I’ll be the first to admit that the horror genre is not my cup of tea, having tried and failed several times in the past to enjoy the scribblings of King, Lovecraft, Koontz etc., I’ve mostly resigned myself to giving up on finding anything in the genre that I can find enjoyable.
I don’t know why this is, could be because I’m fairly desensitised to shock, could be because when I’m reading the books I have problems with suspension of disbelief, or it could be that I can usually figure out what is going to happen after only reading a few chapters, thus the only enjoyment I usually get from them in that instance is proving myself right, and occasionally being surprised when I find I’ve made a mistake (which doesn’t happen too often).
So, back on subject, a friend of mine by the name of George Daniel Lea recently had his first book published, and after seeing the time and effort he has poured into it over the past 18 months or so, I decided to give it a go, the end result of his efforts being the aforementioned “Strange playgrounds”.
Strange Playgrounds is a collection of short stories (although it could be argued that some of them are closer to being novellas) concentrating on the darker side of human nature, specifically obsessions, deviances and lusts.
The stories themselves are written with a number of influences, most notably the works of Clive Barker but also showing the subtle influences of writers such as H.P Lovecraft and Bram Stoker, although a couple of the stories would seem more at home as being described as being influenced by TV shows such as The Twilight Zone and/or The Outer Limits.
To classify this book as simply being a “horror” novel would do it a grave disservice (pardon the pun), as it is
Many old clichés of the horror genre are given a new twist, including new ways of looking at vampire and werewolf mythology, as well as one story which bears some of the hallmarks of being a rather nice blend of cyberpunk and psychological horror.
Unfortunately though, that said, the stories themselves do suffer from one fatal flaw.
In many of the stories, the author explores the depths of human depravity quite well, but many readers will almost certainly be put off by the large amount of sexual content, particularly of the homoerotic kind, which, and I’m going to be honest, I did find somewhat tiresome after a while, especially so in some of the stories where it had an almost “tacked on” feel, and offered no real benefit to the plot development as a whole.
While the author himself is openly homosexual (of which I have no objection to or opinion on, before anyone starts) I do feel that a lot of the unnecessary sexual content could be expunged and the storylines, as brief as they are, would suffer no detriment.
That said, the prose itself does a wonderful job of being very descriptive where it needs to be, leaving the reader to fill in certain blanks as they please, but not so much as it makes you feel like you’re the one doing all the work.
So, to sum up, Strange Playgrounds isn’t half bad for the debut publication from a new author, and although it isn’t really my cup of tea, it will almost certainly appeal to fans of this particular sub-genre of horror, but I would not recommend it to those of a nervous disposition, or for the easily offended.