“Given its distilled concentration of elements, its fierce reworking of pop sensibility, and its placement within the band’s trajectory, Screaming for Vengeance feels something like metal’s answer to Pet Sounds.”
Daniel Braum’s new short story collection Underworld Dreams comes equipped with a Story Notes section; within these Notes, the author provides thoughtful reflections on his creative process, narrative intentions, and philosophical interests, among other things. Most prominently, Braum stresses his persisting interest in the ambiguous space between the psychological and the supernatural. Braum’s fiction inhabits this space and engages with the Weird tradition to depict our reality as innately interstitial, slippery, and impervious to “mastery.” By extension, Underworld Dreams repeatedly encourages us to scrutinize the artificial gap between human and nonhuman animals, between subject and world.
This coy, quiet, and unassuming challenge to human exceptionalism resonates throughout. The first story, “How to Stay Afloat When Drowning,” features a disturbing centerpiece in which a group of people brutally torture a shark; later, the story uses its psychological-supernatural ambiguity to blur the distinction between shark and human. “The Monkey Coat” lends attention to the suffering bound up in its titular object (the origin of whose horrors remain unknown).
Braum does not employ this symbolism to bluntly didactic ends; rather, he assesses the artificial divide between human and nonhuman animal to underline broader investigations about the human subject’s relation to the world. For example, the title story sees characters discussing acts of infidelity and dishonesty as reflections of their “monkey in the jungle” selves.
Braum cites Algernon Blackwood’s classic Weird novella The Willows in his Story Notes, and the imprint is visible: Underworld Dreams repeatedly sees its characters encountering eerily numinous spaces and reality-fissures in environments that have evaded global industrialism. Braum finds lots of potential for the ineffable in “natural” spaces, demonstrating a knack for imagery and atmosphere.
There are horrifying moments here (perhaps most notably in the aforementioned “Monkey Coat,” reportedly inspired by advice Braum got from the legendary Jack Ketchum), but this book mostly occupies Weird Fiction’s less macabre terrain. China Melville writes that the “obsession with numinosity under the everyday is at the heart of Weird Fiction,” and this is the obsession that most clearly characterizes Underworld Dreams. For readers seeking fiction with a strong narrative engine and a bold commitment to the unknown, this collection is one to seek out.
Mike Thorn wrote about Korn‘s 2002 album Untouchables for the Formative Music column at Vague Visages.
“Was there a pivotal moment when you decided to be a writer?
I can’t remember a time before I started writing. For better or worse, it has been a lifelong impulse. I was always drawn to reading, which is probably where my interest in writing originated. As a kid, I was excited by fantasy and horror (J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis and R. L. Stine when I was quite young, and then Stephen King when I got a little older).”
Prairie Gothic is the passion project of literary agent Stacey Kondla, with help from Jim Jackson of Prairie Soul Press. They gathered up-and-coming talents from the prairies to write thrillers/psychological horror stories set in these vast open spaces. Then the pandemic hit, and their finances weren’t doing as well as they’d hoped. But they truly want to bring this collection to the public, so they’re looking to make up half the cost of paying their talented authors and editors, printing books and shipping. And they’re looking to make it well worth your while. By contributing, you can unlock special swag – books, music – exclusive contributor-only events, get a professional consultation on your writing and even have a song written about you!
Are you up for seeing what’s waiting for you in the wide open spaces? Featuring the talents of: P.J. Vernon, Chris Carolan, Chris Marrs, Calvin Jim, Taijia Morgan, Konn Lavery, Stacey Kondla, Rhonda Parrish, Sarah L. Johnson, Rob Bose, Mike Thorn, Marty Chan, Liz Grotowski, Jim Jackson
Risks and challenges
They want to bring this collection to a wide audience. If they don’t meet their goal, they can’t do that, and it may prevent Prairie Soul Press from publishing future anthologies from seldom-heard voices.
Author and critic Mike Thorn swings by to talk about Prince of Darkness, John Carpenter’s 1987 horror film, and how it both expresses and interrogates the subject of epistemophobia — the fear of knowledge. It’s a great movie to go into knowing very little, so be aware that we spoil the entire plot in this episode.
We get into how the film withholds or ambiguates information for the audience, the film’s balance between pessimism and intellectual humility, and its place in Carpenter’s “Apocalypse Cycle” of movies.
The hosts of Film Formally spoke with Mike Thorn about John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness and the idea of an intentional deficit of knowledge in movies.
In style and substance, Carpenter offers a universe beyond understanding—but is there an order to it?
Stay tuned for the full episode, coming tomorrow!
Part 1: Zach, Michael, Ash and guest Mike Thorn discuss movies they saw this week, including: Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles, Allegro Non Troppo, Hail Caesar!, Bad Trip and Princess Mononoke.
Part 2 (34:23): The group continues their Young Critics Watch Old Movies series with 1934’s The Black Cat.
I’m nearly finished reading Stephen King’s fiction bibliography. Since I’ve now finished reading all of his collections, I thought I’d share my personal ranking:
- Skeleton Crew (1985)
- Full Dark, No Stars (2010)
- Hearts in Atlantis (1999)
- Night Shift (1978)
- Different Seasons (1982)
- Just After Sunset (2008)
- Everything’s Eventual (2002)
- Nightmares & Dreamscapes (1993)
- Four Past Midnight (1990)
- If It Bleeds (2020)
- The Bazaar of Bad Dreams (2015)