fa2025bbff3a5bad0eb60e40c4e2adf2 w2041xAgents of Dream­land by Caitlin R. Kier­nan is that rare work of fic­tion so grip­ping, com­plex, and dis­turb­ing that it begs to be read a sec­ond time, both to savor the exquis­ite writ­ing and to look for sub­tleties, clues, and ref­er­ences that may have been over­looked the first time.

When the novella begins, the agent known only as the Sig­nal­man, a cyn­i­cal hard-​drinking oper­a­tive on the trail of a cult leader, is arriv­ing in Winslow, Ari­zona. There he meets with the enig­matic Imma­co­lata Sex­ton, a woman whose cryp­tic, hard-​as-​nails exte­rior is later belied by small future acts of com­pas­sion toward the suf­fer­ing denizens of a doomed Los Ange­les. Sex­ton is a time trav­eler; we fol­low her from Ver­mont in 1927, where she exam­ines evi­dence of an alien space­craft, to the Amer­i­can south­west and a des­per­ate, present-​day race to stop a hor­rific plague, then to a future Los Ange­les where alien ships rule the sky and the few human inhab­i­tants eke out a pitiable existence.

All Kiernan’s char­ac­ters are mem­o­rable; for me, the most vivid was a con­fused, lost young woman named Chloe, who’s been goomed by cult leader Drew Stan­dish to become a key mem­ber of the Chil­dren of the Next Level. Chloe’s lurid, drug-​addled past makes her a per­fect, if tragic, foil for indoc­tri­na­tion by mad­man Standish.

To be fair, Agents of Dream­land is not for every­one (but what great fic­tion is?). Some may find it too per­va­sively dark or too graphic in its depic­tion of body hor­ror. Some may wish for a more tra­di­tional, less unset­tling end­ing, espe­cially at a time in his­tory when the idea of eco­log­i­cal dis­as­ter, alien or oth­er­wise, seems all too likely.

As Kier­nan writes, “The haunted human psy­che craves resolution…humans, inher­ent prob­lem solvers that we are, chafe at prob­lems that can­not be solved, ques­tions that can­not ever, once and for all, sais­fac­to­rily be put to rest.”

With no glim­mer of hope at the end­ing and no promise of a res­o­lu­tion to come, Agents of Dream­land defies con­ven­tional expec­ta­tions and raises the spec­tor of a future we may not want to imagine.

In short, this is great writ­ing that is likely to stick with the reader for a very long time. Def­i­nitely not to be missed.

short story appWhy isn’t the short story more pop­u­lar?” That’s the ques­tion that Kelly Abbott, CEO of Great Jones Street, asked him­self a few years ago.

Kelly had grown up watch­ing his father labor over short fic­tion, so he knew the dif­fi­cul­ties writ­ers face. He wanted to find a way to offer high qual­ity short fic­tion to a wide audi­ence and came up with a the­ory – that mobile phones, our culture’s gen­er­ally short atten­tion span, and the desire for high qual­ity enter­tain­ment could lead to a resur­gence for the much neglected short story.

With the goal of bring­ing short fic­tion back to pop­u­lar cul­ture, Abbott and his part­ner Ken Trues­dale, came up with the idea for Great Jones Street, an app where read­ers can access vir­tu­ally any type of short fic­tion. They reached out to writ­ers who, in turn, rec­om­mended other writ­ers. In its first year, Great Jones Street acquired over a thou­sand short sto­ries, a num­ber Abbott says they’re on track to pub­lish every year.

To flesh out the cat­a­logue, Abbott and Trues­dale also con­tacted edi­tors like John Joseph Adams (for s/​f, fan­tasy), Suzie bright (erot­ica), and Nick Mamatas (mystery/​crime).

The GJS app not only gives a syn­op­sis of each story, but the approx­i­mate time it will take to read it. Wait­ing in a doctor’s office? In line at the DMV? Just found out your flight’s been delayed? With GJS you can find every­thing from longer works to exquis­ite lit­tle gems of five min­utes or less to fill the time.

As a writer, GJS is absolutely my favorite app, because it allows me to explore gen­res I gen­er­ally don’t read. It expands my read­ing uni­verse and gives me dozens of new, favorite writ­ers whose work I now look for.

For now, GJS is free (up until the first ten thou­sand read­ers), but it won’t stay that way. For lovers of short fic­tion, it’s the best deal in town.

https://www.greatjonesstreet.press/

And P.S. If you’re a hor­ror reader on GJS, look for my sto­ries: Nik­ishi, Blessed Be the Bound, Wing­less Beasts, Choke Hold, and Lust in the Days of Demons

we eat our own 9781501128318No script, no money, and soon no escape pretty much sums up the plight of the actors film­ing “Jun­gle Blood­bath” in Kea Wilson’s tightly plot­ted and beau­ti­fully writ­ten “We Eat Our Own”. Eccen­tric and pos­si­bly insane direc­tor Ugo Vel­luto lures des­per­ate wannabe actor Adrian White (whose real name we don’t learn until the end of the book) to be his unlucky and unlikely lead­ing man after the first actor to be cast in the part flees in ter­ror. To pre­vent this hap­pen­ing again, once White shows up, Ugo has his pass­port con­fis­cated and informs him there is no script.

The naive and increas­ingly des­per­ate White finds him­self immersed in a hotbed of inter­na­tional drug deal­ers, M-​19 gueril­las, and can­ni­bal­ism scenes that may or may not be entirely sim­u­lated. It doesn’t take long for him to real­ize he’s in way over his head and that his suc­cess as an actor isn’t up for debate so much as his survival.

Wil­son is being com­pared to Cor­mac McCarthy and with good rea­son; her prose is taut, her action thrilling, and her char­ac­ters veer toward extremes – guilt-​ridden kid­napers, ruth­less Loli­tas, a direc­tor who thinks set­ting the jun­gle on fire is a great way to get action footage of extras flee­ing the flames. Movie buffs will find the story espe­cially com­pelling since Wil­son loosely bases it on the con­tro­ver­sial 1970’s Ital­ian hor­ror film “Can­ni­bal Holocaust”.

If all this sounds a bit over the top, make no mis­take – “We Eat Our Own” is an expertly paced, riv­et­ting novel with char­ac­ters that may not be like­able, but are often unfor­get­table. Per­haps not everyone’s cup of tea – there’s graphic vio­lence, White’s char­ac­ter of ‘Richard’ is por­trayed entirely in the sec­ond per­son, and dia­logue is writ­ten with­out quo­ta­tion marks, so you have to pay atten­tion to know who is speak­ing. All of this may take some get­ting used to, but don’t be deterred. “We Eat Our Own” is a har­row­ing and mes­mer­iz­ing novel you won’t want to put down.

5e84e3b6eca28052f189bb7ffc44458577dfac9f thumbRead­ers of hard­core hor­ror fic­tion were first intro­duced to Painf­reak in a col­lec­tion of short sto­ries by author Ger­ard Houarner in 1996. Now Houarner is both a con­trib­u­tor to and edi­tor of the new anthol­ogy INTO PAINF­REAK, pub­lished by Necro Pub­li­ca­tions, Bed­lam Press & Weird West Books.

INTO PAINF­REAK fea­tures all new sto­ries from some of horror’s top authors, includ­ing a new nov­el­ette by Edward Lee. Con­trib­u­tors include Mon­ica O’Roarke, Wrath James White, K. Trap Jones, Linda Addi­son, Charlee Jacobs, and many oth­ers. I’m delighted that my own story “He Who Whis­pers the Dead Back to Life” is part of the line-​up – in my ver­sion of this Land of Erotic Enchant­ment, the entrance to Painf­reak is a casita near Gallup, New Mex­cio, guarded by a hybrid dog who admin­is­ters the cov­eted ‘mark’ with its teeth.

For those not already famil­iar with the ter­ri­ble delights of Painf­reak, this entry from the blog of David G. Bar­nett, pub­lisher, will give you an idea: “Wel­come to Painf­reak, the trav­el­ing club that arises out of the dark and calls to those seek­ing the ulti­mate in plea­sure and pain. Many come to expe­ri­ence the ulti­mate in deca­dence and debauch­ery. And many get lost in a labyrinth filled with depraved sex, beau­ti­ful death, and won­der­fully hor­ri­ble sights. You’ve been given the mark, now step into the heart of…PAINFREAK.”

INTO PAINF­REAK will be avail­able on 12÷12÷16. Look for it at http://​necrop​ub​li​ca​tions​.com/​p​r​o​d​u​c​t​s​/​i​n​t​o​-​t​h​e​-​h​e​a​r​t​-​o​f​-​p​a​i​n​f​r​e​a​k​-​t​r​a​d​e​-​p​a​p​e​r​b​a​c​k– and become lost in its seduc­tive monstrosities.

51OugRojXNL. SY346 THE GRAVE­YARD APART­MENT was first pub­lished in Japan in 1986 and is con­sid­ered among Mariko Koike’s best nov­els. With the Eng­lish trans­la­tion recently made avail­able, she will surely find a wider audi­ence for the hor­ror and detec­tive fic­tion for which she is known.

Read­ers look­ing for may­hem and a plot twist on every page may find the events in THE GRAVE­YARD APART­MENT unfold too grad­u­ally for their taste, but those will­ing to immerse them­selves in the tale of a fam­ily trapped in an appar­ently haunted apart­ment build­ing will find much to admire in this sleekly crafted novel of psy­cho­log­i­cal horror.

Misao, her hus­band Teppei, and their daugh­ter Tomao are a young fam­ily newly moved into an apart­ment whose sole draw­back appears to be that it faces a grave­yard. The fact that Tomao’s pet finch dies on the day of the move-​in – and that Tomao claims she and the bird still con­verse – is just the begin­ning of a series of omi­nous goings-​on, includ­ing an ele­va­tor appar­ently under the sway of malev­o­lent forces.

The sense of dread is aug­mented by a guilty secret the cou­ple shares, a tragedy that they’ve pre­sum­ably put behind them. Or per­haps not, and it’s sup­pressed guilt blur­ring their judge­ment, because really, would a young cou­ple with a child move into a build­ing where smoke from a cre­ma­to­rium occa­sion­ally wafts toward the win­dows and grad­u­ally, all the other ten­ants are mov­ing out? If you’re will­ing to accept that premise, how­ever, the hor­ror of an apart­ment build­ing sur­rounded by the dead can grad­u­ally seep under one’s skin.

That said, how­ever, THE GRAVE­YARD APART­MENT fol­lows a well-​trodden path, with obvi­ously creepy occur­ances that esca­late inevitably to the novel’s gen­uinely unnerv­ing con­clu­sion. Not a book to be savored alone at night or for apart­ment dwellers who dread a trip down to the basement.

imagesThe hor­ror the human mind can invent for the pur­pose of inflict­ing suf­fer­ing on our fel­lows is on full dis­play at this macabre and dis­turb­ing museum in the Old City of Car­cas­sonne, France. The focus isn’t on the Span­ish Inqui­si­tion, which lasted longer and is more widely known, but an ear­lier one – the Medieval Inqui­si­tion that fol­lowed a cru­sade by the Catholic Church against the so-​called heretic Cathars. In the thir­teenth and four­teenth cen­turies, Car­cas­sonne and other medieval towns like Bezier and Albi were strong­holds of Cathar beliefs, and the Museum show­cases some of the nas­tier ways the Cathars were forced to con­fess to devil wor­ship before, more often than not, being burned at the stake.

Among the devices on dis­play are the iron maiden, the stretcher, the head crusher and the pul­ley device in which a vic­tim whose wrists were bound behind her was hoisted into the air and then dropped down, often with weights attached to max­i­mize the dam­age. To add to the grotes­querie, before being used, these instru­ments were often blessed with holy water.

Women accused of witch­craft seem to have made up a large num­ber of the vic­tims, but even an ‘overly talk­a­tive’ wife could be silenced behind an iron mask crafted with demon-​like ani­mal ears. One ghastly device was a sharp-​ponted cone the woman was forced to strad­dle while weights fas­tened to her arms inex­orably pulled her lower, for a slow, excru­ci­at­ing impalement.

Even musi­cians were at risk for tor­ture – one sinister-​looking device was, accord­ing to the descrip­tion, used to pun­ish “bad musicians”.

Would I rec­om­mend the Museum to any­one vis­it­ing the south of France? Well, on the one hand, to see these mon­strous but care­fully crafted instru­ments and real­ize they were actu­ally used for their vile pur­pose, is depress­ing in the extreme. The sense of relief, how­ever, upon walk­ing back into the cob­bled streets lined with bistros, bou­tiques, and stores sell­ing fake swords and dag­gers, feels infi­nitely sweet!

51hdTqS3nLA bril­liant and mes­mer­iz­ing novel by John Lan­gan, THE FISH­ER­MAN begins as a tale of two wid­ow­ers and their attempts to come to terms with unimag­in­able grief. The nar­ra­tor, Abe, lost his wife to can­cer some years ear­lier; his friend Dan’s loss is more recent and, arguably, more bru­tal. Next to friend­ship, fish­ing is the great­est gift Abe has to offer Dan. In the search for new places to try their luck, Dan comes up with Dutchman’s Creek, which omi­nously enough, seems not to exist on any map and fig­ures promi­nently in local lore.

Here Lan­gan diverges from his orig­i­nal plot and goes into a lengthy, some­times mean­der­ing story told by the owner of a diner where Dan and Abe stop on their way to Dutchman’s Creek; it’s a dark tale of sor­cery and the fate of a man named Rainer and sets the back­ground for what is to come.

With the his­tory of Dutchman’s Creek estab­lished, Lan­gan returns to Dan and Abe, their bat­tle against the Fish­er­man, and the cos­mic forces in league against them. Here Lan­gan sweeps the reader into a mythic realm of mon­strous sea crea­tures, sur­real seascapes, and shapeshifters capa­ble of chang­ing from hideous denizens of the deep into that for which the men might sell their very souls.

Even with its fan­tas­tic imagery of a creek flow­ing through hell itself, THE FISH­ER­MAN tran­scends genre. Above all, it remains a very human story of loss, friend­ship, and redemp­tion that is sure to cap­ti­vate a wide vari­ety of readers.

1437719821Char­lotte Wood’s new novel, a tale of bru­tal misog­yny set in the Aus­tralian out­back, is both riv­et­ting and, at times, almost painfully intense. Ten young women are drugged, impris­oned, and forced to toil at back­break­ing labor under the super­vi­sion of two men, one a not-​too-​bright yoga prac­ti­tioner (when he isn’t play­ing at prison guard), the other a sadist obsessed with which of the women he’d rape should his mys­te­ri­ous ‘boss’ give him the go-​ahead.

The reader soon learns that each of the cap­tives has some­how trans­gressed the soci­etal rules gov­ern­ing the proper con­duct for women, espe­cially in mat­ters sex­ual. One slept with a priest, another took part in an orgy, yet another had the mis­for­tune to be gang­banged. Wood focuses on two of the women, the brainy Verna, who tries to believe she is ‘dif­fer­ent’ and that her lover Andrew will even­tu­ally res­cue her, and the wily, phys­i­cally pow­er­ful Yolanda, who knows full well no one com­ing to save her and, over time, returns to a feral state, hunt­ing rab­bits and dream­ing of “push­ing her sharp teeth through the soft belly flesh of a zebra”.

Wood’s writ­ing is vivid and often lyri­cal, as when she describes a mag­i­cal inva­sion of hun­dreds of kan­ga­roos, who bound across the camp in ‘thump­ing syn­co­pa­tion” or a flock of cock­a­toos that resem­ble “white laun­dry on a line.” Even in scenes involv­ing great suf­fer­ing, both human and ani­mal, her prose often cap­tures a kind of tran­scen­dent beauty.

As pow­er­ful and dis­turb­ing as this novel is, how­ever, I must admit I found the end­ing dis­ap­point­ing. The image of the women swoon­ing over designer bags and lav­ish make-​up prod­ucts, items that were tro­phy pos­ses­sions in their old lives, rang false to me. On the other hand, given the soci­ety in which we live, I can see how oth­ers might find Wood’s end­ing not only shock­ing but utterly satisfying.

Def­i­nitely a book that needs to be read and dis­cussed by women and men alike.

witchcraft and madness in a small townHEX is the first of Dutch author Thomas Olde Heuvelt’s five nov­els to be trans­lated into Eng­lish, a pow­er­ful and riv­et­ing tale of witch­craft and a town’s slow and ghastly descent into madness.

In 1664 Kather­ine van Wyler was forced to kill her own child and then sen­tenced to death for witch­craft in the Hud­son Val­ley town of Black Spring – a crime the towns­peo­ple have been pay­ing for ever since. Katherine’s ghost pops up every­where, in the midst of a town fes­ti­val, at the bed­side of a child, in plain view on Main Street. She makes for a pathetic fig­ure, bound in iron chains, her mouth and eyes sewn shut to pre­vent her from caus­ing more havoc.

Yet havoc she does cause. Res­i­dents of Black Spring may leave the town for short dura­tions, but for those that linger too long in the out­side world, the urge for sui­cide becomes over­pow­er­ing. You buy a house in Black Spring, as one newly arrived cou­ple learns, you never get to leave.

Teenager Tyler Grant finds the lim­i­ta­tions of life in Black Spring intol­er­a­ble. He recruits some friends, includ­ing one bud­ding sociopath, to help him post videos of the witch on the inter­net, thus vio­lat­ing Black Spring’s most pow­er­ful taboo – thou shalt not let the out­side world know about the witch. What begins as lit­tle more than a prank unleashes an ever-​widening cir­cle of hell, one that sweeps Tyler and his fam­ily up in a hor­rific chain of events.

Heuvelt rewrote the Dutch ver­sion of HEX for an Amer­i­can audi­ence, chang­ing the set­ting to the Hud­son Val­ley and, accord­ing to the author, writ­ing a new and even more shock­ing end­ing. What­ever the lan­guage, it’s a chill­ing novel on many lev­els – from cruel sev­en­teenth cen­tury cus­toms to a har­row­ing and deeply dis­turb­ing vision of human nature.

horror fictionThere are many ways a nov­el­ist can write about the unrav­el­ing of civ­i­lized impulses, but for sheer hor­ror, noth­ing rivals the LORD OF THE FLIES-​style bar­barism of the young and ‘inno­cent’, who we may naively imgaine have not yet attained their full capac­ity for sadism.

In James Newman’s riv­et­ing ODD MAN OUT, the degen­er­a­tion into sav­agery takes place at the Black Moun­tain Camp for Boys, where Den­nis Munce, the fifteen-​year-​old nar­ra­tor, has been deposited by his globe-​trotting par­ents. His one friend is the shy and effem­i­nate Wes­ley West­more, who becomes the tar­get of relent­less bul­ly­ing. At first Munce tells him­self the name-​calling and crude homo­pho­bic jokes are not seri­ous: after all “it was all in fun. Just words.” But as the abuse esca­lates, he’s torn between his own inher­ent decency and the urge for self-​preservation.

With two camp coun­selors side­lined due to a car acci­dent, the boys are basi­cally unsu­per­vised. Munce fan­ta­sizes about tak­ing a heroic stand against the psy­cho­pathic pack leader, but when his own safety is on the line, the choice is clear: “Stand­ing up to a bully in defense of a friend meant sign­ing your own death warrant.”

Years after the week at Black Moun­tain Camp, Munce still strug­gles with what hap­pened and tries in small ways to make up for his com­plic­ity in the tragedy. But can he ever really atone?

ODD MAN OUT is cer­tainly a page-​turner, but make no mis­take: it’s not only engross­ing, but deeply disturbing.