Mark Samuels

Sargeant_Fox

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I just bought Mark Samuels' Glyphotech and Other Macabre Processes (2016), in my bid to branch out to contemporary weird tale authors.

Mark Samuels (1967-2003) passed away months ago. I discovered him reading Mark Valentine's eulogy in his blog:

RIP Mark Samuels [by R.B. Russell]

Samuels, like Valentine, was a member of the Friends of Arthur Machen. Actually I wanted to read The Man Who Collected Machen and Other Weird Tales (2011), being curious about Machen-inspired fiction; but by now it's an expensive collectible.

His bibliography includes:

Black Altars (stories, 2003)
The White Hands and Other Weird Tales (stories, 2003)
The Face of Twilight (novel, 2005)
Written In Darkness (stories, 2014)
The Prozess Manifestations (stories, 2017)
Prophecies and Dooms (essays, 2018)
Witch-Cult Abbey (novel, 2021)


In 2020 Hippocampus Press released The Age of Decayed Futurity: The Best of Mark Samuels.

What are your opinions of him?
 
Days ago I finished Glyphotech and Other Macabre Processes. I have mixed feelings about it. My reading him was preceded by so much praise (Mark Valentine, Joshi, Ramsey Campbell) that I was bound to be disappointed unless this guy were Lovecraft redivivus or something similar.

His settings and character backgrounds are versatile. He has good ideas, even makes an effort to draw horror from modern phenomena like self-help lectures and TV addiction.

But too often he follows the worn out plot beats of older stories. It's very difficult to break free from formulas, horror is very reliant on them. Usually the author remixes them with a certain worldview, a way with words. But I'm afraid Samuels doesn't have an interesting way with words. His prose is sparse, to the point, steadfastly narrative. His characters are lifeless, clearly weren't thought of beyond the immediate needs of the plot.

Right before this book I had finished Wellman's Worse Things Waiting and Klein's Dark Gods - the differences are glaring. Wellman works to make his characters interesting, whereas Samuels I think wants his kept at an emotional distance, as if caring were sinful. And his plain, bland English is made even more unremarkable after experiencing the obvious relish Klein has in composing phrases for their own sake.

Also, I wasn't keen on the "worldview", if you will, a relentless negativity. Samuels thinks everyone and everything must be miserable. Anyone the protagonist meets is unpleasant or rude; coffee is always awful; there's nothing ever interesting on TV (I haven't watched TV since 2008 and even I know that's bullsh**), interior decoration is always dirty, grimy. Human faces never have eyes or mouths, but rather black holes and gashes or slashes. Nobody has friends; every co-worker is loathsome (can you be more clichéd?). I know this approach has its supporters, but I find it so boring. Whatever happened to ordinary, nice, well-adjusted people slowly slipping into a bizarre, incomprehensible world? Again, slow-burners like Wellman and Klein are good counterpoints to ceaseless gloom from page 1. The effect he goes for just lapses into a trite parody of itself.

So I ended up enjoying half the book and being mightily meh to the other half. Yet I'm not against trying another of his books for comparison.
 
You're echoing my reaction to The Man Who Collected Machen. I didn't mention it because I didn't want to color your first impression.

Anyway, I wrote a review elsewhere with some praise, but I think I probably shouldn't have. In retrospect, my reaction was more, "Meh." It was all right entertainment in small doses, but reading one after the other didn't do the collection any favors, even though it's a short book. And, yes, the plain spare prose -- which I don't object to most of the time -- and the relentlessly negative attitude wore on me.
 
A fun bit from Samuels' "A Gentleman from Mexico":

“Armstrong was glad, for his own anthologies invariably were comprised of tales depicting the weird and uncanny, a market that, at least in the Anglophone countries, seemed to have self-destructed after a glut of trashy horror paperbacks in the 1980s.”

And a passage from "Ghorla" that I suspect is semi-autobiographical:

“Braynes was one of those obsessive bibliophiles who were unable to take any interest in fiction unless its creator had long been in the tomb. Had Ghorla been alive and still writing today it was certain that Braynes would have thought his work insignificant. Moreover, Braynes even ignored prestigious dead authors, reserving his praise for those sufficiently obscure to have escaped critical attention almost altogether.”
 

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