Jack Williamson managed to craft a different sort of werewolf tale with Darker Than You Think, creating whole new mythology along the way and tethering it all with the cutting-edge science–and pseudoscience–available at the time the story was written. It’s a strange thing that more writers didn’t take his lead and incorporate elements of this mythology in novels written since the 1940s. The narrative follows Will Barbee, a reporter with close ties to members of a concluded expedition into the Gobi desert. On scene when the leader of the expedition experiences a sudden, suspicious death just as he’s preparing to make a grave announcement regarding their discoveries, Barbee doggedly pursues the story he knows is there. What follows is a disorienting melange of waking life and dreams, the questionable nature of reality, and the blurred line where fact meets fiction. At its core, Darker Than You Think is a tale of a millennia-long conflict between human beings and a close relative hiding in plain sight while preying on humanity. Centuries before, humankind had thought they won the war; but a rising tide of Homo lycanthropus has been utilizing advances in scientific understanding to build their numbers and grow in strength. Awaiting the emergence of the Child of Night who will lead them to a golden age for their kind, the lycanthropes have only one thing to fear, an ancient weapon humanity can use against them, recovered on the expedition to the deserts of Mongolia. A race against time ensues as Will Barbee, led by the enchanting April Bell, struggles to discover the nature of this weapon and neutralize the threat it poses. The pulpy writing style of the times is a refreshing transition from modern literature. Though the identity of the Child of Night was so predictable that any discerning reader will have it figured out shortly after the mystery is proposed, the story is still an enjoyable one. Will Barbee comes across as almost painfully stupid at times, and his denial of what he’s experienced is stretched far beyond what should be credible for even the most disoriented and frightened individual. Jim Meskimen’s narration is perfectly suited for a book written in the 1940s, sounding almost like the narrator of the radio dramas popular at the time. He captures the feel of the times in a way a lot of narrators might struggle to embody.
After the unexpected loss of her mother, Jamie gets a fresh start in a different home and a new job. Things are going well for her. She’s studied and worked hard, moving up and working in an elderly care facility where she’s hoping to build a career for herself in nursing, daydreaming of leaving town someday. Until then, things seem good. She’s made new friends with a couple of her coworkers, and Jamie built a rapport with some of the people she provides care for at the facility. One patient, in particular, means a lot to her, and it’s a sad reality of her occupation when Elizabeth passes away. It’s a gift her patient leaves behind for Jamie that could be the cause of the misfortune about to befall her and her two girlfriends, but that same gift might be her salvation as well. Jagge’s writing draws the reader in as she first spins the tale of Jamie’s childhood and her life before the loss of the final member of her family before introducing us to the new life she’s found in the nursing field. A protagonist who seems like a genuinely sweet and kind young woman, it’s almost heartbreaking to know that this story will take a dark turn at any moment. In that, Jagge does not disappoint. Jamie’s almost tranquil life takes a sudden turn as one night as she’s leaving work, she’s swept up in a nightmare of drugs, greed, brutality, and murder. Only by coming to terms with a different sort of nightmare will Jamie make it through the night, and she has the tools available to her in the strangest form one might imagine.
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Lucas Mangum listed Bradbury and Laymon as his inspirations when writing Bone Cider, but he didn’t need to tell us that. Reading this story made me want to pick up my worn out copies of Bradbury’s The October Country or The Illustrated Man or Laymon’s Night In the Lonesome October. Mangum’s descriptions of the sights, sounds, and experiences shared by our young protagonist evoke reminiscence of the Octobers of childhood. Reading these words, we can’t help but feel the chill in the air, the fallen leaves blowing with a light rattle across the sidewalk as we trespass in the gloom of dusk or full night, and the tingling deep inside that remained only so long as we still believed in the magic of those nights. Some of us hold on to that tingling sensation well into adulthood, and Mangum is clearly one of those people. Bone Cider is a story of loss, of family, and of the way the world seems–or is–different when the nights are long and the world is only thinly separated from other worlds we glimpse only in our dreams. Lucas Mangum brings all of that to life in the tale he tells.
Bone Cider was released as part of the 31 Days of Godless event at http://www.godless.com for the month of October, 2021. You can grab a copy for yourself by going to the website or using the app on your preferred mobile device. The link is below:
Brand New Cherry Flavor is a book packed with originality and uniqueness. There’s a potential within this story, a barely suppressed tension and horror seething just below the surface, that sadly never quite reaches fruition. My comment on wasted potential is not to suggest I didn’t enjoy the story because it was surprisingly enjoyable. I feel almost as though the lack of gratification or fulfillment was an intentional stroke by the author. Consider it a page from the Bret Easton Ellis playbook, metafictional and intentionally subverting the expectation of the readers. Lisa Nova is, for the most part, not a likable character. Throughout the narrative, she fluctuates between appearing vapid and slyly witty while perpetually coming across as shallow. Being unlikeable does not, however, make her unsympathetic. Witnessing as her life spins out of control with an increasing cost in collateral damage, it would be challenging to dismiss her plight. We join the tale just as Lisa’s passed over for a promised role as the Assistant Director on a major film project. This position had been promised to her by Lou Burke, the man she’d been having an affair with up until that point. As a concession, her now-former lover sends her to meet with people who will capitalize on her looks by paying her to star in a pornography adjacent film. Lou Burke, or as Lisa repeatedly refers to him, “Lou Greenwood, Lou Adolph, Lou Burke,” is a class act. He deserves to have a fork stabbed into his leg. Incensed, and seeking revenge, Lisa goes to her ex-boyfriend, Code, to inquire about a hitman she’d heard about through him. This leads her to Boro, and the rest of the story evolves in its phantasmagoric way from that interaction. Traveling from Hollywood to Brazil, from Brazil to New York, and from New York back to Hollywood, Lisa discovers that Boro has not only taken the job of destroying Lou Burke–and his family–but is also providing Lisa with the power to shape the world around her in ways many people could only dream of. Psychic tattoos, a mythological white jaguar, zombies (of the voodoo variety), drugs of all flavors and varieties, magical filmmaking, mirrors that show the past, and a garden of human limbs are only some of the more bizarre elements of this story. Though I enjoyed this book a good deal less than I would have liked, I can certainly understand the appeal it has for other readers/listeners. The audiobook narration supplied by Marguerite Gavin made the story more enjoyable than it might have been without such a competent narrator. She certainly managed to fully convey the character of Lisa Nova better than I think many narrators could.
I went into Magick Brew with high expectations. I’d previously read–and reviewed–the Black Planet collection compiling the first four novellas/novelettes in that series. She set the bar high with that one. Magick Brew did not let me down. A morality tale reminding the reader to be careful what they wish for, this short story tells the tale of an incel who determines magic might be the only way he’ll get the girl he wants. Repeatedly striking out in his attempts to research a love spell, he almost gives up. Thankfully, for the readers, he does not. It would be a much shorter and far less interesting story if that happened. Settle in, drink your watermelon margarita, and wait for the party to get going. You’re sure to enjoy the meal.
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The final installment of the Fear Street trilogy from Netflix had some weaknesses, but it was an overall satisfying conclusion to the story. In a sense, it was like two movies in one. As Deena restores the skeleton of the witch, Sarah Fier, she finds herself transported back in time to the colonial community of Union, where she experiences the final days of Sarah Fier’s life through her own eyes. We discover that the history everyone had taken for granted throughout the previous two installments is not the reality of what happened during those fateful days in 1666. Sarah and Hannah Miller–much like Deena and Sam in 1994–are lovers in a time when it was most certainly less socially acceptable than it is today. Jealous men of the village spurned in their advances, use this forbidden love as justification for cries of witchcraft and devilry. It just so happens that there is witchcraft afoot, but Sarah and Hannah are, of course, innocent. There was a satisfying moment in the story when Sarah determines that she will bring the devil down on the citizens of Union in a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. Already condemned for practicing witchcraft, she feels there’s nothing to lose. Instead, she discovers the truth of who is behind the apparent curse afflicting the village before she is captured and hanged by the overzealous Union residents. It’s this discovery that brings us back to the present of 1994–and the latter half of the movie. Deena, Josh, and Ziggy–along with the custodian, Martin–craft a desperate plan to bring down the real witch and end the curse that’s afflicted Shadyside for more than 300 years…hopefully, saving Sam in the process.
Loosely based on the young adult horror books written by R. L. Stine during the 1990s, the first installment of the Fear Street adaptation achieves a good deal of success in capturing elements of Stine’s writing while gearing the production for an audience now well into adulthood. Though likely to draw a new audience unfamiliar with the source material, this movie was produced to appeal to those who might have grown up reading Stine’s books for younger readers and young adults. While the Fear Street books were more violent and gory than a lot of Stine’s writing geared toward a younger audience, this movie amplifies that element quite nicely. A killer is on the loose in Shadyside, but this isn’t the first time. In a town with a history of mysterious plagues of madness and murder, can Deena and her brother Josh hope to discover the secret behind these horrors before they–and all of their friends–are slain? On the surface, it’s a color-by-number slasher flick complete with Shadyside High School students as fodder, but more backstory and mythology is forming the substrate than is typical in slasher fare. With an obvious fondness for the slasher flicks of the 1990s, one can’t help but see ample homage to such borderline classics as Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and Urban Legend. Fear Street: 1994 goes beyond the superficial slasher characteristics, however, and incorporates a tale of witchcraft, and a town cursed for centuries into the narrative, setting the stage for the subsequent two volumes of the series. The deaths are often fantastic, brutal, and gory–I doubt anyone will look at an industrial bread-slicer the same way again–and the story flows nicely at a fast pace, balancing suspense and jump scares as well as one could hope for. The characters don’t consist solely of two-dimensional ciphers, as has become the meme for these types of movies, but they almost couldn’t be if the series is expected to span three movies. I found them largely likable and sympathetic.