Book Review: “Creature” by Hunter Shea

creatureThe title of Shea’s latest novel is somewhat misleading, purposefully ironic, and yet perfectly encapsulates what the author has accomplished. Known for his creature features, this is a departure from much of Shea’s body of work, and is instead a character driven story. Focused on a couple who are both battling the effects of a horrific autoimmune disease — Kate, as the one stricken; Andrew, as the witness to his wife’s disease — we’re able to sink deep into the despair of their situation while celebrating the little wins of life right alongside them.

But this is no Hallmark sob story. Shea delicately lays the groundwork for horror within the trail our couple follows, preparing us for an ending that delivers the goods most readers of the genre long for. The slow-burn dread and tension are constant, and though the ending goes off like a string of fireworks, its truly the characters that shine the brightest.

I feel like this is the book the author was meant to write, the book he had in him that’s been waiting to come out, one only he would have been able to pen. It’s by far the best thing I’ve read of Shea’s. I’m excited to see where new horizons take his writing and whether this marks a departure from the “Creature” he’s been trying to escape his whole writing career. A remarkable read, and one that will hit the right chords for just about every reader.

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The Juxtaposition of a New Year

This morning I went for a run. Understand, that’s a big deal for me — I broke several bones in my foot this past year and it’s been a lengthy road to recovery. But as I was running, thinking about the start of a new year while listening to Muse’s album, Absolution, which is all about the end of the world, I realized how much joy there is in contrasts.

image1.jpegLight and darkness.

Hope and despair.

A new year and the end of the world.

Time spent with family vs time spent alone.

Corporate life set against creative pursuits and freedoms.

Even my run was balanced between tract housing on one side and wilderness on the other, a perfect metaphor for where my thoughts were leading.

2018 was a strange year, one where I’m not sure I had those scales equally balanced. And when you’re juggling multiple scales and a variety of weights in all different shapes and sizes, it’s easy to let all those chains get tangled until you’re the one being held bound rather than setting the scales.

So this year my goals are simple. Balance. To walk (or maybe even run) that road that straddles the line between reality and the hopes of what could be. And to put the work in to keep moving forward, despite the setbacks that come — whether they be broken toes, shattered dreams, or just an unexpected incline.

I’m not sure what that journey will look like over the course of the year or what the implications will be when it comes to things like social media, blogposts, or other pursuits, but I invite you to do the same. Seek that road that runs between the contrasts in your life. Find out where it leads. Even if you never see the end of that road, you’re bound to have encounters along the way that you would never have had without pursuing that balance.

So Happy New Year. I’m oddly excited for where it might lead and hope to cross paths with you along our journeys.

Behrg Reviews: “Annihilation” by Jeff VanderMeer

Annihilation is a tough book to review, likely because it’s difficult to know how you feel about it, even while you’re reading it. The prose is majestic, the story strangely beautiful, and yet there’s this forced and quite purposeful detachment which can make connecting with it a different experience than most reads. I can see how a lot of readers have struggled connecting with the story. As for myself, I really dug what VanderMeer both attempted and accomplished, though I believe they’re both two very distinct things.

annihilationAbout a group of scientists who go into a defined “Area X,” where unnatural changes have been occurring, this is quite possibly one of the most unique “alien invasion” novels you’ll ever read, and one that is more likely to occur than the majority of what the science fiction genre has to offer. Just the premise that we simply can’t fathom life beyond what we know is unquestionably deep. Is it even an “invasion” or does there have to be a source for what’s begun these transformations? There are far more questions posed than answers here, and like Area X itself, they only seem to grow and metastasize, transforming from their original inception into something far greater (and perhaps darker).

If you’re looking to try this out, set your expectations to the side. Don’t expect a lot of answers (or any, really), don’t expect to connect with the characters on an emotional level, except to see yourself through some of their reactions and struggles in a quite cerebral way. But as for challenging the status quo of what can or should be a done in a novel, this is a great place to enter and just let your thoughts roam around within the framework of the story.

Halfway through I didn’t think I’d be picking up book 2 in the trilogy, but after finishing the novel, I’d like to see where it continues to go (or rather, where it doesn’t). Bring on the weird, the strange, the unique. I’ll take it any day over a paint-by-the-numbers story with a plot that’s been painted over so many times the initial shades are beginning to peel.

31 Days of Horror – Day Twelve: Ultimate Horror Recommendation List

Day Twelve of 31 Days of Horror is brought to you by not one, but many voices clamoring to share their favorite horror recommendations. Best-selling author Michaelbrent Collings put together an impressive post, asking some of the most respected minds in the business to share their most recommended works of fiction, from movies to novels.

(And after he got through those respected individuals, he asked me as well).

So today head on over to Michaelbrent’s site and find a whole list of movies and novels to either add to your collection or most likely revisit.

The Ultimate Horror Recommendation List is here.

Also check out Michaelbrent’s newest novel, Predators, which has been picking up nothing but amazing reviews.

31 Days of Horror – Day Ten: Guest Post by Author Karl Drinkwater

So today’s post in 31 Days of Horror is brought to you by author Karl Drinkwater. Karl is an author from across the pond who’s done a tremendous job of blurring the lines of genre fiction. I’ve had the chance to read a few of his works and with each new book I can honestly say he keeps getting better.

lost solaceIf you’re new to Karl’s work, his horror collection, which includes three separate books, is a great place to start. His latest work, Lost Solace, is a fantastic sci-fi horror piece which I blazed through. With an incredibly strong and memorable female protagonist and a fascinating plot with a mystery at its center, it’s a perfect example of why science fiction and horror go together so well. Check out my original review of the book here. (And from what I’ve heard, a sequel is coming soon).

But enough from me … Here’s Karl, sharing his thoughts on what makes the horror genre so great:

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Brandon asked me to write something for his 31 Days Of Horror posts on his blog. And that got me thinking about why we write this stuff. Hell, how does any author decide what they’ll write? How do authors decide whether to write fluffy sci-fi, or thriller romance, or steampunk mystery?

Some authors write in genres that are popular, because it helps them make a living. Some authors write in genres that they have a great affinity to, because they couldn’t imagine writing anything else. Horror authors often fall into the latter category.

They see horror in the world and don’t want to shy away from it. And yet, by immersing themselves in fictional horror, they do escape, at least for a while – into a more controllable world. Sometimes evil will still win there, but the experience of reading or watching the fictional story unfold can provide catharsis, rather than the depression that comes with real world horror. (The latter can only be overcome by changing the world through understanding, compassion, patience, empathy, and love. See, horror authors aren’t just obsessed with zombies and chainsaws.)

Each horror author had their own journey towards the dark side. I’ve been a fan of horror since I was a child, when I climbed trees with a horror book and got so immersed that I would forget to come down for dinner. It was a form of escape. It was a workout for my imagination (and climbing skills). The swaying branches and whispering leaves were the perfect backdrop for stories where I dreaded to find out what happened on the last page – but I also had to know. There was no ending the story part-way through. I learnt that we have to face things until the bitter end.

As an early teen I spent pocket money on books by King and Koontz, and spent whole days lying on my bed reading thick novels, or staying up too late because I couldn’t put the book down. The stories seized me by the scruff of my neck in ways that other tales couldn’t. Even when I wasn’t reading them I’d be pondering the things that haunted Derry, or Snowfield.

So I raise a toast to horror, and will defend it as a genre whenever I feel the need. Here’s a post where I was asked to argue the case for why more people should read horror books. I succeeded that time. I’ll keep doing it.

May horror’s darkness continue to light the way for quality fiction.

31 Days of Horror – Day Nine

Day Nine of 31 Days of Horror is all about meeting your heroes. Often in the process of admiring someone’s work, it’s easy to set them up on a pedestal that’s impossible to live up to. Other times you realize the pedestal you’ve constructed isn’t nearly grand enough.

MMSMichael Marshall Smith is an author I became familiar with in the early nineties with a novel called The Straw Men. It’s visceral, dark, violent, and ultimately mesmerizing. Since then I’ve devoured pretty much everything Michael writes–and yes, I’ll call him by his first name rather than last, as Michael writes under several pseudonyms, all (as far as I know) with the first name of Michael. The Straw Men was expanded into a trilogy, and is really a through-line that’s woven into much of Michael’s work in some form or another.

I could pretty much go through Michael’s entire back catalogue and recommend every book or short story collection (and yes, Michael’s short fiction is absolutely superb). So yeah, I’m a bit of a fan-boy, and if you haven’t read any of his work, shame on you.

I had the chance to go to StokerCon last year, which is the Horror Writer’s Association’s big annual convention, and while it was cool to see and meet George R.R. Martin, I was far more excited to go to a small panel in a back room where Michael was one of the guests. The panel was fantastic and more like sitting at a brewery or “pub” with some old pals. Afterwards, I ran into Michael and had the chance to chat for a bit. Not only was he gracious but he seemed generally interested. And yes, maybe that was the booze speaking, but for me this was a defining moment as his fiction had such an impact on me in my earlier years. Meeting one of your literary heroes always carries a bit of mysticism with it, and while this interaction was something he certainly won’t remember, it’s amazing to think how each of our small circles of influence can dramatically affect someone’s else’s circle without us even realizing it.

anomalyThis year Michael cloned himself once again, publishing a new novel under the name Michael Rutger titled The Anomaly. Despite the sticker on the book that says fans of Dan Brown will enjoy this, it’s a thrilling head-trip of a novel and one of the more “fun” reads I’ve dived into this year. With some heavy themes behind the story, it’s a great example of writing to market while also staying true to yourself. Definitely one to check out, if you haven’t already.

So whether it’s a horror movie icon, a horror author, or an actual real world monster, make sure at some point in your life you have the experience of meeting one of YOUR heroes, of connecting those dots into a solidified line. And if one day you become the hero to someone else, take a few moments to make them feel special.

31 Days of Horror – Days Five & Six

Days five and six of 31 Days of Horror are all about binge-watching (before that was even a thing). In my youth, we always looked forward to Thanksgiving for the food and the family, but also because of the TV marathon sessions of the Twilight Zone that would play, one episode after the next.

twilight zoneThe Twilight Zone was a show that took things a step beyond what otherwise might be on the surface. Whether it was a twist ending like in “Time Enough at Last” or just a skewed perspective like “Eye of the Beholder,” it inspired me at an early age to examine things from more than one angle. This approach affected my early writing assignments in school to the way I approach a theme or idea today, attempting to find a new way into a story that I haven’t seen done before.

These days, the UK (now Netflix) show “Black Mirror” has truly captured the idea of The Twilight Zone, will making it modern and fresh. Using technology, social media, or political themes, it spins these ideas into entertaining yet highly relevant self-contained stories. Even the title of the show — Black Mirror — is metaphorical, representing our TVs or phones when turned off or powered down while also showing the distorted reflection technology is creating in our lives.

In what seems like another life, I was a child actor, and worked quite a bit on shows like Dynasty, Highway to Heaven, as well as many commercials. I had the chance to be on an episode of the Twilight Zone, titled “The Elevator,” which was actually written by one of my heroes, Ray Bradbury. It’s certainly not one of the better Twilight Zone episodes, but it’s another small part in the equation that’s made me who I am today.

With the announcement that Jordan Peele will be bringing the Twilight Zone back, I have high hopes that we’ll see something akin to Black Mirror, but with a taste of that original flair that made The Twilight Zone so unique.