the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘horror

Ration, by Cody T. Luff

published August 2019

where I got it: purchased new

 

 

I bought Cody Luff’s debut novel Ration on a lark.  It had been advertised as a horror novel, and I don’t really do horror.

 

I am however,  that person who loves  negative space, I look for what’s between the lines, what isn’t said.   I like weird, sharp things with edges. I like characters that have no fucks left to give. When you’ve got nothing left to lose, you are at your most dangerous.

 

Ration is 100% negative space.  And it is weird, and it is sharp.  And I couldn’t put it down. Everywhere I looked in this book, I wanted to know more about it. The kinds of questions I had, when I finished this book, where the kind of questions all authors want to hear.

 

I better say this up front:  If you are the kind of reader who wants everything explained to you, who wants a lot of exposition and a lot of worldbuilding and backstory, this probably isn’t the book for you. When I say “negative space”, I don’t mean it as a bad thing.  This book is packed with atmosphere, and it reads like I’m the person who cornered a starving animal.

 

Because you should know what you’re getting yourself into.

 

Ration is post-post-post apocalyptic, As dystopian as it gets. Generations after the calorie companies of The Wind-up Girl, this is generations after The Children of Men.   You read a post-apocalyptic book, and you’re like “the world has ended, neat!”, but if there is still an ocean, if there is still grass, if there are still plants and animals to eat, the world still has some life left in it. It is not “over”.  Ration takes place after all of that – the ocean is poison, what few plants exist are grown in labs, the population is, well, not. And don’t even get started on animals for food.

 

There is literally nothing left to lose, what’s left of civilization is at the end of it’s rope.  The world of Ration isn’t plan A, or plan B. Plan Z failed decades ago. So here we are, we’ve lost count of how many things we tried, and that all of them have failed so far.    Grim? Yes. but this doesn’t read like a grim book, it reads like someone screaming and clawing their way to freedom.

 

The book opens with a bunch of tween-ish girls living in an old apartment building? An orphanage?  An old hotel? Hard to know, and the girls sure don’t know. They just know they’ve been here as long as they can remember.  A few mean old ladies run the place. When you’re hungry, you ask the machine in your room for a Ration. Whatever you ask for, it will give it to you.  There are only so many calories to go around, so rations will cost you in other ways.

 

Calories are life.  Will you spend them to feed yourself, or to feed someone else?  (did you eat meat or eggs today? That cow ate calories. So did that chicken).  Will you let someone else die, so you can eat?

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What if I told you that Game of Thrones was Martin’s weakest work?

First, you’d punch me.

Then, as I was getting up off the floor, you’d say “wait, he wrote something else?”

Yes! Many something else’s! Lots of really good something else’s! Lots of excellent horror and science fiction!

If you enjoyed Game of Thrones even the tiniest bit, do yourself a favor and find some of Martin’s non-fantasy short stories. “A Song for Lya” will make you weep. “Fever Dream” will make you enjoy vampire fiction again. “The Pear Shaped Man” is creepy AF. I never get sick of rereading “Nightflyers”. And “Sandkings” is enjoyable as hell. And that’s about one millionth of all the great stuff he’s written.

“Sandkings”, published in Omni magazine in 1979, barely counts as Vintage Science Fiction (at least how I arbitrarily reckon). This story won the Hugo and the Nebula. Unless you are willing to dig through dusty back corners of used bookstores, your best bet for reading “Sandkings” is to buy a digital copy, or get your hands on either Martin’s Dreamsongs volumes or the Vandermeer edited Big Book of Science Fiction. Dreamsongs and Big Book go for about $30 a piece, and in my opinion are a steal at any price.

Spoilers ahead.

So what is “Sandkings” about? It’s about how easy it is to think that something small must be stupid. How easy it is to think that something that communicates differently, that thinks differently, that grows differently, must be dumb. And making dumb animals do silly things for our entertainment is fun, right?

I love how this story plays with foreshadowing, and how Jala Wo plays Kress like a violin. She knows when she has him, and she strings him along, and it is horrible and wonderful and I don’t feel bad at all that Kress gets exactly what he deserves. Remember the movie Gremlins? That’s the rated G, very kindergarten version of “Sandkings”.

Simon Kress likes to have exotic pets. He craves being able to brag that he has something that no one else has. He’d never heard of Wo and Shade’s shop until that day, but isn’t that where one buys the oddest things, at store’s no one has ever heard of?

 

Wo sells him some tiny sandkings, along with the required giant aquarium, and the instructions to keep them fed, and treat them kindly. The tiny sandkings, about the size of beetles, have a hive mind and a bit of telepathy. Treat them right and they will see you as their god.

Of course Kress can’t resist!

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Halloween is upon us!

I’m not a horror reader,  haunted houses terrify me a little too much (oh hai night terrors! how have you been?),  I avoid horror movies, and well, I’m a total wuss when it comes to scary stuff.  Some portion of my brain doesn’t seem to realize that the scary thing is over (and that it was FICTION!), and that I am perfectly safe,  and I tend to stay scared of the thing for an unreasonable amount of time.  That’s why I practice horror/scary avoidance.  Yes, you are welcome to tease me for not going with you to the haunted house, I will happily meet up with you for cider and donuts afterwards.

But, I have read books and seen movies that terrified the living shit out of me.  While many of these are not categorized as horror,  if you are looking for a good scare, give these a try.

tl;dr :   I am scared by things that involve gaslighting,  when a person can’t tell reality from not-reality, when a person can’t trust their own senses and memory or are convinced they can’t trust themselves,  when your body and/or mind betrays you.    I do better with scary stuff that is tempered with humor, for what that’s worth.

 

Aetherchrist by Kirk Jones – so, I’m only like 30 pages into this novella, and it is scaring the shit out of me.  So far, it is the scariest ever episode of the Twilight Zone.  the main character is a door to door salesman,  and he is shown video surveillance footage of all of his interactions with the villagers, even the conversations he has with people in their kitchens and backyards. it is legit creepy as fuck, to the point where I had to stop reading because I didn’t have enough lights on in the house and I kinda felt like I needed blackout curtains on all my windows before I read any further.

 

Bird Box by Josh Malerman – the movie was great!  The book is better, in my opinion.  Malerman is uncannily successful in describing the character’s experiences when they can not see.   I could only read this book once, it was so scary.  I was so excited to get to see the movie, but scared too.  I watched it in broad daylight, with all the lights on in the house and all the blinds pulled open.  I do think the movie did a better job of showing Malorie’s avoidance of emotionally connecting with the two children (one of which IS HER biological child!!), and the book was rather light on characterization & motivation.  the movie is so successful because only crap Sandra Bullock is a damn excellent actress!!

 

Changeling (movie) starring Angelina Jolie – I don’t think this 2008 movie got a lot of attention when it came out, I ended up seeing it on Netflix years later.  This movie is not meant to be a psychological horror movie, but it did, and still does scare the shit out of me. I had nightmares for probably 6 months after seeing it.  What’s it about?  Oh nothing all that important – a lady’s son is kidnapped. The police rescue the little boy, and she claims the boy is not her son (he quite obviously isn’t). The powers that be don’t believe her, as they don’t want to investigate the case further. She pushes the fact that this child is not her son, and that she wants the police to re-open the investigation.  They gaslight and institutionalize her.   This movie is based on a true story.

 

Grass by Sheri S Tepper – Another oldie but goodie, this is not a horror novel. It’s a straight up character driven science fiction novel, and a damn excellent one. There is nothing super terrifying that happens in this book, but it reminded me of all the things that I am scared of. Like, what happens when I can’t escape scary thoughts?  What happens if the nightmares don’t stop? What happens if I think I have control of a situation but in reality I 100% do NOT have any control whatsover?

 

“The Pear Shaped Man” by George R R Martin – if you’re only reading aSoIaF, you are missing out on Martin’s scifi and bone chilling horror.   Again, I have no idea if The Pear Shaped Man was originally marketed as horror, but it scared the shit out of me.  The creepy neighbor reminded me of a creepy person I had gone to college with, so reading the story reminded me of my creepy experiences with this person, and with every sentence I read in the story, that person’s face came to my mind. The story transformed this person I knew into a much more terrifying version of themselves.  So a random person experience I had made this story possibly 10 times scarier than it was meant to be.  Another Martin horror-esque scifi short story I highly recommend is “Sandkings”.

 

 

Are you like me,  that these are the things that scare you?

Are you like me,  that a portion of your brain can’t seem to the get the message that the scary thing was fictional, and that you are perfectly safe?

LOL, I just realized that I avoid scary stuff for the same reason that I avoid foods that give me intestinal issues – sure it’s delicious at the time, but I don’t want to pay for it later!

Garden of Eldritch Delights, by Lucy A. Snyder

published in 2018

where I got it: purchased new

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This book has been on my radar for a while.  It’s small press, so while I could have ordered a copy online anytime, I was hoping to find a printed copy in the wild.

 

It’s always nice when life hands you a two-fer.  I snagged a copy of Garden of Eldritch Delights at the dealer room at StokerCon in mid May, and then a few weeks later one of the stories in the collection, “Blossoms Blackened Like Dead Stars” was featured in Tor.com’s Lovecraft Reread series.  The stars must have been aligned! It was almost as if a strange force was arranging things so that I could read this book, and engage with the forbidden knowledge found within it’s pages . . .

 

Not sure what Lovecraftian fiction is?  Actually, you probably do. Ever played Arkham Horror? Ever read a Charles Stross Laundry novel? Did you read Ian Tregillis’s Milkweed Triptych or Elizabeth Bear’s Shoggoths in Bloom?   Authors love playing in Lovecraft land because you never run out of opportunities to provoke alien intelligences that are influencing humanity, elder creatures who view humans the way we view ants, forbidden knowledge,  people who aren’t quite human, unnerving horrors from below, and lots of other fun creepy and over the top stuff.  You’ve probably read something “lovecraftian” without even realizing it.

 

Here’s the thing tho –  H.P. Lovecraft was not a very good writer. Yeah, I said it. I’ve read his original and it’s . . .  ok? Kinda meh? I can appreciate his writing only because of where other writers went with it.

 

And where Lucy Snyder goes with it. . .  damn! Her delightfully dark collection Garden of Eldritch Delights takes Lovecrafts ideas of elder gods, humans enslaved by alien intelligences, mind control, and even evolution and the apocalypse, and more, and gives them a decidedly modern twist. If you enjoy modern takes on Lovecraftian fiction,  this is the short story collection for you! These stories are excellently written, enjoyable to read, and were just the right length for my short attention span. An unexpected surprise for me was how many of these stories revolve around sibling relationships.

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Bird Box (movie)

Starring:  Sandra Bullock, Trevante Rhodes, John Malkovich

Directed by: Susanne Bier

Available on Netflix, Dec 21 2018

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Ya’ll know I don’t read or watch much horror. I’m not usually interested in being scared. Or maybe it’s that the things that fill me with indiscriminate terror are not the normal “scary” things?

 

Anyway, a number of years ago, Josh Mallerman’s debut horror thriller Bird Box made quite a splash. The jist of the story was If You See Them, You Will Die.   Not like “see it” like in The Ring movies, but if you looked at whatever this terrifying creature was, the sight of it would make you kill yourself. Was it the horror of what you’d seen? Did the creature brainwash you?  Who knows, and no one was going to find out. Bird Box is the scariest book I have ever read. You can read my review here.

 

Last year, I’d heard they were making a movie of Bird Box.  The first time i saw a preview for A Quiet Place, I hoped it was a preview for the movie Bird Box.  Obviously it wasn’t, not enough blindfolds.

 

A few weeks ago, I learned Bird Box would be on Netflix, and today, I got to watch it.

 

It’s been four years since I read the book, and to this day I remember being absolutely terrified by that book.   Surprising nobody, I watched the movie in broad daylight, with all the lights on.

 

First thoughts:

Sandra Bullock? I love her, but isn’t Malorie supposed to be a 20-something?

 

Wow 40-something Malorie, you are really, really unlikeable. What the fuck is your problem?  Do you have to be a bitch all the damn time?

 

John Malkovich, yeah! Haven’t seen him in ages, I love him!

 

Rest of the movie thoughts:

Just like in the book,  the movie gets going fast, and you’ll barely have time to breathe in the first half.  Malorie, newly single, isn’t excited about being pregnant. Her sister Jessica takes her to her doctor appointments, and Malorie is basically in denial that in a few months she will be bringing a new life into the world.

 

On the day Malorie begins to just maybe be ok with being pregnant, the world ends. Cars are on fire, people are running, there are explosions. Jessica walks in front a speeding bus.  A woman saves Malorie’s life by inviting her into a suburban house. Seconds later that same woman calmly gets into a burning car, and sits there, burning to death, while her husband watches from the house.   Go ahead and read that last sentence again, would you? I want this to sink in.

 

This is how the world ends. Invisible creatures that convince us to kill ourselves. The only way to survive, is to stop yourself from seeing them.  But if you do survive, then what? Do you just starve to death? How long will you wait before you just say Screw It, and go out and stare death in the face?

 

The choice to cast nearly everyone as middle aged adults made more sense when Olympia showed up. Young, spoiled, careless, Olympia looks like a walking advertisement for Pampered Chef or Tupperware parties. She knows she’s completely out of her league as soon as she meets the other people in the house.  Everyone else in the house has life experience, they know the same golden oldie songs, they’ve lost people. They view Olympia as a liability. You can see in Olympia’s face, as she looks around the room, that she knows she’s a liability.

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Finally!  I’m writing a spoiler-free post!    There might be some easter eggs in this post, but no spoilers.   that means you can’t put spoilers in the comments either.

 

We went and saw the Annihilation movie last weekend.  I knew it was going to be different from the book (and oh boy was it different), and I was nervous the screenwriter was gonna screw it up and that I’d hate it.

Good news!  I freakin’ loved it!

 

And now for a spoiler free discussion about some huge that is way different in the movie than in the book.  I am of course, talking about the ending. You know, that big climactic scene with the big climactic music where the biologist finally reaches the geographic goal of the expedition and gets some exposure to what the hell is actually going on.

 

This climactic scene is drastically different than anything that happens in the book, and there are two items in the scene that sort of take the place of other things that happen much earlier in the book.

 

Anyway.

 

The big climactic scene with the big climactic music?

 

I fucking loved it.

 

It was surreal, it was shocking, it was mindblowing, it was beautifully done, it was violent but somehow peaceful it was claustrophobically overwhelming it didn’t require or ask for my understanding.

 

ok, but why did I respond so positively to that scene?   I can’t get it out of my head, I really had this very strong reaction to it, like there was this weird magnetic pull, like I was staring into a black hole or a supernova. It felt like the first time I saw the Milky Way, that i had to grab onto something because I was afraid i was going to fall off of the Earth and if I did it would be ok because I’d be falling towards that.

 

I’ve been thinking about it, trying to figure out why that scene worked so well for me.

 

After thinking about it for a few days, I finally figured it out.

 

The big climactic scene has hardly any dialog.  It’s all non-verbal communication and physical movement, with moments that border on interpretive modern dance.  it was all motion and sound, no words to muddy anything.   I was drawn to that scene for the same reason I loved the first episodes of Samurai Jack: minimal dialog.

 

And I guess I often find words needlessly distracting, they box me in, I have to figure out what the inflection and context mean.  don’t get me wrong, i love words, i love books, i love reading. But spoken word sometimes doesn’t work for me (or it works too well – I get all distracted by the pitch of the person’s voice and the shape of the syllables). With minimal dialog in that climactic scene, I was finally able to focus on the bigness of what was happening.  I could focus on it on my own terms, with my own interpretation.

 

in my opinion, the lack of dialog was a brilliant choice.  Your mileage may vary.

 

Have you seen Annihilation?  did you like it?  If you didn’t read the book, and went and saw the movie, did it make any sense to you?   Even though it was very different from the book, I feel like the movie was a stack of easter eggs for fans of the book.

 

no spoilers in the comments, please.

Final Girls, by Mira Grant

Available April 30th, 2017

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (thanks Subterranean!)

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Mira Grant (also known as Seanan McGuire), is famous for her novels and series – the Newsflesh series, the October Daye series, and plenty of stand alones. Having read a small sample of her work, my opinion is that Grant’s talent shines brightest in her short fiction.  Her new stand alone novella, Final Girls, can be enjoyed over the course of an afternoon. And trust me, you’ll only need the one afternoon to read this novella, because you won’t be able to put it down.

 

I wrote an entire page of notes just in the first 30 pages of this 112 page novella, and by the time I finished the story, all my notes were irrelevant because the story had twisted and turned in about hundred unexpected directions.

 

Esther Hoffman, a journalist who specializes in debunking quackery, has been assigned to do an investigative report on Dr. Jennifer Webb’s new methods of therapy.  Dr. Webb uses dream therapy – her patients read about a horrific scenario in which they face their deepest fears, and then they are put into a hypnotic dream state where they dream the scenario and play it out to it’s conclusion. The person is physically perfectly safe, and a technician watches their vital signs to pull them out if anything dangerous happens.  Ideally, the patient learns that they can, and will survive whatever hardships they’ve been facing, and that they can now move on and live a mentally healthier life.

 

At first blush, Final Girls feels like a cross between the movies Paprika and Inception. Except Esther brings plenty of baggage to Dr. Webb’s office, and Dr. Webb is only interested in seeing her name on research papers or a nobel prize.   Dr. Webb convinces Esther that the only way she can honestly judge the quality of this new research is to do a session of therapy, and see how or even if it changes her thoughts. As Esther signs the release forms, you can practically see Webb’s ulterior motives in the corner of her toothy grin.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.