Book Synopsis: Return to the nightmarish, shadowy realms of Hell in the latest installment of the Hellscapes series by Stephen Zimmer. Six brand new, macabre tales of the infernal await you… but be that you only visit these realms, you do not want to share the fates of the inhabitants you will encounter! Included in the pages of Hellscapes, Volume II:
- In “The Cavern”, a man finds his way into a nightmare, subterranean world that leads to an even greater, and more devastating, revelation.
- A police officer takes pleasure in violently executing his duties and it appears to be open season in “The Riot” when he is part of an operation sent to crack down on a gathering of people protesting an economic summit nearby. But this is an operation that is going to take a very different kind of turn, one that opens his eyes to a new reality.
- A woman finds herself stranded on a high, rocky ledge, along with many other men and women, surrounded by a frothing sea in “Above as Below”. Shadows glide beneath the surface and soon she will discover what lurks within the depths.
- “Spots Do Not Change” tells the story of a man who has never had any qualms lying, cheating, or deceiving the women in his life. A reckoning day looms as he comes to understand that his actions have harmed the lives of many others, actions that in the realms of Hell take on forms of their own.
- Having spun webs of intrigue and personal destruction at the heights of national politics throughout his life, a man finds webs of another sort to present grave danger when he finds himself lost within a strange wilderness in “Weaving Webs”.
- Many are drawn to “The Club” in the heart of the decaying, shadow-filled city of Malizia, hoping for some entertainment and release, or even safety from the monstrous dangers lurking in the darkness. One man struggling against amnesia finds his way to the seemingly popular establishment and its confines give him momentary hope; until he discovers the nature of this night club and those who run it.
For Cooper’s review, go here. Proceed for the…
Me and Dante, few years back, used to hang…
1. Hellscaping? Dante and Virgil provide a virtual map of the Inferno for readers as they journey, and you also provide visual details of Hell’s pathways and cities, with “Malizia” providing the focus for Hellscapes, Volume Two. Why the concern with Hell’s geography and look? Why is the visual scape/scope of Hell so important?
With new tales, the scope of Hell is unfolding even more in this collection, and it is one that is unlimited in its possibilities. As I have taken an approach where the characters find themselves in more individualized hells or predicaments, the scope is very important. I want the reader to think that anything could happen or be encountered, and wonder what kind of depiction they will find in a new story.
At the same time, I like to have echoes of the “real world” that the various characters have left behind, so there are cities like Malizia. I didn’t want to depict another version of the city of Dis, which many have done, so I conceived of my own urban center in this volume. The idea is a city that reflects malice in all of its forms, and hopefully that comes across in the bookending stories of this volume.
Hell is not a physical place, but it contains physical properties and physical kinds of sensations. They tend to be harsher, darker, and more intensive than the realities we encounter in this world, but the physical laws that govern our world do not reign there, as is obvious in the story “Above as Below” when the main character explores the “below’. So while there is a look and geography, in a sense, it is one that is malleable and full of uncertainty!
2. Author-god? Like Dante’s, your choices of the damned have political resonance, as in “The Riot,” which is especially poignant given rising concerns about police and excessive responses to alleged criminals. Writing about Hell, how do you feel about your power to damn political transgressors?
For me, it is a bit cathartic, as far too often it seems that accountability eludes so many in positions of power. The very idea of Hell involves accountability and having to face consequences. Hellscapes is ultimately an exploration of various kinds of evils, both simple and more complex, and I do find it positive that I can reflect and depict the more complex kinds of evil, which are present in the political transgressors.
I try to be very careful to make clear that the character truly has piled up some vile actions and is not an innocent in an undeserved situation. But it is a nice thing to be able to hold evil accountable.
3. Pantheistic punishment? No Catholicism, no Dante. Your Hell, on the other hand, is “polyglot,” fashioned for all ethnicities and religions, yet the imagery you use seems more specific. What traditions and influences inform your vision in this volume most directly? [Feel free to range from religion to the movies to whatever inspires]
There are Eastern religions that have concepts of very individualized/personalized kinds of hells, and those play as much of a part as my own background. My introduction to the idea of Hell came through growing up in a Catholic family, but the idea centered on just a place of fire, nothing too specific or varied. As I grew up and was exposed to other concepts, including reading accounts of near-death experiences, the idea of a varied, more individualized kind of Hell grew toward what is ultimately reflected in the Hellscapes collection.
I also am very inspired by art and literature, and Dante’s Inferno certainly had an impact, as did Milton’s Paradise Lost. In the movie world, Hellraiser, based on Clive Barker’s The Hellbound Heart novella, made a strong impression with how visceral it was.
The Hell of Hellscapes is a real polyglot concept, influenced by Eastern religions, Judeo-Christian faiths, accounts of near-death experiences, and art and literature. I don’t want it to be dogmatic, but rather an exploration of evil, so while some imagery may relate to a given tradition in certain stories (such as the flesh and bones “cathedral’ in “The Cavern”) the whole of the collection is going to reflect a wide variance in depictions.
4. Cheery Charon? Dante wrote about Purgatory and Paradise for his second and third volumes, but you have stayed in Hell. Nevertheless, your vision of bad people getting their due, most of them learning regret in the process, might seem optimistic. How about it: is Hellscapes a fatalistic or optimistic project? Why?
For the reader, I would find it to be a more optimistic project in the sense that it is a warning and exposure about various kinds of evils. Perhaps it can help people think about the nature of evil in more areas, recognize it when it is found, and address it. I would love to see that happen when it comes to the more subtle and complex kinds of evil, such as the aforementioned political transgressors.
For the characters in the stories, it is pretty fatalistic. No way to really get around that!
5. Practicing Paradise? If not Purgatory or Paradise, where does Hellscapes lead next? Do you foresee another volume, perhaps another city, or perhaps some other horror…?
More cities, more volumes, and more visions of Hell for sure. Maybe some more abstract environments too! I have lots of ideas about settings, and the exploration of the nature and kinds of evil has a lot of room to work in. Stay tuned, much more to come!
About the author: Stephen Zimmer is an award-winning author and filmmaker based in Lexington, Kentucky. His work includes the cross-genre Rising Dawn Saga, the epic fantasy Fires in Eden series, the sword and sorcery Dark Sun Dawn Trilogy, featuring Rayden Valkyrie, the Harvey and Solomon Steampunk tales, and the Hellscapes and Chronicles of Ave short story collections.