The Feaster from Afar and Other Ghastly Inhabitants

by Joseph Payne Brennan

(Edited by S. Dziemianowicz, J. Pelan)

Midnight House
2008, Hardback

First collection? No

Joseph Payne Brennan (1918-1990) was an American writer of fantasy and horror fiction as well as a poet. Brennan's first professional sales of fiction were pulp western stories. As a horror writer, he started out writing stories for Weird Tales in 1952, and when the famous magazine folded he founded  his own magazine Macabre, which ran from 1957 to 1976. Several of his short stories feature the occult detective Lucius Leffing.

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"It was a great gray-black hood of horror moving over the floor of the sea. It slid through the soft ooze like a monstrous mantle of slime obscenely animated with questing life…
… It had prowled the black water endlessly. It had formed when the earth and the seas were young; it was almost as old as the ocean itself…"

Reviewed by Mario Guslandi

Joseph Payne Brennan was one of the last big names associated with the golden era of the mythical american magazine Weird Tales, a horror and fantasy fiction magazine known for having hosted stories by the likes of HP Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Seabury Quinn, Robert Bloch, Robert E Howard, Ray Bradbury, Fritz Leiber, Theodore Sturgeon, to mention only a few.

Poet, writer, editor and publisher Brennan is virtually unknown to the younger generations of readers because the bulk of his short stories has been out of print for almost twenty years. John Pelan’s small imprint Midnight House is planning to collect and reprint all Brennan’s horror stories and The Feaster From Afar is the first volume in this publishing project.

Having been thrilled and spellbound by Brennan’s fiction in my youth I was so pleased and excited to see his work available once again that I immediately bought the book. This first volume includes a number of classic, famous stories by this prolific author, starting with Slime one of the greatest masterpieces in the history of horror fiction, a tale of sheer, primordial evil bound to scare and disquiet no matter how many times you read it.

In the vivid, unsettling The Corpse of Charlie Rull a dead body turns into a zombie-like killing fury under the effect of electro-chemical waste, while in the terrifying On the Elevator a murderous, inhuman creature bursts into a hotel by the sea during a stormy night:
"At first he thought that an unusually fierce gust of wind had somehow blown the door open. As he closed it, however, he noticed a fresh series of irregularly shaped muddy tracks which began inside the door and continued into the lobby."
Canavan's Back Yard and Canavan Calling (the sequel, written more than twenty-five years later) are mesmerizing stories where a witch’s curse has transformed a neglected backyard in a gateway to Hell and a book dealer into a wild, fierce dog.
"Canavan crouched in all fours, like a beast about to spring. His glasses were gone, his clothes were in shreds and his mouth was twisted into an insane grimace, half smirk, half snarl"
Both The Seventh Incantation and The Willow Platform very effectively develop the time honoured theme of the na´ve individual who, having found an old book of incantations, summons a demon with dire consequences.

Monton is a powerful, although not quite original story of revenge from the other side of the grave and Long Hollow Swamp is a superb horror tale about giant slugs infesting a desolate swamp located in the middle of nowhere:
"Cordiss lay motionless literally covered by the huge back slugs. Tentacles lifted and half a dozen pairs of the glassy globular eyes turned in my direction"
On a similar note the graphic Extermination, apparently set in a distant planet, depicts the terrible havoc wreaked by mutant rats. By contrast, in the splendid SF piece Vampires from the Void alien beings from outer space unwittingly trigger a series of apocalyptic events that make Earth an uninhabitable place.

The Feaster From Afar, The Keeper of the Dust and Forringer’s Fortune are strong, horrific tales with a distinct Lovecraftian character. Other remarkable stories in this volume are Zombique a splendid voodoo tale with a "twilight zone" taste and The House on Stillcroft Street, about a malignant, carnivorous ivy.
"In the green, glimmering half darkness, a thing which had once been human slumped in an armchair a few feet from the front window. It was covered with a great, fluttering, waving mass of the huge, five-lobed ivy leaves."
Brennan was a master of classic, pulp/horror fiction, endowed with an extraordinary talent for storytelling and the ability to create creepy atmospheres and gripping plots apt to indefinitely suspend the readers' disbelief. I’m looking forward to the next volumes.

Mario Guslandi lives in Milan, Italy. Most likely the only Italian who regularly reads (and reviews) dark fiction in English, his book reviews have appeared in a number of genre websites such as The Alien Online, Infinity Plus, The SF Site, The Agony Column and Horrorworld.

Mario's other Short Reviews: Simon Stranzas "Cold to the Touch"

Cern Zoo anthology

Deborah Biancotti "A Book of Endings"
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