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.

 

‘Last Year, When We Were Young’ by Andrew J McKiernan – review by Greg Chapman

DISCLAIMER: Thirteen O’Clock is managed by Alan Baxter, Felicity Dowker and Andrew McKiernan as Contributing Editors. While the Contributing Editors’ roles at Thirteen O’Clock are editorial and critique, all three are primarily writers. It is inevitable that their own work will form part of the Australian and international dark fiction publications which are Thirteen O’Clock’s focus, and as such it is also inevitable that their work will be reviewed at Thirteen O’Clock (to prohibit this would not only be unfortunate for Baxter, Dowker, and McKiernan themselves, but for their hardworking editors and publishers).

Thirteen O’Clock will always have a third party contributor review the Contributing Editors’ work. Such reviews will be unedited (aside from standard corrections to typos and grammar), posted in full (be they negative or positive), and will always be accompanied by full disclosure of Baxter, Dowker, and McKiernan’s place at Thirteen O’Clock. At no point will Baxter, Dowker or McKiernan review their own work.

Last Year, When We Were Young - coverLast Year, When We Were Young
by Andrew J McKiernan

Satalyte Publishing (www.satalyte.com.au)

Paperback: ISBN 978-0-9925095-2-1
E-book: ISBN 978-0-9925095-3-8

Review by Greg Chapman

Andrew J. McKiernan’s collection, Last Year When We Were Young, is proof yet again of the incredible writing talent that can be found in Australia and further still, proof that horror can have a meaningful voice that goes well beyond blood and gore.

Whether it is a story about a secretary taking phone messages from the dead, a group of clowns trying to avoid forced conscription in a travelling circus, or astronauts encountering cosmic monsters in the depths of space, the impossible in McKiernan’s stories never fails to engage because the stories always orbit characters that are quantifiably human.

McKiernan’s deft hand with prose is also addictive, with each turn of phrase sweeping the reader away from reality. Although many of his supernatural tales exude mysterious atmosphere, demonic forces or faith, I think the stories where the uncanny takes a back seat are where he really shines. Here the horror is less inexplicable, but no less haunting. The tales, White Lines, White Crosses, The Memory of Water, Calliope: A Steam Romance, and the title story being prime examples.

Overall, the collection is engrossing, every story leaving the reader with sensations of loss, hope, melancholy, repulsion and joy. It’s not often that a writer can convey such a broad section of emotions, but this is what makes collections so worthwhile – and enjoyable.

I recall reading one of Andrew’s Facebook posts some time ago about how he was finding it a real challenge to select the stories for Last Year, When We Were Young, but I can safely say that he and Satalyte Publishing have put together a wonderful treasury of fiction that is well worth any reader’s time, horror fan or no.

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Last-Year-When-Were-Young/dp/0992509521/
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22523234-last-year-when-we-were-young

Review by Greg Chapman (http://www.darkscrybe.blogspot.com/)

Living With the Dead by Martin Livings – Review

Living With the Dead by Martin Livings
Publisher: Dark Prints Press
ISBN: 978-0-9871976-6-5

There’s a quote attributed to Harlan Ellison about writing which goes: “The trick isn’t becoming a writer. The trick is staying a writer.” If this is taken as true, then Martin Livings has certainly mastered the trick. For twenty years Livings has been publishing horror fiction fairly consistently, and of a quality high enough to have received multiple nominations (and a couple of wins) of nearly every major Australian speculative-fiction award there is. He has published a novel, novellas, and novelettes, but it is in the short story form that Livings is most prolific, and possibly, at his best.

Living With The Dead is Martin Livings’s first published collection of short stories. Brought to us by Dark Prints Press, the book (in its physical form) is a striking and hefty trade paperback with a marvellously evocative monochromatic cover illustration by Vincent Chong. Inside are twenty three stories; a reprint story for each of Mr Livings’s published twenty years, plus three brand new stories. That might seem like a lot of stories for a single-author collection, but this isn’t just a ‘greatest hits’ compilation. Living With the Dead is more a retrospective collection of Livings’ writing career to date. While not presented in publication order, the decision to include so many stories does mean a more variable collection overall. But, considering the high quality of the stories throughout, this matters little, and the inclusion of so many tales does give an interesting (and more complete) overview of Livings’s progression as writer.

Being as there are so many stories, I’ll limit myself to commenting on those I found exceptional and name dropping those that I found merely good. As you’ll see, even that will still cover a great portion of the collection.

Lollo is the lead-story, and as it is a story about an evil clown doll, it is sure to creep out a large portion of the horror reading genre. I’ve never really been bothered by that particular fear — I think clowns much maligned, in fact — but Lollo was written well enough to keep me hooked. Maybe it’s the 80s slasher film feel to the story that lifts it above the typical evil-clown tale? Sort of like a Tarantino mash-up of 80s horror. Whatever it is, Lollo is a great lead in to the collection and certainly sets the tone.

You Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Yet is the first original tale to the collection, and one that tickled both my ‘what if’ and ‘film history’ buttons. The premise? What would a snuff film from the era of Silent Film be like? In typical Livings style, he holds back from the obvious tack of hack-and-slash gore until the last excruciating moment. I’m glad that, after a rough publication history, this story has seen print. It’s a really good one.

Running is a story originally written for Agog Press’s giant monster anthology ‘Daikaiju’. It takes the absurd ‘sport’ of Running With the Bulls and makes it even more absurd. And yet, at the same time, Running is a touching story of how the forces of nature (such as hurricane Katrina) can affect and change our lives. It is often this mix of the absurd with the touching that makes Livings’ work so memorable.

Piggies is a story I missed when it was first published, and a good thing too or I probably would never have written my own The Final Degustation of Doctor Ernest Blenheim. The ideas are so similar, that Piggies acts almost as a prequel. What lifts Piggies far above my own story, is Livings’ ability (like that of his story’s protagonist) to cut things right back to the bone. Piggies is short and sharp and all the more disturbing for it.

In Nomine Patris (see, I’m listing near every story here!) is another short tale. Incest, abortion, cannibalism, religion and all handled sensitively in only 3 1/2 pages. Where many authors would pad out a idea like this, Livings leaves you with only the barest of bones. It is restraint like this that makes Livings well worth reading.

Hooked is possibly the most twisted tale in the book. Not for the gore or surreal twists of Livings’ other works, but for the way it takes our childhood dreams and turns them into something much more horrible and (probably) much more realistic. Here J.M.Barrie’s Peter Pan is given the Livings treatment, with all our favourite characters descending into crime, prostitution and drug addiction. A cautionary tale maybe, for those who find it too hard to give up their childhoods?

Living With the Dead, the title story, is one of the older tales in the collection. Despite the spectre of HIV/AIDS Hysteria having long faded from our media-ruled consciousnesses, it would be too simple to change this tale of social cleansing to a more modern disease or even life-choices and other perceived ‘differences’ (such as sexuality or religion) and for it to still have relevance. Keeping this in mind, Living With the Dead loses none of its impact almost 20 years past its original publication.

Birthday Suit is another story original to the collection, and my favourite of the lot. Others must have thought so too, because Birthday Suit was recently short-listed for just about every Australian spec-fic award and won the Australian Shadow Award for best Horror Short Story. The tale has the feel of Ray Bradbury about it, of normal lives lived and the bittersweet experiences that can bring. I won’t even go into the premise of Birthday Suit, because I want you to discover it for youself. It is so good an idea I can’t believe nobody thought of this before. But, then again, I’m glad it is Martin Livings who was the writer who did think of it as he certainly does the concept justice. Birthday Suit is so wonderful and beautiful and sad, that (even though I’d read it before) it really topped off the collection for me.

A few other stories deserve mention. Down Town, Smiley, Into the Valley and The Last Gig of Jimmy Rucker (written with Talie Helene) are all wonderful too. This isn’t too say that any of the stories in this collection are bad or not worth reading. Some are indeed more mature, more assured, than others but all were deserving of their initial publication and it is a treat to read them all collected here.

Overall, Living With the Dead is a great collection of tales, although a little uneven at times. It shows Martin Livings to be an author who enjoys tugging on his readers’ heartstrings just as much as he enjoys severing them. Twenty years is a long time to have been publishing short stories but, on the strength of Living With the Dead, I’m hoping that in twenty years I’ll be waxing lyrical about Martin Livings’ second retrospective collection.

The Awakening by Brett McBean – Reviewed by Greg Chapman

awakeningThe Awakening by Brett McBean
Publisher: The Asylum Projects/Tasmaniac Publications; First Edition edition (2012)
Paperback: 432 pages
ISBN: 978-0-9871-9492-3

The Awakening, by Melbourne horror author Brett McBean is a novel that proves the value of horror fiction as a story.
For horror to work it has to have heart, not only in its characters, but also in what the story is trying to say and McBean lays the “heart” on thick in this tale.
And at its heart, The Awakening is a tale about a boy growing up, but it’s also an intricate exploration of prejudice, retribution and forgiveness.
The basic premise of the story centres on young Toby, a boy on the cusp of adulthood and his curiosities about life after grade school, girls, alcohol – and the strange old man across the street – Mr Joseph, a black man, who many in the town regard as a freak.
McBean takes his time in the first half of the book, moulding Toby, Toby’s parents and friends and creating an air of mystery around Mr Joseph, but when another stranger arrives in town, an apparent acquaintance of Mr. Joseph’s, the story goes into overdrive.
After Toby and his friend are brutally attacked on their way to an after school party, Toby is set on a path where he gets to know Mr Joseph on a very personal level and we discover the old man’s origins and a dark past that takes us back to Haiti and zombis!
Through the course of their interaction, Mr Joseph teaches Toby about the real world, but at the same time the old man learns a lot from the boy, especially about letting go of the past.
With an overload of zombie fiction, involving viruses or plagues, it was a joy to have McBean take the zombis back to their Haitian roots. The author, in my humble opinion, made the monsters worthy again.
And with great skill McBean manages to weave everything together for an edge of your seat climax where many mysteries are solved and the characters we’ve cared for are actually “re-awakened”.
The Awakening reminded me a lot of the film Stand By Me, based upon a story by Stephen King, yet it stands on its own as a new classic in not just the horror genre, but fiction as a whole.
I should also congratulate Tasmaniac Publications for creating the wonderful hardback edition of McBean’s book, including Erin Wells’ interior art and Ray Garton’s inspired introduction. The end product speaks very loudly to the fact that an e-book just can’t shine a light to a proper paper book made with love.
Although the limited edition hardback has sold out, rumour has it that a paperback edition will be released in the near future.
Highly recommended.
Review by Greg Chapman (http://www.darkscrybe.blogspot.com/)

Review: Fragments of a Broken Land: Valarl Undead

Fragments of a Broken Land: Valarl Undead
By Robert Hood
Publisher: Borgo Press/Wildside Press
Paperback: 432 pages
ISBN: 978-1-4344-4589-6

Blurb: In a place where no stars appear in the night sky, a group of strangers whose ancestries reach back to an earlier apocalyptic disaster are brought together to track down a resurrected corpse that might hold the key to the End of the World. Described by science fiction legend Jack Dann as “one of the strangest and most interesting visions to come out of the modern horror/fantasy genres,” acclaimed author Robert Hood’s Fragments of a Broken Land: Valarl Undead is an epic tale of greed, dying magic, strange monsters, and a motley group of heroes, with a strange and breathless climax you won’t easily forget.

When I think of Fantasy as a genre, I don’t often get the modern Epic Fantasy image of Dwarves and Orcs and Elves questing through majestic forests in my mind. I’ve always been more drawn to the works of Clark Ashton Smith, Fritz Leiber, William Hope Hodgson, Robert E Howard, Jack Vance, M. John Harrison and Michael Moorcock. Their fantasies were always so much more ‘otherworldly’ than the faux-Europes and other earth-analogues of modern Epic Fantasy. Their worlds were far-distant not only in ‘place’ from our own, but often also far-distant in ‘time’. Long past or far, far in the future, they were as foreign and exotic to the reader as if they really had just stepped into another country and culture.

Fragments of a Broken Land: Valarl Undead, the debut adult-novel¹ from Robert Hood, has this Otherworldliness in spades. The ‘world’ of Tharenweyr is as strange and exotic a place as has ever existed in fantasy fiction. Indeed, it is not even a world but a solid firmament (or a ‘seed-like emanation’ as Hood puts it on his website) that exists separate from space and time as we know it. It has no sun or moon or stars. Not even the infinite void of space to stare into. Instead, Tharenweyr is locked within its firmament, a mysterious wave of energy that washes from the ‘Worldly Gods’ of the north to the ‘Dark Gods’ of the south and creating the semblance night and day.

The novel begins with Remis, a young and newly graduated spellbinder interested in starting her own magical artifacts business, who is being pressured (threatened, intimidated) into working for a powerful Merchant House. She’s also having horrible nightmares in which she finds herself trapped inside the body of a hideous corpse-like being. And then there’s Tashnark, the bastard son of a commercial slaver. He’s having dreams that he is the powerful warrior Bellaroth, questing across some strange otherworld that exists on the shoulders of a vast cosmic monster.

It is the chance meeting of Remis and Tashnark – their respective dreams unknown to each other – that sets the course of lifting Fragments of a Broken Land.. out of individual nightmares and into a fantasy who’s cosmic scope rivals anything by Lovecraft or William Hope Hodgson. Gods battling Gods. Ancient artifacts and the prophesised return of catalysmic events that will wipe Tharenweyr out of existence. And, as always, Gods using normal people as their pawns.

In the hands of Robert Hood Fragments of a Broken Land… becomes so much more than just a Fantasy or Sword & Sorcery adventure though. The philosophical and spiritual underpinnings Hood has evoked for the world and its people almost demand a denser tale. In this sense, Hood certainly delivers. At times Fragments of a Broken Land… can be a hard read. You need to concentrate a bit. Divest some of your attention in the book. But believe me, the effort is worth it; Fragments of a Broken Land… will have your brain spinning in Gnostically-induced circles.

One thing that really did stand out for me is Tharenweyr’s main city of Ko’erpel-Na. The characters of Fragments of a Broken Land… all have a wonderful depth — their sense of humour, of justice, the way they try and interpret their world and the way they react to it — but the city is just as much a character too. It reminded me of Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar or M. John Harrison’s Viriconium. It’s dirty, it’s crowded and full of disease and poverty, but there is also a feel to Ko’erpel-Na that speaks of age and so many lives lived within its walls. The impression I got of the city and its people was quite vivid, quite ‘real’. It seems a place just begging for a million more tales to be told.

Overall, Fragments of a Broken Land: Valarl Undead is a brilliant fantasy novel of the type we seldom get to read these days. Dense and exotic and full of ideas. It’s also full of sword & sorcery action too, and the type of cosmic horror that leaves you paranoid about your own reality. Really, what more could you ask for in a book?

Don’t believe me? Want to check it out for yourself? Mr Hood has three other Tharenweyr ‘Fragment’ stories to read for free on his website [http://fragmentsnovel.undeadbackbrain.com/]. Definitely worth checking out as a teaser and to get a feel for the world before tackling the very worthy Fragments of a Broken Land: Valarl Undead.

Oh, and the cover by Bob Eggleton? It is brilliant!

Footnote:
1. Robert Hood is the author of 5 previous Young Adult Novels, 15 Children’s books, published 3 collections of his own work, and edited a further 5 anthologies.