Monday, December 15, 2014

The Claus Effect is an E-Book

Big news: this week, my first novel (co-written with Karl Schroeder), The Claus Effect is available for the first time in e-book form. It's a new version from ChiZine Publications, with a fantastic new cover (see below), and a never-before-seen epilogue.  You can purchase and download it here.



The Claus Effect is an old book—to the extent, I guess, that Karl and I are old writers. The novel, about a terrible, awful Santa Claus, the end of the Cold War and the dawn of Wal-Mart, was published in the late-1990s, written in the mid-1990s, and based on a short story, “The Toy Mill,” that was published at the very beginning of our careers in the early '90s. At the time, we thought we were being very clever and arch, satirizing the old Rankin-Bass Christmas specials: Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer, Frosty The Snow-Man, and of course the definitive Kris Kringle bio-pic Santa Claus is Comin' To Town.

As far as we were concerned, we were answering those shows with some necessary darkness: Santa Claus is villainous; Krampus is a good-guy; Christmas is a Wal-Mart.

Hey, we were punks: too old to have spent recent time with a Rankin-Bass special as kids, not old enough to have watched them again with kids--and thereby understand what a wonderfully dark ride those stories were. Rankin-Bass served up some proper nightmares: the Island of Misfit Toys and the Abominable Snow Monster that vex  Rudolph, the Winter Warlock and the Orphan Asylum that young Kringle must battle and escape from respectively...

What did we know from dark?

Still, by that standard, looking back on the book, I think we did okay: Santa Claus, or The Claus as we called him, was serious fiend material:
"His hair was whiter than his flesh. Thick whorls of ice embedded his beard in icicles like a January cataract. More separated the thick hairs of his eyebrows into individual daggers, pushed back by the yuletide winds of the stratosphere so that they swept down to meet at the bridge of his narrow, blue-tinged nose. Wisps of pale hair scattered from beneath his red cap, over his small pink ears. His eyes were tiny too, pink-rimmed and black at their iris; and looking, searching the eaves troughs, the darkened windows, the empty playground three streets down, questing hungrily and never blinking once in an endless quest for girls and boys."

Hard to say which one of us wrote that bit—it was a long time ago, and if there was a proper, orderly way to collaborate on Christmas-themed fantasy novels, nobody told us what it was. Since then, we've both gone on to write very different stuff: Karl, gravitating toward diamond-hard science fiction, and me, falling toward squishy-soft horror.

The Claus Effect is neither of those things, and looking over it now as its about to be released in e-book form, it's not even what we thought it was at the time: that oh-so-clever skewering and darkening of Rankin-Bass children's animations. It may be a little darker, a lot more violent, and quite a bit saucier...but whether we knew it at the time or not, The Claus Effect is a love letter to those stories that generations of us grew up on. 

The book has, of course, been around for a long time, and is still available in hard copy from Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy (the inheritor of Tesseract Books' list), right here. A few years back, I put together some promotional material (including sample chapters) to pitch the dead-tree version, right here.

Enjoy! It is if not a perfect, then at least a fairly obvious Christmas present for bloody-minded boys and girls everywhere. 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Them's Knife-Fighting Words

In less than two weeks now, Knife Fight and Other Struggles is coming out, on October 28--a week later than the originally-planned October 21 drop date, and a day after I spend the evening writing non-fiction about the results of the 2014 Toronto mayoral race. One way or another, it will mark the end of the Rob Ford era at Toronto City Hall, so it is fitting that the title story of the collection, "Knife Fight," should appear immediately thereafter. Originally published in the anthology Masked Mosaic: Canadian Super Stories by Claude LaLumiere and Camile Alexa, it is no secret that the story of a mayor who is "expert" with a knife is my ode to the municipal toxicity that infused the last four years at city hall, which I've spent a career covering.  The Ford era took me away from late-night council meetings and budget breakfasts, and into courtrooms and police investigations. Exciting times and more than a bit exhilarating for a journalist: dark times for a city.

"Knife Fight" is a bit of a cri-de-couer from the middle of that.

This is a preamble, to a little preview of the collection by way of two interpretations of that story--one from me, during a partial reading recorded by Geek Inked at Can Con earlier this month in Ottawa, with an awkward stumble at the beginning, right here.

Stumble-free and complete, is this performance of "Knife Fight" at the excellent podcast Pseudopod, which went live just this morning. Pseudopod has over the past few years produced two other audio performances of stories in Knife Fight, both of them fantastic: "Looker," and "The Radejastians."

And in the "burying-the-lede" department: also just in is a really glowing review of Knife Fight and Other Struggles over at Publishers Weekly. It is in fact more than glowing: it is a STARRED review, which is a big deal for me. PW has given me one of those besides this one, oddly enough for my other (and first) story collection Monstrous Affections.

Here's the nut of it:

"When it comes to this book, only two things are certain; the stories never travel where you expect, and David Nickle is a monumental talent."

And here's the link to the whole thing.


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Drakeela Must Die

A week ago now, I was in Ottawa along with Madeline Ashby, to read at the ChiSeries Ottawa September reading. Silver Stag Entertainment was also there, and made a very good video recording of my reading of "Drakeela Must Die", one of the thirteen stories in the new collection, Knife Fight and Other Struggles. 
 
I would list all the trigger warnings that might apply to the story, but really, the opening paragraph lays it all out:
"The drakeela hid in the cloakroom during recess. It didn’t like fresh air, and of course the sun was poison to its kind: they all knew that, even Lucy who wasn’t allowed to watch the Sunday Monster Movie and had to be told what a drakeela was. At 10:30 a.m. the bell rang, and Mrs. Shelby said line up everyone. Mrs. Shelby looked up and down the line and wiggled her fingers as though she were counting. But she never counted the drakeela as it crab-crawled between the fluorescents over the art tables and twanged its thick dark fingernails on the sheet-metal ductwork that hung over the make-believe kitchen."



Sunday, September 21, 2014

Knife Fight's First Cut

Knife Fight and Other Struggles is coming out in a month, but the first review has hit the streets already, in the venerable Canadian magazine of arts and progressive politics, This Magazine. And I am delighted, and as always relieved, to report that reviewer Braydon Beaulieu dug it.

He likes the stories, the juxtaposition, doesn't seem to have a problem with the rather wide array of genres I've put together in this book (which is a happy relief) and singles out the book's "hauntedness" and a common thread of loss.

He concludes:

"It is perhaps this mood of loss that ties Knife Fight together more than its characters' encounters with the supernatural or Nickle's playful voice. This book does not only describe hauntings. It is, itself, a haunting."

The review as far as I know is not available online. I have, however, taken a scanner to it. Here it is:
Knife Fight and Other Struggles in the September/October Issue of This Magazine


Monday, September 1, 2014

Some Knife Fight Training

It's only a bit more than a month now before my second story collection, Knife Fight and Other Struggles is set loose upon the world.  The book has some never-before-seen stories, and a couple of fairly old stories, and quite a few stories that have seen print over the past few years. Two of those ones have also been adapted for podcast, by the radio geniuses at Pseudopod.

While we wait for the rest, I thought I'd share those two here: The Radejastians, and Looker.


Monday, August 25, 2014

"Don't mention the war." - Some Thoughts on H.P. Lovecraft and Race

When I went down to New Orleans last year to visit the World Horror Convention, I had just a few things on my to-do list. I wanted to see the town, sample its cuisine and take in some jazz--promote The 'Geisters, the book that I had coming out that year, as much as was graceful--and also, talk a bit about race.

Specifically, I wanted to talk about race as it pertained to H.P. Lovecraft's writings.

It seemed like the thing to do. The organizers of World Horror had found me a panel to sit on, moderated by Lovecraftian scholar, critic and anthologist S.T. Joshi, called Lovecraft's Eternal Fascination. My first novel, Eutopia: A Novel of Terrible Optimism, is the only pseudo-Lovecraftian book I've written, and one of my aims with that book was to deal with Lovecraftian xenophobia from a post-Martin-Luther-K
ing perspective--to tie Lovecraft's horrible eugenic notions together with the genuine and just as horrible eugenic fallacies that were making the rounds in early 20th century America.  As Eternal Fascinations went, I thought race might rate.

When the panel started it became clear: not so much. I brought up the topic early and affably in the panel, and just a little later but also affably, Mr. Joshi shut it down with a familiar canard: Lovecraft's racism and xenophobia must be viewed in the context of Lovecraft's considerably less-enlightened time. I recall gently objecting that Lovecraft's views may have been more mainstream in the 1920s and 1930s yet were still not universal--but, not wanting to be seen as hijacking the panel, letting things go.

A few months later, I found myself on another Lovecraftian panel in San Antonio at Worldcon--this one about Lovecraft's international appeal. There, in the midst of an excellent and exhaustive power point presentation about Lovecraft's portability to Japan, I tried again to talk a bit about race. One of my co-panelists straight-facedly claimed she had seen no hints of racism in the Lovecraft that she'd read and wasn't sure what I was talking about. I cited a few obvious examples--the proto-Tea-Party anti-immigration text (one can hardly call it subtext) of "The Horror at Red Hook," the horrific take on miscegenation at the heart of "The Shadow Over Innsmouth," and a particular poem with a title that cannot be spoken, typed or spray-painted on a garage door in polite company--but didn't push it much further.* Instead I spent most of the rest of that panel sitting back and taking in all those lovely slides of Lovecraftian manga panels and illustrations for translated stories.

Because really, it fast became clear that last year at least, not very many people at Lovecraftian panels wanted to talk about race as it pertained to Lovecraftian fiction.

Is it any different this year?  The petition going around to have Gahan Wilson's bust of H.P. Lovecraft replaced with one of Octavia Butler on the World Fantasy Award is certainly generating considerable talk. Mr. Joshi, somewhat less affably than I remember him a year ago, made a Modest Proposal for an alternative to the statue on his blog -- to which the petition's author Daniel José Older rather definitively replied.**

But I'd submit this talk about race in the fantasy-writing and -reading community, while a vitally important talk to have, is not one of race in Lovecraft's fiction. And as long as Lovecraft remains such a foundational influence in so much fantasy, horror and especially weird fiction, that's a talk that, as uncomfortable as it is, is also very necessary.

I'd make the case that Lovecraft's fiction--and Lovecraftian horror--depends on the xenophobia that was endemic to Lovecraft's work to the point that without it, many of his stories lose their unique and uniquely profound effect.  "The Horror in Red Hook" is a direct channelling of Lovecraft's loathing of newcomers to New York City; the real horror of "The Call of Cthulhu" is not the octopus-headed demigod that emerges out of his underwater city to kill all the people, but the people themselves--all either eugenically unfit denizens of the bayou or "primitive" island cultures whose religious practises amount to a kind of proactive nihilism.  The manifestation of Nyarlathotep in the eponymous story is that of a black man bearing trinkets, who seduces the good white folk of America into authoring their own demise.

There are other things going on in Lovecraft too: there's the bestiary/pantheon of fantastically alien gods and monsters; that overheated prose that veers so easily between the sublime and the leaden; his fearful, bookish characters. But those are characteristics, aesthetics; not fundamentals. They are not the agenda.

The agenda in Lovecraft's fiction is clear, and woven deep into the bones of his stories.

This is an uncomfortable thing to face, for practitioners of Lovecraftian tradition of weird fiction. For most of us who write and read the stuff, the attraction is toward the aesthetic. And as borne out by Lovecraft's early disciples, that aesthetic wasn't always quite enough.

British author Ramsey Campbell was a very early disciple, coming across Lovecraft stories as a 10-year-old 14 year-old boy, in a sweet shop in the 1950s.  Little Ramsey grew up to be one of the preeminent authors of horror fiction of the 20th century, and you won't find me calling him out on his craft in later works. But have a look at "The Room in the Castle," the story chosen to open his PS Publishing collection The Inhabitant of the Lake & Other Unwelcome Tenants.

It tells the story of Perry, a fellow who after a visit to the forbidden books section of the British Museum, gathers sufficient information to determine there is something awful going on in a little English village: a demonic creature described in its full Lovecraftian glory, that first menaced the countryside but was eventually imprisioned in a cellar, where its master fed it on unwary travellers. And then, Perry heads off to check it out. Why? Even Campbell doesn't know, and expresses his frustration in the opening lines:

"Is there some lurking remnant of the elder world in each of us which draws us toward the beings which survive from other eons? Surely there must be such a remnant in me, for there can be no sane or wholesome reason why I should have strayed that day to the old, legend-infected ruin on the hill, nor can any commonplace reason be deduced for my finding the secret underground room there, and still less for opening the door of horror which I discovered."
Indeed, through the text of the story no proper motivation for Perry emerges. There is nothing about Perry beyond a schoolboyish curiosity to put him in contact with the eventually fabulously-described creature in the cellar room. There is not a hint of subtext, other than a general admonition against curiosity where terrible monsters are concerned.

Would Campbell's story have been better if he'd shot it through with the old-time Lovecraftian racism? No--partly because although I don't know Campbell personally, I've seen no evidence that he harbours those views himself, so the insertion would have been dishonest--and in larger part because, as I should probably emphasize, I don't think that added racism makes for a better story. But Campbell's collection-opening short story has a hole in it where Lovecraft might have stuffed a big wad of bigoted neuroses--a hole that the mythos-dazzled young author hadn't felt it necessary to fill.

The Cthulhu Mythos continues to dazzle more contemporary writers. And why wouldn't it? The creatures Lovecraft described and hinted at are magnificent things, and the secret-history-of-the-world is an excellent sandbox for thoughful writers, particularly ones who're willing to fill the holes in it with something else.

Charles Stross has good fun with Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos in his Laundry books, without appearing to draw on anxiety much deeper than a solid recollection of a bad time working I.T.  Where Stross blends espionage adventure with the Mythos, Laird Barron blends noirish elements with pseudo-Mythos tropes to explore themes that are nearer to Jim Thompson's brand of nihilism than Lovecraft's. Thomas Ligotti cheerily swaps out xenophobia for all-out misanthropy.

Some manage to keep closer to Lovecraft's more specific anxieties, without embracing Lovecraft's awful conclusions. Catalan author Albert Sanchez Pinol, in his 2002 novel Cold Skin,  delved into the same dank eugenic chambers as did "The Shadow Over Innsmouth"--dealing this time not with the progeny of a racially-mixed marriage, but with the inter-racial sexual politics between the potential parents, as his narrator-protagonist finds an uneasy erotic union with a female creature of a species very similar to  Lovecraft's amphibious Deep Ones.  It is, if you will, a xenophillic novel, with a dash of post-imperialist critique.

For me, the xenophobia angle remains the most interesting, and perhaps the most relevant. The legacy of racists like Lovecraft is still very much in play in contemporary society, from the Obama birthers to the Ferguson cops and most points between... and the discussion as to how to contain that legacy is far from over. In a perverse way, Lovecraft's retrograde views on race may be his most socially relevant contribution to 20th century weird literature... not as an advocate of his views, not by any means, but as an example of where we've been and what too many of us still share, an opportunity to critique those views through the lens of cosmic horror and alien gods.

It's a telling thing in our little community of weird fiction afficionados, that as much as we fetishize those immense and indestructible beasts and beings of the Cthulhu Mythos, the one monster that we cannot bring ourselves to face is the frail and fearful one who put it all together.


______________

* Those  interested in a more comprehensive accounting of Lovecraft's racist proclivities should check out Phenderson Djeli Clark's excellent survey of his writings right here. And (EDIT AUG. 27): As has been pointed out to me in the comment section of this blog, PDC's survey is not the only instance where discussion of Lovecraft's racism has come to the fore. Essays by Nicole Cushing,  Bruce Lord, Betsy Phillips and Zoe Quinn (who came up with this chilling online quiz comparing Lovecraft's words to those of Adolph Hitler) are some excellent online resources I've been able to come across immediately. I've also had Michel Houellebecq's critical work H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life recommended to me, although I've not had opportunity to read it yet. In a similar vein, I would welcome seeing other citations that I haven't been able to find myself, posted in the comment section.

** For the record, I think that Older's at least half right, and Lovecraft's bust shouldn't be gracing an award that honours creators of all kinds of fantasy from all over the world. Lovecraft's racism, and also the specificity of his sub-genre (the weird tale) implies at least an outdated hierarchy of people and theme, and ought to be discarded in favour of... something else, I'd say, rather than someone else. But that's for another blog post.


Sunday, July 6, 2014

Some more kindly Knife Fight words

As you'll have seen from the last post, I've been pulling on the coats of some writers whose work I admire to have a look at Knife Fight and Other Struggles, the new story collection out in October 2014. Laird Barron got back to me a little while back (see the last post) and some others weighed in shortly afterward. I am immensely grateful.

Jeffrey Ford, multiple-World-Fantasy-Award-Winning novelist and story writer, had this to say:

"David Nickle's Knife Fight and Other Struggles is a collection of 13 unique glimpses into the weird.  Dynamic imagination, masterful writing of both the every day and the nightmare, characters that breathe, and a dark sense of humor make this a keeper.  If you've not yet read Nickle's fiction, Knife Fight is a great place to start.  If you have, you've no doubt already bought this book."
Helen Marshall, author of the brilliant story collection Hair Side, Flesh Side, and the forthcoming collection Gifts For The One Who Comes After, offered up this:
"David Nickle is Canada's answer to Stephen King. His writing charms even as it slices like a blade between the ribs: sharp, subtle, and never less than devastating."
And Nathan Ballingrud, who knocked everybody on their collective ass last year with his amazing collection North American Lake Monsters, wrote this about Knife Fight:
"David Nickle is my favorite kind of writer. His stories are dark, wildly imaginative, and deeply compassionate -- even when they're laced with righteous anger. He's at the top of his game in this new book of short stories, and that's about as good as it gets."