The Occultation by Laird Barron (Night Shade Books) is the second collection by a writer with a sure hand and a memorable voice. If you want to read literary horror stories, with their share of visceral chills and the occasional shock, you’ll find no better among the younger writers in the genre. The three originals, two novellas and a short story are all excellent. One of the best horror collections of the year.
You might consider buying one of two collections of stories by relative newcomer Angela Slatter: Sourdough (Tartarus) and The Girl with No Hands (and Other Tales) (Ticonderoga Publications). Many of Slatter’s stories are dark retellings of classic fairy tales, following in the tradition of Angela Carter and Tanith Lee. In The Girl with No Hands (and Other Tales) there are sixteen stories, three original to the volume. Sourdough has sixteen stories, only four previously published. Each stands alone, even though the stories and characters are often related to previous stories.
Holiday by the remarkable M. Rickert (Golden Gryphon) is a beauty of a book with illustrations for each of the eleven holiday-themed stories (one original, which is a quite dark). Rickert’s work has mostly been published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and runs the gamut of fantastic genres including science fiction, dark fantasy, and horror. Although her stories are sometimes grim, they’re always worth reading. Several of the stories were chosen for Best of the year anthologies.
Kraken: An Anatomy by China Miéville (Ballantine Books) is charming, funny, disgusting, inventive, and just plain entertaining. A young man working in the British Museum becomes enmeshed in a cult that worships a giant squid and someone’s plan to end the world in a final conflagration. London, even the world is threatened and London is a living, breathing city with every part of it from the sea to its masonry part of the final battle. A few too many characters and extrusions off the main plot, but still satisfying.
Horns by Joe Hill (William Morrow) is the author’s masterful second novel in which a young man awakens after a drunken night with horns growing out of his forehead. From there the book moves back and forth between Ig’s perfect life of privilege and happiness, to the murder that ruins his life, and back into his present as he tries to find out why he’s developed a strange power of persuasion and can see the deepest desires of those around him. There’s a sense of wonder, humor, and horror that runs throughout this fine novel.
The Mütter Museum Calendar 2011(Blast Books) is a wall calendar that I annually buy for myself. It’s made up of photographs from the Mütter Museum at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. The museum itself is a wonderful adventure, with pathological specimens of a giant colon, plaster casts of the conjoined twins Chang and Eng, and Chevalier Jackson Collection of objects swallowed and removed.
The 2011 calendar's photographs are by Max Aguilera-Hellweg, Scott Irvine, Mark Kessell, Olivia Parker, Rosamond Purcell, and Arne Svenson.
The Django by Levi Pinfold (Templar Books) is an illustrated children’s book inspired by the great guitarist Django Reinhardt. In the book, the Django is a trickster, forever getting a young boy named Jean into trouble by breaking his father ‘s banjo, scaring a large horse, and eventually by speaking through Jean’s mouth, dancing through Jean’s feet. Jean, increasingly frustrated at being blamed for things he has not done, yells at the Django to go away and leave him alone. Which the Django does. Not horror at all but a beautiful, charming picture book.
The Gun by C.J. Chivers (Simon & Schuster) is something I need to actually sit down and read more carefully, but I may not have time before Christmas and I don’t want to hold up this gift list any more than I already have. The book, by a Pulitzer Prize winning writer, tells the history of the AK-47, the compact automatic weapon designed by Stalin era army technicians—and its impact on modern conflicts.
The Horror the Horror: Comic Books the Government Didn’t Want You to Read (Abrams ComicArts) Selected, edited, and with commentary by Jim Trombetta. This is a fabulous oversized trade paperback heavily illustrated with comics not seen for nearly sixty years because of their censorship by Congress in 1954. Crime, gore, sex galore the pre-code comic books were colorful, flamboyant and considered a very bad influence on juveniles. With an introduction by R. L. Stine and a bonus DVD of Confidential File, a half hour television show from 1955 about the “’evils’ of comic books and their effects on juvenile delinquency.”
And if you must have something more of vampires, werewolves, and zombies you could do worse than picking up (or giving as a gift) the adorable Peter Pauper Vampires, Werewolves, Zombies: A Compendium Monstrum from the papers of Herr Doktor Max Sturm & Barong Ludwig Von Drang collected and arranged by Suzanne Schwalb and Margaret Rubiano. The little moleskin book is profusely illustrated with classic paintings and drawings plus some illustrations by Bruce Waldman, fold-out maps showing where such supernatural creatures can be found, instructions on vampire indicators, werewolves in literature, helpful phrases for the Creole vampire hunter, a bibliography, and an index. This just could be the perfect stocking stuffer.