Other Kingdoms: The Unedited Version by Richard Matheson; Gauntlet Press; 2011; 273 pgs; $50.00 US
Review by Dave Simms
Richard Matheson can only be described as a true living legend. Like Bradbury and King, he turns everything he touches into gold. At the Bram Stoker Weekend three years ago, his son R.C. Matheson and he discussed in an intimate setting his body of work and its influence on readers worldwide.
What did he want to talk about? New stories, and new adaptations of his stories for television and movies. For someone who has helped to shape so much of horror/suspense, helm much of the Twilight Zone, oversee highly successful movies, and have King state that Matheson is the reason he began writing, this was great to witness. He shunned all praise and only wanted to share entertaining tales of the business and again, get excited about what was next in the pipeline. At 82 years old, he hasn't lost a step.
Other Kingdoms can be taken in a few different ways. Its protagonist and narrator are Matheson's current age. Both have dabbled successfully in the horror field and lived full lives. The line is drawn at witches and faeries, however. Then again…
Alex White returns from World War I and decides to settle in the English town of Gatford. His buddy who he met in the trenches (literally) gave him a rock which turned out to be gold. Thankful and with no real place to turn, he buys a home, a fixer upper in the middle of the village. He soon finds out that the forest holds some dark secrets. It also holds some great wild women and sex not seen in a Matheson tale (no pun intended) in ages, if ever.
Magda lures him into her clutches, which usually means sans clothing and inhibitions, as he learns of who and what she is. He can handle her being a witch, especially since she takes care of him and makes his life a glorious thing. She does warn him of the faerie creatures around the dark places within the forest and to, of course, stay on the path. When he fails to do so, he meets up with Ruthana, a faerie about a third his size. She lures him into her kingdom (so to speak) and things then get complicated. After all, what's worse than a woman scorned? If you're wondering about the one third part, that's yet another reason to keep reading. Sex abounds with suspense and a tale of fantasy that keeps readers going until the climax, just like with any other Matheson effort.
This was originally published by Tor, but Gauntlet and Matheson wished for the version that included some scenes Tor deemed "too much" for the original release. With explicit witch and faerie sex, what could be "too much?" From what this reviewer noticed, it seemed to be a silly omission and could only add to the story. Especially notable is the stroke scene – important due to the stroke Matheson himself suffered. For more specifics, go to the Gauntlet site.
For those who miss classic Matheson, this adult fairy tale is a "can't miss" and Gauntlet has yet to disappoint in any of their publications.
Beyond highly recommended.
Skullbelly by Ronald Malfi; Delirium Books; 2011; 135 pgs; $25.00 US
Review by Robert Morrish
Like the taut belly-flesh of its eponymous creature, the plot of Ronald Malfi's novella Skullbelly is downright skintight, weighing in at a lean, mean 135 pages. Seattle-based private investigator John Jeffers has been hired to determine what happened to three teenagers who disappeared while on a camping trip in Oregon, and why only a single surviving member of the party, Tommy Downing, came staggering out of the woods, wounded and catatonic. Jeffers finds that the local police investigation was perfunctory at best, and perhaps purposely superficial.
Jeffers' detective work leads to an encounter with a local artist, who relates the legend of the eponymous creature:
They say it looks sort of like a man, if you don't look too closely at it, only bigger than a man. It's hair-less, too, and with skin like rubber. It's got large claws on its hands and a dagger-like spike on each foot, which it uses to pierce the thick trunks of the redwoods so it can climb. Legend says it lives among the redwoods and eats bad children who don't listen to their parents… it had this large, bulbous belly, and when it would eat a lot of children and get real fat, the skin of its belly would pull so taut that it would become transparent and you could see the partially-digested bodies of the children in there, sizzlin' in its stomach acids.
A subsequent trip to the edge of the dark, unforgiving forest where the kids disappeared results in a close encounter with…something unseen, leaving Jeffers a bit shaken and not quite so skeptical about local folklore. Jeffers is an offbeat protagonist, a 52-year-old loner and jazz aficionado; a former cop who was forced to leave the force after being wounded in a shooting. He's cynical, self-deprecating, and occasionally bemused about where life has led him — in short, he seems like a real person, not just another fictional PI.
If there's fault to be found with Skullbelly, it's that the ending is a bit abrupt, and the whole thing feels like the first section of a longer work, not a complete story in and of itself. I'd like to read the longer version of the story if one should ever come to pass, but in the meantime Skullbelly is a fast, intriguing read.