fantasy and science fiction book reviewsThe January 2014 of Nightmare Magazine opens with “The Mad Butcher of Plainfield’s Chariot of Death” by Adam Howe. Gibbons is the proud owner of Eddie Gein’s car, a genuine relic of the murder on which Alfred Hitchcock based his movie Psycho. Gibbons has a carnival show built around the car, a regular “Disneyland from hell,” and he can’t figure why it isn’t the huge success he expected when he spent his inheritance from his mother on the thing. But not only don’t people flock to see his show with a two-bit carnival traveling from town to town; he is frequently shut down by the local police in response to a citizenry that finds his show too grotesque. And the rest of the carnies don’t like the police nosing around, because there’s a lot going on behind the tents that the cops shouldn’t know about. Even though the carny is all Gibbons has ever known, it looks like he’s not going to last more than another town or two before this particular carny is shed of him. On his last stormy night, though, a crowd gathers, and he gives his best performance ever. Is it really his last?

“Walled” by Lucy Taylor is about Plush, a woman who has been incarcerated in the Dunlop House Hospital for more than two decades. She may not have been mad when she went in, but in the course of her incarceration, she became so, the monotony and boredom that were supposed to cure her doing the exact opposite. One night she wakens to the sound of something trapped inside the wall, mewling. A cat? Inside the brick wall? How was that possible? In the course of watching Plush try to rescue the cat, we learn what led to her incarceration all those years ago. The horror of Plush’s incarceration weighs heavy on the reader in this atmospheric, sad story.

In Tim Pratt’s “Ghostreaper, or, Life after Revenge,” Carson is in the process of committing suicide by hosing the gas from his car’s exhaust into the compartment itself when a red-haired woman comes by and asks him not to die, but to kill instead. She offers him a spear called the “Ghostreaper,” which will allow him to destroy his enemies with the merest touch. He can’t resist going after the person who killed his partner in a hit and run accident — the strange woman who ultimately introduces herself as Elsie is able to tell him who did it. But Elsie doesn’t read him the fine print on the agreement she’s offering him, and Carson finds out more than he wanted to know about his dead lover. He figures he might as well go after his boss next, the one who fired him. Elsie finds all this entertaining, right up until Carson takes the initiative.  Carson’s day doesn’t end the way he expected it to, but then, neither does Elsie’s.

In “Whistlin’ Past the Graveyard,” Francisco Sponelli hates his name. He’s had a bunch of different nicknames in different places, but he likes Frankie Spoons best. It made him sound like a tough guy, like a man. In Pine Deep, Jonathan Maberry’s haunted rural Pennsylvania town, they call him Spoonsie. He lives there because that’s where his wife was from, and he’s a sucker for his wife, and he loves his kids. He and his family are fortunate that the Trouble passed over them. And he has a job in a cemetery that pays pretty well, even if there’s no chance for advancement. So life isn’t great, but he’s getting along — right up until the day the locals start dying violent deaths, though the cause of the violence isn’t apparent. Well, except that there isn’t enough blood. Then comes the day when Spoonsie finds a coffin open and empty. And things get worse from there. It’s the kind of mayhem that Maberry has patented, and it’s great fun to read.

I’ve never been fond of novel excerpts; give me the whole thing or nothing at all. Hoad’s Grim by Jack Kincaid is excerpted in this issue, set in November 1956 in Sutton Valley, New York, and featuring a writer with a drinking problem — not exactly the most original set-up for a horror novel. Ed’s wife has disappeared, and the police think maybe Ed had something to do with the disappearance, especially given the kinds of stories Ed writes. Ed has a full-size freezer in his kitchen that seems to be a portal to dark places, whether they’re only the dark places of his mind or The Grim, as he’s named the land beyond the ice cubes. I was not persuaded that I want to read the full novel.

“The H Word,” Nightmare’s regular nonfiction column on the nature of horror fiction, comes from Kate Jonez this month, and is subtitled, “Horror Needs New Monsters.” I think Jonez is right. Haven’t we all about had it with vampires, zombies and werewolves? Jonez lists a number of other monsters from the folklore of many lands, and there’s so real scary stuff out there just waiting for the right author.

Mike Worrall is the featured artist in this issue. His work is surreal and frightening; Worrall calls them “Mystery Paintings,” because they seem to have stories to them, “like stills from a dream,” as he says. It’s worth going to the magazine’s website rather than just viewing these on your ereader, as they are even scarier in color that in black and white. Lisa Morton interviews Christopher Golden, the editor of Dark Duets, a collection of short stories written collaboratively (reviewed here). Golden talks about the collaborative process, his love of monsters, and his work on Stephen King, and Buffy. It’s much more entertaining than the usual interview, full of long, thoughtful answer to well-chosen questions. The issue also contains the usual author spotlights for each of the contributors. I particularly appreciated the interview with Tim Pratt, who explains just who and what Elsie is, making me interested in reading his MARLA MASON urban fantasy series.

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsThe February 2014 issue starts with a story by Adam-Troy Castro, whose name on a short story makes me sit up and take notice lately due to their consistently high quality and remarkable range. “The Totals” is about Clutch, who is a killer. A frequent killer — one who at any given time has killed within the last few days, if not the last few hours. He has little memory of his violent life; it all seems rather like a dream. One cold night he finds himself at a place he seems to recognize. Even better, it seems to be built to the proper scale for his large frame. The other customers seem alien, full of scales, teeth, slime, and other unusual appendages, but they pay him no mind and he returns the courtesy. The man behind the counter offers him his usual, and although Clutch has no idea what his usual is, it seems like a fine offer. We learn, ultimately, what kind of gathering Clutch has walked into, and what his role is in it, and even the reason for his poor memory. It’s gruesomely funny and also oddly sad, a strange combination that Castro makes work.

I’ve read Tanith Lee’s “The Gorgon” a number of times over the years, and it never fails to mesmerize me. The narrator lives on the island of Daphaeu in Greece. He is intrigued by a small island just a short ways away. One day, despite warnings from the locals that Medusa lives there, he swims the quarter mile to the small island. He meets a masked woman who is not in the least welcoming, but who does not demand that he leave, either. They fall into conversation, and he becomes even more intrigued. As the day becomes evening, and he is served dinner, he becomes sufficiently drunk to ask her to remove the mask. She at first refuses, but finally accedes to his demand. Lee’s work here is extraordinary: although there is nothing of the supernatural to this story, it is nonetheless completely horrifying.

“Dreaming Like a Ghost” is by Kat Howard, another writer whose stories I eagerly seek out. The ghost in Howard’s story first appears in the afternoon, not on a stormy night, and smiles at the narrator, Tamsin. Tamsin tells her husband about the ghost that evening, but he doesn’t take her seriously. She and her husband live next door to a graveyard, which is perhaps simply playing with Tamsin’s imagination, especially given that she is at loose ends, having just moved from her friends and her job to accompany her husband to his new job. Tamsin likes the graveyard, likes that it is a place that teases her imagination, but she notices one odd fact about it: all the people buried there were young women, and each has the same phrase: “Beloved Sister.” The nature of the sisterhood soon becomes clear, and Tamsin finds that she is a member as well. It chills the blood, this story.

“We Now Pause for Station Identification” by Gary Braunbeck is comprised entirely of the words of a man who is on the air at a radio station at 3:14 a.m. He may be the only man still alive, as we learn when he announces the topic for his show: “Our Loved Ones, Why Have They Come Back from the Dead and What the Fuck Do They Want?” The monologue continues and the announcer’s phone never rings, even as he begs for someone to call. It’s a fine bit of writing, as Braunbeck tells the entire story of the end of the world through the words of one man intent on continuing to broadcast.

The novel excerpt in this issue is from The Gospel of Z by Stephen Graham Jones. It’s another zombie novel, which makes me want to call Kate Jonez and tell her she’s right about the need for new monsters, because I am very tired of zombie novels. The bulk of the novel is set nearly a decade after the zombie plague began. Jory is a scientist engaged in the creation of a killing machine that is a sort of augmented human, though Jory thinks of them as atrocities. The novel seems to suggest that the cure for the zombie plague is worse than the disease.

Ramsey Campbell offers “The H Word: H for Honesty.” He writes horror, he says, and that’s the truth, “simple or otherwise.” He does not understand why there are authors writing horror fiction who deny that that’s what they do; and when they do, it confirms his commitment to the field. Campbell writes about the history of horror fiction, beginning with the gothic novel but calling back to Shakespeare’s Macbeth as well. One could do worse than to create a reading list from Campbell’s column to learn the background for the Stephen Kings and Peter Straubs — and Ramsey Campbells — of today.

Jel Ena is the featured artist, specializing in paintings of weird women. Julia Sevin interviews her, discussing her sources of inspiration (lots of mythology, which is evident from the examples of her art in this issue) and her current work. The featured interview is with Dean Koontz, and is a transcription of’s The Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. Koontz discusses his new novel, Innocence, in such a way that my curiosity is piqued. The author spotlights complete the issue.


  • Terry Weyna

    TERRY WEYNA, on our staff since December 2010, would rather be reading than doing almost anything else. She reads all day long as an insurance coverage attorney, and in all her spare time as a reviewer, critic and writer. Terry lives in Northern California with her husband, professor emeritus and writer Fred White, two rambunctious cats, and an enormous library.

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