Joseph S. Pulver Sr. is one of the leading authors and editors in the modern dark/weird fiction genre constellation, and Blood Will Have Its Season was his first collection of short fiction. It instantly put the author on the map with its resonant title and its daring and experimental fusion of Surrealism and Expressionism with pulp and hard-boiled influences, as well as heady whiffs of Symbolist and Decadent prose and, of course, the cosmic horror of H.P. Lovecraft and Robert W. Chambers. It even has a foreword by S.T. Joshi, doyen of Lovecraftian studies. Renowned horror editor Ellen Datlow made eight out of the 41 stories and shorter pieces in this collection “Honorable Mentions,” a rare distinction. This is one of the most artistically ambitious collections of short dark/weird fiction since the early work of Thomas Ligotti, who himself has said of the author, “Some writers one admires and others make one want to do as they do, or try. For me, Joe Pulver is of the latter type. His imagination is so vile so much of the time that it makes me giggle with amazement. And the prose so deadly visionary. I’m grateful that the pieces in this collection are those of a fellow horror writer who has raised the ante on what it means to be such a creature.”
Many of the stories draw on the mythos of the King in Yellow developed by Robert W. Chambers, and as a writer, and as editor of the King in Yellow-themed anthology A Season in Carcosa, Pulver has made himself its foremost living exponent. Some story titles may give an idea of the flavour: “But the Day Is a Tomb of Claws,” “I, Like the Coyote,” “An American Tango Ending in Madness,” “An Event Without Knives or Rope.” Prose poems and even actual free verse look quite at home alongside tales of terror in this kind of mix, with an stylistic carry-over and unity seldom seen since Poe. William Burroughs or Lautremont spring as easily to mind as H.P. Lovecraft or Clark Ashton Smith, but Pulver has far more than avant-garde experimentation going on. Despite the references to jazz musicians, Pulver is a considered stylist rather than a fount of spontaneous prose a la Kerouac, and as a writer of hard-boiled stories, he gives Laird Barron a run for his money – and Barron is one of the strongest exponents of the style now working. When Pulver dials down the textual excesses and does noir (almost) straight, as in “Erendira,” the result packs as cold and hard a punch as brass knuckles.
At times Pulver’s verbal pyrotechnics can distract from the main thrust of a story, like abundant decoration on a Gothic cathedral obscuring its load-bearing members, but the prose is never less than carefully wrought – even overwrought – and rewards close reading. For various reasons, mostly the diversity of styles on offer and the absence of a single persona or dominating genre argot, as well as the fact that this is simply complex artful writing which demands concentration, I don’t see a Joe Pulver cult developing in the same way that a Thomas Ligotti cult or Laird Barron cult hsa arguably developed: he’s very much a writer’s writer. But that’s anything but a reflection on the actual work.
Noir fans will wonder when they last experienced such hallucinatory visions. Connoisseurs of experimental writing will be floored by the brutal, relentless force of the prose. Cosmic horror geeks will mark the lack of tentacles and slimy monstrosities – then wonder why they ended up scared and disturbed anyway. But this is one of the few volumes of modern dark fiction that it is essential to read to know where the genre is heading – because Joe Pulver has made it jump its tracks and take off in a whole new direction. Essential.