Horror World Book Reviews
October, 2008

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THE SPY WHO CAME FOR CHRISTMAS by David Morrell
Review by Mark Justice

Paul Kagan is an intelligence agent who has been deep undercover with the Russian Mob in Brighton Beach. During the course of his assignment he’s been forced to do many terrible things, so when he has a chance to save a young life he jumps on the opportunity.

Now it’s Christmas Eve, and Kagan is wounded and on the run in Santa Fe. He’s carrying a baby while fleeing from his former Russian comrades. Eventually he seeks shelter with a battered wife and her young son. Trapped in their house with no phone, Kagan has to make a stand to protect the baby and the family he has placed in harm’s way.

The Spy Who Came For Christmas has everything fans of David Morrell have come to expect: storytelling at a breakneck pace, sharp characterizations and a plot that is both fantastic and grounded in reality.

In fact, Morrell is so convincing in the details of a spy’s tradecraft that one has to wonder how many CIA operatives have spilled their secrets to him over a beer.

Morrell never lets the reader forget that it’s Christmas Eve, through the constant strains of carols, the vivid description of Sante Fe’s celebration and the season’s spirit of hope. Yet he doesn’t allow the proceedings to lapse into schmaltz.

It’s worth noting the length of The Spy Who Came For Christmas.

233 pages. And those pages fly by in a blur. While it may sound short compared to many of today’s bestsellers, there was a time in American publishing when 233 pages would have been considered the perfect length, if not a tad long. Morrell uses the shorter page count to his advantage, combining a powerful thriller with a holiday message. This is a book that needs to be savored on a chilly evening, accompanied, of course, by a strong glass of eggnog.

This book is perfect priced for the holidays ($15.95) and would make a great stocking stuffer for the thriller lover in your live.

Vanguard Press

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MASKS by Ray Bradbury
Review by Norm Rubenstein

Gauntlet Press will shortly be releasing a much-anticipated work by living legend and supremely talented author, Ray Bradbury, titled Masks. As is typical for Gauntlet Press, the book will be released in both Limited/Numbered and Deluxe/Lettered hardcover editions. Gauntlet’s Limited and Lettered editions are always handsome, well-constructed books, and have always proved to be well worth the modest expense. To this extent, Masks is no exception.

The genesis of this “lost novel” is rather interesting. The young Bradbury had vacationed in Mexico, and was charmed by a series of little carved masks he encountered throughout the country. He especially was intrigued by a number of very beautiful masks he found in the small town of Patzcuaro that had been hand-carved by a talented artisan, Señor Cerda. He purchased several dozen of the fragile shellacked balsa wood masks that he brought back with him to his home in California, and which he ultimately donated to the Los Angeles Museum. Bradbury’s fascination with and growing contemplations of these masks, and with interpersonal relationships, and the ways in which modern (Post WW2) society was impacting the nature of the way people attempt to communicate and relate to each other, culminated in his attempt to write a novel dealing with these issues in the period between 1945-1950, during which time Bradbury was between 25-30 years old. Bradbury named this proposed short novel The Masks. He found the going rather slow and hard on his new novel, which he planned to complete as his second novel, immediately after The Martian Chronicles. Bradbury went so far as to apply, in October 1949, for a Guggenheim Fellowship specifically to obtain funding in order to complete The Masks. He was not successful in this effort, and within a relatively short time thereafter, he stopped serious work upon the novel, and his notes, outlines, and fragments of text was relegated to various back file drawers, and forgotten.

Moving the clock forward nearly sixty years, the long forgotten project was re-discovered. Found was an outline for the novel, some author’s notes, a major thirty page segment of narrative of/for the draft novel itself, and various fragments of text of the proposed novel. Unfortunately, though there is a possibility that a draft of at least one version of the novel did exist at some point, despite rather exhaustive searches through the author’s collected papers and files, so far no such draft has been found. What has been found, which has been reproduced here in the Gauntlet book, is of interest on two different levels. First, at this point, virtually any major literary project, or portion thereof, by one of this country’s and the world’s foremost living authors is of interest. Bradbury’s writing is of intrinsic and aesthetic value, interest, and enjoyment in and of itself. Second, the book is further of interest to those who curious of the author’s literary development, and how some of his early themes and socio-philosophical viewpoints are formed, and subsequently shaped and evolved in his later writings.

What is revealed in the found outline and portions of Bradbury’s manuscript is a tale that is neither classic genre horror, science fiction, nor fantasy. Rather, it is an examination of interpersonal relationships and how people construct false representations/projections, artificial constructs of themselves (masks) that they use in their everyday dealings with others (and sometimes even themselves). The work is immediately notable for being far darker in tone and outlook than one normally experiences from a Bradbury work. It is, arguably, a unique admixture of psychological drama and Magical Realism, with just a pinch of very dark black comedy added for seasoning. The book is well worth reading for the insights into the young and budding genius of Bradbury’s literary advancement, and for the very unique plot devices and socio-psychological arguments Bradbury advances. After getting a taste of what might have been, one can only mourn the loss of the nascent novel. The Gauntlet title further adds a number of extras, including six Bradbury short stories from the same time period (1947-54) that have never been published before, and which delve into themes somewhat similar to those proposed for The Masks. These are all also very interesting reads, and arguably also worth purchasing the new book to obtain in their own right.

However, it should be noted, in fairness to those who may be only casual readers of Ray Bradbury’s fiction that, in another sense, Masks sits, in comparison to any of Bradbury’s other completed novels such as Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Martian Chronicles, or Fahrenheit 451 (among many others), arguably in a somewhat similar position to that which J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion does in relation to his The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings trilogy which precede it. In that, those average casual readers of the author’s, who are expecting a readily accessible and complete work in the same vein as the author’s preceding and published works, might be a bit disappointed and even perplexed by what they find. Fair warning – Masks is not a complete and polished Bradbury novel, not even close. However, the Publisher has tried to be careful not to label it as such. What there is available of Masks, is tantalizing and thought provoking. Plus, there are the six “old,” yet never-before-published, Bradbury short stories that comprise a treat all their own. For those readers whose awareness of this exceptional world-class author transcends the merely casual, they will find Masks to be an important and interesting addition to their Bradbury collections and their overall libraries.

Gauntlet Press

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FREEZING POINT by Karen Dionne
Review by Dave Simms

When David Morrell lends a blurb to a new writer, it’s a rare event and also a sign he read the book. When he calls her the “New Michael Crichton,” a reader takes notice. Fresh off the high from the arctic horrors of Dan Simmons’ The Terror, Freezing Point heads off to the southern pole of chilly Antarctica. The premise? A company seeks icebergs to melt into drinkable water for an overpopulated planet. An eco-terrorist seeks to stop them at all costs. All the typical “Crichton”-esque elements are here but Dionne is no clone.

From the opening “The Perfect Storm” meets “Ice Age(2?) chapter which introduces the complex protagonist to the high tech science which seems all too plausible, Dionne paints a grim picture of the near future despite the simplicity the company believes replenishing the world’s water supply can be. The science team which studies the fracturing ice shelves scrambles to find a cure for a mysterious illness that sweeps through their ranks, bringing to mind a non-supernatural “The Thing” scenario.

Yet what might halt the mission is completely different than what one might think, a fly in the ointment which, and all who are involved before the first bottle is delivered to the supermarket. Something that at first seems as scary as in Tim Lebbon’s “White” or Simmons’ creation but turns out to be very terrestrial and very normal (but still creepy). The cause of the terror is both claustrophobic and global, eventually, something simple yet still render the reader to be more vigilant outdoors. To give more detail about the cause of the virus would spoil the book and while at first it seemed petty, within a few pages it crept under the skin. Anyone near New York can definitely sympathize! (read the book to find out why it’s so damned creepy!)

This is a competent first novel for anyone looking in a Crichton, Clancy, or other techno-thrillers. The technology is top notch yet explained in laymen’s terms and none too timely, as the science is just about here. Yet even though this story has the big corporation and bigwig who will continue at any cost and some Native American lore, it doesn’t allow itself to be bogged down in clichés and typical thriller plot holes that seem to abound these days. Dionne draws some quality protagonists who become real while the line of who the true antagonists really are only adds to the tension. David Morrell should recommend more books – he seems to have a keen eye on what makes a thriller rock the reader’s world (or ice, in this case).

Penguin Group USA

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OTHER GODS by Stephen Mark Rainey
Reviewed by Ron Dickie

There is nothing quite like opening a book by an author who fills you with confidence. When I read a Stephen Mark Rainey story or novel, I am confident I will be entertained, impressed and left wanting more. Sixteen stories spanning twenty years of terrorizing readers are what await between the covers of Rainey’s Other Gods, and once again, my confidence in his skills has been upheld.

Whether it be the small town horror of the Fugue Devil or the weird war tale of Epiphany: A Flying Tiger’s Story, Rainey, first and foremost, is a storyteller. Regardless of the setting, he makes sure he knows what he wants to say and how to get there. For this reason, he can give us science fiction/fantasy stories like The Transformer Of Worlds alongside more grounded tales like The Jack-O-Lantern Memoirs, and we, the reader, will not feel the whiplash of “genre-jumping” that can be the bane of some single author collections.

Rainey populates his stories with characters that you may recognize, and not just because some of them appear, or are mentioned, in more than one story. No, they are recognizable because they are our friends, neighbours and loved ones. They are us. Whether it is facing the cosmic dread of the Other Gods, from whom this collection takes its name, or the sideshow atmosphere of Circus Bizarre, it is normal, identifiable, people who are put through the wringer, and it is to Rainey’s credit that he makes us care so much for them in such a short amount of time.

Twenty years is a long time to expose people to the weird, twisted imagination of someone like Stephen Mark Rainey, but he warps our minds with such style and panache, that it’s easy to forgive. Other Gods is full of good, strong stories to help unhinge you further. Pick it up and enjoy the ride.

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THE STRESS OF HER REGARD by Tim Powers
Review by Dave Simms

Very few novels come my way that leave me in awe these days. It seems that either the concept is brilliant and the writing mediocre or the prose scintillating and concept trod so deep that the tread has long left the trope’s tire. Tim Powers has always been an enigma to me – bending and blending genres like a topnotch bartender concocts a delicious new potable out of many disparate liquors. Novels such as Declare, Anubis Gates, Last Call, and Three Days to Never blur the lines between historical fiction, science fiction, horror, adventure, mystery, spy novel, and mystery so naturally, the reader never has time to realize to what section of the bookstore it belongs. On the flipside, Powers’ novels will never be classified as fluff reads – the cranium needs to be in full working mode within the covers. If it’s fired up for a cerebral ride of the reader’s life, he or she will never be disappointed.

The Stress of Her Regard arrived at my mailbox and within minutes, the promo sheet and back cover threw me from my comfort zone. First released in 1989, this release by Tachyon Press, doesn’t add anything new. No fancy introductions or afterwards by big names, no added words – just unleashing an incredible work for the public to enjoy after being out of print for so long.

Yes, there are vampires in this novel. Sort of. Whenever I see that trope arise in a work these days, I cringe or simply turn away. However, nothing in Power’s hands is what it seems and nothing ever is generic or hackneyed in concept. His creatures are vicious bastards (and bitches) that attach themselves to their victims and consider themselves “married” to the hapless person. In some instances, they appear to have romantic, even jealous ties – sort of like that psychotic ex most of us have.

The best part, aside from the writing which seems to echo the Romantic time period it speaks of, are the characters. Lord Byron, Percy Shelley (and wife Mary), and John Keats populate the book as side characters. As many authors briefly introduce us to famous historical figures, Powers brings these writers to life, so convincingly that I believed I was reading autobiographical snippets that were inserted into a horror novel. One of the most authentic-feeling aspects to this work are the verses by said poets which preface each chapter; each one matches the plot perfectly. He obviously has done his research and nailed the supposed personalities to make terrific foils for Michael Crawford, the true main character. Crawford unwittingly brings one of the lamia into his life by slipping his bride-to-be’s wedding ring on a statue which turns out to be one of the creatures. After it bludgeon’s his wife to death the following night, an incredible adventure ensues.

I can’t recommend this enough to anyone who loves horror, historical fiction, fantasy, or just plain damned good writing.

Tachyon Publications

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SEVEN DAYS IN BENEVOLENCE by Steven E. Wedel
Review by Ron Dickie

Dena and her daughters arrive in the small town of Benevolence looking to start a new life. However, the presence that inhabits their new home seems to want to end that new life before it even begins. It has plans of its own, and they involve Dena’s youngest daughter.

With Seven Days, Steven Wedel takes a break from werewolves and gives us his take on an old-fashioned ghost story, proving that he can scare us with more than just fangs and claws. Beginning slowly, and gradually building to a boil, Seven Days is a prime example of how to take an old trope like a ghost and still write a compelling story around it.

Steven Wedel breathes life into his characters, making them seem real and familiar to us. Then he puts them through hell. Or worse. Told in his usual straightforward, no nonsense style, Wedel teases us with hints of things to come, or things that _could_ come, if our protagonist isn’t careful. It’s almost like wanting to shout at a movie screen at the actors, but in this case, the decisions they make aren’t the usual Hey-let’s-split-up stupidity. You want to scream because you know something bad is waiting for them, and you want to save them. That’s what the author does, he makes us care about his characters, damn him.

If you’re in the mood for a ghost story with all the benefits of a classic chilling tale, plus all the nuance and sensibilities of a modern writer, look no further than Seven Days In Benevolence. It will scare the crap out you.

(Neither Horror World nor Nanci Kalanta are responsible for the cleaning of your soiled undergarments.)

Scrybe Press

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Long Live The Queens! – BULL RUNNING FOR GIRLS by Allyson Bird and CHEMICAL GARDENS by Gina Ranalli
Review by Norm Rubenstein

I have been happy to note that there have been a growing number of strong new voices entering the Horror/Dark Fiction/Fantasy literary markets in recent years, among them a number of very talented female authors. These authors come from a wide range of backgrounds and have brought some very distinctive and unique voices to our genre. I recently received and read new books from two of the finest exemplars of such fiction, Allyson Bird and Gina Ranalli.

Allyson Bird is a young author who resides in the beautiful Yorkshire countryside in the U.K. Screaming Dreams Publishing has just released her debut collection of twenty-one short stories, titled Bull Running For Girls, with an Introduction by noted author Gary McMahon, and a great cover by artist Vincent Chong, in a reasonably priced paperback edition. For a debut collection, Bull Running For Girls showcases Ms. Bird’s formidable literary talent, which proves her to be an already most accomplished and riveting author. The twenty-one stories range from Lovecraftian horror to Machenesque gothic, and “decadent” horror/fantasy to intimate portraits that are rooted in our everyday, but which lean just slightly over into an unknown that would be familiar territory to Rod Serling or even Richard Matheson. There isn’t a single story in this collection that isn’t exciting, entertaining, riveting, and/or frightening. Ms. Bird writes with an assurance and a deft touch that are compelling, and make each new story an adventure that the reader looks forward to experiencing. The stories usually feature multifaceted, self-reliant women, many of whom must confront evil or darkness that appears from the unknown to threaten their existence and/or that of loved ones. Of course, sometimes the women are the source of the evil themselves, or are at the least, complicit in it. With Bull Running For Girls, author Bird proves herself to be a skilled author of accomplished horror fiction that will appeal to people, regardless of their gender. I strongly recommend this book, one of the finest collections of horror fiction I’ve read this year, and will personally be on the lookout for any new stories, novellas, and/or novels from Allyson Bird.
Screaming Dreams Publishing

I also recently had the opportunity to read Gina Ranalli’s 2006 short novel, Chemical Gardens, released and available from publisher Afterbirth Books. As I mentioned here last month in my review of Ms. Ranalli’s 2007 novella, Wall Of Kiss, she is known for her work in the “Bizarro” sub-genre of the Horror field, so named because it is the work’s/story’s innate, inherent “weirdness” that makes it appealing to readers. The prolific and talented Ms. Ranalli has already authored five books in the past two years, among them, Wall Of Kiss, Suicide Girls In The afterlife, 13 Thorns, Mother Puncher, and Sky Tongues. All five are available in inexpensive paperback editions, and recently all five books have appeared upon the Horror-Mall’s paperback “top-ten” bestseller list, a considerable achievement that speaks to both her popularity and the quality of her writing.

Chemical Gardens is author Ranalli’s unlikely, but absolutely mesmerizing, paean to L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard Of Oz books (and the 1939 MGM film). However, being Gina Ranalli, this is The Wizard Of Oz as viewed through a thoroughly Bizarro filter, as if L. Frank Baum had been a 1960’s-era hippie spaced out on a potent combination of LSD, mescaline, and “magic mushrooms” while writing the novel. Thus, Chemical Gardens finds its “Dorothy” in Ro, the female leader (at least in her own mind) of an up-and-coming Seattle, Washington based Punk Band named “Green is The Enemy” – a not-so-subtle reference to the original’s “Emerald City” of Oz. Ro and her band mates, girlfriend Pawn, and the males, Dose, and Whey have just been given the opportunity to open for their idols, the very popular Punk band called Peroxide, with the possibility that they could be offered a contract with Peroxides big record label, Withering Skin Records. So, Ro and her comrades have just finished a gig in Seattle and have all jumped directly into an old van in order to make the drive down to San Francisco, where the Peroxide concert is being held. Suddenly a giant 8.5 Richter scale earthquake hits Seattle, and tosses their van down into a very deep crevasse.

Ro awakes, bruised but unbowed, only to discover her band-mates have been … altered. Pawn is now some kind of synthetic machine-based entity, Dose has become transformed into an entity composed of mere fumes, and poor Whey has suddenly morphed into some sort of hermaphrodite and has grown breasts. Worse still, Ro finds herself surrounded by a bunch of nasty-looking little creature who call themselves Kreepkins, who seem to be celebrating the fact that her van has landed on top of some creep called Commander Salamander (an evil Underlord) whose surviving sister, a very nasty witch, demands Ro’s guitar, and possibly her life. Then there’s the story’s version of Glenda the Good Witch – a surfer dude who rides a magical hoverboard. Thus starts a truly mind-blowing but often hilarious and always entertaining and fast-paced romp of an adventure.

Chemical Gardens is a lot of fun, and stands up as a story even if you know absolutely nothing of The Wizard Of Oz. Of course, such knowledge only adds to the fun, but this novel is one wild and crazy ride, either way. There’s no way to get through this book without at least smiling, if not frequently laughing out loud. Read Chemical Gardens and you will begin to understand just why Gina Ranalli is being talked about so often and so positively on many Horror-based Forums and Chat-Boards, and why her books are selling so well. Author Ranalli has a distinctive and unique voice and can facilely combine wry humor with bone-chilling and gut-wrenching horror. She is another new author who is just hitting her stride in the horror genre, and from whom I expect even bigger and better stories in the future. Chemical Gardens is a great read and one that will stay with you long after your first time through the novel. It is the kind of book that you’ll want to return to and re-read every so often just for fun.

Afterbirth Books

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LIKE A CHINESE TATTOO -Stories by Cullen Bunn, Rick R. Reed, David Thomas Lord, and JA Konrath
Review by JG Faherty

Like a Chinese Tattoo is a collection of stories from four very different writers. The publisher, Dark Arts Books, describes them as ‘twisted,’ but that doesn’t do the authors, or their stories, justice. The works contained in this collection range from traditionally creepy to downright hysterically, manically depraved and gross. In fact, one of the stories, “Granny Kisses,” was a winner for Cullen Bunn at a World Horror Gross-Out Contest.

The book is divided by author into four sections, which makes logistical sense, but I kind of felt the book might have been served better if the stories had been randomly placed. Maybe I’m alone in doing this, but whenever I pick up a multi-author collection, I tend to go right to the stories by the writers I know and like the best. Whereas when I read an anthology, I go in order.

Why? Simple. If I read a story I don’t enjoy, I usually stop and go to the next one. In a multi-author collection, I’ve been known to skip a writer completely if I don’t like the first story.

Luckily, that didn’t happen here!

However, I was familiar only with Cullen Bunn’s work when I started this book. I’d heard of Reed, Lord, and Konrath, but up to now I hadn’t had the opportunity to really see much of their works.

So even if Bunn’s stories hadn’t been first in the book, I’d have read them first.

Cullen Bunn puts out some great short stories. They’re always chilling (except his WHC gross-out pieces!), and he accomplishes this as much through atmosphere and characterization as he does plot. In Like a Chinese Tattoo, his first piece takes place in a Korean bathhouse where lust, immoral relations, and depravity swirl like blood in a drain, and sins come back to haunt. As good as “Tomorrow, When Demons Come” is, his second story, “Remains,” is the best of his three. It’s what I like to call ‘classic’ horror - its success relies on how it touches the reader’s emotions rather than on how well it can gross you out or confuse you. In “Remains,” we’re reminded that sometimes the monsters wear human skins. And sometimes they’re not human at all. This story took me back to my childhood, to the great horror stories I read in the seventies and early eighties, back when horror was a giant, lumbering beast that descended on me every chance I gave it.

Back before torture, gore, and mindlessly confusing plotlines took such a huge piece of the industry away from me.

It’s what horror should be. And it’s the essence of Cullen Bunn, who makes it look so easy, the way he sneaks up on you and sends that shiver up your spine.

“Granny Kisses” was funny to read, but I’d have much rather had another of Bunn’s kick in the head horror stories. It’s fluff - hysterical, gross, potty-humor fluff, but fluff nonetheless. As a gross-out contest entry, it’s a winner; but when I’m paying good money for a book, I’d like to get three full-blown horror stories.

Rick Reed is next up. I’ve only read one story by him in the past, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. In “Purfleet,” he delivers a ‘twist’ at the end that will surprise and delight some, but the title will be a dead giveaway to others. That’s all I’ll say, in case you’re in the former category. “Moving Toward the Light” is harder, grittier, and more depressing than most of the other stories in this book, but the supernatural angle carries it to safety, preventing it from drowning in the sadder aspects of its plot. Then, like with Bunn’s section, we’re forced to shift gears to “Stung,” which, like “Granny Kisses” is the literary equivalent of a South Park episode, existing only to gross us out and make us laugh at the same time. Entertaining, but not what I buy a horror anthology for.

The next section belongs to David Thomas Lord, a writer who I wasn’t familiar with at all, but who I look forward to reading more stories by. The standout here is “The Great White Ape,” an action-packed throwback kind of story that’s probably the second-best piece in the whole book. His other two stories, “The White Room” and “Da’s Boy,” are both good, but can’t compare to the power and punch of “The Great White Ape.”

That leaves us with JA Konrath, a writer known as much for his humor-filled non-fiction about the craft of writing as for his noir mystery books and stories. Fans of Konrath’s Jack Daniels mystery series will be happy to see that one of Konrath’s stories is a brand new Harry McGlade novella, “The Necro Files,” a black comedy piece that bound to keep you chuckling long after you read it. Unlike the ribald humor of Bunn and Reed, this is a story that succeeds in this venue because of its well-drawn plot, characters, and dialog. In the battle of droll wit vs. flatulent humor, wit comes through a winner. Konrath’s other two stories, “The Confession” and “Punishment,” are more mystery than horror, but are still good reads nonetheless, and Konrath managed to impress me with his ability to put down stories not in his usual style.

Like a Chinese Tattoo is a nice anthology that will serve to introduce readers to four talented writers. I think the publisher could have put out a better book by staying away from the previously mentioned raunchy pieces. I enjoy good (or bad!) bathroom humor as much as the next person, and I’d probably fork over hard cash for a whole book of WHC gross-out stories.

But when I buy a book of horror, that’s what I’m looking for. In my case, at least, those stories yanked me out of the mood, much the way a loud fart in quiet movie theater can ruin the mood of a good suspense thriller. It’s hard to be frightened when you’re laughing.

Still, I’d recommend this book, if only for stories like “Remains” and “The Great White Ape.”

Dark Arts Books

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BLACK STATIC MAGAZINE - Issues #5 & 6
Review by Dave Simms

Once hailed as one of the best sources for horror and dark fantasy as The Third Alternative, the magazine now known as Black Static has not given up any slack. In its former incarnation, it won the International Horror Guild award for Best Periodical; this one is nominated for the same honor as well as The Best Small Press Award by The British Fantasy Society.

With the advent of such newer magazines as Doorway, the demise of others, and resurgence of classics such as Weird Tales, there is always a crack in the creaking door for something new and dark. Black Static creeps into the same house as Cemetery Dance and Subterranean as a member of the elite horror publications.

True, it doesn’t hold the same big names within it pages (yet) but the writing of nearly all of the stories stands tall, often introducing new names in the genre. Features by talented writers such as Christopher Fowler, Stephen Volk, and Mike O’Driscoll are insightful and interviews with new stars such as podcast king Scott Sigler kick its credibility level up a notch. The reviews are well thought out and detailed, both for books and movies. Nearly every DVD review also includes giveaways as well. Each story is preceded by cool, disturbing artwork.

Again, it’s tough to find a horror magazine that measures up to the elite classics but Black Static screams from across the pond to be heard. Hopefully, it will be heard and read for quite a long time.

TTA Press

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ULRIK by Steven E. Wedel

Review by Ron Dickie

Ulrik, the follow-up to Wedel’s novel, Shara, picks up several years after the first novel, as Shara, the so-called Mother Of The Pack, and her now adolescent son, are drawn back into the world they thought they had hidden themselves from. But there is no escaping the hunters in the Pack.

Shara’s son is important to the Pack. Unfortunately, not all of them have his best interests in mind. Discovering her son has been kidnapped, Shara must seek out her former mentor, possibly the only person on the planet who can help her.

Filled with action, intrigue and, oh yeah, werewolves, Ulrik continues to build upon the fascinating mythology Wedel created in Shara, showing the reader more of the Pack’s past and expanding upon Ulrik’s history. Wedel manages to give us fascinating characters and breakneck plots without sacrificing any other element of the story. Weaving the multiple plots together, the reader is treated to a grand finale that will have you aching (I wanted to say howling, but even I have some shame) for the next book. If you’re looking for a book about lycanthropes that stands out from the crowd, Ulrik is the book for you.

Scrybe Press

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SINS OF THE SIRENS by Loren Rhoads, Maria Alexander, Mehitobel Wilson and Christa Faust.
Review by Ron Dickie

Combining several authors into one collection can be a tricky thing. It’s not really an anthology but it doesn’t quite seem to fit the general definition of ‘author collection’ either. So, what is it? What defines it? In the case of Sins Of The Sirens, it is defined by the skills of the four very talented authors gathered together here. Each of them has their own unique style and vision, but they share one thing in common: They all know how to scare you.

Starting off the collection, Loren Rhoads gives us The Angel’s Lair, a powerful, haunting tale of an angel’s temptation. Sensuous and alluring, it grabs your attention and holds it long after you’ve finished reading the tale. Still Life With Broken Glass follows next, which asks the question: How far are you willing to go to create art? The answer in this case is quite chilling.

Maria Alexander is next with Pinned, a dark and dirty revenge story that will work its way under your skin... by ripping right through it. This one will make you wince, cringe, cry out and then go back for more. Alexander also gives us The Last Word, the story of a man who starts listening to suggestions found within his journal, and the chilling consequences of what happens when he stops listening to them.

Next in the collection is Mehitobel Wilson who, with Heavy Hands, gives the reader a unique take on the invisible intruder. Phantom hands can bring pleasure, but they can also bring pain. Or worse. One of the stand-outs in a collection full of stand-out stories, Heavy Hands puts one in mind of Ray Bradbury for sheer ingenuity. With Parting Jane, Wilson plays on the fear of medical treatment inherent in many of us. The strong voice and narrative style of this one will leave you feeling creeped out and nervous for a long time afterwards.

Christa Faust finishes off the collection with more solid stories, demonstrating that each author here was chosen carefully and with reason. The longest of them, Firebird, takes on a journey of love, loss, addiction and revenge all centering around the eponymous Firebird. It will bring you bliss, but it will also take everything you hold dear if you’re not careful. A touch more science fiction than the rest of the collection, Firebird nevertheless fits in well and hits you hard. Tighter by Faust finished the collection off. A short, nasty tale of fetish-play and obsession, this story is reminiscent of one of the better episodes of The Twilight Zone, but with a modern sensibility.

All in all, Sins Of The Sirens is a very strong collection. While this reviewer was familiar with the works of Wilson and Faust, Rhoads and Alexander have proven to be names to seek out as well. Very highly recommended!

Dark Arts Books

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