I'll give this one 3.8 stars -- definitely better than its predecessor, although still not without its flaws. All in all, though, a fun read and now I...moreI'll give this one 3.8 stars -- definitely better than its predecessor, although still not without its flaws. All in all, though, a fun read and now I'm stoked for the next installment if it ever gets here.
Building on the events both in Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness and in Curran's previous novel in this series The Hive, The Spawning opens once again during the long, dark Antarctic winter. It seems that in the meantime, what happened at Kharkov Station some years earlier has become fodder for conspiracy theorists, since the powers that be have covered up and put their own collective spins on the truth. Unlike my experience while reading Hive, which was a little slow for me, I couldn't put this one down. It's weird (in the weird-fiction sense of the term), coolishly pulpy, and this time my tension level remained on high throughout most of the novel. If you haven't read At the Mountains of Madness or The Hive, it's okay -- better if you have but The Spawning fills you in on the backstory enough so that you don't feel like you've missed too much.
With a prologue that's bound to get your rapt attention as twenty-five British scientists disappear from Mount Hobb station, it doesn't take long until you're in the middle of a lot of gut-twisting action, beginning at US/NSF station Polar Clime. It starts when a helicopter crashes from nearby Colony Station, a top secret, hush-hush area "with armed guards and motion detectors," like "Area 51 or something" where "they had to keep people away." Teams from Polar Clime are sent to the crash site, and right away one of the men, Slim, notices something odd about the crash itself. Trying to extricate bodies from the wreckage, Slim happens to see something under a tarp, which right away, his friend Coyle realizes is "more than just a charred body...Something bad." It isn't long until the "spooks" from Colony Station appear; their leader, Dayton orders the Polar Clime teams to leave. Coyle realizes something's off -- and not just with the crash. As he notes:
"The whole scenario was spooky and strange. First Mount Hobb and then this crash and now Dayton with his James Bond shit."
But "spooky and strange" will turn out to be an understatement. After returning to Polar Clime, Coyle decides he'll join some of the others in viewing a live NASA feed of the historic landing of the Cassini 3 spacecraft as it lands on Jupiter's moon Callisto. As they're watching, the craft's camera records "a series of interconnected megaliths" that will set off a chain of events that will eventually affect the entire world as we know it. Add to this horrific occasion a number of strange doings at the NOAA Field Lab Polaris and Emperor Ice Station on the Beardmore Glacier, and it will be all Coyle and his companions can do to maintain their sanity and stay alive in the process.
The tension builds from the novel's beginning and rarely lets up. The chapters are short, the action moves around from place to place but never lingers too long in one spot, keeping the reader hooked. Once again, as in Hive, Curran builds on the work of Lovecraft without copying his tone or style, letting his own writer voice come through. Thematically, one of the main themes reveals that in their zeal to maintain secrecy, the government and other powers that be keep too many secrets and ignore lessons from the past that probably should have been heeded -- in this case, to the detriment of the world's population. Once again though the characters seem a little bit too pat, often bordering on stereotypical; the whole us vs. them (the common man vs. the government and the scientists) is also very obvious. Also, while the story moves along at a good pace, Curran sometimes spends a little too much time with his characters pondering what all of this means. However, I enjoyed The Spawning much more than its predecessor -- and the cliffhanger ending left me wanting much more. So come on, Tim Curran -- it's been four years already -- time for the next installment! (less)
One of my all-time favorite novels ever, The Shining rates 5 stars plus. While modern readers used to a lot of gore and splatter in their horror stori...moreOne of my all-time favorite novels ever, The Shining rates 5 stars plus. While modern readers used to a lot of gore and splatter in their horror stories may find it a bit tame, I find it to be one of the best novels of cerebral horror ever written. It has been a staple in my horror library for more years than I care to admit, boxed up and shelved for every move when some books had to remain behind. You can, as always, read the shorter version of my discussion of this book here, or you can click on this link to take you to a longer one, which also contains a discussion of Stephen King's Doctor Sleep.
Very brief synopsis: Jack Torrance, his wife Wendy and their son Danny used to have a good life. He taught at a prep school, he made money from publishing some of his stories, and Wendy did typing part time -- all good enough to where the couple could put money away each month. Jack is an alcoholic, yet he had managed to get himself together and keep it under control. His problem is his temper: an assault on one of his students put Jack out of a job and drove Jack and Wendy into financial crisis. Luckily, one of his former drinking buddies has found him a job as the winter caretaker at the Overlook Hotel high in the mountains of Colorado. Jack sees the job as a good opportunity to finish writing a play he's been working on, since the Torrance family will be the only inhabitants there. The truth is, Jack and Wendy have no choice but to take the job due to extreme financial necessity. Little Danny, however, is not so sure -- his "imaginary" friend Tony has been showing him visions of the Overlook in his dreams, and what he sees frightens him. Meeting the hotel's chef, Dick Hallorann, gives Danny the chance to understand why he sees things or knows things that others don't: he has "the shine," an ability the two share. They both realize it in the other, but as Hallorann explains, Danny has the biggest shine he's ever encountered. Danny levels with Hallorann that he's frightened, but Hallorann assures him that if he needs him, he only needs to send a mental message to him and he'll come back from his other job in Florida to help him. He also warns Danny that places can shine, and as the Torrance family is about to discover, the Overlook is one of those very places.
The Shining may not be filled with the kind of horrors seen in the Kubrick film (which I actually loved as well, but in a way not connected to King but to Kubrick's vision and genius here), but it is one of the most intensely cerebral novels of horror I've ever read. The symbolism of the wasps, for example, is incredibly potent, a thread that runs completely throughout the story and absolutely necessary for understanding what's going on here. In Kubrick's film Jack's character comes across as a raving lunatic, while here, it's much easier to see Jack as more of a victim of the hotel itself, allowing the reader to view his character through a lens of sadness rather than as a person bent on self destruction and insanity. If I had to make a top ten list of horror novels, this book would definitely be on it -- it is and always will be a classic for me. (less)
Very tough book to give a star-rating to, but if I must, lets say a 3.75 rating not rounded up.
Not that there are spoilers here, because there aren't...moreVery tough book to give a star-rating to, but if I must, lets say a 3.75 rating not rounded up.
Not that there are spoilers here, because there aren't, but if you're settling in to read this book, you may want to be able to form your own ideas about what you're reading, so wait until you've finished it yourself before reading what I've written. Actually, now that I think about it, I'm going to mark the rest of this review as "SPOILER ALERT" so no one can be pissed if they think I've ruined things before they've even read the book. Read at your own peril.
I've written up my thoughts here; feel free to go take a look there at a longer version of what I'll say here.
This book opens with the characters in a delightful state of bucolic bliss on a christening day, so naturally, after a while I started to get curious about the book's cover art and why a blurb on the back notes that "The Black Spider was a horror story of its day." Then the "gotcha": as the post-christening festivities commence, a question about a "rough black window post" built into the newly-built home leads the grandfather to tell a story about events that had occurred in the area hundreds of years ago, one passed on through the generations. And oh, what a story it is.
A group of Teuton knights has returned from Poland and Prussia, having bent sent there to "fight the heathen." While there, they got caught up in the lifestyle, and on their return, continued to live, each "according to his own nature and pleasure." The worst of these was Hans van Stoffeln of Swabia, and he took a lot of pleasure in persecuting the peasants. First, he took them away from their land for two years by ordering a huge castle on a hill. When that was finished, and just as the peasants were rejoicing that they could get back to feeding their starving families and tending their livestock, von Stoffeln makes another demand -- they must now build a shaded walkway. He wants particular trees from a location that is hours away, and he wants everything done within a month or disastrous consequences will follow for the peasants and their families. Thoroughly in despair, because this is an impossible task, the peasant men wonder how they're going to tell their loved ones. At that moment a huntsman, dressed in all in green (hitherto referred to as the "green man" or the "green huntsman" ) appears, and offers them help -- and for payment, all he wants is an unbaptized child. When the women are told what's going on, they believe they can help their men, but it becomes obvious that this is not working out. One of the wives, Christine of Lindau, takes up the green huntsman's offer, thinking that when a new baby is born, the people will find a way to deceive him, and they do manage to stave off the devil for a while. However, they hadn't reckoned on the black spider, a reminder that the huntsman "would not suffer himself to be duped without recompense." I won't say more, because that would kill it for anyone remotely interested.
In Christian mythology, the spider is, of course, associated with the Devil, and you've got the Green Huntsman of the story in that role as the source of the spider, so it should be easy to figure out. However, according to Terrence Rafferty of the New York Times, the spider also becomes a symbol of plague, and there are scenes in this book that support this idea as well.
Even if you're not so inclined toward the Christian messages (as in my case), you can still enjoy The Black Spider. There are a number of scenes that are bound to produce that wonderful frisson of chills crawling up your spine, making it a perfect pre-Halloween read; it's also a peek into a specific society at a specific time and place making it a good story for historical fiction readers. (less)
My rating for this novel is like a 7.5, unmeasurable on a 5-star scale.
Read on for the short version, or if you aren't averse to a more verbose discu...moreMy rating for this novel is like a 7.5, unmeasurable on a 5-star scale.
Read on for the short version, or if you aren't averse to a more verbose discussion, feel free to click here for the long one.
Dr. Sleep is in large part a coming-of-age novel as well as a novel about demons, both internal and external. This book, as compared to its predecessor, King's The Shining, is a bit more relaxed in the telling and well, for me, not nearly as frightening, cerebral or haunting as its predecessor. That is most definitely NOT to say it's not good; it's just very different.
Danny Torrance (now Dan) is a man now and alone, since his father's death at the Overlook Hotel and his mom's death many years later. He still has "the shine," although after years of alcohol abuse, it's been "tamped down" somewhat. Dan has been unable to keep a job because of his drinking; at the same time the alcohol helps blot out the visions that continue to haunt him, many dating back to his time at the Overlook. After hitting bottom, he just wants to get away and make a new start -- after a bus ride into Frazier, New Hampshire, something inside of him realizes that this is where he needs to be. He takes a job, and his boss ultimately gets him into AA, after which he starts work in a hospice center where he's nicknamed "Doctor Sleep" because of his ability to help the dying pass on while holding their hand.
In a second story line, a girl named Abra is born, and as it turns out, she is also gifted with the shine. With abilities much more powerful that Dan's ever were, she makes contact with him through her mind, and can even switch places via Spock-like mind melding. But trouble is looming: a group of ancient beings known collectively as "the True Knot" also have powerful psychic abilities, and they actively seek out young people and children who like both Dan and Abra have "the shining," capture and torture them, and then use their psychic essence (which they call "steam") to sustain themselves and keep themselves young. The steam of one of their young victims, however, left some of the True Knot's members with a huge problem. The group has also come across Abra and her potent abilities, which may be stronger than those of the True Knot's leader, Rose. A few of Rose's psychic vampires are sent to kidnap Abra, hoping that her "steam" will provide a much-needed solution to the group's problem as well as much-needed sustenance. Abra reaches out to Dan for help, but he will need to revisit dark parts of his past in order to save her.
Doctor Sleep has a suspenseful horror story at its center and also focuses in great detail about addiction. Personally, I enjoyed this facet of the book because it not only keeps in line with The Shining, but given Stephen King's own addiction background, he knows what he's talking about and it makes Dan's character much more credible. If the addiction aspect fails to grab you, the author has this incredible talent for incorporating the mundane into this story, disguising his dying-breed creatures as denizens of the world of retired RV ramblers. As he shifts to the story of the True Knot, he begins his chapter with how very annoying the traveling grannies and grandpas are on the roads in their big Winnebagos or other big RVs, describing the RV crowd to a tee. Mr. King also manages to toss in a nod to his son's NOS4A2, both in terms of a character mention and a bumper sticker on (where else?) the back of an RV. Basically the only thing I really did NOT like about how he wrote this novel was that he throws in a major coincidence in the novel that I thought was a cop out (you'll know it when you see it) and made the whole set up kind of cheesy. Aarggh.
There are several reviewers who are saying they've been "let down" or have made other negative remarks while trying to compare the two. My guess is that they haven't read the novel of The Shining in a while, or they're basing what they think they know about it from the Kubrick film. Or perhaps they're so fixated on the idea of this novel as a sequel that they're trying to draw parallels that aren't there. There are large parts of the The Shining worked into this one, so it works that way, but Doctor Sleep is also a fun read on its own, though definitely less intense and certainly less dread-producing than the other. My advice is to just sit back and read it, and enjoy it for what it is rather than complain about what it isn't.
ps/Thanks to G for taking my book and giving it a new home!(less)
As always, because I can't resist being a chatterbox, I have a longer review of this book here; read on for the bare minimum.
John Langan notes on the...moreAs always, because I can't resist being a chatterbox, I have a longer review of this book here; read on for the bare minimum.
John Langan notes on the back cover of this book that he "can't sum up Laird Barron in a single, pithy sentence," and neither can I. If you've read his work, you already know that he is one of the best horror/weird fiction writers out there; if you haven't, then you seriously don't know what you're missing. I don't actually remember how I got started reading his stuff, but now I'm hooked. He's an author I prefer to read late at night, when all is quiet, and if I'm really lucky, when there's a raging thunderstorm outside. I've also come to realize that when horror/weird fiction/the supernatural is done right, it is just as good as any work of "literary" fiction out there -- and Laird Barron definitely does it right. If you're considering this author's work, go find his story "Strappado." I guarantee you'll come back for more.
Here is a list of the stories in this book: “Blackwood’s Baby” -- previously read in The Best Horror of the Year, Volume Four (Ellen Datlow, ed.)earlier this year, just as creepy this time around. “The Redfield Girls” -- For the past ten years, a group of friends, all teachers from the same school, have all come together for a road trip "along the hinterlands of the Pacific Northwest" for a girls' weekend away. The venue this year: the shores of a legendary lake. Excellent story -- worth it just for the atmosphere alone!
“Hand of Glory” -- The narrator of this story, Johnny Cope, tells his tale in hardboiled mode, which is not strange since he has become a hitman for a local tough-guy gangster. The hardboiled tone in this story blends perfectly with eerie black magic, some freakishly strange sisters, and a maker of bizarre films to create a flawless, frightening tale. "The Carrion Gods in Their Heaven” takes place in Poger Rock, pop. 190, in a remote cabin in the woods. The remoteness of the location is by choice, perfect for a woman hiding out with her lover until her abuser husband goes to jail. The combination of local lore about the cabin and its original owner, a chance discovery, and growing paranoia all bleed together to ratchet up the uneasiness in this tale. “The Siphon” -- The NSA sets the proverbial "honey trap" for a man named Lancaster, a normally coolly-detached sociopath, and forces him into service spying for them. He is assigned to provide intelligence about a certain Dr. Christou, who is hosting a foreign national who just happens to have business with Lancaster's company. Things start getting out of hand when the good doctor becomes the focus of a strange couple. “The Jaws of Saturn” -- The Broadsword Hotel, which I first came across in Barron's collection Occultation, is the venue once again for yet another hitman story, one with a surreal, horrific twist. A hypnotist is helping the hitman's girlfriend Carol to quit smoking. That part works, but now she suffers from terrible dreams. “Vastation” is quite different than Barron's usual fare, but takes as its subject the "only human being on the planet", a kind of superbeing who has mastered a third of the layers of space and time, with the power to make and remake his own existence, only to discover that he's bored with himself and his life. The title "Vastation" is appropriate not just in terms of this story, but in terms of the number of ideas contained within these few pages, with the futility of it all as a centerpiece. “The Men From Porlock”-- Back in the past once again (1923), back deep in the woods of Washington State, an ex-Marine named Miller now works at the Slango Logging Camp. The superintendent's foreman tags Miller and other men to go into the woods and snag a couple of good-sized bucks for the upcoming visit of a photographer. All is well until "at the very edge of perception," Miller begins to hear some very strange music... Last, but definitely not least comes “More Dark” -- within which is the source of the novel's title, where an author with a suicide bent attends an event where the main attraction is a reclusive horror writer who, on stage, shows up like death dressed in red and lets a puppet do his speaking for him. There are a wide variety of horror writers mentioned in this little meta piece, but I'm not sure if this one is written for horror fans or for other writers of the genre. Either way, it's quite good and it's also a little funny. As a whole, The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All managed to bring on a stomach-knotting sense of unease in nearly every story. It is a nice mix of weird, Lovecraft-style cosmic horror and more supernatural type fright, both of which work blended well in my mind and kept me at a high tension level throughout the book. There is a lot going thematically and psychologically here, and there is also a lot of interweaving of past stories into this collection as well -- for example, the map of Mystery Mountain in "The Men From Porlock" came into play in Barron's "Mysterium Tremendum," the Broadsword Hotel has also made previous appearances, and The Black Ram Lodge has appeared more than once I love how he does this -- it's like being back on familiar ground, yet different. Once again, Laird Barron has woven his magic, making me a very happy reader. (less)
Each time I read one of these Best Horror of the Year anthologies put together by Ellen Datlow,I realize that horror is indeed in the eye of the Behol...moreEach time I read one of these Best Horror of the Year anthologies put together by Ellen Datlow,I realize that horror is indeed in the eye of the Beholder. After reading #5, I'm going to roll with that observation. For me, horror is something that sends that little shiver or frisson of fear up my spine as I'm reading, and out of the 28 stories that made up this book, that happened with eight. That's not to say that this book was bad -- au contraire -- there were some incredibly well-written stories that fell nicely into the weird zone, even if they didn't scare. There were five of those that I liked. Then there were two that started out quite freaky and fizzled due to endings that were just kind of not worthy of the rest of the story. The leftovers, all 13 of them, either weren't to my taste or just didn't scare, period.
In a nutshell (or, you can click here to see a very long review delineating each and every story in the book and my reactions) here are the best of the bunch:
out of 28 stories,eight I'd consider creepy horror:
"A Natural History of Autumn," by Jeffrey Ford "The Callers," by Ramsey Campbell "The House on Ashley Avenue," by Ian Rogers "The Crying Child," by Bruce McAllister “Some Pictures in An Album” by Gary McMahon " Pig Thing” by Adam Nevill "The Word Made Flesh," by Richard Gavin " Into the Penny Arcade," by Claire Massey
then five that weren't terribly scary, but they were very well written. They were also incredibly weird (on the good side):
" Kill All Monsters” by Gary McMahon "Dead Song," by Jay Wilburn "The Pike," by Conrad Williams "Wild Acre," by Nathan Ballingrud "None So Blind," by Stephen Bacon
and finally, even though the endings fizzled (for me), kudos for weirdness to
Terry Dowling, for "Mariners' Round" and Laird Barron for "Frontier Death Song"
I will say that for the most part, I had a lot of fun with this collection, and that the very nature of anthologies is taking the good along with the not so hot. I read them to discover new authors, and in that sense, this book is a success. This installment # 5 of Datlow's Best Horror of the Year is one you have to judge for yourself in terms of what you consider horror or not. (less)
like a 3.75 rounded up. There's a longer version here; the shorter version goes something like this:
There are 20 stories in this collection, and while...morelike a 3.75 rounded up. There's a longer version here; the shorter version goes something like this:
There are 20 stories in this collection, and while some of them aren't as scary or creepy as I would have liked, most all have the potential to create great unease in your mind as you read.
The 20 stories are:
1. "The Gardener" -- a creepy opening for this book. 2. "Admission of Weakness," - an Anton Zarnak tale 3. "Hope," one of the non-Lovecraftian tales 4. "Misery and Pity," in which a character from one of the Teddy London novels resurfaces to get rid of vampires 5. "Incident on Highway 19", downright creepy, as the guy's strange obsession with roadkill unfolds. 6. "That's the One!" probably my least favorite story in the book -- a strange twist on Lewis Carroll"s Wonderland 7. "A Happy Mother Takes Away Pain," featuring another character from the Teddy London series, Lai Wan 8. "Body and Soul," a Lovecraft-inspired tale if ever there was one. Liked it, didn't love it -- a little so-so. 9. "The Horror," again, not one of my favorites. 10. "A Forty Share in Innsmouth," written in 1997 but extremely relevant in today's reality TV-crazy society; also plays on Lumley's "The Kiss of Bugg-Shash." 11. "Sacrifice," a bleak, disturbing tale that I can only describe as gruesome. Thankfully, this one is very short. 12. "Pop Goes the Weasel." A cool, off-kilter little tale, set in a club where anything goes. Very bizarre, yet very good. 13."The Questioning of the Azathothian Priest" I read this a long time ago in Hardboiled Cthulhu; another featuring Anton Zarnak. 14. "Pragmatic" is the story that prompted me to buy the first Piers Knight book. While I found the story a little ?? iffy, I liked the character of Piers Knight. 15. "The Laughing Man": in 878 AD, Vikings meet Valkyries in a rather ghostly tale. Meh. 16. "The Soul's Right Hand" another Teddy London story -- I loved the ending! 17. "So Free We Seem" features Inspector Legrasse (perhaps you recognize the name from HP Lovecraft's "Call of Cthulhu" -- in a cosmic-terror mystery of sorts. 18. "The Longest Pleasure" is a rather short but nasty tale of revenge out in the middle of the desert -- really, what some people won't do to get back at someone! 19. "Juggernaut," another Teddy London story where he faces the Hounds of Tindalos. Not one of the best in the book. 20. "Degrees of Fear." There are changes at the Derringol Asylum for the Hopeless, "civilization's dumping ground for the absolute dregs of the world's nightmares." The director, who'd been at the same job for decades, is stepping down, and a younger ambitious new guy is taking his place. However, before the incumbent leaves, he has something he really needs to show the new guy. Creepy.
While not every story was to my exact taste, which is pretty much the case in any anthology, there are a number of good ones in this 20-story collection by weird-fiction writer C.J. Henderson. I'm a huge fan of this writer and have been for years. While a number of these tales are Lovecraft inspired, there are others that are more original in nature. Overall, Degrees of Fear a very good collection of stories. For me, out of 20 there were about three that I didn't really care for, a couple that were just in the so-so range, leaving several good ones, all dealing with the idea that "Our world touches upon other worlds, other realities." I can recommend this anthology; it may be helpful if you've had some reading experience with Henderson's Teddy London or with HP Lovecraft's stories of cosmic horror before starting this one.
If you're satisfied with a short discussion, read on; the longer one with more plot elements you can find here.
As the story gets rolling, Victoria McQueen, aka "Vic" or "the brat" is a young girl from a less-than-perfect family, but she has a secret: when something is lost, she can ride her Raleigh Tuff Burner bike across the nearby Shortway Bridge and find it. That doesn't seem like much of a big deal, but once inside the bridge, she is delivered to the place where she will find what she seeks -- wherever it is. The journeys take their toll on her, both mentally and physically so she only goes through the bridge and back a limited number of times. As a teen, one ride in particular changes her life forever -- after some major trouble with mom at home, she takes her bike through the bridge, only to run smack into Charlie Manx, a truly evil man who is responsible for a large number of children disappearing. Luckily Vic didn't end up as another missing person, but the encounter leaves psychological trauma and scars she can never escape -- and comes back to haunt some years later.
Now, this description may not sound much like a horror novel, but that's a barebones outline of the main plot. Where it gets fun is in how Joe Hill constructs a horror story around it. The very first scene scared the bejesus out of me -- and I was thinking that if this is how the first chapter's going to go, I'm belting myself in for one wild and scary ride.
NOS4A2 might not be the best work of horror I've ever read, but it's certainly one I couldn't stop reading until I'd finished. Considering its length of nearly 700 pages, it's the perfect summer read. If you're a fan of Stephen King, you'll also notice that NOS4A2 is chock full of elements from King's novels. I'm not a huge fan of mainstream horror, but I predict that this book is going to be a runaway best seller.
I actually found this book less horror-creepy than psychologically disturbing. Children are abducted from their homes and separated from parents, then they meet their own horrible fates, but luckily the author doesn't give blow-by-blow accounts. However, what he writes is terrifying enough. While the dustjacket gives ample warning, some of what happens to these parents is just downright chilling and not fun to think about afterwards. There's also enough fast-paced action in this book to keep thrill-ride readers happy. But speaking of pacing, I found this book to be a bit uneven at times -- especially toward the end where the action happens so quickly in contrast to the rest of the story.
A good summer read, but I had mixed feelings: I found it to be awesome but incredibly disturbing both while I was reading and afterward. That doesn't mean I didn't like it ... au contraire ... as sick as it was sometimes, I couldn't put this book down. It was also fun finding references to various Stephen King novels throughout the novel and I was even more overjoyed to find a brief extension of the story in the notes on the type (don't miss it). Recommended.