John Pelan is something of a legend amongst those familiar with short horror fiction. As editor, he has been responsible for the Roc-published Dark Side series of US paperback horror anthologies (A Walk on the Darkside, Alone on the Darkside and others) as well as co-editing highly regarded stand-alone projects like The Children of Cthulhu and Shadows Over Baker Street (both Random House). Under the publishing imprints of Midnight House and Dark Side he was responsible for bringing back into print the works of Fritz Leiber, W C Morrow, Charles Birkin Joseph Payne Brennan and many other classic writers of the macabre. Most recently he has been working with the highly regarded (and highly collectible) Centipede Press on their Masters of Science Fiction series (two great volumes so far - James Patrick Kelly and Fritz Leiber).
Editing and publishing, however, seems not to be enough for the incredibly industrious Mr Pelan and now, for the first time, Fedogan and Bremer have put together a collection of Mr Pelan’s short fiction in a fine-looking volume with a gorgeously gruesome wraparound cover featuring artwork by Allen Koszowski.
The book kicks off with an introduction by another legend of the horror world. Ramsey Campbell, often referred to as ‘the horror writer’s horror writer’ is widely known for his love of almost all aspects of genre literature, and in ‘Pelan, Prince of Pulp’, he extols the virtues of the author and the pulp tradition in which Mr Pelan’s stories are most assuredly set.
‘The Sailor Home from the Sea’, which opens the volume proper, is certainly a nasty pulp revenge tale filled with sex and sliminess in the very best Pan Horror tradition. Oh, and crabs. Lots of unfriendly, hungry ones. ‘An Antique Vintage’ takes us into Lovecraft territory with a hint of Machen as our narrator buys a big old house in the country and finds some very nasty things lurking beneath the cellar. The Machen theme continues with ‘Old Songs Waken’ which is set in Wales. A guest house in the Neath valley currently has five residents, two of whom are not what they seem. Could they have anything to do with the stone circle outside or that pan-pipe music that plays at night?
'Crazy Little Thing Like Love’ is a modern ghost story, while ‘Lord of the Jungle’ has homeless Jamie happening upon a community that has found a new god to protect it. ‘Twins’ is a doll story, but by no means of the cliched kind, with a subtle undercurrent of domestic abuse that lends the ending of the story a good punch. There’s a good punch to the end of ‘TV Eye’ as well, & I’ll leave you to find out what it is.
Other favourites in this thoroughly entertaining collection include ‘For Art’s Sake’ about a critic who reviews extreme art pieces but ends up being shown something even he can’t handle, ‘Spider’ about a tattoo of the titular creature, and the superbly Lovecraftian ‘An Outsider’. There’s also more than a hint of HPL in ‘Mystery of the Worm’ in which Conan-Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes meets Guy Boothby’s Dr Nicola. Weirdness ensues. And how can any fan of pulp not love a book that closes with a story about giant trapdoor spiders?
The book is generously illustrated with some deliciously disturbing pictures courtesy of the cover artist, and for aficionados of weird literature there’s yet more. Peppered throughout the tales in this volume are numerous references to classic writers, stories, and characters, and you’ll need to be quite the expert to spot them all. There’s a challenge for you.
In his collection Darkness, My Old Friend John Pelan, horror’s old friend, has done his genre proud. I enjoyed the book so much I got through it in less than a day, and I’ll certainly be revisiting it. In the meantime Fedogan and Bremer’s handsome hardback edition can take its rightful place in my library alongside many other classic collections of the pulp horror tale.