Monsters (Book)


monsters-paulkaneWritten by Paul Kane

Published by The Alchemy Press

What we have here is an anthology of reprints from between 1999 and 2011, complemented by a new tale from 2015. Its distinctive and decorative front cover art provided by maestro of horror Clive Barker and the introduction by writer/actor Nicholas Vince (Hellraiser, Nightbreed) will doubtless secure further loyalty from Hellraiser fans, myself included.

Paul Kane delights again with Monsters, a somewhat eclectic collection of short stories spanning several decades. The bookends, “Nightlife” (2002) and “Lifetime” (2015), are made complete by the companion centerpiece tale “Half-Life” (2011). These make up a trilogy of shorts dubbed the “Life Cycle” and are interspersed throughout the book while cleverly (I think) representing the passing of time for a group of likely lads out on the town, who then mature and, ultimately, age.

Or do they? This unholy trinity could be read as three separate standalone tales but read even better as a novella. They would be a great candidate for a movie and remind me of something you’d get if you bred The Lost Boys with the Simon Pegg movie The World’s End (2013) but without the humor. All with a Paul Kane twist of course.

“Dig (This)” reminded me of an old M.R. James story, albeit modernized, and was very creepy. Another visual tale, it would make for an interesting if short movie, providing relief from the ubiquitous and tedious zombie flicks that pervade our media spheres.

“The Disease” is disquieting, almost depressing, and has a distinctive British flavour a la Brian Lumley or Ramsey Campbell.

“Sabbat” is a warning to the wise concerning witches and is presented in the form of a letter to Mr. Kane, providing an almost Lovecraftian feel to the collection.

“A Chaos Demon Is for Life” is possibly my favorite tale and makes me think you’d get this result if you took another of Clive Barker’s Books of Blood tales, “The Yattering and Jack,” mixed it with Gremlins, and then added a children’s Christmas “Doctor Who” episode to the mix. A must-read for Christmas, in my opinion.

“St. August’s Flame” is offered by Kane as a Barker-esque tale. Like Barker’s own The Hellbound Heart (inspiration for the movie Hellraiser), this is a quest for a metaphorical Pandora’s box, if you like. It was surprisingly my least favorite tale in the collection, which given I’m a huge fan of Clive Barker’s work means I must read it again. Maybe I sensed the incompleteness of “St August’s Flame” and felt it could have been a much slower, more drawn out burn. Or maybe it reflected the age of the piece, being one of the earliest in the book.

“Keeper of the Light” reminded me of some futuristic Borderland tale by William Hope Hodgson. Very sombre and bleak. If you could imagine the movie Pitch Black but set here on Earth, it might give you the same sense of claustrophobic fear of the darkness that the lighthouse keeper in Kane’s tale must have felt.

What can I say about the darkly humorous ”Dracula in Love” apart from it seemed like a scene from the old family classic Carry on Screaming and shows off Paul Kane’s comedic side very clearly.

The hardest part about writing, sometimes, is the fear of reading other people’s work in case it influences your own story too much, or worse still, it mirrors one you’re currently writing, or even worse, surpasses one you’ve written. You don’t want to use someone else’s words, either, or to be accused of it. Yesterday, I wrote a flash fiction vignette for charity book The Refuge Collection, called “Loose Tongues.” It’s about someone with Tourette’s syndrome. The next morning I began to read Paul Kane’s “Speaking in Tongues,” which has a similar theme. I was both intrigued and mortified to think I might be accused of stealing his idea. Or was this just synchronicity at play, I wondered? Perhaps there was some global consciousness or common literary antecedent. I’d already begun to note how much Paul’s story reflects some of the notions in one of Clive Barker’s short story from The Books of Blood, “The Body Politic,” which has just been relaunched as part of The Body Book. And so the ideas go around, of course, percolating and picking up different flavours and exotic aromas in their travels. We’re all inspired by the writing of, and aspire to write like, our favourite writers. In this case, both Paul and I are self-acclaimed literary disciples of Mr. Barker. So, there is no fear of copying here, no plagiarism.

“Speaking in Tongues,” by the way, at only 6 pages and slightly longer than this review, is as excellent a read as Clive’s story and fortunately is very different to my own. My fears have been completely assuaged that they are not similar. At all. There’s a voice in my head that keeps telling me so, a tongue wagging, telling me to “fucking get over it and move the fuck on.

A shorter review for “Star-Pool” then.  Archetypal Lovecraft-ian without resorting to the derivative. No spoilers. Beautiful.

“Rag and Bone” is very visceral in both senses. Another potential horror flick, if you like so-called torture porn dungeon-scene serial killer movies. I don’t usually bother, unless on the recommendation of friends who know how I like my meat to be cooked (I’m a vegetarian). So reading a torture scene was a novel experience for me, quite literally. Continuing with the tale revealed a richer plot and back story that I found intriguing, in the same way that Barker’s Midnight Meat Train ultimately revealed a mythos among the meat, a method to the madness. But the meat on the “Rag and Bone” tale is even more tender, with more of it to savour. Less of the hunt and kill, more of the story of what comes after. So enjoy the call of “Rag and bone!” And for those like me who are old enough to remember, don’t settle for a balloon on a stick!

I watched the screenplay adaptation of “The Weeping Woman” that came with the book first and was distracted when I came to read the tale itself. Key plot points had changed, and these had been greatly diminished I felt by their theatrical manifestation. The story became my least favorite in the collection, but perhaps my appreciation of it had been spoiled by watching the screenplay first?

In starkest contrast, I was instantly drawn to the main character in “Pay the Piper,” and I kept turning the pages to find out more. This is the kind of hook that keeps me reading short stories, and Kane nailed it. If “The Walking Dead” had a character like the Piper in it, I might actually have been able to watch more than the first few episodes! With obvious echoes of The Pied Piper of Hamlyn, the tale is also reminiscent of an MR James ghost story, melded with the best and most horrific of the zombie tales of old, the shuffling, relentless and pervasive resurrections that make the Biblical Revelations look tame. Bring me more of these please, Mr. Kane. And don’t stop playing the pipes!

It’s All Over… is the penultimate tale, and it has elements so commonplace to many horror stories that a plot summary would read like a sequence of verbs. But it’s how well they’re strung together that matters. A writer. Love. Conflict. Abandonment. A conference. Vanity. Flattery. Alcohol. Temptation. Resentment. Jealousy. Opportunity. Betrayal. Suicide. A dead lover. Guilt. Addiction. Doubt. Resentment. Lust. Sex. Accusations. Anger. A lonely house. A ghost. Revenge or regret? Treachery?  Paul Kane stitched these words together with a likable story before closing the book with the finale of the Life Cycle and a retrospective concerning the writing of the tales themselves.

In summary, I’ve tried to avoid giving away too many spoilers (enough of those are meted out by the monsters within!), but I hope this review has shone some light on Kane’s versatility and the range of voices he’s been able to use in creating this eclectic collection… from introspective self-analysis to humour, supernatural and paranormal, sadness and disillusion to excitement and vibrancy.

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User Rating 3.1 (10 votes)


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