Friday, 15 April 2016

Review: Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Of the three post apocalyptic novels I've reviewed, this wins the prize for the most original reason why society has broken down. It's just... horrible and mad and genius.

We are thrown into a world five years after the world had ground to a halt. People live in houses with the windows boarded up, the doors locked and should they ever need to venture outside, they do so blindfolded. Something is out there, and if you see it.. it's already too late.

Malorie's story is told through a series of flashbacks. It began with news reports of violent deaths, attacks, cannibalism and suicide. No one knew why, and by the time people realised what might be causing it, it was too late. The internet died, the TV went off, radio stopped. Society collapsed.

And anyone going outside with their eyes open was a risk to themselves and anyone nearby.

I'm not saying any more than that - but I will say this book gave me nightmares. Two while I was reading, and one about two months later. Bearing in mind I've grown up on horror novels and movies, I'd say that was pretty damn impressive.

Birdbox is up there with the best examples of true psychological horror - Shirley Jackson's Haunting of Hill House immediately comes to mind, as well as the "indescribable" horror of HP Lovecraft, in that the horror of the unseen is often far more disturbing than showing us a monster. Possibly because no matter how awful the monster is described, it's never as bad as what you thought it might be. But seeing someone else's reaction as they see something - that takes skill.

Bird Box is terrifying, compelling and utterly unforgettable. Superb.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Review: Lost Girl by Adam Nevill

Why rely on a zombie holocaust or killer virus to end civilisation when we're doing a pretty good job of screwing our future by ourselves?

That's the basic premise for the backdrop for Lost Girl. Global warming, the rising waters and mass migration to reducing land are the ingredients for chaos. And as populated areas reach critical levels, crime takes hold, controlled by warlords who know that the only way to protect your territory is to make your message clear.

And while this is all going on, a girl is snatched from the relative safety of her own garden.

The result is that the father goes on the hunt for his daughter, doing whatever he can to gather information to lead him to the next link in the chain.

A superb, gripping and at times violent and uncomfortable novel that tests the human resolve to see just how far a father will go to fight for the daughter he is sure is still alive. This is a shift from Adam Nevill's earlier work, but is clearly intensified with the stripes he's earned writing award winning horror. The back story and substantial research merges seamlessly with the central story, (as opposed to Wikipedia info dumps - ie Dan Brown). It also has what I see as his trademark - finely crafted, figurative detail that makes every page a pleasure to read. Great stuff.


Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Review: Station Eleven by Emily St.John Mandel

For the next three reviews, I'm going to look at three post apocalyptic novels. The first is Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. I'll hold my hands up here - it was the cover that grabbed me. Simply beautiful. But the story pulled me in too, so I'm glad the cover did its magic

I mean this in a light-hearted way when I describe it as The Stand for the Twitter generation. When a novel starts with a virus bringing civilisation to its knees, it's hard not to make a comparison - and the similarity doesn't end there.

Station Eleven follows the trail of the Travelling Symphony, a small troupe travelling the land fifteen years after society's collapse, performing music and Shakespeare to scattered, surviving towns. Having left two of their group behind, they return to that same town to find the place overrun and under the violent control of the self proclaimed Prophet. Later, discovering a stowaway, they realise The Prophet is going to make sure to hunt them down and take back what is his.

This is where I come back to The Stand. The Prophet certainly comes across similar to Randall Flagg, and I could feel the tension building towards a major confrontation. A fantastic build up. Unfortunately, the showdown was a let down and over far too quickly.

That aside, I would still recommend Station Eleven for the fact that I love the idea that in a post apocalyptic world, there will still be people who see the value in entertainment. The troupe's caravan has a quote, taken from Star Trek, emblazoned on its side: "Because survival is insufficient."

I've tagged this post under YA reviews because, to me, it just feels like YA. It's an entertaining, quite mesmerising novel, and despite not being generally recognised as horror, Station Eleven made the shortlist for the 2015 August Derleth Award.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Review: The Rats by James Herbert

When I was about fourteen, I was on the metro, travelling to Newcastle. This was a regular way to spend Saturdays - I usally wandered about on my own. On this day, just as we were heading into a tunnel, an older kid nearby suddenly said to the lads with him, 'This is just like that bit in The Rats,' and began telling a scene where a tube train ground to a halt in the darkness of a tunned and went into gory detail about what happened next. I was hooked, and when the metro stopped, I went directly to a book shop. The only problem was that I had no money, so I had to read a few pages in one shop, go on to the next and read a few more pages then. Luckily, back then there were lots of books shops in Newcastle city centre.

It's good to see The Rats is still going. The story is simple: giant rats kill loads of people. The mystery is where the rats have come from, but it doesn't really get deeper than that; most of the attraction was the way in which the victims die (like I said, I was fourteen). It got me hooked on James Herbert (I had already read The Fog, thanks to my English teacher slagging it off as sick drivel - cheers for that).

James Herbert calmed his style down in later years, but despite this essentially being an adult horror, I've included the YA tag in this review because it was a teen that recommended it, I was a teen when I read it, and most of my friends got into James Herbert around the same time - partially because I'd written him a letter telling him what my English teacher had said. I've still go the reply.

Shortly before he died, James Herbert sent me a good luck message following the publication of CLASH. He's one writer I would have loved to have met in person.

Monday, 11 April 2016

Review: Fat Kid Rules the World

I want to start this new batch of reviews/recommendations with the book that really changed what YA meant for me.

Fat Kid... opens with Troy, who is so fed up with the way he looks that he's contemplating suicide. Troy isn't just fat, he's morbidly obese and his self esteem is through the floor. Curt, on the other hand, is so skinny he looks malnourished but oozes confidence and flair. He sees something in Troy that other people don't and decides he's the man to be the drummer in his band. The fact that Troy can't play drums doesn't seem to matter, and is pretty reflective on Curt's outlook on life - obstacles are just things to overcome. As the boys' friendship develops, we learn more about Curt, the kind of problems he has to endure, and why he is the way he is.

I want to point out that Fat Kid... is not an "issue" book. Yes, it's about self esteem and finding the real you, but it never feels like it's trying to spoon feed you some politically correct message. It's just a damn fine book. Secondly, it's thirteen years since I first read this. Now, I read books all of the time, and sometimes I look at a book I read just a few weeks back can't remember a thing about it. Fat Kid Rules the World has stayed with me.

The language is raw and honest. It doesn't hold back, but isn't OTT either, allowing both characters come across as genuine without becoming parodies.