Here are twelve weird books to get you through the year until next Halloween. They’re not all horror, but they’re all certainly weird. And if they’re not enough for you, you can always dip into the weird world of old whaling ship logs to hold you over.
This surreal fantasy novel tells the story of an unnamed heroine trapped by her uncle, a magician who rules over a magical island. It features all the opaque density of Peake’s Gormenghast at a 10th of the length. Definitely not for all tastes, as what exists as plot or character owes more to medieval alchemical texts than to formal story-telling structure, but the vignettes are rich and beautiful in their strangeness.
Eiseley writes like Thoreau filtered through Weird Tales. One essay in here “How Natural is “Natural”?” could have been written by Lovecraft in how it explores evolution and eternity.
“I too am aware of the trunk that stretches loathsomely back of me along the floor. I too am a many-visaged thing that has climbed upward out of the dark of endless leaf falls, and has slunk, furred, through the glitter of blue glacial nights. I, the professor, trembling absurdly on the platform with my book and spectacles, am the single philosophical animal. I am the unfolding worm, and mud fish, the weird tree of Igdrasil shaping itself endlessly out of darkness toward the light.
I have said this is not an illusion. It is when one sees in this manner, or a sense of strangeness halts one on a busy street to verify the appearance of one’s fellows, that one knows a terrible new sense has opened a faint crack in the absolute. It is in this way alone that one comes to grip with a great mystery, that life and time bear some curious relationship to each other that is not shared by inanimate things.”
This short novel is a bit like one of those VH1 behind the music specials penned as a ghost story by Arthur Machen. In the early 1970s members of a British acid rock band hole up in mysterious Wylding Hall to record what will turn out to be their greatest album. However while recording their lead singer will disappear into the hall and never be seen or heard from again. Years later the musicians, their friends, and associates meet with a documentary filmmaker to try and solve the mystery.
Hand clearly evokes the late 60s early 70s music scene, and I’ll admit that half way through the book I went on youtube to see if I could listen to any of the fictitious band’s music.
A Gothic fantasy novel from 1908 by noted expressionist illustrator Alfred Kubin that dissolves into decadent surrealism at its end. It’s a book you’re either going to love or hate. I loved it, but I enjoy long slow train rides to oblivion. It’s easy to see that this book influenced both Kafka and Peake, as well as provided a satire of all reactionary, idealistic utopias where one wealthy genius (or man of ego), heaves off to some isolated spot with his followers and impresses his will completely upon them until disaster results.
This collection knocked my socks off largely because it was an impulse buy, I liked the cover, and being the ignoramus I am I’d never heard of the author. What I expected was some quaint “English” ghost stories. What I got was startlingly different.
Lee was the pseudonym for Violet Paget a Victorian writer in the circle of Henry James and Walter Pater. She wrote poetry and travel essays, but she’s now mostly known for her supernatural stories like those collected here. Favorites include the titular “Virgin of the Seven Daggers”, “Amour Dure”, and “Prince Alberic and the Snake Lady”. If you happen to see this on the remainder table definitely grab a copy.
McDowell’s probably best known as the screenwriter for Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice and The Nightmare Before Christmas. He was also one of the highlights of the 70s/80s paperback horror boom and an advocate for taking delight in all aspects of trash culture.
The Elementals reads like a weird cocktail mixing Capote, Salinger, and Stephen King at his goriest as two Alabama families decide to spend the summer at their isolated beach houses, doing their best to forget the empty third house nearby that’s slowly being swallowed by a mountain of sand. Unfortunately, things in the third house won’t forget about them.
Both trashy and creepy, and hats off to Valancourt Books for bringing McDowell back into print again.
Eleven horror stories by seven authors written in the early decades of Soviet Russia, a time of civil war, strife, and untold hardship. None of these stories have been printed before and with the exception of Bulgakov (and maybe Krzhizhanovsky) I suspect most people don’t even know the authors, but damn… these stories are great, Chayanov’s and Krzhizhanovsky’s being my favorites with doubles, duels, and medical specimens run amok. Definitely a collection worth tracking down.
The year is 1689. The place is Cold Marsh, a village on the border of civilization fourteen years after King Philip’s War ended when the village men slaughtered the inhabitants of a nearby native village. Now a series of disappearances have occurred and the men set out once more into the wilderness to confront whatever evil they can find. This novel captures that awe that exists close beside our fear of the unknown.
What makes these stories stand out is how firmly they’re grounded in the world of the marketplace and the ties between masters, servants, craftspeople, and… ghosts. Taken as a whole you get this sense of the supernatural sharing mundane qualities with the everyday world. If you’ve ever had a temp job where you stepped into a place and instantly your skin crawled and you thought “some bad shit’s going on that I can’t see here”, then you’ll enjoy this book.
So imagine Dead Poets Society at an all women’s college circa 1975, except swap out Robin William and replace him with Charles Manson. That’s this book.
A student falls under the spell of her charismatic English professor and his wife. Moral degradation, debauchery, and revulsion ensue. It’s a Gothic horror novella without any supernatural elements in it. I recommend it, but it’s a f’d up book. Not for everyone.
Near the end of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House there’s a chapter or two where the haunted house takes over the protagonist and warps all her perceptions. This entire book is like those chapters as a young woman with an eating disorder slowly gets taken over by the ghosts of her mother and grandmother lurking in the house. Meanwhile her brother may be making the whole story up and a refugee crisis is brewing. So if you ever wanted to read a stylish, but weird, haunted house story from multiple POVs this is your book.
This is a twofer as it collects both of Sloane’s mystery-horror novels from the 1930s, To Walk the Night and The Edge of Running Water. I’d wanted to read them since seeing the old Boris Karloff movie The Devil Commands, which was based on Edge of Running Water and gives you sights like this one.
By far Edge is my favorite of the two novels collected here, but both are curious in that they suggest an alternate horror genre that never quite emerged. If mad scientists, unsolvable murders, and explorations beyond space and time float your boat, then track this down and give it a shot.
A couple of recent additions to Project Gutenberg that look like they might be worth a further look simply on account of their illustrations alone.
“In every manor there was held annually the assize of bread and ale, the two staple articles of diet which it was essential should be pure and of good quality. “Bread, the staff of life, and beer life itself,” not unknown as a motto on the signboards, is a saying that[Pg 97] has come down to us from a prehistoric period. And modern science, as it seems, is inclined to endorse the maxim. Good old-fashioned wheaten and rye bread, made from the whole flour from which only the coarser brans had been sifted, built up the stamina of our forefathers. Their chief drink was ale brewed from barley or oaten malt. The small proportion of alcohol served as a vehicle for the organic phosphates necessary for the sustenance of strong nerves, while the ferment of the malt helped to digest the starch granules in the bread. Bread and ale are still the main diet of our labouring classes—but alas! stale, finely-sifted flour contains a very poor allowance of gluten, and chemically produced saccharine is destitute of phosphates. O, that our modern legislators would revive the assize of bread and ale!”
And from The History of Mourning:
“The Italians, and especially the Venetians, spent enormous sums upon their funeral services, which were exceedingly picturesque; but as the members of the brotherhoods who walked in the procession wore pointed hoods and masks, so that, by the glare of the torches, only their eyes could be seen glittering, and as it was the custom, also, for the funeral to take place at night, the body being exposed upon an open bier, in full dress, the scene was sufficiently weird to attract the attention of travellers.”
I remember reading the opening of this weird SFF book back in high school where a guy’s kidnapped from the present and imprisoned in the future for a crime no one will tell him about. I never finished it. The thing I remember is the guy being interrogated at a table that had a holographic hand hovering above it. Anyway I set the book down or lost it or whatever, and probably couldn’t have told you who had written it – until today when I started reading Indoctrinaire by Christopher Priest. That’s the book. I’m not sure how it found me here in South Korea.
Seriously, they are.
Not only do they have warts, topical skin conditions, various physical tics, and other minor abnormalities, but their thought processes are different. They see things you don’t see. They hear things you don’t hear.
They think things you don’t think.
If its a physical thing, you might be in luck. Remember that kid in your class with the deformed ear, or the unsightly mole, or crooked teeth? Childhood is the great era of corrective surgery, braces, and the lasering away of unsightly blemishes. They’ve had that shit taken care – because doing so helps them blend in and walk among us with their weird, mutant thoughts.
It might be your world, but they’re adapting to it. And soon it’ll no longer be your world.
It will be theirs.
The Abyssal King draws champions to his realm with the promise of glory and renown. It is a twisted, broken land, dotted with castles, towers, and ruins, scattered amid craggy peaks and thick, gloomy forests. Only the bravest, most daring, and ruthless can ever hope to win a place at the Abyssal King’s table. Others must wins service with the lesser lords and ladies, or carve a domain for themselves out of the wilderness where fearsome beasts dwell. And beneath it all the Moldrig wait, the cursed dwarfs who once ruled over men, steeped in terrible wisdom. plotting their insane schemes, and working their arcane forges.
Whether by sword or sorcery a knight seeks but one thing: glory.
Once upon a time one of my 3rd grade students drew this:
And I was like, yes, my players will have to fight this. And they did! And then afterwards they all drew pictures of it,
because they are greedy for sweet sweet experience points because EAGLESHARK!
As you can see the description sort of shifted because it was late and I was like eagle wings, no bat wings, no two legs, no four legs – two tiger, two eagle…