Thursday 10 September 2015

Recommendation: The Russian Sleep Experiment by Holly Ice

I first read the work of Holly Ice in the Newcon Press anthology La Femme where her story, Trysting Antlers was one of the standouts among lots of strong pieces. I didn't realise at the time it was one of the first two or three stories she'd had published, making it doubly impressive. So when I saw she was releasing a horror novella via Almond Press, I made sure to pick up a copy.

The Russian Sleep Experiment is based on a purportedly true internet scare story, about a Soviet experiment on labour camp inmates during WW2. It is alleged that an experimental drug was used to try and stop the men needing to sleep, which if successful could then be used to create super soldiers... What could possibly go wrong?

The truth (*cough*) or otherwise of all this really doesn't matter regarding Ice's novella, because she merely uses the broad strokes of the idea to create something her own. The story is split into three acts, the first telling about life in the camp and the selection of inmates for the experiment, the second of the experiment itself, and the third the after-effects... The story is told from the differing view points of both the inmates and researchers, both convincingly portrayed. Although the real-life horrors of the labour camp are not dwelled on in lengthly description they are suggested through small details carefully chosen by the author, such as the moss used to insulate the inmates crude living quarters itself freezing into crystals due to the extreme cold. When the details of the experiment are revealed to the inmates, the reader is under no illusions about why they might volunteer even for something so potentially dangerous in order to escape and see their loved ones again.

The first two parts of The Russian Sleep Experiment are quick moving, with an inevitable and suffocating atmosphere of anticipated dread and violence as the experiment progresses. There's a chance of pace at the start of the third section (which tells of one of the researchers and his solitary life), and if there's any slight flaw in the novella it's that the transition has something slightly jerky about it. But soon it builds to a similar intensity as the first two thirds of the story, as the reader realises the effects of the experiment might be wider reaching than originally thought...

A fine and original horror story then, and well worth your time. (UK | US).

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