10 Weird Fiction Books You Definitely Shouldn’t Miss from 2019

To Rouse Leviathan by Matt Cardin

This magnificent collection of weird fiction with a spiritual twist is certainly a must-read of the year. A compilation of many old, new, and reworked stories from Matt Cardin, To Rouse Leviathan dissolves just the right dose of theological and metaphysical speculation into the bleak medium of Ligottian pessimism. The result is an absolute gem for fans of Lovecraft, Ligotti, or weird fiction in general. This book is a particularly bright point 2019’s dazzling array of releases.

Grind Your Bones to Dust by Nicholas Day

Nicholas Day follows up last year’s novella, At the End of the Day I Burst into Flames, with a crushingly bleak debut novel, Grind Your Bones to Dust. Liberally spangled with moments of true, hair-raising horror, this is Day’s darkest and most accomplished work yet. Not many books can inspire genuine comparisons with harrowing masterpieces such as Blood Meridian and The Painted Bird–that these comparisons present themselves naturally throughout the span of Day’s blood soaked nightmare is a strong testimony to its greatness.

The Half Freaks by Nicole Cushing

The Half Freaks wields Nicole Cushing’s delicious brand of authorial metanarrative to tell a weird tale of hideous and downtrodden characters. Although the plot is relatively simple–a strange, sad man inhabits a strange, sad world and encounters much strangeness along the way–Cushing manages to brilliantly engage the reader with forays into her own authorial process in a way that feels neither intrusive nor unwelcome. This book gallantly displays Cushing’s ever-expanding talent, and should leave most readers with little doubt that she’s one of weird fiction’s most unique and important voices.

Whiskey and Other Unusual Ghosts by S. L. Edwards

Whiskey and Other Unusual Ghosts is S. L. Edwards’ debut collection, and it certainly packs quite a punch. Fans of T. E. Grau will find much to appreciate here, particularly if last year’s I Am The River awakened a hunger for war-themed weird fiction that has been difficult to satisfy. Dark, disturbing, yet deeply humane, Edwards’ collection will certainly leave an impression on readers that outlasts the year. You haven’t fully experienced weird fiction in 2019 without this one. See our full review of Whiskey here.

Wounds by Nathan Ballingrud

Somehow, Nathan Ballingrud has managed to put together a collection that many readers claim exceeds even 2013’s North American Lake Monsters. While I’m not prepared to make such a bold statement myself (I really, really liked North American Lake Monsters), Wounds is certainly a sight to behold. Ballingrud’s prose sparks here with vividly unsettling energy, climaxing in what could very well be the greatest story of the year, “The Visible Filth.” There’s not a single misstep in Wounds–it’s certainly destined to become a classic.

Song for the Unraveling of the World by Brian Evenson

Song for the Unraveling of the World manages to condense and amplify every element we’ve all grown to love in Brian Evenson’s work. Although it feels a little blasphemous to write it, Evenson’s latest collection is perhaps even better than 2016’s A Collapse of Horses. His stripped down prose is sharper than ever, and his penchant for subtly peeling away the frail sheaf of normality to expose the horrors beneath has grown masterful. Expect the places, people, and events that Evenson conjures here to haunt you well after you’ve finished reading.

Dead Astronauts by Jeff VanderMeer

If any reader still questions the success of weird fiction in 2019, Jeff VanderMeer’s Dead Astronauts makes a strong case against them. This divisive and challenging follow up to Borne is bold, forward thinking, and absolutely breathtaking. Here, VanderMeer sets out to immerse readers in a mind bending universe full of color–don’t expect simplistic narratives or clear answers to the many questions you will inevitably find yourself asking along the way. With a painstaking attention to detail, VanderMeer’s novel is truly unlike anything I’ve read before. It generously repays the effort it costs to read.

Pluto in Furs by Plutonian Press

Scott Dwyer has certainly managed to pull together an impressive array of talent with Plutonian Press’ latest anthology, Pluto in Furs. Named after the darkly erotic novel by Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch, this bold collection explores the intersection between horror and sex. Readers are treated to fourteen pieces of horror and weird fiction that center around the sexualized body, resulting in brilliant flashes of body horror, unsettlingly dark erotica, and a wide expanse of territory in between. Featuring writers like Gemma Files, David Peak, and Jeffrey Thomas, this is certainly among the best anthologies to be released this year.

Nox Pareidolia by Nightscape Press

Nightscape Press’ highly anticipated Nox Pareidolia is everything readers hoped it would be and more. Boasting yet another supercharged TOC full of names like Laird Barron, S.P. Miskowski, Brian Evenson, Gwendolyn Kiste, Micheal Wehunt, Kristi DeMeester, and more, Robert Wilson’s brilliant anthology gleefully inhabits the ambiguous spaces of weird fiction. There’s much between these pages to dwell on–many of the stories shine right along with the best of each author’s frequently impressive catalogue. Among anthologies released this year, Nox Pareidolia stands more than comfortably among the best.

The New Flesh by Weird Punk Books

No film director quite deserves a tribute anthology like David Cronenberg, and it’s truly amazing, in retrospect, that one took this long to resurface. Weird Punk Books succeeds brilliantly with this diverse accumulation of talent, boasting appearances from Brian Evenson, Cody Goodfellow, Gwendolyn Kiste, and many more. The stories presented here remain faithful to Cronenberg’s disturbing renderings of body horror without failing to add much in the way of unique voice. There aren’t many dull moments along the way–consider this essential if you admire Cronenberg’s wonderful work.

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The Unreprinted: Mama by Ruby Jean Jensen

The Unreprinted: Mama by Ruby Jean Jensen

by Zakary McGaha

In today’s installment of Ben Arzate’s The Unreprinted, author Zakary McGaha takes a look at a buried treasure from the mind that gave us Baby Doll and Chain Letter.

A lot of die hard pulp fiction aficionados are okay with the fact that a large percentage of the trashy stories aren’t worth the paper (the cheap paper) they’re printed on. No one publisher exemplifies this more than Zebra Books. In the 80s, as almost everyone already knows, they were a staple of the horror boom. Now…they do romance and shit.

Ruby Jean Jensen is experiencing somewhat of a resurgence in popularity these days, along with the books of her publisher. Or, perhaps it’s better said that the covers of these books are becoming more popular. After all, if you ask anyone what their favorite 80s skeleton covers are, there’s a 90% chance Zebra will be mentioned and an equally good chance that at least one of Ruby’s books will be on the list.

Ruby is also remembered for her killer doll books. Annabelle is, perhaps, her most well-known doll book and the best one, as far as I’ve read, but she put out quite a few novels in this category. The focus of today’s Unreprinted column is 1983’s Mama, a killer doll book not as shitty as Victoria but nowhere near as awesome as Annabelle.

Mama follows the exact same topic all of Ruby’s books that I’ve read and, possibly, all of the other ones follow: children in peril. This time, there’s a girl named Dorrie. Her father just died, so her family has moved to an old, Victorian house in the middle of nowhere.

If that premise sounds gothic-y, you’d be onto something—before writing for Zebra, Ruby wrote for the Gothic genre (or “romantic suspense,” as it’s sometimes called). I’m a die hard fan of the Gothics.

As far as modern-ish times go, they comprise the first wave of the paperback horror boom; their covers all featured women running from mansions, and their plots all featured women inheriting mansions that have ominous pasts.

There may have been something predating them, but I’m fairly certain I’m right. Regardless, Gothics are like Zak-nip for me. I’ve not read as many of them as I would like (once you’ve read one, you’ve read 95% of them (even more so than westerns), but the ones I have read all ruled. Subtlety and atmosphere are two of the biggest draws to Gothics.

After they died out and “horror” became a thing, along with covers with dancing skeletons and super-violent plots, many Gothic writers made the transition quite easily. Florence Stevenson is another one off the top of my head, although there are many others.

Since Ruby ended up writing for Zebra, I think it’s safe to say she was given the green-light to stay within her Gothic roots. The editor was probably like, “Okay, you can keep up the Victorian mansion stuff. Just make a lot of people die and add in some monsters.”

Mama is pretty much that, nothing more and nothing less. It’s within the subset of Ruby’s novels that follow a frigid formula. I’ve never understood why writers would write the same story over and over again, but if you’re making a living as a pulp writer and the same shit keeps selling, I can sort of sympathize…but c’mon!

Mama is exactly like Jump Rope which is exactly like Lost and Found which is very similar in structure to Wait and See. On certain technicalities these novels are different—they don’t all involve family members dying—but they’re all lame in the same ways.

The “kid’s in peril” shtick can only work for so many novels before faithful readers are saying, “Okay, which kid’s gonna become obsessed with keeping the family safe from the supernatural bogey only to end up dying, and which family member is gonna act like they don’t give a shit?”

The cheesiness of Mama isn’t a good thing, in my opinion. While its cover may promise spookiness, its words deliver boredom. Nothing particularly interesting from a character study perspective takes place at any point, despite the fact that the entire family has been uprooted and placed in an old house full of toys that suck people’s breath away for sustenance.

No one cared. No one did anything. Nothing happened. The body count in this one was slim to none, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but by page 50 the reader knows that violence is the only thing that could possibly make the novel interesting.

It probably sounds like I’m dogging on ole RJJ, but I’m not. There simply isn’t a lot to say about this book. It’s for that reason that I’m ending the review here. Mama gets two stars for readability and an extra star for not being as bad as Victoria. Calling it a bonafide three-star book feels weird, but in relation to some of her other stuff, it’s decent.

Now, why exactly do I keep reading Ruby’s books if I hate them so much? Answer: I don’t hate them. She’s fairly dependable, but if you’re unlucky enough to get one of her more formulaic works, you’re certainly not in for a treat.

Home Sweet Home, Celia, and Annabelle are three of my favorite novels. They’re proof that Ruby was a fantastic writer. But, like many pulp maestros in the 80s, she was pressured to keep up with the market.

Zebra was the perfect vehicle for her to be able to have a ton of books littering drugstore racks across the nation, but, sadly, it was a short-term interest sort of thing. If only she would have focused on producing more novels like the three I just mentioned, and less like Mama, her awful work wouldn’t have drowned out her fantastic work, and, thus, she wouldn’t find herself in such an obscure, niche-like section of readers’ consciousnesses these days.

One can only hope. I, for one, wish Valancourt would bring back her good stuff. Readers don’t deserve collector’s prices for good books…and they certainly don’t deserve them for platitudinous pieces of putrescence like Mama.

Your Happy Life: Day Five

What is the Your Happy Life series?

Day One

Day Two

Day Three

Day Four

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I once met a 40-year-old man who had obliterated his own heart with a 12-gauge shotgun. Incredibly, he remained alive. Happy people seized him and worked ceaselessly to further this miracle of sustained agony. To their disappointment and his relief, they failed after three days.

Wasps, as you’ll notice, sting themselves through the face when injured. Dogs voluntarily dash themselves onto rocks from Overtoun Bridge in Scotland. Who can blame them? The urge to destroy one’s own organism is a natural inclination. Death, you imagine, is preferable to pain.

But you are wrong. You are seduced by the magic of death. You watch in awe as others die; the things they say, their sacred “last words,” are suffused with a golden light of divinity inaccessible to those of us firmly in the realm of life. Every gesture of the dying is imbued with meaning; a feeble cough reflects the gradual dissolution of a decaying cosmos.

Don’t be fooled by the dying. It is merely the mystery behind a distant death of your own that casts this artificial glow. The death of others is a play, a game, pure theatrics. Your own death will not be a mystery. Yes, it will mystify your friends and family, if you are lucky enough to have them. You, for once, will not be fooled. There is no relief in death. No ecstasy will surge through your body as the tension of existence relaxes. You will cease. You become nothing. Even the reward of watching in scorn as others grieve over your corpse is denied you. There is no final magic, no finale to the roiling opera of daily pain. Death owes you nothing, and you will receive nothing. There is no escape.

-C. M. Bartolomeo

Seriously, what is this?

Your Happy Life: Day Four

Day One

Day Two

Day Three

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Yesterday, we met a man at a funeral. Edifying experience, wasn’t it? You, being happy, cannot relate to the protagonist. For this, you should consider yourself fortunate. Your job, after all, was never to relate, but merely to watch. Yes, to watch, without empathy, without care, perhaps even with a little scorn! Scorn! It is true. I, for one, commend your scorn and urge you to revive it every time I present to you the sufferings of your fellow human. Scorn is the privilege of the supremely happy. What do all the gods share? It certainly isn’t love, oh happy one. You won’t find a shiver of love in the heart of your own god between the pages of Genesis and Malachi. Scorn, however, you will discover in plentitude. What god does not show scorn, even when tracing the empty devotion to love on the pages of their user manuals? Patience, please. We shall say more of love later. For now, it is enough to know that scorn is the ambrosia of the gods. Leave your embarrassment and pathetic dissembling behind you as you approach. Fear not scorn, since your fear is nothing but the hereditary lie of those who would keep it all to themselves. Unlearn your timidity and return to the man at the funeral with proud scorn. Laugh as he imagines his wife weeping. Encourage him to dive into the dark. Bathe in his pain, like the great, scornful Bathory, but do not wish for his death. The happy do not kill, since in their scorn, they realize that the body is a deserved prison for the unhappy. Allow the light of your happiness to increase against the shadow of their misery

The Sausage is Here: One Down, Four to Go!

Well it’s here! Esoteric Sausage and Other Malformations is officially on Amazon! Pick up a copy here! It feels good to have a solid debut release under my belt, but it’s not time to celebrate just yet.

I have settled on a goal of five releases this year. This isn’t as unreasonable as it seems: three of them are already written and in the publication process. Coming soon is Banished from Language, the inauguration of a literary journal (which you can get a free digital copy of with that you reviewed Esoteric Sausage).

Look for a few more Esoteric Sausage goodies, including personalized, autographed copies, an Instagram contest, and (live?) readings (not necessarily in that order) before I dive back into another writing-intensive, promoless period.

Most importantly, I just want to say thank you for reading this blog, my books, or anything else you enjoy reading of mine. While every writer would be more than happy to make a living doing what they love, just doing it at all is good enough for me at the moment. What makes it worthwhile is the thrill of sharing experiences through art (no, this isn’t intended to be a soild, theoretical position regarding my aesthetic philosophy), which wouldn’t be possible without you. I hope you’ll stick around. Things will only get more exciting from here.