Confessions of my Past, Present and Future
I don’t know when I first became aware of Brian Lumley’s work, nor whether he indeed inspired me to become a horror writer. Atop that, I certainly cannot remember how old I was when I read his 1986 novel, Necroscope. Before I say anything more, I’ll allow Mr Lumley to explain what a Necroscope actually is (pulled from his website www.brianlumley.com):
Tele- (Gk. tele: ‘far’.) A telescope is an optical instrument which enlarges images of distant objects. For example: the surface of the Moon may be viewed as from only a few hundred miles away.
Micro- (Gk. mikros: ‘small’) A microscope is an optical instrument which makes small objects visible to the human eye. Through a microscope, a drop of ‘clear’ water is seen to contain countless unsuspected micro-organisms.
Necro- (Gk. nekros: ‘a corpse’) A Necroscope is a human instrument which permits access to the minds of the dead. Harry Keogh is a Necroscope – he knows the thoughts of corpses in their graves.
The main difference between these instruments is this: the first two perform purely physical, one-way functions. They are incapable of changing anything. The Moon cannot look back through the telescope; the amoeba does not know it is under microscopic scrutiny.
That’s Harry Keogh’s big problem: his talent seems to work both ways. The dead know – and they won’t lie still for it!
For me, it’s the way Lumley dunks the reader headfirst into the Cold War era, where British and Russian secret services use psychic investigators and spies. That’s where Harry Keogh, Necroscope, comes into play. At just over five hundred pages, the novel is a little wordy at first yet Lumley weaves Rumanian history and ancient lore into an incredible story, combining secret agents and time travel, and introduces some seriously vicious undead creatures. These are in no way your typical vampires. For a novel that’s thirty years old, it can still hold its ground.
Indeed, what Harry discovers beneath the ground of the Rumanian mountains has to be my favourite antagonist in literature.
Since the novel’s release, the concept became a fifteen book series. The first three—the original trilogy, no less—are by far the most ground breaking. In the third instalment, The Source, we’re taken into the source world where Lumley tears apart all we know of werewolves and vampires to lay down his own rules. Here, he creates new myths and legends which reveal some truly gruesome characters.
Those guys don’t just bite people, they ravage them.
This was the first time I’d experienced a piece of work that expertly played the cross-genre game. Lumley crafts horror, fantasy, and science fiction together to rewrite our legends.
Bringing us to today’s literature, only last week I placed back on its shelf a novel that gripped me from the first page. Being a storyteller myself, I am one fussy bastard, and seeing that I could not put the damned thing down, this is a book I must shout about. I’m talking about Paul Kane’s Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell, a three hundred and eighty-page stonker that yanks the classic detective into Clive Barker’s Hellraiser world.
I am a huge fan of the Hellraiser movies as well as the original novella, The Hellbound Heart, let alone Barker’s work in general, so when I heard of this novel I was quick to scrawl it on my birthday wish-list. Incidentally, I’ve recently gone under the needle and had a Lovecraftian tattoo sleeve that includes the sneaky appearance of six puzzle boxes. Such is my fandom level.
In The Servants of Hell, Holmes and Watson investigate a missing person’s case, and the pair are drawn into dealings with a shadowy organisation known as The Order of the Gash. Written in such a way to be unique, this novel masterfully mirrors Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s delivery of his finest supernatural tales from back in the 19th century. Alongside that, it reflects a precision of Barker-esque horror where all hell breaks loose and snatches the reader into familiar settings for both Hellraiser and Holmes fans.
Kane manages to portray the Hellraiser world better than the original author managed in his 2015 novel, The Scarlet Gospels. Needless to say I was disappointed with that one. The only way I can describe Barker’s Gospels as a novel, let alone a Hellraiser episode, is it lacks substance; there’s little to the characters, the setting, and sadly even the Cenobites themselves failed to shine. Anyone familiar with the Hellraiser franchise knows the importance of the Cenobites because they are, after all, Servants of Hell.
Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell had such sights to show me, and I was not let down.
So here I am, supposed to look to the future, to see as far as thirty years from now… And damn, that’s tricky. What will I be writing? What will I be reading?
First up, I’ll be seventy years old. Mark Cassell: an elderly gentleman with white tufts of hair sprouting from a liver-spotted scalp, seated with a slight hunch from squinting into some new technological wonder into which he’s plugged, imagining his stories, his masterpieces, direct to digital format. All the while, no doubt, confused at the world and how the youth of that day aren’t a patch on what he once was.
Just like my music tastes are mostly stuck in the 90’s, I imagine my reading preferences would be the same where I’ll revert to the classics of my generation. But of course I’ll dig deep into my peers’ work, and I’ll keep up with current trends. I most definitely refuse to become stale, to hate all the new drivel that’s on the shelves. Or would that all be digital shelves because no one uses paper anymore?
As for what I’ll be writing…
I’ll let you into a little secret: my debut novel The Shadow Fabric as a title was first scribbled back in 1991 (Holy shit, that’s twenty-five years ago). Supernatural, the paranormal, demonology, witchcraft, ghosts and creatures of the night have always fascinated me, so I doubt that’ll change. Thirty years from now? I’ll still explore the furthest reaches of the Other Side, of the darkness where demons and spirits and hell’s creatures lay in wait. Perhaps by the time I’m in my seventies, I’ll have shaken hands with at least one of them.
I know for sure the Shadow Fabric Mythos will have become something larger by then. I do wonder how many novels and novellas will have extended the original concept. Indeed, how the Fabric will unravel further.
In addition to dabbling with the dark arts, if only in my written work, I would like to think that I would’ve finally expanded on my steampunk universe and have something out there in novel form. A series would be nice, but a standalone novel would be just as satisfying.
For those unfamiliar with steampunk as a genre, think of it as science fiction but without spaceships, robots or laser guns. Instead, there are air balloons, clockwork automatons and gas-powered rifles, all typically set in an alternative Victorian England. There’s even steam-powered motorcycles rather than hover-cars, corsets rather than spandex.
A couple of years ago when editor Rayne Hall first approached me to write a story for her then-upcoming anthology, Cogwheels: Ten Tales of Steampunk, I hadn’t read anything in that genre. Let alone written anything. I immediately devoured a number of books and eventually developed a tale of a disabled engineer whose automaton breaks free to run amok through a sleeping town. Titled Hole in the Sky, this story inspired me to follow up with several flash fiction pieces if only to see if the concept could be expanded.
As way of signing out, here I’ll leave you one of those flash fiction stories:
By Mark Cassell
Smoke dirtied the moonlight, and fires crackled beyond the trees. The gas lamps that remained upright still glowed, drenching the dead in a putrid yellow. Most of the town’s residents had fled to the park only to be trampled or ravaged or snatched into cavernous mouths.
Now the screams had stopped, Monice knew she was alone. At her feet the Commander’s body lay twisted into the mud. A three-clawed impression had crushed his weapon. And his head. The mud and grass blended with skull and hair, flesh and oxygen mask. Shell casings glinted.
Like discarded mannequins, her platoon surrounded her in various mangled states. Monice had been the only one to take cover beneath the crumpled sheet of metal she guessed was an airship wing. Its length had protected her from the onslaught as she’d fired round after round at those…things.
She licked dry lips and adjusted her dented armour. Her comrades’ blood smeared the breastplate.
In a surprisingly steady hand, she hefted her rifle. A green light pulsed within the valves, and chemicals bubbled through coiled tubes. Of late, the Ministry were spending a heap of taxpayers’ money on weapon modifications. The contraptors in research and development had unparalleled reputations but the mods had so far proved inefficient.
She refused to end up like the rest of her platoon. Besides, she had aspirations to head for Sky Island once her duty ended. This was, indeed will be, her last duty to the King.
Something crashed—a tree perhaps—and a roar echoed on the smoky air.
Over the trees and beyond the park, tentacles lashed the sky. Claws, too, on gnarled fingers. Spirals of smoke curled as those fleshy limbs whipped and tore away the top branches.
More trees crashed. The ground shook.
Those things were close.
Time to move. Towards them.
Mud squelched and she ran into the shadows. For now, the trees would offer protection. She knew where the creatures were most likely headed: the town centre, near the zoo, the clock tower. That was where it had all began. No more than a couple of hours ago the tower created a portal, only to snap shut on an emerging creature. That one was dead. Speculation from the Ministry suggested that now the fabric between worlds had torn it was inevitable more beings would come through. And they had, amidst a vortex that spat red lightning. Two beings slithered into the world, and the rip in space proceeded to suck everything into it.
The hulk of a fallen evacuation ship loomed over her. At least half of it—the other half, she could only imagine, was in another world.
The curved panels of the fuselage lay buckled and tangled with shreds of balloon fabric. Blood caked the inside of the cracked windows. Suspension cables snaked across the grass. Glass and iron splinters littered the area. Plus, several bodies, some with missing limbs.
She ran faster.
Once these creatures were defeated, her duty to the country would end. Then Sky Island.
Time to find a larger weapon…
You can buy The Shadow Fabric here:
CONFESSIONS REVIEWS MARK CASSELL
Mark Cassell lives in a rural part of the UK with his wife and a number of animals. He often dreams of dystopian futures, peculiar creatures, and flitting shadows. Primarily a horror writer, his steampunk, dark fantasy, and SF stories have featured in numerous anthologies and ezines including Rayne Hall’s Ten Tales series and horror zine, Sirens Call.
His best-selling debut novel, The Shadow Fabric, is closely followed by the popular short story collection, Sinister Stitches, and are both only a fraction of an expanding mythos. His most recent release, Chaos Halo 1.0: Alpha Beta Gamma Kill, is in association with Future Chronicles Photography.
And for more about Mark, visit his site or find him on social media: