This was Brian Keene month. After reading The Occurrence at Crazy Bear Valley, I remembered how much I enjoyed his work. There were a number of his classics that I hadn’t read (he’s written over 50 books), and I decided to rectify that. Despite my supposed moratorium on buying books, I just had to pick them up.
Of course, I read some other great authors this month on my quest to study the horror genre. There’s a bizarro book there, too, because I couldn’t resist.
Firestarter by Stephen King
I had not heard of this King novel until I recently saw the trailer for the new movie. It is, in fact, one of his earlier novels, written in 1980. The book has that Stephen King feel—once described as “social melodrama”—and like most of his work, I found myself glued from page one to the afterword. A girl and her father are on the run from the government. Both possess psychic abilities, though the girl’s pyrokinesis makes her their main target. But as you know, you shouldn’t play with fire. While it wasn’t my favorite King novel, it floored me, nonetheless.
Masters of Darkness III ed. Dennis Etchison
This anthology, published back in 1991, contains stories from some of the biggest names in the horror genre, including Stephen King, Clive Barker, Dean Koontz, Joyce Carol Oates, and many more—truly masters of darkness. It collects stories that have special meaning to the authors but received little notice at the time. Some border on science fiction and fantasy, but all have a dark, chilling element. That said, one of the stories was so unreadable that I had to stop reading 4 pages from the end. I considered putting the book down, but I am glad I didn’t as the anthology finishes strong.
Earthworm Gods by Brian Keene
Some books grab me at their title. Ever since I heard of this book, I’ve wanted to read it. And it did not disappoint. Cosmic horror is my favorite sub-genre, but apocalyptic horror? Not so much. This book melds the two in a winning combination. Nonstop rain has flooded the world and giant worms are breaking free of the earth. The story channels Lovecraft, with many parallels, but without seeming derivative. I felt a strong connection with the octogenarian protagonist, even though I don’t usually bond as well with older characters. In the end, it lived up to its title.
The Rising by Brian Keene
I’ve said on this blog that Max Brooks’ World War Z is the only zombie novel I’ve ever enjoyed. That was until I picked up The Rising. It doesn’t follow the usual formula of a virus turning people into zombies. Instead, a rift in dimensions causes demonic forces to inhabit the bodies of the dead. These zombies are smart and fast, can shoot guns and drive cars, possessing not only human bodies, but animals’ as well. This is a book where anything bad that can happen does, making for a white-knuckled read with some incredibly emotional scenes.
City of the Dead by Brian Keene
It may have been a mistake to read The Rising and its sequel City of the Dead back-to-back. Don’t get me wrong, both books are terrific, but they’re also INTENSE. The first 80 pages were almost non-stop action. The excitement got to me, reading so fast that I almost skipped sentences. This novel is set in the last place you’d want to be in a zombie apocalypse: New York City. Eight million undead swarm the streets. A single skyscraper is the last bastion of humankind. I think I enjoyed this novel even more than The Rising. But after that emotional evisceration, the next book I read had to be something lighter.
Bacon-Fried Bastard by David W. Barbee
I’ve been vocal on this blog about my love of David Barbee’s work. And this is one of his best. Barbee is a master worldbuilder, his settings scream creativity. The city of Salembruise is a perfect example of this. Within, we find Piggly Swiggly, a gluttonous pig-man literally fueled by alcohol. Everyone is out to get him, from renegade “lawborgs” to a bootlegging crime syndicate to the bacon junkies eager to eat him. Piggly will do whatever he can to remain drunk: murdering and stealing and committing all kinds of atrocities. Yet to my surprise, I rooted for him the entire way.
Writing in the Dark by Tim Waggoner
As I’ve said multiple times, this horror textbook has taught me more about writing than any other how-to book I’ve read. The chapter on writing with an emotional core alone was worth its weight in gold. Each chapter begins with the main lesson, followed by a series of exercises to practice what you’ve learned, and ends with advice from some of the most prominent names in the genre. It has changed how I write forever, filling in holes that I didn’t know needed filling. And I’ve emerged from it a better writer.
As for reading more Brian Keene, the wonderful part of his work is that it’s all interconnected. I plan to read the core of his Labyrinth Mythos over this next year.