Sid is trying hard to make things work. His ex has left him to raise their young daughter. He works a grueling and thankless job with people he calls friends but are really just assholes who are little less shitty to him than others. He doesn't drink or do anything really but work and take care of his kid, oh and pine for the bartender chick he sort of dated once. Typical young man's dream, right?
Well, this all changes when the demons pay him a visit. They fill him in on his supreme destiny and it's a doozy. That's when Sid's life really swerves. When he discovers that the people he's surrounded himself with his entire life are not what they seem, in fact the whole world is nothing but a skewed reflection of what he's always perceived. With a stringent time limit and a lot heaped on his plate, Sid embarks on a fast-paced adventure to save the world, or at the very least his own skin and those of his loved ones before the seriously satanic shit hits the fan.
With a steady hand, Wes Southard holds a mirror up to our world so we can see that it's become nearly impossible to tell who the monsters are--the faces all looks the same, the masks are all blank. The Betrayed is a fiery cocktail that takes a shot of Matheson's I Am Legend and a finger or two of Kevin Smith's Dogma and sets the world on fire with the drop of a match. It's a pulp-fueled race against time that's is a lot of fun. Evil fun.
The Betrayed is available via Amazon or contacting the author.
How well do you know the people around you? Your neighbors? Your coworkers? Friends? Family? Sidney Jameson, a young single father just trying to make ends meet, is being followed. They keep to the shadows, quiet and cloaked in dirty brown robes...and they're getting closer. And what they have to tell Sidney is something terrible. Something he never knew about his past. Something he didn't want to know about his future. The war between Heaven and Hell is the world's oldest story. Lucifer turned his back on Heaven, and God eternally cast him and his faithful to the fiery depths of Hell. Everyone knows the take...or do we? There's only a few hours left before his twenty-fifth birthday, and with the aide of The Dark One Himself, Sidney will discover his place in the battle for humanity, and how only he can stop it once and for all. There's only one problem. The rest of the world is trying to stop him. "Chocked full of blood, brimstone, and genuine heart." - Mike Lombardo, writer and director of The Stall and I'm Dreaming of a White Doomsday
HORROR FICTION REVIEW: PHANTASM/CHIMERA: AN ANTHOLOGY OF STRANGE AND TROUBLING DREAMS EDITED BY SCOTT DWYER
In case you haven’t noticed, we’re currently living through something of a literary horror renaissance. You can’t throw a rock these days without hitting upon some exciting new voice in the genre: a Matthew M. Bartlett, a Livia Llewellyn, a Jon Padgett, etc. These are singular writers, each one exploring themes of the inhuman and irreal (and by extension the all-too-human and oh-so-real) with an eye more towards poetry, atmosphere, and subliminal suggestion than traditional narrative tropes.
Few people appreciate this as well as Scott Dwyer, who runs the weird fiction blog The Plutonian, where he reviews, interviews, and dissects the beating black heart of the genre. Now going one step further, Dwyer has edited and published Phantasm/Chimera: An Anthology of Strange and Troubling Dreams, a self-described “sampler of the cutting edge of weird horror.”
In his introduction, first-time publisher Dwyer reveals his personal philosophy of horror, or more specifically what he dubs “Nightmare Horror.” That is, he promotes a transgressive strain of bleak surrealism which seeks to reflect deeper truths about mundane reality while simultaneously distorting its boundaries in ways both beautiful and grotesque. As testament to this vision, Dwyer offers us 11 stories by authors who themselves manage to reflect that vision while also distorting in ways uniquely their own.
Quick to impress, the anthology opens with “The Wind, The Dust,” a 40-page novelette by Adam Golaski about a pair of fresh-faced college graduates getting an apartment together, only to find themselves plagued by freezing gusts of air, puzzling nightmares, and the gradual unraveling of their lives. On the surface, the tale presents itself as little more than simple, if sad, slice-of-life portrait of everyday mundanity. However, the fringes of the portrait darken and warp as time goes on, creating a sense of unease which builds to a heartbreaking Kafkaesque conclusion.
Matthew M. Bartlett ratchets up the distortion considerably in the story that follows. A grisly freakshow account of a five-year-old’s birthday’s party gone hideously wrong, “Provisions for a Journey” slithers beneath your skin with a nonstop parade of loathsome characters and bizarre imagery, including giant skittering black beetles, a repulsive piñata resembling no animal on Earth, and crooked men with cadaveric smiles.
A sinister grin likewise features in Christopher Slatsky’s “The Bruised Veil,” about an Asian-American college student doing her dissertation on the ghostly Slit-Mouthed Woman of Japanese folklore. Like “The Wind, The Dust,” “The Bruised Veil” flies by despite being one of the anthology’s longer entries. Structured around a pair of vibrantly voiced interview transcripts—one with an old man whose father may or may not have been the Black Dahlia killer, the other with a survivor of a WWII Japanese internment camp—it draws you inexorably into its damning examination of American race relations and systemic misogyny.
Thana Niveau’s “The Last of Liquid Sleep,” meanwhile, offers a more particular and personal perspective of gender oppression. A woman with no memory struggles to assert her own identity against the demands of disembodied male voice hiding in her mind, eating away at her like a psychic parasite. Niveau plays to a variety of emotions here, blurring the line between magic-realism and science-fiction.
Sci-fi trappings (as well as the fear of lost autonomy) also take center stage in “The Hole,” by Brian Evenson. This one drops an exploratory astronaut into a dark pit on an alien world, with only the rotting (and talking!) corpse of a fellow crew member for company. Making use of a less ambiguous, more straightforward approach to storytelling, “The Hole” stands out by providing you a refreshing chance to regain your bearings before plunging back into the murky shadows.
Nowhere are the shadows blacker than in Livia Llewelyn’s “The Hotel Pelagornis, 1899,” a noteworthy highlight even in an anthology full of highlights. A haunting and erotic account of adulterous lovers absconding to a mysterious hotel at the turn of the century, this story unexpectedly mutates along with its characters, shapeshifting into a writhing mass of carnal horror that beautifully captures the shuddering death of one age and the fleshy, glistening birth of a new one.
“Binding,” by Mike Allen, hearkens back to the straightforward style of Evenson’s “The Hole,” but revisits Llewelyn’s themes of secrets, sex, and the passage of time. Here, a group of tabletop gamers listen in rapt attention to a tall tale (or is it?) told by their dungeonmaster, about a horndog swinger who finds an end to his seemingly insatiable lust in the pages of an ancient book. Despite the story-within-a-story presentation (wherein both the storyteller and his audience are lured deeper into the narrative, both figuratively and literally), “Binding” is unusual in just how not unusual it is; its no-frills ghoulish fun is a welcome break from the angst and obscurity that otherwise pervades the anthology.
Of course, Jon Padgett is more than willing to bring the gloom ‘n’ doom with “The Great, Gray Bulk,” though he laces it with enough sly humor that you feel like you’re in on the joke, even when you wish you weren’t. Written as an extended monologue from a motor-mouthed patient rambling to his curiously mum therapist, “The Great, Gray Bulk” reimagines the Hindu myth of Ganesha as a vehicle for the existential terror of human consciousness. While often compared to the work of Thomas Ligotti (and for good reason) Padgett’s fiction is truly a unique animal all its own, as evidenced here.
So too is that of Jean Claude Smith, whose story, “Chrysalis,” introduces us to a once promising poet-cum-alcoholic housewife stuck in a loveless marriage. When a bird flies into her kitchen, speaking words in a language she can’t make sense of, she struggles to decode them. But then more strange messengers come bearing even stranger messages. A perverse tale of transformative self-actualization, “Chrysalis” starts out depressing but ends on an oddly uplifting note.
Clint Smith’s “Fiending Apophenia” proves much more pessimistic. A John Dies at the End-esque story of mind-bending drug use resulting in soul-harrowing glimpses beyond the veil of reality, like Bartlett’s “Provisions for a Journey,” this one is positively overflowing with provocative dream-imagery. All the better to make you feel like you too are getting a quick peek at forbidden truths.
Finally, Jason A. Wyckoff’s “The Last American Lion Pelt” brings Phantasm/Chimera to a close with a macabre mockery of shallow corporate opportunism. A lawyer seeking induction into an elite secret society begins to wonder if he’s at the center of some elaborate practical joke. There’s nothing practical about this gag, though. Nothing funny, either. Almost as long as Golaski’s opening novelette, “The Last American Lion Pelt” finishes things on a similarly oblique and impressive note.
Despite a few too many glaring typos throughout, indicating a need for at least one more copyediting pass, Phantasm/Chimera proves Scott Dwyer is a more than capable anthologist. Making good on its mission statement to assemble some of the very best names in literary horror today, and to depict a vision of the genre that is simultaneously surreal, thoughtful, and deeply unsettling, Phantasm/Chimera is an essential read for anyone interested in the current state of weird fiction.
Phantasm/Chimera is an all original collection of cutting edge Weird Horror. In these pages, you will find an all-star line-up of some of the most innovative and exciting writers working today. Phantasm/Chimera has one goal: To disturb its reader with the most dark and surreal visions ever put to paper. From tales of strange imposters from other worlds to tales of ordinary people hideously alienated from themselves, from tales of black abysses hiding behind human masks to tales of weird and erotic obsessions. Phantasm/Chimera features tales from Adam Golaski, Matthew M. Bartlett, Christopher Slatsky, Thana Niveau, Brian Evenson, Livia Llewellyn, Mike Allen, Jon Padgett, John Claude Smith, Clint Smith, and Jason A. Wyckoff.
I don't like disclaimers on reviews, I never have and never will, however for this review I feel I have to come clean. I have never been that big a fan of Stephen King; I fully appreciate his immense talent and the role he has played in putting horror on the map, he is a writer who never spoke to me as a person, I couldn't connect with his writing. So with that dirty little secret out in the open what did I make of Sleeping Beauties?
Welcome to Dooling a small Appalachian town, home to the Dooling Correctional Institute for women, whose inmates range from those who have just strayed from the path of law-abiding to those who have committed multiple murders and in some cases things even worse than murder. When a strange and baffling disease starts to spread across the world, whose symptoms are as terrifying as they are strange. Where any woman who falls asleep becomes cocooned in a strange weblike gossamer material, that puts them into a state of semi-hibernation, where they sleep seemingly at peace with the world, but be careful any attempt to wake them from their sleep will result in them turning into a nearly unstoppable crazed animalistic killer.
As the world succumbs to this strange plague Dooling and its correctional institute become the epicentre of the battle between good and evil, where the remaining women will try anything to stay awake, where men revert to their seemingly fundamental bullish ways. A few good men and women barricade themselves in the institute to protect the mysterious Evie Black, a woman who can wake after sleep normally, a murderess, and a seer, a woman who seems to know where the sleeping women have gone and who appears to know what is destined to happen.
Make no mistake about it Sleeping Beauties a massive doorstop of a novel coming in at over 700 pages it is a daunting read for someone who hasn't read a lot of King. However, don't let that put you off. Yes, the first couple of hundred pages are scene setters where the Kings take their time to introduce every cast member of the book, from the main dramatis personae, right down to a talking fox, I kid you not. In novels, this could be classed as padding, but thanks to the immense skill of the Kings, and the natural and absorbing way in which these scene-setting chapters are laid out, you quickly find yourself fully immersed in the World of Dooling and the battle of Aurora plague.
Sleeping Beauties is a timely novel, in a world that seems determined to destroy itself from the actions of men cursed with a sense of toxic masculinity. Where every passing day sees mankind wondering what it means to be "a real man" the Kings place all of this under a finely focused microscope to provide an insightful and at times damning study of what many think makes a real man.
Would the world be damned without the calming force of women kind or would it just continue to carry one as though nothing had happened? Depressingly it would seem that based on this thoughtful mirror on our world as it is, it would seem as though we would be determined to see it all burn.
The King's portrayal of society almost devoid of female interaction is intelligent, and thoughtful if at times a little heavy handed. At times it feels as though they are slightly labouring the point, but thanks to a wide cast of characters, where only a small percentage of them can be classed as either inherently good or evil, King uses dark grey areas of humanity to explore the main themes of the book. We have the erstwhile female Sherrif Lila and the Institutes' psychiatrist fighting the good fight as the only two characters who stand completely in the light. Both of them are interesting in their own way. Lila is the stereotypical mother figure, protective of her son and husband, who just happens to be the Institutes' psychiatrist, and just as protective of her hometown, strong loyal and determined not to let chaos win. She is an interesting character, similar in many ways to the cliched square-jawed hero that seemed to litter every horror novel of the 1980s; it was rather refreshing to see this cliche turned on its head and seen from a woman's perspective.
Her husband Clint Norcross is even more interesting, imagine a turtle necked sweater wearing therapist, whose hands are in constant state contemplative finger touching. A man who feels he is better suited to solving the crisis because, you know, he is a man with a degree in solving mental problems. The King's just manage to keep him on the right side of condescending, mainly because as a character he is genuinely concerned about those under his charge.
However, the real meat on the bones is provided by those characters that straddle the line between good and evil, and this exemplified by the town dog catcher, Frank Geary. A brutish, mean man, who more often than nought resorts to using his size and fists to solve a problem. For example, when a neighbours cat is run over by a careless driver he takes the matter into his own hands for fear of his daughter being ruin over, by taking a course of action that would see him lose his job. He is a man whose actions has to lead to the breakdown of his marriage. There is a section near the start of the book where he talks about an incident that happened before his marriage broke down, where he talks about "bad Frank". It's a wonderfully written piece, genuinely chilling, yet very inconsequential, and it will have you wondering if he is related to Jack Torrence. Frank's journey from lowly dog catcher to... well you will just have to read the book, is the most enjoyable part of this excellent book. The King's shine when dealing with this character arc, a man determined to do the right thing no matter what the collateral damage will be.
Strangely, Evie, despite being the focal point for both sides of the battle, is probably the least developed character in the book. This may very well be deliberate, with the King's using her more as a cypher/metaphor for the female struggle in a world dominated by toxic males. She is still a kick-ass character though, more like a smart-talking force of nature.
Sleeping Beauties is a powerful allegorical tale, and despite becoming a little bogged down in the final few acts of the novel, with its desire to get its message across. With a wonderfully ambigious ending that may well set us up for a sequel. It is still a striking read, with a deft narrative, fantastic insights on the everyday life of small-town America, while still managing to take a thoughtful look at the failings of a modern world obsessed with pointless and pathetic displays of power.
After reading this novel, I was left wondering as to whether I enjoyed it so much because it might not be a typical King novel, and the input from Owen may have tempered those parts of Stephen's writing that I could never take to. Or if I have just matured as the reader, hell it has been close to twenty-five years since I last attempted a full-on King novel. I would like to think it is a bit of both, either way; I'm going to head to the nearest bookshop and pick up a few choice King novels to test out the theory.
In this spectacular father/son collaboration, Stephen King and Owen King tell the highest of high-stakes stories: what might happen if women disappeared from the world of men?
All around the world, something is happening to women when they fall asleep; they become shrouded in a cocoon-like gauze. If awakened, if the gauze wrapping their bodies is disturbed, the women become feral and spectacularly violent...
In the small town of Dooling, West Virginia, the virus is spreading through a women's prison, affecting all the inmates except one. Soon, word spreads about the mysterious Evie, who seems able to sleep - and wake. Is she a medical anomaly or a demon to be slain?
The abandoned men, left to their increasingly primal devices, are fighting each other, while Dooling's Sheriff, Lila Norcross, is just fighting to stay awake.
And the sleeping women are about to open their eyes to a new world altogether...
The first hardback print run of SLEEPING BEAUTIES will have FOUR secret hidden-on-the-board covers featuring enchanting foiled illustrations. The one you receive will be random, but all are jaw-droppingly beautiful.
With her ultra-strange "choose-your-own-adventure-on-acid" ghostly novel , Haunt, Laura Lee Bahr won my attention. I've been eagerly waiting for new material from her and this summer it was delivered, literally to me by John Skipp. I opened it in the lobby of a hotel in Virginia, intending to just skim the contents and stow it in the room for the duration of the weekend. What happened was I rooted myself to the chair in the corner of the lobby and stayed put for nearly two hours and read the whole thing.
Angel Meat is my favorite kind of fiction. Stories that walk that crooked line between dark weird and bleak human soul scape. Where we often just witness almost normal events through a perspective more skewed than we'd be comfortable with another time. The collection is divided into three parts: Flesh, Wings and Heart. The opening tale (and it is my favorite) is a emotionally raw and breath-takingly beautiful short entitled "Tangerine." This short story involves a boy and a fish and a dream, to say more would be a form of robbery that I'm not want to commit.
Following that is "The Liar" where a child learns an assortment of lessons about trust and sibling-worship and the consequences of gossip and assumptions. All of these things wrung out by nervous hands into a very dark concoction. "Lost Dog" literally concerns a person seeking their missing pet, through a dark and seedy landscape where things don't quite play out as we'd expect. The final story in this group is called "Blue Velvet Cake" and it's a odd gaze at a small group of interesting people, maneuvering through a world they seem to barely know.
"Blackout In Upper Moosejaw" is a surreal and shadow-satirical story of androids . Where in "Rat-Head" is a twisted explanation of love and all of it's glorious and gruesome trappings. "The Cause" is an adventure in reason and worth and how those things can be ruptured easily. "Happy Hour" is an exorcism, no matter which definition you choose, it applies here.
The collection ends with the novelette, "In The Desert," a slip-stream meditation of life, that old chestnut of it passing before your eyes--it's that but in hyperactive-kaleidoscopic laser blasts.
Seriously, my short descriptives (which are not nearly as alluring as they ought to be since Bahr's work truly defies description) are only meant to act as baited hooks, I want you to nibble on them, fell the barb scare your lip and then bite anyway. The book will give a yank and reel you in. I promise, it won't hurt much. I also promise, once caught you will not be released.
Angel Meat is available from Fungasm Press.
“Laura Lee Bahr writes masterpiece fiction. Oh my God, we're witnessing the beginning of a brilliant canon and career. ” – Josh Malerman, author of Bird Box
These nine prime cuts of Angel Meat feed the soul in a collection precisely crafted for connoisseur and newcomer alike. Taste the “Grade A” stick-to-your-ribs psychological horror of "The Liar," the dark love magic cast by "Rat-Head," the bold blend of sci-fi and noir in "The Cause," and the naked truth revealed "In the Desert."
Laura Lee Bahr's distinctive flavors linger on the tongue long after the reading's done. Her transcendent servings of flesh, wings, and heart are yours to savor for years to come.
By Jim Mcleod
Marillion once asked
"Where are the prophets, where are the visionaries, where are the poets