Thomas Ligotti has become one of my favorite contemporary horror writers. Like my favorite contemporary science fiction writer, Ted Chiang, Ligotti writes exclusively short stories. Both writers have never published anything longer than a novella. In this excerpt from an interview, Ligotti explains why he has not and never will write a novel:
I think it’s safe to say that I will never write a novel. The reason is this: I really don’t like fiction, and novels are what fiction is all about. The only fictional works that I’ve ever admired are those which have their formal basis in essays (Borges), poetry (Bruno Schulz), monologues (Thomas Bernhard), or all three (Poe and Lovecraft). I want to hear a writer speaking, not see a movie in my mind that takes days or weeks to get through rather than 100 minutes or the time it takes to watch a multi-part mini-series. Why would anyone want to read The Silence of the Lambs when they could see the movie?
A story is most powerful and memorable when tethered to an emotional reaction. People become emotional when something negative happens to someone they care about. That’s why you will never forget traumatic events involving close family members, whereas a story about an acquaintance from years ago may easily slip your mind. Likewise, you will struggle to remember anything from a history test you studied for twenty years ago. With no emotional connection to those events, they did not get stored as lasting memories.
Writing is my life’s calling, but I came to it relatively late in life. It wasn’t that late (my early 20s), but it was late compared to those who claim to have known for as long as they can remember that they wanted to be writers. They were writing short stories in grade school and submitting to magazines in high school. For me, it wasn’t until my final year of college—when two events coincided—that I realized I wanted to do with my life.
I am growing tired of trilogies these days—and series in general (in both books and film). It seems like every successful piece of intellectual property in the entertainment industry must be prolonged indefinitely. What happened to a single complete story with a beginning, middle, and end? Most series would best be novels, most novels would best be short stories, and most short stories would best not exist.
The Department of Truth is an inventive spin on conspiracy theories. In this world, every conspiracy is true, but at the same time, no conspiracy theory is true. It’s a slight spoiler to explain that, basically, if enough people believe in a conspiracy then it manifests in reality. The “Department of Truth” is a government agency that works to prevent dangerous conspiracies from spreading and becoming real. The books are well-researched in conspiracy lore, featuring popular theories like JFK, flat earth, the Satanic panic, Bigfoot, and more. My only gripe is that it’s a bit too anti-conspiracy theory, the subtext being all conspiracy theories are false and conspiracy theorists are dangerous. In reality, many (but not all) conspiracy theories are false, and some (but not most) conspiracy theorists are dangerous. Overall, this was really well-written with great artwork and I can’t wait for the next volume.
This is the bible of Austrian economics by the grandfather of Austrian economics, Ludwig von Mises. Human Action is Mises’ magnum opus on economics, philosophy, and history—or more precisely, it’s about what Mises terms “praxeology”: the study of human action, which all economic activity boils down to. This is a long book (it took me half the year to get through, which is why there are fewer honorable mentions this year) but it was worth it. You will better understand the world today by reading this 82-year-old tome than by reading today’s newspapers.
I heard great things about The Mandalorian when it premiered a couple years ago and had been wanting to see it, but I did not have Disney+ (until this past year). So I finally got around to watching the first two seasons of the show and really enjoyed it. I normally prefer movies over TV series, but The Mandalorian was better than the recent Star Wars film trilogy. That’s probably because the showrunner (John Favreau) had more creative freedom since he wasn’t working with the core franchise characters. There were likely too many cooks in the kitchen for the movies, with producers, studio execs, marketing experts, toy manufacturers, and Disney brand advisors all having a say in the plot and characters. Plus there were different writers and directors for the three movies and they apparently didn’t plan together. Beyond that, so much was on the line for the Disney mega-corporation with those movies because of the production and marketing budgets. The Mandalorian had a relatively high budget (~$120 million per season), but the budgets of each Star Wars movie were 2-3x that. They surely saved a lot on marketing by just dropping the show on Disney+ (while people were stuck at home during a pandemic with nothing else to do but watch TV).
I was looking forward to reading this double collection of horror short stories after hearing Ligotti be recommended by so many other writers I admire. And I can see why there was so much hype. I was immensely impressed, and Ligotti has become my favorite living horror writer and probably the best writer of weird fiction since Lovecraft. Ligotti is like the Ted Chiang of horror—not in terms of theme or content, but in the fact that they only write short stories and their stories are all fantastic and deep philosophically. Ligotti’s brand of horror is highly cerebral. He is a master of prose style, which is similar to Lovecraft’s in its verbosity and poetic beauty. Ligotti is also similar to Lovecraft in his content and themes—primarily extreme nihilism. His nonfiction book, The Conspiracy Against the Human Race, which I read last year, lays out his antinatalist worldview—a worldview I do not share—though I enjoy reading about those dark themes in fiction. After all, what could be more horrific than the idea that human life doesn’t matter and it would be better if we did not exist?