Clive Barker reminds me of those battlefield generals determined to win at all costs.
Maybe a General Patton, who earned the infamous nickname Old Blood and Guts
(doesn’t that sound like it could be the title to a Clive Barker book?).  Even as their
soldiers fall dead or wounded, these intrepid commanders push onward, heedless of the
consequences. Prospects might be as hopeless as the Battle of the Somme or Stalingrad
during the winter of 1943, but truce is unacceptable, peace a fool’s dream.  I am
reminded of General Walter Heitz's order to his troops in their last encounter: "We fight
to the last bullet but one." Take a guess what you do with that last bullet.

That’s exactly how Clive Barker treats his characters.

You wouldn't want to find yourself in one of his tales.
Those poor devils pay the ultimate price, as the phrase
goes, for the honor of participating in a Clive Barker
short story.  Almost everybody you meet in Books of
Blood bites the dust before the final page—heroes,
villains, major characters, minor characters, innocent
bystanders. In some instances all of the characters are
dead, or on the brink of death, at the end of the tale.
No, Mr. Barker isn't one to leave room for sequels.

But like our General Patton, Barker may leave the

field strewn with corpses, but he does produce results.
There's more to his stories than just blood and guts.  
He understands that the rules for horror writing are
not much different from those governing other types
of narrative fiction. Barker doesn't just rush into the
battlefield, but prepares methodically for the conflicts
ahead. Those who have heard about this author's taste for carnage may be surprised at
how much attention he devotes to character development, backstory, setting, mood and
motivation. You might even say he deeply cares for his characters…well, at least until
that moment when he ruthlessly disposes of them.

Barker first made his name with these
Books of Blood. He parlayed these sinister tales
into a wide-ranging career that has brought him everything from an Oscar (for best
screenwriter) to acclaim as a painter and illustrator. He eventually turned his hand to
comic books, children’s stories, photography, almost as if he were one of the characters
in his tales attempting to escape the gruesome circumstances behind his past. In the
introduction to the 1998 edition of Books of Blood, 1-3, he even expressed something
akin to embarrassment over his path to success. "I'm uncomfortable being viewed as the
‘Horror Guy’,” he explains, and adds that his distaste is so great that he practically dreads
Halloween, avoiding the parties and processions that allow others to indulge their taste
for frightening fare. Yet even today, the first phrase that comes to mind when people
describe Barker is the simple epithet "horror writer." And he has garnered the highest of
praise from the most celebrate of scaremongers: "I have seen the future of horror,"
Stephen King proclaimed back at the outset of this author’s ascendancy, "his name is
Clive Barker."

Barker's protagonists are rarely adventurers

or seekers after the occult. Much of the appeal
of these stories comes from our author’s ability
to combine the gruesome and mundane in ways
that are almost plausible.  The typical Books of
Blood story starts by downplaying the reader's
expectations, by mimicking the trappings of
everyday life.  In "The Midnight Meat Train,"
our protagonist is a middle-aged man who
recently relocated from Atlanta to New York,
only to find the city dreary, dirty and unexciting
….until he happens to fall asleep and miss his
subway stop at the worst possible time. I will spare you the details, but next day the
headlines read “Subway Slaughter.” Thomas Garrow, the hero of “Rawhead Rex” is a
struggling country farmer who needs to clear out a rocky area where he hopes to plant
next season. Few things could be more banal. But in his case, Garrow couldn’t have
chosen a worse spot to dig into the ground. In "Dread," perhaps the creepiest story in the
book, Stephen Grace makes the mistake of taking a philosophy course at college, and
meets a peculiar fellow student who wants to study the existential concept of dread. Our
hero soon learns, however, that his new friend has developed a methodology for
isolating this phenomenon more suited for Sade than Sartre. Mick and Judd,
protagonists of "In the Hills, the Cities" think that their biggest problem is a
disagreement over the itinerary of their Eastern European vacation, but their
compromise solution instead gives them a sight that most tourists would die to see—
literally, in this case.

In the concluding story of the book, the novella "Human Remains," Barker builds his

narrative around one of his typical protagonists, the pretty-boy slacker Gavin who finds
that he can earn a reasonable living selling his good looks to a well-heeled clientele. He
cherishes dreams of pursuing a more stable life, settling down to something better than
a series of pick-ups and by-the-hour assignations. Maybe he can move up the ladder to
the profession of gigolo, or even find a rich spouse who will pamper and bankroll him in
a less tawdry profession. But he always decides to put off any decision for another day,
and first make one more quick score. A chance encounter with a collector of illegal
antiquities puts Gavin in contact with a mysterious nemesis—a strange half-dead entity
that wants to emulate the young hustler, and somehow is able to take on his looks and
gestures.

Here Barker evokes not only the classic horror

stories about ‘doubles’—such as Edgar Allan Poe’s
"
William Wilson" and E.T.A. Hoffmann’s The
Devil's Elixirs—but also the myths of Narcissus
and Pygmalion. The end result is an appealing
narrative that works on two levels, both as escapist
story with all the familiar ingredients of the slasher
story, but also as a deeper commentary on the
displaced nature of the self in our intensely image-
and youth-oriented society. This is Barker at his
best, never neglecting the gruesome details that
brought him a huge audience, but still pushing for
something smarter and more open-ended.

By the way, it’s hard to believe that Clive Barker is

only five years younger than Stephen King. King
feels like old time rock 'n' roll, while Barker comes
across as more New Wave and punk.  At the dawn
of his career, the latter smartly ditched the gothic
overtones that have so long permeated the genre, and went stale at least a half-century
ago.  In their place, he crafted new kinds of nihilist scary stories, very up-to-date and
often set in nightmarish urban landscapes. Few things are harder than modernizing the
horror formulas that have been around for centuries—they were telling ghost stories in
ancient Rome, and myths about evil spirits no doubt circulated in prehistoric times. But
Barker has thrived by doing just that.

So don’t be deterred by the name. I was initially wary myself of
Books of Blood, if only
because the title seemed to promise little beyond an overabundance of the crimson tide.
But I was more sanguine after reading Barker’s offering, and suspect you will be too.
There’s more than gore here—that said, these stories are not for the squeamish. But
there’s also wry humor, social commentary and well-crafted storytelling. No, don’t
expect good to triumph, or even the main characters to survive to the last paragraph, but
you will be properly entertained and agitated by the proceedings. And, above all, relieved
that you merely read these stories, not inhabit them.

Ted Gioia writes about music, literature and popular culture. His latest book is How to Listen to Jazz
from Basic Books.


Publication Date: May 30, 2016
This is my year of horrible reading.
I am reading the classics of horror fiction
during the course of 2016, and each week will
write about a significant work in the genre.
You are invited to join me in my
annus
horribilis
. During the course of the year—if
we survive—we will have tackled zombies,
serial killers, ghosts, demons, vampires, and
monsters of all denominations. Check back
each week for a new title...but remember to
bring along garlic, silver bullets and a
protective amulet.  
Ted Gioia
My Year of Horrible Reading

Week 1:
Dracula
By Bram Stoker

Week 2:
The Haunting of Hill House
By Shirley Jackson

Week 3:
Tales of Mystery & Imagination
By Edgar Allan Poe

Week 4:
Carrie
By Stephen King

Week 5:
The Passion According to G.H.
By Clarice Lispector

Week 6:
Tales
By H.P. Lovecraft

Week 7:
The Exorcist
By William Peter Blatty

Week 8:
The Woman in Black
By Susan Hill

Week 9:
Nausea
By Jean-Paul Sartre

Week 10:
I Am Legend
By Richard Matheson

Week 11:
Ghost Stories of Henry James
By Henry James

Week 12:
Interview with the Vampire
By Anne Rice

Week 13:
American Psycho
By Bret Easton Ellis

Week 14:
Last Stories and Other Stories
By William T. Vollmann

Week 15:
Ghost Stories of an Antiquary
By M.R. James

Week 16:
Rosemary's Baby
By Ira Levin

Week 17:
The King in Yellow
By Robert W. Chambers

Week 18:
Rebecca
By Daphne Du Maurier

Week 19
The Woman in the Dunes
by Kōbō Abe

Week 20
The Dark Eidolon
by Clark Ashton Smith

Week 21
Off Season
by Jack Ketchum

Week 22
Books of Blood, Vols. 1-3
by Clive Barker
conceptual fiction
Exploring the Non-Realist Tradition in Fiction
Clive Barker's Books of Blood
In some instances all of
the characters are dead,
or on the brink of death,
at the end of the tale. No,
Mr. Barker isn’t one to
leave room for sequels..
To purchase, click on image
Essay by Ted Gioia
Clive Barker
Follow Ted Gioia on Twitter at
www.twitter.com/tedgioia

Conceptual Fiction:
A Reading List
(with links to essays on each work)

Home Page

Abbott, Edwin A.
Flatland

Adams, Douglas
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Aldiss, Brian
Barefoot in the Head

Aldiss, Brian
Hothouse

Aldiss, Brian
Report on Probability A

Allende, Isabel
The House of the Spirits

Amado, Jorge
Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands

Amis, Martin
Time's Arrow

Apuleius
The Golden Ass

Asimov, Isaac
The Foundation Trilogy

Asimov, Isaac
I, Robot

Atwood, Margaret
The Blind Assassin

Atwood, Margaret
The Handmaid's Tale

Banks, Iain M.
The State of the Art

Ballard, J.G.
The Atrocity Exhibition

Ballard, J.G.
Crash

Ballard, J.G.
The Crystal World

Ballard, J.G.
The Drowned World

Barker, Clive
Books of Blood, Vols. 1-3

Barth, John
Giles Goat-Boy

Bester, Alfred
The Demolished Man

Blish, James
A Case of Conscience

Borges, Jorge Luis
Ficciones

Bradbury, Ray
Dandelion Wine

Bradbury, Ray
Fahrenheit 451

Bradbury, Ray
The Illustrated Man

Bradbury, Ray
The Martian Chronicles

Bradbury, Ray
Something Wicked This Way Comes

Brockmeier, Kevin
The View from the Seventh Layer

Bulgakov, Mikhail
The Master and Margarita

Bunch, David R.
Moderan

Burgess, Anthony
A Clockwork Orange

Card, Orson Scott
Ender's Game

Carpentier, Alejo
The Kingdom of This World

Carroll, Lewis
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Chabon, Michael
The Yiddish Policemen's Union

Chambers, Robert W.
The King in Yellow

Chiang, Ted
Stories of Your Life and Others

Clarke, Arthur C.
Childhood's End

Clarke, Arthur C.
A Fall of Moondust

Clarke, Arthur C.
2001: A Space Odyssey

Clarke, Susanna
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Crowley, John
Little, Big

Danielewski, Mark Z.
The Fifty Year Sword

Danielewski, Mark Z.
House of Leaves

Davies, Robertson
Fifth Business

Delany, Samuel R.
Babel-17

Delany, Samuel R.
Dhalgren

Delany, Samuel R.
The Einstein Intersection

Delany, Samuel R.
Nova

Dick, Philip K.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Dick, Philip K.
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

Dick, Philip K.
The Man in the High Castle

Dick, Philip K.
Ubik

Dick, Philip K.
VALIS

Disch, Thomas M.
Camp Concentration

Disch, Thomas M.
The Genocides

Doctorow, Cory
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

Donoso, José
The Obscene Bird of Night

Ellison, Harlan (editor)
Dangerous Visions

Ellison, Harlan
I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream

Esquivel, Laura
Like Water for Chocolate

Farmer, Philip José
To Your Scattered Bodies Go

Fowles, John
A Maggot

Fuentes, Carlos
Aura

Gaiman, Neil
American Gods

Gaiman, Neil
Neverwhere

Gibson, William
Burning Chrome

Gibson, William
Neuromancer

Grass, Günter
The Tin Drum

Greene, Graham
The End of the Affair

Grossman, Lev
The Magicians

Haldeman, Joe
The Forever War

Hall, Steven
The Raw Shark Texts

Harrison, M. John
The Centauri Device

Harrison, M. John
Light

Heinlein, Robert
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Heinlein, Robert:
Stranger in a Strange Land

Heinlein, Robert
Time Enough for Love

Helprin, Mark
Winter's Tale

Herbert, Frank
Dune

Hill, Susan
The Woman in Black

Hoffman, Alice
Practical Magic

Houellebecq, Michel
Submission

Huxley, Aldous
Brave New World

Jackson, Shirley
The Haunting of Hill House

James, Henry
The Turn of the Screw

James, M.R.
Ghost Stories of an Antiquary

Keret, Etgar
Suddenly, A Knock at the Door

Ketchum, Jack
Off Season

Keyes, Daniel
Flowers for Algernon

King, Stephen
Carrie

Kundera, Milan
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

Kunzru, Hari
Gods Without Men

Lafferty, R.A.
Nine Hundred Grandmothers

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Dispossessed

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Lathe of Heaven

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Left Hand of Darkness

Leiber, Fritz
The Big Time

Leiber, Fritz
Conjure Wife

Leiber, Fritz
Swords & Deviltry

Leiber, Fritz
The Wanderer

Lem, Stanislaw
His Master's Voice

Lem, Stanislaw
Solaris

Lethem, Jonathan
The Fortress of Solitude

Levin, Ira
Rosemary's Baby

Lewis, C. S.
The Chronicles of Narnia

Link, Kelly
Magic for Beginners

Lovecraft, H.P.
Tales

Malzberg, Barry N.
Herovit's World

Mandel, Emily St. John
Station Eleven

Mann, Thomas
Doctor Faustus

Márquez, Gabriel García
100 Years of Solitude

Markson, David
Wittgenstein's Mistress

Matheson, Richard
Hell House

Matheson, Richard
I Am Legend

Matheson, Richard
What Dreams May Come

McCarthy, Cormac
The Road

Miéville, China
Perdido Street Station

Miller, Jr., Walter M.
A Canticle for Leibowitz

Millhauser, Steven
Dangerous Laughter

Mitchell, David
Cloud Atlas

Moorcock, Michael
Behold the Man

Moorcock, Michael
The Final Programme

Morrison, Toni
Beloved

Murakami, Haruki
1Q84

Murakami, Haruki
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the
End of the World

Nabokov, Vladimir
Ada, or Ardor

Niffenegger, Audrey
The Time Traveler's Wife

Niven, Larry
Ringworld

Noon, Jeff
Vurt

Obreht, Téa
The Tiger's Wife

O'Brien, Flann
At Swim-Two-Birds

Okri, Ben
The Famished Road

Percy, Walker
Love in the Ruins

Poe, Edgar Allan
Tales of Mystery & Imagination

Pohl, Frederik
Gateway

Pratchett, Terry
The Color of Magic

Pynchon, Thomas
Gravity's Rainbow

Rabelais, François
Gargantua and Pantagruel

Rice, Anne
Interview with the Vampire

Robinson, Kim Stanley
Red Mars

Rowling, J.K.
Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone

Rushdie, Salman
Midnight's Children

Russ, Joanna
The Female Man

Saramago, José
Blindness

Sheckley, Robert
Dimension of Miracles

Sheckley, Robert
Mindswap

Sheckley, Robert
Store of the Worlds

Shelley, Mary
Frankenstein

Silverberg, Robert
Dying  Inside

Silverberg, Robert
Nightwings

Silverberg, Robert
The World Inside

Simak, Clifford
City

Simak, Clifford
The Trouble with Tycho

Smith, Clark Ashton
The Dark Eidolon

Smith, Cordwainer
Norstrilia

Smith, Cordwainer
The Rediscovery of Man

Stephenson, Neal
Snow Crash

Spinrad, Norman
Bug Jack Barron

Stoker, Bram
Dracula

Stross, Charles
Glasshouse

Sturgeon, Theodore
More Than Human

Sturgeon, Theodore
Some of Your Blood

Swift, Jonathan
Gulliver's Travels

Thomas, D.M.
The White Hotel

Tiptree, Jr., James
Warm Worlds and Otherwise

Tolkien, J.R.R.
The Hobbit

Updike, John
The Witches of Eastwick

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Mixed Men

Van Vogt, A.E.
Slan

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Voyage of the Space Beagle

Van Vogt, A.E.
The World of Null A

Vance, Jack
The Dragon Masters

Vance, Jack
Emphyrio

Vance, Jack
The Languages of Pao

Verne, Jules
Around the Moon

Verne, Jules
From the Earth to the Moon

Verne, Jules:
Journey to the Center of the Earth

Vollmann, William T
Last Stories and Other Stories

Vonnegut, Kurt
Cat's Cradle

Vonnegut, Kurt
The Sirens of Titan

Vonnegut, Kurt
Slaughterhouse-Five

Wallace, David Foster
Infinite Jest

Walpole, Horace
Hieroglyphic Tales

Wells, H.G.
The First Men in the Moon

Wells, H.G.
The Island of Dr. Moreau

Wells, H.G.
The Time Machine

Wilson, Robert Anton & Robert Shea
The Illuminatus! Trilogy

Winton, Tim
Cloudstreet

Woolf, Virginia
Orlando

Zabor, Rafi
The Bear Comes Home

Zelazny, Roger
Lord of Light

Zelazny, Roger
This Immortal


Special Features

Notes on Conceptual Fiction
My Year of Horrible Reading
When Science Fiction Grew Up
Ray Bradbury: A Tribute
The Year of Magical Reading
Remembering Fritz Leiber
A Tribute to Richard Matheson
Samuel Delany's 70th birthday
The Sci-Fi of Kurt Vonnegut
The Most Secretive Sci-Fi Author
Curse You, Neil Armstrong!
Robert Heinlein at 100
A.E, van Vogt Tribute
The Puzzling Case of Robert Sheckley
The Avant-Garde Sci-Fi of Brian Aldiss
Science Fiction 1958-1975: A Reading List



Links to related sites

The New Canon
Great Books Guide
Postmodern Mystery
Fractious Fiction
Ted Gioia's web site
Ted Gioia on Twitter

_____


SF Site
io9
Graeme's Fantasy Book Review
Los Angeles Review of Books
The Millions
Big Dumb Object
SF Novelists
More Words, Deeper Hole
The Misread City
Reviews and Responses
SF Signal
True Science Fiction
Tor blog


Disclosure:  Conceptual Fiction
and its sister sites may receive review
copies and promotional materials
from publishers, authors,  publicists
or other parties.

All rights reserved.