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For a long time I've wanted to set up an online repository of my interviews, reviews and other writings ... and here it is! Use the Subject List to the right to select an author/topic and you will get all the entries which relate to the selected subject. Have fun browsing through!

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Christmas Horror Picks

Christmas is a time for gathering your friends and family around a blazing fire, sipping brandy as you listen to the wind howl outside and the rain beat against the window panes. Then someone clears their throat and starts to tell tales of ghosts and ghoulies, of strange crazed men scuttling along alleys lit only by the full moon, of werewolves and of vampires. David J. Howe presents his pick of horror and fantasy books published in 1994.

Title / Publisher / Format / Author
Gross Outs
Entertainment Value
The Ghosts of Sleath
(HarperCollins h/b)
James Herbert
Haunted psychic investigator checks out a ghost-infested village and finds more than he bargained for.
Subtle and varied. Hauntings include an eerie burning haystack, a small drowned boy, a bleeding gibbet. The ending is guaranteed to leave you squirming.
This is a sequel to Herbert’s novel Haunted and features the same lead characters. The people come over as very real with believable problems and anxieties. It might help to have read Haunted first.
Very much a ‘traditional’ ghost story told in Herbert’s unique voice. A modern-day fireside chiller.
Herbert is fairly restrained in this novel. However scenes in which a man has his face planed off with carpentry tools are pretty nasty.
A classic story by Britain’s master of horror.
Caliban’s Hour
(Legend h/b)
Tad Williams
Caliban, anti-hero of Shakespeare’s The Tempest returns to extract his revenge on Prospero and Miranda. But first he must tell his story.
This is a superb short fantasy novel taking recognised characters and revealing their hidden past. Biggest shock is when Caliban’s mother dies.
Caliban comes alive in this novel. He is portrayed as a tragic and sensitive character, full of true human regrets and passions. A superb prequel/sequel to The Tempest.
Williams is a natural storyteller and his fertile imagination transports you effortlessly to Caliban’s verdant isle. A totally believable and convincing tale.
Emotional rather than visceral horror. The slow realisation that the beast Caliban is more human than those who would teach him to be like them. Revulsion at man’s vanity and pomposity.
Superb character study by one of the finest Fantasy writers working today.
(Gollancz h/b & p/b)
Mark Chadbourn
New Orleans: the dead start to appear on the streets as a young Englishman, David Easter, searches for his lost love, Fermay, and his lost memory. The key to all these strange happenings is buried in Fermay’s past, but can David discover the truth before it is too late.
Many and varied as the plot twists and turns, keeping you guessing as to how all the pieces fit together. The realisation of what Fermay has to do with the horrific killings is a classic.
Fermay is a wonderful creation with whom you instantly fall in love. David Easter is also very believable as are the assorted crooks and villains who populate New Orleans’ seedy underbelly.
Chadbourn’s love of jazz music, New Orleans and horror are mixed together into a potent brew of suspense and terror. David’s amnesia slowly clears and as he remembers precisely why Fermay left him, we realise that he is in deep trouble.
An attack by a half-man half-bird creature is powerful stuff. Fermay’s role in the proceedings and why she left England also provide a stomach-churning scenario.
Spooky jazz/horror mix with a keen edge. Incredible pulling power.
Feersum Endjinn
(Little Brown h/b)
Iain Banks
In a future world where reality exists as levels of Virtual Reality in a massive super-computer, the rulers realise that someone is spreading a computer virus through the chaotic levels of the software, resulting in rampant instability and chaos in life’s infrastructure.
The beauty and effectiveness with which Banks draws all his disparate plot threads together into one seamless tapestry. There are many shocks along the way as the characters realise what is going on and how it affects them.
The novel follows three main characters and all are varied and colourful. Most distinctive is Bascule the Teller, a minor prophet who can only write in phonetic English making for challenging reading.
Banks’ imagination is awesome. This is a science fiction tour de force involving computers, virtual reality and altered states of existence. All rolled up in a triumbrate plot involving the saving of civilisation. Incredible, breathtaking stuff
When a soldier, digging in the ground, breaks through to find he is several miles above another ‘ground’ and falls to a rather messy death. Also, several attacks on Bascule by a disembodied skinless face which gibbers at him.
Science Fiction for people who think they don’t like science fiction. Superb storytelling from a great writer.
Lost Souls
(Penguin p/b)
Poppy Z. Brite
A rites of passage story involving vampires, death-rock musicians, and unrequited love.
Brite’s vampires are incredible, sensuous creatures. Fatally attractive to human females, once impregnated, the unborn foetus literally devours the mother from inside. There aren’t many female vampires keen to have kids!
The lead human characters, Steve and Ghost, are sensitively characterised and totally believable. The vampires are eternal, lonely, vicious, violent and ultimately tragic. The book is a literary and sensual feast which works on many levels.
It takes guts and certainty to put a new spin on vampires these days and Brite manages it in a pervasive and evocative debut novel which feeds all our senses. Taste the blood, smell the cloves and spices, sip the green Chartreuse. Never has a hidden world been better realised.
When the new vampire Nothing kills his schoolfriend. Vicious and loving, brutal and understanding. A twisted love story of epic grandeur.
Incredible sensory overload. A novel to be experienced and savoured.
The Sleepless
(Heinmann p/b)
Graham Masterton
An ancient life-force sucking evil has been manipulating events since the dawn of time. An accident investigator stumbles onto the secret and comes face to face with the terrifying ‘Mr Hillary’.
A brilliant twisting tale of an evil insidiously entwined throughout our history. Shocks aplenty.
Masterton’s characters are realistic and identifiable. We know these people and the situations with which they are confronted stretch their human abilities to the very limits.
With over 24 horror novels to his name Masterton still writes a fresh tale. This book takes as its premise the children’s rhyme ‘Green grow the rushes-oh’ and imbues it with a sinister and horrifying meaning. Not for the squeamish
Masterton is king of ‘squirmy’ fiction. Here we have multiple murder by pneumatic bolt-cutters and felines found in unnatural places. Gross, great fun and completely terrifying.
A superb chilling story from an accomplished writer. Not for the weak hearted.
(Penguin p/b)
Peter James
A college professor invents a ‘learning’ computer called ARCHIVE which will, it is hoped, eventually mimic human behaviour. A student discovers how to download memory onto computer disk and then upload it to another host. When the student dies, her memory and personality gets uploaded to ARCHIVE with horrific results.
A novel dealing with cryonics and sentient computers. Numerous nervous moments: the discoveries, the science, the intrusion of a stranger into a formally happy family life. The ending.
James handles his characters with care and attention and they become effective as a result. Both the older professor and the young student with whom he forms a liaison are well written. The computer is cold, as is the cryonics. It all works well together.
James’ work is often based on real life fact and this is no exception. The skill is in projecting it just far enough ahead to be terrifyingly real with the ‘scientific breakthrough’ scenario that is both effective and plausible. These fictions of today may well be the fact of tomorrow.
Some superb set pieces. The dropping of a cryogenically frozen head has shattering results. The kidnap of the professor’s son and what his eventual fate might be. Chillingly effective.
Detailed research gives this novel a ‘true life’ edge which leaves the reader wondering if what they have just read is really fiction. Very enjoyable stuff, especially for those who consider  computers to be an unknowable force. You are being watched!
The Pan Book of Horror: Dark Voices 6
 (Pan p/b)
Edited by David Sutton and Stephen Jones
This annual collection of horror is still going strong and proves that short stories are just as popular and effective as their longer counterparts. This volume features multiple personalities, mythic terrors, Mexican ghosts, man-eating plants, medical experiments, metamorphosis, maggots, maniacs and loads more brilliant stuff starting with the letter ‘m’.
There are shocks aplenty in its 19 stories. A Roman curse rebounds on its modern day initiator with devastating results; a son finds the ideal base material for his maggot farm; a multiple murderer discovers that his latest intended victim is not as helpless as he thinks. There are too many to list but you are bound to find something here to touch a personal nerve.
Imagination …? A supergroup comprised of Elvis, Joplin, Hendrix, Lennon, Moon and Bonham … making love with a dolphin …  a comedian who makes his big entrance from inside another comedian … a husband who discovers that you shouldn’t two-time your wife if she is a seamstress … all from the cream of todays short horror story writers.
With stories by John Brunner, Michael Marshall Smith, Kim Newman, Nancy Holder, David Case, Nicholas Royle, Daniel Fox, Kathe Koja and others, the characters who populate these tales of terror are either bitter, twisted or dead. Sometimes all three … and before the end of the stories. Hardly a duff one in sight.
There are several wincingly good denouements to the stories but I can’t tell all here or there would be no point in reading them. Trust me on this.
If you like your chills to be short and sharp then this collection delivers. Superior horror fiction.

David J Howe