Looking for a book that delivers chills and thrills this Halloween season but don't have a lot of time? Here are two new novellas that take less time to read than it does to re-watch Friday the 13th.
Jeff Jackson's new novella, Novi Sad (Kiddiepunk), imagines a city on the brink of the apocalypse. We are never told what happened to Novi Sad, only that it has been reduced to rubble.
The news grows increasingly bizarre. There are reports of two-headed babies born en masse. Photographs of world leaders hunched in dimly lit underground bunkers. Videos of bankers perched on window ledges, sucking on thousand-dollar bills.
In this blighted landscape six feral teenagers fight for safety and survival while navigating self-destructive urges.
"You can't depend on people for much, but you can always count on them to leave."
The novella serves as a distant cousin to Jackson's previous book, Mira Corpora (Two Dollar Radio), which also features a group of children on the run from murderous adults, but doesn't depend on it to be enjoyed—if that's the right word for a book so pervasively bleak.
Michael Salerno's photos—depicting destroyed buildings and haunting portraits of gaunt children—illustrate Novi Sad. Both the images and the text are printed on blue paper, which contributes to the gloomy mood of the novel, particularly during the scenes when the children assemble on the dock each morning awaiting the boat that collects the bodies of those who have committed suicide.
If Jackson presents the end of civilization, Brian Evenson takes the next logical step with his latest, The Warren, published by Tor. While The Warren is technically science fiction, it can also be classified as horror.
The Warren is a "last man on earth" story with perverse complications. For one, it's not clear if the warren is of this world, only that the atmosphere outside the warren is toxic. Two, the narrator may not be a man; or, if he is, he may harbor more than one personality.
"There are parts of me ready to betray me, and I no longer have control over them, particularly when I sleep. If I'm not careful, I will fall asleep and when I wake up I will not be the self that is currently spread over the body like sweat, touching all parts of it, but one of the selves held close within the skull of the body, locked inside."
As the narrator struggles to come to terms with his purpose in the warren and what he can do to sustain it, the feeling of dread grows. The data accumulates like information in a game. In fact, the narrator's interaction with "the monitor," a form of artificial intelligence that may or may not have been tampered with, reminds me of the queries that gamers used while playing Infocom text adventure games like Zork.
Although these short books take a pessimistic view of the perpetuity of the human project, like a nuclear attack, they're over in a flash.