Sunday, June 01, 2008

Horror and Thriller Novella Reviews

by Gary A. Braunbeck

Here are some short reviews of novellas I've enjoyed lately.

World of Hurt by Brian Hodge: this nerve-shattering and heartbreaking novella from Earthling showcases Hodge at the top of his form, taking a tired old storyline (a character who is revived from the dead, only to discover that something has followed him or her back into the corporeal world) and infusing it with a heavy doses of intelligence, emotional realism, and existential (in the dictionary sense of the word) terror. The most emotionally challenging and richly-rewarding a novella of the year, Hodge's prose has never been more eloquent, his storytelling never more powerful and affecting.

Mama's Boy by Fran Friel: It's almost impossible to discuss this nasty little story without giving away or hinting at its many twists and turns, so you're just going to have to settle for this: This blackest of black comedies, ingeniously structured, will leave you thinking that Norman Bates maybe wasn't all that bad a fellow. An impressive and memorable debut, and deliciously wicked to the core.

Bloodstained Oz by Christopher Golden and James A. Moore: When I first saw that Golden and Moore had collaborated on a novella, I thought it was a mis-print. How could these 2 writers -- who, in my eyes, anyway -- are polar opposites in so many ways, possibly write something together that wasn't going to read like 2 clashing styles meeting in the literary equivalent of a car crash? The answer? Bloodstained Oz, easily the nastiest work on this list (sorry, Fran), and one guaranteed to forever ruin the Judy Garland film you've come to know and love. The voice employed here in a singular one, smooth and assured; the pacing is a wonder to behold; and the story itself is, well ... oddly inspiring, in a twisted sort of way. A bloody winner, this, and Earthling's 3rd book to make this list.

The Colour Out of Darkness (Novella Series) by John Pelan: I have a confession to make: most Lovecraft-inspired stories make me cringe, and Lovecraft pastiches make me despair, because more often than not, they bring out the worst in writers. Luckily, John Pelan's Cemetery Dance novella is an exception. Eschewing a lot of the usual trappings of the Cthulhu Mythos, Pelan adds more than a few original spins to the Lovecraft canon while never resorting to tired imitation of Lovecraft's style. Another winner.

The Bad Season by Dennis Latham: This lean and mean entry would make a great double feature with Jonathan Maberry's Ghost Road Blues, as both rely heavily on folklore and how it manifests itself -- with terrifying consequences -- in the modern world. Latham's prose makes Hemingway's look wordy and purple. A fast, hard, unnerving ride from first page to last.