Science Fiction Though the Decades

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

2012: The Mammoth Book of Body Horror (Kane, Paul & O'Regan, Stuart)

A few make your skin crawl; most make you appreciate morbidity (4/5)

Horror is a genre laden with the supernatural. I’ve read a few widely-liked horror novels but have always been turned off by the whole demon angle of most stories—it’s not scary or even mildly interesting. I knew one thing though: I loved stories that transform, mutate, or infect humans… and I found that sub-genre to be called “body horror”. One of my favorites is Sakyo Komatsu’s short story “The Savage Mouth” (1969/1979), which is a tad similar to Stephen King’s “The Survivor Type” yet precedes it by more than a decade. Komatsu’s story is superior to King’s own, but I guess the editors needed a few big names to push the book forward. Clive Barker’s story is the best in the collection as it’s bizarre, funny, and horrific.

One gripe about the book though: the sequence of stories isn’t very good. The first seventeen stories are chronological, like they were hand-picked by the editors… then six of the remaining eight stories are all from 2012.

Transformation (shortstory, 1830) – Mary Shelley (3/5)
A spoiled well-to-do boy with a childhood crush on a girl becomes a man of similar ilk with a fixation on marrying the same girl who has matured while he hasn’t. When his plans to disrupt the girl’s wedding are foiled, he’s cast out of the city to live by his own devices. His emotional agony is learned by and preyed upon by a mischievous dwarf who’s willing to part with his treasure if they swap bodies for three days. The spoiled man agrees but hunts him down after the agreement’s expiration. 19 pages

The Tell-Tale Heart (shortstory, 1843) – Edgar Allan Poe (4/5)
A madman denies to himself that he is indeed a madman, yet this same man also recounts his obsession with an old man and his so-called evil eye. This object of his obsession drives him to creep into the old man’s bedroom every night and shine light upon the eye from a lantern. One the eighth night, as his step announces his approach, he shines light onto the evil eye, then kills, dismembers, and buries him under the floorboards, where his silent body beckons the madman’s guilt. 6 pages

Herbert West—Reanimator (novelette, 1922) – H.P. Lovecraft (4/5)
In a series of six stories, Hebert West starts as an eager medical student with his faithful colleague as his assistant; their subject of focus: reviving the dead. Animal experiments have had mixed success and only humans can use the specific serum that he has created and kept improving. Yet, bodies, especially fresh and wholesome, are hard to come by yet they manage one way or another, legal or not… and their ghastly experiment ends—or lives—in one way or another. 34 pages

Who Goes There? (novelette, 1938) – John W. Campbell (4/5)
Deep in the Antarctic ice, an alien ship and one its crew are discovered frozen solid within. A team of researchers extract the alien and think that thawing the beast is the best course of action, but some are leery because certain species on earth can survive a long-term deep freeze. As it’s an alien, earth rules don’t apply, so they carry on with the thawing while one man stands guard. Soon the alien disappears and its shape-shifting nature has all men skeptical of one another. 64 pages

The Fly (novelette, 1957/1957) – George Langelaan
Francoise’s brother’s wife call him with grave news: she has killed her brother Andre as his factory with the steam-hammer. As the police investigate the brutal scene, they consider her a psychopathic case yet question her repeatedly, to which her story remains the same, in her simple and distracted way. Her preoccupation with flies and his nephew’s off question of flies gives Francoise the lead he needs. Eventually, Helena produces her story on paper—a fantastic experiment with matter transmission that ended morbidly and fatally. 36 pages

‘Tis the Season to be Jelly (shortstory, 1963) – Richard Matheson (3/5)
At the family breakfast table, father’s nose falls straight off his very face. This kind of thing is accepted in their daily lives as their extremities feaster, fail, and fall off; all expect grandpa, who rallies against the ills of the modern age as the cause for mankind’s antilife, of the decay of the body. The boy in impervious to such talk and heads down to a girl’s house—busted leg and all. Even her decrepit can attract some admiration. 5 pages

Survivor Type (shortstory, 1982) – Stephen King
Richard Pine was actually born as Richard Pinzetti, yet his repugnance for his flesh and blood—his father—drove him to banish the surname when at medical school. The surname, however, carried the knavish Italian attitude as he began to deal prescription drugs, and later heroin. When he’s transporting one shipment over the sea, he becomes shipwrecked on a tiny rock-strewn island. He has four key items: heroin, a surgeon’s skill, a sharp blade, and a deep hunger. 23 pages

The Body Politic (novelette, 1985) – Clive Barker (5/5)
As a packager, Charlie George can expect his hands to ache, but his hands, themselves, ache for nothing other than freedom. In his sleep, Left and Right collude to free one of themselves so that a revolution against the body politic can ensue. Asleep, Charlie’s hands kills his wife them, while awake, Right dismembers Left, which runs on five fingers into the thick of the night in the human-thick of the city. Other hands join the revolution and blood spills onto the streets. 41 pages

The Chaney Legacy (shortstory, 1986) – Robert Bloch (2/5)
The so-called Chaney House was a big draw to Dale because of his life-long passion for cinema. Lon Chaney was a silent film star whose private life was enshrouded in mystery; with living in Chaney’s old home, Dale hopes to unveil the long-dead actor’s history. When he discovers a make-up box in a closet, Dale sees a flash of a reflection in its mirror—one of Chaney’s old characters. With each vision, Dale feels a reciprocal pang for assuming identities of one sort or another. 19 pages

The Other Side (shortstory, 1986) – Ramsey Campbell (4/5)
On one side of the river, Bowring lives in his mother’s house; his boring routine of life is punctuated by his hobby of watching the other side of the river with his binoculars. On the other side of the river sits Bowring’s place of work—a high school—which, itself, sits amid urban decay. In his classroom, Bowring is a despot and his students are the victims of his pent up rage; while at home, he views increasingly terrible sights in the city that are increasingly aimed more directly at the same students he loathes. 13 pages

Fruiting Bodies (novelette, 1988) – Brian Lumley (3/5)
The village of Durham sits near the North Sea cliff, which keeps edging closer to the town as the waves erode the landscape, eventually taking pieces of the town with it. Now it sits derelict, only Garth and his dog Ben remain to salvage bricks and lumber for a few pence. Greg Lane’s family line was from Durham, so he feels compelled to visit the eroding town only for Garth to show him its further state of decay in the form of a very progressive dry rot. 28 pages

Freaktent (shortstory, 1990) – Nancy A. Collins (3/5)
Some people photograph landscapes or architecture; Kevin Malone photographs circus freaks—the more freakish, the better. The World’s Ugliest Man is a common subject for Kevin, who is in the traveling freak show of Fallon. When Kevin visits Fallon and the Ugly Man, he hears about Cabrini, who has a special trade in freaks. Eager for a photo of the most freakish, Kevin tracks down the man to experience a darker side of the trade than he had imagined. 14 pages

Region of the Flesh (shortstory, 1991) – Richard Christian Matheson (3/5)
Needing to save some money, a man buys a mattress and bed frame from a recent murder I which a man’s wife tortured her husband with an electric carving knife before killing him with slow agony. The bed fascinates the man as he stares at it from his couch, but soon his deep interest in the bed becomes a fixation on the grisly murder. He turns to sleeping on the bed, hypnotized by the images of himself, first, as the victim, then as the murderess. 5 pages

Walking Wounded (novelette, 1997) – Michael Marshall Smith (3/5)
After Richard’s girlfriend dumped him for another man, he remained in the same rented house with his new girlfriend, Christine. But the tainted memory of the house compels them to move into a flat. During the move, Richard injures his rib with his ex’s relic, then experiences a series of unusual scratches on his fingers, chest, arms, and soon everywhere else. The surface scratches develop into oozing cuts that do not heal, yet he refuses seeking medical care; he knows his cure. 21pages

Changes (shortstory, 1998) – Neal Gaiman (4/5)
After cancer changed the life of Rajit, he decided to change how we live with cancer. His treatment is heralded as a success but for one side effect: a change in gender. Some would rather live with cancer than live life as the opposite sex, and other abuse the miracle cure for their own pleasure as they can freely switch between sexes on a normal weekend. Illusions of grandeur affect Rajit, who contracts his own cancer yet refuses his own treatment. 10 pages

Others (shortstory, 1999) – James Herbert (4/5)
Twelve cells line the dungeon’s corridor, each with a wooden door, a stone floor, a dark interior, and a darker form of so-called humanity. Each cell resident, though human in one form or another, reflects different abominations of human transfiguration. The man who views there human monstrosities is boggled that they are allowed to even live; his companions, however, all deep in the cellar, argue that life is precious in any form. The man vows to free them and take revenge on their silent behalf. 9 pages

The Look (shortstory, 2001) – Christopher Fowler (4/5)
Kit Marlowe is not just another fashion designer. The man is capable of moving the world’s aesthetic appeal from season to season. And every year, he needs a new model with the Look, who then becomes a goddess of the fashion world. One girl thinks she has the Look yet befriends an uncomely girl for her own self-esteem. The duo conspires to confront the designer in the hotel where he stays. The girl spots the opportunity and walks in front of him; his glance and expectations are far from her own. 20 pages

Residue (shortstory, 2012) – Alice Henderson (5/5)
After receiving a piece of ancient pottery that he must date, Galen cuts himself on a shard. The spread of black soot at the vessel’s bottom doesn’t concern him, but the unusual design intrigues him; rather than geometric patterns common to Anasazic art, this piece depicts a shooting star. His arm begins to itch but thinks nothing of it until vivid, realistically grotesque nightmares about his arm draw him to closely inspect it, where hooks and lines course through his body. 12 pages

Dog Days (novelette, 2009) – Graham Masterson (4/5)
Kylie was the best thing that ever happened to Bob; she was gorgeous, exotic, and too good to be true. While on the beach, they run into Bob’s stunningly handsome old medical school chum named Jack. Kylie’s impressed by Jack and his Great Dane, so much in fact that she breaks things off with Bob. Bob fumes at the betrayal and finds the opportunity to extract revenge through rage; his jeep pushes their car—with Kylie and the dog inside—into oncoming traffic… with horrific consequences. 23 page

Black Box (shortstory, 2012) – Gemma Files (1/5)
I didn’t get this one, at all—something about a psychic spiritual medium in a box, or whatever.

The Soaring Dead (shortstory, unknown) – Simon Clark (3/5)
For Mr. Baxter to sell his inherited plot of land adjoining the River Kelden—a very valuable piece of land—to Mr. Farley, he must first prove that there isn’t a cemetery on the land. Creepy Sneep digs through archives only to discover that plague that wiped out the population in 1803 caused the bodies to rise rather than fall. Baxter considers the plague victims to been disposed of in the river, so joins Farley on his plot of land to show everyone that there are no bodies near its natural spring. 16 pages

Poylp (shortstory, 2012) – Barbie Wilde (3/5)
Vincent’s annual colonoscopy appointment at St. Stephen’s Hospital is met with routine, acceptance, and a defeated aura. Injected with drugs by the nurse to settle him down, the doctor begin the examination and proceeds to snip the first possibly cancerous polyp, which evades the lasso, pushes the scope out of Vincent’s rectum with such force that it knocks out a nurse, then it shoots itself around the room and around the hospital while killing and eating indiscriminately. 13 pages

Almost Forever (shortstory, 2012) – David Moody (4/5)
Morgan has developed a series of drugs that, when applied to a rat, extends life indefinitely and protects it from most injuries; it’s not immortality, but it’s close. Morgan confides in his long-time doctor friend, John, who’s amazed by the news and hopeful for its universal application; however, even though the administration as worked on two people—including Morgan, himself—,Morgan feels that the world couldn’t handle the life extension. In John’s line of work, this is called selfishness. 16 pages

Butterfly (shortstory, 2012) – Axelle Carolyn (4/5)
John’s life was one of family before being burned to second and third degrees over seventy percent of his body. Now, he lies in a hospital bed with the tear-streaked cheeks of his moth at his side. Rather than dwell on his misfortune, John sees his enshrouded body and exposed raw skin as a metamorphosis. As his mind breaks its mental shell, John forgets his past and looks at the window where freedom beckons. His body lies supine, but his soul extends his wings. 4 pages

Sticky Eye (shortstory, 2012) – Conrad Williams (3/5)
Unlike the rest of his family and colleagues, Welch had never had any problem with his eyes, that is until he was diagnosed with conjunctivitis. Now, back at work and his vision blurry, Welch can’t concentrate on his editing or on his female colleague who may or may not be making advanced on him. He feels relieved by avoiding the sensitive subject of relationships yet immerses himself in a traumatic childhood memory in a public restroom. His vision blurry, his reality blurs, too. 14 pages

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