Tag: Horror

The Ballad of Black Tom – Victor LaValle

Note: Herein begins a series of reviews of books nominated for this years Hugo Awards. For those who don’t know, I will be attending the Hugos this year in Helsinki, Finland, and have more than a little catching up to do in regards to the nominees. I’ve already reviewed a few nominated stories, which will be back-tagged with the Hugo tag, should you be interested in seeing the group together. 

When my dad first saw Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds, he expressed an emotion that, at first, struck me as odd, but as I thought about it, made a great deal of sense. He found the film deeply cathartic. To watch a group of empowered Jews brutalize Nazis, he said, felt good. Really good.

I thought about that for a long while. The second world war carved a deep wound on the entire world, and the holocaust left horrid scar tissue in my people across the diaspora. We are all affected, generations later, no matter our ties to survivors or victims, no matter our beliefs or shifting religious affiliations. As my father said to me once, during my time as a rather angry atheist in college (I’ve since calmed down), the Nazis wouldn’t have cared what you believed. To them, you are a Jew.

The scars left on a people from having atrocities visited upon them last generations, a metastatic stiffness that has a rippling affect on our capacity for integrating into the world around us. And because humanity displays a tremendous weakness for even short-term memory, the victims of history are often blamed for the cultural wounds that shape our collective neuroses.

And so when my dad saw Inglorious Basterds, he saw a power fantasy for a people disempowered by history, in the heart of the greatest and most terrible robbery of their dignity and humanity. He had a chance to live out a dream he’d never known lived deep in him. Watching the film again, I saw what he meant, and completely agreed.

In many respects, I imagine that The Ballad of Black Tom can foster similar catharsis for black Americans. The protagonist undergoes a transformation through the novella, from a wily young man using ignorance and intolerance to his advantage to a powerful, somewhat divine being visiting destruction on those who robbed him of everything. He plays by the rules, bending and weaving through them as he will, getting slightly ahead in a world that perpetually pushes him behind. When he’s pushed into encounters with the supernatural, the comfortable—if harsh and dehumanizing—world cracks at the seams.

And when his father is executed by police for absolutely no reason, the world shatters and Tommy Tester wonders why the rules mattered at all. No matter what he believed, no matter his actions or efforts, he is subhuman. Second-class and worse. He gives in to the darkness that lingers nearby, reaches for the horror that’s held at bay and wraps himself in it. Then, he finds revenge.

Victor LaValle’s writing is spectacular, harkening to Lovecraft (by whom the story must have been inspired, especially given the presence of Cthulhu) but exceeding it. It fits in with the canonical mythos while proving that Lovecraft’s defects—his intolerance, his bigotry—aren’t what makes his brand of horror great. They detract from it. The scars from the horrors visited upon African Americans are ripe for the kind of horrors these tales visit upon the world. With LaValle’s brilliant novella, we get a taste of how sweet that revenge might be.

The Ballad of Black Tom, published by Tor.com, is available on Amazon.

Simone – André Brun

André Brun must be some kind of masochist. The author of Lies and Deception (to be published by Inkshares some time next year), knowing the difficulty of crowdfunding a book, has gone back for more on multiple occasions.

For the currently-running horror contest, he’s entered a book of connected short stories, Arcadia, the first of which he sent me for review.

Simone is very short, and in a pretty rough state, but what it lacks in polish doesn’t detract from the content of the tale.

Secret cults, monsters, and true fear creep into the periphery, seeding curiosity in the reader about what’s to come in the stories that follow.

Though it might frustrate some readers, there’s a moment in Simone that I found greatly appealing. The character—presumably Simone—states that, while she was traveling, she came upon a pillar in a jungle cave.

There’s something delightful about not knowing the details there. The omission builds character. Simone, in the telling of her tale, doesn’t think that her being alone in the jungle at seventeen is important to the story; it’s just a detail that informs the listener of time and place.

Thing is, there has to be a story about why she was in the jungle at such a young age, alone, seeking shelter in a cave. It could be a story all on its own. But she glosses over it.
That simple absence of detail reminds me of stories from the golden age of science fiction, stories that opted for dense statements that can span millennia as opposed to the modern world of genre fiction, which is detail-oriented and strives to break presses worth strength of word count alone.

Though Arcadia will no doubt need polish, the substance is there. I look forward to reading it someday, whether it’s a winner in the contest or otherwise.

Draftshares: Mystery, Thriller, and Horror

Today’s a two-fer, friend! We’re continuing our Draftshares coverage with Mystery, Thriller, and Horror drafts that are worth a gander. Take a look!

A Cup for the Dead: (Mystery) The Great War is over and young widow Hattie Moncrieffe hopes Paris will help her forget. But when an Egyptian curse strikes, can Hattie outwit a cunning murderer while persuading the police she’s not guilty?

The Darkest Places: (Horror) The discovery of an ancient artifact buried deep beneath the sands of Cairo brings three individuals together in a race against time to stop an eldritch evil from awakening.

Detective Diaries: (Mystery) Amani Marshall is searching for her father’s killer in a crime-filled city known as Rochester as a rookie detective; however, she ends up training under a veteran detective called Carbine that is following a murder mystery around Twilight District.

Off the Grid: (Thriller) A case of mistaken identity forces an office drone to go on the run from a government assassin.

Isolation: (Thriller) A boy is taken to the isolation ward after his psyche splits. Will he be able to fix himself or will he ultimately drown in his own mind?

Salvation: (Thriller) A man returns to the small Maine town he was raised in to get revenge on the family that destroyed his.

Schizophrenia: (Horror) Psychological thriller/horror – After receiving the news of his brother’s death James must face the demons of the past to maintain his sanity.

Remains: (Horror) An environmental engineer, haunted by the ghost of her husband, must overcome her fear of flying to scatter his ashes.

Featured Author: Peter Ryan

Periodically, a book will come around that deserves some additional attention. While this one is not in the Geek & Sundry competition, it’s got eleven days remaining in its campaign. Time being of the essence, I felt it prudent to weave it in with this batch of featured author posts. Take a look at Peter Ryan‘s Sync City.


Sync City CoverAbout Sync City

Armed, surly and vulgar. Jack Trevayne is humanity’s best hope for the future. Just don’t tell him.

Sync City is the first part of the Sync City cycle, a story set on Earth in a dystopian past, present and future.

Jack Trevayne is a Keeper, a blunt, no-nonsense enforcer for a group of pacifist post-humans known as the Deacons. Jack’s responsibilities, with the help of his sentient motorbike and sometimes partner Vic, are to keep the timelines clean and protect humanity by killing the War Clans and the Scythers. He also doesn’t mind a drink or two along the way. But this is only part of the story. Forces beyond his understanding are dragging Jack into a battle to save the planet from an artificial intelligence known as the First Code. He’s done this before. He doesn’t want to do it again. But he has no choice.

Life is complicated – Jack is not.

Warbler’s note — check out the video promo and audio episodes on YouTube.

Q: What part of your novel’s world excites you most?

A: I love beginnings, and I love contrasts. The start of a new book, whether reading or writing, is an exciting time. The whole story lies ahead of you and the possibilities are endless. With Sync City I try to get off to a scorching start and maintain the momentum throughout. I want the reader to jump straight into the story with me and hang on for the ride.

With Sync City I also attempt to blend two stories into one book. We follow not only Jack Trevayne’s (the protagonist) current adventure, but also explore his backstory. How the two adventures weave and inform each thread of the story was tremendous fun to write and, hopefully, to read.

I also love the Spartan nature of the world in which Jack exists. In our present society we are overwhelmed with information and choices. The backdrop to this story is sparse and unforgiving. The choices are simple – live or die. On top of that, the technology that exists in Sync City is well beyond current day standards, but the way the technology is employed harks back to a simpler time. The excitement I derived from writing the book was as a consequence of these contrasts.

Q: What are some novels that are similar to yours?

A: In terms of character development and dialog, Sync City is very much hard-boiled in nature. The characters have a tough existence and need to make tough decisions – they kill drink and they kill hard. Raymond Chandler was a definite influence, as was Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon. The much overlooked James Crumley’s The Mexican Tree Duck had to be involved in there as well.

In terms of setting and feel, many people who have read the earlier drafts end up comparing Sync City to movies rather than books, with Blade Runner and the original Australian version of Mad Max being among the most common.

Q: When do you expect your book to be released (knowing that it’ll get Quill)?

A: My funding period with Inkshares is up in a eleven days. My manuscript is complete, though there is some proofreading to complete at my end. If I go down the Quill path, the time between manuscript submission and printed books is estimated to be around four months.


And while we’re on the subject of campaigning books on Inkshares, there’s another important book you can’t miss. JF Dubeau, author of The Life Engineered, is funding another book on Inkshares.

A God in the ShedPrototype_4 is funding for another week (7 days!), and has only 72 books left—at the time of this writing—to achieve full Inkshares funding status. Take a look and consider helping JF—really, a terrific guy—out with his second novel.

Lurk – Adam Vine


After reading The Monstrous, a collection of horror shorts edited by Ellen Datlow, I fancied myself reborn; a fan of a new genre. So when Adam Vine emailed me asking if I’d review his debut horror novel, Lurk, I was quick to accept.

Here’s the thing I learned from my second foray into the genre: I’m something of a scaredy-cat. And I shall henceforth wear that mantle with pride. Another thing I learned is that I really enjoy reading horror.

It is a peculiar thing, to discover that a genre which has no appeal for me in visual media resonates so strongly in literary form. I should like to study this more closely, but I imagine that it’s not all that complicated. The feeling a page-turning novel like Lurk elicits in me is likely the same feeling most fans of horror get from watching a scary movie or TV show. That slight rush, the combination of anxiety and excitement, the curiosity. For me, books seem to generate that perfectly, whereas horror films and shows merely terrify me to my core without an ounce of enjoyment.

Point is, I enjoyed reading Lurk. Very much, in fact.

It was most certainly a debut novel-there were some logical gaps that occasionally kicked me out of the story, and several unanswered questions that needn’t have been asked for the story to feel complete, but it was a good story nonetheless.

It may have also been that the story resonated with me on a different level; it took place in a college house in Santa Cruz, an experience I’m all-too-familiar with. I graduated from UCSC, lived in a filthy party-house for a time, and enjoyed many a silly shenanigan against my better judgement. I could hop in and see the world of Lurk in a very personal way.

A bunch of college students who feel invincible, except one who can’t shake his own self-doubts, insecurities, and fears. That one, the protagonist, finds himself at a series of crossroads punctuated by a supernatural set of Polaroids that drive him nearly mad. A creepy stalker harassing our protagonist’s crush who, of course, falls for the protagonist’s best friend, all while a too-friendly cop and sex-offender neighbor complicate the lives of our party heroes.

While it was important to the plot, the relationship and personal-image drama didn’t interest me as much as the surreal supernatural elements that coalesced into an overwhelming wave at the climax of the novel. Adam Vine’s skill shone in the scenes he painted of the Valhalla of the party house, of the sordid and wretched lives of the forgotten dead that share a certain something with the protagonist.

Those pages were the ones that demanded my attention unlike any others in the book. The ones that gripped me and threw me into the void where I, too, looked into mouths of mirror-teeth and vacant eyes like the lenses of a super-temporal camera.

I say “protagonist” instead of “hero” because Vine placed an unlovable character at the head of his tale. Pitiable, yes, but not lovable. He is petty, judgmental, arrogant, and self-loathing. He is intelligent, but foolish. He is jealous, but unwilling to change.

All the same, I willingly followed him through his adventure, because I wanted to see what was going to happen. And I was rewarded with the horror I sought.

Adam Vine’s Lurk is a strong debut novel, and definitely worth reading, if horror interests you.

Lurk, by Adam Vine, is published by Forsaken and available on Amazon.

The Monstrous – Ellen Datlow

I have to admit to some trepidation when I first received this collection of short stories in the mail from Tachyon. Granted, I asked for this book, but I was still wary of the genre. You see, I had read almost no horror fiction prior to this collection. I respond very viscerally to frightening visual media, regardless of if it’s gory, psychologically thrilling, or suspenseful. I assumed that reading horror would prove an analogous experience.

I am so glad I read this anthology.

Ellen Datlow has an remarkable CV. A sci-fi, fantasy, and short fiction editor of 30+ years, she is considered one of the best (if not the best) horror editors in the business. Among other awards, she’s won Hugos, Stokers, Locuses, Horror Guild awards, and a lifetime achievement award from the Horror Writers association. She’s pretty serious about horror fiction.

The Monstrous was an excellent introduction to Horror, as the collection of shorts runs the gamut from the more “classic” horror tale (as I imagine it) involving supernatural monstrosities, to the subtler, psychologically horrifying, to the straight-up gruesome stuff that makes you ill as you read it. Somehow, you can’t turn away.

Some of the stories stuck out more than others:

  • “Giants in the Earth” — What impressed me most about this story was how, despite the limiting setting (a mineshaft), I felt like the world was much bigger in the periphery. Not only that, but the supernatural element was chilling and fascinating. I could have read so much more of this world, but was very happy to be left wanting more.
  • “Ashputtle” — A memorable story, and excellent exercise in the terror of the unmentioned. The unspeakable acts committed by the protagonist are never directly mentioned, but an image builds alongside the (equally visceral and gut-punching) acknowledged ills.
  • “Jenny Come to Play” — I happened to be reading this while a friend was watching the first season of True Detective. Magnificent story, chilling read, action-packed conclusion. Simply excellent.

Honestly, every story in this anthology is excellent. It’s really a testament to Datlow’s wealth of experience in the genre, and her masterful touch in editing and compiling the best stories around. What’s more, I was inspired by this collection, remembering that several shorts I had begun writing felt like they were going nowhere. After reading The Monstrous, I realized they are perfect setups for horror. I am invigorated and excited by this foray into a new genre.

I devoured this anthology, and was immediately hungry for more. I guess I’ll go pick up my Lovecraft collection.