Failure: Erotic horror

Failure by John Everson science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsFailure by John Everson

It’s been decades since horror was really hot, with whole sections of bookstores devoted to novels with black and red covers. But the genre never really died, and not just because of Stephen King’s ongoing popularity. Horror went underground, in a sense; small presses picked up where the standard publishers left off, and a great deal of fiction was published in extremely small press runs, often in gorgeous editions with full illustrations. Novellas and novelettes were (and are) published as chapbooks, demanding the same price that complete novels do in other genres. Most people didn’t even know these books existed, and those who did often couldn’t afford the high prices these limited editions demanded.

Enter the ebook revolution. With each passing week, it seems, a work that had previously only been available with a substantial cash outlay is available for very little in electronic form. Sometimes it’s free, if you catch it fast enough. And so it was that John Everson’s Failure, a nasty novella full of sex and magic, dropped into my lap this past weekend (now available for a mere $2.99 for the Kindle version). Failure was first published in 2006 by Delirium Books in a 250-copy limited edition, and is now available in hard copy only for prices greater than that at which it was originally published, so I’d never read it if it weren’t available for my handy Paperwhite.

John Everson’s brand of erotic horror isn’t for everyone. Crossing the wires between sex and violence can go much further than 50 Shades of Grey, and Everson crosses his circuits as hard as he can. He is a strong plotter and a fine writer, able to make the hardiest reader squirm in discomfort and/or arousal. Not surprisingly, Everson has been nominated for the Bram Stoker Award several times, and won the statuette for best first novel in 2004 (for Covenant). Failure is what I was expecting from Everson’s reputation (I’ve not read him before this novelette), and seems to be of a piece with his body of work.

Failure opens with Raymond, a teenager still in high school, trying yet again to kill himself. This time he’s put a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger, only to find that the gun wasn’t loaded. To his mind, this makes him such a loser that he’s “even a loser at being a loser.” While he’s trying to find bullets, Cind, another high schooler, is taking a history test and trying hard to cheat off the boy sitting next to her. She’s also trying to figure out whether it was the suicidal Ray or the doper Sal who got her pregnant six months ago.

These three hapless teens have fallen into the hands of Aaron, who is himself a failure as a black magician. He had been unable to put a demon in thrall to him, or to worm the secret of how to accomplish that from Madame. He is in the middle of a plan to use the kids to raise Madam from the grave and make her his indentured slave. All that needs to happen now is for Cind to give birth to the demon she’s carrying after an episode of sex magic some months ago.

Put all these failures together, and this novelette becomes as dark as pitch. Reader, beware: this is hard core horror. But it is hard core horror done well.


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TERRY WEYNA, on our staff since December 2010, would rather be reading than doing almost anything else. She longs to be a full-time reviewer, critic, scholar and writer, but nonetheless continues to practice law as a civil litigator in California. Terry lives in Northern California with her husband, professor emeritus and writer Fred White, the imperious but aging Cordelia Louise Cat Weyna-White, and a forever-growing personal library that presently exceeds 15,000 volumes.

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