Other Short Story Masters - The Boom: The Literati - Volume 2: The Twentieth and Twenty-first Centuries

Unutterable Horror - A History of Supernatural Fiction - S. T. Joshi 2014

Other Short Story Masters
The Boom: The Literati
Volume 2: The Twentieth and Twenty-first Centuries

It would be inaccurate to state that any of the four Ameican writers discussed in this section are direct disciples of Campbell, but they have all learned from his example and duplicated, in part, the skill and power he has displayed, especially in the short story. One of them, T. E. D. Klein, did in fact write a significant essay/review of Demons by Daylight, “Ramsey Campbell: An Appreciation” (Nyctalops, May 1977), which Campbell himself found highly encouraging. But all have apparently found in Campbell a model of how serious, socially and philosophically relevant weird fiction should be written.

Klein (b. 1947) is one of the most well-read writers in the field: while at Brown University, he wrote an honours thesis on Lovecraft and Lord Dunsany, and he has exhibited a deep appreciation of Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood, and other leading figures. While editing Twilight Zone, he produced a substantial, four-part series, “Dr. Van Helsing’s Handy Guide to Ghost Stories” (1981), an exhaustive treatment of the history of supernatural fiction not at all dissimilar in scope and content to Lovecraft’s “Supernatural Horror in Literature.”

Klein has established an enviable reputation on a remarkably small body of work. In essence, his fictional output is restricted to a long novel, The Ceremonies (1984), and a collection of four novellas, Dark Gods (1985); his remaining short fiction was gathered much later in the sardonically titled Reassuring Tales (2007). But since the mid-1980s, when he began work on a second novel, tentatively titled Nighttown, a severe case of writer’s block and other personal difficulties have dried up his fictional pen so that he has written only a handful of stories in the past two decades. Nevertheless, his corpus is so aesthetically rich and meticulously crafted that he retains a high standing in supernatural literature.

Klein has made New York City—his home since graduating from college—the source of much of his fiction, and he has probed its wonders and terrors in a similar fashion to Campbell’s decades-long treatment of Liverpool. “Children of the Kingdom” (1980) is perhaps his most concentrated exercise in urban horror—a novella that plays upon and inverts the racial tensions that were tearing the city apart at that period. The locus of horror is a dreary tenement on the Upper West Side that now serves as a nursing home, whose basement provides a hideous glimpse of loathsome white monsters—the descendants, apparently, of an ancient race of creatures who had preyed upon the Native Americans long before the advent of Europeans to the continent. The culminating scene of the tale, taking place during the New York City blackout of 1977, is one of the towering moments in modern horror fiction:

The door exploded in my face. I went down beneath a mob of twisting bodies pouring through the doorway, tumbling out upon me like a wave. I was kicked, tripped over, stepped on; I struggled to rise, and felt, in the darkness, the touch of naked limbs, smooth, rubbery flesh, hands that scuttled over me like starfish. In seconds the mob had swept past me and was gone; I heard them padding lightly up the hall, heading toward the stairs. (DG 59—60)

These creatures are metaphors for the horrors of robbery, rape, murder, and other terrors that have made city life a sort of ongoing pitched battle in many of the metropolises of the world.

“Petey” (1979) takes us to a seemingly safe rural locale in Connecticut well beyond the penumbra of New York City, but Klein’s deft unraveling of the plot renders this realm potently horrific as well. The entire story is nothing but a series of vignettes about a housewarming party held by the new owners of a house for their city friends; and what seems on the surface to be relatively innocuous satire directed at the various foibles of the guests is in fact a vehicle for conveying with consummate subtlety hints of the menace lurking nearby. The title ends up being a pun; for the hideous creature that the original owner of the house had evidently raised as a pet is not in fact named Petey, but P.D., or petit diable (little devil).

“Petey” is one of several tales where Klein broods on the complex interplay of words and things. “Black Man with a Horn” (1980) is somewhat along the same lines, although its thrust is ultimately quite different. This explicitly Lovecraftian tale, with a protagonist that is clearly based on Lovecraft’s friend Frank Belknap Long (whom Klein also knew well), makes gradually clear the fact that Lovecraft’s fiction may in fact have concealed a loathsome reality: when the narrator sees in a museum catalogue an artifact that is said to have come from the “Tcho-tcho” tribe, he is startled—for he had previously known of that term only from one of Lovecraft’s stories. As he remarks piquantly, “I’d been put in the uncomfortable position of living out another man’s horror stories” (DG 151).

“Nadelman’s God,” first published in Dark Gods, is a rich exploration of the interplay of words and things, as well as the role of religion in human affairs. In college, Nadelman had written a sophomoric epic poem in which he proposed, given the extent of human suffering on the earth, the idea that God is “deranged and malign, delighting in cruelty and mischief” (DG 198). An apparent lunatic, learning of Nadelman’s poem, becomes obsessed with it, fashioning (according to the poem’s dictates) a “servant” made of garbage. Is this all merely an exercise in insanity, or has the garbage creature actually come to life? This richly evocative novella probes a number of philosophical questions while retaining its ability to terrify.

Words and things are also at the heart of Klein’s earliest success, the novella “The Events at Poroth Farm” (1972). Set in rural New Jersey, the tale outlines the increasing paranoia of its protagonist, Jeremy Freirs, as he seeks to bone up on the literature of the supernatural for a course he will be teaching in the fall. The journal that Jeremy keeps during his stay at Poroth Farm not only recounts his readings but the gradual accumulation of hints that strange entities are lurking in the vicinity. On one level, the tale is suggesting that Jeremy, the cloistered scholar, is simply unable to deal with the horrors he is encountering in real life: habituated to horrors that remain on the printed page, he becomes paralysed with fear when actual terrors emerge. Consider this passage from his diary: “Lord, this heat is sweltering. My shirt is sticking to my skin, and droplets of sweat are rolling down my face dripping onto this page, making the ink run. My hand is tired from writing …” (RT 167). The symbolism is very telling: the ink runs because what Jeremy has experienced is literally “ineffable”—it cannot be told. He is tired of writing because the vicarious emotions inspired by literature are pathetically inadequate in the face of real horror.

But an entirely different interpretation of the tale can be offered. There is a dim suggestion that the books that Jeremy is reading actually cause the events at Poroth Farm; or, perhaps more accurately, that his readings are a kind of symbolic echo—or, in some cases, anticipation—of the increasingly disturbing manifestations that take place around him. To choose only one example, Jeremy at one point reads Algernon Blackwood’s “Ancient Sorceres,” which he describes as a “witch/cat story” (RT 132). The significance of this detail is obvious, as the Poroths’ cat Bwada plays a central role in the unfolding of the horrific scenario. Once again, words are intimately interrelated with things.

The Ceremonies is a complex fusion of many of the themes underlying Klein’s work. This novel, a remarkable expansion of “The Events at Poroth Farm,” did in fact appear fleetingly on the bestseller lists, but it contains far more substance and textural richness than most such works. Both Lovecraft and Arthur Machen (especially “The White People”) are the dominant influences on the novel, but Klein’s adaptation of motifs from these writers is very much his own. The focus of the novel is a Mr. Rosebottom, who proves to harbour in his person an age-old entity, the Old One, from the depths of space; Rosebottom arranges for Jeremy Freirs to reside for the summer at Poroth Farm, and also for a young woman, Carol Conklin, to take a job at a library nearby. All these manipulations are necessary in order for Rosebottom to engender the Ceremonies that will result in the destruction of the world. It is difficult to convey the subtlety and gradualness with which this seemingly outlandish plot is convincingly unfolded; the result is a novel of cumulative horror perhaps rivalled only by Thomas Tryon’s Harvest Home or Clive Barker’s The Damnation Game. Far more than mere pastiche, The Ceremonies is a vital and independent work that nonetheless draws strength and texture from previous work in the field.

Karl Edward Wagner (1945—1994) was a well-respected and well-liked figure in the field whose early death inspired widespread lamentation, but his actual literary work is more than a little uneven. Much of it falls outside the strict domain of the supernatural, as in his numerous sword-and-sorcery tales and novels, modelled upon the work of Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber. His own weird short fiction was collected in In a Lonely Place (1983) and other collections, but it is a decidedly mixed bag. Although Wagner is deft at evoking the topography, human and natural, of those regions of the South (chiefly Tennessee and North Carolina) in which he spent much of his life, the stories themselves are often weak in motivation and disappointing in their dénouements.

Easily the best of Wagner’s tales is “Sticks” (1974), which is simultaneously a tribute to H. P. Lovecraft and to the artist Lee Brown Coye, whose cover illustrations to the Arkham House Lovecraft editions of the 1960s won him widespread recognition. Set in 1942, “Sticks” tells the story of the artist Colin Leverett, whose artwork became excessively gruesome after he encountered an apparently animated corpse in a farmhouse. Twenty-five years later he is asked by Gothic House (an obvious stand-in for Arkham House) to illustrate the work of horror writer H. Kenneth Allard. The publisher is later killed. A nephew of Allard, Dana Allard, comes to Leverett with a stack of Allard’s unpublished stories that he wishes Leverett to illustrate. The artist, who had been fascinated by the stick-lattice work that he saw at the old farmhouse, undertakes the task, only to learn that these lattices are glyphs designed to aid in the summoning of the Great Old Ones. Dana Allard is, in fact, H. Kenneth Allard himself.

This recounting of the plot of “Sticks” cannot begin to convey the extraordinary skill in its execution. After a time the omnipresence of the stick-lattice figures (something Lee Brown Coye actually used in his Lovecraft illustrations) becomes oppressive and hideous, and the tale is a masterwork of slowly cumulative horror. In the end, the story perhaps has no broader message to convey, and to that extent it can be considered nothing but a clever horror tale; but as such it ranks high, both in the canon of modern supernatural fiction and in the very slim canon of competent Lovecraft pastiches.

Other stories are less successful. “In the Pines” (1973) captures the atmosphere of rural Tennessee ably, but its account of a seductive female ghost from the 1920s who tempts a married man from the present day and ultimately kills his wife—a clear symbol for the couple’s marital troubles—is not as subtle as one would wish. “.220 Swift” (1980) is a quasi-Lovecraftian tale of archaeological horror—chiefly dealing with the supposed existence of “mines of the ancients” in the South, which one archaeologist believes were merely made by early Spanish settlers but which another believes to be not only of far older construction but built by a hideous pygmy race—but the narrative is fundamentally unconvincing.

“The River of Night’s Dreaming” (1981) has become celebrated as a tribute to Robert W. Chambers: this account of a woman who, after a bus wreck, comes to a strange city and comes to the home of a Mrs. Castaigne, names herself Cassilda Archer, and engages in sadomasochistic encounters with her hostess as well as a maid, Camilla (all names mentioned in The King in Yellow, which is cited in the story) requires a bit more poeticism than Wagner is apparently capable of engendering. “Beyond Any Measure” (1982) is one of several stories that draw upon Wagner’s own profession of psychiatry. A woman, afflicted with bizarre dreams, consults with a psychiatrist who believes that the dreams are indicative of a past life. In the end the tale is one of vampirism and psychic possession, but it too lacks conviction.

Later stories reveal occasional merits mingled with flaws of conception and execution. “More Sinned Against” (1984) powerfully evokes the successive degradation of a woman from minor film actress to porn star to prostitute, but Wagner may have erred in adopting a supernatural conclusion, whereby the woman uses voodoo to gain revenge against a man whose acting career she had nurtured but who then deserted her. The tale would have been more effective if it had remained purely non-supernatural. This is exactly why “But You’ll Never Follow Me” (1990) is successful: its unflinching account of a man who kills his ailing parents in a nursing home out of mercy, just as he had done with a fellow soldier in Vietnam, requires no supernaturalism for its emotive power. Another poignant story is “Did They Get You to Trade” (1992), in which an American artist in London, Ryan Chase, encounters a derelict who proves to be Nemo Skagg, a once-popular punk rocker who lost his money for a highly peculiar reason: he felt the need to pay for the cremation of all the fans who took their own lives at his concerts.

Wagner will remain best known for his editing of The Year’s Best Horror Stories, as discussed earlier. He also was the key figure in the establishment of a short-lived small press, Carcosa; but its resurrection of the mediocre pulp work of E. Hoffmann Price, Hugh B. Cave, and Manly Wade Wellman did no one any favours.

A much superior literary artist is Dennis Etchison (b. 1943), who has raised the mingling of genres—supernatural horror, psychological suspense, and science fiction—to an art form. Etchison produced three early collections of weird tales—The Dark Country (1982), Red Dreams (1984), and The Blood Kiss (1988), as well as several novels; but his best work is unquestionably in the short form. He himself has articulated the rationale under which he writes as follows:

I have never thought of myself as a horror writer. Someone said that there are two kinds of writers, those who find out what the market is and write to fill it, and those who write and then find a marekt that will take their work. And I think I’m the latter kind of writer. I’ve always tried to write whatever I wanted most to write and then send it out, usually starting with the top-paying markets and working my way down. And if the story ended up in a girlie magazine or a science-fiction magazine, that was essentially accidental. (Winter 52)

Just as Campbell has made himself the poet of the British urban landscape, Klein has vivified the teeming megalopolis of New York, and Wagner has evoked the remote backwoods of the American South, so has Etchison become a kind of brooding, cynical prose-poet of his native Southern California. At the same time, he has evolved a clipped, sardonic prose reminiscent of the one genre—hard-boiled crime writing—that can be said to have been the wholesale creation of California writers. These qualities—along with some highly distinctive supernatural conceptions—render his work unique in the realm of contemporary weird fiction.

Consider “On the Pike” (1977). This account of a woman, Sherron, who persuades her fiancé to visit a carnival featuring a succession of freak shows proves to be an unsparing psychological portrait of Sherron and her perversity in the witnessing of pain and humiliation. Apparently conventional supernaturalism enters in “The Late Shift” (1980), one of Etchison’s signature stories, dealing with reanimated corpses employed to work the night shft in 7-Eleven stores. This potentially ludicrous premise proves to be the springboard, as Etchison has stated, for probing “questions of exploitation under capitalism” (Winter 62).

Three stories in The Dark Country—“The Machine Demands a Sacrifice” (1972), “Calling All Monsters” (1973), and “The Dead Line” (1979)—are thematically linked in their recounting of the potential physical and ethical horrors of a medical profession in which technological skill has outpaced moral restraints. The stories are all nominally science fiction in that they appear to take place in the future and are extrapolations upon contemporary societal issues; but their horrific underpinnings are evident. The first tale grimly speaks of unscrupulous private ambulance outfits that attempt to be the first on the scene of fatal accidents in order to obtain bodies so that parts of them can be sold later. The second is a magnificently hypnotic tale in which medical technology performs the surgical removal of bodily organs while the brain is still alive. The third tells of “Neomorts,” brain-dead patients who are kept alive after a fashion so that their ogans can be used when needed.

Even those tales that appear to be wholly non-supernatural can occasionally be stirring solely on account of deft technique and execution. “Drop City” (1974) is the convoluted story of a man who has suffered amnesia and becomes framed for a murder; but this relatively mundane plot is enlivened by some of the most powerful and affecting dreamlike prose outside the pages of Ramsey Campbell and Thomas Ligotti. “Call 666” (1987) also appears to be a tale of psychological horror—although I am not entirely clear what exactly happens in the story—but the fragmented style again creates eerily hallucinatory effects. “Talking in the Dark” (1984) is a more orthodox conte cruel about a celebrated writer who turns out to be a psychopath, but its wry exposition and stunning climax redeem it.

Etchison has been less than successful in the novel; like Campbell, he appears to have taken to novel-writing chiefly to support himself so that he can craft his short stories. His first novel, Darkside (1986), is by no means without merit. Although it at times suggests the supernatural, the novel is really about a group of teenagers who seek near-death experiences as a means of escaping from the jaded ennui of their lives. To the extent that Darkside captures the seeming listlessness and disregard for life and death that typify the youth movement of the mid-1980s, it can be considered a modest success.

The same cannot be said for Shadowman (1993) or California Gothic (1995), both of which are highly disappointing coming from an otherwise immensely talented writer. The former, about a series of child-murders in a small suburban California community, is dragged down by diffuseness, prolixity, and a failure to come to terms with the social and personal issues raised by the scenario. The latter is still worse, recounting a woman’s pursuit of her former lover (although in the end she reveals herself to be the woman’s daughter). All the characters are drawn unconvincingly, their actions seem wooden and unmotivated, and the prose is uncharacteristically lifeless.

A fair number of Etchison’s short stories also fall flat, either because of their excessive obscurity or their less than inspired conceptions, but he has nonetheless produced a substantial body of short fiction that simultaneously probes key social issues by means of supernatural horror, psychological suspense, or science fiction, or some ineffable combination of all three. His best tales exhibit a bleak an unflinching vision, a vision that is bitterly antipodal to the cheerful optimism so uniformly if implausibly evident in even the most physically extreme modern weird fiction. If Etchison’s subtlety and restraint link him with an older weird tradition, his aggressively contemporary themes and his occasional innovations in style and execution place his work emphatically in a vibrant and modern mode that contrasts sharply with the flabby sentimentalism of Stephen King or the hypertrophic pyrotechnics of Clive Barker.

And now we come to Thomas Ligotti (b. 1953). Ligotti is certainly the most distinctive, if not unusual, figure in contemporary supernatural fiction, if only because of the almost surreptitious way in which he has emerged as a leading figure in the field. His first volume, Songs of a Dead Dreamer (1986), was published by a small press with almost no fanfare, and I daresay that many readers and critics (I was among them) dismissed the poorly printed book as a tedious instance of “fan fiction.” But Ligotti, who had been publishing in magazines since the early 1980s, was the real article. Songs of a Dead Dreamer was reissued in 1989 by a mainstream British publisher and was quickly followed by the collections Grimscribe (1991) and Noctuary (1994); an omnibus, The Nightmare Factory, appeared in 1996. But after the appearance of My Work Is Not Yet Done (2002), Ligotti appears to have suffered some health problems that have virtually curtailed his fiction writing, and he has done very little original work in the past decade or more.

The publication of Ligotti’s impressive treatise The Conspiracy against the Human Race (2010) emphasises what has really been evident in much of his work: it is fueled by a deep pessimism regarding human life and action. Drawing upon the philosophical work of Peter Wessel Zapffe and others, Ligotti concludes that consciousness renders human existence so painful that it becomes folly to remain alive. There is some suggestion that Ligotti is merely attempting to create a philosophical patina to cover his own pessimism, but the cogency of Conspiracy is nonetheless a challenge to both religious and secular conceptions of the “gift” of life.

What is refreshing about Ligotti, from a purely literary perspective, is his frank disinclination to market himself. Even when his books were being issued by mainstream publishers, he was content to publish his fiction and other writing in non-paying small-press magazines; and he has frankly declared not only his inability to write a horror novel but the dubious aesthetic status of any horror novel. In some ways this stance is connected with Ligotti’s devaluation of human character in his own fiction, a direct product of his pessimism.

The focus of all Ligotti’s work is a systematic assault on the real world and the replacement of it with the unreal, the dreamlike, and the hallucinatory. Reality is, for him, a “grossly overrated affair” (“Alice’s Last Adventure” [SDD 38—39]). It is simply too prosy and dull, lacking in intrinsic value or dramatic interest. Accordingly, Ligotti’s literary goal is to suggest that other realm which we glimpse either through dreams or, worse, stumble upon by accident in obscure corners of the world. As a result, his tales refuse to conform to the standard distinctions in weird fiction—say, between supernatural horror and psychological suspense. In “Professor Nobody’s Little Lectures on Supernatural Horror” Ligotti speaks of the “logic of supernatural horror” as “a logic that is founded on fear; it is a logic whose sole purpose states: ’Existence equals Nightmare.’ Unless life is a dream, nothing makes sense. For as a reality, it is a rank failure” (SDD 206). Ligotti’s literary quest, therefore, is not so much a replacement of the real world by the unreal as a sort of turning the real world inside out to show that it has been unreal all along.

The vehicle for this transformation is language. Ligotti has evolved a highly distinctive and idiosyncratic style that, with seeming effortlessness, metamorphoses existence into nightmare. Its closest analogue, on purely stylistic grounds, is the eccentric idiom of M. P. Shiel, although he is not a writer whom Ligotti acknowledges as an influence or model. Ligotti’s tales stylistically echo Shiel’s tortuous, metaphor-laden idiom while at the same time seeking to capture the atmosphere of nightmarish or hallucinatory strangeness that typifies Shiel’s best short work. Plot is everywhere negligible, and everything is subordinate to mood.

Ligotti’s attitude toward Lovecraft highlights the ways in which he both resembles and differs from his great predecessor. He has frequently expressed dissatisfaction with Lovecraft’s later, more scientific narratives, maintaining that Lovecraft thereby lost the sense of dreamlike unreality that typified his early work. Even so straightforward a pastiche as “The Last Feast of Harlequin” (published in 1990 but written early in Ligotti’s career) makes this point clear, as it owes much more to the early “The Festival” than to its more scientifically detailed successor, “The Shadow over Innsmouth.” In this tale, an anthropologist interested in exploring the “significance of the clown figure in diverse cultural contexts” (G 3) goes to the Midwestern town of Mirocaw, where a festival is held every December. The tale must be read to appreciate its richness of texture, density of atmosphere, psychological and topographical realism, and the notion of ancient and loathsome rituals surviving to the present day.

But the realism of this story is an anomaly in Ligotti’s work. A later tale, “Nethescurial,” is more representative. There may be a subtle Lovecraftian undercurrent in this tale also, as it seems a highly oblique adaptation of “The Call of Cthulhu.” Like Lovecraft’s tale, “Nethescurial” is in three parts, and it follows the basic thrust of “The Call of Cthulhu” in effecting the gradual transformation of words into reality. At the outset, we learn of a manuscript that describes a man who comes to a mysterious island named Nethescurial, which appears connected to an “omnipresent evil in the living world” (G 71), “an absolute evil whose reality is mitigated only by our blindness to it” (G 75). This realm finally engulfs the narrator, who writes plangently at the end: “I am not dying in a nightmare” (G 84), a pathetic attempt to evade the fact that he is dying in a nightmare.

Ligotti has also brilliantly adapted the trope of the “forbidden book” in such a tale as “Vastarien” (1987). The plot of this richly atmospheric story is deceptively simple: a man finds a book and it drives him mad. But what a wealth of dense imagery is created by means of this seemingly hackneyed device! Victor Keirion searches for a book to transport him out of this world, but most of the “forbidden” books he finds are insufficient for the task. But the book called Vastarien is different: it is “not about something, but actually is that something” (SDD 267). But what sort of book is Vastarien? “To all appearances it seemed he had discovered the summit or abyss of the unreal, that paradise of exhaustion, confusion, and debris where reality ends and where one may dwell among its ruins” (SDD 271).

“The Tsalal,” first published in Noctuary, draws not upon Lovecraft but Poe for its focus. It concerns an individual, Andrew Maness, who is the incarnation of the Tsalal (a term taken consciously from Poe’s Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym), or “a perfect blackness” (Noctuary 86). Maness’s father, a reverend, has written a book called Tsalal, and Andrew ponders its significance:

“’There is no nature to things,’ you wrote in the book. ’There are no faces except masks held tight against the pitching chaos behind them.’ You wrote that there is not true growth or evolution in the life of this world but only transformations of appearance, an incessant melting and molding of surfaces without underlying essence. Above all you pronounced that there is no salvation of any being because no beings exist as such, nothing exists to be saved—everything, everyone exists only to be drawn into the slow and endless swirling of mutations that we may see every second of our lives if we simply gaze through the eyes of the Tsalal.” (Noctuary 80)

Somehow Andrew Maness is the embodiment of this nihilistic existentialism, and only Ligotti could have written so compellingly hypnotic a tale around such a dryly philosophical conception.

Some of Ligotti’s tales allow a little more of the observably real world than others, and a few of these are among his great successes. “The Frolic,” an early and relatively conventional story, is still powerful for the visions of a lunatic that so hideously defy the inept rationalisations of a psychiatrist to account for them naturalistically. “Alice’s Last Adventure” recounts a rather old idea—fictional characters coming to life—but does so with great adeptness and cumulative power. The plot of “Les Fleurs” is deceptively simple—a man evidently lures and kills a series of women—but a profound unease is engendered in the reader because of the many features of the story that are left tantalisingly unexplained.

For all his professed inability to write a novel, Ligotti did produce a short-novel-length work in the title story of My Work Is Not Yet Done. The tale introduces us to Frank Dominio, a longtime worker at a company that is never named and whose actual business is never specified. Through a series of accidents Frank is forced to resign; blaming his coworkers, he undertakes to murder them one after the other. But the tale is far from being a mere serial killer story; in some wisely unexplained fashion, Frank himself lapses into a bizarre half-dead, half-alive state, with the power of leaving his body and also, apparently, with the power to transform the very atoms of his victims into something very much worse than their already grotesque human forms.

There are, of course, any number of aesthetic pitfalls in the highly self-conscious, intellectualised approach to horror fiction that Ligotti has taken, but he at any rate has managed to pull it off and left a legacy of bizarrerie that is perhaps only matched by Ramsey Campbell at his hallucinatory best (say, in the Demons by Daylight stories or the novella Needing Ghosts). Ligotti’s effective fiction-writing career lasted scarcely more than two decades, but in that short interval—which, let us recall, was just as long as the careers of Poe and Lovecraft—Ligotti has bequeathed a rich storehouse of literary terror that is unlike that of any writer who preceded him.