Saturday, February 25, 2017

Arrival at the Thorn farm: a VOLK preview

Below: An excerpt from an early chapter of VOLK: A Novel of Radiant Abomination (due on bookshelves and from sellers in August 2017, from ChiZine Publications). This is a sequel to my 2011 novel, EUTOPIA: A Novel of Terrible Optimism. A lot of VOLK takes place in 1931, in a land far away from the northern Idaho mill town of Eliada and ten years after the events described in EUTOPIA. This bit, however, takes place immediately after those events.

* * *

Death preceded that raft by two days. Corpses, bloated and blue, their clothing slick tatters, floated down the Kootenai from Idaho and more than half went past the Thorn farm. By Lawrence Thorn’s firm order, not one of them got fished out. His boy Tom had spotted the first one—a lady, face down with her Sunday finery blooming around her like a swirl of pale algae. By the time Lawrence’d come to see, there were four others: two men, a negro woman, and a corpse that’d encountered such obstacles that it was no longer possible to tell. The river-bank smelled worse than a privy. 
“Go back to the house,” Lawrence ordered him when Tom showed him. “This isn’t wholesome.”

They weren’t wholesome, true enough. What Lawrence didn’t tell his boy was he feared they’d bring nothing but disease. Lawrence’s own father and mother had built the farm he owned in the very south of Alberta, and two seasons in, when he was but 12 years old, his mother had fallen ill and died. The dead folk in the river might’ve died like that and might yet carry the sickness.

So he sent the boy inside, found himself a stout branch, did the work of dislodging the corpses as they caught in the river’s edge—sending them onward down river to whatever fate might have in store for them. 
The raft came after the main flow of corpses had passed the farm. It was in the afternoon, a grey day threatening rain, and by happenstance, old Lawrence Thorn was at the river-bank with his branch—checking to see what horrors the river’d washed up, and moving them along as best he could. He was in a state of some melancholy by that point, and full wondering whether he was doing right or wrong. His own family might be protected from disease, sure enough, but what of the souls of those dead in the river, that Lawrence had let pass by without so much as a prayer for their passage to Heaven, never mind a Christian burial? What about the farm-steads down stream? The Blackfoot reserves, for that matter? If the bodies carried sickness, wasn’t he just sending it onward? What a terrible coward was old Lawrence Thorn.

It was in this temper, as the afternoon sun began to lower over the western mountains, that he spied the raft, with passengers on it, rounding the gentle bend in the river and appearing over some rocks.

The raft itself sat too low in the water, and listed badly to the right, where a tall young man stood trying to keep it steady with a branch about as big as Lawrence’s. A woman sat up at the opposite end of the vessel, cradling another woman’s head in her lap. In the middle, a negro sat clutching something in his arms, looking unwell indeed. 
A day prior, Lawrence might have been a mind to wave them all on, tell them to find somewhere else to put to ground. But—as he later explained to Jason, and Dr. Andrew Waggoner and Nurse Annie Rowe, over the sleeping form of Ruth Harper that evening—his aching conscience would no longer allow that choice.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Long Dream, and Caligari

Last year was a good year for short story publications, as I may have mentioned, and I've talked up a lot of them. I want to come back to one for a moment: "The Long Dream," which is a story that was solicited by Joe Pulver, a little over a year ago, for his dream anthology, as it were, The Madness of Dr. Caligari. 

It is a very specific sort of anthology: the stories are all inspired by a famous and influential piece of cinematic art history, the groundbreaking expressionist horror silent, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. That is to say, it is a step up in specificity to a lot of the other tribute anthologies that editors--Joe included--have put together, where the brush can be applied more broadly: writers take on stories inspired by the work of Robert Chambers, or H.P. Lovecraft, or Robert Aickman. Stories can range pretty far from the source in tribute, as long as they genuflect in the source's direction. 

But mining a single work of art: that's something else. It's more a work of illumination. The product will be of necessity bound tightly with the subject matter... producing at its best, a kind of arms-length collaboration, or at the least, a decent piece of fan fiction.

I have some experience with putting together such a project. In 2015, my wife and I assembled a collection of stories about James Bond--in particular, James Bond as Ian Fleming conceived him. You couldn't get in if you didn't have something to say about that flavour of James Bond. There was some wiggle room. But not much. This was delicate work.

The constraints are even tighter with Caligari, and for that, more deliciously challenging. Robert Weine's 1920 film is a surrealist masterpiece, set in a town of hallucinogenic distortion, its characters portrayed with expressionistic bombast. The 'monster,' the oracular somnambulist Cesare, is singular in purpose and affect. The villain, Caligari, is a marvellous creep of an alienist, but like Cesare, entirely singular.

But there was still wiggle room. Because while all the elements of this story are very singular--a zombie-like somnabulist, committing a series of proof-of-concept murders on behalf of the evil puppet-master Caligari--the context in which the film was made and released is vast. It is a film of and about Germany, fractured and broken after defeat in the First World War, and reanimating toward Nazism and the horrors of World War II. 

This is what interested me most: unsurprisingly, I guess, because I was working on the new novel, VOLK: A Novel of Radiant Abomination, which is set in very late Weimar-era Germany. I'd already done the research, and so in "The Long Dream," I applied some of it. 

The Madness of Dr. Caligari has more to recommend it than "The Long Dream." The Table of Contents that Joe assembled includes the work of an A-list of writers in horror and the Weird, kicking off with Ramsey Campbell and finishing up with Gemma Files. All of these writers dove deep into a dark, dreamy posthumous collaboration with Weine and Pulver--making a book that is in its way, just as singular a work. The publishers, Fedogan & Bremer, are just putting together a special hardcover edition signed by all of us, and I am told that's available for pre-order here. But hardcover, softcover, and e-book editions are also available, here.

That is indeed a plug. I recommend picking this one up. But to give you an idea of what's in store, here's the opening passage from "The Long Dream."

In psychoanalysis as in all matters of scientific inquiry, it is too often the case that our failures advance our knowledge better than our successes. We can only truly take a measure of light by the shadows which surround it. 
.It is with this maxim in mind, gentlemen, that we begin our discussion of the case of a most unusual and shall we say enlightening patient of ours.
We will call him Conrad.
Conrad was a tall well-formed youth of sixteen when he first came to us. He complained of symptoms indicating anxiety and depression: which is to say, he was prone to bouts of melancholy and extraordinary lassitude. He was a vegetarian and loathed the touch of meat, much as he would recoil from human contact. His speech indicated a stutter. 
Conrad was reading in Vienna, and was referred to us by one of his tutors-- an Austrian veteran who had consulted here for compulsive pederasty two years past and pronounced himself cured, prematurely in our regard. Because of that, we at first suspected that the tutor's sexual attentions were a root of Conrad's difficulties and our first meetings delving in this direction. 
Conrad claimed that his tutor had never touched him erotically, either with his consent or in an act of rape, and neither had he done to his tutor. Cesar described himself as a-sexual in orientation, expressing a loathing for the fluids and touch of man and woman alike. 
We inquired as to his relations with his father and this seemed to yield more. At first, Conrad claimed to never have met his father, who died in the fields when he was but an infant. But when we asked of his mother, Conrad said that his most vivid and earliest recollection of her was in a carriage, at the side of a tall and muscular gentleman with a bald head and a terrible scar across his jaw-line who waved to Conrad before they set out along a road through a thick wood. Was he his step-father? Or an uncle? Conrad was quiet for a moment and stammered that no: he was his father. 
“But you said your father died when you were young. 
“An infant,” he said. 
“This does not sound like the memories of an infant." 
“No,” said Conrad, and his stutter became terrible as he explained that he must have been five or six at youngest. 
“Was it a photograph you saw?” we inquired, and at that, he shook violently and held himself, drawing his feet from the floor and his knees to his chest. We administered a small dose of chloral hydrate and were able to calm Conrad sufficient that he might elucidate a response. 
It was not a photograph, gentlemen. It was, Conrad confessed, a dream. 
Although we did not apprehend it fully until many years later, the dream was to be the crux of Conrad's neurosis, and was to become the sole engine of our inquiry.

Monday, December 26, 2016

The 2016 awards eligibility post. Awkward...

Here is an awkward, year-end post of the sort you'll be seeing a lot of from author-types: the awards-eligible-stories-for-the-coming-year's-award-season post.

I don't normally do this. But while 2016 has been a terrible year for many things, it has been for me at least a pretty good year for short story publication. Even with two story sales falling through the cracks in publishing schedules, I've got five stories out this year that I'm proud to have my name on in all sorts of different ways. 

I've mentioned each of these stories in blog posts throughout the year. But as the year draws to a close, I'm rounding them up here for posterity if not prizes.

So here they are, for people looking for an excuse to nominate a David Nickle story or novelette, or just like clicking links: the eligible stories that I published in 2016, by category:

Short Story: The Caretakers at; The Parable of the Cylinder, at Canadian Notes & Queries; The Long Dream, in Joe Pulver's The Madness of Dr. Caligari.

Novelette: The Bicameral Twist, in Congress Magazine #1 (at once oh so not safe for work, and the only bona fide science fiction story by me  for 2016); Jules and Richard in Ellen Datlow's Children of Lovecraft. 

Friday, September 30, 2016

Volk: A Novel of Radiant Abomination

This one's been a long time coming, and it's going to be a little bit longer: the sequel to my 2011 novel EUTOPIA: A Novel of Terrible Optimism*. The book is due out  from ChiZine Publications a bit less than a year from now; the manuscript is not yet ready. But this week, my friend Erik Mohr delivered this cover--a to-my-eye spectacular iteration of the design that he supplied for the front of EUTOPIA.

By the time VOLK comes out, it will have been six years since that one, my first novel was published. For the people in EUTOPIA, it will have been a little longer: the story takes up 20 years later and a continent away, in France and Bavaria, in 1931.

I can't show off much of that now, but back in 2014 I did offer a taste, at the back of my story collection KNIFE FIGHT and Other Struggles: the prologue, "Orlok."

Here's a taste of the taste, of the opening, which takes place a little earlier than 1931:

Was he beautiful?” 
As though he had just registered his own nakedness at that instant, Gottlieb blinked and covered himself. 
Beautiful? No. He was compelling. Huge. Very muscular.” 
And you were sexually attracted to him." 
Of course I was.” 
The doctor allowed a dozen beats of the metronome before he spoke the obvious: “He was not like you.” 
Gottlieb was grasping at his penis. The doctor made no attempt to disguise his observation of that fact and noted with satisfaction that Gottlieb didn’t seem to care. He was as guileless as a babe then. Could a metronome tick triumphantly? The doctor let it, twice more. 
Describe to me the ways he was like you.” 
Gottlieb drew a deep breath and turned to the windows. They were open a crack to clear the air from the morning’s session, and the sweet smell of apple blossom wafted in. The doctor was used to the smell—this was a room in which he spent a great deal of time—but he noted it, along with the flaring of Gottlieb’s delicate nostrils. 
How was he like you?” asked the doctor again. 
I don’t really know,” said Gottlieb. “I didn’t know him for very long.” 
All right. He was German like me. And he was my age.” 
How old were you then?” 
The slightest frown. “Twenty-two.” 
The doctor looked again to the window. A conversation was drifting in along with the apple blossom scent. Two of the girls—Heidi and Anna? Yes. He recognized Anna’s lisp, and she and Heidi were inseparable. Ergo . . . 
They weren’t too distracting—they would barely register on the recording. If they lingered, or became silly, he would have to stand and shut the window, and risk disturbing Gottlieb. But the pair were on their way somewhere, and within four ticks of the metronome were gone. The doctor settled back. 
His hair was brown,” said Gottlieb. “Like mine too.” 
Three ticks. 
And he was homosexual,” said Gottlieb. 
Four more ticks now. 
But not like me.” 
Tell me how he is not like you.” 
As to his homosexuality?” 
If you like. Yes.” 
He is a masculine force. He looks at me and causes me to feel as if . . . as if I am not. Not masculine.” 
The doctor smiled. The last time Gottlieb had spoken of this moment, he’d immediately denied his homosexuality. They were progressing very well, at least as measured against their stated objective of delving into Gottlieb’s neurosis. The doctor started to reach for a pencil where his breast pocket would have been, but stopped himself and settled his hands back in his lap. He spoke quietly, calmly, in rhythm. Like a lullaby. “He is looking at you now,” he said.  
Tick. Tick. 
Gottlieb flushed and, as his hand came away from his penis, the doctor was pleased to see it was flushed too. 
In the beer hall, yes?” said the doctor. 
Gottlieb stretched his slender legs on the chaise longue, and his eyelids fluttered shut. A breeze from the window lifted the drapes, and raised gooseflesh as it passed. The air in the beer hall would not have been so fresh as this alpine breath. 
In the Bürgerbräukeller,” said Gottlieb. 
What does it smell like?” 
Many things. Food . . . there is a basket of schnitzel nearby. There is some smoke. I mean from tobacco. And the whole place stinks of old beer. Of course. Men have been drinking beer all day.” 
The doctor waited until it seemed as though Gottlieb might drift off to sleep, before prodding: 
Where is he?” 
Gottlieb smiled. “He is leaned against a pillar. By himself, across the hall from me. He is a very ugly man—his eyebrows meet in the middle of his forehead, so it seems he is scowling into his beer mug.” 
The doctor shifted in his chair. The towel he’d placed on the leather cushioning had moved, and in the warmth of the day the bare skin of his buttocks was sticking there. But he fought to contain his discomfort, his growing impatience. The metronome ticked seven times more before Gottlieb was ready to continue.
*Coincidentally, the second printing of EUTOPIA has just recently arrived. The first printing in 2011 was unusually large, because of an unusually large death-bed order from the late Borders chain, but it is finally all gone. It should be noted that this second run is NOT the illustrated version that I promised earlier this year. That will be coming out later, a little closer to VOLK's release.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Trump Man

This image came to me a couple months shy of a year ago, when the Republican Party primaries hadn't had much of a start. An anonymous fan with photoshop had whipped this up and posted it on Reddit, and another fan had sent it to me. How did I feel about it? What is the word for a feeling of flattered delight reaching a crescendo while throwing up in one's mouth? That.

After watching the first debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, I found myself thinking back to that picture, and realized that I'd never given it the place it deserved here in the Yard.

It is, of course, a play on the cover of this book, Monstrous Affections:

And it is illustrative, in more ways than one, of my short story "The Sloan Men," which leads off Monstrous Affections and is also available to read right here

I hope this helps.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Children of Lovecraft rides out!

We've talked about this before at the Yard: my novelette "Jules and Richard," and its inclusion in Ellen Datlow's Children of Lovecraft anthology--with its all-star lineup of weird writers, its Mike Mignola cover, its editorial pedigree. Well. Dark Horse has let it free this week, and its available all sorts of places: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Chapters-Indigo.

When Ellen invited me to submit to the anthology, she made the premise very clear: she was looking for stories that were inspired by Lovecraft without pastiching him. No tentacles, was I believe a direct commandment.

Well, there's no tentacles in "Jules and Richard," although it does take a pretty direct stab at one of Lovecraft's more famous stories (not necessarily a Cthulhu Mythos piece). So yeah, no tentacles.

But Ellen didn't say anything about avoiding bicycles. And so, I did take a rather more direct inspiration from my single most serious bike accident a few years back, that did a real number on my shoulder, and also my dignity. 

With that in mind: Here's the first bit--the bit about bicycles--of "Jules and Richard." 

* * *

 “I was crossing back there...” 
Jules pointed, with his good arm, to the intersection a dozen meters to the east, just beyond the tangle of his once reliable old commuter bike: “… and as I was building up speed--” 
--over you went,” she said. 
Over I went, said Jules. He thought about it a moment, his mishap. “Stupid. I was checking to make sure I had my glasses in my pocket.” 
Did you?” 
I did.” 
You don't have them now though.” 
They fell out,” said Jules. 
Ah. Over there.” 
The glasses had fallen into the shadow of the exhaust pipe of a parked van. Jules couldn't see them, but she rose to fetch them and returned them to Jules. They were new glasses and they weren't cheap. 
He put them on, and blinked at his rescuer. 
Funny. I thought you were older,” he said, and immediately apologized. “I'm a little shaken up,” he explained. 
* * *

Well, it was pretty scary at the time...

Friday, August 5, 2016

H.P. Lovecraft and me

Actor and dad Leeman Kessler stopped by Toronto earlier this summer with his beautiful family, and of course the resuscitated shade of H.P. Lovecraft. We met up at a local pub on the Danforth for a chat and a drink, and somehow the conversation got around to exsanguination.

This happens more often than you might think.