Book of the Dead by Greig Beck – review by Geoff Brown

9781760082437_Book-of-the-Dead_cover1Book of the Dead

by Greig Beck

Momentum Books

(review by Geoff Brown)

Military horror. That’s what I like. Hell, that’s what I tend to publish through my own press. The term is pretty self-explanatory. Guys with guns shooting at things that shouldn’t exist. When you put it that way, it seems pretty basic, but it’s hard to pull off one of these tales without losing the reader. Things get too hard to believe, and then bam, the reader rolls their eyes and you’re lost them.

Australian writer of military horror Greig Beck manages to keep the reader engaged throughout his books, and I can tell you, that is hard considering some of the creatures that act as the villain in them. I’ve read Beck’s books since I first discovered This Green Hell, the third book in the Alex Hunter series, his most well-known works. As soon as I read that one, I raced off and found copies of the two earlier books, and then waited (somewhat impatiently) for the follow-ups. Since then, he’s written two more in that series, and a number of other books, all as exciting and thrilling as I had come to expect.

Book of the Dead is not an Alex Hunter novel. It follows a side character from that series, paleolinguist Matt Kearns, on a mission that even Hunter may not have survived. From the depths of history, word has carried through the ages of elder gods and of a time they will rise up. Many of the prophets of these events have been called mad, and to anyone listening to what they try to warn us of, they surely do seem insane. Yet… in this madness lies the seeds of a dangerous truth.

In our age, massive sinkholes begin to open across the globe, dragging anything on the surface down into the depths. When authorities investigate, they find no trace of any living thing. No bodies, no forensics… nothing. When these sinkholes start to get bigger and bigger, there are also reports of ‘things’ rising from the depths. As more and more people start to disappear, the government is forced to act. They recruit a team of specialists which includes Professor Kearns. The team explores one of the sinkholes, and find evidence to show that the ancient, elder gods are once again ready to rise from their ancient slumber. Their aim? Another catastrophic extinction event, just like the last few times they have risen. Life on Earth would cease to exist.

The team of military and civilian experts find themselves in a race against time, and against an unknown but powerful and ruthless enemy, to find the Book of the Dead before it’s too late.

Beck takes a man-made mythos, that of Cthulhu and the pantheon of elder gods he leads, and brings it blazing into the Twenty-First Century. Things that have only caused fear in legend and literature are now rising up to destroy the world. The characters are believable, the pacing is frantic, and the plotline is so incredible only a few authors could make it seem so believable. Beck is one of those authors. He has really hit his stride with Book of the Dead, and I cannot wait to see what he does with his next book.

- review by Geoff Brown

Geoff Brown AKA G.N. Braun is an Australian writer and Australian Shadows Award finalist-editor raised in Melbourne’s gritty Western Suburbs. He writes fiction across various genres, and is the author of many published short stories. He has had numerous articles published in newspapers, both regional and metropolitan. He is the past president of the Australian Horror Writers Association (2011-2013), as well as the past director of the Australian Shadows Awards. He is an editor and columnist for UK site This is Horror, and the guest editor for Midnight Echo #9.
His memoir, Hammered, was released in early 2012 by Legumeman Books and has been extensively reviewed. He is the owner of Cohesion Editing and Proofreading, and has now opened a publishing house, Cohesion Press.

Exile by Peter M Ball – review

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Exile by Peter M Ball

Apocalypse Ink Productions

Exile is the first novella in what is (I believe) a trilogy, The Flotsam Series. Broadly defined, it’s urban fantasy. But I like to think of it as a whole new subgenre: Gold Coast Demon Noir.

The story follows the return of Keith to the Gold Coast (in Queensland, Australia) from sixteen years of self-imposed exile. It was self-impose exile or die in circumstances that are slowly revealed through the plot. But returning is utter lunacy and Keith knows it. The trouble is, he and his partner, Roark, really messed things up with a cult in Adelaide and returning to the Gold Coast is about the least deadly option left open.

Ball has done a great job of creating a grimy Gold Coast noir setting here and it was great to read something so thoroughly Australian, yet retaining all the great tropes of noir as we know it. Then add in the supernatural elements and it’s a heady brew of worldbuilding. Ball’s description of the Gloom and the creatures from it who inhabit people and live just beneath the fabric of society is expertly handled. The development of the plot and characters shows a writer at the top of his game. He’s also used the novella length really well for structure.

However, it’s not all rainbows – after all, what is? As far as the writing is concerned, the only real complaint I have is that it’s a novella. I know that seems strange after my comment above, but Ball writes really tightly and with great economy of language, which suits the novella well, but this story is left hanging wide open and there are all sorts of things follow up on. It’s not like the next one will be a sequel – rather a continuation. So I wonder why all three weren’t put together as a novel rather than three novellas. But let’s be honest, that’s a pretty weak complaint.

My other concern is with the publisher. The edition I read via the Kindle Store was absolutely riddled with typos, missing words and so on. This is no fault of the author, as the publisher’s job is to find and fix that stuff. So that was rather disappointing. But it’s no reason to avoid this story.

Dark, gritty, funny in places, horrible in others, this is Gold Coast Demon Noir done perfectly. Highly recommended. I’m looking forward to the next one.

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Suspended in Dusk – edited by Simon Dewar

Dusk - New CoverSuspended in Dusk
Edited by Simon Dewar

Books of the Dead Press (http://www.booksofthedeadpress.com/)

E-book: ISBN 978-1-3117783-8-3

Suspended in Dusk is the latest anthology from Books of the Dead Press, and the first for Australian editor Simon Dewar. Featuring 19 tales from a mix of new and established authors, and an Introduction from Bram Stoker Award winning Jack Ketchum, Suspended in Dusk hits its mark more often than not.

It’s always nice to have a note or introduction from the editor at the beginning of an anthology; a place where they lay out their thoughts and goals, their targets. Simon Dewar does this quite well. He tells us that the stories are all about change, and the time between those changes, much as dusk is “the time between the light and the dark”. Some of these changes are metaphorical, while others take the theme more literally.

To the stories! I might not mention all of them, only the ones that really stood out for me. This isn’t to say there are any bad stories in the anthology; that certainly is not the case. Any reader of horror will find plenty here to enjoy, and those tales that weren’t quite for me might be exactly what another reader is looking for.

First up is “Shadows of the Lonely Dead” by Alan Baxter. A beautifully written and emotional tale about a hospice worker with a gift for easing the suffering of the elderly as they slip into death, and the greater ramifications that has on her life outside the hospice.

Anna Reith’s “Taming the Stars” takes us to the dark and gritty side of Paris, with a story of a drug deal that goes horribly (and gruesomely) wrong.

“At Dusk They Come” by Armand Rosamilia invites us to a small town at sundown for a well written take on the old tale of ‘doing deals’ with the nefarious.

Rayne Hall brings us “Burning”, a Southern Gothic flavoured tale with a conspicuous absence of the supernatural, but all the more horrifying for it. As in real life, “Burning” shows us that people — especially those isolated by the ignorance of their own world views — are much worse than any monsters we can imagine.

Chris Limb’s “Ministry of Outrage” reveals the truth behind corporate and governmental conspiracies in a tale that is all too scary for its plausibility.

S.G.Larner give us “Shades of Memory”, wherein religion reigns in post-apocalyptic Queensland and the locals of a small town, who want no part of it, have some ghostly superstitions of their own.

“Outside In”, a strange Quantumpunk-Noir by Brett Rex Bruton, is one of the most interesting pieces in the anthology. The story begins: “I swing my feet from beneath the warmth of the covers and down on the cold, hard copy of the opening paragraph.” I stared at that — “hard copy of the opening paragraph” — and wondered if it was some kind of strange typo, an editor comment inserted by accident. But no, it isn’t! It is slips like this, in the walls of reality between story and reader, that really made this story stand out for me. Very original.

“Would To God That We Were There” is the creepy science fiction story I’ve been trying to write for years. I even have 10yr old opening paragraphs that are near identical. I never knew where to take the idea, but it seems that Tom Dullemond did, and he does a wonderful job of it.

The anthology finishes on a high-note too, with Angela Slatter’s “The Way Of All Flesh”. I love a post-apocalyptic story that doesn’t focus on the actual apocalypse, but instead on the people who are trying to get on with their lives. “The Way Of All Flesh” accomplishes this brilliantly, subtly, and in the end, very disturbingly. It’s a fitting end to a collection of so many fine stories.

As I said earlier, I haven’t mentioned every story; only those that really shined for me. A few of the other stories just weren’t too my taste, or I found personally a little predictable. Be that as it may, there isn’t a badly written story here. In every case the prose is well constructed and, in a few stories, quite beautiful.

Overall, Suspended In Dusk is a very good collection. I think there’s something for everyone’s taste — vampires, werewolves, ghosts, zombies and plenty of nefarious humans — and I’m sure others will find things in certain stories that I didn’t. And the mix of authors, old and new, means you’re certain to be introduced to someone you’ve never heard of before: which I think is the most exciting part about reading any horror anthology.

 

Fearful Symmetries, edited by Ellen Datlow – review

31d7b11e4a2d1afb04a2f88b6bc8764c_largeFearful Symmetries

Edited by Ellen Datlow

Chizine Publications

ISBN 978-1-77148-193-9

Ellen Datlow has long been established as one of the premier editors in the horror genre. Her work and awards really speak for themselves. So when she decided to Kickstart an unthemed horror anthology with the backing of Chizine Publications, it’s no surprise that it exceeded its target in short order. The result is one of the best horror anthologies I’ve ever read.

The Table of Contents is a Who’s Who of top notch writers in the genre working today. Twenty short stories are featured and the quality is incredibly high. There’s great variety too, with some stories being all out dark horror and others a more creeping dread or twisted dark fantasy. As with any anthology, not every story will resonate with everyone. For myself, there were two yarns in particular that really didn’t hit the mark, but my taste will differ from others’, so it’s to be expected. The authors in question are very well known and lauded, so not appealing to me is no issue and I’m sure others will love their work.

I won’t review story by story, but I’ll mention the few real stand outs for me. “The Atlas of Hell” by Nathan Ballingrud, an author whose work astounds me every time I read him, was a powerfully visceral story. And it felt like the start of something much bigger. “Mount Chary Galore” by Jeffrey Ford is an amazing twist on the modern fairy tale and incredibly well realised. “Suffer Little Children” by Robert Shearman is a story of almost perfect crafting, with an incredible sense of place. “Bridge of Sighs” by Kaaron Warren is one of the creepiest stories I’ve read in years, with a really horrible cast of characters and a very macabre idea at its heart.”The Worms Crawl In,” by Laird Barron is a story that escalates beyond all expectation very quickly and further cements Barron as a teller of mythic yarns of great proportions. And finally a mention of “Shay Corsham Worsted” by Garth Nix, which was an amazing slice of something much bigger and I’d really love to know more about the monster in that story.

The book is worth the purchase price for those stories alone, in my opinion, but of course that’s not to undermine the general excellence of all the others. I really hope Datlow continues to produce more unthemed anthologies, as she has an eye for curating a dark collection that it utterly compelling. I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

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SNAFU: An Anthology of Military Horror – review

2014_07_11_front_SWSNAFU: An Anthology of Military Horror

Edited by Geoff Brown and A J Spedding

Cohesion Press

The publisher approached me prior to the publication of this volume and asked if I’d consider writing the Foreword for it. I said, sure, send it over and I’ll have a look. After reading the book, I was more than happy to write the Foreword. Here, as a review, I’m reprinting that Foreword.

War is hell.

Nothing puts people closer to their base state than a threat to their life. Nothing reveals their animal nature more than the desire for survival at any cost. People trained for war have to deal with these extremes time after time, surviving for a greater purpose. Or at least, one hopes so. Because survival in a personal fight can be selfish, but survival in war might mean the fate of nations, or even species. And pretty much every permutation of that kind of fight for survival is explored in the stories you’re about to read.

Don’t be fooled into thinking an anthology of military horror is just a book full of Platoon or Aliens knock-offs. In these pages, the variety of story you’ll find is staggering.

Historical and imagined, science-fictional and contemporary. Mythos, the Wild West and Special Forces. Great wars, small wars and the American Civil War. Shapeshifters and ghosts and extraterrestrial parasites. Japanese demons and supernatural special agents. Monsters large and small. Battles fought with raging gunfire and earth-shattering explosions and battles fought cold, with paper trails and subterfuge. Battles won and lost in moments and battles that stretch across aeons.

There’s great variety in story style and length too. From very short stories to novella length yarns with lots of meat ready to be stripped off their bones. This book is a fine achievement and a great example of a theme superbly explored.

You’ll enjoy all the approaches here and the great writing from both established names and emerging talents. But no matter the variety, one thing that doesn’t change from tale to tale is the underlying truth evident in every one. Lives are at risk, great stakes are being played but throughout every page we’re never allowed to forget that regardless of the nature of the enemy, the real horror is war itself.

Alan Baxter, NSW Australia, 2014

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The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings By Angela Slatter – review by Mario Guslandi

IMG_0594The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings

By Angela Slatter

Tartarus Press 2014, Hardcover, 277 pages

Award-winning Australian author Angela Slatter returns with yet another collection of fantastic stories where she can display once again her fertile and powerful imagination, her extraordinary ability as a storyteller, endowed with an elegant narrative style and a remarkable sensitivity to the mysteries of the universe and the secrets of the human heart.

The present volume, enhanced by a bunch of delightful illustrations by Australian artist Kathleen Jennings, assembles thirteen tales of dark fantasy which will please especially the sophisticated readers fond of well written,stylish fiction.

The gorgeous, British Fantasy Award-winning “The Coffin-Maker’s Daughter” masterfully blends death and lust within the frame of the professional duties of a dismal job.

“The Maiden in the Ice” is an extraordinary, enticing fairy tale for adults, where the hidden secrets of a little village are disclosed after the retrieval of a girl trapped in the ice.

The delicious “The Badger’s Bride” features a girl whose task is to copy a mysterious, ancient book, while the vivid “By My Voice I Shall Be Known” depicts a case of unfaithful love and of a terrible vengeance obtained by means of black magic.

In the atypical vampire story “The Night Stairs” a young girl seeks revenge on a couple of undead but falls victim of an unexpected outcome, while in the fascinating “Terrible as an Army with Banners” we make the acquaintance of a weird sisterhood devoted to save books and knowledge.

Among so many excellent story my favourite,perhaps, is “The Burnt Moon” , a superbly crafted, disturbing story of withcraft,love and fire, a standing example of Slatter’s enormous talent.

Highly recommended.

- review by Mario Guslandi

Strange Gateways by Simon Kurt Unsworth – Reviewed by Mario Guslandi

strange-gateways-jhc-simon-kurt-unsworth-2139-p[ekm]301x420[ekm]Strange Gateways

by Simon Kurt Unsworth

PS Publishing 2014

Hardcover ,148 pages

Reviewed by Mario Guslandi

The third collection by Simon Kurt Unsworth is actually his second, appearing in print later than his most recent work (the remarkable collection Quiet Houses). Thus the present book assembles eleven earlier stories penned by this talented British author who, in a few years, has managed to gain respect and acclaim in the dark fiction area.

Having greatly admired his more recent body of work, I confess I was slightly disappointed by some of the material featured in Strange Gateways. A strange mix of horror and pulp fiction, the present collection cannot be considered as a real setback, but is not certainly up to my expectations.

Again, what we have here is a bunch of old tales which, evidently, are particularly dear to the author, maybe more because of the circumstances under which they have been written (as described in the interesting Afterword) than for their intrinsic value.

Don’t get me wrong: Unsworth is always worth reading (pun intended) and the book includes three outstanding pieces that I’d like to mention.

“The Knitting Child” is a delicate, insightful tale very effectively portraying a young bride saddened by her inability to get pregnant; “Implementing the Least Desirable Solution” is a quite horrific, scaring and breathtaking tale about a murderous, impossibly strong monster getting rid of the inept scientists devoted to investigate its nature; “Mami Wata” is another powerful , memorable piece of supernatural horror, set in a mine in Zambia where a terrible secret is lurking.

Those three stories alone amply deserve the purchase of the book.

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