Saturday, January 7, 2012

Robert Aickman - Horror Master

Have you ever read Robert Aickman? I hope so. 
His are the kind of slow-burn, psychological horror stories that have me picking my beard after just a few pages. These are the kind of stories that haunt and build suspense through suggestion, by artfully leaving out. And the writing itself, very polished, literary. There are moments you find yourself uncertain about the meaning of a scene, an image, a statement. This is not your garden variety uncertainty, like not being sure exactly what time it is; ambiguity and uncertainty in Aickman’s work ooze a kind of subtle menace that coils like hot dread in your gut. The first Robert Aickman story I ever read is called The Trains. I would say this about the story. If you have ever ridden on a train, you might have noticed that as you pass through small towns that people on the streets will often wave. Mostly kids I suppose. In this story, there is a reality behind “the wave” that might just take your head off. S-c-a-r-y.
Here are a few strokes for Aickman by two very good horror writers:

“Robert Aickman has a gift for depicting the eerie areas of inner space, the churning storms and silent overcasts that engulf the minds of lonely and alienated people.  He is a weatherman of the subconscious.”
   --Fritz Leiber

“Robert Aickman is incomparable - a genuinely authentic original and an absolute master of psychological fiction.”
   --Dennis Etchison

Side note: I can’t prove it, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that Etchison’s incredibly good story “It Only Comes Out at Night” and then again “The Dog Park” aren’t guided in part by Aickman’s hand.

Here’s a quotation from Aickman:

"I do not regard my work as 'fantasy' at all,  except, perhaps, for commercial purposes.  I try to depict the world as I see it ... I care about the literary art, and I know exactly what the Ancients meant by 'the promptings of the Muse'.  The stories which I consider to be my most successful came to me as if dictated...  The true ghost story is akin to poetry:  only in part is it a conscious construction, and when the Muse does not speak, you cannot write it."

    -- “An Essay”

More background on him here and here. With a little Christmas money in my pocket, I just order used copies of Wine Dark Sea and Cold Hand in Mine from Should be arriving any day now.


  1. I'll have to stop by the library to see if they have his books. Sounds like something I would love to read. Thanks for the recommendation!

  2. Ewww, sounds creepy :) I've added Aickman to my to-read-horror list - thanks for sharing!

  3. Vivienne, that makes TWO quests you are now on, the wood artisan bad boy and Robert Aickman. Don't know about you young multi-taskers and your stamina. Whew

    Leah: thanks for stopping by. Glad to read you're reading MR James, and I'll probably hear you scream when you're reading Blackwood so no need to note back and fill me in when you get to it. : )