Summer is here, and with it comes a flood of new novels. It’s like Christmas on my doorstep–it seems every summer day one or two (the record is four) new novels arrive at my door. The covers scream READ ME, READ ME! My work calendar says NO TIME, NO TIME!
It’s a tough call during the summer to pick and choose what to read and what to review. My interests are all over the map, so it’s often difficult to thin out the pile and select a fair mix of books. I love science fiction, but I can appreciate the occasional historical novel or good mystery. I’m not so big on fantasy novels (which is really unusual given my enjoyment of D&D) or westerns, but I’m a sucker for any unique twist on a horror story.
I’ve got a pile building on my desk right now, and so far my only summer review was for Ernest Cline’s Armada. Time to change that. Below you’ll find two new novels that might appeal to anyone who likes a good scare. One is a horror/science fiction mash-up and the other is a straight up spooky tale set in normal middle class suburbia. (And If you’re a fan of Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim supernatural anti-hero series, I’ll be posting a review of his upcoming Killing Pretty novel soon.)
The Fold by Peter Clines
I’ve reviewed plenty of Peter Clines’s previous novels for GeekDad–these were the stories set in his Ex-series, a world where superheroes protect the surviving normals from a zombie plague. But Clines’ latest novel, The Fold, is a stand-alone story with absolutely zero superheroes. But it could be argued there’s a zombie or two in there. Let me explain.
Mike Erikson is super-smart. Really smart. The guy never forgets anything. Sounds like a great gift, but it’s actually a curse. Imagine experiencing the death of a loved one and then never being able to forget any details. That’s Mike. He’s teaching high school now and trying to keep this “gift” at bay by avoiding stimuli and overstuffing his already full head. But an old colleague working for the government has called on Mike and dangled an interesting situation in front of him–a team of DARPA scientists has created a device that does something that Mike believes to be impossible. Overshadowing the discovery, however, is a death associated with the scientists’ project. Mike gets pulled in, of course, and must deal with a small group who really don’t want him around as an observer/investigator.
Dubbed the Albuquerque Door, at first the device appears to be exactly as described. But remember… Mike doesn’t miss anything. His subconscious plays and replays anything he sees or hears, and as experiments continue (to show Mike that the device isn’t dangerous at all), he begins to put it all together. Unfortunately, the scientists don’t agree with Mike’s findings, and by the time they really do begin to suspect that something is wrong… things get bad. Really bad.
I’m being vague about the device for a good reason. Part of the fun of the book was discovering what it is and how it works, and then watching it all fall apart and being along for the ride as the team finally starts to figure things out. Filled with plenty of mad scientist technology, quantum mechanics, and strange math, The Fold was an enjoyable read that gets right to the heart of the story and then delivers a mix of accidents and catastrophes and a mysterious “Big Bad.” If you like mad science with a dose of horror, add The Fold to your own summer reading list.
A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay
This one is dark. Very dark. I almost hesitated to review it for GeekDad because it doesn’t paint a very good picture of the father in the story. But, then again, the wife and oldest daughter aren’t exactly people you’d want to invite to your birthday party, so I changed my mind because the story is definitely cool and creepy and has a great twist ending.
Marjorie and Merry Barrett (oldest and youngest daughters, respectively) are about six years apart and very close. They live with their mom and dad in a nice middle class neighborhood. Dad has been unemployed for over a year, and both parents are feeling the financial stress. When Marjorie’s behavior takes a severe nosedive, her mother focuses on a counselor while her father (a religious man) believes his faith and priest can help him get through to her. Things aren’t right with Marjorie, and when Marjorie begins speaking in different dialects and on subject matter that seems to be beyond her scope of comprehension, her father reaches out to the priest who believes an exorcism might be warranted.
Things go downhill from there. No surprise. To make things even more crazy, a cable network has reached out to the family (with a hint that the priest and his parish may be receiving some financial incentive as well for notifying the network) and offers payment if the family will allow them to create a reality TV show around the strange things going on in the house. With television crew members setting up cameras and a “confession room” and even giving young Merry her own portable camera to capture her own experiences with Marjorie, Mom’s not really digging all this attention on her family, and her own behavior begins to shift. Dad has his own demons to fight (so to speak), and with his priest present along with the cameras, his stress level is off the charts, too. Only young Merry seems to have any clue what’s really going on…
The book jumps between three different narratives. There’s a blog that breaks down the six episodes of The Possession TV show fifteen years after the events of the show and its shocking conclusion. There’s also an older Merry sharing behind-the-scenes details with Rachel, a writer who has been hired to write about the family’s experiences. And finally, there’s the story being told (from Merry’s perspective) of the actual events that happened between her and her sister.
The book is definitely creepy. There’s a slow build up… even when you know what’s coming (or think you know), there’s still a sense of dread as you turn a page, wondering if the next page will be when Marjorie starts up again. But there’s also a decent questioning of reality TV and whether or not what it provides us can be trusted. (I think we all know the answer to that one.) And finally, there’s the mystery of whether what’s happening with Marjorie is in her head… or something more sinister. Or could it be both?
Again, the story gets darker and darker, and the ending isn’t going to sit well with a lot of people. That said, a shiny happy ending wouldn’t have been at all believable. In the end, the story creeped me out, and then hit me again with the big reveal. It’s rare that a story surprises me twice, and for that reason alone I now consider A Head Full of Ghosts one of the more entertaining chillers I’ve read in some time.