The Damnation Game: Clive Barker
The Damnation Game is one of Clive Barker’s overlooked gems. Next to the door-stoppingly large and breathtakingly imaginative Imajica, and his infamous six volume Books of Blood series, The Damnation Game seems almost quaint and humble by comparison. Yet, I’d argue it is not only one of Clive Barker’s best works but also one of the best horror novels of all time. It was the first Clive Barker novel I had ever read, and affected me so deeply I am uncertain whether I could ever read it again.
The premise of the story is simple, really. A down-on-his-luck ex-convict, Marty Strauss, gets a job working security for a paranoid and wealthy business-man, Joe Whitehead. Only, it turns out that Mr Whitehead’s wealth has come from potentially execrable sources. As the story unfolds, we dive deep into Mr Whitehead’s past, and how he survived by learning to play the ultimate game. Mirroring this is our ‘hero’ Marty Strauss’ infatuation with gambling and addiction, and his journey to becoming a reformed self. The true threat of the novel comes from figures in Mr Whitehead’s past who are returning to reclaim what they are rightfully owed. Enter The European, one of the most fascinating and terrifying villains to have every graced paperback. He is on the same level as Joe Hill’s Charles Manx or Stephen King’s Randall Flagg, but he is infinitely more charming and complex than either. In fact, one sympathises with him, to the extent one can sympathise with a psychopathic necromancer.
The true beauty and power of this novel is the way it handles the relationship between the past and present, the one informing the other so our characters feel like fully realised individuals. The sheer depth of characterisation is a master-stroke, and even repellent individuals such as Breer the Razor-Eater, a deranged servant of The European, are so thoroughly fleshed out that they leap from the page.
As we explore these characters at a deeper and deeper level, we finally unearth a scene in the distant past of one character of such hair-raising horror that it will forever be burned into my mind. It is possibly the single most awful and magnificently dreadful scene I’ve ever read. Nothing any horror writer I have read comes close to it, in fact. There are novels, such as Grady Hendrix’s My Best Friend’s Exorcism, that have fully turned my stomach with horror, or induced physical reactions in me; such as his We Sold Our Souls, which gave me genuine clammy sweats of claustrophobia. There are novels such as Stephen King’s Cujo that have kept me awake at night thinking that something just might come out of the cupboard. But I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel that has shown me such a stark vision of unadulterated hell, one so real it is almost as if Barker himself must have once been there. The only comparable text is the Inferno of Dante Alighieri himself.
Joseph Sale is a novelist, writing coach, editor, graphic designer, artist, critic and gamer. His first novel, The Darkest Touch, was published by Dark Hall Press in 2014. Since, he has authored Seven Dark Stars, Across the Bitter Sea, Orifice, The Meaning of the Dark, Nekyia and more.
His latest novel Gods Of The Black Gate was released in November 2018 (Kendall Review), Joseph is currently working on the sequel.
He is the creator of †3 Dark, a unique publishing project born in 2017 showcasing the work of 13 writers including Richard Thomas and Moira Katson; each story is accompanied by original concept art from Shawn Langley and with cover art by Grand Failure.
He is an Associate Editor at Storgy Magazine where he writes features, reviews film, TV and books, and contributes fiction. He also writes for GameSpew.
His short fiction has appeared in Silver Blade, Fiction Vortex, Nonbinary Review, Edgar Allan Poet and Storgy Magazine. In 2014 he was nominated for the Sundress Award for Literary Excellence.
In his spare time he plays badminton, watches Two Best Friends Play and puts on his DM hat, concocting fiendish dungeons for his friends to battle through.
You can find out more about Joseph by visiting his official website www.themindflayer.com
Follow Joseph on Twitter @josephwordsmith
Gods Of The Black Gate
“There are those who bow to darkness. And there are others to whom darkness bows.”
In 2060 Caleb Rogers and his partner Tom Marvin put away one of the most dangerous serial killers Texas has ever known: Craig Smiley, an ex-infantry mental patient who believes he can summon seven gods through a series of disturbing rituals. Caleb and Tom secured him a life sentence in Mars’s toughest prison. They thought the whole thing was finished. But when Smiley escapes the prison seven years later and sets out once again on his insane mission, Caleb and Tom are sent to Mars to track him down. Both cop and criminal are determined to finish what they started. Only the criminal will stop at nothing. Gods of the Black Gate is part thriller, part supernatural horror, part sci-fi blockbuster and at its heart: a journey of spiritual descent.