This short story was right up my alley–some body horror mixed with Lovecraft (oh, those non-Euclidean geometries!), all with an I-found-it-on-the-Internet framework. The premise of the story is that the MC’s brother has been following the online coursework of a man who promises to be able to help him access other planes of reality via his dreams. The MC, his brother, and his brother’s friend are all down on their luck or seemingly on the outskirts of society; it was never mentioned in the story, but I couldn’t help thinking about how a lot of men in the US who have dropped out of society have fallen into opioid addiction. Sad and isolated people can be drawn to dangerous and unhealthy things, and that’s exactly what happens to these guys as they get sucked into an alternate and terrifying reality.
The tone is equal parts ethereal and grounded: great poetic imagery, but the MC doesn’t hesitate to talk like a normal person.
“Freud said that the buildings inside our dreams are pulled from a collective pool of unconscious architecture.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?”
“It’s an evolutionary development. The blueprints are engrained in our DNA. Every single person. If you learned to dream actively you could walk the rooms of these dream places and every time you returned, they’d be exactly the same.”
“I genuinely don’t understand.” I zip, zip, zipped a line of screws into the drywall and Rob took his hands away. It floated there like a kind of magic.
What else was great about this? The woodsy setting was perfect, along with the descriptions. And best of all, it has a great horror ending that fits the rest of the piece, hallelujah. That’s not always common ’round these parts. So if you’re feeling up for a bit of horror as we move into the dark months of winter, give this one a try; it’s good fun.
Hey, one more thing: on the off-chance that the author reads this post (which has actually happened in the past), or really anyone who has ever written short fiction, I really recommend you get your short fiction listed on Goodreads! I always try to post reviews of short fiction on GR if possible, and it can be a crapshoot whether the stories are there or not. I was pretty bummed to see that this author is only listed in anthologies on GR with no individual story entries; he’s so good and should really list his stories separately! Short fiction can be a great way to start gathering a fan base (I often add books by Short Tuesday authors to my TBR) so why not use your short fiction to its full potential? Just my two cents.
I loved this short story! It’s set in Nigeria and incorporates tons of the local flavor, in terms of the dialogue, setting, and local superstitions. I’m realizing that maybe I have a thing for African horror, since I also love the South African duo S.L. Grey–maybe I should put in a conscious effort to read more genre fiction from that area of the world, since I always find the African-tinged worldbuilding so fascinating.
All the body horror fans listen up, because this story is for you. If you’ve ever wanted a first-person view of what it’s like to turn demonic, with all the gory teeth-gnashing and claw-growing details, definitely check this one out. That’s the story in essence–as simple as a poor high school boy who is unlucky enough to go through a second monstrous puberty. The author gets it done with vivid imagery and a pacing and tone that I found riveting and oddly poetic. It was the kind of story where I just couldn’t look away; if you’re looking for a quick horror read, this is one I highly recommend.
It’s no secret to my friends and family that I love weird stuff. Serial killers, horror, conspiracy theories, cults—all these things fascinate me in equal amounts. I was the kid who devoured the Goosebumps series at a too-tender age, then graduated straight on to Stephen King. You know how Mr. Ollivander says to Harry that “the wand chooses the wizard”? That’s kind of how I feel about horror and the weird—just like how some people are natural thrill seekers, I think there are some people with a predilection for this stuff. The weird chooses you.
So I thought I’d throw together a post about my favorite weird and horror bits and bobs. My personal taste tends toward a slow build narrative, occasional hyper-violence, surrealism, and some narrative ambiguity. I’m no expert, but out of the thousands of hours I’ve spent consuming this stuff, I’ll go on record saying that everything listed below is really deserving of praise.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Yeah, yeah, the show on Netflix is pretty cool, but the book is better. This is an atmospheric and psychological masterpiece about a haunted house. Definitely pick up a copy—it’s not a lengthy book, so technically it won’t take you long, but you might find yourself wanting to take frequent breaks to escape the chilling atmosphere of the house.
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
Another piece of literature about a house. How spooky can a house that is a bit bigger inside than outside be, you might ask? Well. WELL. This is a book you need to read in hard copy—the book’s bizarre formatting is simply incompatible with ebooks. At least do a quick flip-through in the book store to see what I’m talking about—you won’t be disappointed.
Anything by Haruki Murakami
I’m a big Murakami fan, to say the least. I haven’t read everything by him, but I’ll get there eventually. There’s something about Murakami’s matter-of-fact tone that really connects with me. His most acclaimed book is The Wind-Up BirdChronicle, for good reason, but really anything by him is great—as far as I’m concerned, he is the undisputed master of magical realism.
The Interface Series by _9MOTHER9HORSE9EYES9
So this isn’t a book yet. The author is an anonymous Reddit user, who posted the entire work in non sequitur comments. There was some talk that this was a major inspiration for Stranger Things—I don’t believe this theory myself due to the lengthy production timeline needed for producing a show like Stranger Things, but I think it’s worth noting that the two are similar… though the Interface Series is weirder. Want to know more about flesh interfaces? You can get started reading for free here.
The Downside Trilogy by S. L. Grey
The South African duo S. L. Grey has gained a bit more notoriety for their recent novel The Apartment, but I remain a steadfast fan of the Downside Trilogy, in particular the first book The Mall. It has a lot to do with my abiding love for Silent Hill 3, which also prominently features a mall… But these books stand on their own, and the worldbuilding is excellent.
Creep 1 and 2
I’d seen Creep floating around on Netflix for a while before I buckled down to watch it. Somehow I didn’t expect much. Oh, how wrong I was. This is the franchise for anyone who’s ever gotten leery about meeting people off the Internet. Mark Duplass’s acting in both the first and second film are phenomenal—here’s hoping for a third movie. I just can’t get enough of the MC.
Yeah, yeah, a lot of people like to claim that the sequel, Aliens, is better, but for me it veers off too much into action territory. I much prefer the more atmospheric and slower-paced Alien; it creeps along until all hell breaks loose. I also have to appreciate that this is the movie that inspired Blake Snyder’s “save the cat” writing philosophy—just a fun little tidbit.
This is a tough movie for me to recommend, since I struggle a bit with Roman Polanski being the director. Nevertheless, I’ve watched Rosemary’s Baby numerous times and love it for the pacing, the characters, the pregnancy theme, and the atmosphere. Riley Sager’s new novel Lock Every Door draws heavily from Rosemary’s Baby, and I couldn’t be happier about that.
I don’t care what people say about the film version of the Silent Hill franchise; this movie is fantastic. It preserves the Silent Hill atmosphere, keeps in the baddies we all love like Pyramid Head and the nurses, and has a comprehensive plot with a satisfying ending. Not even The Babadook could achieve that last bit. (Fighting words, I know.)
I have vivid memories of taking a community college Japanese class, where for the last two classes the teacher abandoned any sort of curriculum and instead put on The Ring. On VHS tape. In a dark room with no windows. On one of those old, flickering CRT TVs. Yeah, it was terrifying, and it took me a couple years after that singular viewing experience before I could watch The Ring again. This was basically the seminal horror film of my generation, and it will remain one of the top three horror films of all time for me.
Hitchcock produced a lot of masterpieces, but this is my favorite of the bunch by far, enough so that it even made a brief appearance in Specter. Pyscho’s music and shower scene are classic, and the whole movie is beautifully shot; the black and white adds so much atmospherically.
Funny Games (original Austrian version)
This is a polarizing movie for its infamous breaking of the fourth wall; a loooooooot of people hate this movie. But for me, as someone who really enjoys dissecting the horror genre, the director’s commentary on the audience’s twisted relationship with horror films is fantastic. If you like home invasion flicks and philosophical subtext, definitely give this a watch.
Silent Hill 1-3
These are the only games on the list that I have not played myself, but have only watched being streamed. If I’d had access to these games growing up I would definitely have played them, but we were a PC family, not a console family, so I never got the chance. (Mom definitely would have balked at all that blood and gore, too. 😉 ) Anyway, something about the Silent Hill atmosphere really connects with me—all that fog and the twisted mutants.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent
This game made a name for itself with the game design decision that the MC is not able to fight back against the monsters hunting him in a sprawling, creepy castle. Additionally, you have to stay on top of the MC’s sanity meter, meaning that the more scared your character is, the more you’ll suffer manifestations of that fear, including teeth grinding, visual and auditory hallucinations, etc. It’s a deliciously terrifying game, and though the plot could leave something to be desired, the concept, execution, and level design of the game more than carries it to greatness.
Outlast 1 and Whistleblower DLC
Outlast took the helpless MC concept from Amnesia and ran with it in a modern-day setting. The premise is that the MC is a journalist investigating a psychiatric facility; some levels are so dark that they can only be navigated with a night vision camera, and your battery runs out fast. I unfortunately can’t get on board with the second in the series, which struck me as more of a jump scare running simulator, but Outlast and the Whistleblower DLC were horror game perfection. A warning: these games above all others here are not suitable for anybody squeamish. There are some parts of Whistleblower that are beyond gross.
Doki Doki Literature Club
I don’t really want to give anything away about this game, since one spoiler can ruin the experience… but just know that this game is not the adorable anime dating sim that it appears to be! 😉 I also love all the analysis videos about this game online; here’s hoping some of them are correct and Team Salvato will be releasing some sort of connected material for this game.
Ah, Twin Peaks… there is something so charming and relaxing about David Lynch’s surreal creation. The soap opera characters are what make the show, though I also love the tinge of magical realism. I literally remember watching this the first time feeling like I was high; that is how off-kilter this show is, but in the best way possible. In what other show could you have an accidental llama steal the scene?
I’m pretty sure it was the fantastic Night Mind who introduced me to Alan Resnick’s work. I’m including Resnick in this section because he does work for Adult Swim, producing those late night segments that you remember the next day as something akin to a fever dream. Some people may recognize Resnick from way back in the day as the creator of the web series alantutorial. Anyway, his work is markedly surreal and unsettling. Watch Unedited Footage of a Bear, then if you’re feeling up for it, dive into the convoluted puzzle that is This House Has People in It.
And… that’s… it! I’m sure I’ve left out some of my favorite weird/horror stuff, but this is a pretty good sampling of what I’ll vouch for as good. Are you a horror fan? Do you enjoy surreal or “weird” media? Leave your recommendations down below!
This has been a long time coming. A loooong time coming. Sometimes when you set a goal, you don’t exactly realize how winding the road to accomplishing that goal is going to be… and that’s what happened with my cover saga.
But, at long last, I have a cover for Specter, and I FREAKING LOVE IT!!!!! I love it so much!!!!! As the book’s main character, Lanie, would say, I’m not normally a multiple exclamation points kind of girl, but this cover, courtesy of the incredible Liana M at 99designs, totally deserves it.
Are you ready?
I cannot get over this cover. It matches the book perfectly. Why is Lanie holding a baseball bat, you might ask? You’ll just have to read the book and see. 🙂
Go add it to your Goodreads shelf now, or place it on preorder! Here are the details:
The ebook is available for preorder at Amazon and Kobo, and will be available at all other major retailers in the next day or so.
The paperback will be available for purchase 7/7 on Amazon. It will also be available sometime soon (have to keep this part vague) at all other major retailers. So you’ll be able to buy it at Barnes & Noble or request your local indie bookstore order it for you! 😀
It will be available to rent FOR FREE at your local library, through Overdrive and other library ebook services! And you can also request your local library order it for you!
Horror aficionado Lanie Adams should be thrilled when two eighties-era ghosts materialize in her bedroom. Yet after a fainting incident unbecoming of a horror nerd, she would rather her haunting just go away—the ghosts’ distorted, waterlogged voices and ice-cold auras are more terrifying than any movie. Enlisting the help of Ryan, an entirely-too-cute stoner, she makes it her mission to put the spirits stalking her to rest.
Some sleuthing reveals that their sleepy Connecticut town is host to a shadowy, decades-old conspiracy. If Lanie wants to say a final goodbye to her ghosts, she’ll need to keep digging. But it’s important to tread carefully. The culprit is still in town—and they’ll stop at nothing to keep the truth buried.
If any of that up top sounds interesting, please consider adding the book on Goodreads!
Specter is going to seriously appeal to fans of Stranger Things. I’m going to be posting in the coming weeks all sorts of fun stuff—the conception of the book, the music that inspired it, etc. Specter was a crazy fun book to write, and I cannot wait for others to read it, since it’s basically everything that I love (horror, the weird, conspiracy theories) woven together into a rip-roaring thriller. So thanks so much for being along with me on this journey, consider giving it a read, and have a happy Thursday! ❤
This week I took a look at Brian Evenson’s short story “Cult.” I don’t remember exactly how I got turned on to Brian Evenson’s work, but I can tell even from reading just the one story that he is an author right up my alley. You can read the short story here…
I loooooved this. The story features an unnamed protagonist who receives a call from his abusive ex-girlfriend asking him to pick her up from a so-called cult. Both the protagonist and his ex-girlfriend have rock-solid characterization, and the prose is exactly as it needs to be: matter-of-fact, with a stream-of-consciousness feel. Somehow it reminded me tone-wise a bit of Haruki Murakami.
And the relationship between these two characters felt so real. We get a granular insight into the MC’s thought cycle, and how he is slowly but surely being dragged back into a relationship with his abuser, like a leaf circling a whirlpool. I highly recommend this short story, and will definitely be looking at more work by Evenson.
Just wanted to add a little tidbit at the end here… BECAUSE THERE WILL BE A COVER REVEAL FOR SPECTER THIS THURSDAY!!!!!! So keep watching this space. 😀
Thank you to NetGalley and Tor Teen for sending me a free advanced reader copy of this book for an honest review. Five Midnights debuts June 4th.
NetGalley’s a funny thing—most of the time all you have to judge a book by is the author name, the publisher, the cover, and a bit of doctored up marketing copy.*** It makes me judgey to the extreme—if I’m accepted to read the book, I’m kind of stuck with it, after all, since I want to keep my NetGalley ratio up. And if you don’t like the book, you’re left in the sticky situation of either giving a bad review or being dishonest with your readers. I always err on the side of honesty, but what I’m trying to say is that the whole ARC game is a grab bag type of situation.
Five Midnights met me halfway there—this is decidedly a three-star type of book, with bits both good and not so good. It feels very “young”; not in terms of its target audience, but in terms of the writing. Take the characters as an example: the MC, a New England transplant in Puerto Rico, has her emotions dialed up to eleven at all times. It’s an attempt at characterization that comes across as a bit jumbled; she doesn’t ever really settle as having a distinct personality. Another example is a fight that the MC has with a friend; the whole argument comes across as ungrounded, in a very “the author wants a fight here” kind of way. The pacing, too, is a bit off; a climactic scene facing off with monster stretches out over many POV switches, in a fashion reminiscent of those ten episode Dragon Ball Z fights.
But other parts are great. All the Puerto Rico setting details cannot be discounted; the author will make you feel like you’re in Puerto Rico, tasting the tastes and smelling the smell as the MC ventures from one unique neighborhood to the next. And though the details are many, they fit the book well, in a way that some other detail-heavy works never accomplish—“Yiwu” comes to mind. I appreciated the Spanish peppered throughout the dialogue (though “Hold the teléfono” maybe stepped a hair over the edge into ridiculousness). And the monster itself was interesting, since I knew literally nothing about this mythical beast.
I’d say that if the premise of the book sounds interesting, then give this a go. I’d be interested to take a peek at this author’s sophomore novel, since I suspect some of my craft complaints here might not surface in the next book.
***Speaking of marketing copy, by the way, can I pause for a minute on the word “unputdownable?” As per a review in the NetGalley description, this book is “flat-out unputdownable.” I’m starting to see this description everywhere; it was fun the first time around, but this word is just so over-the-top that I’m over it. It’s already getting cliched in my mind, and feels fake review-ish. Am I the only one??
Just a real quick reminder that Chapter Nine of The Gold in the Dark releases this Sunday at 11 AM EST! ❤
I went back to Tor again this week for another look at their short fiction, since most of it is just so damn good! “You Know How the Story Goes” was a fast, fun read; you can read it for yourself here…
This story feels like a more polished version of r/nosleep stories; the voice coupled with the monstrous elements lend the piece a distinctly creepypasta vibe—and that’s not a bad thing! There’s so much to love about the horror that’s been birthed from Internet culture, whether that’s Ted the Caver, Petscop, or The Interface Series. (Hmm, maybe I should devote an article sometime to an introduction of my favorite Internet horror/weird stuff.) In any case, you could easily expect to read this story on r/nosleep, especially given the multiple references to Reddit. In fact, if you can’t tell from the title, this short story is meant to feel like something familiar—like the ghost stories and horror memes that rattle around in the back of your subconscious, rearing up on dark nights or when you’re deep in the back of the basement.
So though the piece is nothing distinctly new, I don’t think anyone should mind that, since it’s a gripping story, with great visual descriptions that are never too much or too little.
There was something wrong with these fingers. They were not longer than before, but still, they looked like they were. Long and curved. Cold-cold blue. Almost dripping. And I noticed the tips had no nails. What had happened to her nails?
Some might complain about a slow start, but I liked the pacing; my favorite horror always starts with a slow creep. The ending was also satisfying—a “this happened to me, so it could happen to you” resolution that felt just right. If you are in the mood for creepy, I’d really recommend this one.
The New Girl is the third and final installment in the Downside series by South African duo Sarah Lotz and Louis Greenberg, who write under the pseudonym S.L. Grey. Yet despite the fact that this is a series, these books read basically as standalones, with the (excellent omg I’m so sad it’s all over) worldbuilding being the real tie between them all.
Let me paint you a picture. Below our human realm on the surface of the earth is an underground horror society of almost humans who regard everyone up top as a curious, amusing, entirely different species. The downsiders speak almost English, eat almost food, shop in almost stores.
She grabs her gelphone and hides under the blankets with it. She reads the proclamation ticker for comfort, to make herself feel closer to home. ‘Victuals are precious. The meat tree is a fable. Use your tokens appropriately.’ ‘Apparel does not auto-generate. Wash sparingly.’ ‘Energy is scarce and opulent. Save energy for essential tasks and services only.’ Everyone knows that resources are scarce, she finds herself commenting, you don’t have to repeat yourself. She tries to block out the disregardful thoughts.
Everything downside is human culture with a horror twist; the downside society is structured like a massive corporation, with a dual focus on production and resource conservation. Whether you’re a downsider or an unfortunate human who has somehow stumbled downside, you are a mere cog in the grinding horror megastructure. And as the horrific atrocities pile up one by one, understand that there is no ill intent meant toward the hapless upsiders. Yes, it’s unfortunate that you had to lose a few appendages… But this is simply just a part of doing business. 😉
The New Girl breaks a bit from the formula of the last two books. Here, most of the action takes place upside, but we are at last allowed a downsider POV, in addition to the other two upsider POVs. I was forever waiting for the next POV section starring Penter, Deputy Node Liaison for the Ministry of Upside Relations. All Penter wants is to do her job, but the more time she spends upside, the more nuggets of humanity she discovers within herself. Can a downsider learn what love is? You’ll need to read the book to find out.
For fans of dark humor, Silent Hill 3, or body horror, this series is a must, in particular the first book. The South African setting, too, adds another fascinating layer to the whole effect. In short, I can’t recommend this series highly enough, and I’m hoping S.L. Grey release something new soon, since it’s been a little while since their last book.
Just a brief reminder that a new chapter forThe Gold in the Darkwill be up this Sunday! All right, that’s all for now. ❤
I sound like a broken record: this week I again returned to Tor to peruse their original fiction! This week’s Short Tuesday contender is a short story by Jonathan Carroll published just a few days ago. You can read it here… FYI that there will be spoilers in this review.
I enjoyed this story, both in terms of voice, pacing, and plot. I thought it was interesting how there are no names for any of the main characters—perhaps this is author trying to emphasize the soul inhabiting the body rather than the body itself? Reincarnation is central to the plot, so if we were juggling names I think that would take away from the message. Also want to add that somehow this is not the first “reincarnation in animal form” work of fiction I’ve read this year! If you like this sort of story, perhaps giveThe Hungry Ghosta try.
The ending, too, came as a pleasant surprise. At first I was all, oh, their dog’s come home. But if we’re to take what the female MC says as accurate, I think the most logical conclusion is that the other dogs in the neighborhood have come to take out the main characters, so that the secret knowledge they’ve garnered stays secret. It was an unexpected end, perfect for a last boo.
Ooh, I’m really liking all these Tor short stories! And it seems there’s a big backlist and that they publish new works regularly, so I have a ton of great content for more Short Tuesdays. 🙂
Thank you to NetGalley and Flame Tree Press for sending me a free advanced reader copy of this book for an honest review. The Dark Game debuts April 11th.
This may have been a poor choice for a first book to read by Jonathan Janz. I didn’t know much about Janz, though the name vaguely rang a bell. (More on that later.) The premise is a bunch of writers competing for mentorship and future literary prestige at a spooky retreat. Normally I’m not huge on stories where the MC is an author; the characters always read cringy to me, like an over-the-top author-insert. But the whole writer competition thing sounded fun, so I decided to request the book.
Yet it turns out that ten writer MCs read more cringy to me than one writer MC, by a factor of about ten-fold. (Whodathunkit.) Again, this is totally a personal preference thing; I just can’t get past all the talk about agents and advances and genre dissing, since I’m forever trying to suss out Janz the author’s actual thoughts.
He narrowed his eyes, appraising her. “You look like a YA writer. Am I right?”
She considered telling him of her early success, transforming his arrogant expression into a look of awe.
Take the above quote, for example—what do you mean by that exactly, Jonathan Janz? You wanna throw down? Huh? Huh? 😀
But then. Then. We get to the above and beyond part. Because Janz inserts multiple mentions of one of his own novels into the book and talks up how great it is. Read that again. One of the writers on the retreat is writing one of Janz’s books, The Siren and the Specter, and keeps saying how it’s amazing. It’s bookception, with a marketing twist. As my husband put it, “Wow, that takes a lotta balls.”
This is when I realized why Janz’s name seemed so familiar to me; I have The Siren and the Specter on my (lengthy) Goodreads TBR. Honestly I have no idea if there are other Easter eggs in The Dark Game, but I wouldn’t be surprised. My overall sense is that this book might be great for diehard Janz fans as a sort of fan service book, but it left me kind of feeling like I was missing a bunch of inside jokes, while also being served some sneaky advertisements. I also had a difficult time connecting with the characters since there were just so damn many of them. Some had interesting back stories, but most felt fairly interchangeable, and it was hard to keep everyone straight. (Save for Sherilyn; really enjoyed her brief POV sections.)
So I’m not ruling out reading another book by this author, but suffice it to say that The Dark Game was unfortunately a miss for me.
Just a real quick reminder to everyone that the next chapter of The Gold in the Dark will be releasing this Sunday at 11 AM EST! This is one not to miss, since there’s a new POV incoming. (Oooooh.) All right, that’s all, folks. ❤