Posted by Jason Sizemore on Dec 27, 2012 in Apex Publications Blog: Matters of SF, Fantasy, and Horror | 3 comments
Included below is the introduction Gill Ainsworth penned for her and Frank W. Haubold’s horror collection Seasons of Insanity. Enjoy!
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DEGREES OF INSANITY
WHEN FRANK AND I first thought of putting together a collection of stories, we decided the theme should be a “Year in Europe” with one story for every month of the year and each story set in a different county. I was desperate to write a story set in Cyprus because, a number of years ago, I was inadvertently set a challenge at a fantasy con: no-one can write a horror story set in Cyprus; it’s too wonderful a country for anything horrible to happen there. No, don’t go flicking through to find my Cyprus story; it isn’t here. Cyprus is too wonderful a country for anything horrible to happen there.
So, ultimately, Europe shrank to two countries: England and Germany. And why not? England and Germany have more in common than just trying to beat each other in football (soccer to anyone on the other side of The Pond). As Bill Bryson states in his hilarious book, Notes from a Small Island, they share a common language or, rather, they did at one time. It’s a shame they still don’t, as you will see.
Next came the gathering together of twelve stories, each one set in a different month. That was a surprisingly simple process, as they fell together into a natural order as if preordained to do so. The difficult part was translating many of Frank’s stories from German to English, and on that we worked together. My German is limited to useful words such as “sieben Glas Bier, bitte” and “Toilette.” Hmm. Maybe Bill Bryson has a point; you don’t have to speak German to understand these words.
But why seven glasses of beer? Choose your answer from one of the following. There may not be a correct answer but a T-shirt will wing its way to the best entry (most imaginative explanation for choosing A, B, C or D—judged by me) as long as the winner isn’t stationed on Mars. Okay, Mars isn’t that far away by modern standards but the Royal Mail doesn’t yet deliver there.
A) Seven is the only number I know in German (I did once buy eight bread rolls in Milan because, at the time, it was the only number I knew in Italian).
B) I hate running out of beer (having been snowed in many times over the past few winters, I know what running out of commodities is like, and it isn’t pretty).
C) I always travel with six friends (I’m a very popular person).
D) Frank has a story in this collection called “Seven” (purely subliminal, I’m sure; I may have done evil things in my life but nothing anywhere near as evil as in “Seven”).
But to get back to our translation work. Frank’s English is considerably better than my German (he’d be hard pushed for it not to be when I’m limited to ordering beer and asking where the toilet is) but, even so, it was a process that made me wish I’d actually paid attention in my German lessons at school. Nonetheless, after weeks of hard slog and praying to the god of on-line translators, we had twelve stories written in English. And that was when weird stuff began.
Frank writes in all areas of speculative fiction so I expected him to offer a mixture of horror, science fiction and fantasy, especially science fiction and cross genre stories; in 2008, he won the German Science Fiction Award for best novel and best short story and in 2009, his cross-genre story, “He Who Picks the Bones” (reprinted in this collection), was short listed for the International Aeon Award for short fiction. And even I, more a dark fantasy writer than anything else, had a couple of stories that could be loosely termed fantasy or science fiction. So why did all twelve stories have a second theme, a thread of insanity running through them?
The answer, I think, is that there is no such thing as sanity; there are only degrees of sanity. Or insanity.
How many kids chop worms in half? Or use a magnifying glass to train the sun on a spider or an ant to see how long it takes the creature to shrivel under such intense heat. And how many kids have worked out that to put salt on slugs makes for a slow and painful death sentence? Science experiment or the start of insanity? Or maybe they think such small creatures don’t feel pain.
Move on. What about the pre-adolescent who kidnaps a child and tortures him or her to death? Perhaps, like an insect, they believe such a small child can’t feel pain either.
Move on again. The newly-redundant family man kills his wife and children whilst they’re peacefully sleeping and then hangs himself. Is he saving his family from a future with no hope and no money? Or has he snapped, joined the insane brigade?
How far must someone go to tip the scales of sanity towards the outright insane? I’ll let you be the judge of that as you get lost in a year of insanity, season by season.