I had to work on Halloween and the morning after, so I feel kind of robbed and we don’t have any more costume-mandatory days until Mardi Gras season starts. Join me in keeping the spirit alive by reading horror novels and novellas straight through to Epiphany and ignoring all those other costumeless holidays standing in the way. Here are some of the best horror books I’ve read this past year if you need to know where to start. They weren’t all published in 2018, but they’re at least close enough for government work.
Ecstatic Inferno, by Autumn Christian
It feels like comparing writers to Philip K Dick is becoming kind of meaningless due to overuse, but I genuinely can’t come up with a better comparison for a short story collection that features God’s body washing up in a trash bag on the beach. There’s a story with a needle-toothed incubus where THAT ISN’T EVEN THE MOST UNSETTLING PART OF THE STORY. Most of the stories have a dreamlike lack of structure without feeling disorganized, with vivid surreal imagery and the sort of language use that you can’t quite explain why it works but fuck if you won’t be turning certain phrases over in your head for days afterward.
iHunt: Killing Monsters in the Gig Economy, by Olivia Hill
iHunt features several vampires and a werewolf, but the economy manages to be the bloodthirsty creature in the book and it doesn’t even have to exaggerate anything. The cast of characters are well-drawn and relatable to any millennial, and the quippy comedic action should satisfy any Buffy fan while presenting none of the weird Nice Guy hangups that series had.
Come Back to the Swamp, by Laura Morrison
It’s difficult to balance dramatic weight with quippy characters, but Laura Morrison always manages to do so without either feeling out of place. In addition to being both fun and ominous at points, Come Back to the Swamp makes great use of the novella format by leaving the nature of the swamp a mystery. Sure there’s probably interesting detail to what the swamp is up to and how it’s really operating, but that’s not strictly necessary for Bernice’s story and the decisions she has to make. The narrative is delivered with such an engaging voice that you won’t even have time to miss the exposition.
All Hail the House Gods, by Andrew J Stone
This novella has an amount of narrative tension that might seem a little unwarranted going in to a book about sentient houses, and I can’t quite quantify WHY it actually works, but it seriously does. It builds a great atmosphere of desperate pathos and near-hopelessness for the little human colony, the houses and the mystery surrounding them are genuinely foreboding, and it feels like it’s a metaphor for so much that’s been wrong with society but it never reads as moralizing or didactic.
Polymer, by Caleb Wilson
Take one of those hour long “Glitchwave/Retrocore MEGAMIX” videos from Youtube, pour it into a form fitting yet breathable jumpsuit, and make it the protagonist in a side-scrolling beat ’em up arcade game. There’s some clever and really well-executed literary trickery going on in this book: the first-person-collective narration, playing with ideas of spectacle and celebrity culture, the gleeful magic-techno-horror aesthetic mashup of the castle. But don’t let all the postmodern stuff throw you off, watching a rockstar monster hunter fight his way through a multidimensional deathtrap with a synth-powered sword is awesome enough on a surface level.