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Old 10-02-2013   #1
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Topic Nominated Recent Reading

I thought it would be interesting if TLO members occasionally posted brief accounts of their recent reading and their general reactions to the books read, favorable or not. Personally, I’m writing this to use up some time before some scheduled surgery and I’m trying to beat the clock. Parts may be Quick ‘n’ Dirty!

I finally got my hands on Mark Samuels The Face of Twilight and found it to be as engrossing, unsettling and as starkly horrific as his short stories. In it the living are being replaced by the dead; murder victims are being found, bodies horribly mutilated with carved occult symbols. A character called Conrad Stymm, a small man with a terribly scarred head, attired in a long raincoat, often carrying a heavy black leather bag, seems the natural suspect for such barbarism. (This Ripper-like figure could have been played brilliantly by the great Peter Lorre). This short novel contains the kind of visceral horror that’s rare in Samuels shorter fiction; and some of the descriptions are intensely horrific and physically disgusting, though never in a gratuitous sense.
The Face of Twilight is replete with truly nightmarish episodes, adroitly described, such as a hospital where the healthy visit and never leave, being transformed instead into sick, ghastly broken things. There’s the sinister website that posts numerous haunting images of urban desolation…and allows the protagonist to put together a strange map leading to a deserted and rundown T.V. station that may still be broadcasting some very sinister programming. The book’s final revelation/conclusion is appropriately hellish, and I think this may well be Samuels most underrated book.
. .

I’ve also reread Friedrich Durrenmatt’s brilliant “The Winter War in Tibet” (found in Collected Essays Vol. 3)..Like Borges, Durrenmatt was a master at transcending genres. This can be read as a straight horror/sci-fi novelette with fantastic bits of black humor and satire, or as a very dark work of philosophical pessimism. The style, thanks to a gifted translator, is instantly recognizable as Durrenmatt, and is as atmospheric as it is darkly poetic, describing soldiers and mercenaries engaged in a fantastic war on snowy peaks, bluffs, canyons, all living within deep labyrinths of subterranean tunnels, fighting an enemy whose identity they can never be certain of. Passages of intense philosophical thought follow scenes of ghastly violence. The ‘hero’ carves his story into the walls of the tunnels and chambers (Shades of At The Mountains of Madness!) for any alien race to read after Mankind’s eventual passing. Injuries have left him a monstrous Cyborg with one arm ending in a machine gun and the other in a stylus. Lacking lower limbs as well, he traverses the labyrinth in a motorized wheelchair. He fights for “the Administration” and, like all his company, wears the same white uniform as the faceless enemy. Doubt of the existence of an enemy is punished by death. The Commander who befriends our narrator is sadistic and violent; he may be insane; and the descriptions of the apocalypse ravaged country (before the Winter War) are haunting in their desolation. This was my third reading and new revelations unfailingly made themselves known.
The Winter War is a blend of horror, philosophy, and poetic despair that my words can’t begin to do justice, so I refuse to try any further…
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