On the 25th November, I participated in an event that was one of the launching points for a new initiative in the world of horror literature: Shock Against Racism. The recent surge in racism and fascism, whose most obvious global manifestation is the emergence of Donald Trump as US president, has long been a source of anxiety to many of us in the horror community, as in other sectors of society. Some of us have started a group called Shock Against Racism, as a kind of cultural arm of the fight against this phenomenon, because after all the Far Right fights in this arena: the so-called ‘culture wars’.
The group has already held two evenings of dark fiction, with readings from some of the finest talents in the genre. The first was at Write Blend in Liverpool on November 23rd, with Simon Bestwick, Cate Gardner, Priya Sharma and Ramsey Campbell, in aid of Hope Not Hate. The second took place at the Cowley Club in Brighton, where I was joined by Rosanne Rabinowitz and V.H. Leslie on a night that marked the fifth anniversary of the untimely death of Joel Lane (1963-2013). As well as being a post and author of prodigious talent himself, he was a tireless supporter of others’ work, co-editing two anthologies whose themes reflected his socialist political outlook. One of these, on which he was working with me at the time of his sudden death, was the anti-austerity Horror Uncut: Tales of Social Insecurity and Economic Unease. The other, Never Again (co-edited with Allyson Bird), was an anthology of weird fiction against racism and fascism.
Therefore it was only fitting that Rosanne Rabinowitz, one of the contributors to Never Again, rounded off the evening with an excerpt from ‘Survivor’s Guilt’, something of a twenty first century anti-fascist horror classic that appeared in this anthology, narrated by an undying monster who has witnessed and participated in many of the upheavals that shook the Continent during the last century, including the German revolution of 1918 and the rise of fascism in the Thirties. Before her reading, she paid tribute to Joel Lane’s thoroughness as an editor, spotting a missing umlaut that had eluded her.
Earlier on, Rosanne also read her Brexit-related weird tale ‘All That is Solid’, about a Polish woman under siege both from harassment by racists emboldened by the European Referendum result and from the macabre artwork she has created in her flat as therapy. The story appeared in the Swan River Press anthology The Scarlet Soul: Stories for Dorian (Gray, that is, in case you were wondering), edited by Mark Valentine. Sadly this and Never Again are both out of print, but you can still read ‘Survivor’s Guilt’ in her recent collection Resonance and Revolt from Eibonvale Press. https://www.eibonvalepress.co.uk/books/books_resonance.htm
I started my report at the end of the evening, but here’s how it began. I said a few words to the small but attentive audience about how horror fiction can contribute to the fight against fascism, generally raising awareness and the psychological study of minds under pressure and how that feeds into Far Right political thinking. A good example is Horridge in Ramsey Campbell’s The Face That Must Die, but as she was there and planning to read it, I mentioned ‘Almost Aureate’ by V.H. Leslie. I followed this brief preamble with a short story of my own, ‘Guardian of the Gateway’, about a council tenant who finds out the reason for her unfriendly neighbour’s surliness.
After the first part of Rosanne Rabinowitz’s ‘All That is Solid’, Victoria H. Leslie treated us to ‘Almost Aureate’, a study of male obsession that reminded me the first stories I read by her: ‘Ulterior Design’ and ‘Time Keeping’. Its denouement is less extreme then those two, and yet in its way it’s equally terrifying, a short story as sleek and ruthlessly perfect as the ‘bronze man’ it depicts so vividly down to the tanned skin like ‘vellum’ above the waist band of his swimming trunks. With this image and the central character’s use of a hotel swimming pool as a refuge from his paternal responsibilities, it echoed the brilliant film (adapted from a John Cheever short story) The Swimmer.
While Victoria mentioned the tale’s inspiration in a visit to a hotel and apartment complex in Spain that had become a white English enclave, where the inhabitants conveniently defined themselves as ‘ex-pats’ rather than ‘immigrants’, ‘Almost Aureate’ had perhaps the most oblique relationship to the Far Right. After all, the protagonist and his wife are modern liberal types, not beer-bellied Sun readers, only defining themselves as ‘travellers’ rather than ‘tourists’, only succumbing to the lure of a more consumerist package holiday because of the pressures of rearing twin toddlers. After all, the hotel complex has a creche…
Yet the protagonist’s infatuation with the ‘bronze man’ on his lofty perch seems to me to represent his deep-seated sense of entitlement to escape into a world where male solitude (and exemption from hands-on childcare) is respected once more. Despite his ‘right-on’ (but it turns out rather grudging) commitment to egalitarian co-parenting, he envies and craves the approval of this god-like figure with his golden aura and his apparent immunity both to the threat of skin cancer and to the strictures governing the other hotel guests.
But I’ve said enough about this story, except to say that although it might seem like a non-political piece, to me it works as a subtle critique of the anti-feminist Right. Read it yourself. It appears in the first-class new horror anthology from Titan Books, New Fears 2, https://titanbooks.com/9212-new-fears-2-brand-new-horror-stories-by-masters-of-the-macabre/ edited by Mark Morris. It’s interesting to compare it with the story that follows it in that book, Rio Youers’ ‘The Typewriter’, which also concerns a seemingly devoted family man’s chilling descent into obsession.
After a short break, a speaker from Brighton Antifascists said a few words about who they are and what they do, commenting that the readings so far had converted him to an appreciation of horror fiction. So that’s good then! Later we discussed the ‘culture wars’, the parallels between ‘Gamergate’ and the ‘sad puppies’ phenomenon in the SF/F/H world.
Before Rosanne’s reading of ‘Survivor’s Guilt’, I sung an acapella rendition of part of ‘Abiezer Coppe’, a song about the legendary English Civil War Ranter by Leon Rosselson, originally sung by the late Roy Bailey. This served as an introduction to an excerpt from my unpublished story ‘The Topsy Turvy Ones’, set in two time periods, the time of radical ferment in 1649, and three hundred and fifty years later, when General Pinochet is awaiting extradition in Surrey while ‘The Land is Ours’ squatters commemorate the anniversary of Winstanley’s Digger Commune with an eco-village on St. George’s Hill.
Hopefully, this was the first of many such events, but next time I will make sure there is a mike stand, to spare the readers the horrors of juggling holding a microphone alongside turning the pages of their books…
Here’s Brighton Antifascists’ facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/BrightonAntifascists/