The Inhuman Condition

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Barker, recipient of the British Fantasy Award, won the World Fantasy Award for his BOOKS OF BLOOD (volumes 1-3) before he was published in the United States. His latest work, THE INHUMAN CONDITION, consists of five stories that graphically depict the supernatural’s intrusion into the world of ordinary humans. A key theme of his fiction is people coming to terms with their repressed notions about sex and death; his gift for metaphor leads readers into a world in which reality blurs before the stronger images he creates.

The title story chronicles an English street gang, bent on destruction, that finds a string with mysterious powers. Once untied, each knot releases a dark, hungering nightmare that seeks its own satisfaction. In “The Age of Desire,” scientists develop an aphrodisiac that backfires--desire becomes not a wished-for state, but a constant craving. Perhaps the most symbolic -- and gruesome--story is “The Body Politic,” in which body parts (in this case the hands) revolt against their involuntary attachment and proceed to sever themselves from their owner; once free, they then scamper off in hopes of “liberating” their fellow hands from captivity.

These tales, while somewhat uneven in quality, are rich in levels of meaning, and Barker writes with intelligence and ingenuity. Unfortunately, his portrayal of women as “sex objects” can often prove disturbing, and feminists should beware. All others who enjoy a rousing, yet intellectual, horror story will approve.