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F*** cancer. On that, I think we can all be agreed, and it’s a sentiment repeated several times in the course of this book. It’s taken too many, damaged too many more, and one of the recent devastating losses to the genre was when it took J.F. Gonzalez. He was a mentor to many, a horror historian, and the author of one of the most soul-shattering extreme novels of all time. Between his SURVIVOR and Jack Ketchum’s (also-taken-too-soon, f*** cancer again) THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, the genre would never be the same.
It’s no wonder his closest friends and most dedicated admirers were quick to rally to the call for this project, sharing their personal memories and stories about J.F., as well as tales set in the chompy creature-feature world of CLICKERS.
What’s a Clicker, you might ask? If so, tsk shame on you get reading! I mean, seriously, giant crab/lobster monsters with scorpion tails and acidic venom? Swarming out of the sea to sting, claw-pinch, melt, and eat people? And that’s only the beginning? Yes please! Clickers go cosmic, Clickers do crossovers, Clickers are just plain awesome cool and fun.
Reading this book, though, was a heart-wrenching rollercoaster of emotions. I’m one who regrettably never had a chance to meet the man in person, only knowing him through his work and reputation, and even at that distance, the loss hits cruelly hard. Several of these anecdotes manage that rare trick of making you laugh and cry simultaneously, the ultimate bittersweet.
The fictional stories are, in their way, just as touching and affectionate. There’s a special magic in being allowed to play with someone else’s toys, a desire to do right by them, and that comes through on every page. These folks wanted to do J.F. proud, wanted to live up to being the writers he believed they could be.
If I made particular mention of every section that stood out, I’d basically be listing the entire table of contents and this review would be ten pages long. Just … just get it and read it, You WILL laugh and cry and need to drop everything and go hug your loved ones. So, do it. (and once again, f*** cancer).
Tremblay, author of the 2016 short story collection THE SEEDS OF NIGHTMARES, delivers his first novel.
Agnes, Nora, and Celeste are excommunicated nuns, each with a dark past, yet they still manage to be used by the church in a special paranormal investigation team that’s headed by Father John MacLeod, himself a hot mess of profanity, womanizing, and drinking. You may be wondering why the Catholic Church would give their blessing to this group, but Tremblay makes it work.
Our three ex nuns are empaths, which they use to tell if people are possessed or just in a bad mental state. Father MacLeod assigns them to use their powers outside of a seriously evil house (that’d be The Moore House) after a wealthy man hires them to find out if his granddaughter is among the seven people who were murdered within its walls. But what they discover is an evil much darker than any they’ve encountered before (this place gives even Doug Clegg’s ‘Harrow House’ a run for its money).
I’m a big fan of religious-themed horror, and I enjoyed Tremblay’s approach to it. Father MacLeod is the last priest on earth who should be performing exorcisms, but when he does we cheer him on despite his hypocritical lifestyle. It’s also refreshing to see a couple of religious women (Agnes and Nora) still striving to serve God regardless of their excommunication and the fact they’re lovers. Celeste becomes a major player here despite being the newest member of the team, and what becomes of her and Father MacLeod in the final pages is quite disturbing.
With plenty of haunted house mayhem (I was reminded of Simon Clark’s THE TOWER a couple of times), an interesting cast (I’d like to see more of the mysterious pawn store owner), and a flawed but likable crew of demon hunters, THE MOORE HOUSE is a fine debut and a quick read to get the chills going.
SHILOH by Philip Fracassi (2018 Lovecraft eZine Press / 70 pp / trade paperback & eBook)
The author of this book has easily made his way into my top five favorite newer Weird Fiction/ Horror authors of the last five years or so. This is not an easy feat to accomplish on my end, but, here’s a couple of reasons why: He’s just that good of a writer. The author has an uncanny ability to write about subjects the reader is able to visualize and feel, with well-written characters sharing real emotions as the story unfolds. Also, the author doesn’t just tell us a story: He shows us the story. He puts us into the heart of the story and then takes us on a slow-burn journey full of creeping dread and cosmic horror that ends up spiraling madly out of control into some form of darkness, chaos, and disorder.
This book is no exception. And to what better setting to pull this off this time around than the infamous Civil War: Battle of Shiloh, also referred to by some as the first modern war. The author instantly puts us behind the eyes of two brothers as they’re in the midst of fighting a gruesome battle during the war. Not only is this a scarily accurate portrayal of violence and war in general, but Fracassi is able to build tension and dread through all the action, through the scars and the pains of the characters at hand, as we sit alongside them while bullets fly by on the battlefield, as children and innocent bystanders get blown to shreds, as limbs burn, rip, and tear in agony. The two brothers continue looking out for each other, questioning their own sanity amongst such a gruesome setting, as the casualties of war begin to pile up high on both sides. This is when things start to get more interesting and supernatural as the author throws us into the darkness with chaos and disorder. There’s always a bigger picture to be taken.
-Jon R. Meyers
C.H.U.D. LIVES! edited by Eric S. Brown and Joe Mynhardt (2018 Crystal Lake Publishing / 396 pp / trade paperback & eBook)
Oh, C.H.U.D., you wacky trashtastic 80’s classic! Near and dear and unforgettable to the oozy radioactive-green hearts of many a monster-movie fan! And really, how could it not be? Hideous mutations, ethos, pathos, carnage and gore … conspiracy coverup, cautionary tale, human drama … C.H.U.D. had it all!
But, since when has “all” ever been “enough” for anyone? Beyond the sequel, beyond various references in shows and video games and pop culture, the C.H.U.D. universe still had plenty of room to grow. Hence, this anthology, a fun and loving tribute from both big names and rising stars, nineteen stories interwoven or expanding upon the original.
If you somehow don’t know, the basic premise is sewers + toxic waste + homeless people = Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers, mutated infectious brutes with claws and teeth and ravenous hunger, who aren’t content to stay underground when so much tasty food is available topside.
Perhaps needless to say, there’s lots of gooshy violence within these action-packed pages, lots of people meeting very bad and messy ends. Even well-armed police and military forces have their hands full, let alone hapless ordinary folks. Cults form, family bonds are tested, unlikely heroes discover themselves, noble and ignoble sacrifices are made. There’s horror and humor and grim reality, revenge and redemption, and more.
The book also includes an introduction by military-fic legend David Drake, interviews with producer Andrew Bonime and screenplay-writer Parnell Hall, and art by Luke Spooner. If you’re a fan of the film, you’ll get a kick out of these stories, and if you’re new to C.H.U.D., then there’s your next movie night sorted!
THE POINT by John Dixon (to be released 8/7/18 by Random House / 320 pp / hardcover & eBook)
Dixon’s third sci-fi thriller finds a group of misfits being trained at West Point in a top secret program to harness their unique powers, often to the disdain of the “regular” cadets.
Scarlett Winter comes from a military family but would rather live her rebellious life cliff diving and taking risks of all types. She has been hiding her super power, one she doesn’t understand, but through a series of incidents is forced to take her place in the West Point program. She has the ability to store and project energy, and if she can learn to control it, could become the most powerful force on earth.
When Scarlett enters the program, she learns there are others like her, fellow students with all kinds of abilities from telekinesis to being able to invade people’s dreams. Picture X-MEN meets TAPS, only unlike the later, THE POINT then becomes a non-stop action adventure full of double crosses (from both humans and “posthumans”), truly evil villains (an attack on Times Square during a New Year’s Eve celebration is as grim as it is fantastic) and complex heroes who will surely appeal to fans of speculative fiction.
Like his previous novels PHOENIX ISLAND and DEVIL’S POCKET (both unrelated to THE POINT), Dixon once again serves up a likable team of fighters and places them in an impossible situation that will keep readers flipping the pages. A fun, exciting, cross-genre read that’ll make your time at the beach fly by.
DARKWALKER 3: THE DEEP CITY by John Urbancik (2018 Amazon Digital / 215 pp / trade paperback & eBook)
In the third installment of John Urbancik’s engrossing DARKWALKER series, we rejoin Jack Harlow as he and the acolyte known as Naomi are being driven to a place called Silver Blade, once an old mining town. A vampire-hunter friend of Jack’s is reportedly being held there, but right out of the gate Silver Blade proves to be anything but normal.
The town is nestled in a valley so steep the sun hardly ever reaches it, which makes it an ideal location for several supernatural beings and denizens of the night. And the town is just the top; Jack’s been summoned lower still, into the city built into the mine shafts and tunnels.
He isn’t sure what he’s supposed to do, still dealing with the losses and battles from previous books. He’s been confronted with disturbing revelations about his family, and learning that his father was somehow instrumental in establishing Silver Blade doesn’t help. Nor does the little poison-rigged booby traps with which Harlow Senior had Jack and Naomi implanted.
You might think that, after journeying through several levels of actual Hell itself, a subterranean city leading to caves and bottomless chasms wouldn’t be so hard to handle, but this place proves ancient, deep, dark, and deadly enough to qualify as its own enclosed Hell. Jack soon finds himself the unwilling guest of a sinister seer, about to witness his friend Nick in an arena battle, while Naomi’s fallen into the clutches of a witch-woman with glowing green blood.
There’s a lot going on, a lot to keep track of, and Jack Harlow himself takes something of a back seat protagonist-wise – then again, he’s always thought of himself as a ‘watcher.’ The reader gets to follow the action with Nick and Naomi, each trying to escape their seemingly inescapable fates … while Jack is brought to an even older, stranger, and deeper part of the caverns.
So, when is part four already???
WHISPERS OF THE APOC: TALES FROM THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE (APOC SERIES BOOK 1) edited by Martin Wilsey (2018 Tannhauser Press / 323 pp / trade paperback & eBook)
Zombies may have become the popcorn of the horror genre, but so what? Popcorn is munchy-crunchy, tasty, satisfying fun. And, these days more than ever, it’s available in nearly infinite flavor varieties, while still being that same iconic snack underneath … which can also be said about zombies.
Anthologies such as this one only help prove the case. The little differences, the sweet or spicy twists, the unique experiences set against a larger but comfortingly familiar backdrop, are what makes them work. Instead of a whole book of the same old same old bland outbreak and survival, these authors take some fresh perspectives and find new ways to reinvent or play with established tropes.
As is evident from the very first amusing tale, “The Markie Mark” by T.R. Dillon … when suddenly everyone’s panicking about getting bitten, the guy who’s gotten used to it isn’t immediately going to be all that concerned.
Stephen Kozeniewski’s demented talents are on display in “All Dolled Up,” in which would-be raiders pick the wrong house and get themselves invited to one nightmare of a tea party.
In “Zombie Stress” by David Duperre, as if the prospects of turning into a flesh-eating zombie aren’t bad enough, imagine how much worse the vegans must feel!
Stanley B. Webb’s “The Treehouse” combines classic elements of teen comedies and coming-of-age tales when a group of boys planning an overnight campout adventure find themselves in for more adventure than they’d counted on.
“Crave New World” by Adrian Ludens takes things dark and then even darker with one woman’s discovery of a particularly powerful and addictive new kind of drug; this one made my skin creep and, at the end, made a hollow open up in my guts.
In “Rocking C,” J.L. Curtis takes an astute sideways look at planning for the longer-term effects, addressing often-overlooked reality check aspects.
And those are only a few examples; there are sixteen to sample and enjoy. Gritty military action … desperation turning even the mildest into monsters … well-intentioned preppers and planners … scientists trying to save the day against insurmountable odds … hapless people flung into chaos … there’s a little of everything. Popcorn for all!