Blackout by Tin Curran is outstanding. This alien invasion novella seizes the reader within the first few pages and then the pace is relentless to the very last page. The writing is flawless and the looming sense of tension and dread is claustrophobic in terms of impact. The characters aren’t portrayed in any great depth, but then again the intent of the story isn’t character development, but rather to scare the reader silly. To that end, Mr. Curran succeeds tremendously. The progression of the story had its surprises and the nature of the invasion is quite creative. The end of the story is a knockout. Highly recommended.
Startlingly simple but effectively realized, The Sleeping Dead is a jolting apocalypse-themed novella. Author Richard Farren Barber has set up an unusual portrayal for the end of the world. Jackson Smith is a young man in the midst of a job interview when things start going off-kilter. The interview team is on edge as one of the four men is behaving strangely. Instead of taking part in the process, the man just rocks back and forth and mumbles incoherently. When he commits suicide by jumping through a plate glass window to fall eight stories, poor Jackson realizes he probably won’t get the job. When others in the office – and the building – begin killing themselves in a variety of gruesome ways, Jackson knows he has to escape or he may befall the same fate. He, too, begins entertaining the possibility of suicide when a series of strange voices enter his head and urge him to commit the act by any means possible. Getting out of the building is difficult, however, as people are dying right and left around him and the temptation to follow the pattern is practically overbearing. He finds another survivor, Susan and the two of them must deal with a world where most everyone is talked into suicide by these nefarious voices talking inside their heads. Those that do not commit suicide just give up by sitting on the ground wherever they are when the idea strikes them. They are catatonic for sure, but are they dead? Are they sleeping? Are they the sleeping dead?
The first 75% of this novella is captivating. The sense of dread, panic, and distress is palpable. I was riveted to the story because Mr. Barber created a highly dangerous and confusing world, and I really did not know what was around the next corner. The prose was fluid and the two “normal” characters were nicely drawn.
But then… nothing happens. Many of the reviews comment on this, so I won’t elaborate other than to say I felt let down. I almost wonder of the author had no idea how to end it. I’m fine with ambiguous endings – in fact, they can be effective in keeping the story alive. This story doesn’t even have an ambiguous ending to dwell on. Which is very sad. I hope he writes a sequel, because I want to read more, but I would have preferred an attempt at an ending for The Sleeping Dead.
Anthony Hains is a horror & speculative fiction writer.