Creepy Sheen: Rebecca Gransden
Reviewed By Ben Walker
Nostalgia hits you hard in this collection of 10 short stories, and not just from the neon-tinged front cover, as the back promises 1980’s inspired fiction, beamed from a dead Earth into space. It’s the kind of blurb that tells you what to expect but leaves you curious too.
The first story instantly gets you thinking of Mister Mister’s most famous ditty, and Broken Wings evokes the same mood as the song it takes its title from, drifting at a leisurely pace while giving off melancholy vibes. The 80s setting means bleached teeth and cherry cola, denim and Lamborghinis, people appearing carefree while their pasts wriggle uncomfortably under the surface. It’s wonderfully authentic, like a slice of Beverley Hills 90210, but it cuts off abruptly without a satisfactory ending.
From there the book pitches gradually into the weird, offering up tales of hard-boiled crime tinged with strange occurrences, people lost on the back roads of America as well as in their own lives, searching for meaning or scrabbling to survive. As far as atmosphere goes, you can almost feel the dry desert air in your nose, hear the gravel crunching as cars run off-road, or the hot sizzle of burgers on a grill. The idea of America is explored in various ways, from casual racism permeating its society to capitalist greed, malls and maulings, cold cola to hot tempers, drugs, death and more. Everything about the book screams vividness, its imagery burning as easily into your mind as the blast from a nuclear bomb.
Honestly, as I got about a third of the way in I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the book, but the further you delve into its stories, the more nightmarish things become. The slow descent into more hellish scenarios is really well thought in terms of pacing, as the comfortable veneer is slowly pulled back to show the jagged edges it was laid to obscure. The horror becomes less subtle and more chilling with each new vision of worlds coming to an end. I appreciated things getting more experimental the further I got, from the different formats employed to those which cut things short with a burst of weirdness. And you can’t have an 80’s inspired book without a story where you get the “what happened to these people afterwards” title cards like at the end of Animal House, which was a neat touch.
My only real gripes were that one story ends on a cliffhanger to be continued in another publication, which struck me as odd – the story could be seen as over if you want, seeing as a few of the others wrap up without an explicit THE END stamped on them, but then again I would rather have read the whole thing instead of having to seek out part two elsewhere. And the stories that do end suddenly, while effective, do keep repeating the same trick, so the more you read, the less jarring the impact.
That aside, taken as a whole piece read all at once instead of a collection to dip in and out of, Creepy Sheen takes some interesting risks with the usual single-author collection format and mostly pulls it off, delivering an intriguing mix of perspectives and experiences amongst its many characters. It may not be as skin-crawlingly terrifying as some end of the world books, but it definitely has its moments, well worth checking out for a different spin on typical 80’s-inspired stories.
For decades, Humankind sent transmissions around the globe. In addition to reaching every corner of the planet, the signals travelled beyond, into the dark void of space. All of broadcast history made its way gracefully through the stars, racing into the unknown—until the mid 1980s, when nuclear mushroom clouds plumed in the skies of Earth’s Third World War.
The magnitude of the explosions caused the extinction of life on Earth, and sent a shockwave through the fabric of reality. Due to this anomaly, all broadcasts running at the time of the bombs hurtled into space at an impossible speed. The signals, disobeying natural laws, outran and passed all transmissions from previous eras, leaving them far behind. At the head of Earth’s messages to the cosmos travelled the collective broadcasts from one atomic day in history.
In a remote star system, eyes turned towards the approaching 1980s transmissions.
Curious consciousnesses examined the broadcasts from the strange extinct civilisation of Earth. Filled with these transmissions, the distant consciousnesses devised their response. They returned it in the form of their own transmission, directed back to the origin of its inspiration—1980s Earth.
That transmission is Creepy Sheen.
Ben got a taste for terror after sneaking downstairs to watch The Thing from behind the sofa at age 9. He’s a big fan of extreme & bizarre horror and well as more psychological frights, and most things in between. When he’s not reading, he’s writing, and when he’s not writing he’s on Twitter @BensNotWriting or reviewing books on his YouTube channel, BLURB.