- Alien: Out of the Shadows
- Shock Totem #8.5—Now Available!
- O Little Town of Deathlehem
- The One-Hour Flash Fiction Challenge
- Blood, Bones, and Brushstrokes: A Review of Daniele Serra’s Veins and Skulls
- March 2014 Flash Fiction Contest
- A Game of Survival: How Indie Developers Revitalized Survival Horror
- Shock Totem #8—Now Available!
- The New Black
- ATTACK! of the B-Movie Monsters: Night of the Gigantis
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I can honestly say that my favorite scary movie is Alien. I was blown away by the sequel, Aliens, as well. So I was very excited to hear about the release of Alien: Out of the Shadows, by Tim Lebbon, an official canon novel that takes place in the interim between those two movies.
First and foremost—Ripley. She is smart, strong, brave and bad-ass. She is also scared, filled with survivor’s guilt, and humanly flawed. She is one of my favorite heroines, and this book gives you the opportunity to get to know her better.
The basic premise of the book is that Ripley’s EEV is picked up by a mining operation ship in orbit around yet another deadly, inhospitable planet. While mining for trimonite, a rare and sought after mineral, the miners stumble onto another ancient derelict spaceship. Besides the dead and petrified remnants of those who had once flown this ship and the ruins of an advanced culture where the ship crashed, they also find the preserved alien eggs that started the havoc in the first movie.
This is a fairly fast-paced story, and a lot of people die—badly. There is a lot of tension, and the feeling of holding your breath as you hurry to find out what happens next. I was a little worried about how it was going to end (without fundamentally altering Ripley or anything that happens at the beginning of the second movie) and still be able to get caught up with the action and characters. Turns out I didn’t have to worry. While I might wish that some things could have turned out differently, I wouldn’t want to change the continuing story.
It’s my understanding that there will be two more official tie-in novels released this year, and based on this first one I’m pretty sure I’ll be getting them all. I would definitely suggest this to any fans of the Alien universe.
I loved Christmas when I was a little girl. Santa Claus, the tree twinkling with lights in my living room, the anticipation of presents and cookies. The enchantment waned in my teen and young adult years, of course, but once I became a parent, the holiday was exciting once again. I loved providing the magic of Christmas for my own kids.
Santa has been out of the picture for us for several years now, and Christmas these days is more a source of stress for me rather than joy. The cleaning, the cooking, shopping, spending money on stuff we really don’t need—I’ve unfortunately become rather cynical about the holidays. It’s always a relief when it’s all over.
So all the sappy, sentimental, feel-good TV shows, movies, and stories don’t do anything for me. I will admit to still enjoying Rudolph and Charlie Brown, and my favorite Christmas movie is The Santa Clause 2 with Tim Allen, but otherwise, I find myself rolling my eyes a lot during the months of November and December. And don’t get me started on the saturation of Christmas music for two months.
Then I was asked to review O Little Town of Deathlehem, edited by Michael J. Evans and Harrison Graves. Christmas horror? Yes, please! Stories that won’t warm my cold, black heart, stories that would make the Grinch smile.
Catherine Grant starts the ball rolling with “One of His Own.” If you’ve never heard of Krampus, do a quick Google search before reading the story; it will be a much more rewarding experience. Krampus and his half-brother Sinterklaaus travel the world together on Christmas Eve—Sinterklaaus is the kind-hearted, benevolent elf who leaves presents, but Krampus is just looking to feed on fearful children. They enter the home of a drug-addled mother whose little girl is neglected and abused. For the first time, Krampus finds himself wanting to take care of a child instead of eating her. He whisks her away with him. As she grows older, she helps him with his quest on Christmas Eve. But then she wants his help with something else.
“One of His Own” is a great story, perfectly setting the tone for the anthology. Although their roles as good and evil characters are clear, Krampus and Sinterklaaus aren’t that black and white. Very well written, and the author gave the characters depth you don’t usually find in a short story.
Chantal Boudreau’s “Deck the Halls” is a familiar tale of a man who resents his mother and wants his inheritance sooner rather than later. He takes care of her, in order to not lose his coming windfall to nurses and caretakers. But she lingers, much to his chagrin, so he takes matters into his own hands. Things don’t turn out as he planned.
This is a fun, nasty little story that is truly the embodiment of “be careful what you wish for.”
Do you prefer live Christmas trees to artificial ones? “With Their Eyes All Aglow” by Jeff C. Carter might just change your mind. Ray is fascinated with insects and spiders. He is looking for a rare, extremely venomous spider in Myanmar, but is ready to return home to his wife and daughter for Christmas. He actually finds the spider colony, but realizes it has infested a once-trendy Christmas tree called “Nordmann Firs.” They are being grown to ship to the States—and Ray realizes that is the exact tree his wife bought several days earlier.
I don’t like spiders at all. “With Their Eyes All Aglow” was creepy, and made my skin crawl. Thanks to this story, I now know that real Christmas trees carry usually harmless bugs into homes. I’m sure I’ve heard that before, but was in denial. No more live trees or plants of any kind in my home!
“A Christmas to Remember” by JP Behrens could be a peek into Charles Manson’s boyhood until he grew up and gained terrible notoriety. Ten year old Nathan’s parents are Christmas shopping for him and his brother, a difficult task since Nathan seems to be obsessed with all things dark and horrible. His mother caught him dissecting a mouse with glee, and now he’s drawing pictures of mangled and broken animals. After shopping, Nathan’s mom follows him into the woods, and discovers his horrible secret. Somehow the family gets through Christmas, but that night, Nathan’s mom discovers he has put his present to use in the most awful way possible.
This story could also be a look into Michael Myers’s childhood. JP Behrens has written a shocking story about every parent’s worst nightmare.
Twenty stories make up this anthology. You’ll find a Santa-werewolf (or would it be werewolf-Santa?), evil ornaments, Christmas in a zombie apocalypse, evil Santas, and of course, Krampus. What you won’t find are sappy, sentimental, ABC Family Channel stories. So if you’re tired of Christmas cheer, grab a copy of O Little Town of Deathlehem, and let the holiday dysfunction take you away.
O Little Town of Deathlehem is available through Grinning Skull Press. All profits from the anthology benefit the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.
Veins and Skulls, Daniele Serra’s beautiful, dark, and hauntingly surreal study on the complex layers of the human condition, is both a visual and emotional masterpiece. From cover to cover, this book is a stunning display—a gorgeous publication in which one could easily be lost for hours upon hours, again and again, finding threads and ties that bind each theme to its respective imagery.
As Jeff Mariotte says in the introduction, Serra “opens our hearts to the suffering of others… By showing us his dark side, he makes us feel better about our own. Precious humanity is his gift, and we, viewing his art, are the lucky recipients.”
Serra’s graceful artwork translates seamlessly onto the page. The watercolor feel and texture from his canvas is captured in consistent somber hues that lure the viewer in by becoming, for lack of a better word, familiar. Perhaps this lends itself to Serra’s evident connection to us all; as humans, as artists, as lovers of dark beauty and concepts and imagery which might be deemed taboo by others who do not share our fascination with grimness and morbidity. Or rather, it might be his innate ability to understand what it takes to truly draw us into his art: finding a way to connect—to make us want to keep searching, feeling, dreaming—losing ourselves in these portraits and landscapes to interact with and imagine what lies beyond with infinite possibilities left unsaid by his brushstrokes. These are not still-lifes, sculptures, or conceptual art forms we are seeing here—they are essences, ideas, specters and shadows—they are places to which we are transported and presences we need to understand more about on a profound and unsettling level.
Yet in all its macabre gloom, Serra’s artwork is delicate, elegant, and strangely comforting. His lines are soft and fluid, lending themselves to the feminine forms and erotic undertones he showcases in the first two parts of the book. The depth Serra creates on an artistic level is exquisite; particularly in Part One, where many of the figures are set against a backdrop of some sort and successfully convey varying layers of perception. But the depth is also one which transcends space and reaches an intimate, emotive level where the figures and images have no borders, no boundaries—no definitive meanings or messages, nothing blatant to be gleaned. They are black veiled allusions to the most organic of elements—Water, Breath, Seeds—to arcane notions such as Love and Goodbye.
Serra’s erotic pieces in Part Two are reverent and tender tributes to the female form in keeping with those which precede them; yet these are void of the colors, textures, and structures present in the others and direct all attention to the innate but elusive dichotomy of the female body—and perhaps its very essence. The ability to create life, which is inherently sexual—for one does not exist without the other—and the somewhat alluring, intriguing inevitability of death, as we see portrayed here in Serra’s sensual relationships between voluptuous women and lifeless skulls.
The breathtaking scenic landscapes in Part Three are a perfect way to close. However melancholy, these depictions give way to a rebirth of sorts—a renewed sense of hope—for the viewer. We have seen veins and skulls, blood and dust, life, death, and many unspoken things in between. But Serra leaves us with Light…a sun rising in the distance. This says a great deal not just about the intended journey and evolution of the story told in the illustrations, but perhaps that of the artist himself.
Click for larger images
The New Black is a collection of twenty neo-noir stories. That is the promise from the back cover of this new anthology put out by the fine folks at Dark House Press and edited by Richard Thomas. No, not the guy who played John Boy on The Waltons. This cat is cooler. Way cooler.
Now, full disclosure: I have no idea what neo-noir means. I don’t much give a flying fig about genres and sub-genres and their sub-genres. I like good stories, interesting stories. I love strange stories, especially. And I loved this anthology. Loved!
After a forward by Laird Barron, we get to the stories. Opening with a tragic and deeply troubling tale by Stephen Graham Jones, “Father Son, Holy Rabbit,” which stuck in my head for days! This is followed by Paul Tremblay’s “It’s Against the Law to Feed the Ducks.” Another gut-puncher of a story about loss and regret and fear…and love. I almost jumped ship after this one, as I was not sure I could troop through another eighteen tales of this caliber of heartbreak. But I soldiered on.
Lindsay Hunter’s “That Baby” is a sideshow freakazoid parental nightmare. “The Truth and All It’s Ugly,” by Kyle Minor, is a disorienting re-tooling of Pinocchio or Blade Runner. Kind of. Craig Clevenger’s “Act of Contrition” gives faith fangs and something sharper and deadlier. With “The Familiars,” author Micaela Morrissette delivers what is my favorite of the bunch, a stunningly beautiful and terrifying tale of a child and his imaginary friend. Really, this one will knock you out.
“Dial Tone,” by Benjamin Percy, is a tale of loneliness and loss of one’s self. Roxane Gay’s “How” is a unique and wonderfully odd little story told in short instructional blocks. Roy Kesy’s “Instituto” is about vanity and its ultimate price. Craig Davidson’s “Rust and Bone” concerns a boxer and revenge. “Blue Hawaii,” by Rebecca Jones-Howe, is a scathing diorama of a deeply flawed pair and their demons. Joe Meno’s “Children Are the Only Ones Who Blush,” is a stunning and strange drama about an ostracized and pained young man and his struggles with getting on in his world.
“Christopher Hitchens,” by Vanessa Veselka, tackles faith and loss and stars grief and dolphins. “Dollhouse,” by Craig Wallwork, is an effective haunted house story, and that’s a very simplified synopsis. Trust me. “His Footsteps Are Made of Soot,” by Nik Korpon, is a haunting tale of home surgery, resentment, and mortality. Tara Laskowski’s “The Etiquette of Homicide” is a how-to guide to being a killer for hire. This story has one of the best last lines EVER!
“Dredge,” by Matt Bell, shows us a twisted glimpse into the lonely and odd circumstances of a sad man and the dead girl he finds. Antonia Crane turns in the metaphorically titled “Sunshine for Adrienne,” wherein we wallow in the tragic misery of a very broken girl. Richard Lange’s “Fuzzyland” is a brutal excursion into denial and running from yourself. And then we hit the final story, Brian Evenson’s “Windeye,” a delirious nightmare about a house with an extra window.
The New Black is a great collection of incredibly unique fiction. I honestly liked every story in here, and I usually don’t say that about an anthology. It was also nice to encounter so many authors with whom I was unfamiliar. A strong compilation of talent. Very strong.
When it came to movie monsters in the early atomic age, bigger was always better. From Godzilla to The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms to Tarantula and Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, the formula was the same: big monsters, small budget. It was a head-on collision of science fiction and horror, and creature features have never been the same.
The anthology ATTACK! of the B-Movie Monsters: Night of the Gigantis, from Grinning Skull Press, returns to that golden age of schlock with 21 tales of gigantism gone wrong.
But these aren’t your grandfather’s big monsters. Night of the Gigantis features some of the most unusual and unexpected B-movie creatures you’ll ever come across. There are acid slugs, overgrown sea lions, enormous catfish, oversized tapeworms, tentacular potatoes, and even a killer pet rock.
Highlights of the 340-page collection, edited by Harrison Graves, include Jonah Buck’s suspenseful “The Worm People Want Your Limbs,” Brent Abell’s playful “Stone Cold Horror from the Stars,” Kerry G.S. Lipp’s absurd “BFF,” and Jay Wilburn’s irreverent “Giant Mutant Tiger Slugs vs. Salty Angel Gimp Warriors in Leather.”
The anthology perfectly captures the cheesiness and fun of those old creature features. It’s all there: the irresponsible scientists, the sexy (or is it sexist?) heroines, the clichéd dialogue, the idiotic plans. But it’s clear the authors wrote with their tongues firmly in their cheeks and that’s the book’s saving grace. Where it falters is in its over-reliance on those well-worn giant monster movie tropes. Don’t expect too many surprises. But if you miss those big monsters of yore, pretend you’re at the drive-in, crack open ATTACK! of the B-Movie Monsters: Night of the Gigantis, suspend your disbelief, and you’ll have a blast.
It’s rare that a bestselling author at any level in their career would tout one of their own works as “my favorite of all the books [I’ve] ever written.” And to do so when the novel has just been released is either the presumptuousness of the writer’s ego or a statement made from a place of exceptional confidence.
It’s safe to say that Innocence, Dean Koontz’ latest standalone novel, falls into the latter category by far. And Koontz is correct to be so confident. Koontz blends mystery, suspense, and deep insight into the inner workings of the human soul in a masterfully told story.
Addison Goodheart is an outsider who must hide his horrible disfigurement from the world lest he be brutally attacked and killed by those repulsed by his very appearance. Forced from home at the age of eight by a mother who spent a lifetime trying not to commit filicide against her own child, Addison finds refuge beneath the city with a strange but kind-hearted man afflicted by a very similar condition.
Gwyneth is a young woman who cannot stand to be touched in any way. She seems to harbor answers to the strangeness that Koontz sets forth here, but refuses to share them at critical junctures, creating dramatic tension and, sometimes, frustration for both Addison and the reader.
It’s inevitable that their paths cross, as when Addison saves Gwyneth from certain death at the hands of a sinister pursuer, and begins a conflicted romance in which he will not allow himself to be seen by her, and she cannot bear to come into contact with him.
Thrown together amidst a worldwide outbreak of a mysterious plague (which is secondary to the main story), the pair bonds to fight a common foe while picking their way through a romantic minefield. The bond between them runs much deeper than the tragedies that have scarred their respective lives. Something more than chance—and nothing less than destiny—has brought them together in a world whose hour of reckoning is upon them.
Innocence is, at its root, a story about the enduring character of the human spirit. And it also happens to be one of Koontz’s best works to date. It’s unusual to see that a novel is the clear culmination of a lifetime of work, and Innocence fits that bill in every way. Fans of his work will easily identify elements of earlier works (Odd Thomas, Watchers) and recognize parallels with other epic tales like Phantom of the Opera and Beauty and the Beast.
What Stephen King does with story development and characterization, Koontz does with language. He does not “dumb down” his story but, instead, invites his readers to work a little harder to grasp the complex supernatural elements introduced, and uses words many authors shy away from. This works in Koontz’s favor, as it provides a certain elegance to his writing that is missing from that of his peers. Told in a straightforward and economical style, Innocence is the measuring stick against which future supernatural stories will be compared.
If you’ve read my reviews before, you know that I love apocalypse stories. My favorite way to end the world is with zombies, but any disaster will do. I was under the impression that Rag Men, by Rocky Alexander, was going to be a zombie story, and it sort of was. However, I realized it concentrated more on the survival of one main character and the revenge seeking of the other.
Colin Ross is grieving for his wife, who became ill with the “QILU” virus while overseas. As the virus spreads throughout the world, turning normal people into savages, Colin at first contemplates suicide, then decides to ride out the end of the world at his uncle’s cabin. He just needs to get there in one piece. He grabs supplies from the gym he owns, and sets out with one of the gym kids, Andre.
Rooster has just gotten out of prison, and drops in on an old dealer friend, Timbo. Timbo is glad to see Rooster, until Rooster murders the rest of the losers in the house. He tricks Timbo into helping him get supplies, then takes off after killing Timbo as well. Rooster is on a mission just as Colin is; but he is after revenge where Colin just wants to survive the madness plaguing the world.
Rag Men follows these two characters as they make their way to their goals. They must do awful things to survive, but Rooster actually enjoys the brutality in the new world, resorting to it even when it’s unnecessary. Be forewarned—the violence in this story is graphic and disturbing. But it’s not gratuitous; Rooster would be a lesser character without it.
The “zombies” in the story are secondary; the apocalypse is just the background. But it works great. Rag Men is not your average end-of-the-world story, but it’s a great read. The two main characters come together in a way that is both satisfying and unsettling.
If zombies aren’t your thing, or you’re tired of the zombie apocalypse trope, you will definitely enjoy Rag Men. But zombie lovers will love it, too. The story is action-packed and quite the page-turner. Don’t miss it.
John Kenneth Muir’s breakdown of the horror fiction genre in his book Horror Films FAQ proves to be a delightful addition to anyone who loves a good, scary movie. Referenced in the book are typical horror staples such as The Exorcist and Psycho, but Muir is not content to only point to the canon of Hollywood classics. Instead, Muir expands his scope to include films that, while under the radar of mainstream Hollywood, helped to establish periods in the genre and pushed films to new and groundbreaking cinematography.
In addition to breakdowns of the movies that helped to shape the growing culture of horror, Muir explores monsters that have made it into the common realm of consciousness, such as the vampire, werewolf, mummy, and reanimated man (re: Frankenstein’s monster), and why the genre has persisted. The work is a dense text, rife with information on the different types of films, how the films evolved, and how the genre as a whole has expanded. Muir puts his considerable movie knowledge to use in the construction of this book, referencing films as early as expressionist “shudder films” through to the sub-genre of “torture porn” which have become prevalent.
The book is set up as a series of expanded lists ranging from directors, characters, and types of horror movies, and prepares the reader for what to find in the rest of the material. Muir pulls together his knowledge of the genre with an expert eye for what constitutes “good” horror movies, constructing a broad and in-depth reference text. Muir makes good use of the sections to explain how the genre has transformed due to a number of factors, not the least of them Americans and their ever-shifting fear mentality. One of the best things about this book is the early breakdown of films by decades, to showcase the way in which media and fear have changed over time to create the scare-and-shock culture of the horror movie today.
The amount of information in Horror Film FAQ can’t be overstated. Muir has compiled dozens of pieces showcasing the best of each sub-genre, and has broken the book down to reflect such. Each section serves as an explanative dictating the way in which the film impacted the horror community, the director’s evolution, and the shifting consciousness that propels the genre forward. The wealth of information and Muir’s keen insight provide both an explanation of the films as well as a great dissection of what actually makes the movie scary. It doesn’t at all hurt that Muir has an entire section devoted specifically to Stephen King films, either.
Muir’s book is dense and vivid, but one thing seasoned horror fans may notice is the very lacking section on both zombies and television. Aside from White Zombie, I Walked With A Zombie, and The Serpent and the Rainbow, the collective of zombie films referenced is fairly limited in scope, with heavy reliance on the Romero film culture of zombies, including Romero’s last (and arguably worst piece) Survival of the Dead. The section on horror television is also sparse, addressing new favorites such as The Walking Dead and old classics like Twin Peaks. But, there are no references to groundbreaking horror series such as Tales from the Crypt, Dark Shadows, or The Outer Limits, though there is a beautiful treatment of The Twilight Zone included.
Beyond the first glance, this book serves as a great beginners text for not only knowing which movies to see, but also for people seeking to have a deeper understanding of the genre. It provides a core understanding for the evolution of the horror movie, and its gradual turn from films bent on simply spooking an audience, to films that are as effective as they are emotive, introspective, and, in some cases (especially in the new day and age of “torture porn,”) disturbing. John Kenneth Muir puts to use an expert wealth of knowledge and keen introspection to render a reference book that would be a welcome addition to any collection.
I became a fan of Chuck Wendig after reading his book 500 Ways to Be a Better Writer. He has built a following online for having biting, hard-hitting advice on writing and the publishing industry. It is a tradition of mine to read the first book of anyone I take writing advice from, and then read a newer work to see how they improve over time. After reading Blackbirds, I’m very excited to tear into the copy of Under the Empyrean Sky that I purchased this Fall.
There are few antagonists who get to me like Miriam Black, the namesake of the series that starts with Blackbirds and continues on with Mockingbird and the newly released The Cormorant. Miriam is a complete kick in the balls—a foul mouthed, cigarette-smoking, booze-guzzling hitchhiker that is just looking for the next unfortunate person that will die and leave behind their cash and credit cards. I love her.
Don’t be mistaken, Miriam isn’t a murderer. She can see the time and circumstance of a person’s death, as long as she makes skin-to-skin contact. When she meets Louis Darling, she sees that within a month he will die while saying her name. Miriam might be tough as nails, but her soft spot for Louis will take her right in the path of his killers and, possibly, lead to her own death.
Blackbirds is on the shorter side and very quickly paced. If you’re looking for a long, sprawling narrative and complicated plot-points, this is not the right book for you. The action is not the focus of the book, but rather Miriam herself takes center stage, her growth and discovery the most engrossing conflict. Admittedly, the sequences where Miriam is interviewed are my least favorite, but are well written, and give Wendig the chance to really let Miriam show who she is and where she came from.
Wendig is an excellent writer, and that skill makes the prose a joy to read. His use of language and imagery is masterful and his characters breathe on the page, brought to life by humorously placed flashbacks, descriptions, and some of the best dialogue I’ve ever read. I can’t wait to dive into some more of his work, and there is a lot as he’s quite a prolific penmonkey.
The Miriam Black novels are available through Angry Robot. For more of Chuck Wendig’s work, some free short fiction, his advice on writing, and a kick-ass recipe for Pho, please visit terribleminds.com.