Thursday, 15 February 2018

Recommendation: The Wish Mechanics by Daniel Braum

My first experience of Daniel Braum's work was his story 'Palankar' in Nightscript III (which I interviewed him about here) and it was such a good piece of strange horror fiction that I had to go out and read more.

So I bought The Wish Mechanics as it was his latest collection, although upon reading the introduction I found out that the stories within are generally contemporaneous with those in his other collection, The Night Marchers. The tales in that volume are apparently more rooted in horror tropes and aesthetics; the stories in The Wish Mechanics are a more varied and eclectic bunch.

It starts with the wonderfully titled 'How to Make Love and Not Turn to Stone', a frankly brilliant story about a couple who live above a beach on which real-life basilisks roam. It's a beautifully handled concept, powering a narrative concerned not so much with the supernatural creatures and their ability to petrify, but with relationships and what we might risk by getting involved with another person. With the various ways our hearts can be hardened. As is common with many of the best stories here, the supernatural element is at once 'real' within the world of the story and metaphorical, not so much a 'symbol' as a concrete representation of ideas the author wants to evoke.

'How to Make Love...' pairs nicely with the final story in The Wish Mechanics, 'This Is The Sound Of Your Dreams Dying'. This is another tale about relationships, both how they begin and how they end. The uncanny element starts as a backdrop for the characters' emotions and dilemmas, but moves centre-stage with some powerfully creepy scenes.

In between these two pieces there are plenty of other gems. 'An American Ghost In Zurich', as well as having (again) a brilliant title, is another immensely impressive story. It is based around a particle accelerator similar to the Large Hadron Collider, and the scientific concepts it plays with—alternative worlds, retro-causation, quantum entanglement—are used to give it feeling of strangeness, of almost Borgesian other-worldliness, that's as strong & powerful as that which traditional genre tropes can evoke. It gains bonus points from me for featuring alternative-dimension songs from a band I love, School of Seven Bells.

Elsewhere, 'Tea in the Sahara' is a more old-fashioned styled story about wishes and fate and three sisters; 'The Canopy Crawlers' a 'straight sci-fi' story full of invention (which shows Braum can sure as hell write action, too), and 'The Water Dragon' takes us back to strange fiction again. There's further sci-fi of a dystopian nature in the title story, and the end of the world (literal or otherwise) in another favourite of mine, 'The Truth About Planet X'. Plus there's plenty of other fine stories to savour, too.

So, overall The Wish Mechanics is a varied, eclectic, accomplished set of short stories, with a number of genuine classics within its pages. Looks like I'll be buying The Night Marchers too then.

The Wish Mechanics (UK | US)

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Recommendation: Improbable Botany (ed. Gary Dalkin)

Improbable Botany is an anthology edited by Gary Dalkin featuring eleven stories based around the
theme of sentient, miraculous, bio-engineered or simply weird plant-life. It's published by Wayward, a London-based collective with a mission to transform neglected urban spaces into green environments (and appropriately enough, many of the stories in Improbable Botany feature just such a transformation...)

There's an impressive range to the stories within these pages, which vary from near-future science-fiction, modern day unease, and even a Sherlock Holmes pastiche in 'The Adventure of the Apocalypse Vine or Moriarty's Revenge' by Cherith Baldry. The strange plants within these stories are by turns sources of potential salvation or destruction, but it says something of the quality of the tales here that, despite the title, the authors mange to make their wonders and horrors all to probable.

My favourite stories in the volume were 'Black Phil' by Adam Roberts, 'The Ice Garden' by Eric Brown, 'Advent' by James Kennedy and most of all the escalating creepiness mixed with petty local politics in Lisa Tuttle's 'Vegetable Love'.

Overall then, Improbable Botany is just what you want from a genre anthology: an under-explored theme, a strong lineup, and a variety and depth to the storytelling. Oh and some wonderful interior and exterior artwork, too.

Improbable Botany

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Five Things #8

More things that I liked, and you might too.

1. Five Ghost Stories Without Any Ghosts In Them by Malcolm Devlin
Great article by Malcolm Devlin about a topic close to my heart: do ghost(ly) stories have to have ghosts in them? As a bonus, he also lists a sixth story that "isn't a ghost story but does have a ghost in it".

2. All The Windows And All The Doors by Damien Angelica Walters
A short story both terrifying and beautiful, I thought this was utterly superb.

3. Online Etymological Dictionary
If like me you're interested in words and their meanings and how both change over time, you'll find some great rabbit holes to tumble down on this site.

4. Interview With Gwendolyn Kiste
Somehow I missed this at the time: on the Hellnotes site, Gordon B. White interviews Gwendolyn Kiste about her debut collection And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe. 

5. Mark E. Smith, Rest In Pe....
Actually don't, that would hardly be your style would it?

Thursday, 18 January 2018

The Outer Dark: A Strange & Darksome Night

27th November 2017.
The Lovecraft Bar, New York City.
Julia Rust. David Surface. Daniel Baum. Inna Effress.

Four fantastic writers get together for a night of readings from Nightscript III and to discuss weird fiction in general.

Bet you wish you could have been there and heard that, huh?

Well, now you can (hear it at least) thanks to The Outer Dark podcast, you can. The show is hosted by Scott Nicolay, joined by Daniel Baum and Nightscript editor C.M. Mueller. You can listen it now on This Is Horror:

The Outer Dark #27: Nightscript III

Monday, 8 January 2018

Imposter Syndrome: This Is Horror Review

Imposter Syndrome, the anthology of doubles and weirdness edited by myself and Dan Howarth, has been reviewed over at This Is Horror—and I'm slightly overwhelmed by what reviewer Paul Michaels has to say about it. Every story gets deserved praise, and he says of the anthology overall:

“Imposter Syndrome is a book which deserves to sit on every horror aficionado’s shelf. Its stories are to be savoured and marvelled at, each author meeting and exceeding expectations.”
Full review here.

Suffice to say that I (and the pod-person in my basement) couldn't be happier.

You can buy Imposter Syndrome here: (UK | US)

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Favourite Short Stories: 2017

Doesn't seem like a year since we last did this, but here we are: the favourite short stories I read in 2017. And it was another year in which I read a lot, of which these can be considered the creme de la creme.

As ever, these are all recent stories (although in a few instances I've bent the the definition of 'recent' to sneak a good one in). I've listed where I read the story, which isn't necessarily the place where it was originally published.

I hope readers of this blog will sample at least a few of the stories below. Enjoy!

(You can find my lists for previous years here.)

G.V. Anderson: I Am Not I (Magazine Of Fantasy & Science Fiction July/Aug 17)
Andrew David Barker: Bank Holiday All-Dayer (self-published)
Matthew M. Bartlett: No Abiding Place On Earth (Nightscript #2)
Matthew M. Bartlett: Spettrini (Weird Fiction Review)
Brook Bolander: Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies (Uncanny Magazine #13)
Charlotte Bond: The Lies We Tell (Great British Horror #2, Black Shuck Books)
Gary A. Braunbeck: In The House Of The Hangman One Does Not Talk About Rope (Another Dimension, Willy Writers)
Daniel Braum: A Girl's Guide (Great Jones Street)
Georgina Bruce: The Book Of Dreams (Black Static #61
K.T. Bryski: Her Hands Like Ice (Bracken Magazine)
Amber Burke: My Last Day At MacKenzie Pestaway (Spelk Fiction)
Ramsey Campbell: Speaking Still (New Fears, Titan)
Eliza Chan: Datsue-Ba (Asian Monsters, Fox Spirit)
Chloe N. Clark: The Average Man Is Not Hard To Mystify (Cheap Pop)
Chloe N. Clark: A Reward For You & The Ones I Don't Think You Need (Occulum)
Shara Concepción: Brujitos (Flash Fiction Online)
Colette de Curzon: Payman's Trio (Nightjar Press chapbook)
Kristi DeMeester: In The Dark, Quiet Places (Nightscript #2)
Kristi DeMeester: The Language Of Endings (The Dark #23)
Malcolm Devlin: The End Of Hope Street (You Will Grow Into Them, Unsung Stories)
Malcolm Devlin: The Last Meal She Ate Before She Killed Him (You Will Grow Into Them, Unsung Stories)
Jennifer R. Donohue: Daddy's Girl (Syntax & Salt)
Tracy Fahey: Papering Over The Cracks (The Unheimlich Manoeuvre, Boo Books)
Tracy Fahey: Tracing The Spectre (The Unheimlich Manoeuvre, Boo Books)
Tom Fletcher: The Home (Nightjar Press chapbook)
Jeffrey Ford: Daddy Long Legs Of The Evening (Lightspeed #80)
Cate Gardner: Fragments Of A Broken Doll (Great British Horror #2, Black Shuck Books)
Ed Grabianowski: Extraneus Invokat (Black Static #21)
Brady Golden: The Family Car (New Fears, Titan)
Christopher Golden: The Abduction Door (New Fears, Titan)
Michelle Goldsmith: Love Story: An Exorcism (Gamut)
Camilla Grudova: Waxy (Granta)
Carly Holmes: A Small Life (Black Static #61) 
Andrew Hook: The Nomenclature Of Fear (In Short Publishing)
Timothy J. Jarvis: Hands Lying Light In The Interstices, You Rave (interactive online)
M.P. Johnson: Necksnapper (The Dark #31)
Carole Johnstone: /’dʒʌst/ (Great British Horror #2, Black Shuck Books)
Mat Joiner: To Utter Dust (Supernatural Tales #35)
Cassandra Khaw: Don't Turn On The Lights (Nightmare #61)
Gary Kilworth: Atlantic Crossing (The Fabulous Beast, Infinity Plus)
Gary Kilworth: Phoenix Man (The Fabulous Beast, Infinity Plus)
Gwendolyn Kiste: The Twelve Rules Of Etiquette At Miss Firebird's School For Girls (Mithila Review)
V.H. Leslie: Shell Baby (Shadows & Tall Trees #7, Undertow)
Sarah Lotz: The Embarrassment Of Dead Grandmothers (New Fears, Titan)
Alison Littlewood: Sally's Wishes (Stranger Paths, PS Publishing)
Alison Littlewood: 4am When The Walls Are Thinnest (Stranger Paths, PS Publishing)
Ken Liu: Good Hunting (Asian Monsters, Fox Spirit)
Usman T. Malik: Blood Women (Asian Monsters, Fox Spirit)
Helen Marshall: One Quarter Dreaming, Three Quarters Want (Liminal Stories #2)
Laura Mauro: Sun Dogs (Shadows & Tall Trees #7, Undertow)
Manish Melwani: The Water Kings (Shadows & Tall Trees #7, Undertow)
Wyl Menmuir: Rounds (Nightjar Press chapbook)
Alison Moore: Overnight Stop (The Pre-War House & Other Stories, Salt)
Alison Moore: Small Animals  (The Pre-War House & Other Stories, Salt)
Ralph Robert Moore: For Whom The Dogs Bark (Black Static #61)
Steve Mosby: Wishing For Alison (author's website)
Sandra M. Odell: Meat (Pseudopod #536)
Kristine Ong Muslim: Holocene: Microfilm Reel 82 (The Cincinnati Review)
Linda Nagle: Smallman Wears The Sky (Stranger Companies, Kuboa Press)
Linda Nagle: Deathsmell (Stranger Companies, Kuboa Press)
Adam Nevill: What God Hath Wrought (Some Will Not Sleep, Ritual Limited)
Adam Nevill: Yellow Teeth (Some Will Not Sleep, Ritual Limited)
Thana Niveau: To Drown The World (Unquiet Waters, Black Shuck Books)
Brian O'Connell: My Mother's Skin (author's website)
Suyi Davies Okungbowa: Can Anything Good Come (The Dark #21)
Jon Padgett: Origami Dreams (The Secret Of Ventriloquism, Dunhams Manor Press)
Jon Padgett: 20 Simple Steps To Ventriloquism (The Secret Of Ventriloquism, Dunhams Manor Press)
Sarah Pinsker: And Then There Were (N-One) (Uncanny Magazine #15)
John Llewellyn Probert: The Church With Bleeding Windows (Great British Horror #2, Black Shuck Books)
Nicholas Royle: Jizz (Ornithology, Confingo)
Nicholas Royle: Pink (Ornithology, Confingo)
E. Saxey: There Is A Willow Grows Aslant A Brook (Reflections, Fox Spirit)
Jeremy Schliewe: Gustavo's Book (Supernatural Tales #34)
Effie Seiberg: Strong As Stone (Cast Of Wonders #278)
Christopher Slatsky: An Infestation Of Stars, (Alectryomancer & Other Tales, Dunhams Manor Press)
Christopher Slatsky: The Ocean Is Eating Our Graves, (Alectryomancer & Other Tales, Dunhams Manor Press)
Carlie St. George: If We Survive The Night (The Dark #22)
Andrea Tang: Cassandra Writes Out Of Order (PodCastle)
Steve Rasnic Tem: Her Oh So Pretty Face (Hex Publishers)
Natalia Theadoridou: The Birding: A Fairy Tale (Strange Horizons)
Jeff VanderMeer: This World Is Full Of Monsters (TOR)
Ursula Vernon: The Dark Birds (Apex)
Eliza Victoria: Queen Midnight (The Dark #24)
Michael Wehunt: An Ending (Ascent) (Gamut)
Michael Wehunt: Greener Pastures (Greener Pastures, Apex)
Michael Wehunt: October Film Haunt: Under The House (Greener Pastures, Apex)
Mark West: What We Do Sometimes, Without Thinking (Things We Leave Behind, Dark Minds Press)
Conrad Williams: The Closure (Shadows & Tall Trees #7, Undertow)
Conrad Williams: Succulents (New Fears, Titan)
A.C. Wise: Excerpts From A Film (1942-1987) (Tor)
Gordon White: As Summers Mask Slips (Nightscript #2)

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Two Top 7s: Favourite Books Of 2017

Like last year, I've done two different lists for my favourite books of the year: one for books published this year, and one for books published previously. Seven books each, this time.

(I'll be posting my favourite short story list after Christmas...)

So, in no particular order:


1. Ornithology - Nicholas Royle (Confingo)

"Ornithology is hugely satisfying, a showcase for Royle's talents and for the short story form full review here.

2. Shadows & Tall Trees 7 - Michael Kelly (ed.) (Undertow)

Yet again, Shadows & Tall Trees collects together some of the best new weird fiction around. In terms of quality this one reached the same giddy heights as #6 for me, and that's saying something. Essential reading, and here's hoping for a #8.

3. Ruth & Martin's Album Club - Martin Fitzgerald (Unbound)

A simple idea—celebrity writers pick an album they've never heard before, listen to it three times, and say what they think—made brilliant by Martin's introductions to each. Interesting, illuminating, laugh out loud funny in places. He can make me want to listen to an album even though I already know I dislike it. Some of the finest music writing I've ever read.

4. You Will Grow Into Them - Malcolm Devlin (Unsung Stories)

"Anyone who's read any of Devlin's work before will not be surprised that these stories are all expertly constructed, brilliantly full review here.

5. Cottingley - Alison Littlewood (NewCon Press)

"...impeccably paced, perfectly structured, and a genuine page-turner." my full review here.

6. Beneath - Kristi DeMeester (Word Horde)

I kinda guessed that the debut novel from Kristi DeMeester would be brilliant, and I wasn't wrong. It's a quasi-Lovecraftian horror story set in fundamentalist Christian Appalachia. This is a book that oozes atmosphere, with the author's skilful prose describing a world that feels sickly, feverish, on the brink of delirium and apocalypse.

7. The Little Gift - Stephen Volk (PS Publishing)

"Some books, you finish reading them and you're done; but the events of The Little Gift stick around in your head, nag at your thoughtsmy full review here.


1. Thin Air - Michelle Paver (Orion)
Paver's Dark Matter is one of my favourite modern ghost stories, and this spiritual sequel doesn't disappoint. In the 1930s a team of men attempt to climb Kanchenjunga, third highest peak in the world and the most dangerous. They are following the path of a previous failed expedition, and as the air gets thinner one of expedition starts to think they're not alone... Like Dark Matter, this is a wonderfully atmospheric novel which uses its haunting setting to full effect.

2. Wylding Hall - Elizabeth Hand (PS Publishing)

A brilliant addition to my list of favourite haunted house stories, this novella tells of an English folk-rock band who visit the eponymous hall to record an album. There's a great English folk-horror vibe to this one, and its just perfectly constructed and told. Came highly recommended to me, so now I'm passing on the favour...

3. This Spectacular Darkness: Critical Essays - Joel Lane (Tartarus Press)

A book of essays on the horror genre from the late Joel Lane: insightful, erudite and thoughtful, every one. Lane's unique voice always shone through in his fiction; it shows how special a writer he was that it does in his non-fiction too. Essentially reading.

4. Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie (Vintage)

It took me nearly a month to read this one, but I'm very glad I did. A huge novel spanning the generations since modern India's creation, in which every child who was born at exactly midnight on the day of independence has super powers... and finds their fate is tied in with that of their homeland. Glorious wise-cracking prose, too.

5. The Secret Of Ventriloquism - Jon Padgett (Dunhams Manor Press)

"magnificently done and demands to be read by all aficionados of the full review here.

6. The Pre-War House & Other Stories - Alison Moore (Salt)

These stories were simply brilliant: lean, pared-down tales which are by turns creepy, disorientating and savage. An expertly crafted debut collection from a writer with complete control of the form.

7. Greener Pastures - Michael Wehunt (Apex)

"a well-crafted, intelligent, not to mention thoroughly enjoyable collection of short stories, each of which builds on genre classics but displays the author's own distinct voice. A fine debut." my full review here.