Bleak History by John Shirley
In the not-too-far-off future New York, John Shirley has created a world that’s not too different from our own. Except that in Bleak History, the spirit world (The Hidden) has become a force that manifests itself through various “gifted individuals,” giving them special abilities.
Gabriel Bleak, an ex-Army Ranger now turned bounty hunter, is one of these. Ever since leaving the Army, Gabe has been under the watchful eye of a shadowy government agency that tries to use this hidden world and its gifted people in its anti-terrorism agenda. They want Gabe Bleak, and they’ll do just about anything to get him.
Most of Bleak History’s plot concerns the pursuit of our hero, and while the chase goes on, the story unravels in some expected — and unexpected — ways. The characters are well developed and their motives... Read More
John ShirleyJohn Shirley is the author of horror and cyberpunk novels and many, many short stories. His collections include the Bram Stoker and International Horror Guild award-winning Black Butterflies and Living Shadows: Stories: New & Pre-owned. He also writes for screen (The Crow) and television and writes novelizations for video games and TV shows. As a musician Shirley has fronted his own bands and written lyrics for Blue Öyster Cult and others. You can listen to his music at John Shirley’s website.
Bleak History by John Shirley
Song Called Youth — (1985-1990) Publisher: The Russians didn’t use the big nukes. The ongoing Third World War leaves parts of Europe in ruins. Into the chaos steps the Second Alliance, a multinational eager to impose its own kind of New World Order. In the United States… in FirStep, the vast space colony… and on the artificial island Freezone — the SA shoulders its way to power, spinning a dark web of media manipulation, propaganda, and infiltration. Only the New Resistance recognizes the SA for what it really is: a racist theocracy hiding a cult of eugenics. Enter Rick Rickenharp, a former rock’n'roll cult hero: a rock classicist — out of place in Europe’s underground club scene, populated by “wiredancers” and “minimonos” … but destined to play a Song Called Youth that will shake the world.
Transmaniacon — (1979) Publisher: BEN RACKEY Foremost Professional irritant, remarkable in acting both as burglar and inciter in the bizarre and pleasure-seeking world of the 22nd century is a fearless, ruthless man of ingenuity, completely overwhelmed with his own strength. His latest and most Dangerous assignment is to steal THE EXCITER. A dangerous and fragile device for the augmentation of the telepathic transfer of mania. By seeking out and amplifying strong, hostile human emotions, the exciter can turn a street brawl into a full scale war. As soon as Ben has possession if it he will have the power to destroy THE BARRIER. Conceived as the perfect defense against nuclear, biological, and chemical warfare, it was activated in 1989 — an invisible screen of densely flowing ions entirely enclosing the continental zone labeled “The United States.” Once the barrier is demolished Ben can escape.
Dracula in Love — (1979) Although Dracula In Love was not published until after Transmaniacon — both in 1979) — it is the first novel John Shirley wrote. He started writing it about age 17 while living in Portland. Somewhat given to youthful excess, Dracula in Love is still a remarkably readable book and displays the unique and energetic imagination that marks all of Shirley’s work. The book’s protagonist discovers (at age 33) he is the son of the being upon whom so many tales are based, but this creature is even more powerful and frightening than the myths have made him to be. Ignore the stereotypical shtick cover, Shirley’s updated Dracula possesses (or is possessed by) a sexual organ with eyes and inhabited by its own predatory spirit as well as an appreciation of the contemporary submachine gun.
City Come A-Walkin’ — (1980) Publisher: Stu Cole is struggling to keep his nightclub, Club Anesthesia, afloat in the face of mob harassment when he’s visited by a manifestation of the city of San Francisco, crystallized into a single enigmatic being. This amoral superhero leads him on a terrifying journey through the rock and roll demimonde as they struggle to save the city.
Three Ring Psychus — (1980) Publisher: 2013 A.D. With an intolerable population crisis and impending global conflict, the human race was faced with an alternative: war and destruction, or moving into the next stage of psychic development. Then came the Great Unweighting — a partial cancellation of gravity, destroying cities, killing countless people, but the survivors possessed strange new telekinetic powers. The old rules were meaningless; anarchy and violence prevailed. It was with great pain that people learned the collective unconscious was becoming conscious, and empathy meant mass suffering. But with all this the old prejudices survived, and men still turned to force as the answer to their problems. Could humanity learn to adapt… and survive?
Cellars — (1982) Publisher: An ancient evil deep beneath New York City turns subway stations into bloody altars for ritual sacrifice. Monsters made of blood arise from drains, an invisible hellhound devours human flesh, feral children stalk the shadowy streets and make murder a terrifying game. Occult investigator Carl Lanyard risks his life, his love, and his sanity as he battles the unspeakable forces of darkness. A modern classic by a master of the macabre in a new revised edition.
A Splendid Chaos — (1988) Publisher: Zero is a young film maker who believes his whole life and career are mapped out before him. That is, until the night he and his friends walk into a rock club… and are caught in a dazzling trap that spans worlds. They are dropped onto a dreamlike planet whose surrealistic beauty cannot hide its grotesque reality. Fool’s Hope — a world, so stunningly bizarre, nightmares are irrelevant. Here, abductees — both human and alien — are pitted against a neverending succession of hellish parasites, carnivores, shape-changers, and symbiotes. Yet the greatest enemy of all could be human. When former professor Harmon Fiskle is transformed by the Current — a roving mutagenic force — he is freed to pursue his megalomaniacal nature. He advocates a depraved policy of social Darwinism, and forges a grotesque alliance of Twists: men and women who have sacrificed their own humanity to become monstrous mutations of their former selves. With an entire world at stake, only Zero can solve the mystery of Fool’s Hope… if it isn’t already too late.
In Darkness Waiting — (1988) Publisher: No writer combines the “delight in dread” with social consciousness and metaphysical meaning the way John Shirley does. Although In Darkness Waiting begins in much the same vein as many horror novels (mysterious deaths; a small town invaded by evil; plucky, attractive young lovers; the logical level-headed doctor; some salt-of-the-earth townsfolk…) by its end you will have discovered it is not “just another horror novel.” With its exploration of the “insect” inside us all, In Darkness Waiting proves more relevant today than ever. Considering a read of In Darkness Waiting is like considering a trip through the Amazon with no weapons and no vaccinations and no shoes. It’s like contemplating a journey in the Arctic clad only in your underwear. Or maybe it’s more like dropping into one of those spelunker’s challenges, those chilling pitch-black shafts into the Earth’s crust-and when you get down there your light burns out and you remember the chitinous fauna of the cavern… Unlike undertaking those endeavors, you can get through the harrowing pages of In Darkness Waiting alive (although we are not promising you’ll remain unscathed.) Towards the end you’ll discover one of the most extreme yet literate passages ever written. It may well be the most outré scene ever created. But John Shirley wasn’t after shock alone. Shock is never enough for him.
The Black Hole of Carcosa: Kamus of Kadizhar — (1988) Publisher: Michael Reaves created Kamus (one would imagine it rhymes with “shamus”) of Kadizhar, the only private eye on the planet Ja-Lur, AKA Darkworld, where magic works but technology doesn’t. Think Humphrey Bogart in trench coat and slouch hat (Kamus supposedly owns Bogie’s own accouterments) but with a sword in one hand, a wand in the other, and necromantic power. Definitely set somewhere left of serious space opera/sword and sorcery.
Wetbones — (1991) Publisher: Down -on-his-luck screenwriter Tom Prentice is called to the morgue to identify the body of his ex-wife Amy. She’s recognizable — but her body is also 50 pounds underweight, and mutilated. Disturbed, but trying to go on with his life, Prentice pitches a cop-show to studio head Arthwright and is surprised when the exec is interested in the run-of-the-mill idea. Arthwright’s real motives will emerge into hideous view, along with soul-consuming astral creatures camouflaging themselves behind greed, the seduction of Hollywood power — and pleasure. The secret of the Akishra writhes in the background… until it squirms into plain, horrific view. Meanwhile, Reverend Garner, a recovering addict who runs a ministry in Oakland, discovers that his teenage daughter Constance is missing. She has been kidnapped by Ephram Pixie, a ghoulish serial murderer with connections to the cult of the Akishra — Pixie uses psychic pressure to turn Constance into a pleasure addict of the sickest sort. And Mitch Teitelbaum, the missing brother of Tom Prentice’s roommate Jeff, ends up in a hospital after deliberately and gruesomely mutilating himself… under the influence of the Akishra.
Silicon Embrace — (1996) Publisher: A future where cyberpunk technology and ancient spiritual secrets merge into something very strange… something as strange as a silicon embrace.
Demons — (2000) Publisher: In a future uncomfortably close to the present day, the apocalypse has surpassed all expectations. Hideous demons roam the streets in an orgy of terror, drawing pleasure from torturing humans as sadistically as possible. Divided into seven clans, these grisly invaders — gnashing, writhing, bloodthirsty monsters–seem horrifically to belong in our world. Ira, a young San Francisco artist, becomes involved with a strange group of scientists and philosophers desperately trying to end the bloody siege. Yet through it all, Ira continues to paint–for in his canvasses lie crucial clues to the demons’ origins. Yet the demons draw their strength from an all-too-familiar evil–a deadly malevolence supported by some of the greatest powers on earth, concealed beneath the trappings of status, success, and abused power. Ira and his allies — including a compelling young seeress — come to believe these demons didn’t just appear. They were summoned. But the most shocking revelation is yet to come.
The View from Hell — (2001) Publisher: Less than six months after the publication by Cemetery Dance of his mini-masterpiece Demons, Shirley returns with another small-press offering that pushes the envelope of fantasy and horror and strengthens his reputation as one of today’s most daring authors of metaphysical fiction. This short novel’s premise is that bodiless, “inter-dimensional” beings are conducting studies of humanity, particularly our species’ relationship to suffering. First they survey humanity on Earth — abused, violent children; tormented patients in hospitals; a family being tortured by drug dealers; and so on. Then the beings focus on a small set of adult men and women in uppercrust L.A., whom they propel into varied acts of homicidal mayhem. The perpetrators and their victims then wake up in a bland, eerie purgatory, “about as a big as a coliseum… there are side rooms with different kinds of environments.” Most notably, there’s no exit, other than a momentary respite when one of the inhabitants dies. This hiatus proves as addictive as any drug, and, over time, the captives descend into bestial psychological depths and fling themselves into horrific murders and suicides in order to taste that sweet escape. Shirley is an unpredictable writer, and this is one of his most bizarre bits of writing to date. It’s an expertly crafted, ferocious tale that offers a stinging commentary on the worst (and the best) in humans. Graphic to the max, it’s bound to be misinterpreted by some and is simply too strong for many, but it’s yet another serious work from an important writer and deserves careful consideration by anyone interested in the radical edge of horror.
And the Angel With Television Eyes — (2001) Publisher: “…And the Angel with Television Eyes” explores the region where fantasy meets reality. This surreal journey of self-discovery and transformation at once questions the nature of our world, and redefines it in the context of 21st century pop culture and technology. It takes a writer of John Shirley’s talent and audacity to bring together elements as disparate as Shakespeare, Nietzsche, on-line role playing games, soap operas, and classic mythology — binding them together, creating a heady melange on, above, and below the streets of Manhattan. “…And the Angel with Television Eyes” follows the life of Max Whitman, a successful, yet unfulfilled soap opera actor, as his life begins to fall apart. Strange, murderous events suck Max into a maelstrom that leaves him questioning first his own sanity, then the nature of reality. As he is dragged further into a battle between mythic forces that threaten to destroy him and his world, Max must first try and understand the nature of these forces and then find the strength to overcome them. At once a rousing adventure, and a bitingly insightful metaphor for our times, .And the Angel with Television Eyes is sure to keep you at the edge of your seat.
Spider Moon — (2002) Publisher: Two things were meaningful to Slim Purdoux, his son and his chance to cultivate good books as an editor. The world took his son from him and “market realities” took the other. Now he’s on a mission. A mission to get the dealer who sold his kid the drugs that took his life. But this ain’t the kinda mission where saints guide you. For this kind of task you need the likes of Wendell, a pimp and a player who is always one step ahead of something, and his crew — Red, a French Canadian small-time crook, and Latesha and Dulcet, his girls. Purdoux — an ex-addict and inmate, street-savvy and gun-wise — picks them up in his doomed cowboy existentialist slipstream and draws them into his scheme. Not that Wendell’s in this game on any frigging mission of vengeance for angry daddies, he’s in it to score the big bucks that have always been just beyond his grasp — and this cowboy won’t be standing in his way. Careening at break-neck speed around corners of San Francisco where angels would fear to tread, SPIDER MOON places its characters and the reader on the razor’s edge of reality. Shirley mixes a lunatic gunman, a mission of vengeance, pimps, whores, chasing the dragon, bounty hunters, dealers, and more with his unique perspective, talent and style to invent a new kind of crime novel: gritty, real, wild, and heart-breakingly poignant.
Crawlers — (2003) Publisher: In a secret government lab somewhere in Nevada, a young scientist cowers in darkness — waiting, listening, and calculating his chances of surviving the unspeakable carnage that has left him trapped and alone. Or almost alone. Soon after, a covert military operation “cleanses” all traces of a top-secret project gone horrifically wrong. Three years later, it begins again — when the quiet of a warm autumn night in a sleepy California town is shattered by a streak of light across the sky, the thunder of impact, and the unleashing of something insidious. Spreading, multiplying, and transforming everything in its path, this diabolical intelligence will not be denied until the townsfolk — and eventually, all living things — are conquered. Until they are all crawling…
Doom — (2005) Publisher: Based on the groundbreaking and legendary PC games from id Software that have been played by millions of hardcore fans, DOOM is a terrifying battle with the forces of Hell. A space marine’s reassignment to the Union Aerospace Corporation’s Mars research facility seemed simple, until the scientists’ discoveries and experiments unlocked the gates to Hell itself. Now, in an epic clash against pure evil, he must fight to understand who is against him and what must be done to stop this nightmare from reaching Earth.
The Other End — (2007) Publisher: Do you ever feel you’d like to reboot the world? Do you ever think that the human world is hopelessly out of balance, blighted, off track, and the only hope is some kind of apocalypse, some sort of “Judgment Day with justice” that would allow the human race to start over — without, ah, certain people? You know you don’t want — and can’t believe in — the usual Judgment Days that are predicted and ballyhooed by hysterical, superstitious people. But when you look around at the world as it stands you see Darfur, you see Somalia and the Congo, you see the modern slavery of indentured servitude, you see children sold into prostitution, you see millions starving, you see mindless wars, you see people you care about dying of Alzheimer’s and children dying of cancer and millions of others trapped in schizophrenia or living lives of media-hypnotized desperation… And you know that it’s only going to get worse. This can’t go on; something has to change. What if you could change it? What if you could design your own Judgment Day? Not a Judgment Day based on childish interpretations of religion, on bias and cultural narrowness… What if you could design a Judgment Day, for the whole world–one that offers real Justice? What would it be like? In John Shirley’s novel, THE OTHER END, a wave of light shatters the world’s assumptions; human behavior takes a sudden unexpected turn. Swift, a newspaper reporter, has to find his missing daughter in a panicking world even as something from Every Where makes millions of people suddenly look inward. And looking inward, strangely, takes them outward again… And then come the Adjustors. Who are they? Where exactly are they from? They say they’re not angels, or aliens…Then who are they? The usual End Timers offer one End of the World as We Know It… John Shirley’s courageous, genuinely risky new novel offers the other end. The other end of the ideological spectrum; the other end of the world. Does it involve…aliens? No. Does it involve God? Not really — but then, it depends on your definition. John Shirley, the award-winning author of DEMONS, IN DARKNESS WAITING, CELLARS, A SPLENDID CHAOS, ECLIPSE, BLACK BUTTERFLIES, and so much more gives us a totally unexpected Judgment Day. Something is coming, to near-future Earth — to the whole world. Something is coming that will finally give the human race the chance it never had before… to bring it to THE OTHER END.
Black Glass: The Lost Cyberpunk Novel — (2008) Publisher: Taking the fall for his younger brother, Richard Candle went from being a cyber cop to a condemned criminal. After four years of “UnMinding” — with his mind suppressed and his body enslaved — he’s released to discover his brother has slipped back into the underworld of the V-Rat: the virtual reality addict. Meanwhile, Candle’s harried by the murderous Grist, the head of the world’s biggest multinational. But his real enemy is something else: a conscious program, the Multisemblant, a meld of copied personalities, the dark side of five powerful people, with its own brutal agenda. Human society is sinking ever deeper into a mire of escapism, but Richard Candle, looking for his missing brother, fights his way through the real world of underground stock markets, flying guns, the trash-walled labyrinth of Rooftown, and the fringe of the fringe.
Bioshock: Rapture — (2011) Publisher: It’s the end of World War II. FDR’s New Deal has redefined American politics. Taxes are at an all-time high. The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki has brought a fear of total annihilation. The rise of secret government agencies and sanctions on business has many watching their backs. America’s sense of freedom is diminishing… and many are desperate to take there freedom back. Among them is a great dreamer, an immigrant who pulled himself from the depths of poverty to become one of the wealthiest and admired men in the world. That man is Andrew Ryan, and he believed that great men and women deserve better. And so he set out to create the impossible, a utopia free from government, censorship, and moral restrictions on science — where what you give is what you get. He created Rapture — the shining city below the sea. But as we all know, this utopia suffered a great tragedy. This is the story of how it all came to be… and how it all ended.
Everything is Broken — (2012) Publisher: Twenty-year-old Russ arrives in the northern California town of Freedom to visit his dad. Freedom has peculiarities other than its odd name: the local mayor”s ideas of “decentralization” have left it without normal connections to state or federal government and minimal public services. Russ meets an interesting young woman, Pendra, but before he can get to know much about Freedom or its people, a savage tsunami strikes the West Coast. The wave of human brutality that soon hits the isolated town proves more dangerous to the survivors than the natural disaster. Russ, his father, Pendra, and the other townsfolk must tap all their courage and ingenuity — and find strength they never knew they had – if they have any hope of living to find real freedom!