Review: “Far From Home,” ed. Samantha Kolesnik

Rating: 4 out of 5

Samantha Kolesnik edited this anthology of short, adventure- and travel-themed horror stories, Far From Home: an Anthology of Adventure Horror. Like many anthologies, I think that people will find the overall quality solidly good, but of course not every story will resonate with every reader.

Some stories really hit the spot for me. Hailey Piper’s “Crepuscular” was tormented and bleak, a story about a girl who’s having increasingly dangerous fits, and the two mothers who will do anything to save her. Lenn Woolston’s “Hungry,” about a high school couple who goes off into the woods to take photographs before leaving for different colleges, is enrapturing–it captures the hungry emotions of its characters perfectly.

Ali Seay’s “Descending” is a riveting and unusual look at a sociopath (psychopath?) who’s desperate to feel something, anything. Stephanie Ellis’s “Penance” is a beautiful story about two women who seem like they’ve taken a wrong turn, and their husbands who are having mid-life crises. Ross Jeffery’s “Towing the Chum Line” is a shudder-inducing story about a couple of newlyweds who want to see as many major varieties of sharks as they can. A.K. Dennis’s “Those Who Wander” introduces us to Derek, who apparently got lost in the woods after his girlfriend, Sarah, broke up with him. When he finds a smug, possibly threatening man by a fire, he has to weigh the desire to warm up and dry off with his distrust of the man.

“I tend to find things I like and kill them. Jeans, lipsticks, shoes. People.”

Villimey Mist’s “Hell of a Ride,” about a woman who’s still grieving for her dead foster child, is one of those stories that can be interesting and engaging despite being predictable (really, many horror stories work because they use classic horror tropes). A.A. Medina’s “An Open Casket Adrift,” in which Delilah finds herself adrift in a boat with her father’s corpse, is a great look into the mind of someone who’s going a touch mad.

I enjoyed Vaughn A. Jackson’s “The Thing at the Top of the Mountain.” Nix Rhodes, history student, wants to find some ruins to spice up her thesis with. Antonella, her guide, seems awfully nervous. Cynthia Pelayo’s “The Light Blinds,” about a couple who’ve been chasing stories of mysterious lights in the skies, was good but not really my thing. Michael Patrick Hicks wrote “A Song of the Earth,” a story of four people who go hiking and what they find. I couldn’t understand how a group of people would think it was a good idea to take someone who’s never hiked before on a hundred-mile(!) hike for funsies, but the ending was intriguing. Beverley Lee’s “Little Girl Lost” was very good (a woman going on a treasure hunt by horseback gets lost in the snow), but I was more intrigued by the abandoned original plotline than I was by the eventual conclusion.

Some of the stories just struck me as… kind of odd. Good, but I couldn’t connect with them in some way. The events in these stories felt a little random. Ed Kurtz’s “Lay Low” with its unlucky prospector, Charlie Lee Landry, was one of those. Mitch Sebourn’s “The Apostle” is about a lawyer who did some embezzling, and the weird mural in her new home that won’t go away. The story was good, but the ending didn’t really work for me. Audrey Williams’s “I Never Want to Go Back” felt oddly random, as though the story was a kind of free association exercise, which didn’t really work for me; the tone was also very matter-of-fact. It’s a tale of a woman who finds herself going through a mirror into a dark world beyond. Carmen Baca’s “Deavale’s Design” sees grad student Nate inheriting a cursed trunk. I couldn’t understand why his and his professor’s reaction to reading an outlandish account of two-foot-tall natives and a cursed trunk led to immediate unflinching belief and resignation.

Content note–this is not an anthology of “extreme” horror, but still has its moments. Expect a bit of body horror, blood and gore, deaths, murder, one detailed instance of animal harm/death (in Ross Jeffery’s story), and a touch of cannibalism.

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Review: “Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume 6,” Various Authors

Rating: 4 out of 5

Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume 6 includes a number of very good stories, including a few by authors I know and love (Christine Morgan, Hailey Piper). I also definitely found a few new authors to check out!

Ronald Kelly’s “The Nipples In Dad’s Tool Box” is unexpected and fascinating. There’s a serial killer called “The Handyman Killer,” and Cody is starting to worry that his father might be the killer. I was very drawn in by this one.

Christine Morgan’s “Going Green” doesn’t really seem to fit the tone of the rest of the book, but it’s also one of my favorite stories in here. Zeaa wants to finally best her frenemy Brangelina’s knack for getting ahead of all the ecological trends and making her look bad. She’s going to the company Eden to have a radical procedure done. She’s warned that once the process has started, it can’t be stopped. The story unfolds much like the flowering of a plant.

Rachel Nussbaum’s “Whiskey to the Wound” is another favorite from this book. When someone grabs Derek off the street and takes his kidney, he finds he cannot die. The story surrounding how this came about is minimal, because it isn’t really relevant to the tale. This is an interesting sort of not-quite–romance, half-friendship, semi-sexual tale set against a backdrop of blood and guts.

Hailey Piper’s “In Subspace, No One Can Hear You Scream” delves into the mind of a person who is allowing herself to be dominated in front of an audience. As they sink deeper into the experience than ever before, something unexpected happens. This is, in part, a delve into the thoughts of someone who is deeply unsatisfied with their body.

Sean Patrick Hazlett’s “The Pogonip Fog” is a fairly straightforward story of people being killed by monsters in the snow, but the ending adds to the experience in an unexpected way.

Alicia Hilton’s “Gunfire and Brimstone” rode a kind of line for me. At times it was too surreal, and at times it was absolutely fascinating. Baby Gordon is oddly aggressive with his mother, but all is not as it seems.

Matthew V. Brockmeyer’s “The Happiest Man in the World” is another favorite, particularly when you add the title of the story into the rest of it. A widower deputy participates in a raid against a doctor who’s selling prescriptions and performing back-alley abortions. He finds a very strange baby(?) and against his will is drawn to take it home with him. Things get a bit wild after that!

Patrick C. Harrison III’s “Full Moon Shindig” tells a brief and bloody tale. Travis returns from the military to go to a party with his old high school friends. He’s shocked at the state of the party–half-naked people, sex in full view of the crowd, drug use, and oh yeah, a young woman tied to a pool table. I really appreciated where this story took the reader. My only difficulty with it was trying to figure out a weird detail in the ending.

Christine Morgan has a second story in here with “The Drinking-Horn.” Ullvik the Bottomless has trouble finding enough alcoholic beverages to keep himself satisfied. This takes a rather fascinating and unexpected turn.

Octavia Cade’s “Otto Han Speaks to the Dead” tackles the guilt of developing weapons of war, combined with a ghost story. Instead of haunting her own husband, the ghost decides to haunt an acquaintance who might still be salvageable.

Deborah Sheldon’s “All the Stars In Her Eyes” introduces us to Janet and her daughter, Aurora, who has an odd condition that leaves sparkling stars in her eyes. When a dog shows up with the same condition, Janet thinks Aurora’s mysterious father is going to return. It’s hard to figure out how much to believe in Janet’s assertions, and to me there was a little too much ambiguity still, but it definitely gave me a chill.

Alessandro Manzetti’s “The Saint” just confused the hell out of me. There’s a mysterious serial killer who’s taking apart prostitutes. And… that’s sort of it. It’s a weird time, maybe a sort of dystopian future I think?, and the story just abruptly ends without anything really happening on-screen.

Robert Guffey’s “Her Wounded Eyes” is another story that confused me. One character seems to die in two different ways, and maybe one or both are not real? And how much of what Wanda thinks is happening is really happening? I wanted to like this one, but couldn’t pin it down enough.

Too-surreal events are one of the things that turn me off in horror, as are abrupt endings, and those are the problems I experienced in most of the stories I didn’t like as much. If those two stylistic choices aren’t ones that bother you, you’ll probably find the entire book even better than I did.

Content note: Torture, murder, gore, body horror, masochism, sexual content, memories of rape, cancer, dysphoria, dismemberment, animal death, suicide, the lead-up to rape, domestic violence.

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Review: “The Black Farm,” Elias Witherow

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Elias Witherow’s horror novel The Black Farm, about what happens after you commit suicide, is a wildly mixed bag. He says in his author’s note that he wants to bring “fresh concepts” to and “breathe new life into” the horror genre. While much of this book is in fact surprisingly original, there are veins of terribly stale stereotypes and tropes shot through it. Some very unfortunate ones, in fact.

Nick and Jess are at the end of their ropes. Jess had a miscarriage, Nick’s father died in an accident, Nick lost his job, he received an eviction notice, and Jess’s sister was diagnosed with terminal cancer. They decide there’s only one way to handle their problems: a joint suicide. When they take a whole lot of sleeping pills, Nick wakes up in a very strange place. The sun is a sickly ball of red dripping black fluid. Red tears rend the sky. A disfigured monster of a man is dragging him into a building, where he’s told that he’s on the Black Farm ruled by The Pig. When Heaven and Hell couldn’t decide what to do with those who committed suicide, they compromised by creating this place. The Pig was put in place over it, and it went a little crazy. Now the abominations created by The Pig (the Pig-Born) torture and kill people over and over, and they’re repeatedly reborn onto the Farm to suffer and die again. Nick is frantic with worry for Jess, and determined to find her any way he has to.

Content note: Suicide and suicidal ideation. Rape and torture. Dismemberment. “Breeding” monstrosities. Cannibalism. Vomit. Fatphobia, as well as racial stereotype, and the stereotype of the “perfect woman.”

I’ll get the bad parts over with. The vast majority of the bad guys are fat, and the stereotypical fat = evil trope is heavily drawn. The only Black character lived in “the projects” and killed himself with a drug overdose. Jess is the most insanely perfect woman ever: perfectly pure, perfectly loving, perfectly understanding, perfectly supportive at every turn. She barely talks, is a victim in need of rescuing, and meekly does everything Nick tells her to. She’s so thoroughly one-note on her pedestal it’s ridiculous; she’s a shining beacon of “no real woman could ever remotely live up to this.” The other woman who shows up, Megan, is largely there to suffer so that Nick can be pushed into his character development. There’s also a very big theme of “you had no idea how good you had it and you should have appreciated it while you could” with respect to people who are suicidal, and that’s incredibly unempathetic. There’s a character who, within five minutes of meeting Nick, casually spills all his greatest weaknesses to Nick. I facepalmed. The book could also use another editing pass.

There are some aspects of the worldbuilding that don’t make sense to me. The island on which the Black Farm is found isn’t huge, yet it seems almost sparsely populated. If no one can die without being reformed in another location on the island, and every suicide arrives here, and apparently women can have children here, then how on earth is there no overpopulation? How are there not human children running around? For that matter, why does everyone speak English? When people die on the Farm and are reformed, they clearly return in some sort of better health than when they died, so are there any effects that linger? Since food and drinking water are hard to come by, can someone starve/dehydrate to death? Is it possible to become ill? Is clothing reformed as well? I don’t need every question answered, but I need to feel like the author has a handle on how things work, and I don’t.

I don’t often read “extreme” horror; I made an exception for this one because I saw the book recommended a lot on a certain books of horror group. I will give the author this: he makes the nastier content absolutely integral to and necessary to the plot, which is what I want when I read extreme horror. It’s key to how Nick changes and what he accomplishes; it isn’t heaped on for sheer titillation.

The idea of the Black Farm is absolutely fascinating. It’s this little somewhat-out-of-control reality with an all-too-vain godlet running it. The Pig wants the power its betters have–it wants to create life, and a world. It isn’t mindlessly evil. It leaves me wanting to know more, and I like that. Nick’s journey from loving boyfriend desperate to find his girlfriend to insane badass doing every last thing he can think to do is what made this an otherwise good book for me.

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Review: “Malignant Summer,” Tim Meyer

Rating: 5 out of 5

In Tim Meyer’s horror novel Malignant Summer, it’s 1998. High school students Randall and Alphie are hiding clues for the annual Great Hunt, in which a bunch of students try to solve a clue hunt. After having a very creepy encounter in a graveyard, they seem to disappear. A little later, they’re seen by various kids looking… wrong. Like they have growths on their skin, little roots poking out. Like there’s some dark fluid seeping from their eyes. Their lungs make crackling noises and their eyes turn gold. When one team of students makes it to the graveyard during the hunt, they have a horrible encounter that leaves some of them traumatized and others sick. Meanwhile, a cancer is spreading through the town’s children, and people are sure it’s because of dumping from the local chemical plant. 14-year-old Doug and his friends Grady and Jesse become the unlikely heroes trying to save their town. Working together with them are Maddie and Abby, and local bully Jewel becomes involved from a different direction.

This plot is a fatal cross-contamination between a historical atrocity from the time of the colonists, an Old God from the Land of Dreams, and an eco-horror toxic dump site tale. It all intertwines in fascinating ways. At first the narrative felt a little awkward and confusing, but it picked up very quickly. Doug has a particular role to play, because his mother tried to kill him and his father years earlier to “save them” from what’s happening now. Now he’s hoping his institutionalized mother might have useful information. It becomes difficult as time goes on to recognize the distinction between reality, dreams, and hallucinations, but it never becomes too surreal.

One of the better details is the incredibly dark take on what is essentially Mother Earth. The Mother of Dead Dreams (the Old God has several names) was a creator god on Earth, until she was sent to the land of dreams. She’s angry. She’s infectious. And she wants to get rid of the humans who are wrecking the world she made. It’s a great take on the topic.

There’s a sequence where it seems like we’re going to get the stereotypical Native wise man saving the day, but I’ll just say it happily doesn’t take that well-trodden path.

This is a really fun horror novel with plenty to it. It’s a coming-of-age novel in which not all of the kids in the town will live. It’s creepy and enjoyable and well worth the read.

Content note: racism, bullying, body horror, animal harm/death, domestic violence and drug use, suicidal ideation, monstrous pregnancy.

“Don’t be afraid. Not yet.”

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Review: “Persepolis Rising,” James S.A. Corey

Rating: 5 out of 5

30 years later… No, really. James S.A. Corey’s military science fiction novel Persepolis Rising (The Expanse, 7) takes place roughly three decades after Babylon’s Ashes. Laconia, the colony formed by the rogue Martian contingent led by “High Consul” Winston Duarte, has decided it’s time to reinstate contact with the rest of humanity. They’re certain that they know how to make civilization peaceful and prosperous–even if it means they have to conquer everyone in order to achieve their goals. And they’ve been building warships based on alien technology that can do the job. They’re also doing human experiments using the protomolecule–something that almost certainly won’t end well. Drummer, who used to be Fred Johnson’s head of security, is now “Madame President” of the Belters’ Transport Union, and she finds herself in the unenviable position of having to decide whether or not to use her resources to fight against the Laconians. Earth has also recovered just enough that it’s starting to become active in matters again–one of the benefits of picking up 30 years later. As for our heroes on the Rocinante, Holden and Naomi want to retire, and they’ve decided to sell the ship to Bobbie. She becomes captain just in time to deal with this latest crisis.

There’s a theme of fascism and dictatorship running through this book. Before Laconian ships arrive, Holden is contracted to deliver consequences to a colony that’s refusing to obey the Transport Union, and he has to decide how to handle the fact that he’s basically delivering a death sentence. Once the Laconians arrive and take over Medina Station, we get to see that the best of intentions can still devolve into arrests, deaths, and so forth. We also experience the new Medina “governor’s” slide as he, a loving family man, starts to see the conquered as less than human. The Laconians legitimately seem to want to improve people’s lives (most of them, anyway), but this book gives a great look at how the way you go about such a thing has consequences. For everyone. We see what happens when there’s zero room given to negotiate those consequences.

The crew of the Rocinante has seen better days. Alex has married and divorced again. Amos seems to be going off the deep end–and we see what happens when he begins to lose control of his psychopathic tendencies. Clarissa is very sick, actually dying, because of the degradation of the glands she had implanted. Holden and Naomi are tired. Bobbie chafes at being under someone else’s command for so long and wants to run things herself. There’s also no way for the crew to free Medina without causing a lot of collateral damage–to themselves and others.

Don’t worry–we come back to that odd anomaly where some ships get “eaten” by the gates. There’s a massive weapon the Laconians are wielding that’s based on the same technology, and it’s causing its own side effects. We also see bits and pieces of what the Laconians are doing with the protomolecule, and if it took up more of the book I’d be adding “horror” to my mental list of keywords.

As a little tidbit, I also appreciate that this series shows plenty of relationships between members of the opposite sex that have nothing to do with sex or romance, ranging from professionalism to close friendships.

“I don’t want to bet my life on other people being smart,” Holden said.
“Voice of experience?”
“I’ve been hurt before.”

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Review: “Goblin,” Josh Malerman

Rating: 5 out of 5

Josh Malerman’s Goblin: A Novel in Six Novellas is an interconnected set of six stories–as well as a connected prologue and epilogue–all of which take place in and around the town of Goblin. I really enjoyed the variety of tales!

“Prologue: Welcome”: Tom is a delivery driver, and he’s been given an unusual late-night delivery to Goblin. It’s a big ol’ box, and it comes with remarkably specific directions: don’t open the package. Don’t stop driving. Ignore anything unusual you might hear. And if it can’t be delivered within the specified half-hour window, destroy it. Naturally, it becomes difficult for Tom to adhere to these requirements.

“A Man In Slices”: Richard has been Charles’s only friend since they met in school. Now that they’re adults, once again Charles needs Richard’s help. Only the kind of help he needs may be more than Richard wants to part with! We see Richard and Charles’s interactions in slices as Richard contemplates the relationship they’ve had, and it’s fascinating. The two characters are unusual, with a particularly bizarre friendship. This is a great story!

“Kamp”: Walter Kamp is the Goblin historian, and he seems to be having a difficult time lately. He’s so convinced that something’s going to haunt him that he’s wrecked his entire apartment making sure he can see to the walls in every direction. He’s set up traps. Even his bed is made of plexiglass so he can be sure nothing’s hiding beneath it! Lucky for him, his landlady seems to have a sense for how to distract him from his paranoia. This story as well has remarkably interesting characters. Walter is not your average paranoid loon, and his landlady is remarkably astute about human nature. This story also gives us a rundown of some of the legendry surrounding the town’s origins.

“Happy Birthday, Hunter!”: Neal Nash, called Hunter by his friends (because he’s an extremely avid hunter of game) is throwing the ultimate birthday bash, and it seems as though most of the town is in attendance. But all Hunter cares about is bagging the one forbidden game creature in Goblin: the Great Owls. I certainly didn’t see where this one was going, and it’s excellent! Hunter and his friends and wife are again a really interesting set of people. Malerman has a knack for relatable, unusual characters.

“Presto”: Young Pete is a huge fan of magic shows, and more than anything he wants to see the magician who’s something of a pariah among other magicians: Roman Emperor. When he finds out Roman is going to do a show in his town, Pete goes to great lengths to get there. But Pete’s going to find out that Roman’s magic isn’t quite what he’s expecting. Both Roman and his odd assistant Maggie are, once again, great characters. I can’t really talk much about them without giving too much away, but they interact in such unusual ways.

“A Mix-Up At the Zoo”: This is a particularly bizarre tale of a somewhat odd man, Dirk, who works two jobs: one giving tours at the zoo, and on the weekends he works at the slaughterhouse. The animals seem particularly calm when he’s around, and in particular he wishes that the gorilla, Eula, could be free. This story drags on a little, particularly with some bizarre dream sequences, and gripped me the least of the stories in here. But it’s still a good story, and the end is positively chilling.

“The Hedges”: Wayne Sherman is responsible for creating a stunning hedge maze that’s supposed to be next to impossible to solve–and hides a prize for anyone who might solve it. One day a little girl solves his puzzle, and before she leaves, she tells him she’s going to go to the police and tell them exactly what she found. Wayne starts packing up to leave, but memories of his dead wife Molly haunt him and slow him down. And when Margot, the little girl, goes to the police, she finds that the very bizarre police of Goblin are maybe not people she should have voluntarily chosen to deal with. Once again, it’s the characters that make this story so good.

“Epilogue: Make Yourself At Home”: Tom is trying to deliver his box, but the recipient won’t answer the door. He doesn’t want to have to deal with the box himself, so he finds the front door unlocked and goes on in. Before the end of the night, he’ll be very glad he doesn’t actually live in Goblin. The only thing that I couldn’t quite get is how it is that the contents of the box came to Goblin from somewhere else. They seem like they should have been there to begin with.

The characters are definitely the best part of this book–not a one of them is entirely what I expected. The town’s history is fascinating and relates to a handful of the stories. There’s a ton of atmosphere, and plenty of mysterious goings-on. I absolutely recommend this collection to horror fans!

Content note: animal harm/death; animals eating animals. Mild horror-story blood and gore. Some mild sexual content. A little bit of body horror.

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2020 Ladies of Horror Fiction Awards!

There are some seriously good works in 2020’s Ladies of Horror Fiction award winners! There are some great reads on this list, such as S.H. Cooper, Carmen Maria Machado, and Hailey Piper. I’ll have to read more of the entries myself!

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Short Take: “The Sea Below,” William Meikle

Rating: 4 out of 5

William Meikle’s horror adventure The Sea Below is the sequel to his The Land Below. In that book, two men wanted to search for a treasure supposed to be underground. They hired a “bodyguard,” who was retired military man Danny, and local shepherd Stefan (along with his German Shepherd Elsa) decided to come with them to help out. That expedition didn’t end well–one of the two men died, and they couldn’t bring the treasure home. Now the remaining man, Ed, has decided to go back to the same underground area they were in before. He brought better supplies and equipment, as well as a couple of helpers. When he didn’t come back after a couple of days, Stefan sent word to Danny that he needed his help to find them. Thanks to the equipment Ed brought, they’re able to quickly make their way through the underground tunnels–only to find themselves stranded by flooding. But at least they found Ed! Since they can’t find a way back out, they all set off across an underground sea to look for another exit. Unfortunately for them, the huge cavern they’re in has quite a few dangerous inhabitants! There are underwater monsters, vicious baboon-like creatures, and giant bats, just to start with–and there are signs that the cavern once was home to intelligent life.

I’m having a little bit of difficulty with some of the types of lifeforms that are present in that cavern. While there’s apparently vegetation to act as food for relevant parts of the ecosystem, I’m not quite sure how it all works out without sunlight and photosynthesis. I’m not sure why this is bothering me when I don’t seem to have a problem with six-limbed pale baboons, but well, the mind does what the mind does.

Some of the dangers surprised me, which was fun. But unfortunately the book ends in the middle of the story. Luckily the book does say that the adventure will be continued in the next book. I will certainly look forward to seeing how that next installment continues the tale!

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Review: “Operation Grendel,” Daniel Schwabauer

Rating: 4 out of 5

Daniel Schwabauer’s military science fiction novel Operation Grendel is really intriguing, and it has a fascinating ending, but I can’t make the timeline of events that are critical to the ending make sense. If I could, this would easily be a 5/5 instead of a 4/5.

Military journalist Corporal Raymin Dahl is sent to accompany Captain Ansell Sterling on a diplomatic mission. The grendel wars started 28 years ago, and now the military is trying to negotiate a cease-fire. They’re even willing to give up their “edge” worlds in return for that peace. Grendels all wear a “symbo-collar” containing an “AI wyrm.” It’s an AI that’s integrated with the person’s mind. No one who’s had a symbo-collar put on them has ever defected from the grendels–and no one knows why. When Captain Sterling gets critically injured in an attack, he makes Dahl put on his comms, which contain a non-integrated AI–an AI that can’t get at parts of a person’s mind that they don’t choose to share. He insists that Dahl pretend to be him and take over the peace talks. Unfortunately, the local militia doesn’t think very highly of the idea of turning their world over to the grendels, so they come after Dahl and the marines who arrive to escort him to the talks.

I like the characterizations a lot. Dahl has led a complicated life, and we get to see bits and pieces of that along the way. His relationship with his famous military officer father didn’t go so well, and his relationship with Ivy didn’t end well. He seems to live a relatively solitary life. He’s written a bunch of puff pieces that seem to be slanted in the favor of the edge world militias, which doesn’t make everyone happy with him. His journey to taking on this monumental mission–one that could save millions of lives–has very unexpected consequences.

The pacing is on point with multiple ambushes and tense treks through dangerous areas. I had no trouble sticking with this story. However, I’m having difficulty writing this review because there’s one gaping apparent plot hole that is driving. Me. Insane. (I try to kind of explain it in the spoiler section marked below without totally giving it away. I think I succeeded.) I want the series of events to make sense so much, because it’s really neat. But I can’t get it to line up right, and that’s distracting me from thinking about the rest of the story.

I really like this unusual military SF story. It’s absolutely intriguing and unusual!

SPOILER WARNING: There’s a huge twist at the end that makes you re-think a whole lot of stuff. I thought it was utterly fantastic, but the more I think about the timeline of the book, the more confused I get. The twist-instigating event seems to have taken place at the time when Dahl first started working at the news syndicate–I think. If that’s so, the meeting between Sterling and Dahl and some of their interactions at the current time don’t make sense to me. But if it happened later, Dahl’s interactions with Ivy in the present wouldn’t make sense. There seems to be a rather big plot hole here. This is driving me kind of insane because I actively want the story to make sense because the idea is really freaking cool.

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Review: “Everything Is Horrible Now,” Edward Lorn

Rating: 4 out of 5

In Edward Lorn’s Everything is Horrible Now: A Novel of Cosmic Horror, Father George kills his wife and child, sits muttering on his porch, then, when a neighbor child (Wesley) arrives, shoots himself in the head. Before he does, he tells the boy “everything is horrible now.” Thus begins a series of events that will rip this small town wide open–and change it forever.

The characters are amazing. Kirby Johnson sees “the Coat Men” in his room at night, and because everyone knows of his “unnatural desires” (he’s gay), it’s assumed he killed his mother when she dies violently. He has a hell of a tale to tell, and is somehow central to the inexplicable things happening at this time. And as he says, “everything is horrible now.” Sheriff Harold “Hap” Carringer is a psychopath–he once killed two people because the girl refused to dance with him, and someone unknown covered it up. He’s also a bully, but not entirely in the usual and expected ways. He stops to talk to 11-year-old Petey, who keeps slipping out of his grandmother’s house to walk around town, and despite Petey being fat and a bit weird, doesn’t bully him at all. Beulah Blackwood, Petey’s grandmother, has custody of him because his parents were murdered in front of him. She thinks she means well, and she kind of does, but her zealous version of Christianity sometimes leads her to be cruel as well.

At the start, when Petey is talking to Hap, he comes across as neurodivergent. He doesn’t really read social cues and doesn’t seem to understand abstract language. But later, when he befriends Wesley, he seems to have a better handle on abstract language, so I was a little confused there. He’s still a very interesting character who’s a little bit different from your average 11-year-old.

There’s a family in town that seems to have leprosy, or perhaps it’s something called “the Blood Curse.” They have some interesting family history, and Gertrude, the mother, has had some very strange experiences in her lifetime. It’s thanks to her family that the Bays, Marietta and Francis, died when the town crucified and burned Marietta for witchcraft. Yes, they burned a woman for witchcraft in the not so distant past.

There’s a place called Humble Hill that seems devoted to trying out “Conversion Therapy,” or a treatment for homosexuality. Unfortunately for everyone, things go awry when Kirby Johnson is brought to the center.

Things get weirder and weirder as the story progresses. There are gods, and manifestations of human emotions and memories, there’s a place called the Roaming and another place called the Someplace. There are creepy dreams and visions, and some very creepy reality as well. This is a very messed-up town, and it’s hurtling toward some sort of conclusion.

I absolutely recommend this book. There were one or two things that confused me, or that I think didn’t actually get answered, and the story gets more and more surreal as it goes, but I held on by my fingernails and the whole thing was a serious trip!

Content note: suicide, homicide, child death, rape, racism (including slurs), domestic violence, homophobia (note that homophobia and what a horrible thing it is is a major theme of the book, so it shows up a lot).

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