Tag: Horror

Alien – Alien 3: The Lost Screenplay by William Gibson (by Pat Cadigan)

** This book was provided to me by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review **

The story of how this novel came to be is almost as good as how it ended up.

Many, many moons ago — back in 1987 to be precise — William Gibson was tapped to be the first of what turned out to be ten writers to tackle the script for what was to become the third film in Ridley Scott’s Alien franchise. Gibson ultimately produced a second revision, in 1988, which toned down the story a bit, but the studio still passed on it.

This second revision was adapted into a comic series by Dark Horse Comics in 2018, and an audio drama in 2019 by Audible Studios, but the first revision remained in the dark aside from being passed around the internet on Alien fandom sites and message boards.

Now, in 2021, it sees the proper novelization it deserves; and from the Queen of Cyberpunk herself, Pat Cadigan.

To say that I was excited to read this book is an understatement. I have been a fan of both Gibson and Cadigan since I was a mere kid, and this is exactly the “peanut butter in my chocolate” type of collaboration that I dream about.

This story is gritty as all hell. Focusing largely on Hicks and Bishop after being “rescued” with Ripley and Newt in the Sulaco where they ended up at the conclusion of Aliens, this version of Alien 3 goes from “Ehhh, things might be ok.” to “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” to “Oh yeah, everything is totally screwed.”

We see a whole lot of evolution in the Xenomorphs in this story. Their adaptation and speedy evolution is both terrifying and, for franchise fans, fascinating given the total lore that already exists. These bugs are a total game changer when it comes to their propagation and swarm-like spread.

Through it all, however, we see the laser-focused persistence of Hicks and Bishop. Naturally, as should always be in an Alien story, there is some thinly-veiled political intrigue, and the ever-present idiocy of “The Company” to help push the story along a bit.

What’s striking about this book is that it is a total redirection of the bigger story. Ripley is probably in it for about two chapters before everything gets focused on the Artificial Person and the Marine. I applaud the change, and how a lot of material and memories from Aliens was referenced to give some extra sparkle to the situation the two find themselves in.

Ms. Cadigan tackled this project just perfectly. There are some scantly disguised references to the current COVID-19 pandemic that I found rather amusing, but the bigger story really lends itself to that kind of comparison. Being a fan of her previous writings, falling into a cadence and rhythm that I’m familiar with really helped churn through the pages. The dialogue encompasses so many damn emotions, but nothing ever gets to a point where the broader picture is derailed for lack of detail or cohesiveness.

All-in-all, this was one hell of a novel to read, and I’m both incredibly happy I got to enjoy it, and very sad that I’m done with it. I really, really, really hope this sees the screen someday. If only so I can see some Xenomorph lemurs. Oh yeah, there are lemurs.

The Last Shimmer by Sage Hyatt (Ryan Hyatt, ed.)

Short fiction, like a well-executed amuse-bouche, is very hard to pull off satisfyingly. Due to the nature of the back-lying mechanics of it, there is just so much opportunity to lean on one pillar of the story structure while not paying enough attention to one of the others.

Miss Hyatt understands this. The Last Shimmer balances a very well-developed storyline along with fully formed characters and a richly described setting in a way that is downright envious.

Without giving too much of it away, The Last Shimmer is the story of Tiger Lily Dander, her friend Stacy and the fanciful supposition of:

What if our shadows turned on us?

It works, it really really does, and, like I said before, Miss Hyatt develops a situation and a group of characters that work incredibly well for this piece.

This is twenty-seven pages of wonderful middle-grade horror with an absolute bow on top. Sure, it is not my normal fare, but I’m very much reconsidering the role of short fiction as a sort of palate cleanser between bigger works. I definitely needed this, and I really think all of you will enjoy it as well.

Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon

** This book was provided to me by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review **

Sorrowland opens with our protagonist, Vern Fields, out in the woods giving birth to twins all by her lonesome. Yeah, that’s an opening that will grab your attention.

If that were not enough, there is a malevolence — Vern calls it the Fiend — in these woods that harrows Vern and taunts her with offerings of baby-symbolic death: constant dead animals with accompanying baby accessories.

What we learn of Vern in the first half of the book is downright horrifying. She is a 15 year-old Black albino, very visually impaired, and raised in (and escaped from) a Black-centric compound/cult/commune known as the Blessed Acres of Cain.

I hate reviewing books where I feel like any little bit of detail I give could give away a major plot surprise, and Sorrowland is definitely this kind of story. There are minutiae galore, but, in an amazing display of story organization, Mx. Solomon has a wonderful little path for each and every one of them. The “everything in its right place” person in me adores this.

Ok, back to Vern. Over the next few years, Vern raises her two children — Howling and Feral — in the wild woods with zero human contact aside from the continued harrowing by the Fiend. Howling and Feral grow bigger and become more wily and rambunctious in their free environment, but Vern senses that she is going through some changes.

All the while, she is in constant fear of being discovered by someone who will drag her and her children back to the Blessed Acres of Cain. Back to the horrors of Ascensions, daily “vitamin” shots, and general tyranny under the gaze of her husband who is the leader of this commune.

And that’s it! That’s all I’m letting you know. Just let me tell you that shit definitely escalates from there.

I’ll be brutally honest, when I started it, I wasn’t really in the right headspace to appreciate the nuance of how this story was setting up. It wasn’t until I realized that there was a much bigger tale here than one of just mere survival that I was totally missing. Mx. Solomon deftly sets up a grim tableau and then proceeds to stack piece after piece upon the stage in a slow build of mystery, intrigue and mild horror until it seems that no outcome will be remotely acceptable in the “happy ending” category.

For me, Sorrowland is a story about the myriad aspects and facets of self-reliance. Never before have I experienced a character that so defines the concept of “grey area” in personality and actions as Vern Fields. I often found myself shaking my head at her sheer obstinance, but, as I began to realize that Vern only trusted Vern (and sometimes not even that), her methodical approach in a fuzzy world was what she equates with survival.

Don’t even get me started on electricity food.

Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark

I’ve been hearing about this novella through various outlets for a few months, and it sat on my stack longer than I would have preferred for a “short” piece of fiction.

Normally, I take breaks from “big” story undertakings to cleanse my palette with something easy to consume. Ring Shout is far from easy to consume.

Set in 1922 Macon, Georgia, the story opens with our main character, Maryse Boudreaux sitting atop a cotton warehouse in downtown with her two comrades-in-arms and best friends, Chef and Sadie. The trio is watching a Fourth of July Klan march proceed below them whilst planning out a special surprise for a pack of Klu Kluxes.

In this particular tale of alt-history and horror, Klu Kluxes are fantastic beasts of immense strength and hate who hunt down black citizens with animalistic fervor. Sadie and her friends hunt them.

As Ring Shout progresses, we learn that — as in many tales of good versus evil — there is a new resurgence in Klan evil that is rising up surrounding a new showing of G.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation that is getting ready to be shown at Stone Mountain, and Sadie’s group aims to disrupt and stop it.

Diving deep into the mystical, it appears that Griffith created the film to entrance a nation of white people into spreading more and more Klan hate, but Sadie has her own brand of mystical support to help stop it.

As social commentary, Ring Shout is pretty damn powerful. Rather than make light of the highly overt racism that was paraded around in the early to mid 20th century, the situations and stories help create a more rational picture of the mistrust and animosity that existed between the races.

As a horror story, the novella hits all the suspenseful highlights. There are mysterious monsters, Lovecraftian otherworldly overlords, and a whole lot of cultural lore and tradition. The monsters are made all that more terrifying by the ideologies they represent, and the “big bad” is about as terrifying as it gets.

I was often reminded of Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country as I was making my way through this one. While there is a lot of the same themes and tone, there are decided differences, in my mind, that make Ring Shout a more raw experience.

Whether you are a fan of horror or not, Ring Shout should definitely be on your reading list.

Lovecraft Country: A Novel by Matt Ruff

While I do not want to address the television adaptation of this novel, it is definitely the elephant in the room, and I will be honest that I picked up this book because the show trailer looked so fascinating (and I had ignored the recommendation last year from a dear friend).

OK, elephant addressed.

Lovecraft Country is a marvelous tale of horror, science fiction, and navigation of Jim Crow America of the 1950’s. Delightfully broken into vignettes and paying a whole lot of homage to H.P. Lovecraft’s style both in subject matter and story construction.

Throughout the bigger work, a larger story arc is weaving itself featuring arcane rituals, mystical objects, powerful magicks, Indiana Jones-style adventure, and more than a little overt racism.

Wrapped around the larger story are small tales of new worlds, cursed objects, hauntings, debts paid and self-discovery. Again, very much flavored with the struggles of being Black in America during a time where being non-white put one at a very overt and accepted disadvantage.

While the book was a relatively quick read, I found the world-building quite intricate and well-developed. The protagonists are very likable: even with their quirks and flaws; and the “villains” run the gamut of mystical to brutish.

Quite the literary treat.

Book Review: Gideon the Ninth

Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

There are stories one reads that one hopes will never end; then there are stories that absolutely cannot end. Harrow the Ninth falls firmly in the second category.

I absolutely fell in love with the wit and language of Gideon the Ninth and the story of Lyctor and last necromancer of the Ninth House, Harrowhark Nonagesimus is right up there in caliber. The glorious weaving of language and humor tied into yet another catastrophic mystery makes for one of the most enjoyable reads I’ve had all year.

Yes, parts of the story are confusing as all hell, but that’s part of the story. Sometimes you just have to let go and patiently observe the author taking you on a wild rollercoaster ride, and you’ll just have to like it. Believe me, the ride is worth it.

Extra kudos to Moira Quirk who did the voice acting/narration for the audiobook. These stories are made that much better because of her involvement in the project. The characters are as much hers as they are Ms. Muir’s.