Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Top Ten Reads of 2015 (Part Two)

In the second installment of our TOP TEN series, staff writer Jon R. Meyers gives us his favorite reads of 2015.

by Jon Meyers

10) TERRA INSANUS by Edward Lee. C’mon, guys. It’s Edward Freaking Lee. Although this was far from being my favorite Lee book, it is a great collection and something very different from one of my favorite authors writing books today.

9) CRYSTAL ROSE by T.S. Roberts. This was a great tale about a brilliant paranormal investigation. It was very well written and given the content it was unique and clever in all the right ways.

8) A GOD OF HUNGRY WALLS by Garrett Cook. In my opinion this is one of the best books Mr. Cook has written to date. Clever, different, and keeps the reader turning pages to find out what happens next. This was also one of the most unique narration points of view I’ve personally seen in a long time. Great book!

7) ZERO SAINTS by Gabino Iglesias. Zero Saints is the noir novel we’ve been missing for years!

6) CREEP HOUSE by Andersen Prunty. A great collection of unique, absurd, and horrific horror stories that manage to stand in a league of their own like most of Prunty’s other work. This is a great collection.

5) RITUALISTIC HUMAN SACRIFICE by C.V. Hunt. This is my favorite book from author C.V. Hunt to date. She manages to effectively write from the male point of view. The character depth is brilliantly executed. Overall this book is very unique, well written, and uncomfortable in all of the right ways to make for a great and enjoyable reading experience.

4) THE WRETCHED WALLS by Brian Kaufman. The Wretched Walls is a clever and unique tale set in a haunted Victorian age house. There were dark secrets in this once thriving Bordello of Blood, and a nice, creepy collection of vintage pornography hidden inside a black box in the walls.

3) THE NAMELESS DARK by T.E. Grau. A great collection of well written stories for fans of Dark Fiction and Horror alike.

2) FLOWERS IN A DUMPSTER by Mark Allan Gunnells. Mark Allan Gunnells is a brilliant writer. His collection of stories will haunt, terrorize, and make you laugh at the same time. Each tale is unique. The author manages to spin a tale like no other on the market today. This was one of my absolute favorite collections of the year.

1) THE BAZAAR OF BAD DREAMS by Stephen King. They don’t call him the King for nothing, duh.


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Top Ten Reads for 2015 (Part One)

In the first of what we hope will be a 3 or 4 part series, the staff of THE HORROR FICTION REVIEW will be sharing their favorite reads of 2015. First up is from this e-zine's founder, Nick Cato.

by Nick Cato

I had a difficult time choosing my top ten books this year, as the amount of excellent reads in the horror genre were plentiful. I keep a "running tab" during each year, and the main way I decide my list is on the titles that stayed with me the longest, or those that kept coming back to mind. A couple of the books listed below grew on me, and in the case of one, I actually went back and re-read the second half to make sure its impact was as great as I've been claiming (that'd be my number one choice).

There were several titles I didn't get to that were highly recommended (I'm especially hoping to get to Tim Lebbon's THE SILENCE soon), but out of the 55 novels and novellas I read in 2015, my favorites are:

10) DOLL FACE by Tim Curran is like an extreme episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE that features plenty of old fashioned scares and will have readers racing to the final chapter. Wonderfully weird and full of truly creepy images.

9) OUT OF THE WOODS by William D. Carl: picture THE HILLS HAVE EYES meets FROM BEYOND on the set of DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT with a finale so heartbreaking you just might scream out loud. Carl's ode to grindhouse cinema takes its inspirations and a healthy dose of dark humor into what is easily the author's best and most entertaining novel to date.

8) ORPHANS OF WONDERLAND by Greg F. Gifune is a horrifying look at childhood secrets, demonic activity and what may be waiting for us on the other side. Gifune's blend of "satanic panic" and government conspiracies is a fresh take on genre tropes, complete with an incredibly dark conclusion.

7) RITUALISTIC HUMAN SACRIFICE by C.V. Hunt. More so than any other novel I've read this year, this is just so over-the-top (without being silly) it managed to bring the chills on a grand scale I wasn't expecting. Hunt's small town terror tale is deeply disturbing and definitely not for the squeamish.

6) THE CONSULTANT by Bentley Little. After several more experimental tales, Little is back with another "old school" type novel, only this time the dark humor is done to perfection and doesn't hinder the macabre happenings. An excellent return to form from one of my all time favorite writers. I think with the right actor in the title role, this would make one fantastic horror film.

5) ALECTRYOMANCER AND OTHER WEIRD TALES by Christopher Slatsky. There was a serious rise in "weird fiction" this past year, and Slatsky's collection proved he's leading the pack by a wide margin. His story 'Corporautolysis' shows off his skills as a writer and storyteller and his hard to discern blending of genres keeps readers guessing in every tale. A few of these stories hold up great to multiple reads, and some even require it.

4) THE DEATH HOUSE by Sarah Pinborough. This 2014 UK novel was released in the U.S. this year and is easily Pinborough's finest. Until the age of 18, children can catch a fatal disease and are sent to an isolated home on an island. This reminded me of GIRL, INTERRUPTED meets OUTBREAK, with an unforgettable ending and well developed characters. One of those novels you hate to see end.

3) SLOWLY WE ROT by Bryan Smith. I never thought a zombie novel would make my list here in 2015; despite zombies being well over the saturation point (and frankly, I'm just sick of them), Smith managed to create an irresistible zombie tale like no other, with an amazing cast and depth unusual for any kind of novel, let alone one about the undead. There are countless "road trip" zombie novels, but none can touch this. Not even close.

2) A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS by Paul Tremblay is a nearly flawless, fresh spin on the possession story and delivers a conclusion that will be debated among genre fans for years to come. Genuinely scary and impossible to put down, Tremblay's novel topped most fan's favorite horror novel lists for 2015. It lives up to all the hype it has received and then some.

1) MR. SUICIDE by Nicole Cushing is one of the best debut novels in years, and I don't say that lightly. This is an absolutely brutal, horrifying read that doesn't rely on splatter to disturb. Cushing's tale manages to get under your skin and into your head and refuses to let go. Seriously...this one messed my head up for days. Most notable here is the author's use of a second person viewpoint, which enhances the novel's overall sense of dread and terror. Expertly crafted to freak you out, MR. SUICIDE is not to be missed by any serious fan of horror fiction. After a couple of fantastic novellas and a short story collection, this novel has catapulted Cushing to the top of my must-read list.

As I mentioned earlier, 2015 was indeed a GREAT year for horror fiction, and as honorable mentions I'd like to note three more titles that are highly recommended:

- INFLICTIONS by John McIlveen is a fantastic short story collection featuring 23 tales and not a slow one in the lot. McIlveen often masterfully blends horror and humor to killer effect.

- DEAD RINGERS by Christopher Golden went in a direction I didn't see coming, and what looked like a scifi-type tale became an original occult horror yarn to be reckoned with.

-HALFWAY DOWN THE STAIRS by Gary A. Braunbeck is a mammoth collection of tales from one of the best writers in the business. I had read several of these stories two or three times before and none have lost their power.


Monday, December 21, 2015

Reviews for the Week of December 21, 2015

NOTE: Please see bottom of main page for submission info. Thank you.

THE VISIBLE FILTH by Nathan Ballingrud (2015 This Is Horror / 68 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Will is a bartender working in New Orleans. He finds a cell phone on the floor after a brawl ends. Figuring he'll bring it back to work with him the next day, the phone buzzes a text message as soon as he gets home, and he decides to read it. A desperate, spooky message has Will wondering if someone is breaking his chops or if the texter truly needs help.

From this simple set up, Ballingrud builds the suspense slowly but never loses the reader's interest, and by throwing in a side plot dealing with cockroaches, this slick thriller meshes into a creepy-crawly nightmare that should please anyone looking for a solid single-sit read to knock off an hour or so.

This is the first tale I have read from the author and am quite impressed.

-Nick Cato

FAT ZOMBIE; STORIES OF THE UNLIKELY SURVIVORS OF THE APOCALYPSE edited by Paul Mannering (2015 Permuted Press / 170 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

We all know those people who are convinced they’d do just fine in any sort of survival or post-apocalyptic situation. Some of us even are those people, or wish we were (I’m in the wish-I-was category, but since I don’t even camp well, am fat and squeamish, and depend on eyeglasses and meds, I realize I’d likely be zombie chow in short order).

In reality, while hardly anybody’s truly capable and ready, just like in real life there are advantages and disadvantages. Some are, for whatever reason, going to have it harder than others. And not simply in terms of not being an Olympic athlete or expert marksman.

This book is for those characters, the unlikeliest of survivors, the ones who already face burdens and struggles in their everyday lives that the average person might not even have to think about. Each of these eleven clever tales presents a different unusual take on the theme.

It opens with the painfully tragic and well-handled heart-wrencher, 'Denial,' by Jay Wilburn. Senility, Alzheimer’s, and dementia are terrible. High on my own list of worst-ever fears, emotionally agonizing after seeing loved ones decline.

'Perfect,' by Rachel Aukes, strikes a similar painful, poignant note, deftly dealing with the chaos and fear of the outbreak from the point of view of a little kid with Down’s Syndrome. Strongly done, impressive and effective.

Others high on my list here would have to include the Don-Quixote-esque glory days of 'El Caballero Muerte' by Martin Livings, Dan Rabarts’ wickedly devious 'Endgame,' and the brilliant resourcefulness of 'Mr. Schmidt’s Pet Emporium' by Sally McLennan.

The anthology closes with the ever-awesome Stephen Kozeniewski’s 'The New Dark Ages,' sure to strike some familiar chords with every gamer geek and LARPer among us … a funny/gross tale that takes a sudden, dark, sick turn toward the end.

-Christine Morgan

FLOWERS IN A DUMPSTER by Mark Allan Gunnells (2015 Crystal Lake Publishing / 314 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

First of all I’d like to say that I am a huge fan of this man’s work. I’ve read a couple of other titles by him, and, from what I’ve seen so far, he delivers something unique and clever every time. This book is no exception, boasting a highly promising blurb from horror legend, Clive Barker himself. Gunnells manages to write every story from the bottom of his heart, in a way that the reader can connect to at all times even whilst managing to leave you in fear of wondering why you can connect with them from the start. This may even lead to some sort of psychosis you should probably get checked out sometime sooner than later.

According to the book description, here are “Seventeen Tales to Frighten and Enlighten. Gunnells will take you on a journey through landscapes of light and darkness, rapture and agony, hope and fear." 

This book delivers just as it promises. It kept me wondering what kind of story was coming next. I literally didn’t want to stop reading this book. The stories are all beautifully crafted and well written, Gunnells really managing to show us a genuine knack for the overall power that can be unleashed in a good old fashioned short story.

My personal favorites were 'Welcome,' a hard hitting in your face story of a legendary haunted house, in which a curse just so happens to consume the patrons inside for as long as necessary, or until the next lucky contestants just happen to come knocking, leaving those few inside the walls with no chance in hell of ever escaping it.  In 'The Possession,' Gunnells shows us in first person what it’s like to be a blossoming male pornstar in the big city, and not only does he do this with precision, he does this with an almost humorously first-hand account of a demonic possession. This wasn’t the only tale the author used sex and humor to sell us a horrific masterpiece either. He takes on a similar theme in 'Transformations,' although instead of being an up and coming pornstar in the big city (yes, pun intended. I’m sorry), the protagonist summons a homosexual demon, and he has to feed this man demon thirteen of his hot and bothered one night stands in exchange for something fiery and unforgettable. Our main character lures his dates home, shoves them back in the closet, and feeds them to this mysterious homosexual demonic entity. The author shows us just how prolific of a writer he really is by knocking out of the park 'The Bonadventures,' which reads somewhere between doomsday horror and science fiction, with a little of that old fashioned Goonies humor, and a plethora of glowing eyes amidst a haunted cemetery on a real live ghost hunt.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys their reading material well-written, dark, doomy, bizarre, grimy, witty, clever, and post-apocalyptic. A real gem for fans of horror and dark fiction alike.

-Jon Meyers

THE ALGERNON EFFECT by Gene O'Neill (2015 White Noise Press / 28pp / deluxe limited edition chapbook)

First time novelist Timothy Scully has a runaway best seller that's set to become a motion picture. His agent takes him to see a jazz concert at a secluded home for special needs people in the Napa Valley. Timothy falls for their house guide Ellie, and he eventually moves to 'The Mountain Farm' and becomes romantically involved with her. Timothy's agent learns Ellie is actually a resident and not just a worker there, and when he reads the first 75 pages of Tim's second novel, he is disturbed by how terrible it is.

A homage to Daniel Keyes' classic novel FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON, O'Neill delivers a story that brings the weird in a meloncholy manner and the slick prose is highlighted by White Noise Press's always beautifully designed layouts.

Fans of the author don't want to miss this, and collectors are directed to WNP / The Algernon Effect

-Nick Cato

SING ME YOUR SCARS by Damien Angelica Walters (2015 Apex Book Company / 200 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

From the very beginning, with her debut novel, it was easy to see that Damien Walters was going to be an author to watch. This collection of her short stories only further proves the point. She is good. Really, really good. Not just a practiced wordsmith, not just a natural talent, not just an artist, but a genuine master artisan of the craft.

I mean, it’s kind of obnoxious, how good she is. Terms like ‘lyrical,’ ‘poetic,’ ‘evocative,’ and ‘powerful’ instantly spring to mind. Beautifully vivid descriptions, a deft but firm touch to the emotional harpstrings on any note from joy to dread.

A few of these stories, I’d seen before in their original appearances, but it was a treat to see them again. And even more of a treat to experience ones I hadn’t seen before. The real challenge came when it was time to write a review and try to single out my top picks. I don’t know if I can narrow it down much beyond: “they’re ALL terrific!”

Well, that and any sort of honorable mention is ever going to have to go to 'Always, They Whisper,' because it’s a mythology story, it’s a Medusa story, it’s an amazing, chilling, tragic, wonderful Medusa story. I love it.

The title tale is a haunting take on the Frankenstein theme, setting the tone for several explorations on the concept of self, of what makes us what we are – our physical form, our minds, our souls, our actions?

Others delve into the nature of family, of parenthood and parental influences for good or for ill, pain and loss and love and wonder in their myriad forms. And femininity, in its deepest essence, without being the least bit ‘girly.’

This is strength, and power, unseen mysteries, dark-secret magic. This is some Major Arcana High Priestess next level stuff here.

Did I mention, it’s kind of obnoxious, how good she is?

-Christine Morgan

HALFWAY DOWN THE STAIRS by Gary A. Braunbeck (2015 JournalStone / 576 pp / hardcover, trade paperback & eBook)

Usually, when I read a collection that features some stories I've read before, I tend to skim or skip them and focus on the new material. I attempted to do that here, but as I discovered, re-reading a tale from Braunbeck--in most cases--is actually beneficial. I intended to skim through the several I've read before but couldn't, and in fact found myself getting more out of them than I did the first time around.

In his foreword, Braunbeck explains what HALFWAY DOWN THE STAIRS (the title) is all about before launching into the fiction that's divided into three sections.

Part One, titled 'Throw it Against the Wall and See What Sticks' features what the author claims are stories from "All over the place," and among my favorites are 'Crybaby Bridge #25,' where an unnamed man deals with a past mistake on one of 25 legendary "bridges." Here's one powerful opener. 'House Hunting,' which is only five sentences long, is actually quite terrifying; 'All the Unlived Moments,' stars a de-programmer who uncovers a sinister group after saving an old woman's son from a cyber cult in this near-future noir; A sheriff takes in an old man with the mind of a 7 year-old in the beautiful 'Consolation'; Keeping with the old man theme, a senior citizen contemplates his life in the metaphorical epic, 'Bargain.'

'Patience' is a story I've now read three times, and it shows horror can be extreme without getting overly graphic: a man avenges his wife's suicide, caused by a hypocritical marriage counselor. If the conclusion doesn't make you cringe, you need some serious help. In the creepy 'Always Something There to Remind Me,' a couple watching DVD transfers of old home movies see life events that never actually happened. Serious goose-bump city here, folks.

Part Two, 'With a Little Help From My Friends,' features 16 stories, each introduced by different authors. We open with the incredible 'The Great Pity,' a disturbing look at memorial vigils and how different people view and use them; one of my favorites follows, titled 'In Hollow Houses,' about a junkie prostitute who is used to breed aliens by the Men In Black. The point of view here is fantastic. 'Afterward, There Will Be a Hallway' is arguably one of the all-time best short stories dealing with the afterlife--this is another tale that gets better with each reading. Bram Stoker and Charles Fort are characters in the excellent 'Curtain Call,' a vampire yarn as only Braunbeck can do it. 'Tales the Ashes Tell' is yet another great look at the afterlife as a girl tells us how she helped her dad deal with his wife's death.

In 'Just Out of Reach,' a real estate agent shows a man his future with an old-style Polaroid camera, then things get brutal in 'El Poso Del Mundo' as a Mexican thug tries to go big time but is hindered by a sleazy American. Did I menton this one was b-r-u-t-a-l?

'Redaction' features an office worker who can't remember his name, which has even vanished from all his I.D. cards. But that's only the begining of the weirdness in store for him; 'Chow Hound' is possibly the strangest tale of the collection, and easily one of the best; then we're treated to Braunbeck's 2005 Stoker-winning novella 'We Now Pause for Station Identification,' which I had the pleasure of hearing Gary read at the 2005 World Horror Convention in NYC. I think this was the 4th or 5th time I've read it, and it just never gets old. One of the best zombie stories of all time, and it wasn't until this latest revisit that I realized just how damn scary it is. Add a plus here for an encouraging introduction from Jonathan Maberry.

Part Three, 'Sometime When,' closes the collection with 12 tales the author considers to be among his best work, and the first two stories alone can easily be considered a part of that: 'Rami Temporales' (which I first read in the classic BORDERLANDS 5 anthology) tells the story of a helpful man who meets a strange character who has been assigned the task of making a face for God. Incredible doesn't even begin to describe it; In 'The Sisterhood of Plain-Faced Women,' an ordinary woman becomes beautiful, but learns there's more to life than looks. A surreal, beautiful narrative makes this a true standout.

'Union Dues' introduces us to a young man who becomes a factory worker in the wake of his father's death in this gripping look at family loyalty and blue collar hardship. Braunbeck adds brief but chilling elements to amazing effect here; In 'Dinosaur Day,' a man befriends his co-worker's abused, misfit son in an unforgettable tale with a finale to die for.

'Iphigenia' is a study in paranoia as a man attempts to attend a concert with his girlfriend and another couple. He's haunted by the death of his kid sister who died under his watch at another concert, and the author uses this springboard to crank the surreal terror up to 11; If you've never read 'Duty' before, get ready for an emotionally devastating time as siblings must keep their promise to pull the plug on their mother who is on her deathbed in ICU. This one will shake you to the core no matter how many times you read it.

For those who may have never read Gary Braunbeck, just be warned he has a way of digging into your soul like few others can. His ability to scare as he brings you to the point of tears is no easy feat, and despite how hard you may think you are, several offerings here have the power to reduce anyone into a bawling, shaking basket case. While a few genres are explored in these 40 tales, they all meet on a dark edge where, often, things are far from what they seem on the surface.

HALFWAY DOWN THE STAIRS will easily be cherished by fans of the author, and those who write dark fiction would be wise to pay close attention to Braunbeck's style and structure. Here's one thick volume that I'll surely be reaching for again and again.

-Nick Cato

SMARTER THAN THE AVERAGE WEREWOLF by Mark Orr (2012 Belfire Press / 246 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

So, over roughly the same couple-week span of time, my sporadic recreational entertainment consisted mostly of this book and Netflix’s Jessica Jones. Is it possible to get super-noir overload? Super-powered in the viewing case, super-natural in the reading case, but dang, what a ride!

Plenty of grit, plenty of drama, dangerous attractions, secrets, scandals, violence, wisecracks, and witty banter … what’s not to love? Best of all, in both, the actual flamboyance of the genre tropes was downplayed to take a backseat to the detective angles instead of being center-stage. Here are main characters with unusual abilities that certainly come in handy in their respective lines of work, but aren’t made a big flashy deal of.

Or even really explained, in the course of things. Just isn’t needed. We can accept without being given all the info dump history right up front that Jessica has extraordinary strength … and we can accept, without being told a reason, that Harvey Drago can go insubstantial. That’s just the way it is, and it isn’t the main focus of the story.

Neither, despite the title, is lycanthrope. Yes, there’s been a series of grisly murders, courtesy of what the press has dubbed The West-End Werewolf, and yes, Drago’s been hired to look into them. But what follows isn’t a monster hunt. It’s a mystery, and unraveling the various clues and connections like any good gumshoe is the whole point.

Along, of course, with complicated entanglements involving the ethics of involvement with clients, professional detachment, working with (or around) the police, etc. The more Drago pokes into the case, the more he’s led into deeper trouble, and the more enemies he makes along the way.

The glut of minor characters did bog me down a few times, and some of the relationships between them came off a bit forced, but overall Drago presented as a likable and sympathetic guy, troubled but not broken, unable to get close to anyone for not quite the usual reasons.

The setting’s modern and Tennessee, but the noir-nostalgia factor is there, and it still feels in many ways like an old black-and-white movie. And the ending leaves opportunity for further adventures, which is always aces in my book.

-Christine Morgan


Monday, December 7, 2015

Reviews for the Week of December 7, 2015

NOTE: Please see bottom of main page for submission info at bottom of main page. Thank you.

THE INFUSORIUM by Jon Padgett (2015 Dunhams Manor Press / 38 pp / limited edition chapbook)

Detectives Raphaella Costello and Mike Guidry are on a strange homicide case in the small town of Dunnstown. In Municipal Park, elongated, deformed skeletons have been discovered buried in the ground with the skulls facing out. In the center of the park is an abandoned paper mill that's responsible for causing a deep fog to cover the town and cause issues with everyone's health...especially with the asthmatic Raphaella.

Told from Raphaella's point of view, Padgett builds a strong sense of dread from early on and manages to create an atmospheric tale that'll have you swearing there's soot all around you. With a weird cult thrown in for good measure, THE INFUSORIUM becomes a solid horror yarn genre fans will surely enjoy.

-Nick Cato

AS SHE STABBED ME GENTLY IN THE FACE by Carlton Mellick III (2015 Eraserhead Press / 136 pp / trade paperback)

YES! THIS! Finally! This! This is what I’ve been wanting, what I’ve been waiting for, what I’ve been needing someone to do! And it’s right! It’s perfect! It’s beautiful!

I don’t even mean the whole beauty and perfection of Carlton Mellick III’s take on serial killers, though, wow, it’s no slouch in that department either.

At first, I was expecting Oskana’s art to be the focus, the implement and method of her killings. I expected delicate intricate sculptures of machinery and death, elevating the SAW movies to elite exhibitions, murder galleries with champagne and hors d’oeuvres. But, nah. Too obvious. Her knife is more than enough to get the job done.

The real twist comes when she meets Gabriel, her ideal victim. Her perpetual victim. Her immortal victim. He tells her he’s angelic, it’s his purpose, it’s the only way to save her own soul, to spare others. She can kill him over and over, as many times as she likes, in as many ways she can think of, and he keeps reviving. He heals. Whatever pieces she slices off of him soon grow back.

And that’s where the glorious rightness comes in. The eternal question, answered. The constant arguments, solved. Comic geek all-nighters debating Wolverine’s mutant power, Gargoyles fans waxing philosophical what-ifs over Demona and MacBeth, the mythological implications of the hydra, the slicing in half of worms … THAT question, THOSE questions. Here it is. Here it finally, perfectly is.

What DOES happen? When regeneration meets dismemberment and evisceration? When living flesh can’t be killed?

As fascinating as Oskana’s character, as intriguing her game of cat-and-mouse with the handsome young reporter who’s discovered her secret, it was the moment I saw where the Gabriel story was going that I literally DID do the excited little double-fist-shake “yesssss!” thing.

Fantastic story, fantastic book. Stylish, sexy, sadistic, wickedly incisive, cutting, and sharp. It deserves far more than two thumbs up, and, fortunately, thanks to Gabriel, there are way plenty of thumbs to go around!

-Christine Morgan

SOUR CANDY by Kealan Patrick Burke (2015 Amazon Digital / 66 pp / eBook)

While shopping at Walmart, Phil Pendelton watches a young boy throw a tantrum while his mother (or guardian) ignores him. When things calm down a bit, he accepts a piece of candy from the boy and is on his way. On the ride home, the woman from the market rear-ends his car, and Phil's life quickly dives into chaos.

The detectives who come to the accident scene claim the boy from the market, named Adam, is actually his son, but Phil swears he has never seen him before. But when they check Phil's house, there are pictures all over of him and Adam together, and Adam himself is there waiting.

Not knowing if he is the victim of a mad practical joke or actually losing his mind, Phil is thrust into a Twilight Zone-like nightmare that will play games with your psyche until the last word of this powerful novella.

Those into psychological horror don't want to miss this.

-Nick Cato

LOVECRAFT UNBOUND edited by Ellen Datlow (2015 Dark Horse Books / 426 pp /  trade paperback & eBook)

The empress of anthologies, Ellen Datlow, presents a new twist on the Lovecraftian … Lovecraftian pretty much without the Lovecraft … no pastiches, no Cthulhu and no tentacles, vocabulary not dripping with squamous adjectives and made-up languages that sound like someone trying to yodel opera through cold oatmeal.

Sounds like a tall order, but the twenty tales she’s lined up manage to pull it off with aplomb. They have more of a focus on the essence of the intangible, existential, more cosmic and creeping horrors, the bigger picture as it were.

“Cold Water Survival” by Holly Philipps is my personal stand-out favorite of the bunch. Set on an immense iceberg, the descriptions are so vivid and the atmosphere so real, you’ll be shivering with chills long before the weirder events start setting in.

Speaking of chills and icy atmosphere, Dale Bailey and Nathan Ballingrud’s “The Crevasse” is another arctic adventure … though certain aspects made it difficult to read (poor doggies!).

I also particularly loved “In The Black Mill” by Michael Chabon; it hit just the right notes for my fondness for small towns with dark histories, secrets, archaeology, and ominousness.

“Marya Nox” by Gemma Files had similar elements of appeal, encounters of mysterious temples and a strange but compelling goddess, told in the form of an interview transcript … first class stuff.

“The Mongoose,” by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear, is fiendishly clever and fun, the kind of playful literary twist I always enjoy.

My biggest complaint with this whole book is that I must’ve forgotten at least twelve separate times I was reading an anthology. My mind kept resetting to novel-mode, so there I’d be expecting a next chapter to continue the tantalizing intrigue, only to find the start of a new story instead.

-Christine Morgan

BRIDE OF DR. FAUST by K.H. Koehler (2015 K.H. Koehler Books / 125 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

This dark and disturbing sexy sequel to THE DREADFUL DR. FAUST is grim, gory, and even more steeped in the turbulent brooding trauma and atmosphere of its predecessor. I mean, the book just about drips with emotion, as well as madness, pain, and assorted bodily fluids in a thick wine-rich cascade.

It picks up with the Dr. and Louise, his Poppet, his bride, the girl whose life he saved and remade into an echo of his own immortality. But just as Louise is relishing her situation, another woman appears. Another woman with whom the doctor also has a troubled, passionate history. An equal, as opposed to a pretty plaything. She brings a warning of an old rival, a surgeon with his own sinister goals, and his own desire for revenge. She also becomes intimately involved with the doctor’s new project.

Louise, meanwhile, seeks comfort and distraction in the upper world … where she meets a nice young man with an adorable little daughter … and brings them all closer to terrible danger as the doctor’s rival closes in.

These books are not for the prudish, nor for the squeamish. Several flinchworthy scenes, compelling seductive mutilation and horror. Well worth a look, if you’ve the nerve. And setting up nicely for a third installment!

-Christine Morgan


BLACK STATIC Issue no. 49 / Nov-Dec 2015

The latest issue of everyone's favorite UK import opens with the second installment of Stephen Volk's 'Mirrors for Eyes,' this time examining the subversive nature of the TV series HANNIBAL, then Lynda E. Rucker gets to the bottom of what makes humorous horror work.

Fourteen year-old Roy, a sawmill worker, and his young wife Audrey become parents to a four-legged son in Ralph Robert Moore's 'Dirt Land,' a  novelette that sets the bar for this issue's fiction quite high. When it becomes clear his charismatic uncle Hollis is actually the baby's father, Roy goes against unspoken community standards to stick up for his wife. Moore's small town fable makes the bizarre seem all too real and readers will surely cringe at the fate of our protagonists.

In Thana Niveau's 'Going to the Sun Mountain,' two sisters travel across the country leaving behind a trail of dead male bodies. We learn Glacia and Lys have developed mind-reading powers while being held captive in their father's laboratory, which they destroyed and have since been on the run. Reminiscent of a classic Dean Koontz story and finely paced, yet the tale seems like the prologue to a longer piece. As it is, it doesn't go anywhere.

While investigating an assault, detective Frank Burroughs becomes addicted to an unusual beer in Stephen Hargadon's 'The Toilet.' The Toilet is a small bar, located a flight below street level. Burroughs' life changes after he visits the restroom in this creepy, noir-ish mind bender.

In 'Gramma Tells a Story,' Nissi moves into her grandmother's house in Costa Rica and learns its history through nightly visits from her grandmother's ghost. Erinn L. Kemper gives the ghost and back story equally vivid life in this quiet, sad, but captivating tale.

Paul, a patient transporter, deals with 'The Ice Plague,' which is a new illness causing people to become indifferent to the point of near-zombification. Tim Lees' fresh take on the "apocalyptic outbreak" thing is genuinely bone-chilling and written with a razor-sharp pen.

Dealing with the loss of his wife (a popular theme in a lot of recent horror fiction), Bryan attempts to scale a steep hill he had once visited with his spouse in Simon Bestwick's 'The Climb.' As Bryan closes in on the impossible summit, a spider-like creature catches up to him in this metaphoric study of grief, determination, and regret. Familiar, but well done considering its short length.

Tony Lee reviews another boat load of DVDs and Blu-rays (I was surprised there was little love for THE CANAL, my favorite horror film from last year), and as always my to-see list has gained a few more titles.

Author Nicole Cushing is interviewed after Peter Tennant delivers excellent reviews of her latest books THE MIRRORS and MR. SUICIDE. There are also reviews of releases from Tartarus Press, DarkFuse, and some new chapbooks. Peter's review of Nathan Ballingrad's novella 'The Visible Filth' convinced me to track down a copy.

All systems are GO for the forthcoming, landmark 50th issue!

Subscribe or get a single issue here: BLACK STATIC



Monday, November 23, 2015

Reviews for the Week of November 23, 2015

NOTE: Please see bottom of main page for submission info. Thank you.

DOMINOES IN TIME by Matthew Warner (2015 Cemetery Dance Publications / 298 pp / eBook / also available as a limited edition hardcover from Thunderstorm Books)

Warner's latest collection features 18 horror and science fiction stories covering a wide range of topics (and time periods). The book is divided into 5 sections, and each one features a genuine gem or two.

After the author's foreword, the first 6 tales fall under the "Ain't it Romantic?" heading, and include 'Picture Perfect,' where a model's life is altered by a slick photographer and his unusual camera, then a father (who is on the brink of divorce) meets his fate at a children's library in 'Muralistic,' while an undertaker deals with the death of his wife in the spooky 'At Death We'll Not Part.' My favorite of this section was 'Springs Eternal,' about a man searching for the Fountain of Youth (but gets a ghastly surprise), then a son helps his father cope with his late wife at a ghostly party in 'Cocktail Party of the Dead.' Capping things off is 'Life Insurance,' where a family recovers from hurricane Katrina in a most unique way.

The book then shifts into "The Joys of Parenthood," an area where the author shines. In 'Cat's Cradle,' a man must deal with a strange feline as well as his newborn son, then in 'Second Wind' a man locates his ex-wife to help birth his son in a nasty post-nuked world, where on top of everything else a "were-virus" has infected the population. A man with "The Peering" develops a disease from eyeing his son in 'With the Eyes of God,' then a step mother sees a premonition on a baby's video monitor in 'Maybe Monitored.' Warner ratchets the suspense up high in 'It's Just Business,' as a father worries about his young son at a playground when a shady looking character arrives. Make sure to read the author's introduction to 'The Three Golden Eggs,' which is a prequel to Jack & the Beanstalk. Fun stuff.

It's "Intermission" time, and along with it comes my favorite story of the lot titled 'And That's When the Bathroom Exploded,' as a worker describes how an airport bathroom blew up on his watch. A wonderfully bizarre tale that's as darkly comic as it is strange.

Three historical tales arise in "Looking Back" starting with 'Backwards Man,' where the old saying "Everything happens for a reason" is played out between a newly homeless man and a Causer of events. In 'Bummers,' a woman sneak-joins the army during the Civil War after her lesbian lover leaves for a man, and in 'Monarch of the Mountains,' two silver miners in the old West encounter a freaky creature in one of the collection's more memorable offerings.

Both stories in "Looking Ahead" are simply fantastic: 'Noah's Temple' takes place in the distant future and looks at religion and science through the eyes of a female pope; one of the better religion-themed horror stories I've read in a while. And finally, 'Die Not in Vain' is a novella about Joe Merrill, an aerophobic man flying to the East Coast to make plans for his Alzheimer-stricken mother. But Joe is having "death trips" and continually sees himself dying. He thinks he's going crazy, as does his wife, and when he learns his mother has been dealing with the same issue, Joe's world becomes even more surreal.

DOMINOES IN TIME showcases Warner's ability to pen authentic paranoia from many different angles (his 2006 novel EYES EVERYWHERE will be of interest to those interested in the subject) and his blending of the macabre with some finely placed humor makes this collection sing. At times reminiscent of classic Twilight Zone episodes, Warner's stories are engaging and more often than not will take you places you didn't see coming.

-Nick Cato

SLUSH by Glenn Rolfe (2014 Alien Agenda Publishing / 110 pages / trade paperback, eBook, & audiobook)

This 12-pack collection draws inevitable comparisons to the short stories of Stephen King, and hey, that’s fair … it fits, and there certainly are worse writers to be compared to!

Elements of small towns, youthful characters coming of age or discovering dark truths, cultural references (and nods to King himself, always fun!), and simple home-style horrors lend them a simple but encompassing appeal.

'Ballad of the Best-Selling Author' gives voice to the eternal frustration many of us feel when something we don’t deem worthy becomes a popular or even mainstream phenom; in this one, the culprit is the zombie craze, as a true horror fan fights a lonely uphill battle to try and explain why famous hotshots don’t deserve the attention.

I particularly admired (I can’t say ‘liked,’ because it gave me SUCH uncomfy chills) the short but viciously effective 'I’m In Here”'… 'Jackie Boy' is a nicely nasty piece of work for sure, and 'Henry' will squick anybody right the heck out.

Some of the stories have been published before, others make their debut in these pages, and each of them stands strong. My biggest complaint with the book was that I could have done with another dozen more stories. So, Mr. Rolfe, hop to it!

-Christine Morgan


A PENNY SAVED by Sephera Giron (to be released 12/1/15 by Samhain Publishing / 107 pp / eBook)

Cora is an office worker, confined to her cubicle and dealing with her low place on the totem pole as she sees others around her advance. An avid penny collector, she finds a particularly shiny one in the street and is instantly transported to another dimension. She learns the penny is owned by a demon, and it doesn't take long for her life to change.

First her superior asks her to dinner, and she learns they both share the same unusual sexual interests. She willingly becomes his sex slave, and before long rises to the top of her company. Her co-workers stop talking to her, but she's not bothered as the money and promotions keep coming.

Despite being sexually abused by her two bosses, Cora eventually becomes the demon's right hand man, as well as a slave of an otherwordly kind.

Giron's sexually-charged novella is her take on the "deal with the devil" subgenre, this time employing underground goth culture and a heavy dose of fantasy-laced underworld mayhem to give things a fresh feel. A couple of scenes of Cora being transported to hell and back are quite creepy, and fans of kinky sex should be warned this makes 50 SHADES OF GREY look like a weak Sunday school lesson.

Enter at your own risk!

-Nick Cato

ROCK AND ROLL REFORM SCHOOL ZOMBIES by Bryan Smith (2010 Deadite Press / 124 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Ahhh, the 80s … when the various satanic panics about rock-and-roll and other teen pastimes really hit their stride. D&D for the nerdy kids, punk and metal for the cool ones. Parents whose own parents probably flipped out about the Beatles were all set to do anything to re-educate and de-metal their wild child.

The focus of this fun homage to that era is at a special school-slash-treatment-center designed to ‘cure’ teenagers. Of course, such programs are all too often not what they seem. At their best, it’s brainwashing in an attempt to make good little drones. At their worst, it’s rampant abuse of countless kinds.

The Southern Illinois Music Reeducation Center is not one of the good ones. Teachers and guards get away with anything short of murder under the auspices of a sadistic headmistress, and SHE, well, she gets away with more.

Until, that is the night a weird meteor lights the sky, and certain secret shallow graves disgorge their rotting occupants. The students and faculty, as well as a couple of guys on a mission to rescue one’s girlfriend, soon find themselves up to their necks in hungry flesh-chomping zombies.

A cheesy popcorn horror-comedy in book form, it’s pretty much everything you’d expect in all the right ways.

-Christine Morgan

DEAD RINGERS by Christopher Golden (2015 St. Martin's Press / 320 pp / hardcover, trade paperback, eBook, & audiobook)

Nick and his ex-wife Tess are doing their best to raise daughter Maddie together. Nick is now with a younger girlfriend and is considering moving to England with her, which would put a strain on his already shaky relationship with his ex. Tess spots Nick in Boston one day and he snubs her, but she later finds out he was actually in New Hampshire at the same time.

Tess' friend Lili helps her look into things, and in the process discovers she has a doppleganger of her own.

It turns out Nick, Tess, Lili, and a couple of their aquaintainces have become targets of malevolent spirits who had been trapped in a mirror-filled spiritualist contraption called a psychomantuem. The spirits have managed to latch onto our protagonists and become flesh and blood versions with no physical imperfections, and the more they become human, the more Nick and co. begin to...fade away.

Golden gets major kudos here for taking a couple of tired tropes (demons, dopplegangers, ghosts) and giving them a fresh spin. For the first section of the novel I was expecting some kind of scifi/clone story, but was happy to see things come from an occult angle, which adds to the novel's relentless sense of dread. A side story dealing with a struggling alcoholic held captive in his basement adds depth to an already intense tale.

DEAD RINGERS is a wicked good time, complete with a horrifying conclusion reminiscent of the 1975 cult classic THE DEVIL'S RAIN. Check it out.

-Nick Cato