Category Archives: novella

Snake Eyes by Joseph D’Lacey

Snake Eyes

by Joseph D’Lacey

Published by Crossroad Press, 2012.

While Joseph D’Lacey may not be the most productive writer around (only two novels since 2008) he has been a consistently enjoyable one. Both his eco-horror novels Meat and Garbage Man were very enjoyable books and his 2009 novella, The Kill Crew was a short, sharp joy but it’s now been a couple of years since When The Night Comes Down (Dark Arts Books) featured his last published stories so I was delighted to see this new publication. Snake Eyes consists of two novellas, the eponymous title story and a shorter story A Trespasser In Long Lofting.

First thing to point out is that whatever Joseph D’Lacey has been doing over the last couple of years certainly hasn’t involved laurels and resting. Snake Eyes delivers in all sorts of ways but most importantly sees D’Lacey embarking on a new and ambitious style mixing SF with Horror and Fantasy in a very satisfactory fashion as he builds on a style he started to explore in The Kill Crew. The world of Snake Eyes is a multi layered, complex place which cleverly manages to pull the reader along as it spirals into ever greater circles of confusion. Importantly, however, D’Lacey manages to keep things pacy and very readable and I was certainly hooked from the start to the finish. The story moves from its weird fiction beginnings to its Space Odyssey ending smoothly, yet this tale is stuffed full of pace change and style variations which in the hands of a lesser author would jolt the reader out of the story, not here though, here everything fits immaculately with beautiful prose and startling imagery throughout. Snake Eyes is different and clearly shows an author who has moved up a gear and who is prepared to experiment, thank goodness he succeeds.

A Trespasser In Long Lofting is quite a different thing. A bawdy comedy horror tale, it’s actually laugh out loud funny. There are hints of Pratchett and Douglas Adams on display as a demon falls from the sky onto the village of Long Lofting. Obviously, this causes intense theological debate amongst the villagers as well as more basic attractions for the village women. I’ve never been a huge fan of comedy in horror but this works for me. At one point D’Lacey starts to outcompete Roger’s Profanisaurus as he joyfully  describes the demons testicles ( adversarial gonads anyone) it shouldn’t work but it does, particularly if you have the sense of humour of a fourteen year old like me.

So extreme contrast as the first story delivers intense intelligent plot and thoughtful subtext, while the second delivers comedy by the bucket load. Joseph D’Lacey is back and he’s on stellar form with these two tales, clearly the intervening years have not been wasted, instead he has moved forward with his writing, exploring new style and genres and doing it with some panache.

Rating 4.5 out of 5

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Gunpowder by Joe Hill

Gunpowder

by Joe Hill

Format: Hardback, 81 pages.

Publisher: PS Publishing, 2008.

 

Having just completed a 1300+ page book, it is with some relief that the next book on my reading pile was only 80(ish) pages, what is remarkable is how much Joe Hill has crammed into these 81 pages. For those who aren’t aware “Gunpowder” is Joe Hill’s latest novella, only available (so far anyway) in a variety of limited editions from PS Publishing. It is some measure of Joe’s growing success that most of these editions sold out very quickly.

Unfortunately Joe Hill seems to be tarred with some kind of negative hype banner, it’s almost as if, because of his parentage, he can’t possibly be as good as the hype suggests. Well I disagree, on the evidence of this and most of his other published works he is a major talent so for once believe the hype. Gunpowder is an SF novella in the tradition of Bradbury. Set in a distant planet in an unnamed future this is a story full of questions. A group of genetically modified (artificially created) children live on this planet, part of their modification is the ability to psyform, create physical objects from thoughts, a talent that grows as they grow older. The caring, sharing powers that be have clearly dumped them on a distant planet to allow them to develop these abilities with the eventual aim of terraforming the planet. Of course, being children, they tend to use their imaginations for less beneficial means and it is the job of their “mother” to control them.

So part Lord of The Flies, part Martian Chronicles, this is a story of love, redemption, the cruelty of children, the love of a mother, the callousness of society and the politics of genetic modification. To create a full blown novel which engages with the characters, is thought provoking, emotionally involving and yet well paced would be an achievement for any writer. To achieve this in the space of 81 pages shows the full extent of Joe Hill’s talent. I hope this story eventually finds the wider audience it deserves but for the moment PS Publishing should be congratulated not just for the quality of the production but for releasing new gems of this standard and I for one will be waiting for Joe Hill’s next work with baited breath, hype or no hype.

 

Rating 4 out of 5

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Weirdtongue by D.F. Lewis

Weirdtongue

By D. F. Lewis

Published by Inkermen Press, 2010.

D. F. Lewis is perhaps most famous for his Nemonymous collections, a remarkable series of books featuring many major horror writers. A recipient of a British Fantasy Society award, he has had over 1500 short stories published, Weirdtongue is his first novella. As he states on his website his main aim is “writing fiction creatively beyond his own experience”.

This is the part of the review where I would normally summarise the plot. Breaking it down to its major components without any spoilers, I wont be doing that here. Not that there isn’t a plot, there is, it’s just that attempting to describe it would be like attempting to juggle jelly. Maybe I should concentrate on the cast of characters. Folk like Padgett Weggs, Feemy Fitzworth, Modal Morales or the main player Gregory Mummerset, a remarkable cast who in some equally remarkable locations tease the reader into the story but again remain virtually indescribable.

But lets not worry too much about plot or character here, this book is all about words and more specifically the creative power of words, “vexed texture of text” as the author puts it. “A circus of wild wordplay” ensues and what a circus it is. It’s akin to walking in a foggy landscape, every now and then a familiar shape appears which one can recognise, then other shapes appear which may or may not be what they seem and then there are others which remain completely unrecognisable. Here is a typical example, “even single neologisms from his mouth became separate believable dictionaries of semantic force”. Now I think I know what that means but don’t ask me to explain it. Have you ever laid back and watched the clouds with a friend, every know and then you see a shape but you find your friend sees something different. The words in this novella are like those clouds, forming indistinct patterns which occasionally create powerful resonances with the reader but often just drift away.

Still, this is no mere exercise in language or confusing the reader. If you want that read Bob Dylan’s Tarantula, a stream of consciousness, an impenetrable wall of prose which left me baffled. Weirdtongue is not like that, it tests the reader (and I was often found wanting) but rewards with some remarkable imagery, worthy of a Terry Gilliam film. Often I found myself riding a wave of words, never quite in control but just enjoying the ride. Above all though Lewis has created something original, social commentary, jokes, pathos, fantastical worlds, all through the power of words and it stands out like a beacon in the sea of post apocalyptic, zombie repetitiveness. It’s a book that will repay further exploration of its hidden depths, just be prepared to put a little effort into that journey….oh, and take a dictionary.

Rating 4 out of 5

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The Thief Of Broken Toys by Tim Lebbon

The Thief of Broken Toys

By Tim Lebbon

Published by ChiZine Publications, 2010

I always look forward to a new Tim Lebbon novella. That’s not to dismiss his many excellent novels (e.g. Bar None, Fallen, The Island) nor his extensive short story back catalogue many of which have now been collected together in Last Exit For the Lost (review soon). No, it’s just that Tim Lebbon novellas are usually something very special. The author himself has acknowledged that he feels the novella is the perfect length for horror. Large enough to allow a full exploration of the characters but short enough not to lose any of the impact of the horror within. Some of his previous novellas have been among the most powerful pieces of horror writing available anywhere (if you haven’t read White yet, then stop reading this and go and buy yourself a copy).

The Thief Of Broken Toys is a tragic, strange, emotional piece which satisfies on every level.

We meet Roy and Elizabeth following the unexpected death of their young son Toby. Wrought with guilt and at a loss as to how to carry on they have separated, leaving Roy alone with his memories in the former family home. Long walks along the rain battered Cornish coastline give Roy time to think and it is on one of these walks that he meets a stranger who promises him potential relief from his tortured feelings but at what price?

This is a story which exists at the borders, the very edges of our normal existence. Night and day, winter and summer, town and country, love and loss and ultimately, life and death. All these boundaries are brought to bear on the fragility of the human spirit. The loss and the conflicting emotions are brilliantly portrayed and brought to life against the backdrop of the wild Cornish coastal scenery.

There is little horror here other than the fear for our own and our families mortality. Instead, there is a strange mystical inference. The old man appears as some kind of angelic figure, a fisher king but with no clear motivation his presence may be good or bad. The emotional torment Roy feels through, not only the loss of his child but also, the loss of his family structure leads him to pursue an avenue that he may not otherwise venture down and the reader is with him through every difficult decision.

Once again Tim Lebbon has delivered a beautifully crafted, marvellously written and emotionally powerful novella. Highly recommend.

Rating 4.5/5

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The Harm by Gary McMahon

The Harm

by Gary MacMahon

Published by TTA Press, 2010

Gary McMahon is one of the shining lights of British Horror and also one of it’s more prolific authors. With several book deals promising a significant output over the next few years, you can expect Mr. McMahon to be appearing on a bookshelf near you soon. All the more exciting is the fact that he is also one of the most powerful writers around. The Harm is his latest novella from Black Static publishers, TTA press.

The story tells the tale of three men Tyler, Roarke and Potter who as boys were subjected to terrible abuse whilst exploring an old warehouse. Each boy has grown into a troubled soul, wracked with guilt and doubts about the abusive incident, they have all suffered at the hands of society. With issues of drink, crime and displacement from society the spectre of abuse hangs over all of them “the harm..was resposible for the fractures in every relationship.”

When the boys begin to experience strange visions and nightmares, which brings the abuse to life again, a tragic conclusion is inevitable. Rather than take the standard path of dealing with the abusive event itself, Gary McMahon has bravely dealt with the aftermath and the dark shadow it casts over all those involved, no matter how indirectly. In doing so he has created an emotional tour de force but one which is relentless in its dark intensity.

The characters are excellent and the plot simple yet pointed but it’s the prose which colours everything in the deepest black. The engagement this draws with the reader is intense. Make no mistake there is no light at the end of the tunnel here but McMahon shines a huge floodlight on the tunnels walls outlining every crack and dark corner.

If it has a problem it is only that it feels unfinished, probably deliberately so, but none the less there are questions remaining unanswered at the end. Nasty “Uncle” Grant appears towards the end but seems to have a much more significant part to play. The supernatural element is hinted at but never defined. There is no doubt there is more of the story to tell and it may have been possible to exand this novella to tell it but would it have been better then..almost definitely not. Expansion may have brought some form of closure or neat conclusion but that is almost the point of this story. For the victims (and everyone else involved) there is no conclusion, no happy ending so it is appropriate that this book doesn’t give the reader one.

Gary McMahon’s horror comes from real life. His writing is an attempt to “exorcise these thoughts” and he does this brilliantly with style and substance in The Harm. Highly recommended.

Rating 5 out of 5

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Yuppieville by Tony Richards

Yuppieville

by Tony Richards

Published by Screaming Dreams, 2010.

When pregnant couple Frank and Joannie decide that the city is no place to raise a family their search for a better option leads them to escape into suburbia. Youngesville, their chosen idyll seems like the perfect place, crime free and safe at least on the surface.

It’s not long before Frank starts to have second thoughts, suspicions shared with his brother Jack. The whole place just seems a bit too sensible, too nice. As Jack says it’s almost as if the people are “not living here, any of you…you’re just waiting to die”. The suspicions they have are soon confirmed when Frank begins to note strange behaviour among the neighbours.

Tony Richard’s weaves a fun tale exploring the niceties of suburbia and the underlying horror that pervades Youngesville. Told in a simple, direct prose style it’s a short, punchy story with a suitably horrific ending. Youngesville is populated by a diverse range of suburbanites with hidden dark sides, including the marvellous Leonora who graces the cover. Mixing elements of “The Midwitch Cuckoo’s”, “Desperate Housewives” and the “X-Files” it still manages to retain it’s own identity.

Whilst there is nothing particularly groundbreaking here, this is an enjoyable and entertaining tale. The characters are well drawn and interesting and the pace builds to a dramatic conclusion. Tony Richards has a fine back catalogue which I have only just started to explore. Yuppieville is a fine addition to his work.

Rating 3.5 out of 5

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Cape Wrath by Paul Finch

Cape Wrath
by Paul Finch
Publisher: Telos, 2002.

I recently encountered Paul Finch in the pages of Black Static 14. His story We, Who Live In The Wood was an outstanding short story. Full of deep empathy for nature and a sense of place, it was also violent, dark and creepy. In short it was everything I liked in fiction. I decided to seek out more works by Mr. Finch and purchased Cape Wrath as a first step.

The island of Craeghatir is a desolate, isolated rock off Cape Wrath on the northernmost tip of Scotland. The island holds secrets, however, as scattered amongst the trees and lonely crags are ancient megaliths and barrows. It’s to investigate these places that Professor Jo Mercy leads a team of young archaeologists. In particular they are in search of the legendary Ivar Ragnarsson an infamous Viking with a penchant for violence.

Before long the team find clues which seem to indicate they are on the right trail but events are set to disrupt the investigation. A series of grisly accidents follow and it soon becomes clear that the deserted island is not quite as deserted as they would like.

Cape Wrath is a short novel which packs a huge punch. Full of tension, extreme violence and in one scene, particularly graphic sex. It’s also a book full of that same genius loci that I encountered in the Black Static tale. It’s a very powerful portrayal of place, you can almost smell the pine trees and feel the savage wind on your face as you read.

The characters are interesting and some of the complex relationships play a huge part in the developing tensions. The plot is fairly straightforward but that allows for more action and less exposition, climaxing in a vicious and satisfying conclusion.

For me, it wasn’t quite up to the standard of We, Who Live In the Wood. I think in comparing the two stories we can see Paul Finch developing as a writer. The prose and drama in the Black Static short is tight and well paced. Cape Wrath, published much earlier, has a looser feel but still reads well. Finch has an almost Holdstock like ability to portray that defining sense of place and history, an ability that pulls you into his writing and leaves you filled with deep and powerful emotions. In short despite having read so little of his work, Paul Finch is rapidly gaining a place as one of my favourite writers.

Rating 4 out of 5

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