Have you ever read a novel that you’d been excited about from the first time you read a synopsis of it, only to be disappointed? The Nebulon Horror qualifies as this for me. It’s not a bad book, but it’s dated in its language and the style of writing feels restricted. The synopsis is accurate, but it would help considerably if it said “In this reprint of a 1980 novel…” so that readers have a better sense of how the time period may have inspired this novel. 1980 is not even what I would consider “old”; many fun horror novels have been originally published in the 80s and the reprints are just as relevant and exciting now as they were then. The Nebulon Horror is a “different” novel.
The plot of The Nebulon Horror is perfect for fans of the evil child and/or occult subgenre(s). At its most simple, seven-year-old children in a particular school in Nebulon, Florida have become evil overnight and the adults in the town need to stop whatever is causing it unless they want to be the next victims. The cause of this evil is the summoning of a long-dead and powerful human man’s ghost via a unique symbol that he responds to. There’s scenes that are violent and gory (sort of, a point that I will address more in-depth), but the bulk of the story is about secrets that this community keeps from each other.
One glaring thing about this book is that the plot is slow-moving. I was drawn to this book from reading the synopsis because I expected action-filled scenes with small interludes of characters being introduced or characters wondering “What’s going on?” Simply put, it’s the opposite. To be fair, the scenes with the evil/possessed children Jerri, Raymond, and their classmates were compelling. The first chapter of the book, for example, was Jerri’s first sign of possession when she accused her mother’s boyfriend of molesting her and physically ripped his face apart in self-defense but when pressed for details said she couldn’t remember what happened. The boyfriend survives his attack and becomes an integral part of the story, which I won’t spoil beyond this except to reassure you that he survives. This attack/kill and then claiming innocence is common among all the children; there are multiple scenes of a normally-shy Raymond committing grisly murders of people in the community for example. This plot point is why I kept reading in spite of feeling disappointed. When the kids are off at school or playing in the park and the focus changes to the adults, the plot becomes “draggy” and repetitive. If you want to skip to the big reveal, go to Chapter 25 and read to the end.
Some literature lovers may enjoy the writing style-here referring to the language and word choices- of The Nebulon Horror. As I said earlier, I thought the language was dated. To give you a concrete example, in the first chapter there is an odd way of describing the difference in characters’ speaking styles.
“Born in New England of European-born parents, Vin Otto spoke an oddly formal kind of English, at least for this rural Florida town where speech was usually as casual as an old shoe.”
Vin Otto has a substantial reason for his formality of speech, but there are other examples of writing that seems “off”. I have no idea what “…where speech was as casual as an old shoe” means, and it gets even weirder from there. The word “queer” used throughout the novel is synonymous with “strange” or “bizarre” rather than its more familiar present reference to sexual orientation/gender studies, which may interest word lovers but did in fact throw me a bit. When attractive women are described, there are euphamisms such as “well-proportioned”. The second grade teacher, who is only 27, shamed evil/possessed Raymond by calling him “You wicked boy!” These are little moments of writing that eventually add up. Vin Otto, the character with textbook English, is less “old” sounding than some of this writing. I get the sense that while this book was originally published in 1980, Hugh B. Cave wrote it much earlier. One other thing I wondered was if Cave wrote a more blunt draft of this book but had to censor some words or phrases so these odd choices were the best he could come up with. Either way, the writing style does not make for enjoyable reading.
After kicking around the good and the bad of The Nebulon Horror, I have decided that it’s not for me but others may enjoy it. I hinted at it when talking about the writing style, but a surprising audience for this book is readers that enjoy “wordplay” and seeing how language changes through the years. I don’t recommend it for horror fans, however.
Usually I would be posting about an entire website or horror reading material (book or magazine) but I think the article “Haunted House Myths Confirmed and Debunked ” written by author Carly Ledbetter for the Huffington Post is totally worth reading. I implore you to avoid the comments because some people are such thick-headed skeptics that they blow off the article by yelling “Science! Science! Science!” Did you know that science hasn’t been able to prove or deny the existence of spirits because the occurings, even residual hauntings, don’t conform to the scientific method? When one studies the supernatural, there has to be an alternative way to approach it because supernatural experiences don’t happen on a time table. Until scientists learn to get over the traditional scientific method to study the existence or lack of the supernatural, they are irrelevant in the discussion. As such, if you’re interested in this article, read the article but avoid the comments. The interview was conducted with a ghost hunted who drew some interesting conclusions about hauntings that I think everyone can get behind (even skeptics who are not thick-headed).
Carly Ledbetter sat down with paranormal expert John E.L. Tenney, star of a new TV show called Ghost Stalkers on the channel Destination America and asked him about six of the most common occurrences during a haunting/”haunting”. Of the six, the only two that he confirmed in his career were “You’ve felt someone tap on your shoulder when no one is there” and “You suddenly smell the perfume of a loved one”. Neither of these sound particularly terrifying. I actively follow true ghost stories online and neither of these events are mentioned at all. These so-called true stories involve violent events after encountering an entity. They’re interesting and unnerving, which is why I keep coming back, but for the “real deal” on hauntings I trust Tenney’s judgment over strangers on the internet.
One point that Tenney makes that boggles my mind is when he says the report “People have died in the house” is false. He explains that most houses have had at least one death and the death of anyone doesn’t automatically mean there will be a haunting. I don’t want to disagree too vehemently but how come I, the least supernaturally sensitive person in the world, have seen my first-ever cat (a tortoiseshell named Susie) in two separate incidents within a month after her death? I don’t believe that it’s the house that is haunted, which I guess is what he dances around outright staying. If you’ve watched any modern supernatural horror movie that deals with a haunting, you’ve probably heard “Ghosts haunt people” or related statements. The idea is that no matter where a person moves, they won’t be able to shake the ghost because the ghost is connected to them. Keep in mind, my old tortie was a sweetheart, not an evil, angry ghost like you see in the movies. If she happened to check up on me once in a while, I don’t think it would be the worst thing that could happen. In that respect, I agree with Tenney that it’s not the house that’s haunted. However, I think that the death of a person (or an animal, such as my first-ever tortie) would encourage an appearance of their ghost at some point. Tenney would’ve made an even stronger point had he thoroughly explained what he means by a death in the house not automatically being a trigger for hauntings.
The thing I found most interesting about this article is how Tenney explains the hauntings he’s investigated in his experience. He said that up to 98% were attributed to “normal” causes but he still believes he could encounter a haunting. That unexplained 2% is enough to make it a possibility. I appreciate that he knows hauntings aren’t as widespread or violent as media makes them out to be, but he still keeps an open mind. Check out the list for yourself and see what you think!