On Context, Clones, and the Unknown: Tade Thompson’s The Murders of Molly Southbourne

Let’s talk about clones and narratives. As anyone who’s read or watched a story dealing with clones can attest, introducing cloning into a narrative allows storytellers to explore a host of themes: nature versus nurture, the notion of what makes a person unique, the question of what happens when human rights and rampant corporatism collide. In a myriad number of books, stories, televisions shows, and films, cloning has been used to illustrate a wide array of themes and questions—ultimately getting to some genuinely primal ones. What makes us human? What does having the power to replicate a person imply for humanity? And what would it be like to discover that you yourself are not unique?

These themes have been explored in a host of acclaimed books, including a few classics of the genre. Kate Wilhelm’s award-winning 1976 novel Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang is one example. In its opening ...

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Internationalism, Surrealism, Futurism: The Novels of Deji Bryce Olokotun

We all have expectations when begin reading a story. There are boundaries within which we expect the narrative to unfold, and certain ground rules that seem like they should be in place. This doesn’t extend to the point of tropes: it’s more a case of where we can envision a story going. Narrative swerves, such as a thrilling narrative seemingly set in medieval France that turns itself into a space opera, or a drawing-room mystery that abruptly becomes a torrid paranormal romance, can stun readers when done well, but bewilder them if they’re not handled with the deftest of touches.

All of which brings us to the novels of Deji Bryce Olokotun, Nigerians in Space and its followup, After the Flare. Both offer a host of narrative perks: Olokotun writes with a genuinely international scope, and he’s as adept at charting out backroom espionage as he is bolder action setpieces ...

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Tackling the Real Horror of Lovecraft Head-on

Invoking the legacy of H.P. Lovecraft in fiction is 2017 is no easy task. On the one hand, you have his visionary take on horror, which remains influential to a host of writers; on the other, you have his loathsome racism that’s frequently inseparable from the stories he’s telling. A handful of nods to the Cthulhu Mythos in a story or novel can sometimes feel less like a warm homage and more of an oversight regarding the more noxious aspects of his body of work.

Some of the work that’s followed in Lovecraft’s footsteps hits many of the same terrifying beats, but opts for a very different sort of worldbuilding: expansive cosmic horror, but of a variety that isn’t beholden to a structure of racist or classist beliefs or spurious theories of racial or ethnic superiority. (I wrote about this in greater detail a few years ago.) Others ...

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The Challenge of Modern Fables: Ben Loory’s Erudite Surrealism

Timelessness is a difficult thing. There are certain forms of storytelling, like myths and legends or fables and fairy tales, that have endured up through the present day. Sometimes these read like works that could have endured for centuries: though some of his other works have embraced metafiction and experimental forms, Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology is a more straightforward retelling of centuries-old narratives. Others take a different approach: the tales in Joanna Walsh’s Grow a Pair echo the archetypal characters and surreal transformations of fairy tale classics, but add a more contemporary view of gender and sexuality.

The best reworkings of older stories or older methods of storytelling help reinvigorate the archaic, or give readers a new way of seeing the contemporary world. Go the wrong way, though, and you can end up with something that seems tonally dissonant, an attempt to bridge eras that collapses under the weight of ...

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Brian Allen Carr’s Sip and the (Literal) Future of the Acid Western

Raise a glass to the acid western. It’s a subgenre that derives much of its power from alternately subverting tropes and undermining them altogether. If you’ve seen Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man, then you know the drill: a familiar setting—sparse population, lawlessness, a potential for violence—with more than a little concern for altered states and the grotesque. The recent resurgence of interest in Alejandro Jodorowsky’s work suggests the acid Western is gaining ground; novels like Colin Winnette’s hallucinatory Haints Stay and Rudy Wurlitzer’s The Drop Edge of Yonder tap into a similar sense of mood and imagery. The acid Western aesthetic can be spotted further afield as well: in Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s Preacher and its television series adaption, and in Ben Wheatley’s film A Field in England.

There’s a whole lot of acid Western in the DNA of Brian Allen Carr’s novel Sip. Admittedly, this isn’t the first ...

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Remade Bodies and Surreal Spaces: Where to Start With the Work of Jeff VanderMeer

Some writers straddle genres, but Jeff VanderMeer’s fiction seems bound and determined to encompass as many styles and genres as it possibly can. Looking for metafictional body horror? Perhaps a detective novel set against the wars of an empire? Or maybe a paranoid thriller situated in the midst of a disintegrating landscape is more your speed. VanderMeer’s fiction brings together unlikely elements, smashes them together, and revives them with a frenetic urgency.

Delving into his fiction only showcases part of VanderMeer’s literary contributions. In recent years, he’s contributed introductions to new editions of books by the likes of Thomas Ligotti and Kirsten Bakis. Working in tandem with his wife, acclaimed editor Ann VanderMeer, he’s also involved in the publishing side of things: Cheeky Frawg Books has, most recently, released a massive collection of work by the surreal and dynamic Finnish writer Leena Krohn.

Keeping in mind, then, that this overview ...

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Five Tales in Which History Meets Horror

Using a historical setting for a tale of monsters or terror can be a reliable way to increase suspense and provide a counterpoint for the horrors described therein. Whether it’s Edgar Allan Poe summoning up a bygone age–and its accompanying menaces–in “The Masque of the Red Death” or, more recently, John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake setting their graphic novel Kros: Hallowed Ground against the backdrop of the Battle of Gettysburg, it’s the kind of narrative decision that can accentuate certain themes and ratchet up the tension even further. But a specific point in history can also summon up a number of more mundane terrors over the course of a narrative: totalitarian governments, horrific attitudes about race and gender, and unrestrained abuses coming from the powerful all come to mind. Sometimes reading a story set in the past can haunt us for reasons other than literal monsters that lurk on the ...
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