In 1919 Sigmund Freud published an essay that delved deep into the tradition of horror writing and claimed to understand one of its darkest tricks. Like a mad scientist, he performed literary vivisection on a still-breathing body of work, exploring its inner anatomy, and pulling out mysterious organs for classification. His aim: to present to the world a complete theory of ‘das unheimliche’, the uncanny.
In the spirit of this great experiment, 14 leading authors have here been challenged to write fresh fictional interpretations of what the uncanny might mean in the 21st century, to update Freud’s famous checklist of what gives us the creeps, and to give the hulking canon of uncanny fiction a shot in the arm, a shock to the neck-bolts...
'It’s not too great a stretch to see Comma as the literary equivalent of Factory Records.'
- The Herald, 2 Dec.
'Delightful and disturbing'
- The Independent on Sunday, 14 Dec.
'A masterclass in understated creepiness... a deliciously macabre collection that the old Austrian might well have enjoyed.'
- Book of the Week, Time Out, 12 Jan.
'If we need the uncanny – and I suspect we do – then we also need it updating... laudable.'
- Book of the Week, The Independent, 2 Jan.
'A bold idea.'
- The Guardian, 3 Jan.
This anthology - the first in a new series from Comma - offers 15 very different responses to the question. From ancient curses kept alive in internet chat-rooms to malevolent children's TV characters acquiring lives of their own, Phobic shines a torch into the unlit areas of the modern subconscious and suggests the more we know, the more we realise how worried we really should be.
This anthology draws out and distils science's love of narrative from a wide range of scientific disciplines, weaving theory into very human stories, and delving into the humanity of theorists and experimenters as they stood on the brink of momentous discoveries: from Joseph Swan's original light-bulb moment to the uncovering of mirror neurons lighting up empathy zones in the human brain; from Einstein's revelation on a Bern tram, to Pavlov's identification of personality types thanks to a freak flood in his St Petersburg lab.
Each story has been written in close consultation with scientists and historians and is accompanied by a specially written afterword, expanding on the science for the general reader. Together, they bring vividly to life the stories behind the 'eureka!' moments that changed the way we live, forever.
Respects - Ramsey Campbell
"'Respects' was suggested by a local incident in which a car thief in his early teens killed himself while fleeing the police," recalls Campbell. "A lamp standard at the site of his demise is still decorated with flowers years after the incident, and the tributes on the obituaries page of one Wallasey newspaper were at least as grotesque as the ones I've invented - the romanticisation of a petty criminal.
Cold to Touch - Simon Strantzas
"Stories often find their origins in unexpected ways," Strantzas reveals. "I was inspired in this case by a photograph of a Zen garden I once used as my computer's desktop background.
"There was something there in the coldness of the photograph, something that brought to mind the barren vistas of the Canadian Arctic, which ended up being the perfect setting for my tale of tested faith."
The Reunion - Nicholas Royle
"'The Reunion' is based on actual events," reveals the author, "but the story only really came into focus for me when I was invited to contribute to Ellen Datlow's Poe anthology.
"Poe is brilliant. I was at a conference recently where a teacher revealed that she had read Poe's 'The Black Cat' to a lecture theatre full of schoolchildren. She switched off all the lights and used a torch to read by. A number of parents lodged complaints, which she took as a measure of the event's success. My tale is inspired by a different Poe story."
Granny's Grinning - Robert Shearman
"I love Christmas," says Shearman. "Always have done, and always a bit too passionately. The intensity with which I loved Christmas was delightful when I was eight years old, slightly unusual by the time I was eighteen, and increasingly disturbing thereafter.
"I was the last one to grow up. It suddenly dawned on me one year, looking into the faces of my parents, and of my sister, that they were all older, and fatter, and less and less festive. And that they were trying so hard to keep me happy each Christmas, pretending they wanted all those presents I'd bought, all those sausage rolls and Quality Street chocs. That what I was trying to do, each December, was somehow reach back into the past and resurrect a time that was dead, that was long dead.
"I still love Christmas. But now I recognize - as I still make them perform party games, as I still make them open their gifts and smile and say thank you - that they're zombies now. All of them, zombies. I'll never get my childhood back again, not really, or the innocence of that family get-together. So I'll make do with the dead, and pretend.
"This is a story all about that."
In The Garden - Rosalie Parker
"'In the Garden' was written after I challenged myself to write a horror story about gardening," explains the author. "It emerged more quickly and easily than anything I've ever written. I think of it more as a prose poem than a story."