Horror


Starfish: A scary deep-sea biological horror story

Starfish by Peter Watts

In a future overpopulated and under-resourced Earth, a geothermal energy plant has been constructed in a trench thousands of miles under the Pacific Ocean’s surface. The humans of the maintenance crew who live and work in and around the power station have been genetically engineered to withstand the harsh deep-sea environment. But the only people who are willing to undergo this biological manipulation and unpleasant living situation are outcasts, misfits, the psychologically damaged, and criminals.

We meet them aboard the Beebe station where they live together in a cramped environment that can be tense, not only because of the difficulty of their job, but also because of the personalities involved. Ratcheting up the tension is the presence of the unearthly creatures that inhabit the deep trench and the crew’s realization that, in some ways, they are more akin to those monsters than they are to the human... Read More

Walking to Aldebaran: Literary musings in an alien cavern of horrors

Walking to Aldebaran by Adrian Tchaikovsky

I never know what to expect from Adrian Tchaikovsky, but he’s always entertaining. Walking to Aldebaran (2019) is unlike anything I’ve read from Tchaikovsky to date, a powerful, literary SF novella with an edgy, dark sense of humor and a strain of horror that gradually intensifies until its shocking ending.

British astronaut Gary Rendell is part of an international space team sent from Earth to explore a moon-sized, alien-made object ― officially called the Artefact, unofficially called the Frog God because of its appearance in photos ― that a space probe has found lurking in the outer reaches of our solar system. Through a series of events that are gradually unfolded to the reader, Rendell is now wandering alone inside the cold, endless, crypt-like tunnels i... Read More

Dead Voices: I’m hooked on this series

Dead Voices by Katherine Arden

I loved Small Spaces, Katherine Arden’s first foray into children’s horror, and so I jumped right into its sequel, Dead Voices (2019). A few months have passed since Ollie, Coco, and Brian outsmarted the Smiling Man who wanted to turn them, and all their classmates, into scarecrows. The ordeal left them with recurring nightmares, but also made them best friends. It’s December now, and Ollie’s dad has won a stay at Mount Hemlock, the new ski lodge a few hours outside of town. He’s taking all three kids, along with Coco’s mom.

I didn’t fall in love as immediately this time, and I think I’ve distilled that down to two reasons. One is that, from an adult perspective, it seemed... Read More

Small Spaces: A delicious autumn read

Small Spaces by Katherine Arden

I fell in love with Small Spaces (2018) from the first paragraph. Before I even realized this was the same Katherine Arden whose adult fiction I’ve been meaning to read for years, and before I got caught up in the richly drawn characters and the spooky plot, I was smitten by this:
October in East Evansburg, and the last warm sun of the year slanted red through the sugar maples. Olivia Adler sat nearest the big window in Mr. Easton’s math class, trying, catlike, to fit her entire body into a patch of light. She wished she were on the other side of the glass. You don’t waste October sunshine. Soon the old autumn sun would bed down in cloud blankets, and there would be weeks of gray rain before it finally decided to snow. But Mr. Easton was teaching fractions and had no sympathy for Ol... Read More

The White Road: (to Nowhere)

The White Road by Sarah Lotz

I’ll admit it — I’m pretty scared of Mount Everest before you populate it with ghosts. Ever since I read Jon Krakauer’s riveting nonfiction book Into Thin Air, I’ve felt a little shudder at the very thought of climbing it. So when I heard about The White Road (2017), a horror novel set on Everest, I figured it was guaranteed to freak me out in epic fashion.

Simon and his friend Thierry run a website dedicated to creepy things. The White Road begins with Simon teaming up with a sketchy older man, Ed, to explore a Welsh cave system. Some spelunkers died there years ago, and their bodies are still in the cave; Simon hopes to get footage of the corpses for the website. Simon and Ed get into trouble in the cave. Simon nearly dies, an... Read More

Strange Toys: An odd, creepy novel

Strange Toys by Patricia Geary

Strange Toys is an odd, creepy novel. It won the Philip K. Dick Award in 1987, though apparently Patricia Geary hadn’t actually intended it as science fiction at all. I found it while exploring the labyrinthine basement of a local used bookstore, but it was reprinted in electronic form in 2018.

The heroine, nicknamed Pet, is the baby of her family. (We never learn her real name.) She is nine years old as the book begins, in the late 1950s. Her twelve-year-old sister, June, bullies her. Her sixteen-year-old sister, Deane, is worse. Deane is in some kind of unspecified trouble with the law (she’s into the occult, too), and the girls’ parents leave home abruptly with Pet and June because they fear retribution from Deane’s criminal friends.

What follo... Read More

The Brink: Superficial and implausible SF horror

The Brink by James S. Murray & Darren Wearmouth

Human monsters take precedence over the creature type of monsters in The Brink (2019), the sequel to last year’s SF horror novel Awakened. (Some spoilers for the first book are in this review, but are also in the publisher’s blurb for this book, so they’re nearly impossible to avoid.) Awakened was pulpy fun if you like SF horror and mysterious, murderous threats lurking beneath the surface of the earth. The Brink mostly gives us Albert Van Ness, a diabolical mastermind of dubious sanity who was apparently imported straight from an old James Bond movie. The creatures are still there, but in a diminished r... Read More

Awakened: Camera-ready SF horror adventure

Awakened by James S. Murray & Darren Wearmouth

Grady McGowan has been logging lots of overtime, running a tunnel-boring machine beneath the Hudson River for the massive Z Train subway line extension that will link New York City to New Jersey with an underground express train. They’re even building a state-of-the-art underwater Visitors’ Pavilion in the middle of the Upper Bay. It’s hard work for Grady, but everything is going well … until a huge hole opens up underneath Grady and his machine.

Three years later, the mayor of NYC, Tom Cafferty, is in the Pavilion, presiding over the opening ceremony and inaugural run of the Z Train. The President of the U.S. is a surprise guest (though not a welcome one from Cafferty’s point of view) and Cafferty’s wife Ellen is one of the honored guests on the Z Train heading to the Pavilion from Jersey City. There’s a delay. A shriek over the loudspeaker. And then the train slowl... Read More

Ghost Wall: These are not the good old days

Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss

Silvie’s summer vacation is a nightmare. She, her abusive father, and her browbeaten mother have joined a college professor and his three-person Experimental Archaeology class in the northern woods of England, where they are trying to live like the ancients. For the class, it’s a learning experience and something of a lark, at least at first. For Silvie’s father, it’s deadly serious; he’d love to live like that all the time, as he imagines Iron Age Britain to be the world of his racist and sexist dreams.

Things get worse when Silvie’s father and some of the others become obsessed with the grislier aspects of the olden days: the titular ghost wall — a fence topped with skulls that was meant to magically repel invaders — and the human sacrifices preserved in the peat bogs. Meanwhile, Silvie is both drawn to and terrified by Molly, one of the students, who refuses to allow Silvie to keep seein... Read More

The Invasion: This Hugo finalist has some issues

The Invasion by Peadar O’Guilin

The Invasion (2018), a finalist for the 2019 Hugo Award for Best Young Adult Novel, is the sequel to Peadar O’Guilin’s The Call, which you’ll need to read first. (This review will spoil some of the plot of that first novel.) Once again I listened to the audiobook version (Scholastic Audio) which was nicely performed by Irish actor Amy Shiels.

At the end of The Call, our hero, Nessa, had been changed by the Sidhe. They made her fireproof. Because of her crippled legs, nobody expected Nessa to survive her Call, so now she’s un... Read More

The Call: Scary sadistic sidhe

The Call by Peadar O’Guilin

I picked up Peadar O’Guilin’s The Call (2016) because its sequel, The Invasion, is a finalist for a Hugo Award this year (Best YA Fantasy Novel). Though I often enjoy Young Adult fiction, this book is probably not something I would have noticed had it not been for the Hugo nomination.

The Sidhe are finally taking revenge on the Irish for banishing them to The Grey Lands centuries ago. Ireland has been cut off from the rest of the world and every Irish teenager will, on some random day at some random time during their teenage years, receive “The Call.” At that moment, they disappear from earth and arrive naked in The Grey Lands where they will spend a day being chased, toyed with, and tortured by the Sidhe. Then they will be sent back to wherever they disappeared from, usually grossly deformed and dead. It will appear to the humans around them... Read More

A Spectral Hue: Weird in the best possible way

A Spectral Hue by Craig Laurance Gidney

I don’t know how to categorize Craig Laurance Gidney’s 2019 novel A Spectral Hue. It has an eerie, otherworldly story, and it’s published by a noted small horror press, but I didn’t think it was horror. I didn’t think it was fantasy either. And maybe categories don’t really matter for this slim novel that gave me a genuinely original reading experience.

Gidney’s story is set in a small town, a village really, nearly surrounded by marshlands, in Maryland. Many escaped or emancipated enslaved people ended up in Shimmer, working as crab fishers or taking other jobs associated with the water. There is an entity in the marsh, and some people are sensitive to it. Whether they are drawn to the somewhat rare marsh bell orchid flower, with its pink-purple flowers, or something else, they began to create things. Hazel Whitely, an enslaved woman, made strange qui... Read More

NOS4A2: Skip the show and read the book

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son. Everyone on the same page? Okay… Hill has delivered a deeply satisfying and literate novel in NOS4A2. He is absolutely his own man, and he’s very good. But he’s also picked up some tricks from his father. He writes children well, especially those that have some unique ability. In this case, Victoria McQueen has a special gift: she can find lost things. And this skill tends to transport her to wherever those lost things happen to be.

The book is most successful in its character development. Many a page is dedicated to the growth and transformation of Vic McQueen’s personality, as we see her grow from a young girl overwhelmed by her unique capabilities, to a mother equally as overwhelmed by h... Read More

SHORTS: Heller, Moore, Hamilton, Bradbury, Asimov

SHORTS: In this week's column we review several of the Hugo-nominated short fiction works, including four of the Retro Hugo nominees.

"When We Were Starless" by Simone Heller (2018, free at Clarkesworld, $3.99 Kindle magazine issue). 2018 Hugo award nominee (novelette).

In a fallen, future version of our Earth, Mink’s tribe of nomadic, intelligent lizards wanders the land, living at a bare subsistence level and frequently threatened by physical dangers, like giant verminous creatures called rustbreed. One of the tribe’s treasures is their weavers, eight-legged technological artifacts from a prior time that can turn raw materials into useful items for the tribe, like pots and tents.

Mink is both a scout ... Read More

Tide of Stone: Had issues with the voice

Tide of Stone by Kaaron Warren

As usual with DNFs (Did Not Finish), this will be a quite brief review as I have too much respect for the achievement of finishing a novel to belabor its bad points. Or, in this case, bad point really, for what caused me to give up on Kaaron Warren’s Tide of Stone, twice actually, was voice.

In Tempuston, Australia, the town has taken to punishing its worst criminals in two ways. The first is relatively mundane — they imprison them in the Time Ball Tower set across a small stretch of water. The second way is the fantastical aspect of the novel. The prisoners are “preserved,” given a long-ago concocted cocktail that gives them eternal life but turns them into withered, desiccated bodies that can’t move themselves and talk so slowly many can’t understand them. In short, not really ... Read More

The Listener: An exciting and emotional drama with a great setting

The Listener by Robert McCammon

Robert McCammon’s The Listener (2018), a finalist for this year’s Locus Award for Best Horror Novel, takes us to New Orleans during the Great Depression. There we meet:

Pearly, a good-looking huckster selling over-priced fakely-engraved Bibles to poor and grieving widows
Ginger LaFrance, a sexy and completely unscrupulous grifter who is tired of her current partner in crime and ready to choose a new one
Donny, Ginger’s violent and crazy nephew
Curtis Mayhew, a young black man who earns a decent wage as a redcap with the Union Railroad
Orchid, Curtis’s mother, a woman who feels that her health has been declining since the death of her husband years ago and who worries about her sons’ insistence that he can hear voices in his head
Nilla and Ja... Read More

The Cabin at the End of the World: Disorientating and brutal

The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay

Eight-year-old Wen and her dads, Eric and Andrew, are vacationing in a remote cabin in the woods in New Hampshire. Eric and Andrew are lounging on the back deck, overlooking a lake, trying hard to give Wen some space to play on her own. That almost immediately appears to be the wrong decision, as a large man named Leonard unexpectedly arrives while Wen is catching grasshoppers in the front yard. Wen knows she’s not supposed to talk to strangers, but Leonard is disarmingly nice, and he’s very helpful with the grasshoppers.

The tension posed by this scenario is already ratcheted up to 11 on a 10 point scale, but it’s only the beginning; three more people show up with strange and menacing weapons. Wen runs inside and she and her dads attempt to keep the strangers out. They fail. The strangers, however, do not immediately slaughter the family. Instead, after immobilizing the men... Read More

The Hunger: Taut and tense historical horror

The Hunger by Alma Katsu

The Donner Party tragedy — a horribly-gone-wrong 1846 emigration to California that ended with half the emigrants dead and the survivors having to resort to cannibalism — would hardly seem to need a ratcheting up of the horror via the addition of the supernatural. But that’s just what Alma Katsu has done in her Locus-nominated novel The Hunger (2018). And honestly, I’m still not sure I needed the supernatural aspect because Katsu has created an entirely compelling, immersively suspenseful account of this harrowing journey just out of the more mundane characters and environment.

The Hunger opens with a prologue, which is really a looking ahead in time, as a rescue group sent out in April of 1847 to find the “last known survivor of the Donnor Party tragedy”... Read More

We Sold Our Souls: Heavy metal horror

We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix

Here at FanLit we’re working together to get all the Locus Award finalists reviewed. I’m not a fan of horror, but when I learned that Grady Hendrix’s horror novel We Sold Our Souls (2018) was about a woman who used to be the lead guitarist for a metal band, I knew this novel was for me. Hard rock and metal are my favorite music genres, I love to attend live shows, and I have often fantasized that being a guitarist for a metal band could have been an alternative career path if my mom had allowed me to take guitar instead of piano lessons. So, I was ready to love We Sold Our Souls.

The story starts by introducing a teenage Kris Pulaski in the late 1980s as she discovers metal and hard rock music and begins learning to play electric guitar in her bedroom. I could totally relate to Kris and her friend Terry (a singer) as they ... Read More

In the Night Wood: Immersively atmospheric despite overly-familiar plot

In the Night Wood by Dale Bailey

I can’t honestly say there was much new or surprising about Dale Bailey’s In the Night Wood (2018), making the plot easily the weakest element of this Locus-nominated novel. Its strength, meanwhile, lies in its vivid, evocative prose and its portrayal of the inner turmoil of its main character.

When Charles Hayden was just a child, he came across an old book entitled In the Night Wood by the 19th Century author Caedmon Hollow and was mysteriously drawn to it, so much so he stole it from his grandfather’s library where he’d found it (the old man wouldn’t notice, since it was during his grandfather’s funeral that Charles took it). Years later, looking for another copy of it at the college library, he fortuitously runs into Erin, a young woman who was “not beautiful exactly, but striking ... Out of his league anyway,” who tur... Read More

Memento Mori: The Fathomless Shadows: It draws you in

Memento Mori: The Fathomless Shadows by Brian Hauser

Memento Mori: The Fathomless Shadows (2019) is horror writer Brian Hauser’s debut novel. The story follows three women: Tina Mori and A.C. Waite, avant-garde filmmakers in the 1970s, and Billie Jacobs, a teenage zine-publisher, in what is probably the late nineties or early oughts. The book plays with the macabre, the mysterious, The King in Yellow and the blasted shores of the city of lost Carcosa.

Memento Mori’s structure is a series of nested stories presented in the form of various manuscripts. Hauser chooses to use what I’m going to call The Colbert Maneuver, after Stephen Colbert (even though many writers have done it); introducing a character named “Brian R. Hauser” into the first page of the book. The character Hauser i... Read More

Inspection: Here’s how to ruin your experience with this book

Inspection by Josh Malerman

Here’s how to ruin your experience with this book: Read the publisher’s blurb below, think it sounds sweet and thoughtful, and then order an audio copy that doesn’t have a book jacket containing quotes from Chuck Wendig and J.D. Barker. The publisher’s blurb goes like this:

J is a student at a school deep in a forest far away from the rest of the world. J is one of only twenty-six students, all of whom think of the school’s enigmatic founder as their father. J’s peers are the only family he has ever had. The students are being trained to be prodigies of art, science, and athletics, and their life at the school is all they know — and all they are allowed to know. But J suspects that there is something out there, beyond the pines, that the founder does not want him to see, and he’s ... Read More

Welcome to Night Vale Episodes, Volume 1 & Volume 2

Mostly Void, Partially Stars: Welcome to Night Vale Episodes, Volume 1
The Great Glowing Coils of the Universe: Welcome to Night Vale Episodes, Volume 2


by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor

Perhaps you’re familiar with the Welcome to Night Vale podcast, created in 2012 by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, which takes the form of twice-monthly, roughly-30-minute dispatches from the community radio station in a small, exceptionally weird and yet utterly normal desert town. If you haven’t listened to the podcast, now in its seventh year, perhaps you’ve read the stand-alone novels Welcome to Night Vale or It Devo... Read More

Middlegame: Blood is thicker than alkahest

Middlegame by Seanan McGuire

Seanan McGuire brings together horror, alchemy, and fantasy in Middlegame (2019), a novel about ambition, power, creation, family, genius, and imagination. And because it’s a McGuire novel, there are also plenty of things that go bump in both the day and the night, a terrifying amount of corn, a refutation of pastoral/nostalgic Americana as viewed through the lens of classic children’s literature, and a battle-scarred old tomcat.

James Reed and his assistant Leigh Barrow ― a pair of rebel alchemists of the mad scientist type ― have been doing human experimentation for years, trying to make/breed (it's a combination of both) children who will embody the "Doctrine of Ethos" and have godlike magical powers. Because putting all this power in one person hasn’t worked, they split ... Read More

A Hawk in the Woods: Monsters may be scary, but it’s family that’ll get you

A Hawk in the Woods by Carrie Laben

Abby Waite, a moderately successful internet celebrity, is diagnosed with a terminal disease. The prognosis, even with treatment, isn’t good, so Abby decides it’s time to break her twin sister Martha, serving a twenty-year sentence for murder, out of prison, and go to the family cabin in Minnesota. It should come as no real surprise that the prison-break is the easiest thing to accomplish in A Hawk in the Woods (2019), by Carrie Laben, a road-trip-family-reunion-horror-story inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Thing on the Doorstep.”

Both Waite daughters have powers. They are orphaned, and now that they are out on the road, it seems that they have attracted the attention of various horror-style predators. The story alternates between the weird road trip and flashbacks to ... Read More