Survivor Song was written before the coronavirus pandemic: this feels inconceivable. Within the first few pages, we’re plunged into an all-too-familiar scene from the confusion of lockdown. What does the government’s guidance even mean? Should we listen to everything we hear on Facebook about the virus? There’ll be several hours’ worth of queues at the grocery store, and our protagonist – Natalie – has already stress-eaten all the candy in the house. Tremblay’s novel places us in a nightmare vision of 2020, in which New England is caught up in a 28 Days Later-like “rage virus”, and we’re in the twitchy-curtained first few days of the outbreak.
Harrow Lake by Kat Ellis comes beautifully packaged in a VHS-style slipcover with a faux rating/advisory (“nerve-shredding tension, nail-biting thrills”); the book itself is styled as a VHS cassette. Something of an odd choice for contemporary YA, where – notwithstanding the recent boom in 80s nostalgia – a large part of the target audience may never have played a VHS tape. But with its darkly satisfying tale of a controlling and obsessive horror auteur, a town stuck in its past as a 1920s film set, and the secrets of generational abuse, Harrow Lake is a compulsively readable treat for horror fans of all ages.
Beneath the Rising, Premee Mohamed’s debut novel, sets up its world in the first few pages: one in which the hijacked planes missed the World Trade Centre on 9/11 and Johnny Chambers – a fantastically wealthy science prodigy – has cured HIV and Alzheimer’s and owns a mad Bond villain’s lair of a house with a Pacific giant octopus in a tank. But it’s also an immediately recognisable one, as Nick (our protagonist, Johnny’s childhood friend and Loyal Sidekick) describes the sideways glances he gets as a “brown”-looking Canadian, and his ten-hour shift stacking shelves before falling asleep on the couch. It’s the perfect blend of speculative elements and a carefully grounded examination of privilege, class, gender and race – and that’s before the evil inter-dimensional Ancient Ones show up, woken by Johnny’s infinite energy machine, bent on conquering Earth for a final time.
Eden by Tim Lebbon conjures up what you’d get if you crossed Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation with the lurid “creature feature” paperbacks of the 70s and 80s: a world in which eco-politics and the unchecked powers of nature have created a hostile environment for humans, stalked by blood-thirsty animal predators and the living forest itself.
Francine Toon’s debut novel Pine opens with a young girl and her father driving on a darkened country road in the Scottish Highlands. They’re heading to the nearest settlement – a tiny collection of houses – to go “guising”, or trick-or-treating. Among the surrounding trees, they see a lone figure in a white dressing gown. This apparition haunts the following story, coming as close as young Lauren’s own fireside – where the lady in white is a hideous night-hag, barefoot, moving oddly, incapable of eating, wiping herself from the memory of any adult that encounters her – but otherwise seen in glimpses, as the weird and supernatural hovers over every aspect of Lauren’s childhood.
A Lush and Seething Hell brings together – in The Sea Dreams It Is The Sky and My Heart Struck Sorrow – two very different novellas located within the “found history” tradition.
“I am fucking jealous as fuck of John Hornor Jacobs” – Chuck Wendig, foreword