Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Book Review: Alone with the Horrors by Ramsey Campbell

     Alone with the Horrors is a trip in Ramsey Campbell’s feverish, deranged brain. Okay, that usually describes most weird fiction. It’s a very interesting collection of some very strange and unsettling short stories.

     Ramsey Campbell started out as yet another imitator of Lovecraft which doesn’t describe me at all no sirree. The first story, “The Tower from Yuggoth”, shows this well. Campbell deliberately chose to lead off with it to demonstrate “where he began”. He may not like it, but I thought it was a pretty decent story, particularly the idea of teleportation being painful. (This shows up a lot in sci-fi, I’ve noticed.) He also invented another abomination for the Lovecraft pantheon, Y’Golonac I HAVE DOOMED US ALL, or “The Great Defiler”, as he is called elsewhere.

     However, most of these stories are not based on Lovecraft, but come purely from Campbell’s mind. “The Scar” involves doppelgängers as well as a “body snatcher” style plot. “The Man in the Underpass” pulls in some Aztec mythology and is rather uncomfortable to read. “The Chimney” was a fantastic Christmas story, with an interesting twist to the end.

     I think my favorite of all of them, though, was “The Voice of the Beach”. It hits squarely in cosmic horror territory, and left me genuinely freaked out at the end. It also demonstrated Campbell’s excellent ability at both pacing and atmosphere.

     The stories also tell a lot about the culture of England, particularly in the 70’s when most of them were written. I made a crack about “class angst” in my Quick Lit review, but the intense classism that has held on for dear life across the pond is peppered throughout the stories. Disapproving fathers, abusive teachers, and middle class neurotics live in this universe in abundance.  (I actually sort of wonder about Campbell’s father, since horrible fathers are everywhere in these stories.)

     Unreliable narrators are also the norm. Everything has a very surreal quality to it, and it only gets worse once the protagonist’s perceptions become muddled by the supernatural. These are not lighthearted stories, but they are often very fascinating.

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