Excursions in
Dark Fantasy

BLACK POCKETS
and
Other Dark Thoughts

George Zebrowski

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Table of Contents

Introduction
by Howard Waldrop

I. Personal Terrors

Jumper

The Wish in the Fear

Hell Just Over the Hill

The Alternate

Earth Around His Bones

Fire of Spring

First Love, First Fear

Passing Nights

Takes You Back

II. Political Horrors

I Walked With Fidel

General Jarulzelski
at the Zoo

The Soft Terrible Music

My First World

III. Metaphysical Fears

Interpose

The Coming of Christ
the Joker

Nappy

A Piano Full of
Dead Spiders

Black Pockets

Lords of Imagination


Afterword




Comments
© Golden Gryphon Press 2009-2010
". . . Zebrowski proves he is intimately engaged with both the social currents of our era and the timeless verities of the cosmos. Like Feynman playing bongo drums, Zebrowski is a blend of wild heart and cool brains."
— Paul Di Filippo, Asimov's

"Veteran SF author Zebrowski (Macrolife) probes the nether reaches of horror in this outstanding story collection . . . The title story sums up humanity's Faustian fascination with power, forcing those fearful glimpses into what we all would rather not see: ourselves."
Publishers Weekly Starred Review




Black Pockets and Other Dark Thoughts is Zebrowski's first collection of horror stories, culled from throughout his career, with an emphasis on the more recent, and one original novella, the titular "Black Pockets." The 19 stories are divided into Personal, Political, and Metaphysical horrors, i.e. stories that should scare you individually, stories that should terrify you as a social animal, and stories that should scare the whole human race, in the collective.

Part of the beauty of this book is that Zebrowski can write about people who are not like him (or you, or me). Many are not as intelligent, nice, thoughtful, or as sensitive as their author. What is really hard is writing about someone just a little less, or a little more intelligent, sensitive, caring, etc. than you. One of the most chilling, "The Wish in the Fear," is so good at what it does that you forget what the story is about until the next-to-last line, and then you remember, with a vengeance. (This is also one of those stories that is going to finish after you've read the last line — he's made it so you finish the story after he's through.)

His deft use of character is such that you forget that most horror stories just fill time before the protagonist is eaten or impaled or gets their comeuppance somehow. Zebrowski has set himself the writerly goal of having the horror come out of the situations and character flaws of his people, not from some ancient evil trespassed, or Cthuluvian terror, or now what has become that cliché — the serial killer.

There has never been a zombie story like "I Walked with Fidel" — true not only to a dead Cold War world that has passed with its polarized ideologies: the story manages to be true to both post-Superpowers times and to Castro, whose ideals were as betrayed by the nature of revolutions and the Soviet Union as by the antagonism of the United States. Zebrowski is not afraid of the Big Frightening Ideas either. The two newer centerpieces of the collection, "Black Pockets" and "A Piano Full of Dead Spiders" deal with truly existential problems, like in the latter — if you're a composer, and your tunes come from spiders playing them in your piano, what happens when they die? Are there spiders in your piano in the first place? Which died first, the spiders or your talent?

In "Black Pockets," the questions keep coming: you're given a great, heretofore unknown power by the nemesis of your existence as he is dying; for he has some unfinished business he needs done before you can use the power for revenge yourself. The protagonist finds that power, in and of itself, instead of avenging the Great Wrongs of Your Life, becomes a convenience, and otherwise innocent bystanders (wrong time, wrong place) get it used on them. At the core of the story is the frightening question: At what point does revenge become so all-consuming it clouds your judgment?

These nineteen tales of horror are from the author of Macrolife, about which Arthur C. Clarke wrote: "It's been years since I was so impressed." With an insightful afterword by the author, and an introduction by Nebula Award-winning author Howard Waldrop.

Cover art by Bob Eggleton.




Praise for the author's previous Golden Gryphon Press collection, Swift Thoughts:

"Zebrowski succinctly exhibits a wide range of gritty, postmodern, impeccably disciplined glimpses into futures far and near, as well as alternative histories."
Publishers Weekly starred review

"Zebrowski is outrageously didactic but so polished a stylist and so original that the reader is sure to be mesmerized."
Booklist



Want to know where the real secret revolution in science fiction is taking place? Look no further than 'Black Pockets' by George Zebrowski (Golden Gryphon ; May 2006 ; $24.95) and 'Prador Moon' by Neal Asher (Night Shade Books ; May, 2006 ; $14.95). Oh sure, we all want to know about the latest thispunk and thatwave, the brand-newest yourstream and shockingly strangest mybeat literature. We want the now now, tomorrow's tomorrow, fresh and crispy. It must be, must be so brand-spankin' new that you can feel the glow, not just, "Gee, whiz!" but "Golly gosh!" as well.

Make no mistake about it, there's a lot of great "Gee, whiz!" work going on out there. But Zebrowski and Asher, as well as Brian Lumley are all working in a little corner of genre fiction that to my mind deserves more notice. Sure, science fiction horror has been around since Mary Shelley first envisioned a sewed-up corpse hanging over her supine form as she slept. But of late, this weird combination of the grotesque and the futuristic has been scoring some serious points, coming in under the radar. Perhaps it's just that there's no new buzzy-sounding description for this ancient subgenre, or just that it's been around as long as science fiction itself. But as I stared at the Rolling Shelves at 3:45 AM this morning, they did their job and announced that the revolution, though it won't be televised, is at least getting published.

Zebrowski is a genre veteran who is getting a great deal of re-exposure of late. Pyr just published 'Macrolife' earlier this year, and now Golden Gryphon is bringing us 'Black Pockets and Other Dark Thoughts', a collection of horror stories built on a foundation of science fiction, or science fiction with a horrific intent. It certainly depends on how you approach it. Zebrowski takes the horror slant, dividing the collection into three types of terror. The first set of stories consist of "Personal Terrors are the first ones we know", from the perils of potential psychic powers as experienced by a "Jumper" to the poignant tale of past and present intertwined in "Passing Nights". Even when Zebrowski is writing a ghost story -- albeit a very unique and original ghost story -- he imbues his work with a science-fictional sensibility: "All times are woven together, so why shouldn't they cast something of themselves forward and backward now and then?"

Zebrowski ups the ante in "Political Horrors overtake us as we grow up..." And do they! "I Walked With Fidel" won accolades from no less than Harlan Ellison. The title tells as much of the tale as I'm willing to discuss here, at least as long as you're up on your Jacques Tourneur movies. "General Jaruzelski at the Zoo" inserts a science fictional point of view into a real-life scenario to create a nearly pitch-perfect piece of political horror. It's the kind of archetypal story that retains its power no matter who is in power. "My First World" offers a different look at political power and prisons. It's much more straightforward science fiction, an unpublished chapter from Zebrowski's novel 'Brute Orbits'. And it is quite unfortunate that political prison horror will seemingly always and ever be with us.

". . . Zebrowski proves he is intimately engaged with both the social currents of our era and the timeless verities of the cosmos. Like Feynman playing bongo drums, Zebrowski is a blend of wild heart and cool brains."
— Paul Di Filippo, Asimov's

"Veteran SF author Zebrowski (Macrolife) probes the nether reaches of horror in this outstanding story collection . . . The title story sums up humanity's Faustian fascination with power, forcing those fearful glimpses into what we all would rather not see: ourselves."
Publishers Weekly Starred Review




Black Pockets and Other Dark Thoughts is Zebrowski's first collection of horror stories, culled from throughout his career, with an emphasis on the more recent, and one original novella, the titular "Black Pockets." The 19 stories are divided into Personal, Political, and Metaphysical horrors, i.e. stories that should scare you individually, stories that should terrify you as a social animal, and stories that should scare the whole human race, in the collective.

Part of the beauty of this book is that Zebrowski can write about people who are not like him (or you, or me). Many are not as intelligent, nice, thoughtful, or as sensitive as their author. What is really hard is writing about someone just a little less, or a little more intelligent, sensitive, caring, etc. than you. One of the most chilling, "The Wish in the Fear," is so good at what it does that you forget what the story is about until the next-to-last line, and then you remember, with a vengeance. (This is also one of those stories that is going to finish after you've read the last line — he's made it so you finish the story after he's through.)

His deft use of character is such that you forget that most horror stories just fill time before the protagonist is eaten or impaled or gets their comeuppance somehow. Zebrowski has set himself the writerly goal of having the horror come out of the situations and character flaws of his people, not from some ancient evil trespassed, or Cthuluvian terror, or now what has become that cliché — the serial killer.

There has never been a zombie story like "I Walked with Fidel" — true not only to a dead Cold War world that has passed with its polarized ideologies: the story manages to be true to both post-Superpowers times and to Castro, whose ideals were as betrayed by the nature of revolutions and the Soviet Union as by the antagonism of the United States. Zebrowski is not afraid of the Big Frightening Ideas either. The two newer centerpieces of the collection, "Black Pockets" and "A Piano Full of Dead Spiders" deal with truly existential problems, like in the latter — if you're a composer, and your tunes come from spiders playing them in your piano, what happens when they die? Are there spiders in your piano in the first place? Which died first, the spiders or your talent?

In "Black Pockets," the questions keep coming: you're given a great, heretofore unknown power by the nemesis of your existence as he is dying; for he has some unfinished business he needs done before you can use the power for revenge yourself. The protagonist finds that power, in and of itself, instead of avenging the Great Wrongs of Your Life, becomes a convenience, and otherwise innocent bystanders (wrong time, wrong place) get it used on them. At the core of the story is the frightening question: At what point does revenge become so all-consuming it clouds your judgment?

These nineteen tales of horror are from the author of Macrolife, about which Arthur C. Clarke wrote: "It's been years since I was so impressed." With an insightful afterword by the author, and an introduction by Nebula Award-winning author Howard Waldrop.

Cover art by Bob Eggleton.




Praise for the author's previous Golden Gryphon Press collection, Swift Thoughts:

"Zebrowski succinctly exhibits a wide range of gritty, postmodern, impeccably disciplined glimpses into futures far and near, as well as alternative histories."
Publishers Weekly starred review

"Zebrowski is outrageously didactic but so polished a stylist and so original that the reader is sure to be mesmerized."
Booklist


"Metaphysical Fears rise up when he ask the deepest questions," announces the final section of 'Black Pockets'. And for this reader, these are some of the most frightening thoughts, the fear that you may become -- or already be -- quite detached from reality. At nearly 55 pages, the title story, written exclusively for this collection offers readers another look at the implications of having, or not having power. "Nappy" considers nothing less terrifying than the dilemma of being with a science fictional and literal twist of the knife. Nappy, in this case is Napoleon, or not. And that, as ever is the problem.

'Black Pockets' is book-ended with an introduction by Howard Waldrop and an Afterword by Zebrowski. Waldrop's intro, itself a reason to pick up this book, is going to do more than I can to ensure you don't put it down. Unless it's on the counter, in front of the register, at your local independent bookseller or your not-so-local independent genre specialist web/storefront. And take my advice and save the best for last, as Zebrowski offers readers slivers of insight and gobbets of wit.

-Agony Column


Cloth, ISBN 1-930846-40-1
Book #45

$24.95 postpaid for U.S. orders only  

For non-USA orders, please read shipping fees information.



  • Read the  starred  Publishers Weekly review

  • Read Rick Kleffel's commentary in The Agony Column for 04-26-06

  • Read Paul Di Filippo's review in Asimov's SF

  • Read the Bookwatch review

  • Read Craig Clarke's review in Green Man Review

  • Read John Mark Eberhart's review in the Kansas City Star

  • Read the review in Midwest Book Review

  • Read Danny Adams's review in Some Fantastic

  • Read the review in Ticonderoga Online

  • Read the review in Weird Tales


  • View the wraparound dust jacket art by Bob Eggleton



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