Read One Online

Authors: Conrad Williams

Tags: #Fiction, #Horror, #Ghost

One

Table of Contents
Critical acclaim for
The Unblemished
'His carefully crafted descriptions of horrific images, along with the ability to suggest they are even worse than words can tell, is reminiscent of Poe and the early stories of Clive Barker. Not for the squeamish, but no fan of literary horror should miss it.'
The Times
'
The Unblemished
, winner of the International Horror Guild's Best Novel award, is cleverly constructed, building relentlessly from intense, intimate terror to something on another scale altogether . . . the ruined London in the closing chapters of this stark gripping novel will stay with you a long time.'
Guardian
'Top-notch writing skills, poetic vision and beautiful prose raise this way above your Hammer House of Horror . . . unusual as well as highly accomplished terror.'
Sunday Express
'Williams is so good at what he does that he probably shouldn't be allowed to do it any more, for the sake of everyone's sanity.'
Publishers
Weekly
(starred review)
'Williams has built a whole mythology, one that makes the book feel like a cobwebbed relic from another time. Dust it off, if you like. Just do it at, say, ten in the morning. In a crowded room. In a military compound.'
Time Out
'
The Unblemished
scooped last year's highly coveted International Horror Guild Award, beating off some pretty stiff competition (which included some bloke called Stephen King).
The Unblemished
is a stomach-churning vision by an accomplished and courageous author and definitely not for the faint of heart.' John Berlyne, SFREVU
'
The Unblemished
is a strong book that gets in your face and doesn't back down. Its unsettling nature is one of its biggest assets. This is one of the best books that I've read this year.'
Bookspotcentral
'Williams' threat emerges from the world like an optical illusion being revealed, then you find that society fell apart while you were looking somewhere else.'
SF Site
'A terrifying tale of violence and determination to survive. Highly recommended.'
Monster Librarian
'This book scared the crap out of me . . . In my estimation, Williams does so many things so well that there's really not much he can't do. He is one of the few writers working in the area of horror and dark fantasy who has my full attention all of the time.
The Unblemished
is further evidence of his superlative talent.' Jeff VanderMeer
'[A] rich, emotionally engaging and extremely fast-paced novel . . .
The
Unblemished
achieves the admirable, tricky task of interweaving physical horror with spiritual terror . . . an unapologetic white-knuckle thriller.' William P Simmons,
Infinity Plus
'Conrad Williams takes us on a roller-coaster ride through ancient buried secrets and body-horror invasion into the pulsing gut of apocalyptic British horror.' Christopher Fowler
'
The Unblemished
combines a carefully orchestrated accumulation of paranoid detail reminiscent of Ramsey Campbell with passages of vividly described transformations evocative of early Clive Barker.' Steve Rasnic Tem
'An apocalyptic nightmare narrated with great vigour, clarity and stylishness. Steel yourself for some hideous sadism – there's awe along the way.' Ramsey Campbell
'A tour de force. Awe-inspiring in its sheer unsparing, unflinching, grimly horrifying view. One nasty piece of work.' Ed Bryant,
Locus
ONE
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Conrad Williams is the author of the novels
Head Injuries, London Revenant
and
The Unblemished
as well as a collection,
Use Once Then Destroy
, and the novellas
Nearly People
,
Game, The Scalding Rooms
and
Rain
. Born in 1969, he sold his first short story at the age of eighteen and has gone on to sell over 80 more. He is a past recipient of the British Fantasy Award and the International Horror Guild Award. He lives in Manchester with his wife, three sons and a monster Maine Coon cat.
ONE
Conrad Williams
This eBook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author's and publisher's rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.
ISBN 9780753520529
Version 1.0
www.randomhouse.co.uk
Published by Virgin Books 2009
2 4 6 8 10 9 7 5 3 1
Copyright©Conrad Williams 2009
Conrad Williams has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work
This electronic book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser
First published in Great Britain in 2009 by
Virgin Books
Random House, 20 Vauxhall Bridge Road,
London SW1V 2SA
www.virginbooks.com
www.rbooks.co.uk
Addresses for companies within The Random House Group Limited can be found at:
www.randomhouse.co.uk/offices.htm
The Random House Group Limited Reg. No. 954009
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
ISBN: 9780753520529
Version 1.0
For Zachary
All these miles, and more.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
I'm extremely grateful to Dr Christoph Winkler, Project Scientist for the International Gamma-Ray Astrophysics Laboratory (Integral) at the European Space Agency, for his input regarding gamma ray bursts. Paul McAuley also helped with the science (and encouraged me when the idea for this novel was in its infancy). If there are any factual howlers, point the finger at me, not them.
Thanks too to Rob Wilcock for details regarding oil platforms and for checking a couple of early chapters. Alan McGrath also chipped in with anecdotes regarding life on the rigs.
Other people who helped during the writing of this book were Nicholas Royle, Shaun Hamilton, Simon Strantzas, Ethan, Ripley, Zac, Mum and Dad. My superb editors at Virgin Books, Adam Nevill and Simon Lee-Price, made sure I didn't take my eye off the ball. Thanks also to Robert Kirby at United Agents.
As always, Rhonda Carrier read drafts, rolled her eyes, shook her head, but generally infused me with confidence and hope. I love that woman.
'We live as we dream – alone.'
Joseph Conrad
Part One
BIRTHS, DEATHS AND MARRIAGES
1. RAPTURE OF THE DEEP
. . . and in the morningtime we can drive in the jeep to the zoo and bort tikits and see the munkiz. Our jeep is cool acoz it goz reely fast and plays som grat muzik and its a green car . . .
Richard Jane glanced to his left and saw the other divers ranged away from him at ten-foot intervals, ghosts fading into the distance. Visibility was poorer than usual but he could just make out the yellow flashes of Henrikson Subsea's company logo on the dive suits. His breath came in shallow stitches. He could feel his heartbeat where it played in the thin skin of his wrist whenever it pressed against his suit as he applied pressure to the wrench. Another few turns and this section of the clamp would be sound. The fatigue crack, fully three feet long, was a black frown in the scarred weld between the node and its supportive brace. The great leg of the oil platform rose into the murk and was lost. You had to move against the current to get the job done. You had to anticipate where it might try to drag you and plant your stance accordingly.
This deep, the pressure was so great that it could be felt like a vice around the chest. The first time Richard Jane experienced it, all those years ago during his training – hard, filthy work burning three-inch monel bolts out of the flanges of a rig in the Gulf of Mexico – he thought he was having a heart attack. Breathing was labour. But the complexity and physical demands of his work took him out of his environment, helped him to forget about the risk, or at least keep it at a manageable distance. The ocean was unforgiving at these alien fathoms. Death was in the deep. It cruised around like the shadows of sharks. And like a shark it could smell a drop of blood from miles away. It preyed on the mind after a while, if you let the thoughts settle. No amount of reading or cards or letters home would steer you away after that.
Jane had known two men, in his four years as a saturation diver, who had taken their own lives because of the pressures of the job. He was a veteran already. Few lasted longer than two years in this line. Despite the advances in technology and safety, it still put a drain on your health. Holes in the lungs. Neurological threat. Aseptic bone necrosis. A sense of never being able to escape the cold: helium's thermal conductivity sapped the body of heat. The hot water pumped through the wetsuit was just never hot enough. Sometimes the grand a day he made on these two-week stints seemed insufficient. You spent so long down here you forgot what trees looked like; you'd be forgiven for believing the entire planet looked like this.

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