Ahh, Halloween. For some, a glorious month filled with mischief, self-induced terror, and a whole lot of toilet paper (for many a reason, ah!).
Although, as Timy mentioned in 9 Creepy Reads for the Spooky Season, Halloween is not a universal holiday and not everyone celebrates it.
Though death and mischief mark its presence in every culture in the world, as they are something shared between all of us.
There’s something undeniably human in honoring and respecting death and the spirits and those that walk hand in hand with it, and embodying them in our celebrations. Of course, these days Halloween has many other faces. One of them is admittedly one of my favorite of this season: being scared shitless and consuming terror on a nightly basis.
I don’t know what it says about the human psyche that we love to read books that make us unable to sleep at night (anyone with psych knowledge in the comments?) but the gods surely dropped the whole bottle on me when they were handing out that shit. I love horror movies and, naturally, I love horror books too.
Though I have yet to delve deeper into the genre, I’ve had some pretty amazing reads in my life that bring together the inventiveness of SF with the terrifying experience of Horror. With Halloween still so fresh and Sci-Fi Month just around the corner, time to wrench out some Sci-Fi Horror recs for your consideration.
Disclaimer: I know we all have different thresholds for pant-shitting so head’s up if none of these sound scary to you then you’re terrifying and you should be proud of that.
The Strain (The Strain Trilogy #1) by Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan
A Boeing 777 arrives at JFK and is on its way across the tarmac, when it suddenly stops dead. All window shades are pulled down. All lights are out. All communication channels have gone quiet. Crews on the ground are lost for answers, but an alert goes out to the CDC. Dr. Ephraim “Eph” Goodweather, head of their Canary project, a rapid-response team that investigates biological threats, gets the call and boards the plane. What he finds makes his blood run cold.
In a pawnshop in Spanish Harlem, a former professor and survivor of the Holocaust named Abraham Setrakian knows something is happening. And he knows the time has come, that a war is brewing.
So begins a battle of mammoth proportions as the vampiric virus that has infected New York begins to spill out into the streets. Eph, who is joined by Setrakian and a motley crew of fighters, must now find a way to stop the contagion and save his city – a city that includes his wife and son – before it is too late.
I couldn’t not start this list with a controversial choice, but I love this book too much not to include. Controversial because this one arguably encompasses a few genres. To me though, it’s mainly a science-fiction story, as it roots itself in scientific notions. That’s right folks, not all sci-fi has to be set in space (dystopia is a prime example).
Progenitor of the popular tv show with the same name, The Strain takes us into a world that’s perhaps too close to home at the moment (though…I hope…not that close? That would be quite the finishing touch to this past year). A mysterious virus sweeps the population and turns the infected into bloodthirsty strigoi (like vampires) that can fling disgusting appendages that will suck your guts and turn you into one of the crew (one of us, one of us). Not to mention it’s co-authored, alongside Chuck Hogan, by the master of all things disturbing, Guillermo del Toro. What’s not to like?
What I loved most about these books is how the strigoi develop throughout the series, making us realize there’s more to the world than what our fear first allows us to see.
A Maze of Death by Philip K. Dick
Fourteen strangers come to Delmak-O. Thirteen of them were transferred by the usual authorities. One got there by praying. But once they arrived on that treacherous planet, whose very atmosphere seemed to induce paranoia and psychosis, the newcomers found that even prayer was useless. For on Delmak-O, God is either absent or intent on destroying His creations. At once a wrenching metaphysical thriller and an ingenious meditation on the nature of divinity, A Maze of Death is Philip K. Dick at his most dizzyingly provocative.
Ok, so this one is kind of a cheat, I admit. It’s not horror and it’s not necessarily terrifying so much as it’s a thriller that starts off innocent and hopeful enough and then slaps you in the face with a chainsaw of unpredictability. And isn’t that what the best “horrors” are? Unpredictable pits of doom? Philip K. (notice how I avoided calling him Dick? I am twelve) is one of my favorite authors of all time, and he does wonders with sci-fi. The blurb calls this one a“metaphysical thriller” and is there anything more terrifying than examining the fundamental nature of reality (yes, that’s a direct quote from Wikipedia, I’m not Plato). I had no idea what I was in for with A Maze of Death; it sure wasn’t what I got but I’m glad I got it. I loved this book so much that here I am like 5 years after I read it still talking about it. Wanna join the club? Pick this one up.
Alien: Out of the Shadows by Tim Lebbon (audiobook)
As a child, Chris Hooper dreamed of monsters. But in deep space, he found only darkness and isolation. Then on planet LV178, he and his fellow miners discovered a storm-scoured, sand-blasted hell – and trimonite, the hardest material known to man.
When a shuttle crashed into the mining ship Marion, the miners learn that there was more than trimonite deep in the caverns. There was evil, hibernating – and waiting for suitable prey.
Hoop and his associates uncover a nest of Xenomorphs, and hell takes on new meaning. Quickly they discover that their only hope lies with the unlikeliest of saviors…
Ellen Ripley, the last human survivor of the salvage ship Nostromo.
Come ye sons and sound the trumpets, for for the first time in my life I am specifically recommending an audiobook. Audiobooks are amazing tools of accessibility, but for someone who has the listening attention span of a hummingbird wing speed, they’re pretty difficult to catch up with. Nevertheless, I found it. The one. Before you ask “is this fool serious?” let me summarize my feelings towards all subsequent storylines in the Alien universe that are not the “original storyline”:
With that being said, I don’t always need something to pay gospel homage to the original classics for it to be fun. And Alien: Out of Shadows is just fun. Isn’t horror all about that? Fun? Pretty sure that’s the textbook definition. This audiobook dramatization is a thing of beauty and more people should jump on the bandwagon. It’s currently free on Audible so if you have it, take a look.
Although it is an off-story to the main storyline, it does connect to it. It features all of my favorites: unexpected discoveries, sanguinary aliens chasing people in dark caves, and the imminent realization that maybe sometimes the characters just don’t make it.
The Military Form (The Vang #2) by Christopher Rowley
Eons ago, a war was fought to the death between the parasitic and ferocious Vang and a gifted but doomed race. As a last resort, these gentle beings were forced to use the Starhammer to smash the Vang spacefleets and homeworld, leaving only a handful of survivors. For a billion years a silvery shape drifted through space. More than three thousand years after humanity first went to the stars, an asteroid miner named Seed of Hope was illegally prospecting for radioactives in the Forbidden Areas of the saskatch star system. There it chanced across an alluring silvery object which looked like it would fetch a good price in the market for alien antiques. It was an encounter most of the crew would never remember.
Although The Military Form is technically a sequel, and you’d be at an advantage if you read the first book, you can read this one as a standalone, as I did. Prepare to enter a thorough horror-like mood as you meet the Vang, a gruesome parasitic species remnant of a bygone alien war. If this sounds familiar, it’s because this series served as inspiration for the Halo saga. Although horror has certainly evolved since the Vang first came to haunt us in the 80s, this is still a great bizarre joyride even decades later.
Surface Detail (Culture #9) by Ian M. Banks
It begins in the realm of the Real, where matter still matters. It begins with a murder. It will not end until the Culture has gone to war with death itself. Lededje Y’breq is one of the Intagliated, her marked body bearing witness to a family shame, her life belonging to a man whose lust for power is without limit. Prepared to risk everything for her freedom, her release, when it comes, is at a price. To put things right she will need the help of the Culture. Benevolent, enlightened and almost infinitely resourceful tho it may be, the Culture can only do so much for any individual.
With the assistance of one of its most powerful – and arguably deranged – warships, Lededje finds herself heading into a combat zone not even sure which side the Culture is really on.
A brutal, far-reaching war is already raging within the digital realms that store the souls of the dead and it’s about to erupt into reality. It started in the realm of the Real & that is where it will end. It will touch countless lives and affect entire civilizations, but at the center of it all is a young woman whose need for revenge masks another motive altogether.
This one is a bit iffier, I admit. The 9th in a series, I would say this can be read as a standalone but you would miss out on a big chunk of the worldbuilding. Reading it by itself, though references might skip your knowledge, makes your experience no less amazing. But if you’re in the mood to commit to a series, perhaps this one comes just at the right time. I wouldn’t religiously say this one classifies as horror so much a gritty philosophical discussion on humanity’s thirst for power and our ability to inflict suffering to keep it. But it sure as hell is creepy beyond belief, and an amazing read that puts both technology and humanity to great consideration, with its concept of V.R. Hell. You slap “digital realms” on a book and you sure as hell got me hooked.
Hell on Mars (Reality Bleed #1) by J. Z. Foster & Justin M. Woodward
Something went wrong in the Mars Felicity Station. A gate to another reality was opened, and a mysterious alien plague threatens humanity.
After communications with the station are cut, the crew of the Perihelion is sent to find out what happened. Outmatched and unprepared, they’re forced to make war on this new enemy and rescue what remains of the survivors.
I came to know this book thanks to Corey @ Grimdark Dad’s awesome review, which had me thoroughly convinced to pick it up as soon as possible. Well, if this doesn’t stand witness to the power of book bloggers, idk what does, because I loved this book as much as Corey did. I couldn’t possibly describe it better than him in only a small paragraph, but in sum, it’s a novella-sized piece of “gnarlyness”, as Corey described it, paired with the likes of the Alien. Currently free on KU, so take this shot to end Halloween with a bang.