Posted by Jessica Nelson on May 10, 2013 in Apex Publications Blog: Matters of SF, Fantasy, and Horror, Genre Matters | 2 comments
You’ve probably noticed it’s Weird Fiction month here on the Apex blog. There’s been a lot of talk, lately, about what is and isn’t weird as far as fiction goes anymore. When we read a genre to the point where we can guess endings and plot twists, where we feel we know the monsters that inhabit the pages because we know where they’ve been before, how can we still call such a thing weird? Well, I’ll tell you. Weird is what can’t ever possibly happen in real life, but what we’re terrified might happen anyway, possible or not. Weird is dark, supernatural, fantastical, the stuff of nightmares. We can read it all we want, we can memorize the stories, and in that respect weird has perhaps been normalized, but if it happened in real life, make no bones about it, it’d be fucking weird.
One such story is John Hornor Jacobs‘ Southern Gods. Southern Gods is weird in all the best ways. The story is set in Tennessee and Arkansas in the 1950s. The head of a small Memphis recording company getting in early on the rhythm and blues movement hires World War II vet Lewis “Bull” Ingram to do some detective and muscle work. One of their salesmen has gone missing, and they want him brought home. In addition, they’ve come across a pirate radio station with no broadcast call letters; a station which is never on the same frequency twice; a station which plays the most foul, haunting, driving music anyone has ever heard, sung by a man who goes by the name of Ramblin’ John Hastur. They want that station – and Ramblin’ John – found, as well. There’s just one problem: things don’t usually turn out so well for people who find Ramblin’ John, and Bull? Well, he’s pretty good at what he does.
“[They say] That Ramblin’ John sings with the Devil’s voice and plays with the Devil’s hands. That when he sings, it’s like he’s casting a spell. That he’s got songs that if you heard them, they’d drive you mad. That his songs can raise the dead.”
Southern Gods has the gritty feel of noir, with excellent imagery and characters, right from the start. Jacobs makes use of the Lovecraftian Old Gods, it’s true, but this story isn’t just a regurgitation of the Cthulu Mythos. As a debut novel, Southern Gods is – of course – not without its faults, but Jacobs makes an outstanding show of craftsmanship in the way he captures the South with eerie dances of smoke and sunlight, hospitality and hoo doo. The story is brilliantly worked, dark and utterly disturbing.
“Beyond the sun, beyond the stars
Beyond the long black veil
It whispers in the dark
Where light and love both fail
Where do you sleep?
Where did you fall?
Beyond the sun, beyond the stars
Waiting for our call
Beyond the sun, beyond the stars,
Waiting for our call
The voice sounded hurt and reluctant. The lyrics repeated until they became a chant, rising and falling over the guitar and beat, rising and falling with little variation other than a growing sense of dread. More than the rhythm, more than the guitar, the man’s voice made Ingram feel like something was wrong, like something was not right with the world and this man’s words were the first outward sign of a deeply buried, world-spanning cancer.
Whoever is singing that horrible song… he doesn’t want to. Those words hurt him. Jesus Christ.“
Beyond giving you something more to add to your to-be-read list, I wanted to tell you more about this book. It was originally published in 2011 … by Night Shade Books. You can use Google to learn more if you’re unaware of the recent Night Shade Books debacle, I won’t go into that here. What’s important for you to know, is that it’s possible this book will remain in print. But it’s just as possible that it won’t. The problem is, no one really knows right now. And I’m here to tell you, if you’re still reading, you want to read this book. Go get it while you know you still can. If this one goes out of print, it’ll be a terrible loss to the world of honestly good, unique Weird Fiction you don’t want to miss out on.
Jessica Nelson has been writing since girlhood. She started out writing short stories for herself, usually centering around something like a unicorn and Pegasus prancing along the top of a rainbow, causing glitter to fall from the sky. As she grew, so did her love of words. She filled blank volumes faster than she could get her hands on them, teaching her the true value of napkins, menus, skin, and even her blue jeans.
Jessica has since found her niche in the world of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. She keeps a blog of bookish things and miscellaneous bric-a-brac she thinks readers might find interesting at http://allwaysunmended.com and writes book reviews for The Future Fire. She lives near Minneapolis, Minnesota with her husband, two daughters, and a slew of critters, spending her days reading, crafting, tapping at the keyboard, and picking up fur balls. Follow her on Twitter @AllwaysUnmended.