Book Reviews by Stephen Studach

No Country for Old Men

And Mammon laughed.

Not strictly a Dark Fantasy genre piece, if this falls anywhere it’s probably in Contemporary Western Thriller territory, though elements of it defy those conventions as well. Defying and denying genres is often a good idea. If you create something it will fall into the boxes naturally enough, and eager hands will seek to brand it. There is enough dark speculating in this work to warrant its examination here.

The land this story stands in is composed of rock and ridges and large open stretches that shimmer in heat haze and generate mirages. Out there hawks hover, prairie wolves range and rattlesnakes wait. You’re at the borders of physical and mental states there, in cowboy boots on hot sand that fast bakes spilt blood black, and the flies come soon enough.

In such a place men and women don’t need the landscape to gift them with delusions. But the landscape is always there.

Nothin’ wounded goes uphill.

A quick read written in down-home language, this novel nevertheless addresses some tough issues and concerns itself with ordinary human beings struggling with questions that have no clear answers.

Young, new writers, working in the modern context of fiction should find some solid, easy lessons in the text. How to write tight and taut. How to keep prose running smooth and fast and close to the bone yet still build detailed character from it. Easy back and forth dialogue, no strain there.

For my money the past master of high energy prose would have to be David Morrell. His First Blood debut novel from 1972 was something different then and still stands as the exemplar of the machinegun belt school of delivery. Broken text, rapid fire pace,...

Phantasy Moste Grotesk

A rusty stained scalpel, nestled on a bed of black velvet.

I have never met Felicity Dowker. However, in the imaginative realms, we have walked a few paths together.

In 2007 and the early part of last year, when I had the idea for the "New Blood" concept rising from the sludge in my head, I trawled around a little on the net for likely interview subjects. I found Felicity Dowker’s fledgling website. After a quick perusal Felicity seemed like a good subject for the prototype "New Blood" confabulation. I could only hope that her writing, unseen at that point, was of a good standard.

I contacted the lady by e-mail with my proposal. She agreed, with apparent minimal trepidation. She had not, at that stage, ever been interviewed. As requested she sent me some of her stories, so that I might be familiarised with her work, get a sense of the topography of her imagination. I read the stories. My hope was sustained. I asked for more. She sent, I read, my hope, and my initial instinct about Felicity Dowker, writer, was confirmed. Each set of tales was greedily received, much of it quality material still dripping with imaginative glamour. I was eating that stuff up like absinthe candy.

We collaborated (for that is what the "New Blood's" are in essence) and had a blast. We were a good match writing-wise. In fact, at times, it was an almost psychic writing experience. Felicity maintained respect for the concept and brought her own storytelling integrity to it. This, from someone who had never collaborated before. (That interview, which is actually the first "New Blood" piece that was composed, will appear in Midnight Echo 3.)

Since then I have watched her considerable...


Fine black hair tendrils, drifting in a night ocean, floating through air, drifting, drifting.

I’m channeling a well, a well not filled with water but with hair. And bone. Bones buried under masses of the dead matter that is hair. Black water. Black hair. Strands of hair being pulled out from between a woman’s lips, more and more, thicker and thicker, till she regurgitates the hair like ropy, coarse vomit.

A television set in an empty room suddenly turns itself on with a dull burst of effervescent static, the bare room lit by the fuzzing electronic snow on the screen . . .

And there is a sound . . . like the single sweep of a rusty metal swing in a child’s play park; stroking the night with its brief, plaintive cry.

Can I share something with you? When I was a kid I never really liked the Japanese Horror and S.F. movies.

When the newspaper TV guide was eagerly checked and anything that looked like a product of the Japanese dream factories was seen there in that black and white programme one groaned inwardly, sometimes outwardly, and planned an alternative.

It was the curse of Toho. The ludicrous and reviled Starman, Star Prince and Supergiant (Super Jaianto) series. Invasion of the Neptune Men. The Kaiju Eiga and Daikaiju Eiga: the Godzilla (Gojira) and Mothra (Mosura) fantasies. Sure, the idea of Mothra was neat and the Son of Godzilla cute, but it was a case of too much fantasy, not enough horror. They were just way too childish for this child; who had once adored The Samurai series with Shintaro and the serial cliff-hanger adventures of The Phantom Agents. I was raised on one of the early...

The Terror

The Terror is an epic adventure, albeit a largely ice bound one. This from the pen of Dan Simmons who has, over the last twenty years or more brought us such fine books as the masterful Song of Kali (purportedly slated by the prime properties collector Darren Aronofsky as a future film project), the collection of short works Prayers to Broken Stones and the recommended Lovedeath composed of five novellas, among many other Horror, S.F., Fantasy and Crime Thriller books. Amongst his literary baggage Simmons also has a swag of awards packed away, sporting such familiar names as Stoker, Serling, Sturgeon.

Two of Her Majesty's exploration ships Erebus and Terror set forth in 1845 on an Arctic expedition to break the enigma of the rumoured North-West Passage.

It is an ill fated venture and, largely due to the expedition leader's hubris and stupidity, the ships become ice locked. The story spans the several years of this imprisonment.

Amongst and amidst the many hardships, dangers and perils of this situation for the one hundred plus men of the trapped expedition is an unknown life form. A huge beast that embodies frightening speed, monstrous power, and unearthly malice.

In his dedication Simmons basically thanks the cast and crew of the original The Thing From Another World. Therein lies a clear clue.

The writer gives us nicely detailed characterisation of a hefty list of characters. The historical details are incorporated with a minimum of fuss and almost no fanfare. The reality is gritty and true.

So, you're in awe of Dan Simmons, Mister King? Well maybe you have reason to be. Here demonstrated most ably: when Simmons brings in a big book, He delivers...

The Beast Within

The tall pine tree tops; bristling, waving fingers indicating the fulgent moon. There is a distant howling; picked up again and again in a nearing chorus. The chill air is perfumed with a melded musk of human and beast. The shadows growl . . .

That’s right, you’re in the country of the changed. Skinwalker-bound volumes are about to tell you their individual tales, inscribed with spattered blood, steaming gore, gnashing, foaming fangs and sweeping claws.

Lycanthropes, loup-garous, shapeshifters, Lycans, call them what you will, this is a tome dedicated to those who are hairy on the inside, those who have an argument with the moon on a regular basis. The Moon People. The Cursed Ones.

Though some may revel in such curse.

The werewolf has long been a favourite creature of mine from the black ark of the Horror pantheon.

Maybe it’s because of my affection for dogs? What percentage of cat lovers prefer vampires, I wonder?

Well, the appropriately named The Beast Within, from U.S. publishers Graveside Tales, gives us a bumper pack of twenty stories, 352 pages of transformations and werewolfery. It also holds an introduction by W.D. Gagliani and is dynamically illustrated, the cover and some interiors by the triple-threat editor.

I praised Joe Dante’s The Howling when it was released way back in 1980. The influence of it, and other, more recent, werewolf films is evident here of course, but variety is the central tenet of this anthology. Following The Howling (in which werewolves finally looked like werewolves) we had other fine werefilms such as Wolfen, An American Werewolf in London, The Company of Wolves, Wolf...

A Web of Black Widows

A Web of Black Widows is Showcase number 7 from Peter Crowther’s PS Publishing out of the U.K.

It holds six stories by the writer Scott William Carter and features cover art by Glenn Chadbourne.

Carter is an American writer from Oregon who has seen publication in Weird Tales, Analog, Asimov’s, Realms of Fantasy, Chiaroscuro, Ellery Queen, Fantasy Magazine and in a number of anthologies.

Straight off—there’s not a dud work here. Fresh writing with fresh ideas, all held together by clean lines. Each piece is very concise and displays the writer’s lean but imaginative style. In fact his works can sometimes be like a black widow spider; strange, beautiful, minimalist in design, and potentially dangerous.

To the stories:  "A Web of Black Widows" opens the collection. The longest tale of the half dozen, this story is given to us through the courses of several characters. It concerns itself with the decaying orbit of a marriage, the loss of a loved one, pregnancy, tattoos, and the great metaphor of the sea. A realistic work with a bare minimum of strange to lightly shade it. Quite engaging.

Still on a beach we are presented with "The Woman Coughed Up By The Sea." A good piece of flash. It called to mind Poe’s "The Oval Portrait," but only as a dim echo. This little tale is quite contemporary. It involves us, without ever giving us the whole story either of its living or its deceased characters.

"Black Lace and Salt Water" is a Mer fantasy that takes place, largely, on the Oregon coast. It shows the result of a poet’s encounter with the sea folk,...

Dark Animus 10/11

Here’s a grungy little roadside pump station and redneck hellbilly museum out in the back of beyond. You pull in, switch off, listen to the isolated, isolating silence. And as your car is ticking down in the subtly insect-chirping night, this guy in filthy overalls comes out. His name is Cain he tells you, and this surely could not bode well. The overalls are stained with grease and crimson and odd-smelling lube, and he’s got a funny little smile this guy, when he does smile, and black under his fingernails and when he slips that bowser nozzle into your uncapped tank it feels like abuse. A service molestation.

Something grubby pale and close to the ground waits, back in the shadows of the doorway the attendant emerged from. You think it may be a dog. A cur that has sniffed at and rubbed against geeks and freaks and two-headed everythings for too many years. Dark wisdom in the eyes above its whiskered muzzle. It grumbles and mumbles to itself.

This guy’s actually quite amiable and he won’t let you go until you come inside and visit his dingy old museum and view the exhibits therein. And you end up opening your boot and bringing out one of the preserved, jarred oddities that you travel with, to offer him. And he is happy to barter.

It’s been a long wait, but the double issue of pulp favourite Dark Animus has finally arrived, crawling from a convenient sewer opening and slithering its black- and red-flecked self into select postal boxes. Is it worth the wait and the close to twenty dollars you’ll be paying for its 160 pages?

Firmly bound, a vividly coloured cover somewhat reminiscent of the Oriental Tales of old. Thirteen stories, a couple of them novelette length, one a prizewinner, five by Australian authors, two by American pulp...

Engines of Desire

Engines of Desire by Livia Llewellyn

Reviewed by Stephen Studach

At this point in time there are more original writers in the speculative fiction genre finding print outlets than ever before. The reasons for this relate to population, the evolution of the imagination and the modes of publication. However, all that concerns us here is the fact that Livia Llewellyn is one whose words are worthy of attention.

I could not love except where Death
Was mingling his with Beauty’s breath—
Or Hymen, Time, and Destiny
Were stalking between her and me.

When the young Edgar Allan Poe composed those rather revealing lines, the areas of love, sex and all aspects of the sensual and the erotic were, as always, prime elements to be merged with the tale of horror. Having read Engines of Desire, Livia Llewellyn’s debut collection from Lethe Press, I can recommend her as another skilful proponent of the works of strange romance and deathly desire. Her often lush writing is informed via a deft mechanic working deep within the soft machinery. A place where Death’s out-take valve constantly sucks at the hot breaths of impassioned life, stealing the sighs of lovers, taking, but sometimes returning life in a bitter reflux.

Taking in Laird Barron’s introductory warning, we delve into some of the ten tales that make up this book; ranging from flash and short fiction to novelette and novella-length works.

“The head is pulp now, a sticky-dry mash of brain and bone slivers. The woman’s hair lies on the floor like silver-threaded silk, beaded with ivory teeth. Kingston admires it as she reaches down.”

Livia Llewellyn is a keen observer. “Horses” is a post-apocalypse bunker tale of horror, pain, fear and, yes, love;...

From Hell


Let me tell you about the best Graphic Novel that I've ever read. In fact at the time of reading it (June of 2001) it was the best horror work I'd read in five years.

A work of horror wherein horrible things actually happen.

How refreshing.

I had come to it late. From Hell was first, partially, serialised in the late eighties early nineties in the comic anthology Taboo.

Illustrated by Australia's own Eddie Campbell, this is a work of wicked genius, from the haunted hedge maze, arcane mind of Mister Alan Moore. The best of British horror grounded in a very British subject. Ghoul Britannia!

We will not here dwell upon the unique weirdness of British writers of the macabre. Suffice it to say that a long and noble lineage has brought us the modern product of dark fantasists like Ramsey Campbell, Clive Barker, Tanith Lee, Kim Newman, Michael Marshal Smith, Iain Sinclair and, of course, Alan Moore.

"Dark Business"

This tome is the last word in the Ripper story. It incorporates almost every known facet of Ripperology, and then some. And that's just in the appendix sections. The least of the organs therein.

From Hell takes fact and fiction and weaves them into an, at times, feverishly delirious extrapolation of the darkly fantastical.

From the very first frame the project's excellence is obvious. The raw, often chiaroscuro, artwork perfectly suits the story that it wants to inform us of, in grimy greys, foreboding blacks and blanched whites. Campbell has loaded his pen with old English darkness, soot and blood. The words are matched skilfully with the images, the whole neatly presented.

The book has a large and rolling cast. Within its pages you will meet...

Gift of the Bouda

“Most people think of Special Operations soldiers as cowboys; Rambo-types that bust through doors then kick ass and take names. There is an element of truth to that, but the violent actions on contact usually come after painstaking planning and exhaustive rehearsals; preparation that writes every movement you will make into a script of muscle memory. Success on the battlefield doesn’t just happen.”

“I glutted myself quickly in the open body cavity, as werewolves came to punish my trespass.”

“It was just the nightmare. I never ate my kid, or my wife, except in the nightmare, because I left before it could happen.”

Tales of Were creatures have been around at least since the days of the ancient Greeks. Though not as prevalent as the ranks of vampire and zombie stories, the shapeshifting genre is an interesting and rewarding realm to enter.

In the field (or forest) of werewolves alone, many classic works and treatments have been conceived.

So, what does Richard Farnsworth bring to the reader with Gift of the Bouda?

Automatic weapons, werewolves and werehyenas, a new kind of guerrilla war on terror.

“Special Forces owned the night.”

Wrong, in this instance.

The opening eight pages of the prologue set the trend.

Rapid fire with professionally detailed military action. You are there. Quite frankly this is a fun read. The story comes at you like a really good “B” movie, if “B” movies were really good which the majority, these days, are not. Full Eclipse comes to mind, the best scene of which was a brief shot in a zoo of a beautiful blue-eyed White Wolf. More recently, and closer to the mark here, there is the 2010 film Hyenas. The less said about that one the better. Most “Were” films fail to...