Vastarien Volume 1 Issue 2: The Most Exciting Thing in Horror Lit Right Now

Ligotti: An Unlikely Figure for Today

The age of social media, ever shorter sound bites, hashtags, and viral memes affect how we consume media to a tremendous degree.  We can debate how positive or negative these effects have been, but one thing is for certain: those of us who love horror literature have not been spared.  It’s not all bad, fans can connect with authors on social media in very profound, real-time ways and listen to a ton of great podcasts available about the genre.  Here is a good one to start with.  I guess it’s just mostly bad- go to any social media platform looking for genre literature and you are going to be deluged by self-published authors pushing their own work.  Also, get ready for people’s cats dressed up like Pennywise.  Remember the guy a couple of months back that went on Twitter with a fake blurb by Stephen King endorsing his self-published book?  I would love to drop you a link to the whole thing, but Google doesn’t remember it either, returning only search results pertaining to some ongoing twitter spat between King and Donald Trump.  Such is the nature of social media.

Current wisdom dictates that fortune favors the engaged and it doesn’t matter what kind of business you are in, from politics to writing to hawking diet supplements, you need to be on social media.  That is why it is so surprising that the single most exciting thing in horror literature right now, The Vastarien Literary Journal, focuses on the acclaimed supernatural horror author Thomas Ligotti.  Details about Ligotti are notoriously scarce and there are but a handful of pictures of him available.  He never did the convention circuit.  It goes without saying that he doesn’t tweet or Facebook.  Certainly not Instagram, but a Ligotti Instagram account would be bad ass.  Yet his fiction, released primarily through small presses and genre fiction magazines, has created a cult following among horror aficionados.  When it comes to learning more about Thomas Ligotti and his works, fortune favors the determined rather than the merely engaged.  You won’t find today’s pithy, daily musing from Ligotti in 280 characters or less.  What you will find are interviews with him that are both deeply nuanced and personal.  You will find his longest work, a non-fiction treatise on both philosophy and horror writing: The Conspiracy Against the Human Race, which outlines his philosophical views on life.  You will also find Vastarien, a literary journal brought to you by Grimscribe Press and editors Jon Padgett and Matt Cardin.

Where Vastarien Fits into the Horror Landscape

Vastarien feels like the slow food movement for horror literature.  You can head on over to NPR and read a quick article about how “Reading Horror Can Arm Us Against A Horrifying World,” which is good but in the end pretty shallow, or you can pick up Issue #1 of Vastarien and read about how an actual psychiatrist uses horror literature to heal.  Want to know what it is like to be inside the mind of a horror writer?  Go check out Stephen King’s twitter- he has some great pictures of his corgis- or you can pick up Issue #2 of Vastarien where Tim Waggoner lays it all bare in “How to be a Horror Writer.”  Waggoner’s piece is profoundly personal and hard hitting, the kind of work that makes you want to close the book and reflect on your own life.  Plus his dog is way darker.  Want some speculation on what the ending of Twin Peaks: The Return actually meant?  I’m sure that Reddit’s got you covered, but it you are looking for a deep dive into the Twin Peaks ending there is a smart and deep discussion by Rob F. Martin in Vastarien Issue #2. 

I have been excited about this literary journal for a good long while and I was highly impressed with Vastarien Issue #1.  Now that we have read Vastarien Issue #2 I am pleased to report that while a bit slimmer on the page length, the quality of the works inside hasn’t slipped a bit.  Vastarien publishes fiction, non-fiction, artwork and poetry pieces that are “critical study and creative response to the corpus of Thomas Ligotti as well as associated authors and ideas.”  For all the topics and authors that they are interested in you can refer to their website, which has a lengthy and diverse list.  The most impressive pieces in this issue are the non-fiction works, which all have a very accessible and understandable tone without sacrificing their academic merit.  “Lacan on Lynch: Viewing Twin Peaks through a Psychoanalytic Lens” by Rob F. Martin even has a playful, conversational introduction which is pretty fun.  Despite that, its merit is on full display as Martin walks us through the psychoanalytical framework of Lacan and how it pertains to Twin Peaks.  The value of this piece doesn’t just come from using the framework to figure out a Twin Peaks fan theory, but rather how it can be used to better understand other works, whether they be supernatural horror, surrealist film, or the workings of human consciousness.  “Shirley Jackson and that Old Black Magic” by Jill Hand is a retrospective of Jackson’s life and works.  I have a confession to make- I really haven’t read all that much of Shirley Jackson’s work, but Jill Hand’s piece has moved her to the top of my to be read pile and a recent reread of “The Lottery” makes me really appreciate her writing way more than I did in high-school.

This is one of the great things about Vastarien: it can be a doorway to introduce (or reintroduce) readers to so many other great works and new authors that are writing high quality short fiction.  A clear standout in this regard is Max D. Stanton’s “Patent for an Artificial Uterus” which is both creepy, more than a little bonkers, and potently dark.  It is excellent and led me to look for more of his work, some of which can be found in Corporate Cthulhu: Lovecraftian Tales of Bureaucratic Nightmare.  “Commencement” by Joanna Parypinski is also excellent and squarely situated in Ligotti’s dark corner of the horror literature landscape.  She puts her own spin on things and makes “Commencement” both nightmarish and soulful at the same time.  It is front and center in issue #2 and will make you want to search out some more of her work, some which you can find in both Nightmare Magazine (OCT 2017) and the Haunted Nights anthology.  I mentioned Tim Waggoner’s piece, “How to be a Horror Writer” earlier and wow, what a gut wrenching way to end Issue #2.  In all, this issue of Vastarien has definite A+ short horror fiction from both established and new writers that you should really check out.

Vastarien also publishes poetry and while I have never really been into poetry, I did really appreciate “The Crafter of the World” by Ashley Dioses.  This short poem found its way under my skin and got me to seek out Ligotti’s poetry, which I knew existed but I had not yet read.  So yet again, Vastarien opens a door to additional permutations of dark, supernatural horror.  Vastarien also publishes original artwork that is both varied and powerful.  This is one reason to purchase the physical copy even if you are an eBook fan, the artwork always looks better when you are holding a real book in your hand.  In the artwork category, the big highlight for me is “The Town Manager” by Serhiy Krykun.  It is a full color painting of the trolley from Ligotti’s short story by the same name, with bright colors and a screaming face on the front.  Everyone approaches Ligotti’s work with different interpretation and this one struck me as completely different from mine, but that is a potent facet of Ligotti’s work that makes it so fascinating.  When can I get it on a T-shirt? 

Go Buy Vastarien, or Better Yet…

So there you have it, there are plenty of places to roam around on the internet to find your fix of the creepy and uncanny, but holding a physical copy of a great publication like Vastarien is still the best.  Superb dark fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and artwork come together to explore and venerate the work of Thomas Ligotti and others that populate his particular corner of horror literature.  If you are a huge Ligotti fan like me Vastarien can serve as your doorway to other interesting horror works or if you have never experienced Ligotti’s unique brand of nightmare horror Vastarien is flat out the best way to get introduced.  If you are someone who buys everything on Amazon do us a favor and click our affiliate link to the right and buy Issue #2 today, it doesn’t cost you any more but it helps us keep the lights on around here.  Even better, you can cut out the middle man and head straight on over to Grimscribe Press and order either single issues or a yearly subscription via PayPal.  Subscription options and other cool bonus content is also available through Vastarien’s Patreon page