So it’s official: after making the shortlist for DarkFuse’s Readers’ Choice Award, Whom the Gods Would Destroy takes the win for Best Novella of 2013.

Fellow Coloradan Jon Bassoff took Best Novel, with Corrosion, making it an improbable all-Boulder sweep.

There’s a plaque coming — nice, but you can tell from the photo what I’d really rather have.

This essay on the origins of my recent release, Whom the Gods Would Destroy, was originally done for the publisher, DarkFuse. I think it belongs here, too

You-Are-Universe(sm)

Some questions dog us almost from the cradle to the threshold of the grave.

“What really happens to us when we die?” — top of the list, I’m guessing. At least we’ll all get to learn everything there is to know about that one someday.

My favorite among the competition for co-headliner is whether or not intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe.

Arthur C. Clarke — who supplied a few pivotal words that I borrow and then bastardize in Whom the Gods Would Destroy — broke the question down with brutal succinctness:

“Two possibilities exist: Either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.”

The general consensus is that we are probably not alone, but from there, all the earnestly held convictions start to diverge.

For someone like Carl Sagan, the incomprehensible vastness of the universe almost guarantees an abundance of life throughout our galaxy and beyond.

Sounds good. But others have chided Sagan for not being as picky as he should’ve been regarding the celestial mechanics necessary for a habitable world. For them, the planetary specs that make our place in the solar system so friendly to life are unusual to the point of freakishness, likely making life much more rare.

Stephen Hawking mixes optimism and pessimism in the same breath: Alien life almost certainly exists, but we should do everything we can to avoid attracting its attention, because to encounter it would surely be our ruin.

And on it goes: Hawking’s point is moot, because while aliens are out there, we’ll never see each other; the distances in between are so immense that we might as well be alone. Or they’re not merely out there, but right here, too, and have been dropping by for a long, long time.

One of the more intriguing theories, called panspermia, postulates that life is abundant throughout the universe, because life is what the universe does. Interstellar travel by advanced civilizations is incidental to the process, and unnecessary. Instead, life’s constituent compounds are continually being seeded wherever they happen to land after hitching a ride on asteroids and meteorites and comets … a kind of FedEx delivery system operating on a galactic scale. When it absolutely, positively has to be there in a billion years.

I like this.

Panspermia has its critics, of course, but that doesn’t make me like it any less. I like the randomness of it, the lack of direction and guidance for the finished products. It makes me think of dandelion fluff blown about in the wind, carried for miles, then deposited someplace that the wind doesn’t care about, and with no vested interest in the outcome. Just, “Here you go. Thrive. Or don’t.”

Either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.

When it comes to terrifying, it’s a lot easier to work with the latter option.

And the great thing about being a storyteller is that something doesn’t have to be true, nor do you have to believe in it, to have a stellar time playing with it.

*

In coming across various reviews for various works of mine, and fielding the occasional question about it, it’s occurred to me that along the way I may have picked up a reputation for being a Screwed-Up Family Guy. Not because I come from a screwed-up family — although, to be honest, I do — but because such families seem to keep turning up in my work.

I know … armchair psychoanalysts love connecting those kinds of dots.

Most of the time, I wasn’t even aware that this had become such a recurring motif, probably because it can take so many shapes, and emerge in so many ways. Leo Tolstoy knew this. Just check his opening line to Anna Karenina: “All happy families resemble one another; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

All of which makes Whom the Gods Would Destroy inevitable, really. The people behind its narrator — a grad student in astronomy named Damien Phipps — may well constitute the most screwed-up family I’ve ever had the delicious displeasure of spending time with.

The earliest dandelion seed that blew along and landed in a fertile fold in my brain was the notion of a devoted mother intent on creating a very special human monster. Not as a consequence of her abuse, but as the deliberate outcome of her love, and desire to mold someone to further the strange — and ultimately otherworldly — work under the night skies that she feels she may never complete.

Before long, I realized she had a second-born, as well, and was intrigued by the idea of a family dynamic in which someone has grown up wholly excluded from the bonds that made his brother and mother as close as a diatomic molecule. Someone forced to go his own way, as far as he could, as soon as he could.

Is it any wonder that he turned to the sky?

Or, in Damien’s words:

“There was no place on Earth I could go that would seem far enough away from my family … because there was always the possibility that they could change their minds. Antipodal points on the planet would still not be far enough away. So I started thinking in terms of light years.”

But the light of the stars has a very long reach, and sometimes the gods have other ideas.

Despite all we know, or think we do, there remains something primal in us that still, in unguarded moments, sees the stars as the abode of the gods. And who knows — for all the scoffing, for the dismissing we do until something comes along to forcefully settle the issue once and for all, we may be right.

It just depends on how we define the word. And our definitions are many.

Most people seem to know the line from The Crow, but William Makepeace Thackery got there first: “Mother is the name for God in the lips and hearts of little children.”

At its heart, Whom the Gods Would Destroy is about nothing so much as the devastations wrought by a crisis of faith.

The new book has freshly landed courtesy of DarkFuse. I’ve described it below — and here, of course — so no need to repeat myself.

WHOM-THE-GODS-250Instead, let’s defer to another early review, which calls it “an incredibly dark tale … Hodge plays with the notion of evil versus amorality. If an advanced enough intelligence seems like a god to us humans, what do we seem like to it? … Hodge’s writing is tight and suspenseful with the right amount of jolts.”

Plus, the culmination of 6 months of noisy studio labor is yours for the taking…

WTGWD-OST-CoverThe original soundtrack I’ve done for the book is ready to go. About 38 minutes, 10 tracks in 320kbps MP3, plus a 6-page PDF booklet. From soaring space music to sounds from the cosmic abyss, from plaintive piano to ominous grandeur, from a hurtling Mellotron freakout to a tortured orchestra, it really sets the mood for personal and planetary calamity. Download it here.

It’s also up for streaming on DarkFuse’s SoundCloud channel.

And so concludes editor Stephen Jones’ epic trilogy of anthologies spawned from H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth.” This project has spanned nearly 20 years, and I couldn’t be happier to be a part of its culmination, and to join the company of the authors who’ve been a part of it.

Innsmouth(250)If you know Lovecraft at all, then you may know that his Innsmouth saga is one of his finest. It’s also bursting with possibilities for expanding the core tale and the mythology in general.

For my part, “The Same Deep Waters As You,” I sought to answer a mystery that neither Lovecraft nor, to my knowledge, anyone else has accounted for:

Whatever happened to the prisoners of the long-ago raids on Innsmouth? Where are they now … and why is there a sudden urgent need to communicate with them today?

This early rave review calls it “one of the best Lovecraft-inspired anthologies ever.”

And check the wonderfully pulpy cover, which looks like it hopped in a time machine from the heyday of Weird Tales magazine.

I normally default to Amazon links, but in this case — and until a mass-market edition appears — you’ll earn so much more good karma buying direct from the publisher, Fedogan & Bremer.

Just in time as an antidote to the holidays, a family even weirder than yours: Whom The Gods Would Destroy is a month from release from DarkFuse, but the e-book edition up for pre-order now at 33% off, with fulfillment coming from Amazon.

WHOM-THE-GODS-250Call it 32,000 words of Carl Sagan gene-spliced with HP Lovecraft. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever written. The soundtrack I’m composing for it is the best music and sound design I’ve ever done, and will be available for free download by release day. It’s all coming together on this one.

This early review from the Examiner.com calls it “a strange journey into the human psyche and a reimagining of human history on a cosmic scale … This is a powerful novella … that will grow more powerful in the reader’s mind at its conclusion and almost beg for another reading.”

New Story Alert #3: Psycho-Mania!

by Brian on November 5, 2013

in Fiction

“We all go a little mad sometimes.” — Norman Bates

Psycho-ManiaAnd Norman’s father of sorts, Robert Bloch, plays the posthumous host to this whopping volume acrawl with his descendants. This thing is big. The title won’t cue you in, but it’s actually another in the venerable line of “Mammoth Book of…” books. It’s big, I tell you.

My chunk of it is “Let My Smile Be Your Umbrella,” inspired by the peculiarly American cult of 24/7 positivity, in which feeling glum is regarded as a personal and moral failing. I find something creepy about people who are so relentlessly upbeat that they wear this like a suit of armor. You just know something’s going to blow eventually.

So I carried this pathology to its logical extremes.

Apparently, while the UK edition is out, the US print edition won’t hit the shelves until next March. Kindle, though, is good to go anywhere.

Halloween: Magic, Mystery, and the Macabre

by Brian on October 15, 2013

in Fiction

Here’s a thought: why not count down to everybody’s favorite October holiday with a seasonal story per day? Just to get into the Halloween spirit early and all…

Say, with this freshly minted anthology edited by Paula Guran, and brimming with lots of people I’m honored to share pages with: John Shirley, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Laird Barron, Nancy Kilpatrick, Steve Rasnic Tem and Melanie Tem, and many more.

For my part, I always wanted to write about (a) Halloween, and (b) scarecrow lore, and have finally combined both with ruthless efficiency into a single piece called “We, the Fortunate Bereaved.”

This book could use a little extra love, too, if you have it to spare. Amazon messed up the initial listing, effectively hobbling it at the gate for a time.

Fearie Tales: Stories of the Grimm and Gruesome

September 28, 2013

And the cluster of new releases begins. Fearie Tales is the next book from the editor / publisher tag team of Stephen Jones and Jo Fletcher, who were behind 2011′s A Book Of Horrors, if you recall my novelette “Roots and All.” This time the directive … well, given the title and the subtitle, you […]

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3 Books + 5 Stories + 1 Soundtrack = 4 Months

September 3, 2013

So you work and work and work, and then, when you get the publishing dates, it looks like everything’s clustering all at once. Here’s a release schedule that lines it all up as I understand matters right now. And if the calendar ends without every event coming to pass, it’s no apocalypse … just more […]

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First Look: The Weight of the Dead

June 5, 2013

If you’ve acquired the new issue #69 of Cemetery Dance magazine, you can preview the first few sections of my accidental novella, The Weight of the Dead. Which should be released in full late this year. When the CD crew asked me to write something for their “End of the World” special issue, I really […]

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First Look: Dark Advent v2.0

May 28, 2013

I’ve had to keep mum about this one awhile, but finally I can speak freely without worrying about bruisers showing up to break my fingers. Cemetery Dance Publications is putting out a big fat hardcover edition of my early post-apocalyptic epic, Dark Advent. Which should be out by late this year, with the e-book edition […]

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First Look: Whom the Gods Would Destroy

May 21, 2013

Back in March I wrapped up work on this heretofore unmentioned baby: Whom the Gods Would Destroy. Which is locked in for release this December from DarkFuse. How to describe it? Imagine a buffed-up H.P. Lovecraft mugging Carl Sagan in a dark alley, maybe, while Clive Barker paints a nightmarishly distorted portrait of Neil deGrasse […]

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Deathgrip Goes Digital … Now Get It While It’s Free

May 16, 2013

My novel Deathgrip has taken almost as long to get into its e-book edition as it takes the average print edition to materialize, but it’s finally made the transition… And as part of Amazon’s Kindle exclusive program, you can nab it for an introductory price of FREE. But that’s good only through today and tomorrow. […]

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In Honor of the David B. Silva Legacy…

May 9, 2013

Way way back in the long ago, a writer-editor-publisher named David B. Silva became the first person on the planet to send me an acceptance letter for my work. I’d made a habit of winning or placing in academic-based contests, but this was something else. This meant more than all of those put together. It […]

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Film Option Double-Feature

March 22, 2013

I’ve recently inked contracts for a pair of entirely unrelated film options. Another one or two or three may be on the horizon, but let’s stick with the sure things for now. First, the art-house entry: My short story “Just Outside Our Windows, Deep Inside Our Walls” has been laid claim to by indie filmmaker […]

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