Friday, 29 January 2016

Recommendation: Year's Best Weird Fiction Volume Two

Undertow Publication’s Year’s Best Weird Fiction series reaches its second volume, this time guest-edited by Kathe Koja alongside Michael Kelly. In comparison to the first volume (which I reviewed here), there are less stories this time that draw from the horror tradition of Lovecraft, Aickman, Ligotti & the like, and more dark fantasy. Whereas my memory of the first book is, perhaps erroneously, of stories of people isolated and alone, the stories here seem more concerned with the relationships between characters as a source of weirdness, whether those relationships be familial, romantic, civic, or more ambiguous. There seems to be more focus, too, on linguistic experiment and playfulness–exemplified by the two stories included by Carmen Maria Machado, once of which has the fantastic title Observations About Eggs From the Man Sitting Next to Me on a Flight from Chicago, Illinois to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. And it does exactly what it says on the tin.

There are twenty stories here, and as always each reader will likely have their favourites. Here are mine, with a few brief words why.

Wendigo Nights by Siobhan Carroll – the wendigo has, of course, been part of horror fiction dating back to at least Algernon Blackwood’s tale, but this story finds a new angle on it, featuring not an external creature (probably) but the internalised idea of ‘wendigo psychosis’. Centred around an stranded team of scientists at an Arctic research camp, it also owes something to The Thing's creeping paranoia. No bad thing.

Headache by Julio Cortázar­–not, of course, a new story, but one newly translated. And what a joy it is to read a ‘new’ Cortázar­ story; whilst maybe not quite up there with something like House Taken OverHeadache still has that characteristic aura of matter-of-fact strangeness. It tells of a group of people looking after creatures known as ‘mancuspias’, the exact nature of which is deliberately hard to visualise for the reader. The creatures’ keepers do not seem to know exactly what they are doing (or why) and as conditions deteriorate they increasing suffer from ailments like vertigo and migraines…

Nanny Anne and the Christmas Story by Karen Joy Fowler–a nanny tells the children in her charge a story, which may or may not have some relevance to their life. A story with an ambiguous, skilful blurring of what is real and what isn’t, and which plays on all sorts of childhood fears.

The Air We Breathe Is Stormy, Stormy by Rich Larson–a story similar in tone to some of the more horror themed material from Volume 1, the central character here is a man fleeing society and his responsibilities to work on an oil rig. There’s a mounting sense of tension as he thinks he sees someone or something in the dark and stormy waters, before an unforeseen emotional pressure change at the climax.

The Husband Stitch by Carmen Maria Machado–the other story by Machado might have the better title, but it doesn’t have the narrative and emotional punch of this one. A story of a woman’s sexual awakening and marriage, the weird element here only subtly intrudes, and the full, horrifying significance of it is only revealed towards the end.

Resurrection Points by Usman T. Malik­­–a story which uses the weird to explore political and religious conflict, Resurrection Points is centred on a young boy in Karachi with a miraculous power both to heal and make dead bodies move. As his sense of power grows so does the conflict and violence around him; the two strands of the allegory intertwine and together create a dramatic and disturbing climax.

Exit Through the Gift Shop by Nick Mamatas–a second-person post-modern riff of on the horror campfire tales of ghostly hitchhikers, this generates laughs as much as unease. At least for awhile... Clever, playful, and with some of the most horrific imagery in the anthology: a combination that shouldn’t work but in Mamatas’s hands really does.

Migration by Karin Tidbeck­–the weird is a self-contained world (or series of worlds) in Tidbeck's fascinating story where the inhabitants of a settlement that exists only as a vast staircase are forced to move to every weirder dwelling places.

As my selection above hints at, one of the highlights of Year’s Best Weird Fiction 2 is the range of authors it includes in its comprehensive and generous definition of ‘the weird’. There are new names and old faces; horror, science-fiction and fantasy; works in translation, an almost equal representation of women as men, and writers from a wider variety of countries than in most of anthologies. There’s even stories by writers a few years dead alongside those living, which is another kind of diversity I guess…

Both volumes of Best Weird Fiction come highly recommended by this reader, then, and it will be interesting to see where Undertow take the series with the third volume.

Year’s Best Weird Fiction 2 (UK | US)

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Bits & Bobs

A few bits and bobs of recent stuff:

American podcast Booked gave The Hyde Hotel a very positive review, as well as talking about hotel horror in general. You can listen to it here.

Forgot to mention this at the time, but over on Gingernuts Of Horror, the writer Kit Power picked The Shelter as one of his favourite reads of 2015, which I'm truly grateful for. "... a breathtaking piece of writing..." - cheers Kit.

Nina Allan was one of the participants on the panel I moderated at Fantasycon last year; she's expanded on her comments about diversity in the horror genre (which we only touched upon lightly on the day, unfortunately) in this essay on Strange Horizons. It's very stimulating well worth a read, not only for Allan's thoughts on the topic but also her recommendations of books and authors, some of whom are new to me.

Lastly, Des Lewis is conducting one of famed real-time reviews on my collection Falling Over as we speak, and I'm delighted at the things he's had to say about the stories he's read so far. If you've never read any of these utterly unique and idiosyncratic reviews, you might want to spend some time checking out the whole site.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Recommendation: Blood RED by Paul Kane

Nowadays, readers are wise to lycanthropes, so if you’re going to write a new werewolf story, you’d better have an interesting twist up your sleeve. Fortunately for readers of Blood RED, Paul Kane has two.

Both are revealed pretty early on, so can safely be talked about without fear of spoilers. Blood RED actually comprises of two interlinked stories, the novella Red and the short title novel. The gory opening scene of Red, where someone comes to a very unpleasant fate in a restaurant toilet, lets the reader know the first twist Kane has on standard lycanthropy: his shape-shifters can look like anyone when they change back to human form. It’s a change that makes intrinsic sense–if a creature can change its body-form so completely, why would it always need to look like the same person?–and adds a atmosphere of paranoia to the story. Red’s central character is a young woman called Rachel, a carer whose work takes her into some of her home city’s grimmest and dangerous housing estates. It’s an urban setting that completely suits the new contemporary, paranoid style of Kane’s narrative, as Rachel is hunted by a creature that could look like anyone.

The second twist Kane brings to his werewolf tales is that it soon becomes clear that despite its modern setting of concrete sink estates and cheap nightclubs, Red is actually a clever retelling of that much older tale, Red Riding Hood. This isn’t just a clever meta-textual trick (although the way Kane works echoes of the fairy tale into his story is clever) but is actually part of the fictional world as well, forming a key part of the creature’s motivation.

Blood RED follows directly on from the events in Red, hence is harder to talk about without spoilers. Whilst the folk tale echoes are less overt than in Red, the concluding novel still provides plenty of interesting twists on the werewolf formula. There’s a touch of Dracula about the narrative as well, as a band of characters gather together to hunt out the creature which has wreaked so much havoc in Rachel’s life.

The style of these two stories is very much old-school eighties horror, with plenty of gore and a smattering of sexiness. Kane sure knows how to write an action scene, and as the narrative progresses and the stakes are raised the set-pieces only get bigger and more dramatically constructed. Few horror stories described as ‘page-turners’ actually deserve the term, but Blood RED is an exception.

Blood RED (UK US)

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Hyde Happenings

As readers of this blog will know, The Hyde Hotel (edited by myself and Dan Howarth) was released by Black Shuck Books last week. It seems to be doing well so far, hitting several Amazon top tens and also getting it's first review over on Anthony Watson's Dark Musings site:

"... this is an impressive collection of stories and one that provided an excellent start to 2016... a hugely satisfying anthology." (full review here)

Dan and I also recorded an interview talking all things Hyde with Michael Wilson over at This Is Horror, which you can listen to here. We're grilled on the genesis of the idea, the practicalities of seeing it to fruition, and I also get asked which author most intimidates me...

The Hyde Hotel is available now from Black Shuck Books.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

A Quick Announcement On The Quarantined City

Some of you might have spotted that all has gone quiet re. The Quarantined City. The original plan was for Spectral Press to publish ebooks of parts 1-6 monthly during 2015, with a combined paperback volume following this year. However, after publishing the fourth part in July 2015 Spectral did not release parts 5 or 6 and my efforts to find out what the cause of the delay was were frustrated. A number of readers contacted me to find out what was happening, and annoyingly I was unable to tell them anything. Nor did I receive any payments for the episodes that were published.

Unfortunately, it turns out Spectral Press has run into some very serve financial trouble. The full extent of this become apparent this weekend; a rescue plan was put together by another press to published Spectral Press books under a new imprint. For various reasons I've decided not to sign with that press, meaning all rights to The Quarantined City have reverted back to me. I am speaking to publishers about getting the full story published as one volume and I hope to have some news on this soon. For the readers who have bought the original episodes and are impatient to know how things turn out for Fellows, Boursier and the quarantined city itself I can only apologise. 

Spectral Press has published some fantastic books over the years, and I hope that the owner recovers from this setback and the health issues that have lead to it. I must also say that a number of authors and customers of Spectral have over this weekend been subject to conduct that was unprofessional to say the least–they all have my full support.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

The Hyde Hotel is OPEN...

The Hyde Hotel officially opens its doors today. Published by Black Shuck Books, it's the first anthology I've ever edited (alongside Dan Howarth). I first had the idea for a book of stories all set in the same hotel a number of years ago, and it's taken awhile to bring to fruition... So big thanks must go to Theresa Derwin, Steve Shaw, and most importantly to all the authors involved who put up with a few delays and all contributed such fine stories. It's genuinely one of the books I'm most proud of being part of.

The Hyde Hotel is available in both ebook and paperback formats - all links at the Black Shuck Books website.

The Hyde Hotel Welcomes You…

The Hyde Hotel looks almost exactly as you’d expect it to: a faceless, budget hotel in a grey city you are just passing through. A hotel aimed at people travelling alone, a hotel where you know so little about your fellow guests that they could be anyone… and where, perhaps, so could you. But sometimes things are hiding in plain sight, and not everyone who stays at The Hyde gets a good night’s sleep…
Enjoy your stay.

Table of Contents

  • CHECKING IN  by James Everington
  • THE VIEW FROM THE BASEMENT  by Alison Littlewood
  • NIGHT PORTERS  by Iain Rowan
  • TICK BOX  by Dan Howarth
  • THE EDIFICE OF DUST  by Amelia Mangan
  • LOST AND FOUND  by S P Miskowski
  • HOUSEKEEPING  by Ray Cluley
  • WRATH OF THE DEEP  by Simon Bestwick
  • THE SEALED WINDOW  by Mark West
  • THE BLUE ROOM  by V H Leslie
  • CHECKING OUT  by James Everington

Monday, 28 December 2015

Favourite Short Stories: 2015

My favourite post of the year.

After my short story lists for 2013 and (especially) 2014 proved so popular–and a big thanks to those who let me know they appreciated the posts or who read some of the stories I listed–I felt inspired to read more short stories in 2015 than ever before. No great hardship for someone like me. Which means that this year's list is even longer–but rest assured, I've still been pretty selective about which stories I've included.

All stories are relatively recent, but not all were published this year. I've tried not to include too many stories from any single author or book, and in all cases I've listed where I first read the story, not necessarily where it was first published. The list is, obviously, hopelessly biased towards my own personal reading tastes.

I hope at least a few of you out there will find some inspiration in the below...

Dan Abnett: Party Tricks (Magic, Solaris)
Robert Aickman: The Coffin House (The Strangers & Other Writings, Tartarus Press)
Robert Aickman: The Strangers (The Strangers & Other Writings, Tartarus Press)
Nina Allan: A Change Of Scene (Aickman's Heirs, Undertow)
Nina Allan: Dazzle (author's website)
Anonymous: The Birds Know (Maps Of The Lost)
Anonymous: Under The Skin (Maps Of The Lost)
Nathan Ballingrud: Skullpocket (IO9)
Nathan Ballingrud: The Visible Filth (This Is Horror chapbook)
Gon Ben Ari: Don't Blink (Jews vs. Aliens, Jurassic London)
Stephen Bacon: It Came From The Ground (Darkest Minds, Dark Minds Press)
Richard Farren Barber: Exchanging Gifts (Wordland 5: True Love, Exaggerated Press)
Laird Barron: The Carrion Gods In Their Heaven (The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All, Night Shade Books)
Laird Barron: The Men From Porlock (The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All, Night Shade Books)
Simon Bestwick: Horn Of The Hunter (The Second Spectral Book Of Horror Stories, Spectral Press)
Simon Bestwick: The Psalm (author's website)
Brian Bilston: At The Intersection (author's website)
Gary A. Braunbeck: Crybaby Bridge #25 (Halfway Down The Stairs, Journalstone)
Nadia Bulkin: Pugelbone (author's website)
Steve Byrne: Safe Haven (PunkLit UK)
Pat Cadigan: Chilling (author's website)
Ramsey Campbell: Again (Journeys Into Darkness: Midnight Street Anthology,  Midnight Street Press)
Ramsey Campbell: The Callers (Four For Fear, PS Publishing)
Jennifer Claus: The Room Is Fire (New Genre #7)
Ray Cluley: I Have Heard The Mermaids Sing (Probably Monsters, Chizine)
Ray Cluley: Night Fishing (Probably Monsters, Chizine)
Ray Cluley: Turtledove (Within The Wind, Beneath The Snow, Spectral Press)
M.R. Cosby: Strike Three (Dark Lane Anthology #1, Dark Lane Books)
Anthony Cowin: Thirty Minutes Or It's Free (Sunny With A Chance Of Zombies, Great British Horror Books)
Kristi DeMeester: The Marking (Three Lobbed Burning Eye #27)
Malcolm Devlin: Two Brothers (Aickman's Heirs, Undertow)
Steve J. Dines: So Many Heartbeats, So Many Words (Black Static #46)
Frank Duffy: Photographs Showing Terrible Things (Hungry Celluloid, Dark Minds Press)
Brian Evenson: The Din Of Celestial Birds (Weird Fiction Review)
Brian Evenson: Seaside Town (Aickman's Heirs, Undertow)
Kurt Fawver: Marrowvale (The Second Spectral Book Of Horror Stories, Spectral Press)
Gemma Files: Slick Black Bones And Soft Black Stars (The Mammoth Book Of Best New Horror 24, Robinson)
Gary Fry: The Catalyst (Darkest Minds, Dark Minds Press)
Gary Fry: The Subprime (The Outsiders, Crystal Lake)
Neil Gaiman: The Thing About Cassandra (Trigger Warnings, Headline)
Cate Gardner: The Drop Of Light And The Rise Of Dark (Black Static #45)
Jessica George: Surfaced (Inkitt)
Zoe F. Gilbert: The Manhattan Room (British Fantasy Society Journal #13)
Adam Golaski: Wild Dogs (Supernatural Tales #30)
Taylor Grant: The Silent Ones (Dark At The End Of The Tunnel, Crystal Lake)
Lisa L. Hannett: Smoke Billows, Soot Falls (Spectral Press chapbook)
Rachel Halsall: Hunting (Wild Things, Black Shuck Books)
Glen Hirschberg: Miss Ill-Kept Runt (The Monstrous, Tachyon)
Robert Hood: Grandma And The Girls (Peripheral Visions, IFWG Publishing)
Robert Hood: The Shark God Covenant (Peripheral Visions, IFWG Publishing)
Andrew Hook: The Opaque District (Horror Uncut, Gray Friar Press)
Lauren James: Transcribed Nightmare, More Or Less (author's website)
Paul Jessup: The Drinking Moon (Glass Coffin Girls, PS Publishing)
Paul Jessup: Secret In The House Of Smile (Glass Coffin Girls, PS Publishing)
Mark Howard Jones: The House That Loved Lovecraft (Wordland 5: True Love, Exaggerated Press)
Carole Johnstone: 21 Brooklands: Next To The Old Western, Opposite The Burnt Out Red Lion (For The Night Is Dark, Crystal Lake)
Carole Johnstone: Catching Flies (The Monstrous, Tachyon)
Tom Johnstone: What I Found In The Shed (Supernatural Tales #31)
Caitlin R. Kiernan: The Beginning Of The Year Without Summer (The Monstrous, Tachyon)
Gary Kilworth: The Fabulous Beast (The Ragthorn, Infinity Plus)
Zoltán Komor: Spell Of The Game (Bizarro Central)
Joel Lane: A Cry For Help (Horror Uncut, Gray Friar Press)
John Langan: Underground Economy (Aickman's Heirs, Undertow)
Joe R. Lansdale: The Hunt: Before, And The Aftermath (The Mammoth Book Of Best New Horror 24, Robinson)
V.H. Leslie: Precious Things (The Outsiders, Crystal Lake)
V.H. Leslie: Preservation (Skein & Bone, Undertow)
V.H. Leslie: Skein & Bone (Skein & Bone, Undertow)
E. Michael Lewis: Fiveplay (Supernatural Tales #28)
Ken Liu: Paper Menagerie (IO9)
Alison Littlewood: The Ghost At The Feast (Horror Uncut, Gray Friar Press)
Alison Littlewood: The Art Of Escapology (Magic, Solaris)
Livia Llewellyn: The Last Clean, Bright Summer (Primeval: A Journal Of The Uncanny #2)
James Machin: An Oubliette (Supernatural Tales #29)
Amelia Mangan: The Bridegroom (The Book Smugglers)
Helen Marshall: Lines Of Affection (Hair Side, Flesh Side, Chizine)
Helen Marshall: The Old And The New (Hair Side, Flesh Side, Chizine)
Laura Mauro: The Grey Men (Black Static #45)
Laura Mauro: Ptichka (Horror Uncut, Gray Friar Press)
Sophia McDougall: MailerDaemon (Magic, Solaris)
Gary McMahon: In The Darkest Room In The Darkest House On The Darkest Part Of The Street (For The Night Is Dark, Crystal Lake)
Stephen McQuiggan: Deletion (Supernatural Tales #31)
S.P. Miskowski: The Second Floor (Black Static #45)
Alison Moore: The Harvestman (Nightjar Press chapbook)
Ralph Robert Moore: The 18 (Darkest Minds, Dark Minds Press)
Ralph Robert Moore: Men Wearing Makeup (Black Static #46)
C.M. Muller: Dissolution (Supernatural Tales #29)
Scott Nicolay: The Bad Outer Space (Ana Kai Tangata, Fedogan & Bremer)
Scott Nicolay: The Soft Frogs (Ana Kai Tangata, Fedogan & Bremer)
Joyce Carol Oates: Gunlove (Celestial Timepiece)
G. Carl Purcell: The Middle Managers Of Pachnout (New Genre #7)
Rosanne Rabinowitz: The Matter Of Meroz (Jews vs. Aliens, Jurassic London)
Louis Rakovich: Go To The Dead Rabbi's House (Unsung Stories)
Steve Rasnic Tem: Waiting At The Crossroads Motel (The Mammoth Book Of Best New Horror 24, Robinson)
Sarah Read: Magnifying Glass (Black Static #46)
Nicholas Royle: The Larder (The Second Spectral Book Of Horror Stories, Spectral Press)
Lynda E. Rucker: An Element Of Blank (Supernatural Tales #30)
Lynda E. Rucker: Red At The End Of The World (Fantasycon 2015 souvenir book)
Lynda E. Rucker: Where The Summer Dwells (The Mammoth Book Of Best New Horror 24, Robinson)
Daniel I. Russell: God May Pity All Weak Hearts (For The Night Is Dark, Crystal Lake)
Mary SanGiovanni: Kins (A Darkling Plain)
Mary SanGiovanni: Letting Go (A Darkling Plain)
Neil Schiller: 100%/Serpents (Drunk Monkeys)
Priya Sharma: Fabulous Beasts (A Tor Short Story)
Priya Sharma: The Soul Of Stones (Pine Float Press)
Robert Shearman: Dumb Lucy (Magic, Solaris)
Phil Sloman: Discomfort Food (Chip Shop Of Horrors, Knightwatch Press)
Elizabeth Stott: The Capsule (author's website)
Simon Strantzas: Her Father's Daughter (Nightingale Songs, Dark Regions Press)
Simon Strantzas: Pale Light In The Jungle (Nightingale Songs, Dark Regions Press)
David Surface: The Sea In Darkness Calls, (Darkest Minds, Dark Minds Press)
Rachel Swirsky: If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love (Apex)
Nikki Tanner: Paradise (Sunny With A Chance Of Zombies, Great British Horror Books)
Simon Kurt Unsworth: Little Traveller (The Second Spectral Book Of Horror Stories, Spectral Press)
Stephen Volk: Celebrity Frankenstein (The Mammoth Book Of Best New Horror 24, Robinson)
William Wandless: Doorways (Supernatural Tales #28)
Michael Wehunt: The Devil Under The Maison Blue (The Dark)
Mark West: Mr Stix (For The Night Is Dark, Crystal Lake)
Neil Williamson: The Secret Language Of Stamps (Black Static #46)
A.C. Wise: Chasing Sunset (The Monstrous, Tachyon)
Marion Womack: Orange Dogs (Weird Fiction Review)
Alyssa Wong: Hungry Daughters Of Starving Mothers (Nightmare Magazine)