AFTER by Samantha Gregory (2014 J. Ellington Ashton Press / 177 pp / trade paperback & eBook)
One of the things about zombie stories that makes people keep saying maybe they’ve been played out is, let’s face it, because a lot of them are pretty much the same basic recipe. Modern day, the initial outbreak/apocalypse, civilization crumbles, survivors struggle, the fellow living turn out to be worse threats than the undead, etc.
THAT aspect, okay, maybe that aspect IS getting a little stale and overdone. Taking it a few steps further, seeing what comes next, what kind of civilizations DO rise from the aftermath, years or even decades down the line … hey, that still has plenty of potential. Plenty to play with.
AFTER is one of those books. The whole zombie uprising took place twenty years ago … effective government and military response eradicated them … problem solved … move along, go about your business folks, nothing to see here. In theory.
Of course, something like that would irrevocably change society, the way immense disasters, tragedies, wars and the like do. Big changes, and small ones. Pervasive ones we get used to or don’t even stop to think about anymore. And the fear is always there. Lurking. Could it happen again? Could it happen HERE? To YOU? To YOUR CHILDREN?
Fortunately, the New Alliance has stepped up to keep everything safe and everybody nicely under control. Or should that be the other way around? Whatever. Just do things their way, and it’ll be all right. Sure, there’s poverty and shortages and containment camps for those who might get mouthy, but you don’t see any zombies, do you? There’s a vaccine now, isn’t there?
To seventeen-year-old Jenna, this is simply the way it has always been. She knows all about it, or thinks she does, because her father was an Alliance scientist before that suicide stuff. What Jenna doesn’t know all about is her father’s actual research, and when others come looking for it, she finds herself swept up in the middle of a deadly conspiracy.
She also finds out that most of the truth as she knows it is a big honkin’ LIE, as she ends up fighting for her life against rebels, traitors, and, of course, plenty of zombies who haven’t been eradicated after all!
And, to make matters worse, she keeps getting interested in the wrong guys. With lower-key violence and not much sex, AFTER is the a fast, fun, well-done, and engaging start of a series suitable for YA and older.
CONDUITS by Jennifer Loring (to be released 9/16/14 by Darkfuse / 142 pp / eBook)
Mara has been cutting herself to deal with the death or her sister. And when her boyfriend Jason dies, the cuttings grow more intense. Her roommate Andrea tries to get Mara's mind off things by bringing her to an isolated estate with a couple of friends, but this is when things only get stranger.
Before long, Mara finds herself locked up in an insane asylum, and Loring challenges the reader to dechipher if what Mara is going through is real or imagined. Mara (a Japanese American) also thinks back to when her grandfather told her the legend of the Horimono Miko, and at this point CONDUITS takes on the feel of a solid Asian horror film, complete with spiritual undertones and what at first may seem like much confusion ... but thankfully the author ties things up during the intense, eerie, and heartbreaking conclusion.
CONDUITS is a well written surreal ghost story that can be consumed in one sitting. This is the first I've read from Loring and am looking forward to more.
THE SPECTRAL BOOK OF HORROR STORIES edited by Mark Morris (to be released 9/14 by Spectral Press / trade paperback & eBook )
From the press release: “Published by Spectral Press, edited by acclaimed, award-winning novelist Mark Morris (Toady, Stitch, The Immaculate, Fiddleback and the forthcoming Obsidian Heart trilogy) and inspired by the Pan and Fontana books of horror and ghost stories, which were hugely popular in the 1960s and 1970s, The Spectral Book of Horror Stories will be the first volume of a non-themed annual horror anthology, showcasing all-original stories by the very best writers in the genre. Each yearly volume will contain around fifteen to twenty stories, and will be available in paperback and e-book format across all platforms. The cover for each volume will be a new and original work by multi-award-winning artist Vincent Chong.”
Before we talk about what is going on inside this thing, let me just tell you this book rocks! There’s a little bit of everything for everyone, well, when it comes to the horror genre that is. The stories manage to sneak up on you in the dark before smacking you with their depth and cunning wit when you least expect it. I don’t know if this was on purpose or a mere coincidence on behalf of the editor, Mark Morris, but there is a recurring theme throughout the entire book. All of the stories work together to build this haunting atmosphere with beautifully constructed tales of love, family, death, friendship, regret, and music. That’s right, there are a handful of stories in here based around music. The Fender Stratocaster. A protagonist that has ties to The Beatles. There are some very interesting and well-constructed concepts executed and they hit hard.
Among my favorites are “The Dog’s Home” by Alison Littlewood. This is a creepy tale about a family, a hospital, and a dying love that may or may not be for certain. It ends with a tragedy that is poetic and beautiful at the same time, chock full of creativity and originality in a way that you don’t see coming until it’s far too late. “Funeral Rites” by Helen Marshall, a gripping tale again based around a family and death, earning trust with a stranger to eventually dig up the remains of a corpse in an old house. “Dull Fire” by Gary McMahon, a tale based around love and emotions. Here we have two characters that are bound together by much more than a new spark in their relationship.
There are also stories by Ramsey Campbell, Tom Fletcher, Steve Rasnic Tem, Reggie Oliver, Alison Moore, Robert Shearman, Conrad Williams, Michael Marshall Smith, Brian Hodge, Angela Slatter, Stephen Laws, Rio Youers, John Llewellyn Probert, Lisa Tuttle, Nicholas Royle, and Stephen Volk.
The Spectral Book of Horror Stories is sure to dig its way six feet deep into the heart of any horror aficionado.
-Jon R. Meyers
THE CHILDREN OF OLD LEECH edited by Ross Lockhart and Justin Steele (2014 Word Horde / 315 pp / hardcover & eBook)
My main concern about reading a tribute to the works of Laird Barron, is that I have – shamefully, and due to be rectified! – not read many of his works! Therefore, I’m in a woeful state of disqualification to speak with authority on how well the stories in this book achieve that goal.
I am, however, arrogant enough to speak with authority about whether I liked ‘em or not … and also humble enough to defer to the editorial wisdom of those who put the project together. With high standards of quality and knowing whereof they speak, let’s just all agree that these tales ARE fitting and worthy. ‘Kay? Kay. Moving on.
Because hey, there’s enough skill, talent, craft-mastery and deft wordsmithing here to … to … see? There’s so much that I can’t even find words! Within a matter of pages, I’d completely forgotten about worrying whether or not I was appreciating the full nuance (I got back to worrying about it later) and just settled in for some good reading.
I got it. I got beautiful texture and profound depth … whole-skin-creeping chills and soul-shrinking cosmic terrors.
My all-around favorite, for various reasons of mythology and sheer blow-your-socks-off descriptive artistry, was John Langan’s “Ymir.”
Other personal top picks include “The Harrow” by Gemma Files, Cody Goodfellow’s “Of A Thousand Cuts,” Richard Gavin’s “The Old Pageant,” and “The Woman in the Wood” by Daniel Mills.
Even the stories that I initially expected not to really be able to get into (settings or styles not normally to my personal taste) found a hook and a way to draw me in, impress me, and hold my attention. No skimming allowed. Or, whether allowed or not, maybe simply not possible.
Besides, I live in the Pacific Northwest, setting for many of these, and it’s always a treat to take a strange tour of familiar places. Or, maybe not a treat … things around here don’t seem quite as ordinary as they did before …
EQUILIBRIUM OVERTURNED edited by Anthony Rivera and Sharon Lawson (2014 Grey Matter Press / 256 pp / trade paperback & eBook )
The heart of darkness awaits in this brilliant genre-bashing anthology.
The book description reads, “There are uncountable evils lying in wait, ready to consume the souls of mankind. From alien civilizations bent on human destruction, to demonic incursions from beyond the event horizon, to the horrifying malevolence that lives within us all, Equilibrium Overturned grabs you by the throat and drags you screaming into the heart of darkness. Exploring terrifying dystopian societies, post-apocalyptic survival, the whitewashing of our own terrifying past, and supernatural worlds both near and far, Equilibrium Overturned offers 14 shocking revelations into the true origins of evil. Come with us on a journey into malignant terror that will drive a nail through all that remains of your own humanity.”
With that being said, I couldn’t agree more. There are 14 action packed stories from some very talented and creative individuals managing to craft tales within the confines of horror, but with an innovative use of Hard Science Fiction and Fantasy elements. The stories possess an overly dark and haunting undertone that anxiously keep you turning to the next page.
A couple of my favorites were “The Final Testimony of Molly Ryder” by Jeff Hemenway. This is written in an almost neo-noir kind of light (but still possessing a strong Horror and Science Fiction aura). The story takes place in the future, where prisoners serve their sentences in drug-induced comas. Via psychic link, the Sandman Project, an investigator journeys into the mind of a killer to uncover the details of a brutal murder. What's revealed has terrifying repercussions for all of humanity, as we discover the tragic events that occurred in regards to the project’s first patient, Molly Ryder. “This is Not a Horror Story” by Tim Waggoner is a brilliant story about a woman living under government surveillance, where upon a simple visit to the DMV she is horrified to learn that they know far more about her than just her driving record. Mr. Waggoner delivers an action-packed thriller with more creativity than one can imagine. The writing is great and the story is gold. I loved “Sunrise” by Tony Knighton simply because the use of the Black Market and its crime-esque nature. Another tale packed with creative, genre-bashing elements. Tony does it up real big and closes this anthology out, leaving the reader to sit back and recollect his/her thoughts. You may even need to pour yourself a glass of cold water to cool things down a bit.
With a Table of Contents that also boasts John Everson, JG Faherty, Rose Blackthorn, Geoffrey W. Cole, S.G. Larner, Martin Slag, Roger Jackson, Sean Eads, Stephen T. Vessels, Josh Vogt, and Jay Caselberg, we have an unforgettable anthology waiting to be picked up and read again and again.
-Jon R. Meyers
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