Tuesday 23 December 2014

What Kind Of A Year Has It Been? (Pt. 2)

Being the post where I talk about the cool stuff I read this year. NOTE: It' s entirely possible, bordering on likely, that not all of these came out in 2014. But 2014 is when I read them. Don't write in. Also, all opinions subjective, and mine. So here we go:

Flash Fiction story of the year:

 'A Taste Of Darkness' by Chantal Noordeloos - part of the 'Deeply Twisted' collection. It starts with the simplest of inversions - fear of the light in place of fear of the dark. It's a brilliant, immediate hook, and from there we are dragged into a living nightmare. Holding back absolutely no punches and providing no safe answers, no hope, Noordeloos creates a pitch perfect scare that packs an incredible punch.

Very Honorable Mentions:

'Down By The Ocean' by John Boden - published in Splatterpunk #5. An object lesson in economic yet cinematic storytelling. Elegant. Superb.

'Big Girls Help Their Mommy' by James Newman - published in Splatterpunk #6. A crushing character study with a gut-punch ending that will stay with you a long time. Genuinely unsettling, genuinely upsetting. Top drawer horror.

Short Story of the Year:

Taking The Piss by Jasper Bark. Part of the outstanding 'Stuck On You' collection, Taking The Piss may just be the best non-supernatural horror story I have ever read. It's jet black horror, visceral storytelling, a gloriously nasty first person narrative voice, and a furious tale of revenge. A masterclass in the form. See also my full review of this collection at the Gingernuts of Horror site.

Very Honorable Mentions:

'When The Bell Tolls' by Chantal Noordeloos, again from 'Deeply Twisted'. One that I re-read immediately upon finishing. A fantastic central concept, and a great example of how a 'funny' idea can be utterly horrific, depending on how you chose to play it. In the abstract, it's almost a sick joke. In execution, it's bloody terrifying.

'So Bad' by Adam Cesare - published in Splatterpunk #5. I was sure this one was going to be my short story of the year, and it still deserves every single bit of praise heaped upon it - this is a meticulous, thoughtful and moving character study of obsession. The horror is not incidental, but neither is it the point. This is an outstanding short story from an incredibly gifted writer.

Novella Of The Year: Really, really tough, this one, with some great competition. But the winner has to be...

'Whitstable' by Stephen Volk. Where to start? This is a heartbreaking portrayal of screen legend Peter Cushing, at the lowest point of his life. Mr. Volk takes us through the not-quite-numb-enough pain of bereavement with an unflinching eye. Not a word is wasted, not a phrase excessive. Unflinching but not cruel, clearly researched in detail but never dull or showy, and most of all, a deeply moving and gripping account, Whistable really set the bar for me this year.

Very Honorable Mentions:

'The First One You Expect' by Adam Cesare (yes, again) - totally different, this one is a slick, rollicking journey into the underbelly of micro-budget horror movie making, and the characters that make it happen. Genre aware, savvy, funny, and still adrenaline fueled and exciting/scary as hell, Cesare has a real gift for putting his own perspective on familiar tropes, spinning out surprising observations and what feel like note perfect character reactions. A really enjoyable and surprisingly thought provoking study of amorality and fame culture, and also a galloping story. Huge fun.

'809 Jacob Street' by Marty Young - Brilliantly realized child characters, a gripping twin narrative approach that kept you guessing right to the  explosive climax, and simply the best ghost story I have read in a long, long time. Not surprised this one picked up an award, it's a stunning piece.

Drive by Mark West - This one is a tightly paced thriller with a admirably simple premise and skillful execution. Recommended as a one sit read, this one grabs you by the scruff and drags you though the intense narrative at a breathless pace. A real pleasure. Also some of the scariest villains I've read this year.

Novel of the year: Again, very tough competition, and very hard to pick a winner. That said...

Mountain Home by Bracken MacLeod - It's grown in the memory, that's the thing. I really enjoyed it first time through (see my full review at Gingernuts of Horror), but the more I think about it, the more impressed I am. With the utterly fat-free prose and plotting. With the plausibility. With the internal landscapes of the characters. With the brutal, realistic portrayal of violence, and the consequences of violence. With a 'villain' whose motivation is understandable enough to make the whole thing tragic, without compromising the horror of what is occurring. And the goddamn pacing! Relentless.

And it's a debut. Sometimes, you can go right off people.

Very Honorable Mentions:

'The Summer Job' by Adam Cesare (and sorry that you're bridesmaid three times this year, man, but on the other hand - you kicked my ass in three different categories). Again, full review at Gingernuts of Horror. It's the lead character that I keep coming back to, here. I keep trying to remember a lead female in a horror novel that was more rounded, more clear, as brilliantly realized as Silverfish/Claire, and I keep failing to do it. The novel also reads like a movie, in the best possible way, whilst still doing all the cool things novels can do that movies can't. This is kick ass horror writing from a storyteller that's clearly totally on top of his game, and frankly, if it wasn't so awesome, it'd be depressing. Well played, sir. Bonus: kept me twisting until literally the last page. Bastard.

'Toxicity' by Max Booth III - Read this one early in the year, and was really impressed by the mash-up (if not cut-up) approach this novel takes. It's almost schizophrenic in it's splicing of Gonzo-Naked-Lunch-meets-trailer-park-Reservoir-Dogs. As the title suggests, it's an uneasy blend, occasionally inducing stylistic whiplash/nausea in this reader, but it crackles with energy, and the linking thread between the apparently disparate narratives is a sense of losers propelled stratosphericaly outside their comfort zones, with predictably unpredictable results. Another debut, and again, depressing for that reason.

The End Of The Word Is Nigh: Why? by Scott Lefebvre - A quieter, reflective piece this one, and one that manages to break the mold by actually being a fresh take on the zombie apocalypse, as opposed to just claiming to be one. Short on blood on guts, but high on tension and very high on the feels, this was a surprisingly tender father/daughter story that stayed with me for a long time.

Non-Fiction Essay: 'Guns' by Stephen King - not interested in arguing about the politics of it here, but I thought he made a clear and coherent case for sensible gun control measures, and demonstrated in the process that a) he practices what he preaches and b) the myth that there can be no middle ground on this issue is just that - a myth perpetuated by those on both sides with an investment in the status quo.

Non-Fiction Book: 'TARDIS Eruditorum: An Unofficial Critical History of Doctor Who Volume 4: Tom Baker and the Hinchcliffe Years' by Dr. Philip Sandifer. A ludicrously intelligent person writing about my all-time favorite TV show in painstaking detail, watching every single episode of the show, as well as additional essays about other contemporary shows, comics, books, and world events? Oh hell yes. Worth the price of admission for the wonderful essay on Mary Whitehouse alone (see the original version on his blog) the whole series has been a delight, but this collection was, for my money, the best yet.

It's been a fantastic 2014 for me in terms of discovering new authors. My only slight problem is how I'm going to find time for all the reading I want to do next year. It's a good problem to have. Thanks to all the authors who've shared their stories with me in 2014 - it's been a series of great adventures.


PS - Special WTF?!?!?! Of Awesome award goes to Dominoes by John Boden. No, I don't know either, but it messed me up. In a good way. Mostly.

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