The Year in Horror, 2015: 13 Frighteningly Good ReadsBook and Comic Reviews,Books/Art/Culture,Fearful Features,News Shawn Macomber
For those not as passionate about dark culture as those of us who gather at this particular on-line oasis, horror-obsessed family and friends can be difficult to shop for—hence the many gift certificates in FANGORIA fiends’ stockings a few weeks back. We’ve already given readers plenty of film purchase options—check out our exquisitely curated lists from Michael Gingold and Ken Hanley—and for dark literature aficionados, 2015 (give or take a month) had plenty to offer too:
1-2. THROUGH A MIRROR, DARKLY and A NIGHT AT OLD WEBB by Kevin Lucia: Lucia’s beguiling 2013 Bradbury-meets-Barker collection THINGS SLIP THROUGH introduced readers to the supernatural hot spot of Clifton Heights, a small Adirondack town possessed by more than its fair share of things that go bump in the night (and all other times of the day, too…). In 2015, Lucia extended two equally enchanting invitations to his narrative stamping grounds, first taking us on a surreal romp through the looming stack of the rare and used bookshop Arcane Delights in THROUGH A MIRROR, DARKLY before luring us out, Ghost of Christmas Past-style, to an abandoned grammar school for the coming-of-age novella A NIGHT AT OLD WEBB, wherein we dive deeper into the bookseller’s backstory to truly affecting effect.
3. WHERE WE LIVE AND DIE by Brian Keene: Virtually any of Keene’s magisterial blue-collar horror novels—from 2003’s landmark zombie-resurrecting opus THE RISING to the 2015 swords, sorcery, ’n’ badass demons adventure KING OF THE BASTARDS—can be recommended without reservation, but last year, the modern-day dark-fiction icon released this particularly powerful collection of pieces “deconstruct[ing] the mystique of the writing life.” Keene’s “metafictional” ghost story “The Girl on the Glider”—probably the most thought-provoking skeptical inquiry into the supernatural since WILL STORR VS. THE SUPERNATURAL nearly a decade ago—is the centerpiece, though the ensuing stories, poems, harangues and incitements do not disappoint. As for the portrait WHERE WE LIVE AND DIE paints of the contemporary writing life, it ain’t pretty. Dorothy Parker famously said that the greatest favor one could do an aspiring writer was to “shoot them now, while they’re happy.” Keene walks us through the viscera-strewn crime scene and dares us to join the party.
4. CHOOSING DEATH: THE IMPROBABLE HISTORY OF DEATH METAL & GRINDCORE by Albert Mudrian: CHOOSING DEATH brilliantly chronicles, in deliciously gruesome detail, the underdog rise and astonishing triumph of that most brutal, horror-obsessed of all musical subgenres. Originally released in 2004, the book saw a newly revised and expanded edition in ’15 that includes over 100 pages of fascinating new interviews, incisive explication and definitive literary disembowelments across chapters boasting titles like “Punk Is a Rotting Corpse,” “Mass Appeal Madness” and “Exhume to Consume.” CHOOSING DEATH does for extreme music what PLEASE KILL ME did for punk and OUR BAND COULD BE YOUR LIFE did for indie rock. Pair it with tickets to the Choosing Death Fest in Philadelphia in April, featuring Dying Fetus, Deceased, Horrendous, Taphos Nomos and others.
5. THE I IN EVIL: ACCEPTING AND EMBRACING THE MONSTER YOU ARE by Ken W. Hanley:
This self-help tome for monsters, penned by our fearless and irreverent managing editor, appropriately hit shelves a few days before Halloween. But as Fango readers well know, evil never rests, and this hilarious and inventive tome is a viscera-festooned evergreen read.
6. THE ART OF HORRIBLE PEOPLE by John Skipp: “We have to raise hell, man. It’s our sacred duty. It’s a moral imperative.” Those words may have come from the mouth of the let’s-give-the-PRMC-something-to-really-fear antihero of Skipp and Craig Spector’s 1988 rock ’n’ roll nightmare THE SCREAM, but it could just as easily sum up the beautiful, manic, life-affirming, boundary-mocking, truth-telling, gleefully anarchic career of Skipp—splatterpunk founding father, visionary filmmaker, Fango’s Nightmare Royale columnist, philosopher and elder statesman. Anyone seeking to understand why all the preceding accolades are so richly deserved need only flip open this decade-in-the-making tour de force collection and pick any line at random. (Spoiler alert: Every damn one of ’em is pure, nutty brilliance.)
7. ALL THE DARKNESS IN THE WORLD by Andy Deane: Speaking of Skipp, Deane’s gritty, pulpy vampire novel (first published in 2011 and reissued in ’15) brings the mythos back down to street level, offering up a kind of cross-pollination of Skipp’s landmark THE LIGHT AT THE END, THE LOST BOYS and SIXTEEN CANDLES. The prose is a bit rough-hewn and elliptical at times, but this mostly serves to authenticate the heart-on-the-sleeve, imbalanced, bombastic teenage first-person narrator who is struggling to hang onto a girlfriend from the right side of the tracks while bullies and vampires seemingly conspire to keep him from making it to second base.
8-9. FLOWERS IN A DUMPSTER and FORT by Mark Allan Gunnells: Future horror-lit superstar Mark Allan Gunnells has been blurbed by both Clive Barker and Ramsey Campbell—two legends whose own seminal works are not bad touchstones for FLOWERS, Gunnells’ fantastically diverse, twisty, turny Rod-Serling-meets-BOOKS-OF-BLOOD collection of short, stylish shockers. That alone would serve to mark 2015 as a banner year for Gunnells; add to the festivities his raucous novella FORT—in which zombies lay siege to a college dormitory—and it feels more like the cresting of an undeniable wave.
10. DEATH’S REALM, edited by Anthony Rivera and Sharon Lawson: Soul-sucking ghost bugs. Undead soldiers waging future wars. Egyptology-driven mob assassins. Quantum-physics-exploiting mad scientists. Young boys whose grief turns traditional fairy tales into world-altering incantations. Jilted exes exacting beyond-the-grave vengeance. Pirates. Overbearing mothers transformed into nagging poltergeists. Supernatural body-horror sufferers. Sorcerers. Rich narcissists who really won’t take it all with them. Sex-obsessed, amoral broadcast journalists. Skeptics made believers. Believers proven more right than they may have preferred… Published in late 2014, DEATH’S REALM (tagline: “Where the Here and Hereafter Collide”) goes really, really far down the rabbit hole of what celestial and metaphysical possibilities might await us post-mortal coil shuffling, setting up a dynamic that is as thought-provoking as it is chilling.
11. NAMELESS: THE DARKNESS COMES (THE BONE ANGEL TRILOGY, BOOK 1) by Mercedes Yardley: “Imagine Neil Gaiman and Wes Anderson penning a dual, simultaneous reimagining of SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and PRETTY IN PINK and employing the late, great television show PUSHING DAISIES as a conceptual framework and you’ll be in the neighborhood…” That’s how I described Yardley’s wonderful and harrowing PRETTY LITTLE DEAD GIRLS in a 2014 Fango review, and the iconoclastic author’s brand of gorgeously rendered dark whimsy only grows stronger with NAMELESS, the tale of Luna “The Lunatic” Masterton, a paranormally gifted bad-ass who assembles a motley crew of outcasts to go out and mix it up with some nasty demons. It’s pinches of WEST SIDE STORY and THE OUTSIDERS thrown in a blender with INSIDIOUS and GHOSTBUSTERS—yet another beam refracted through Yardley’s unique prism of loveliness and terror.
12. AN EXORCISM OF ANGELS by Stephanie M. Wytovich: Fango gave Wytovich’s poetry collection HYSTERIA a rave review back in 2013. Last year, she took her can’t-look-away intertwining of sensual, ethereal beauty and dread abomination to another level with AN EXORCISM OF ANGELS. Pick it up for a short, intoxicating primer on how Wytovich suddenly became everyone’s new favorite dark poetess.
13. ZERO LIVES REMAINING by Adam Cesare: TRIBESMEN/VIDEO NIGHT author Cesare is a true master of fast-paced, fun, balls-out, over-the-top fear fiction, and those narrative talents are on full display in the video-arcade-set gore-o-rama ghost novel, which is actually cool and gnarly enough to live up to its lush ’80s-VHS-style cover art and gorgeous interior illustrations. This limited release will no doubt become a collector’s item when Cesare finally breaks through and receives the attention his work deserves.