lordsofsalemLords of Salem is a novelisation of Rob Zombie’s 2013 movie, which was adapted from a song on Rob’s 2006 album Educated Horses. The franchise now exists in three mediums, literature, cinema, and music. Impressive, although a true renaissance man would have released Lords of Salem knitting patterns by now. Note that it is a “collaboration”, which means that BK Evenson wrote 99.95% of the book and then Rob went over it once with a red pen. I have not seen the movie, but apparently this is a bit different.

There’s a prologue set 1692, and we learn that there really were witches in Salem. They are arrested while performing a ritual of some kind, and they die threatening to haunt the town forever. I wish this part wasn’t there, to be honest. Crazy, over-the-top prologues make sense in an action movie, where you have to give the audience some of what they paid for, but all this scene accomplishes is to remove any sense of mystery and ambiguity from the story. The plot is now spoiled, you now know what’s going to happen, it’s now just a matter of running out the clock.

Why not be coy, and keep the evil in Salem hidden? Why not make the reader as ignorant as the protagonist? Why stick a big “COMING SOON: WITCH ATTACK!” sign right at the start of the book?

The prose needs a pair of crutches. “She cast her eyes around desperately.” Don’t cast them around too desperately, eyes are delicate things. This book also contains the most awkward adverb ever observed by science: “She flailed ropily.”

Lords of Salem soon shifts to the present day, where radio DJ Heidi Hawthorne (a descendent of the judge who doomed the Salem witches) receives a record from a band calling themselves the Lords of Salem. She plays it, and horrible events start occurring in the town. Unfortunately, the Lords of Salem don’t just aspire to radio stardom, they are also coming to town, and Heidi must sell concert tickets.

This section of the book is much better. It flows, it doesn’t seem to be trying too hard at all, and the characters were great. The dialogue has a snappy, fun quality, and although I doubt Rob was involved much with this book, Lords exhibits all the signs of being adapted from one of his screenplays. Rob writes “character” very well, and his naturalistic dialogue was a big part of why The Devil’s Rejects was as good as it was.

Lords has lots of creepy, violent, supernatural shit, but lots of not so great horror movie ideas, too. The main characters are very good at surviving. Save for the confusing and murky ending, all the deaths are died by bit players and randoms. It devalues the scary scenes to know that the author is standing on cue, ready to rescue Heidi from danger because the plot requires her to live. Churchill once said “Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result.” The corollary is “Nothing in life is so unexhilarating as to see a character get attacked by a monster without result.”

Rob says he released a novel tie-in out of nostalgia for his own childhood, when novelised versions of books were common. They’re not common now, and maybe that fact alone is the edge Lords of Salem needs. It’s a flawed but definitely interesting book. Fans of Rob’s work will probably be very enamoured by it.

How long they’ll be enamoured for is something I don’t know.

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chinese-ghost-storiesTranslated and adapted a century ago by Lafcadio Hearn (a “thief of myth”), this is a collection of six traditional Chinese folk tales.

In simple, unaffected writing, we are presented with ghosts and spirits that are benign and helpful. These are stories about loyalty: to kin, to the gods, to the Emperor, even to mundane things like one’s craft or profession. Western ghost stories frighten, Eastern ghost stories inspire.

“The Soul of the Great Bell” tells of a mighty bell, commissioned by the Emperor, designed to be so loud that it could be heard 30 miles away. Its construction is plagued with difficulties. Each time it is cast, the metals crack and fissure, and the lips slag and split asunder. With the project failing, and the Emperor’s anger mounting, the chief bellmaker’s daughter Ge-Ai sacrifices herself to the foundry furnace, for only through the flesh of a maiden can the bell be made. It is said that the tolling bell had the sound of Ge-Ai’s voice. People live such short lives, and I wonder if that’s the reason long-lasting things like buildings and bells are sometimes considered halfway-houses to the supernatural.

“The Return of Yan Zhenjing” is a violent, warlike piece, set during the Tang Dynasty. Li Xilie, “a soldier mighty for evil“, is tearing the realm apart, and Supreme Judge Yan Zhenjing is sent to bring the rebel back to the Emperor’s side. Xilie first tries to break Zhenjing (and fails), tries to woo him (and fails), and tries to kill him (and succeeds), but Zhenjing’s defiance and courage sucks the sweetness from the act. War against Xilie is rejoined, but Zhenjing’s ghost finds a way to return to the Emperor. “Son of Heaven, the mission confided to me I have performed; and thy command hath been accomplished to the extent of thy humble servant’s feeble power. But even now must I depart, that I may enter the service of another Master.”

All the stories entertain, but Lafcadio’s most powerful find is “The Tale of the Porcelain God.”

It is superficially similar to “The Soul of the Great Bell”, but with a disturbing and neurotic edge. Master porcelain maker Bu is given the task of creating porcelain with the texture of flesh. His job consumes him to an extent that is terrible to witness even through the pages of a book. He works tirelessly, but failure piles up on failure. Soon, he realises that the ultimate sacrifice may be required, and he makes this sacrifice without a look back. The ending is not triumphant but understated and maybe even a bit mocking, the Emperor’s porcelain does not seem worth the price Bu paid. An afterword by Hearn makes the story even more troubling.

“The Emperors of China are, during their lifetime, the most redoubted of divinities, and they believe that nothing should ever stand in the way of their desires. It is so related that once upon a time a certain Emperor insisted that some porcelains should be made for him according to a model which he gave. It was answered that the thing was simply impossible: but all such remonstrances only served to excite his desire more and more…The officer charged by the demigod to supervise and hasten the work treated the workmen with great harshness. The poor wretches spent all their money, took exceeding pains, and received only blows in return. One of them, in a fit of despair, leaped into the blazing furnace, and was instantly burnt to ashes. But the porcelain that was being baked there at the time came out, they say, perfectly beautiful and to the satisfaction of the Emperor. From that time, the unfortunate workman was regarded as a hero; and his image was made the idol which presides over the manufacture of porcelain.”

This is a powerful and interesting collection. My only comment is that I wish these tales had a Chinese teller. We see them the way the author wants us to see them, and there’s always the question: is this is a story from China…or a story from Lafcadio?

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vacuumhorrorIf you are a weird comic junkie, comic artist Aaron $hunga is your connection. With Vacuum Horror, he has released not just a weird thing, but perhaps THE weird thing. The Ur-Weird Thing.

Vacuum Horror (originally a webcomic, now in print) is a unique tale of the end of the world, with humanity going down in a way so ridiculous that it crosses hemispheres and becomes disturbing again.

The story opens with a news announcement. The President has declared that all laws are repealed; America is now an anarchy. The nation immediately collapses into a shitheap of murder, rape, depredation, and fist-pumping Ayn Rand fans. As Lily and her family stock up on guns to protect themselves from marauders (and each other), a discovery is made: their vacuum cleaner can talk.

Vacuum cleaners are not just handy household cleaning devices: They are a race of super-advanced aliens. For years, they have watched us grow strong…and now, we’re too strong. Soon we will be waging genocidal wars throughout the galaxy. There is only one solution: we must be destroyed. We are the dirt of Planet Earth, and the vacuum cleaners must perform their duty.

Lily’s vacuum cleaner, however, has fallen in love with her, and wishes to save her from her fate. Time is running out. Even now, a giant vacuum cleaner is flying through space, and when it arrives, it will suck up every human on Earth.

This sets off an absurd road trip through a Mad Max-esque version of America, as Lily and her vacuum cleaner attempt to meet the vacuum high command to plead for her life. Aaron wimps out on drawing a human/vacuum cleaner sex scene but there’s lots of other funny and grotesque events in his book.

Aaron’s style is nice and very memorable, reminding of Terry Gilliams, Klasky Csupo, Shintaro Kago, and Superjail. It’s rough and abstract, but pernickety and full of details. He loves symbolism, and is fascinated by things, not as they are, but by what they represent.

As an example, when it is necessary for the President of the United States to appear, it is not Bush/Obama but Abe Lincoln, who, of course, is America’s definitive President. Aaron says he used Lincoln because he’s “a letter in a nationalistic alphabet.” In other words, when you need a president, you use Abe Lincoln.

Very odd and amusing, Vacuum Horror is both a weird piece of art and a cohesive and well-thought out comic. Even though Vacuum Horror’s influences are clear, as a product there’s not much you can compare it to.

The story ends the way all great literature should end: with Lincoln’s decapitated head floating through space. Please acquire Vacuum Horror by any means necessary.

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