Tomb Top Ten 2015
Well, it was another grand year for reading, TombRats, and your funky and fractious old TombKeeper had the devil’s own time selecting the very best books from among those I reviewed here on Creature Feature, The Weekly Web Program during 2015.
However, after exhaustive study and massive rumination, I present to you my
personal favorites culled from a hundred or so books I reviewed . I have listed
these titles in alphabetical order, because choosing a descending list is not
possible. And so, if you missed any of these mind-blowing titles last year, all
you need to do is click on the cover graphics to order your copies. Easy!
I’m looking forward to a hundred and more great books culled from Count Gore’s Teetering Towers of Terror Tomes in 2016, and I hope you’ll join me downstairs in the Tomb for the ongoing literary feast!
BORDER by Robert McCammon
Robert McCammon fans will welcome this return to epic apocalyptic fiction in the vein of SWAN SONG and STINGER. Set in the present day, humans have been caught in an intergalactic war between enemy alien lifeforms, the horrific Gorgons who sail the galaxy in monstrous living starships, and the Cyphers, armored killers that move in blurred motion, gunning down everything in their path. Since the Gorgon/Cypher war has moved into our planetary system, Earth and its inhabitants have been devastated by the ongoing combat. Worse still, the pollution from the alien warfare has done something terrible to the last weary human survivors who are succumbing to despair and starvation, transforming them into hideous Gray Men, cannibal mutants that prey upon the living. The story focuses upon one of the last desperate bastions of humankind located in a place called Panther Ridge. Into this frantic community of survivors wanders a teenage boy with no memory of who his is or where he comes from. He calls himself Ethan, but knows nothing about himself other than his name. It turns out that Ethan has special powers, powers that frighten and threaten the warring aliens, and the boy may just be the savior of our planet and the human race. Fast paced and action-packed, THE BORDER is the kind of killer scifi/horror that has become a trademark of Robert McCammon’s blockbuster fiction. On a personal note, this is the novel I wish BATTLEFIELD EARTH had been.
A BORROWED MAN by Gene Wolfe
One of genre fiction’s legendary giants, Gene Wolfe has, over the decades, received innumerable awards for his marvelous works of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, and his imagination still soars after, lo, these many years. In this, his newest work of staggering genius, Mr. Wolfe envisions a world both familiar and very strange, indeed. E. A. Smithe is not considered a man. He is a clone—a Professional Library Clone--into whose brain the personality and memories of famous deceased mystery writer has been uploaded. And so, E. A. Smithe sits in a library like a living book on a third floor shelf, available for checkout, collecting dust as he awaits an interested human. One day, Smithe’s long and lonely anticipation comes to an end. Colette Coldbrook arrives to collect Smithe because she believes that there is a clue in one of the novels written by the author uploaded into Smithe contains a clue that will unlock the mystery of her father’s death. Together, Smithe and Colette embark on a search for the answer who murdered the young woman’s father and why. This is a captivating story that is a delightful and engrossing science fiction noir mystery.
DARKE PHANTASTIQUE: ENCOUNTERS WITH THE UNCANNY AND OTHER MAGICAL THINGS edited
by Jason V. Brock
First of all, I must say that this book is a big, beautiful object that begs to be touched and held. Hefty at 728 pages and gorgeously illustrated throughout, THE DARKE PHANTASTIQUE is the kind of quality book with which book lovers fall in love. Secondly, the collected fiction, poetry and art within are outstanding, presented with care, style and brio. The stories are divided into sections: Magical Realities, Lost Innocence, Forbidden Knowledge, Hidden Truths, and Uncanny Encounters. You will find no reprints here and--considering the authors involved in this project--that is amazing. What a treat to find brand new fiction from Ray Garton, William F. Nolan, Don Webb, the late, great Melanie Tem, Cody Goodfellow, Greg Bear, Dennis Etchison, Nancy Kilpatrick, Gary A. Braunbeck, Joe R. Lansdale, S.T. Joshi, Weston Ochse, Jason V. Brock, and so many others. Poetry fans will be thrilled by dark offerings from world-class authors W.H. Pugmire and Marge Simon. The stories themselves represent a stunning range, from dark science fiction to cosmic Lovecraftian terror to bizarro weirdness to no-holds-barred graphic horror, each story and poem is an original encapsulation of tone and pulse that holds the reader spellbound. Monsters and madness stalk these pages, but none the like of which we’ve encountered before. The volume opens with two fascinating intros: “The Beginnings of Imagination”, a Foreword by Ray Bradbury, and “An Abiding Darkness, a Phantastique Light”, an Introduction by Jason V. Brock. This anthology is haunted, I tell you, because a reading of THE DARKE PHANTASTIQUE is an experience that will preoccupy the reader long after the book is finished. For more about Jason V. Brock, visit his online resting place at http://www.jasunni.com/.
DOLL COLLECTION edited by Ellen Datlow
Dolls are creepy. I didn’t like my dolls as a child, thinking they got up to bad business at night while I slept, so I stuffed them into my closet before bedtime, much to my mother’s chagrin. World class editor Ellen Datlow, herself a collector of ultra-creepy dolls, has assembled an anthology of original stories about dolls that utterly transcends the threadbare “evil doll” genre, as she intended for this volume. What the reader will find are disturbing tales from the best genre writers working today: Jeffrey Ford, Seanan McGuire, Joyce Carol Oates, Carrie Vaughn, Tim Lebbon, Stephen Gallagher, Gemma Files, Pat Cadigan, Richard Bowes, Lucy Sussex, John Langan, and others, each author deftly representing their own personal métier within the speculative fiction field. No clichéd devil dolls here, by golly, but you will encounter dolls as disturbing personal talismans and homunculi, as in the brilliant and irrepressible Pat Cadigan’s thoroughly unnerving “In Case of Zebras”, a puppet show gone horribly wrong in Mary Robinette Kowal’s “Dr. Faustus”, a read-through-your-fingers horror tale of a terrible thing discovered in the icy wastelands by South Pole adventurers in Tim Lebbon’s “Skin and Bone”, malevolent humans who imbue their dolls with terrible power, well-meaning parents who cause damage to their children with their gifts of dolls, and much, much more. Each story is prefaced by a photograph of a doll and, I must tell you, they are scary! Each tale is superb in its own original way—ranging from refined unease to full-on screamers--and this is the kind of anthology one keeps on the shelf and lends to no one so that it can be reread again and again. For more about the editor, visit her website at www.datlow.com. Sweet dreams, everybody.
by Robert Payne Cabeen
As explained by the author, FEARWORMS are 1. The literary equivalent of musical earworms. 2. Lines or stanzas of a horror poem that repeat continuously in a person’s mind. 3. Imaginative compositions in verse that leave the reader with a lingering feeling of dread. Mr. Cabeen proves his points with this collection of amusingly horrifying poems ingeniously crafted to bore into the reader’s brain and remain there. Within the pages of FEARWORMS you will attend a rather horrible convention of cannibal clowns, stroll a moonlit beach with a strange companion, visit the Hall of Fright, decide whether or not is safe to answer a ringing telephone, visit a very bad hotel, eat at a sketchy rib joint, party with the Christmas demon, Krampus, and much more! Creepy, elegant, scandalous and outright uproarious, these poems will definitely drill themselves directly into your head and stay awhile. Each of these poems has been gore-geously illustrated in full color by the author, and the cover has been created by Eisner-winning, Emmy-nominated artist Bill Sienkiewicz (Elektra: Assassin, Stray Toasters, The New Mutants). Robert Payne Cabeen (Tainted Treats, Heavy Metal 2000, A Monkey’s Tale, Walking with Buddha) has created a truly memorable collection of horror poetry and illustrations. Click on the cover graphic to purchase this title, and check out www.robertpaynecabeen.com for more about the author/illustrator.
HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS by Paul Tremblay
Strange things happen, and a need for money makes people do strange things. John Barrett, who heads an all-American normal family, has been out of work for a year when his fourteen-year-old daughter, Marjorie, is struck down with what seems to be acute schizophrenia. John and his wife do all the requisite parental things: they take Marjorie from doctor to doctor in search of help, but it becomes clear that Marjorie’s problems are resistant to medical therapy. The girl seems seized by otherworldly possession, and, with great hesitancy, the Barrett’s seek out a Catholic priest, Father Wanderly, for assistance with their daughter’s freefall into a horrific madness. Father Wanderly agrees to perform an exorcism, and he also suggests the Barretts allow an enthusiastic production company to film the terrors occurring in the house, culminating with a video documentation of the exorcism ritual. Desperate for money, John Barrett invites the film crew into his shattered home. Unknown to the Barretts, the family becomes the unwilling stars of a popular reality show, The Possession. None of the participants can anticipate the eruption of terror and death that will ensue and become the stuff of legend. After fifteen years pass, a major author of paranormal nonfiction interviews Marjorie’s younger sister about the terrible events which took place in the Barrett house, and unearths facts about what actually happened that clash with what occurred on film. A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS is thoroughly engaging and creepy, full of odd switchbacks and stunning reveals that keep the reader glued to the paged. Scary stuff! For more about the author, visit his online presence at https://thelittlesleep.wordpress.com/.
DARK & LIGHT by Bruce Boston
Multi-award-winning poet Bruce Boston presents in this volume a banquet for the mind and spirit—playful, sly, humorous, horrific, mischievous, wonderful! Music and remembrance dance through these pages, songs of life and death and otherness. The music of werewolves is “wrenching heavy metal”, the devil and his minions sing in a drunken revel, the music of vampires is “ethereal and damned”, while the reaper’s music “ends with a death rattle”. Luxuriate in “The Music of Deep Spacers” and “The Music of the Stars”, then fly back to earthly realms and enjoy some grisly but “Tasty Horrors” and an “Endless Summer.” Experience a “Septuagenarian Flashback” and the sad and dispiriting “Death of the Crossing Guard.” Revisit Mr. Boston’s astounding and eerie Mutant Rain Forest, and make a stop in “Middletown, USA, 1953”…if you dare. Many more poems are included herein, and five poems appear in this marvelous collection for the first time anywhere, including “The Music of Skeletons.” What do you think the music of skeletons sounds like? I know, and you can find out by clicking on the cover to own this dazzling--and resonant--collection by a grandmaster of poetry. I’ll be reading it again. And again. You may visit the author online at www.bruceboston.com.
SEA OF BLOOD by Reggie Oliver
Widely considered to be one of the greatest living authors of speculative fiction in the short form (Washington Post literary editor, Michael Dirda, holds Mr. Oliver in high esteem, for one), THE SEA OF BLOOD is a brilliant retrospective that is a perfect introduction for new readers, and a wonderful call-back experience for his many fans of yore. It is difficult to categorize these tales: Horror, yes. Dark fantasy, yes. Weird fiction, yes. Mystery, yes. Humor, yes. An amalgam of elegance and style makes these stories Reggie Oliver’s alone. In his introduction the author states that what he “is interested in is writing about is the strangeness of existence”, and, I must say, he has made an unqualified success of that endeavor. His theatrical experience informs his fiction (he is the child of actors and an actor himself), underscoring his prose with a certain restrained flamboyance that somehow both anchors and liberates his narratives. In this volume, the reader encounters “the strangeness of existence” in the form of a reality show host that discovers the true identity of Jack the Ripper, a very affectionate cat that is not all it seems, a WWI soldier and his former headmaster experience a bizarre reunion, the Seven Deadly Sins go on holiday, a children’s entertainer named Mr. Poo Poo is more entertaining than one could ever imagine (and not in a good way), and many more. Twenty-three killer stories in all, this is a perfect gift for dark-minded loved ones. But be warned, you probably will not be able to part with THE SEA OF BLOOD.
TELL-TALE SOUL by Christopher Conlon
Bram Stoker winner Christopher Conlon is celebrated for literary horror, and in this volume that contains two new chilling novellas, he pays homage to celebrated authors of yore. Most of us are familiar with Master Poe (as in Edgar Allan), and herein you will find a bone-rattling homage to one of Poe’s most renowned literary creations, “The Tell-Tale Heart”. Mr. Conlon tells a wrenching tale of horror in the form of a memoir written by an inmate of an insane asylum, as they were once called. Reiterating the famous unreliable narrator as perfected by Poe, we learn that Edgar Allan’s story is mostly nonfiction…with one very important omission. The second novella is a riveting homage to a formerly well-known but now mostly forgotten play by the brilliant playwright, Eugene O’Neill titled “Beyond the Horizon. In O’Neill’s play, two rural brothers make war upon each other after having fallen in love with the same woman. Christopher Conlon reimagines this tale with a terrible twist in which one of the brothers is not something quite human. Beautifully wrought and engaging, THE TELL-TALE SOUL marks another high mark for this author of exquisite fiction. For more information about the author, please visit his website at www.christopherconlon.com.
TURNIP PRINCESS AND OTHER NEWLY DISCOVERED FAIRY TALES by Franz Xaver Von
In 2012, the British press reported that manuscripts containing five hundred fairy tales collected by Franz Xaver Von Schönwerth (1810-1886) that had been locked away in a German municipal archive had been rediscovered. After exhaustive transcription, the tales are now available to the public in this edition, fairy tales that stand beside the greatest works of the brothers Grim, Hans Christian Anderson, and Charles Perrault. During the 1850s, Von Schönwerth traveled the forests, lowlands, and mountains of northern Bavaria, listening folktales and writing down stories handed down in the oral tradition for centuries. The discovery and publication of these stories is an exciting milestone in the history of fairytales, and these are most certainly not Disney material. The stories contained in this collection are dark, dangerous, and often quite violent. The tales have separated into categories: Tales of Magic and Romance, Enchanted Animals, Otherworldly Creatures, Legends, Tall Tales and Anecdotes, and Tales About Nature. It is interesting to note that many tales are familiar—a somewhat violent Cinderella-type character, a “Beauty and the Beast” tale, and so forth. There are brave dragon-slayers in search of fair damsels, although the damsels found herein are not always fair and hardly submissive. There are angry princesses and foolish kings, trickster animals and magical creatures of all sorts. Each of these stories is short and to the point (often quite pointed indeed!). No collection of fairytales is complete without this volume of marvels.