Modern Pulp Aug 7 2016
THE GREAT SATAN
Politics turn out to be hell—literally.


The Hell Candidate, which was written by Graham Masterton using the pseudonym Thomas Luke, first appeared in bookstores in July 1980. Ronald Reagan, who unwittingly provided Luke with inspiration, became the Republican nominee for president the same month. The book did well, but was almost forgotten until recently. In the last few months we've seen completely worn copies of the paperback version for sale online for $150. We got ours for $13 because, fortunately, not everyone researches book prices before they post them on an auction site. Why do people suddenly want to read The Hell Candidate again? Well, it has to do with the campaign of a certain Donald J. Trump. While the parallels are interesting and terrifying, the important aspect of the book is that it deals with contemporary American politics. Its lesson is that horrible candidates appear because voters secretly like them. Do we agree? Not entirely. But considering how useless most U.S. political candidates are, it's a point worth consideration.
 
The basic idea in The Hell Candidate is that an otherwise affable politician of moderately conservative bent named Hunter Peal is possessed by Satan and becomes a profane, warmongering, sexually violent monster. His aides and friends are horrified by the change in his personality and are sure he's doomed to flame out on the campaign trail, but a strange thing happens—the American people love him. His promises of violent action against foreign enemies and unrestrained plenty on the home front propel him closer and closer to the Oval Office. His promises are impossible. They're simply a means to power. But they keep working. From his early campaign stops in the sticks to massive rallies in major cities, candidate Peal utilizes doublespeak, tricks, illusions, and tortures to rise onto political center stage. He's beyond ruthless. Early in the book he rapes his wife eight times in one night—and admits it with pride. Later he dispatches a debate opponent by magically afflicting him with diarrhea. Yeah, it's that kind of book.

Could such a story really be worth reading? We think so. There's real terror, and some moments of insight, like this one:

Suddenly you're prepared to rationalize all those weird things you saw at Allen's Corners, and suddenly you're prepared to rationalize the fact that good old Hunter Peal has turned into a raving rightwing fascist [snip] and you know why? Because you're like every other creep around every other presidential candidate. If the candidate looks like he's winning then you'll forgive him anything. Rape, murder, fraud—anything.”

Hunter isn't guilty of any of those things.”

He raped his wife didn't he?”

While The Hell Candidate is unambiguously a political allegory of at least minor historical significance, and it's also a unique horror novel, it's additionally an early-to-mid example of transgressive fiction—in fact a defining example, though it's never appeared on a list of such books we've ever seen. But consider—transgressive fiction deals with characters who break free of perceived social norms in violent, sexual, or illicit ways, and such characters often seem mentally ill or nihilistic. Hunter Peal, once possessed, pointedly destroys all boundaries of socially acceptable behavior through repeated acts of profanity, depravity, cruelty, and shockingly lethal violence. Meanwhile other characters spend ample time misunderstanding his satanic nature, instead discussing whether he's merely gone insane.

It's similar in some ways to American Psycho—a landmark transgressive book critics mostly failed to understand. Peal becomes an embodiment of America's impulses toward violence in the same way Patrick Bateman becomes an embodiment of runaway capitalism. The books are also similar in that their violence is so vivid that merely reading it can make you feel guilty. That Peale's victims are sometimes forced through mind control to respond to his blood-drenched brutality as though they're in the throes of sexual ecstasy will do a number on your head. But this is the Devil we're talking about. Such sexualized hyperviolence fits—at least in terms of how he's conceptualized in Western lore. Masterton pulls no punches. The Hell Candidate is visceral, pornographic, and utterly enervating, often terrible to experience, but a modern pulp masterpiece.
 
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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
October 16
1964—China Detonates Nuke
At the Lop Nur test site located between the Taklamakan and Kuruktag deserts, the People's Republic of China detonates its first nuclear weapon, codenamed 596 after the month of June 1959, which is when the program was initiated.
1996—Handgun Ban in the UK
In response to a mass shooting in Dunblane, Scotland that kills 16 children, the British Conservative government announces a law to ban all handguns, with the exception .22 caliber target pistols. When Labor takes power several months later, they extend the ban to all handguns.
October 15
1945—Laval Executed
Pierre Laval, who was the premier of Vichy, France, which had collaborated with the Nazis during World War II, is shot by a firing squad for treason. In subsequent years it emerges that Laval may have considered himself a patriot whose goal was to publicly submit to the Germans while doing everything possible behind the scenes to thwart them. In at least one respect he may have succeeded: fifty percent of French Jews survived the war, whereas in other territories about ninety percent perished.
1966—Black Panthers Form
In the U.S., in Oakland, California, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale form the Black Panther political party. The Panthers are active in American politics throughout the 1960s and 1970s, but eventually legal troubles combined with a schism over the direction of the party lead to its dissolution.
October 14
1962—Cuban Missile Crisis Begins
A U-2 spy plane flight over the island of Cuba produces photographs of Soviet nuclear missiles being installed. Though American missiles have been installed near Russia, the U.S. decides that no such weapons will be tolerated in Cuba. The resultant standoff brings the U.S. and the Soviet Union to the brink of war. The crisis finally ends with a secret deal in which the U.S. removes its missiles from Turkey in exchange for the Soviets removing the Cuban weapons.
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