Soft From All The Blood by Scott Jones – Review

Full disclosure alert – I’ve known Scott by various pseudonyms since the days of the brilliant and now defunct (and sadly missed) Journalspace – a circular social blog site long before Facebook et al became so ubiquitous. Back then I knew him as The Landotter, and I discovered his blog – a great mix of gnostic freeform poetry, automatic sigil drawing and awesome magical chat – through a shared love of Grant Morrison and The Invisibles.

Now he’s grown up but still comes in many guises. Unwilling (or unable) to be fixed into one “personality”, instead he shuffles personae – and one of those personae is horror writer. He’s recently released his first short horror anthology through Martian Migraine Press. Here’s my review:

If Lovecraft had written of the steaming passion of the body, and had not reviled, but celebrated the horrors that lay within and without the twisted minds of man, he’d have approximated prose like this. Jones wears his influences on his sleeve, then flays them, fucks them, and turns them inside out. He’s not afraid to riff off those who came before, but in doing so, comes on like

early Barker, leading us down twisting and turning paths. We think we know the land we walk in his stories, but so often, he pulls the ground away from us, and we realise that we’re in another place, another story entirely.

Jones creates a vivid world where everything is made flesh of some kind: buses puke up their passengers in bulimic fits, machines wear skins of dust and burn black blood, fears become birds with wings of razor sharp steel, cutting their way into the minds of his protagonists and burning their way into ours. There’s an imagination here that rivals Lovecraft – demonic cities rise in maddening geometries, tentacles creep from oily lakes – but there’s something here at odds with the old master’s cold, alien detachment. Take this description of Carcosa, the demonic city from ‘coronation’:

“…rearing oddly angled obsidian spires and insane, arabesque towers of blood red stone… smoke from her eternally burning furnaces coiling skyward in thick ropes…”

This is oddly fleshy; not the long-sleeping cities of the Elder Gods, but fiery, pulsating heart of a live, active world where the Gods still partake of the flesh of their peoples. Those tentacles mentioned earlier – they do not have the sickly, green and grey hues of Cthulhu; rather they are “long thing pale shapes”, that grope for their prey. These are phallic, Freudian pseudopods, groping their way towards us from some nightmarish place – all terror and seduction in one.

Yet there’s more here than just a Lovecraftian libido – he crafts new ways of telling good old fashioned horror shorts, the best of which flip agonisingly everyday situations on their head. Like the Man with the Teeth, which puns on the kind of shorthand descriptions we use for people, and which finds its terror initially by toying with mankind’s innate fear of the dentist. By the

time you’ve read about teeth that scream louder than any dentist’s drill, you’ll be reaching for the floss and the mouthwash, I guarantee it.

It’s not long before we’re back in familiar territory though – ‘greetings from sunny R’lyeh’ returns to Lovecraft in a more direct way, but in a poptastic mash-up with Grant Morrison’s vision of the future in The Invisibles. A gigolo Dreamweaver finds his work, the creation of porn cultivated from his own dreams, is being intruded by visions of R’lyeh, known by legions of Lovecraft fans as the sunken prison city of Cthulthu. This neat trick lets us see the Mythos from a different angle, viewed by denizens of a future not far from the present day, but one in which 20th Century nostalgia has become a pose, and people dial up every mood through the use of drugs.

A fine conceit, and one which expands subtly on the original Mythos by giving us a wider context – does R’lyeh continue to rise and fall throughout the course of our civilisation? In a sense it makes Cthulhu scary again – no longer is he contained in dank and dusty Victorian halls at universities and the sole province of insane mapmakers and explorers. Now he reaches us through Ipod style apps and devices, the fibre optic connections becoming his own very tentacles. Jones later on apologies for this one, thinking it feels dated. I don’t think that’s a problem. It’s like a postcard of the future from even further into the future…

The great thing about these stories is they don’t outstay their welcome. All too often short prose doesn’t quite know when to stop, as if the author has an idea that couldn’t quite manage to run the length of a novel. While this can work in the right hands, to my mind it isn’t short prose in its purest form. Jones’ stories are just the right length – they suck you into their own little worlds, and leave you dangling there with no hope of rescue just as we’re getting comfortable.

As I alluded to earlier, Jones’ afterword slightly distances himself from these stories, as if he’s already outgrown them and moved on. In my opinion, this is a fantastic thing for a creator, and it leaves us with a brilliant coda – that there is better yet to come. If you like short horror along the lines of Lovecraft and Barker, you’ll love this collection. Jump on now before he’s huge.

Soft From All The Blood is available for Kindle and PC on Amazon. Head over to: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B007KM9P8E/And

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