Monday, 22 December 2014

Reading Aussie Horror in 2014

For the second year, I decided to focus on Aussie horror — that is horror written by Australians, not necessarily set in Australia. I challenged myself to read at least five books and hoped for ten after managing eleven last year. I didn't quite do as well this year, reaching only nine or seven books (depending on how you count), but at least I exceeded my rather modest goal.

Why do I say it's seven or nine depending on how you count? Well it's because the first three books horror books I read this year were the three volumes of The Dreaming, a manga written and illustrated by Queenie Chan. They make up a complete story, which could just be thought of as split into three. Whichever way you count it, though, it was an engaging and creepy read. Highly recommended. See my full reviews of volumes 1, 2 and 3.

The remaining books I read are less related than the first three.

The Memory of Death by Trent Jamieson (review) is a novella following on from his Deathworks trilogy, of which there are more books yet to come. As I said in my review:
I don't know much about the upcoming sequel — other than the title, The Carnival of Death — but The Memory of Death reads a bit like it might be a bridging novella between the trilogy and the next story. It has it's own story, of course, but it's mostly the story of How Steve Gets Out Of The Mess Of Book Three's Conclusion. It's the set-up for something more, which I look forward to reading and which I suspect won't make as much sense without the bridge that is The Memory of Death.

Turns out there were quite a lot of short stories in my horror reading this year. Mostly short stories, actually. Only one book was a novel.

Dead Americans and Other Stories by Ben Peek (review) was the first thing I've read of Peek's. His short stories were interesting and largely unusual. For example, here's what I said about the first story in my review:
"There Is Something So Quiet and Empty Inside of You That It Must Be Precious" — OK, the title of this story makes it even creepier; I had forgotten it while I read. I also went back and read through the chapter/section headings and they were eerie. A story whose creepiness creeps up on you (heh). The kind of horror with a drab and mundane setting that puts the fear in the commonplace.

The Bride Price by Cat Sparks (review) is another collection of short stories. I picked this one up because it was shortlisted for a Ditmar (which it won, as did one of the included stories) and an Aurealis award. It's a bleak collection, bleak and artfully written. The story that has stuck most in my mind was the first. From my review:
My favourite story was the first in the collection, "A Lady of Adestan". It was poignant and gut-wrenchingly awful, increasingly so as we learnt more about the setting. "The Bride Price" was also a favourite. Perhaps, now I think about it, I liked these stories best because they did not end as bleakly as most of the others.

The Year of Ancient Ghosts by Kim Wilkins (review) is a collection of novellas, all of which were excellent, and my first exposure to her writing. This was one of only thirteen books this year that I gave five stars to, so you can be sure I loved it. From my review:
Wilkins' writing is masterful. She has the knack of using the right words to tell the story without being unnecessarily flowery in language nor too dull. I'm not sure there was a bad sentence in the entire collection. The details, historical and otherwise, are also meticulously researched so that every detail rings true. I first noted it in the main character's reaction to having to go to a foreign supermarket in "The Year of Ancient Ghosts", but it persisted throughout.
Bound by Alan Baxter (review) is a novel. Gasp! It's more action and hellish adventure than the other horror I read this year.
Bound was an action-packed and fast-paced read with elements of moral ambiguity and horror. You could also call it a dark urban fantasy, if you were so inclined. If you are looking for a darkish and violent read, then Bound is the book for you. It's also self-contained if sequels aren't your thing.
I haven't gotten around to reading the sequels, but they are both out now as ebooks, if you missed the announcement.

Last Year, When We Were Young by Andrew McKiernan (review) is another collection of short stories. Andrew and I were in the same critique group (a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away) and so I had read early drafts of a couple of the stories. It was fascinating to see how they'd come. The collection itself was a mixed bag of stories, strong overall but a range of style/subgenres.
I found I most enjoyed the more contemplative stories. My favourites were "The Memory of Water", "White Lines, White Crosses" and the titular "Last Year, When We Were Young", although the latter is perhaps less contemplative per se. The former two stories deal with loss and death in a poignant way.

I'm going to continue keeping track of my horror reads next year. At this stage in my main interest is in keeping up with authors I've already discovered and picking up a few new ones along the way. In particular, I haven't read any Paul Haines yet, and that's something I really need to rectify.

What were some of your favourite Aussie horror reads of the past year? Anything you'd recommend in the coming year?

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