[In the fairytales or fantasy I consumed, I seldom found these…]

On the Origins of Modern Biology and the Fantastic: Part 7 — Robert A. Heinlein and DNA Replication

“Acting per se, like all art, is a process of abstracting, of retaining only significant detail. But in impersonation any detail can be significant.” – The Great Lorenzo, Double Star by Robert Heinlein

In Robert Anson Heinlein’s Double Star (1956), the down-on-his-luck actor “The Great Lorenzo” (aka Lawrence Smythe) is recruited by the frantic political team of John Bonaforte, a VIP in solar system politics who has been kidnapped to cause a diplomatic crisis. Hired to impersonate Bonaforte, over the course of a series of escalating complications, Smythe not only becomes sympathetic to Bonaforte’s politics, but inhabits his role so perfectly that when Bonaforte drops dead on election night, Smythe permanently becomes Bonaforte. It is a light-hearted comedy about topics near and dear to its author’s heart—politics, space travel, moralizing, and shaving the numbers off of old tropes (in this case the classic body double plot)—that won the third ever Hugo Award for Best Novel and is widely regarded to be Heinlein’s best novel.

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