Horror


The Year of the Witching: A creepy religious dystopia

The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson

The Year of the Witching (2020) is the story of a young woman, Immanuelle, growing up in the religious dystopia of Bethel. (It’s never stated, but I interpreted the setting as a post-apocalyptic America.) The dominant religion, the faith of the Father, contains some elements of Christianity, but in a twisted form; for example, a real lamb is slaughtered during services. The threat of burning at the stake is used to keep people in line. Bethel is patriarchal in the extreme; it’s common for older men to take multiple younger wives. It’s also racist. Immanuelle’s late father was one of the darker-skinned Outskirters, which — along with the rumors that her mother was a witch — means she has lived under a cloud of suspicion all her life.

When Immanuelle chases one of her sheep into the mysterious Darkwood at the edge of the village, she meets a frighteni... Read More

Catherine House: A college with dark secrets

Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas

I recently learned the term Dark Academia, and while I’m probably too old to be a part of the subculture, I wish I’d had a name for it earlier. Schools and colleges with dark secrets have long been one of my favorite forms of literary catnip. It was probably inevitable that I’d be interested in Elisabeth Thomas’s Catherine House (2020), the story of a rudderless young woman attending a most unusual college.

The titular Catherine House is “not just a school, but a cloister.” Students who are accepted into its selective three-year program are confined to the rambling House and its grounds for the duration of their education. Catherine is cagey about its admissions criteria, but they don’t involve wealth or family legacy, so the novel... Read More

SHORTS: The Retro Hugo-nominated novelettes and short stories of 1944

SHORTS: Our column exploring free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. In today's column we review the 2020 Retro Hugo nominees in the novelette and short story categories, following up on yesterday's column, in which we reviewed the novellas.

RETRO HUGO NOVELETTES:

Arena by Fredric Brown (1944, published in Astounding Science Fiction, free online at Internet Archive). 2020 Retro Hugo award nominee (novelette).

Two massive fleets hang outside the orbit of Pluto, about to engage in a furious battle to the death: Humans and the aliens they call the Outsiders. Bob Carson, a young human in an individual scout ship, is about to engage ... Read More

SHORTS: The Retro Hugo-nominated novellas of 1944

SHORTS: Our column exploring free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. In today's column we review the 2020 Retro Hugo nominees in the novella category, other than The Jewel of Bas, which we've previously reviewed here as part of The Best of Leigh Brackett. Stay tuned for tomorrow's column, where we turn our attention to the Retro Hugo novelettes and short stories.

A God Named Kroo by Henry Kuttner (1944, published in Thrilling Wonder Stories, free online at Internet Archive). 2020 Retro Hugo award nominee (novella).

In remote Tibet, a minor deity named Kroo is slowly d... Read More

Mexican Gothic: A creepy gothic novel featuring fungus

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Noemí Taboada is a 22-year-old flighty socialite living in Mexico City. She loves to dress up in beautiful gowns and high heels and go to parties with handsome young men. One evening she’s called home from a party early. Her wealthy father has received a strange letter from Catalina, Noemí’s recently married cousin. Catalina thinks she’s in danger from her new husband’s family and is begging for help. Is Catalina really imperiled, or is she suffering a mental breakdown?

Noemí’s father asks her to visit her cousin at High Place, her husband’s family’s mansion on top of a mountain in an isolated rural area of Mexico. When she arrives, Noemí is shocked to discover that, indeed, her cousin is not well. Though Catalina has moments of lucidity, at other times she rails about ghosts and other hallucinations.
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SHORTS: Gailey, Huang, Solomon

SHORTS is our column exploring free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. We've previously reviewed most of the novellas, novelettes and short stories that are currently nominated for the 2020 Hugo Awards. Here are our reviews for the remaining nominees. Reviews for the Retro Hugo short fiction nominees are coming this week!

Away with the Wolves by Sarah Gailey (2019, free at Uncanny Magazine, $3.99 Kindle magazine issue). 2020 Hugo award nominee (novelette). Read More

Prisoner of Midnight: Vampire mystery at sea

Prisoner of Midnight by Barbara Hambly

Prisoner of Midnight (2019) is the eighth novel in Barbara Hambly’s JAMES ASHER series, which began in 1988 with Those Who Hunt the Night. It has been nominated for the Locus Award for Best Horror Novel. I had never tried this series before, but having enjoyed her (non-paranormal) BENJAMIN JANUARY mystery series, I decided to give Prisoner of Midnight a shot.

(And now that I’ve read it, I can say that there are some common themes. Both series feature a fiercely intelligent male/female pair solving crimes, and explore prejudice as both a cause of violence and an impediment to the investigation.)

Hambly weaves enough backstory into the narrative that a new reader can catch up, and it’s smoothly integrated, so longtime fans of the series won’t ha... Read More

SHORTS: Roanhorse, Liu, Lee, Goss, Kingfisher, Bear

SHORTS: Our column exploring free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. This week's post reviews several more of the current crop of Locus Award nominees in the short fiction categories.

“A Brief Lesson in Native American Astronomy” by Rebecca Roanhorse (2019, anthologized in The Mythic Dream, edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe). 2020 Locus award finalist (short story).

In the future, people’s memories can be stored and preserved even after they’ve died, and other people can inject them like drugs. Dez Hunter is an actor who has spiraled into depression after the death of his beloved girlfrien... Read More

Blackwater: A unique horror saga

Blackwater: The Complete Saga by Michael McDowell

Michael McDowell originally published the BLACKWATER horror series in six volumes (The Flood, The Levee, The House, The War, The Fortune, and Rain) in 1983. Some of the installments go for a pretty penny on the Internet these days, so it’s great that Valancourt Press released an omnibus edition, Blackwater: The Complete Saga (2017). This edition is the most cost-effective way to get your hands on this sprawling tale.

Blackwater is set in the town of Perdido, Alabama and tells the story of a lumber dynasty, the Caskeys, between 1919 and 1970. It begins when the scion of the family, Oscar, finds a young woman, Elinor, stranded in the town’s h... Read More

The Luminous Dead: A gripping thriller

The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling

Some time ago, I read a novel that promised to combine a man-vs.-nature survival narrative with a ghost story. It disappointed me, not delivering enough of either. When reading Caitlin Starling’s The Luminous Dead, I couldn’t help thinking that this book was what I wanted that one to be. The Luminous Dead succeeds at both the (wo)man-vs.-nature stuff and the eerie goings-on — not to mention a character study of two complicated, damaged people — and it all adds up to a truly gripping thriller.

Gyre is a caver, setting out on what might be the job of a lifetime. The pay is good enough to get her off her backwater planet so she can find her long-lost mother — but only if she survives. See, Gyre … embellished … her credentials a bit to get the job. OK, maybe more than a bit.

Gyre’s... Read More

SHORTS: McGuire, Link, Chiang, Leckie, Lee

SHORTS: Our column exploring free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. This week's post reviews several of the current crop of Locus Award nominees. 


Phantoms of the Midway by Seanan McGuire (2019, anthologized in The Mythic Dream, edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe). 2020 Locus award finalist (novelette).

Most kids dream of running away to join the carnival. Seventeen-year-old Aracely dreams of running away from the carnival. Her mother, Daisy, is the boss and the tattoo artist of the traveling fair, and she’s overprotective, forbidding Aracely to step out... Read More

Deeplight: A new take on the Cthulhu mythos

Deeplight by Frances Hardinge

They say that the Undersea was the dwelling place of the gods. They say many things of the Myriad, and all of them are true. The gods were as real as the coastlines and currents and as merciless as the winds and whirlpools.

No one knows who or what the gods were, the giant creatures who lived in the sea and then, mysteriously, all died. But everyone knows that a piece of a dead god can make your fortune. Hark is still a child himself, all of 14 years old, but he knows it, too. That’s why he’s in the crowd when a submarine brings back parts of the Hidden Lady, the god that used to live in the waters around the archipelago on which he lives. His friend, Jelt, knows it too, and he has plans that call for Hark to do some hazardous things to make them both rich. Hark pays the price for Jelt’s foolishness, sold into indentured servitude.

Hark is lucky that he has a golden tongu... Read More

Jack: Horror during the London Blitz

Jack by Connie Willis

Subterranean Press is reissuing Connie Willis’s moody and bleak novella Jack (1991), which was a finalist for the Nebula and Hugo awards and has appeared in several anthologies over the years. It’s set during the London Blitz in WWII, one of Willis’ favorite settings for her works, including the time-travel novels Blackout and All Clear and the Nebula and Hugo award-winning novelette Fire Watch. Once again, there’s something peculiar going on during the Blitz … but this time it’s not just time travelers visiting from the future.

Jack Harker is p... Read More

SHORTS: Anderson, Osborne, Wilde, Pinsker

SHORTS: Our column exploring free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. In this week's column, we review more of the current crop of 2019 Nebula nominees in the short story and novelette categories.

"A Strange Uncertain Light" by G.V. Anderson (2019, Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine). 2019 Nebula Award nominee (novelette).

Anne and Merritt have just been married, practically on impulse. Each of them has a problem: Merritt is a drunk, but Anne sees the ghosts of strangers at the moment of their death. As prosaic an activity as looking out a train window can give her a vision of a man caught between the rails and the wheels, “to be sliced through like brisket.” Neither of them has confessed to the other, though Merritt’s shortcomings have been unhappily obvious. Still, they are honeymooning at Rannings, in Yorkshire, a grand hotel, and Anne is happy.

Another... Read More

Catfish Lullaby: Song of the swamp meets cosmic horror

Catfish Lullaby by A.C. Wise

Catfish Lullaby (2019), a Nebula Award-nominated novella, might be described as Louisiana swamp monster folklore colliding with eldritch Lovecraftian horror. Author A.C. Wise (who also has a second Nebula nomination this year, for her short story “How the Trick is Done”) visits Caleb, the biracial, queer son of the local sheriff, at three key points in his life. We follow Caleb from childhood to adulthood as he navigates his friendship with Cere Royce, the daughter of a once-prominent and depraved local family, and they try to conquer the black magic that haunts her and has destroyed her family.

When Caleb is about twelve, the Royce home mysteriously burns to the ground, killing Cere’s father and two older brothers. Caleb’s single father takes Cere into their home. Cere manages to freak out the schoolboys who have been bullying Caleb for years (“Sometimes you have to... Read More

The Twisted Ones: A modern twist on an old horror classic

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher

The Twisted Ones (2019) begins with mild consternation: Melissa, who goes by “Mouse,” has the thankless task of taking a trip to backwoods North Carolina, with her loyal redbone coonhound Bongo for company, to clean out her late grandmother’s home. “It’ll be a mess,” her father says, in a massive understatement. Consternation shifts to deep dismay: Grandma was a hoarder. It’s even worse than normal, since her grandmother was a cruel and vicious person, and something of her evil still infuses her house, like the room full of baby dolls that looks like a “monument to infanticide.” Luckily, Mouse finds one bedroom that is clear of clutter, the bedroom of her step-grandfather Cotgrave, who died many years earlier. (If you’ve read Arthu... Read More

Beneath the Rising: A horror adventure about friendship and betrayal

Beneath the Rising by Premee Mohamed

If you’ve had the good fortune to read any of Premee Mohamed’s short fiction, you know it is strange, beautiful and often horrifying. In Beneath the Rising (2020), her first full-length novel, all these things are true. This adventure novel with tentacular monsters and evil Ancient Ones will sweep you along and get deeply under your skin.

Joanna Chambers, who goes by Johnny, is more than a genius and more than a prodigy. She might be a miracle. In a world much like ours but very changed by Johnny’s inventions and discoveries, her best friend Nick, a regular guy, tries to be a lifeline for his rich, brilliant celebrity friend. Although she hasn’t turned eighteen yet, Johnny has found a vaccine for HIV, created improved solar panels that are in use around the world, developed clean water systems and food sources for hundreds of millions.... Read More

Coyote Songs: Literary horror that rewarded me beyond my expectations

Coyote Songs by Gabino Iglesias

I’m giving 2018’s Coyote Songs by Gabino Iglesias five stars, and I’m going to recommend it highly here. Then I’m going to post warnings, because this is one of those “this book is not for everybody” things.

On Twitter, Iglesias describes his writing as “barrio noir,” and also “a mix of horror and noir.” Coyote Songs follows several characters on either side of the Mexico/USA border as a mysterious rage-filled entity comes into their lives. The short book (not quite 200 pages) is lyrical, hyper-violent at times, blood-drenched, fantastical, satirical, and contains a hefty slice of body horror in the storyline with Mother (a pregnant woman) and Boy. Descriptions are as vivid as a neon sign in a desert night, and often as disturbing as the buzzing of a colony of flies on a dead animal. It starts bloody and dark an... Read More

The Institute: A horror story of the human heart

The Institute by Stephen King

Stephen King takes over 550 pages to relate the story of the mysterious Institute and its merciless dealings with kidnapped children. Given that page count, it shouldn’t be too surprising that King spends the first forty pages setting up his tale with a seemingly unrelated story of a man adrift in his life. Tim Jamieson, an out-of-work cop, takes a hefty payout to give up his seat on an overfull flight, and ends up making his rambling way from Tampa, Florida to the small town of DuPray, South Carolina, where the local sheriff gives him a job as a night knocker, an unarmed beat cop who patrols DuPray during the night. But — as King informs us not once, but twice — great events turn on small hinges.

That same summer, Luke Ellis, a twelve-year-old Minneapolis boy with genius-level intelligence, loving parent... Read More

SHORTS: Sen, Yoachim, Wise, Ramdas, Greenblatt

SHORTS: Our column exploring free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. In this week's column, Skye and Tadiana review several of the current crop of 2019 Nebula nominees in the short story and novelette categories.



“Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island” by Nibedita Sen (2019, free at Nightmare Magazine)

This Nebula Award finalist is precisely what the title promises, as it takes the form of ten excerpts from an annotated bibliography.

I thoroughly enjoyed the form of this story — I would almost describe it as delightful, if it weren’t published in Nightmare Magazine and didn’t centre around cannibalism. From the ten excerpts, you get the gist of two related events in history, and then as they... Read More

Ninth House: Black magic in Yale’s secret societies

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Galaxy “Alex” Stern (the name courtesy of her hippie mother) seems an obvious misfit at prestigious Yale University. Wealth, athletic talent and academic stardom are nowhere to be found in Alex’s life. Instead she’s a high school dropout with a history of dead-end jobs and drug use, and the survivor of a traumatic multiple homicide. But she has a rare talent that to date has brought her nothing but grief: Alex sees the ghosts of dead people.

As it turns out, that talent is highly useful to Yale’s eight elite secret societies, and they’ve had their eye on Alex for a while. Each of these houses specializes in a different type of black magic — Skull and Bones, for example, performs ritual vivisections of living people, examining their inner organs to predict stock market changes — and these dark rituals attract ghosts. A ninth Yale house, Lethe, polices the magical activities of those othe... Read More

The Uninvited: Book vs. film

The Uninvited by Dorothy Macardle

Although 1944’s The Uninvited has long been one of this viewer’s favorite spooky movies of that great filmmaking decade, it wasn’t until fairly recently that I learned of the special place it holds in cinema history. The film, apparently, was the very first Hollywood product to treat ghosts seriously. Here, at last, the specters on display were not hoaxes, not fakes, and not played for laughs. Rather, they were completely legit; supernatural survivors with unfinished business here on the material plane. Featuring first-rate acting by a cast of pros, impressive direction by Lewis Allen in his first feature-length film, a theme song that would go on to become a classic, remarkable (for its time) special FX, and stunning, noirish and Oscar-nominated cinematography by the great Charles Lang, the picture is a very solid entertainment, indeed, if perhaps a tad tame for today’s horror buffs … especia... Read More

SHORTS: Cho, Machen, Rambo, Scalzi, Andrews

SHORTS: Our column exploring free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few stories we've recently read that we wanted you to know about.

“Head of a Snake, Tail of a Dragon” by Zen Cho (2018, free on the author’s website)

This short story is a delightful sequel to Zen Cho's Hugo award-winning novelette, “If at First You Don't Succeed, Try, Try Again.” And both are free online, so win-win!

Jin-Dae is an imugi, a magical serpent that can — if it learns and grows in the right way — turn into a dragon. But Jin-Dae has no particular interest in becoming a dragon; she's just fine with her life the way it is. Except that there aren... Read More

SHORTS: Larson, Carroll, St. George, Yang

SHORTS: The annual Halloween edition. Our horror-themed column this week, reviewing some recent online short fiction works, features demon babies, slasher film heroines, ghosts and more.

“Growing and Growing” by Rich Larson (2019, free at Nightmare Magazine)

Ignacio and Hector are on their way home after a night of drinking when they find a baby crying in the middle of the road. Ignacio decides to bring it home for the night so he can take it to the hospital in the morning. But on the way home, the friends begin to realize that something about this abandoned baby is not quite right…

“Growing and Growing” is a very short (12 minute) creepy tale that works great in the audio format performed by Stefan Rudnicki, one of my f... Read More

Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places

Reposting to include Kelly's new review.

Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey

If ghosts exist, we don’t know why, but ghost stories exist because the living make them up; and the living make them up because we need them. Colin Dickey’s book Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places (2016) explores the US’s social conflicts and hidden histories as they play out in places that are publicly advertised as “haunted.” In the first chapter, Dickey says, “If you want to understand a place, ignore the boastful monuments and landmarks, and go straight to the haunted houses. Look for the darkened graveyards, the derelict hotels, the empty and decaying old hospitals.”

That passage is also something of a roadmap to the book, which comprises a collection of Dickey’s essays. The chapters are divided by category: haunted houses; h... Read More