Released in the states as The Inhuman Condition, Clive Barker’s fourth volume of his Books of Blood series hit the stands in 1986. I didn’t get around to actually reading it until 1988; In the Flesh (Barker’s Books of Blood Vol, 5) released and I bought both books at once. The Inhuman Condition is my least favorite of the volumes, but the stories contained within are some of his most vivid. Rereading this volume was an exceptional experience, since it has been decades since I’ve visited the stories, and I found them refreshing and inspiring for the most part.
Beginning with the title story, ‘The Inhuman Condition’, a man named Karney and his group of hoods find themselves in a revenge pinch. Seems that the bum they decided to beat up for fun had a couple of tricks up his sleeve, this time in the form a complex, knotted piece of string. Unable to resist the lure of a puzzle to solve, Karney works to unravel the string, unwittingly unleashing a series of demons hellbent on killing his mates. For some, puzzles are extremely difficult to escape, and once you get started, you must see it through to the end. In this instance, seeing it through to the end leaves an extremely bitter aftertaste, and usually proved to be fatal. The bum, Mr. Pope, is not exactly who he appears to be. As the knots become more devious, so do the demons with each knot untied. Here Barker showcases a keen understanding of the tenuous power struggles within urban criminal types, especially considering how quickly members are to sell one another out for survival. Barker gets extra points here for using something as original a knotted piece of string as a demon delivery apparatus. Mr. Pope’s unusual string springs a rather clever trap of revenge against the thugs, tying obsession in a knot with survival.
‘The Body Politic’ is one of my favorite Clive Barker tales. We tend to take our body parts for granted, and as someone who suffers from Carpel Tunnel Syndrome, I have a deep understanding of what it’s like when your body parts crash and burn … in my case, my hands. But when a body part—say, your hands—become sentient and plan a revolution apart from the rest of your body, the results become maddening. Left and Right Wing have rarely been personified better, with our main character Charlie’s left hand being the more cautious and fearful, while his right hand more authoritative and demanding. Hailing itself as the chosen leader, Right chops off Left and sends the now free part to call the other hands together to lead the revolution. What follows is a careful and deliberate descent into hell, as hands begin to take their liberties away from their bodies, the results violently bloody, and occasionally quite humorous. Barker takes the common and often mundane and turns it into something horrific as legions of severed hands creep and crawl everywhere, plotting the downfall of mankind. Can we ever trust our hands again?
Many people are fans of the next story, ‘Revelations’, but I am not one of them. I was really hoping this go at it would give me a greater appreciation of the story, but I still found it boring this round. And that’s a shame, because Barker’s writing here is top-shelf, some of the best of any of his stories. There’s a mastery of characterization that should make this story stand above the rest for me, so I can understand why people gravitate to it, but I just could not relate to this story. Best to chalk it up to a case of ‘it’s not you, it’s me’.
By contrast, ‘Down, Satan’ is one of my favorite stories in this collection, simply because of its marked departure in style and execution. More of a fable than a story, the story covers several of Barker’s hallmark themes, including religion, self-destruction, and egomania. Fully believing God has abandoned him, mega rich businessman Gregorius tries to trick God into saving him by building a version of Hell. Attempting to summon Satan, Gregorius begins to torture people to death. He looks for signs of the Devil at every corner, finding small pieces of evidence, but he’s never able to make Satan present himself. Barker’s shortest tale in the collection, and possibly the entire Books of Blood series, it still packs a wallop, especially in his ability to tell a story such as this and still use his patented descriptive visuals. There’s a beauty to the economy of words here, and in lesser hands the tale would fall flat. The delivery also allows for somewhat of an ambiguous ending, as even now I’m unsure if Satan actually did show up at the massive version of Hell Gregorius created, or if Gregorius has simply gone mad, set to live out his remaining days rambling about how much further into depravity he could have gone if it wasn’t for the meddling authorities.
‘The Age of Desire’ is trademark Clive Barker. Using multiple points-of-view, we are presented with a story that could only have sprung from Barker’s imagination. Attempting to create an aphrodisiac, a chemical company begins human trials of their product, with disastrous results. As we see from their non-human test subjects, the drug is too good, causing the subjects to have raging libidos. Unable to quench their desires, the animals have sex, with themselves and each other, regardless of sex, in complete and utter abandon. Their human test subject has escaped, extremely violent and unable to satisfy his incredible urges. The shifting perspectives, from the test subject to Inspector Carnegie, back to the subject, then to other characters, heightens the suspense, causing an ebb and flow not unlike a sex act. The action here is brutal and extremely disturbing, as this test subject is willing to have violent sex with anyone, and anything, in a grand attempt to reach a satisfying climax, and then go at it again, and again. The police and their scientists soon discover the other subjects have simply burned themselves out, but will this fate happen to the human ravaging the city, and will it happen before more people are injured or killed? Mixing gore and sex, this story is one of the best stories in the whole series and a fitting and explosive ending to the collection.
Next up is In the Flesh, commonly referred to as The Books of Blood, Vol 5., and I’m hoping to have that read in time for the end of November. I’m rather proud of myself for turning my partner in Barker, Benoit Lelievre of Dead End Follies, on to Clive Barker. He has reviewed quite a few of Barker’s books, though I’ve yet to see anything from him concerning The Inhuman Condition, In the Flesh, or the short-stories often packaged together with Cabal which form The Books of Blood, Vol 6. He’s read more Barker than me this year, especially considering his review of Imajica. But this was the plan all along, to expose him to the works of Clive Barker, and in that I have succeeded. Please join me again in November when I revisit In the Flesh.
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