Let’s face it: if you read horror, you’re a geek. But there’s a broad spectrum of geekiness, stretching from the literary-historical, to the video-related “gross-out,” to the realm of metaphysical inquiry. These books cover all those bases.
THE PAST THAT WASN’T
“Steampunk” is one of those genre terms that few can properly define. There are a few prerequisites, though: 1) Queen Victoria (or her son Edward) occupies the British throne; and 2) the deadly hubris of Dr. Frankenstein has grown apace, thanks to the scientific advances of the Victorian age. The stories commissioned for Ghosts by Gaslight—from a who’s who of fantasy and horror luminaries—derive their energy from the authors’ surrender to the allure of Stevenson, Kipling, Verne, Wells and a host of lesser-known ghost-story writers of that era, whose obscure productions are the hoarded treasure of a special subset of uber-geeks. In this collection, the fruits of such an old-fashioned harvest are variously ripe or wonderfully rotten. Several stories—for instance, those by venerable wizard Peter Beagle and relative newcomer John Harwood—are dazzling. The brief but encyclopedic introduction from editors Jack Dann and Nick Gevers makes the book indispensable.
WHAT'S LEFT OF THE WORLD
Who could have guessed that the author of Vacation is best known as a video-game writer? Well, duh. Once you’re plugged into Matthew Costello’s apocalyptic novel, there’s no friggin’ way to get off this ride. The unrelenting, staccato rhythm of the narrative perfectly matches the enervating effects of video gaming. So, like, survivors of a global agricultural plague in the near future try to avoid being eaten by the zombie “Can Heads” unleashed by the government’s nefarious genetic testing (dude!). Each horrific confrontation works along a jagged crescendo of unpredictability. The hero isn’t only saving his beloved wife and kids, he’s saving civilization (OK, maybe). If this novel doesn’t appear soon in software format, I’ll eat the next NYPD officer whose car breaks down in my neighborhood.
THE SPECTRAL SEA
All three of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s books, including the chilling Let the Right One In, have blown over the ocean from Sweden to win great acclaim from U.S. horror fans. His new novel, Harbor, establishes a new mythos. With an uncanny gift for local color and a psychological acuity for universal fear, Lindqvist finds horror in the element of water, whose inexorable force overwhelms the damned island community of Domaro. In this maritime variation on the grand theme of sacrificial evil—so unforgettable in Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” and Thomas Tryon’s Harvest Home—Lindqvist presents affectionate portraits of both flawed protagonists and implausibly scary demons: the magus Simon; a father who has littorally lost his little Maja to a cryogenic sea; and a pair of teenage ghosts. Lindqvist grasps instinctively that the most horrible thing that can happen to us has already happened (our being born into this sorrow-sodden world). The rest of the story is up to us.