I have always been a sucker for a good demonic possession story, and Paul Tremblay's A Head Full of Ghosts has all the elements of a pretty great one.I have always been a sucker for a good demonic possession story, and Paul Tremblay's A Head Full of Ghosts has all the elements of a pretty great one.
Part of what I enjoyed so much about the story was the deliberately ambiguous treatment of the difference between mental illness and demonic possession, a fine line I have often pondered myself. The afflicted fourteen year-old Marjorie even tells her sister she's faking, though clearly something is very wrong. The addition of a reality TV film crew -- invited to film Marjorie's exorcism to help defray her rising (and ineffectual) medical treatment costs -- only ups the ante, as we wonder if it's Marjorie or the demon playing to the cameras . . . and playing with her rapidly fracturing family.
The story unfolds primarily through the memories of Marjorie's then-8-year old sister, the gregarious Merry, who both loves and fears Marjorie in equal measure. The two have always been close, but much of the older girl's uncanny new behavior seems to manifest just for her, and Marjorie's midnight visits to Merry's room are among the most chilling moments in the novel. Maybe the demon is interested in the little one, too?
Finally, for us nerds who love the whole meta-thing, the book is laced with fun horror references and shout-outs, from contemporary to classic. Hommage is paid without imitation, for the most part. (There is one major plot twist you may face-palm yourself for not picking up on beforehand -- I know the work being referenced, and still didn't twig to it. Made for a nice "Oh no you di'n't!" moment, though, before the face-palm and creeping shame at my own obliviousness, that is.)
The only part of this book I wasn't overly fond of were the scattered blog entries from a horror site doing an in-depth re-watch and post-mortem of the resulting TV show (called "The Possession"). I'm not sure they added much to the story, and the verbiage was annoying -- probably like a real teenager's blog, now that I think of it. But enough of that.
Overall, I'd give A Head Full of Ghosts 4.75 stars. It's entertaining, creepy, and really hard to put down. I'm about to go order a copy of my own, because this one might benefit from additional readings. Wonderfully done!
As far as I can tell, Lindqvist's work just keeps stronger, and Harbor is his best novel yet. More psychologically subtle than Let the Right One In, aAs far as I can tell, Lindqvist's work just keeps stronger, and Harbor is his best novel yet. More psychologically subtle than Let the Right One In, and more exciting than Handling the Undead, this tale of a father's grief, his family's fascinating secret history, and a tiny island's ancient hunger is long, but never feels that way. It's also spooky without being grotesque, moving without being cloying, and chock full of that cosmic dread I like so very much. I had a very hard time putting it down at night.
(And, just as an aside, I really don't get all the lazy blurb comparisons to Stephen King, or Neil Gaiman, for Pete's sake. I love both of those guys, and Lindqvist just might be in the same league, but he's his own, original animal.)...more
I'm always swearing I'm not going to start any new series, but when I read the first chapter of this book, "The Red Empress," included as bonus materiI'm always swearing I'm not going to start any new series, but when I read the first chapter of this book, "The Red Empress," included as bonus material in Unseaming, I was instantly hooked. (Proof: I haven't reviewed Unseaming yet.)
Dark, disturbing, and inventively disgusting, The Black Fire Concerto envisions a post-apocalyptic America where The Storms, otherworldly and deadly, have mutated the land and its people. They also brought magic, new and powerful and sometimes very black. Here there be ghouls -- and worse than ghouls: cannibal cultists and megalomaniac magicians who aren't afraid to harness the horrors the Storms left for their own ends.
This book really is unflinchingly gory and body-horror heavy, but there's also something that is bright and refreshing about The Black Fire Concerto: its two protagonists. Erzelle, a young harpist in servitude as house musician at a gruesome gastronome's club, and Olyssa, the imposing, mysterious traveler that rescues her -- are both women. So rarely do we see women cast as epic heroes that Allen's tale took me by surprise.
And it certainly is something different. When Erzelle joins the majestic Olyssa (think King's Gunslinger crossed with the goddess Athena in a bad mood) on a quest to find Olyssa's missing sister, they face events and obstacles by turns magical and utterly nightmarish. But it's their master-and-apprentice pairing that makes the story pure gold. I don't usually get exerted over lack of adequate female representation in fantasy, but I guess it must be pretty bad for me to react so strongly to seeing it done right.
Not for everybody, and definitely not for the squeamish, The Black Fire Concerto is luxuriously nightmarish dark fantasy, and I'm going to be tapping my foot impatiently for the next book in "The Stormblight Symphony." Now, please, Mr. Allen....more
I have a long and devout love affair with hungry, haunted house stories, from classics like The Turn of the Screw to Ki Longfellow's pomo weird-out HoI have a long and devout love affair with hungry, haunted house stories, from classics like The Turn of the Screw to Ki Longfellow's pomo weird-out Houdini Heart. I love them (almost) all. But these kinds of tales have evolved a great deal since Burnt Offerings was written in the early Seventies, which makes it seem stylistically dated in certain key points. That's such a backward view, though, because it's also immediately obvious how much influence this book had on tales yet to come.
On the plus side, the narrative is fast-paced -- I was surprised at how short the book felt -- and the dread builds, steady and sneaky, until you almost don't want to see what, literally, is behind that door. In the minus column, I don't feel like I got to know the characters particularly well. I see symbolic echoes of Hill House's Eleanor in Marian (though the acquisitive weakness is all Mrs. Rolfe), and seeds of Jack and Danny Torrance in Ben and David. But, unlike the more contemplative pace of The Shining, Burnt Offerings doesn't allow a lot of time to get to know, or build sympathy for, the Rolfes before things conspire to turn them into different people. (Though I feel like I know the house pretty well, which is something.)
Ultimately, though, it's a lush, creepy tale, and it stands the test of time and literary hindsight far better than Richard Matheson's Hell House, which I found quite disappointing. ...more
After the People Lights Have Gone Off is nagging at me for a review, and I'm not sure what to tell it. When, in his cover-blurb, Laird Barron likens tAfter the People Lights Have Gone Off is nagging at me for a review, and I'm not sure what to tell it. When, in his cover-blurb, Laird Barron likens the book to "a malignant grain of an evil dream," he's on to something. I keep thinking about certain of these stories in a kind of awe at how immediately they imprinted themselves on me, but others eluded or vexed me for reasons that probably say more about me than they do about Stephen Graham Jones' writing.
Let's start with what I loved. I loved that the collection contains gutting new twists on the dusty old vampire and werewolf genres; I loved the fact that two of the stories ("Xebico" and "The Spindly Man") are inspired rejoinders to other weird tales I'm fond of. I loved that SGJ can find the terrifying in the mundanity of a laser kitchen thermometer, an old fruit-crate or a thrift-shop hoodie. And I love that the title piece is looking like one of my favorite haunted house stories ever.
Thematically, though, not much love. There is an awful lot of grieving and coping (badly) and loss of all kinds going on here. In After the People Lights Have Gone Off grief is practically a character. There are stories about lost children, sick children, funerals, dead or sick or broken spouses, and also stories about the horrible deals humans make to keep death's darkness at bay. Though SGJ manages to inject the madness of grief with touches of humor and humanity, the vibe can get pretty heavy in the places most of us would rather not think about, where the terrible truths about loss live.
Maybe my indifference to certain stories, "Snow Monsters" and "Second Chances," for example, is that they didn't really poke my scary spots, as I'm not a parent or even particularly fond of children. (Some people think that makes me a sociopath, but I know they're just envious of all the "me-time" I get.) Other stories, like "This is Love," and "Brushdogs," I'll admit that I just don't get (yet). Both are also about lost children, in different ways, but what vexes me in both cases is the suggestion of repetitive time looping or doubling that I still just can't get my head around. (Which is funny, because I've read them both before in anthologies.)
I know this isn't my most coherent review, and that's because I'm not really done mulling the stories. I have to take After the People Lights Have Gone Off back to the library now, but I'm not likely to be done thinking about it for awhile....more
4.5, really. Langan's byzantine, beautiful prose sometimes distracts me from the plots. (A not surprising quality in a James lover.) I have to think a4.5, really. Langan's byzantine, beautiful prose sometimes distracts me from the plots. (A not surprising quality in a James lover.) I have to think about these some more....more
In picking up an older anthology, one runs the risk of already having encountered some of the stories. Unfortunately, I was familiar with about a thirIn picking up an older anthology, one runs the risk of already having encountered some of the stories. Unfortunately, I was familiar with about a third of these (among which are great tales by Laird Barron, Glen Hirschberg, Norman Partridge, and Joe Lansdale), but I picked it up for $1.99 on Kindle, so what the hey.
The good news is, most of the new (to me) stories blew me away. The collection opens with Cody Goodfellow's brilliant and utterly perverse "At the Riding School," of which the less said the better; it hits a good midpoint stride with Richard Harland's "The Fear," an ode to cult horror films and maniacal directors; then introduces an unprecedented apocalyptic event in Tanith Lee's "Black and White Sky"; and closes with John Langan's tour-de-force werewolf tale, "The Revel." (Langan is so awesome he's represented twice: his new-Lovecraftian "City of the Dog," already familiar to me, was nevertheless a chilling reread.) There are also stories about what happens to children who pull the wings off things, a boy who can draw events into existence, and even a couple zombie apocalypse tales that felt surprisingly fresh.
Over all, I find you can't really lose with any of Datlow's collections. She's a maestro....more