Disorders of Magnitude: A Survey of Dark Fantasy (Studies in Supernatural Literature) by Jason V. Brock (Jul 17, 2014)
Disorders of Magnitude: A Survey of Dark Fantasy, by Jason V Brock, Rowan & Littlefield, ISBN 9781500699536 (No price marked)
When Jason V Brock sent Disorders of Magnitude to me for review, I was very excited, thinking I would have the pleasure of reading more of Jason’s always-excellent fiction.
Disorders of Magnitude arrived and I discovered that it was subtitled “A Survey of Dark Fantasy” and was a nonfiction history of horror, science fiction and supernatural literature, art, film and graphic novel artists.
The book is a narrowly focused crash course on horror writers, science fiction writers and supernatural fiction writers, artists and filmmakers. It is selective, rather than inclusive, as any one of those categories could well fill many volumes. Brock’s History of Horror is strongest when he is interviewing icons of today or of the recent past.
My favorite chapters, in chronological order, were:
1. Chapter 7: Ray Bradbury: The Boy Who Never Grew Up
2. Chapter 10: Harlan Ellison: L’Enfant Terrible (Sort of)
3. Chapter 13: George Clayton Johnson: A Touch of Strange
4. Chapter 15: Roger Corman: Socially Conscious Auteur
5. Chapter 20: An End, A Middle, A Beginning: Richard Matheson and his Impact
6. Chapter 24: King of the Dead: Filmmaker George A. Romero on Politics, Film and the Future
7. Chapter 28: The Doctor Is In: F. Paul Wilson
8. Chapter 38: Fangoria and Chris Alexander: Cinephilia, Music, and All the Rest of It
9. The Inner World of William F. Nolan
10. William F. Nolan and Ray Bradbury: Reflections
For me, the book couldn’t have come at a better time. I am poised to review many horror films at the 50th Annual Chicago Film Festival, the oldest film festival in North America.
I was familiar with most of the living legends limned in the book and with others long gone, but the book is truly a crash course in more obscure artists who have, perhaps, been glossed over by previous histories. I enjoyed learning about these talents who have not been as widely profiled.
But it is fair to say that mentioning Stephen King only in passing and glossing over Heinlein, Frederik Pohl, Peter Straub and others will draw criticism. In defense of those he has chosen to include, writers like Charles Beaumont of “the Group” and historian Forrest “Forrie” Ackerman—they deserve this long-in-coming attention. The insights into television and film pioneers of horror like Rod Sterling, Dan Curtis and George Romero are equally welcome and overdue.
And after all, Brock’s opening line is: “This book is an eclectic overview, and highly subjective. Be warned.”
Some of these writers or artists I knew little about prior to reading this book. Included in that number are Kris Kukri, John Shirley, Darren Davis, Al Feldstein and Demetrios Parkas. H.R. Geiger I knew only because of the “Alien” movie monsters. It was interesting to learn of Demetrios Parkas’ and LuAnne Raymond’s experiences in Australia. (Depressing, but interesting). I could definitely relate, as the duo has been pilloried for bogus reasons and Brock, by shining a light on this, might help ameliorate their unjust persecution. At least, I hope so.
I enjoyed learning more about Chris Alexander (“Fangoria” magazine), who has been kind to my own writing, as well as F. Paul Wilson, whom I encounter frequently at writers’ gatherings. (I always offer to help Paul with his autographing duties, given our shared surname, since he is so busy and I am not, but, to date, he has faithfully autographed entire grocery bags of books for avid fans, risking a very bad case of writer’s cramp or carpal tunnel syndrome, which, as a medical doctor, one would think he would want to avoid. But, no! Paul autographs every single one himself, running the risk of future impairment; I want to testify to that and give him full credit for his efforts on behalf of his fans.)
The book also focuses on comic book artists (graphic artists), so the opening warning about being highly subjective and eclectic is justified. [Horror films, alone, would merit several books].
But, as I learned when writing It Came from the Seventies: From The Godfather to Apocalypse Now, you have to draw the line somewhere. Jason has wisely drawn the lines around the subjects he has met and/or those to whom he has direct access. Those are the chapters that shine.
This “once over lightly” treatment also benefits from the insertion of many vintage photographs of “the Group,” some from the personal files of Jason’s mentor, William F. Nolan, a well-deserved Living Legend in Dark Fantasy.
There are timelines inserted throughout the collection, which help the reader fix various artists in a specific time in history. I appreciated this attempt to bring order out of chaos. An English major with no minor at the University of Iowa (who ended up with PhD concentration in literature because I had no minor) it was always a struggle to place “The Age of Dryden and Pope,” for example, into the appropriate linear time frame with other periods.
My only reservation about the timelines as a wonderful idea occurred on page 152 when “First Internet service provider launches: 1989” appears. I was writing a book, long distance, from Illinois, using the Internet to connect with Emerson City, New Jersey, and Nevada City, California, (headquarters of Performance Learning Systems, Inc.), in 1985, four years before that date. I used a Wang PC and I remember having to go through multiple steps to transmit the code from my computer, making sure that the teeth in my modem were adjusted exactly “in synch” with the teeth of the modem on the receiving end. As the messages came through resembling Egyptian hieroglyphics, there were multiple steps to transform the hieroglyphs on my screen into English letters and words. I primarily networked with the Education Department at One Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C.
Perhaps Jason is referencing the first readily available commercial service, but I am living proof that the Internet was available (and being used) at least 4 years before 1989. I still have the computer neuroses to prove it.
Some of the impressions I got from a complete reading of Disorders of Magnitude were as follows:
1. The author is not a big fan of Stephen King.
2. The author is a big fan of all the writers who formed “the Group,” including Ray Bradbury, Charles Beaumont, William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson.
3. George Clayton Johnson does not seem the most ambitious or industrious author included in this collection. In talking about (perhaps) writing a post Logan’s Run novel (his co-author, William F. Nolan has written more than one), Johnson says: “But then I would have to name a deadline for finishing it, and I don’t want to accept that. So, I’d rather just continue to noodle around with it, because I don’t need the money.” He adds, “Then, I look at the end of the year and say, ‘Jesus, George, this year you only made $3,000!”
Silly me. I always thought that “writers write because they HAVE to.” (Someone famous said that long before me, but I do not have the name to accompany the quote, so insert your own attribution.)
Brock has a real appreciation for those who have gone before—pioneers like Richard Matheson, Roger Corman, William F. Nolan, Ray Bradbury, et. al.
For me, as I prepare to review some debut horror, sci fi and supernatural films at the oldest film festival in North America in Chicago, with films with titles like “The ABC’s of Death;” “The Babadook” (a sensation at Sun Dance); ‘”Creep;” “The Editor” (a horror comedy from Canada which I cannot recommend); “Goal of the Dead” (zombies); “It Follows;” “Seven Little Killers;” “The Well” (a tense, gritty post-apocalyptic thriller), and Oliver Stone’s Director’s Cut of “Natural Born Killers” (scripted by Quentin Tarantino), complete with the opportunity to interview Oliver Stone in person, this book was helpful. (*The reviews of the films mentioned will appear on Andy Andrews’ “True Review” site, on www.WeeklyWilson.com and on Wikinuts.com beginning October 9th).
I read this book to gain an overview of the Masters of the horror, science fiction and supernatural fiction genres. I enjoyed it. While the adjective “comprehensive” doesn’t apply, (since the field is so large), the adjectives interesting, entertaining and informative certainly do.