October arrives every year with a light chill in the air, a flurry of falling leaves and the shortening of daylight hours. It's a perfectly fitting month for Halloween, the holiday filled with spooks and scares (and yes, even a little candy). If you're like me, you like to reserve some of your reading time during Halloween month for stories that are straight-up horror, or at least veer a bit towards the weird. Here are some of the books and stories I'll be reaching for....
Stinger by Robert McCammon
I missed Stinger when in first came out in the late 1980s, but the new reprint from Subterranean Press is the perfect chance to correct that oversight. The story takes place over a 24-hour period in Inferno, Texas—a town that's already primed for trouble because of racial tension, a poor economy, and gang violence. Things ignite when two unidentified flying objects land nearby, thus beginning a battle in an interstellar war that spells trouble for the small Texas town. The unidentified objects are actually visitors from another world. One of them is an alien bounty hunter known as Stinger, and the complete destruction of an alien town is a small price to pay to capture his deadly prey. Stinger may be science fictional, but, much like the film The Blob, it taps into 1950s pulp-style B-movie horror tropes. It also contains a large cast of fully realized characters and a plot that never slows down.
(For more B-movie-type fun, check out Joe Lansdale's The Drive-In, or the entire trilogy collected in The Complete Drive-In.)
Carter & Lovecraft by Jonathan L. Howard
Here's a story that is part metafiction and completely weird. Daniel Carter used to be a homicide detective until a hunt for a serial killer ended very badly and very strangely. He is now trying to make a living as a private investigator, so he's naturally curious when he inherits a bookshop in Providence from someone he's never heard of. The woman who runs the bookstore is Emily Lovecraft, the last known descendent of H.P Lovecraft, the famous horror writer who wrote chilling stories of the Great Old Ones and the Elder Gods. But it seems that Carter is not destined for the quiet life of a being a bookseller. People start dying in mysterious ways, pulling him and Emily into a mystery that may ultimately prove that Lovecraft's otherworldly creations might not be fiction after all. If this updated, creepy addition to the Lovecraft mythos sounds like your cup of tea, get on board now: this book is the start of a new series that has already been optioned for television.
(For more otherworldly creepiness, check out Shadows of Carcosa: Tales of Cosmic Horror edited by D. Thin, and The Rim of Morning: Two Tales of Cosmic Horror by William Sloane.)
Darkness on His Bones by Barbara Hambly
It wouldn't be Halloween without a vampire story within easy reach! In Barbara Hambley's jump-in-anywhere vampire series, Dr. James Asher is a retired member of the British Secret Service at the turn of the 20th century. Asher has formed an uneasy alliance with the vampire Don Simon Ysidro, oldest of the London vampires, who has relied on Asher and his wife, Lydia, to perform tasks that only humans can perform. Aside from being steeped in vampire lore, Hambley's series also plays with the tropes of spy and espionage stories. In this latest outing, Lydia finds James in a church cemetery in Paris, unconscious and possessing several puncture wounds. She calls on Ysidro for help, but it may be too late as the threat of vampires is growing.
(For more vampire goodness, check out Seize the Night: New Tales of Vampiric Terror edited by Christopher Golden.)
Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead: Invasion by Jay Bonansinga
I'm a big fan of The Walking Dead television series, so naturally Jay Bonansinga's prose novels catch my attention. The television series is less about being chased by zombies than it is about the people who are trying to find a new way of life in a world where zombies exist. It's a subtle difference that changes the entire mood of the story. It's that same focus on the people that pervades Bonansinga's novel. Here, two factions of people clash outside of Woodbury, Georgia. One faction is led by Lilly Caul, the leader of a group of senior citizens, misfits, and children who take shelter in the underground mine shafts outside of town. The other faction is an unbalanced Reverend, Jeremiah Garlitz, who wants to kill Lily and her people for destroying his cultish church. Jeremiah is so crazed and focused on his psychotic goal that he comes up with the ultimate weapon: a horde of zombies aimed straight at Lily's shelter.
(For a lighter zombie tale, check out White Trash Zombie Gone Wild by Diana Rowland.)
Deadlands: Ghostwalkers by Jonathan Maberry
New York Times bestselling author Jonathan Maberry has begun a new weird-Western novel series based upon the role-paying game Deadlands. A weird Western is a story that combines the tropes of Westerns with elements of the fantastic, whether those elements are science fiction, fantasy, or horror. In the world of Deadlands, a Great Quake in 1868 shattered California into a labyrinth of sea-flooded caverns and exotic steampunk inventions are fueled by a mysterious substance called "ghost rock." In Maberry's Deadlands: Ghostwalkers, a gun-for-hire comes to the town of Paradise Falls where the residents are involved in a deadly conflict with a diabolically brilliant alchemist who is raising people from the dead to use as his army. This is the first book in a new series that, like Maberry's other books, promises nonstop action and lots of fun.
(For more Western weirdness, check out Dead Man's Hand edited by John Joseph Adams.)
Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe by Thomas Ligotti
I would be remiss if I did not include at least one book of short stories in this list. I already tagged Ellen Datlow's Monstrous last week, so this time around I'll name-check Thomas Ligotti. As its name implies, this single volume contains two separate anthologies: Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe. Now, in the same volume, you can experience the author called "the best kept secret in contemporary horror fiction." Ligotti's well-crafted stories show the influences of Lovecraft and Poe, but also the author's own unique flavor of horror. These are stories that bend reality, present startling dreamscapes, and lay bare the human condition. It's 460+ pages of unadulterated and unsettling creepiness.
(For even more short fiction frights, check out Horrorology by Stephen Jones.)
The Art of Horror: An Illustrated History edited by Stephen Jones
Stephen Jones knows horror. As the longtime editor of the Mammoth Book of Horror series, he's become one of the best guides to its shifting landscape. In this stunning visual history of the horror genre—mainly focusing on the years after Mary Shelly unleashed Frankenstein's monster and Bram Stoker introduced the world to Dracula—Jones and his contributors present an impressive array of images and write-ups about the evolution of the horror genre. Inside the high-quality hardback volume you'll find images of movie posters, book dust jackets, engravings, illustrations, comic books, pulp magazines and more—all the way up to current artists and their fantastic work depicting things that go bump in the night: vampires, werewolves, zombies, ghosts, demons, serial killers, alien invaders, and more. Horror is a very visual genre—even in books where the words leave lasting images in the reader's imaginations—and this visual history will show how those images can be simultaneously shocking, haunting, and beautiful.