Top 5 Reads of 2018
It’s been an awesome year for horror, but that said, I’d be hard pressed to think of a year where there wasn’t a load of brilliant genre stories to consume. Which five turned me into a horror glutton during 2018 though? Which of the books I ate would I recommend shoving down your own reading hole? Okay, lost track of that metaphor a little…ON TO THE BOOKS
#5 – Stinger by Robert R McCammon
A late entry into the list, and not a 2018 release, but this was a treat from page one. Where McCammon’s apocalyptic Swan Song felt like a terrific TV mini-series expanded for the page, Stinger is very much like a brilliant 80’s sci-fi/horror movie magically transformed into a book. Beginning with a taste of the finale’s destruction, you’re then taken back in time a few days, where two mysterious UFOs blast into the recession-hit town of Inferno. The novel spends a good amount of time setting up the dynamics of the town as the weirdness increases, before exploding into terrifying action. There are a few things you’ve seen elsewhere – a spherical force field blocking access to the town, good alien vs bad alien, gangs being forced to work together, but it’s an effective mix of all these pre-worn ideas, along with shape-shifting organic enemies who sometimes have spiky ball-tails ripping out of their spines. It’s gory, a bit silly and a lot of fun. Plus, I nearly choked up at the end, and I don’t remember any 80’s action movies doing that to me, apart from maybe Cobra.
#4 – Little Black Spots by John F.D. Taff
True story: when I came to review this for my YouTube channel (plug plug), I could barely manage to sum up my thoughts without coming across as a gushing buffoon. Turns out there’s a reason why Taff is called the king of pain, and this short story collection is definitely gush worthy. You’ll experience jealousy-inducing magical soft drinks, murderous car parks, lovers bursting into flame and much more. If you’re not sold based on that, there are 12 more tales of horror and hopelessness ready to draw you in and make you wince, weep, or clutch your knees to your chest under the covers. Disturbing and deep, I’ve got at least 2 other Taff books on the to be read pile as a result of reading this, and while I can’t wait, I’m also a little scared.
#3 – Knuckle Supper by Drew Stepek
Another pre-2018 title, but this was one of the first novels I read last January, and it blew me away. Taking the traditional vampire legend and building something not only fresh but downright heartbreaking, this very nearly toppled Todd Grimson’s Stainless as my favourite modern vampire book. Its main character, RJ, is a total piece of shit on the face of it, but as the novel progresses and more of the seedy underworld is exposed, the worse you feel for him and everyone around him. With copious gore, drug use and an uncomfortably real look into the world of child prostitution, this is definitely extreme horror, with the added depth of scathing societal criticism. It’s that honesty which transforms the book into something oddly beautiful and moving by the end. Vital reading.
#2 – Cassilda’s Song (Various)
When I read The King in Yellow, I remember thinking “not bad, but there could have been so much more.” Cassilda’s Song, an all-female authored collection of stories inspired by that mythos, not only delivers on the promise shown by Chambers’ original work, but blows it entirely out of the water. The range and variety of these works is astounding, with stories that sicken, inspire and inject you with pure dread. Expect to feel every conceivable emotion as you make your way through these 18 stories, especially the opening pieces, which are so phenomenal that the first read through of the latter half can feel like a slog. However, this is a book which gets better with every read through, something to be savoured as you pick through its rich, multi-layered delights, leaving you moved every time. Did I say phenomenal yet? Phenomenal.
#1 – The Siren and the Specter by Jonathan Janz
In this world, there are Janz Fanz, and those who will soon become them. I’d seen a fair bit of hype around Janz this year, and Flame Tree Press were kind enough to send me an advance copy of this title, the first Janz book I ever read. And it’s a belter. Throw in one part Stephen King’s 1408, one part southern gothic and a healthy dose of modern ghost movies, and you’re in for an unforgettable ride. Marrying ghosts to both personal tragedy and horrific violence, this takes both concepts and has an absolute blast with ghostly tropes as well as new spins on the haunted house formula. Creeping entities leer at you from rooms that the lead character sensibly stays the fuck out of whenever he can. David is a sceptical paranormal investigator, who fights his own feelings as much as the forces of evil as the richly layered narrative progresses. The spirit of a terrible person gleefully uses its ghostly form to its advantage, and the people surrounding David’s investigation prove to be just as disturbing at times. With deep character work and genuinely pants-changing terror, this left me stunned, especially in the final chapters which keep the shocks coming right to the last page.
If you haven’t picked up any of these fine titles, do it! There’s still time! I believe in you!
Ben Walker is a British reviewer/writer who had his tiny mind ruined by an illicit viewing of John Carpenter’s The Thing when he was a young lad, and his mind is still pretty tiny and ruined now. His past review credits include reviews & interviews on the sadly defunct UK Horror Scene website. Nowadays you can find him on YouTube talking about the weird books & movies that tickle his fancy.
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