Friday, October 31, 2014

Horror Review: The Deep by Nick Cutter

If you thought last year's The Troop was dark and horrifying, then get ready to reevaluate your definition of darkness, because Nick Cutter is about to drag you down to a whole new depth of horror. The Deep is extraordinarily dark, doom-laden, and depressing . . . unrelenting in its horrors. This is a book that makes the most of its cramped, claustrophobic, underwater atmosphere, making you sweat alongside the characters.

More than that, Cutter does a better job of layering in multiple horrors than just about any author writing today. The cover blurb calls this a novel where The Abyss meets The Shining, but that's barely treading the surface of what's really here.

It all begins with one of the most horrifying apocalyptic plagues ever to come our way, an insidious disease known as the 'Gets. Imagine a cellular-level form of Alzheimer's, a disease that begins by making you forget simple things like where you left your keys; which progresses to the point where you forget things like how to drive; which gets so bad that you forget how to walk and to talk; and ends with your body forgetting how to breathe or circulate blood.

Layered on top of that is the nightmare of a child's disappearance, an event that continues to haunt Luke, long after his marriage dissolved and he secretly gave up hope of ever seeing his son again. Cutter does a phenomenal job of making you feel Luke's guilt and sorrow, to the point where you share in his terror as nightmares come to life deep beneath the ocean. What's more, Cutter so deftly blurs the lines between reality and nightmare, between reality and the sense of otherness, you're never quite sure how much is mere nightmare and how much is something else . . . something darker . . . something more supernatural.

Bridging those two layers is the sinister mystery of ambrosia, the miracle substance being harvested at impossible depths in hope that it may serve as a universal cure - not just for the 'Gets, but for things like cancer and more. Nobody knows where ambrosia comes from or what it really is, but Luke soon discovers that what's a focus for the obsession for his genius brother is also a channel for the madness of everyone else aboard the underwater Trieste research lab. Again, the story is so carefully told, you're never sure what's really happening and what's just the madness talking, whether there really are living, breathing orifices in the walls, and whether it's all in their heads.

Like I said, this is a book that's unrelenting in its darkness and its doom-laden depression. It's the kind of book over which you'll find yourself lingering, not because you want to put it down, but because you literally need to step away and look up into the light from time to time. There's no down time, no softer moments, no humor to relieve the tension - just an unending series of horrors that get under your skin and infect you with Cutter's brilliant madness.

If I were to have one complaint about the novel, it's that the ending seems a little too familiar, but I still like what Cutter did with it, particularly with the ominous final scene. Atmosphere, horror, strong characters, a deep mystery, and that unsettling fear of what's real - The Deep really does have it all, and does it all very well. In terms of emotional impact, I can't remember the last time I read a novel that resonated so deeply, or so strongly. The Deep is pure, unadulterated, unrelenting horror at its very best.


Hardcover, 400 pages
Expected publication: January 13th 2015 by Gallery Books

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse by Naomi Shaw (GUEST POST)

If you’re someone for whom The Walking Dead has become can’t miss TV on Sunday nights, you certainly aren’t alone. The show continues to set record after record for non-sports cable TV viewership, including 17.3 million people for the Season 5 premiere.

And if you’re a big fan of the show, you’ve probably spent a bit of time contemplating how you’d handle the survival situations in which the characters find themselves. In that situation you certainly aren’t alone again. Part of the excitement of watching the show is the ability to contemplate how you’d handle a zombie apocalypse.

Surviving the Invasion

As shown in the infographic, you’ll need a plan to improve your chances of surviving the zombie apocalypse. While much of making it through a disaster situation involves your ability to “adapt and overcome,” some planning ahead will increase your odds.

Step 1: Finding a Safe Spot

Popular media has taught us three things about zombies. They‘re not smart. They’re drawn to cities where there’s plenty of food (i.e., human survivors). And they don’t do well with stairs or large bodies of water. So when looking for a spot in which to remain safe from a zombie horde, consider these four options from the infographic and the Pocket Ranger.

  1. Government facility. Places like the underground facility in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia or the Raven Rock Mountain Complex along the Pennsylvania-Maryland border are designed to withstand any type of attack – war, zombie, or otherwise.
  2. Remote state parks. Try hiding on an island, such as Cayo Costa State Park in Florida, or inside a cave structure, such as is found in Longhorn Cavern State Park in Texas.
  3. Fortified building. As shown in The Walking Dead, converting a prison into a zombie-proof fortress takes some work, but it’s a great option … as long as other human survivalists don’t start a war over it.
  4. Bomb shelter. If you have enough supplies inside, you might be able to wait 5 to 7 years inside the shelter, in which time all the zombies likely will have rotted away by the time you have to come outside again.

Step 2: Preparing Supplies

Preparing a set of supplies is important to your survival chances too. Consider these four must-have supplies, as outlined by the infographic and the Ready.gov Web site.

  1. Water. Humans must have clean water to survive, so keep bottled water on hand, as well as a portable water purification system for your emergency kit.
  2. Food. While people can survive much longer without food than water, a lack of food equals a lack of energy … which equals an inability to outrun zombies. Keep non-perishable food on hand.
  3. First aid supplies. In a disaster situation poor hygiene and a lack of medical care could turn a simple scratch into a life-threatening situation. Clean bandages and anti-bacterial ointment are needed in your kit.
  4. Clothing. If your shelter is compromised during an attack, staying warm will be tough. Keep multiple pieces of clothing available, so you can wear layers.

Step 3: Picking Your Weapons

Now for the fun part: Selecting exactly which weapons you want to make use of to battle zombies. With so many options, different ones will appeal to different people, depending on your personality. Consider these four general options.

  1. Long-handled weapon. A baseball bat or hockey stick will work in crushing the zombie skulls, while keeping you out of the monster’s reach.
  2. Bladed weapon. The Walking Dead’s Michonne has almost certainly made the Samurai sword the most popular zombie-killing weapon on the planet. And having a second knife on hand is important for close combat.
  3. Crossbow. If Michonne’s weapon isn’t the most popular on The Walking Dead, it’s because of Daryl’s crossbow. Crossbow arrows are silent, will work well over a great distance, and can be retrieved and used many times.
  4. Gun. The gun is popular because it works over a long distance and you can carry a lot of bullets, because they’re small. But it’s loud, which will draw zombies.

With the basic zombie survival skills in your mind, you’re ready for anything. You’ll be prepared if you have to escape the zombie horde at some point in the future. Or you’ll be ready to more intelligently critique the actions of your favorite character on The Walking Dead.


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Naomi Shaw was a stay-at-home mom of three gorgeous babies for the last 6 years, but now that all her kids are in school, she's starting up her career again as a freelancer. Check her out at https://naomijshaw.jux.com/.

Tough Travels – Monsters

Every Thursday, Nathan (over at Fantasy Review Barn) leads the gang in touring the mystical countryside, looking for fun and adventure. His Tough Traveling feature picks one of the most common tropes in fantasy each week, as seen in The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynn Jones, and invites us to join in the adventure. All are invited to take part, so if you're joining the journey late, no worries . . . we'll save you a spot in the caravan.

This week’s tour topic is: MONSTERS

MONSTERS are likely to lie in waste areas, caves, and old ruined cities. You can usually detect their presence by smell.

Once again, we have to go back and start with the classics, particularly Tolkien. Between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings you've got Smaug the Golden, Gollum (or Sméagol), the Balrog, Shelob the giant spider, and the Ringwraiths (or the Nazgul). So many contemporary authors have been influenced by those monsters, either paying them homage our outright following upon Tolkien's legacy.




R.A. Salvatore is one of those authors who have paid homage to Tolkien's creations, with his greatest monster being Lolth, the Spider-Queen. To be fair, Lloth was created by Gary Gygax as a monster of Greyhawk,but it's Salvatore who made her his own and made a character out of her through The Legend of Drizzt. The entire underground city of Menzoberranzan is dedicated to her worship, complete with a spider-shaped building where her priestesses are trained, called Arach-Tinilith.


This may be stretching the definition of fantasy a bit for some, but I'd argue that Stephen King's Dark Tower Saga is one of the defining fantasy epics of our generation. As for monsters, King is certainly generous with them, offering up Shardik the mechanical, malfunctioning, insane bear who guards the beams; and Blaine the Mono, the sentient, insane, murderous monorail that tries to hurl the ka-tet to their doom;




As far as current fantasy sagas go, the corelings (or demons) of Peter V. Brett's Demon Cycle are one of the most intriguing and most menacing monsters around. Rising each night to feast upon humans, the each have their own strengths, based on the element from which they arise - water, rock, fire, clay, snow, wind, and more. Of them all, the rock and fire demons are by far the most fearsome, although the mimic demon has a creepiness of its own.



Finally, sticking with the them of current fantasy sagas, I'm not sure there's a monster more interesting, more fearsome, and more imaginative than the Chasmfiends of Brandon Sanderson's Stormlight Archive. Fifty-foot long crustacean-like creatures, they scrape their way through the chasms of the Shattered Plains, requiring entire armies to subdue them and harvest the gemhearts inside.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday: The Devil's Detective by Simon Kurt Unsworth

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

As part of this month's Halloweird Creepfest, I will once more be focusing on some horror-themed pre-publication releases.

The Devil's Detective by Simon Kurt Unsworth
Expected publication: March 3rd 2015 by Doubleday

Thomas Fool is an Information Man, an investigator tasked with cataloging and filing reports on the endless stream of violence and brutality that flows through Hell. His job holds no reward or satisfaction, because Hell has rules but no justice. Each new crime is stamped "Do Not Investigate" and dutifully filed away in the depths of the Bureaucracy. But when an important political delegation arrives and a human is found murdered in a horrific manner—extravagant even by Hell's standards—everything changes. The murders escalate, and their severity points to the kind of killer not seen for many generations. Something is challenging the rules and order of Hell, so the Bureaucracy sends Fool to identify and track down the killer. . . . But how do you investigate murder in a place where death is common currency? Or when your main suspect pool is a legion of demons? With no memory of his past and only an irresistible need for justice, Fool will piece together clues and follow a trail that leads directly into the heart of a dark and chaotic conspiracy. A revolution is brewing in Hell . . . and nothing is what it seems.

The Devil's Detective is an audacious, highly suspenseful thriller set against a nightmarish and wildly vivid world. Simon Kurt Unsworth has created a phantasmagoric thrill ride filled with stunning set pieces and characters that spring from our deepest nightmares. It will have readers of both thrillers and horror hanging on by their fingernails until the final word. In Hell, hope is your worst enemy.


I was fortunate enough to nab a digital ARC of this last week, and I must say it's one of the most exciting, most intriguing titles of the coming year. If it can deliver on at least a portion of its potential, then it should be one heck of a read.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Indulging the Dark Side By Gail Z. Martin (GUEST POST)


With this year's Halloweird Creepfest soon to come to an end, I am delighted to welcome back a fantastic author who has graced our presence on more than one occasion, Gail Z. Martin!


Indulging the Dark Side
By
Gail Z. Martin

It’s Halloween. Time to put on a mask. But in reality, most people wear a mask all year around. That mask is the way we present ourselves in public, and sometimes, even in private. Some people never take the mask off… ever.

Horror feasts on the dark side of human nature, and the face behind the mask. Crime dramas and murder mysteries also thrive by revealing the darkness beneath the façade. All good drama flirts with the concept, delving more deeply in some genres than in others. And as we have lost our innocence as a culture, we now expect to find some hint of a dark side even in our heroes, and cynically look for the shadows in those who desire to lead. In epic fantasy, magic and supernatural creatures often appeal to a character’s dark side. And urban fantasy’s fascination with things that are not as they seem—vampires, shape-shifters, and magical creatures who fool mortal senses—play to our fear of the dark side.

Often, social masks are protective coloration, so it’s intriguing to writers to strip them away and see what’s underneath. We project confidence, success, wealth, and certainty because we’ve been told that like attracts like. We’ve also learned, usually the hard way, that it’s dangerous to let most people see vulnerabilities. That includes insecurities, old hurts, self-doubt, fear, and weakness. Everyone has weaknesses, but most people spend a lifetime figuring how to hide them.

In many cases, those vulnerabilities have rational roots. People tend to be insecure if they don’t believe they’ve mastered something, or have not had that mastery validated by others. Fear is a logical response when facing a person or situation where we can sustain real damage. We know from watching nature that predators seize on weakness, so it’s instinctive not to show our soft underbellies. Shame is a huge motivation to deny the existence of the dark side, even to one’s self.

In general, a dark side is something concealed because on some level, the character knows that the desire or action is not legal, moral, or ethical, and would be disapproved of or punished if known. The bigger the gap and incongruity between the public face and the dark side, the more horrific the dark side seems. That’s why it always seems worse when someone we’re supposed to be able to trust, like a member of the clergy, a cop, or a teacher has a dark side that harms the people he or she should be protecting.

We tend to equate the Seven Deadly Sins with our dark sides: Pride, Lust, Greed, Sloth, Gluttony, Envy, and Wrath. That’s because the dark side, our shadow self, has a lot in common with our Id. The Id is the product of the lizard brain, the primitive instinct, the utterly selfish desire. We can try to contain it and moralize it into quiescence, but it’s always there, lurking, looking for a way to get out. The dark side is strongest when its existence is denied. That’s why people whose identities are all bound up in looking good, having social respect, and standing in a place of moral superiority tend to fall the hardest to their dark sides, which they desperately deny, even to themselves.

Fear and scarcity can bring out the dark side. When a person fears for his life, when everything is on the line, he may reach into the dark side to tap into the jolt of temporary energy provided by the wrath lurking there. Zombie and apocalypse stories tap into this tendency, stripping away the social constraints that require us to wear our masks, giving us permission to take them off.

Where it gets interesting for me as a writer is when a character not only acknowledges his or her dark side but names it and owns it, refusing to look away or pretend it doesn’t exist. That act of courage drastically reduces the power the dark side has over a character. It would be naïve to believe that naming the darkness makes it go away completely, but if the dark side is named and owned, it can be monitored and safeguards can be created to control it.

Some of the best fiction places characters in jeopardy that strips away their resistance to the dark impulses, giving them a sequence of undesirable choices and rationalizations to tap into their dark side. We learn a lot about characters from where they draw the line in the sand, the point at which they would rather die than act in ways that they find morally abhorrent. And for those characters who fail to draw a line, who will do anything to survive, we watch in fascination, wondering which type of character we would be if put in a similar situation.

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My Days of the Dead blog tour runs through October 31 with never-before-seen cover art, brand new excerpts from upcoming books and recent short stories, interviews, guest blog posts, giveaways and more! Plus, I’ll be including extra excerpt links for stories and books by author friends of mine. And, a special 50% off discount from Double-Dragon ebooks! You’ve got to visit the participating sites to get the goodies, just like Trick or Treat!


Trick or Treat: Enjoy an excerpt from Coffin Box, one of my Deadly Curiosities Adventures short stories here: http://www.ascendantkingdoms.com/short-stories-and-more/the-deadly-curiosities-adventures-2/coffin-box/excerpt-from-coffin-box/

And a bonus excerpt from Wicked Dreams, another of my Deadly Curiosities Adventures here: http://www.ascendantkingdoms.com/short-stories-and-more/the-deadly-curiosities-adventures-2/wicked-dreams/excerpt-from-wicked-dreams/

And a second bonus excerpt from Ice Forged, Book One in my Ascendant Kingdoms Saga here: http://www.ascendantkingdoms.com/books/the-ascendant-kingdoms-saga/ice-forged/an-excerpt-from-ice-forged-book-one-in-the-ascendant-kingdoms-saga/



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About the Author

Gail Z. Martin discovered her passion for science fiction, fantasy and ghost stories in elementary school. The first story she wrote at age five was about a vampire. Her favorite TV show as a preschooler was Dark Shadows. At age 14, she decided to become a writer. She enjoys attending science fiction/fantasy conventions, Renaissance fairs and living history sites. She is married and has three children, a Himalayan cat and a golden retriever.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Horror Review: Tall, Dark, and Wriggly edited by D.K. Jernigan


"What is it about tentacles that capture the imagination like nothing else? From The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife to the eldritch horrors of Lovecraft, what horrifies us often arouses us, too."


It was that blurb intro that first caught my attention and convinced me to give Tall, Dark, and Wriggly a read - despite its somewhat corny title and cover that leads little to the imagination. What we have here are four stories edited by D.K. Jernigan, spanning the genre spectrum from science fiction to horror, and from romance to erotica.

D.K. Jernigan opens things herself with A Bargain - the strongest, most interesting, and most well-rounded story in the collection. A coming-of-age romance, this one has a decidedly faery tale feel to it that works. It's a tale of life by the sea, of not fitting in, and of finding oneself in a bargain of a very unusual nature. There's some real drama and suspense here, with an erotic element that's far more sensual than explicit, putting a tentacle twist on mermaids.

Chained to the Wheel by Angelia Sparrow is the one story in the collection that I didn't care for. Not that there's anything wrong with Sparrow's writing - in fact, I've enjoyed her work before - but I simply don't get the appeal of 'cyber' tales. That disconnect from physical reality robs the tale of all drama and suspense for me, negating any sort of threat or peril. I know, I know, there are very often real-world consequences to life online, but they just hold no appeal for me.

The first of two interstellar sci-fi tales, A Home Among the Stars is, by far, the strongest in terms of world-building and cultural exploration. Gryvon presents us with the tale of a young man rescued from the religious intolerance of his homeworld and thrust into a whole other situation. I really liked the evolution of Aaron's character, and found him to be quite enjoyable. The romantic tentacle encounter is teased early on, and looms over much of the story, but it's still a pleasant surprise in the way it finally takes place. The ending didn't quite work for me - it just asked too much of the reader in terms of suspension of disbelief - but that doesn't ruin the overall effect.

Finally, Deadline is the one story that actually opens with the tentacle romance, and then goes on to explore the consequences. Peter Hansen explores themes of sexual orientation and xenophobia in a story that starts out bold and fun, and then becomes much darker. While the characters were a bit thin, and didn't really engage on an emotional level, there was some genuine suspense here that made me wonder if or how it would all be resolved.

Overall, Tall, Dark, and Wriggly wasn't quite the collection I expected - I would have enjoyed some darker, more horrific themes - but it was an interesting read that I suspect will have some cross-genre and wide-audience appeal.


Kindle Edition, 115 pages
Published May 9th 2014 by Storm Moon Press