Book Review: Disorders of Magnitude by Jason V Brock

“Marvellous interviews – well worth a look”

51+xhZJBdmL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Rowman and Littlefield, publishers of high class academic texts at even higher prices, have added a new title to their Studies in Supernatural Literature series. Previous volumes have dealt with specific authors such as Ramsey Campbell, Lord Dunsany and H P Lovecraft. Disorders of Magnitude (that’s a great title for a book, isn’t it?) is rather different, being an assemblage of articles on various aspects of dark fantasy by its author, Jason V Brock. Many of these are reprints (32 chapters out of a total of 49) but if you’re unfamiliar with literary fiction journals such as Dark Discoveries, Weird Fiction Review and Nameless Digest, then chances are all this material will be new to you. The articles, essays, and interviews have been put together to provide a rough chronology of the genre, and Brock helpfully adds colour to this by including timelines of various historical events at certain points, so you can contextualise what was happening in the world at the time that certain key events were taking place in the world of the weird.

Or rather…not exactly. Disorders of Magnitude is an impressive collection of work, but its subtitle ‘A Survey of Dark Fantasy’ is something of a misnomer. A Survey of Mainly American Dark Fantasy would be more appropriate as the emphasis here is very much on fiction and film movements in the United States. There’s nothing wrong with that, but anyone expecting the significant contributions made to the genre of dark fantasy by British and European writers and directors, as well as practitioners elsewhere across the globe, will end up being a bit disappointed.

Probably the best aspect of the book is the interviews. Brock has obviously spent considerable time tracking down and interviewing some of the acknowledged greats of the genre, and the chapters that are more or less transcripts of his conversations with Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury, George Clayton Johnson and others are a delight. Brock’s style is engaging and convivial, and reading these makes you feel as if you’re actually eavesdropping on conversations between genre greats in the cosy atmosphere of a local pub. They’re all worth reading and I would certainly recommend dipping into this volume (as the author suggests in his introduction) if only to sample these bits.

Otherwise the contents are a little bit random. There’s a chapter on Playboy magazine which seems a bit of an odd inclusion and despite attempts at justification I still couldn’t really see a reason for it being in a book with this title. Brock is opinionated, as any good author of a work like this should be, and this make some of his chapters entertaining as well as informative, if only by the nature of how we are presented with his take on the subject in question. For example, the ‘I Don’t Really Like Stephen King’ chapter (The Emperor’s New Book – Chapter 27) is only a page long, whereas the ‘S T Joshi is great’ chapter (S T Joshi: Champion of the Weird Tale – Chapter 36) runs for a more generous three pages. Indeed, the emphasis in many of the chapters here seems to be brevity (49 chapters plus appendices in just over 300 pages). This means some of the subjects dealt with do feel a bit like an afterthought – the ‘chapter’ on horror soundtracks is only a page of text.

Scarecrow Press (the previous publisher of the Studies in Supernatural Literature series) and McFarland often bring out books with price tags beyond the means of many enthusiasts for whom the subject matter is intended, and Disorders of Magnitude is no exception. It is, however, a volume that would be highly worth borrowing from your local or university library, if only for its marvellous interviews and the opinionated bits that will have some nodding sagely in agreement while others splutter in horror at what the author has dared to suggest. In the genre of dark fantasy (worldwide or otherwise) either response is the sign of a successful non-fiction work, and Jason V Brock’s Disorders of Magnitude is well worth a look.

JOHN LLEWELLYN PROBERT

Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield
Hardback (336pp)
Release Date: 1 August 2014

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