Thursday, February 17, 2011

To Each Their Darkness

by Gary Braunbeck
Apex Book Company

Gary Braunbeck is, without a doubt, one of my favorite writers. Few people manage to write with such bleak lyricism raw emotion and literary panache as he does. For this reason, Fear in a Handful of Dust is one of the most useful and entertaining books on the craft and fandom of fiction on my shelf, even surpassing On Writing. There’s no hyperbole or tongue chewing in that statement, the book is good. And out of print. So here comes this book that I am repeatedly assured is most definitely not a simple revision and update of a book I (and some of you, quite possibly) already own.

It is, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

First off, it is a heavily revised and updated version, with a bunch of new material added and some whole sections excised. Second, just look my opening paragraph. The original wasn't too shabby and it's out of print. Who the hell is it that's complaining about access to a book that many wouldn't be able to get a hold of without sacrificing a neighbor's first born?

If you've read Fear then you know what to expect, but if you haven't... prepare yourself. This isn't just a how-to manual for writers or an opportunity to swap stories with a fellow horror geek. It's also a harrowing journey through the life and soul of the writer. That is why I love the subtitle of the original version (“Horror as a way of Life”) so much: it exemplifies his credo that a writer must put every bit of themselves into their writing if it is to have any lasting effect. His explanations of his life don't stand as opportunities to play the hard luck artist, instead, he uses them to show how he has placed every fiber, every tear, every late night screech into the wind and even those tiny bits of hope that seem so hard to grasp into the stories he has created.

And he's damn funny while he does it (just try listening to Smoke on the Water without falling apart after reading this).

That's what makes the following hard to say: I'm disappointed. There are moments that display a marked lack of continuity which I am sure come from merging new material into the older, which was itself stitched together largely from pre-existing articles. The worst of these is a point where he references a portion of the original which had been excised from this version, as if it was still there and going so far as to accuse the reader of skipping around if they don't recall that part. And there are others that are merely confusing. This isn't something that kills the book or destroys what Gary is attempting to do with it, but it pisses me off. I sound like a whiny griefer, choking on sour grapes and a tall glass of haterade but DAMMIT, Gary, I expect better than that from you. For someone describing himself as a merciless reader who abhors sloppy writing... well... it just seems lazy.

Ranting aside, it is a good book. It is a must-have for writers and a should-have for fans. I still prefer the content in Fear (due to those previously mentioned issues), but if I didn't already own that then I would prefer the price point and availability of this version much more.

Buy it here.

Reviewed by Anton Cancre

Anton Cancre is one of those rotting, pus-filled thingies on the underside of humanity that your mother always warned you about. He has oozed symbolic word-farms onto the pages of Shroud, Sex and Murder and Horrorbound magazines as well as The Terror at Miskatonic Falls, an upcoming poetry anthology by Shroud Publishing and continues to vomit his oh-so-astute literary opinions, random thoughts and nonsense at No, he won't babysit you pet shoggoth this weekend. Stop asking.

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