WPPB

Jason Heller

What constitutes cosmic horror? The term has been in use for decades, usually to describe the work of H. P. Lovecraft and his ilk — that is, authors who explore the marrow-deep terror humanity feels in the face of the unknown. We're not talking about things that go bump in the night. We're talking about inscrutable beings with godlike proportions who straddle the universe, who wield mysterious forces that predate the Earth itself.

"Then I made faces like the faces on the rocks, and I twisted myself about like the twisted ones, and I lay down flat on the ground like the dead ones." So goes one of the most chilling lines from "The White People" by Arthur Machen, a 1904 short story that H. P. Lovecraft considered one of the greatest horror tales ever written. It's no coincidence that the title of The Twisted Ones — the new book by Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author T.

Scott Thomas has it in for Kansas. His debut novel, the acclaimed Kill Creek, took place in a haunted house in Kansas' rural countryside, and the author has returned to his native Sunflower State for his second standalone novel, Violet. There, however, the similarities end. Where Kill Creek was a meta-commentary on horror authors and their chosen genre, Violet is a direct, affecting, and psychologically thrilling slice of Midwestern gothic.

"How long until the world hollows me out?" Eunice Turner asks her younger brother Noah in one of her many letters to him — most of them suicide notes. That question lies at the heart of A Cosmology of Monsters, Shaun Hamill's debut novel. It's a horror tale unafraid to tackle big issues of familial fealty, the architecture of fear, and the metaphysics of love, all while shocking the pants off the reader.

Dystopian stories are, in essence, thought experiments. And few come as thoughtful as The Divers' Game.

The end of Game of Thrones — not to mention the long gap between installments of George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire — has left a smoldering, dragon-shaped hole in the hearts of fantasy fans. Dragons have been a staple of fantasy literature since The Lord of the Rings, and everyone from Ursula K. Le Guin and Anne McCaffrey to Robin Hobb and Naomi Novik have expanded upon the collective mythology of our favorite giant lizards. There's something primal about the appeal of dragons: their beauty, their majesty, their mystique, their bottomless symbolism.

At one point in his hilariously searing novel Black Card, Chris L. Terry pauses the narrative to issue a list of what makes certain people racist.

Ever since George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series stole our hearts, minds, and television screens, fantasy literature has gained a reputation for being so grim and dark that there's a whole subgenre of it called, unimaginatively, grimdark. But it was not always thus. Granted, in the '70s and '80s, fantasy contained plenty of proto-grimdark works, most notably Stephen R. Donaldson's The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant and Roger Zelazny's Amber books.

Don't enter Claiming T-Mo with any immediate need to be comfortable or oriented. This debut novel by African Australian author Eugen Bacon is an instantly confounding and mysterious tour de force of imagination.

Robert Jackson Bennett has a wicked sense of humor. His 2013 novel American Elsewhere trained a satirical eye on small-town America even as it straddled the boundaries of science fiction and horror. Yet with his latest work, a novella called Vigilance, the Austin-based author and two-time winner of the Shirley Jackson Award tackles one of the most deadly serious — and sadly relevant — topics of all: mass shootings. As in American Elsewhere, there's both science fiction and horror in Vigilance. There's also that wicked Bennett sense of humor.

As yet another record-breaking summer heats up, the effects of climate change — and the debates surrounding it — aren't going away. It only makes sense then that literature has continued to respond in kind. Authors as varied as Paolo Bacigalupi, Jenni Fagan and Ben Lerner, in their novels The Water Knife, The Sunlight Pilgrims and 10:04, have tackled just how devastating climate change in the 21st century might be.

"Brain matter will squeeze through a keyhole," says Jake Baker, the main character of Craig Davidson's new novel The Saturday Night Ghost Club. Jake should know. He's a neurosurgeon, and he spends his days cutting into people's brains, hoping to heal the mysterious maladies that afflict the human brain. The Saturday Night Ghost Club is his story, although most of it takes place in the past — one summer during the '80s, in which he turned 12.

Ever since Led Zeppelin took it up on themselves to sing songs about hobbits, rock music and fantasy literature have had an intimate relationship. But rarely has anyone explored that overlap as effusively as Nicholas Eames.

Dragons, thanks to Game of Thrones, are cool again. But for many of us, dragons never stopped being cool. Even during the long stretches where the mainstream has largely ignored these awesome, ancient lizards of genre fiction, authors from Lucius Shepard to Robin Hobb to Naomi Novik have kept dragon lore alive, radically reinventing the scaly beasts along the way. On the considerable merits of her new novel, The Sky Is Yours, Chandler Klang Smith should be added to that list — although it would be a mistake to think that dragons are the book's bread and butter.

On the second page of Curioddity — the debut novel by Eisner-winning comic-book writer Paul Jenkins — the book's protagonist Wil Morgan wakes up and looks in the mirror. Thankfully he doesn't do the expected thing, which is describe his appearance for the benefit of the reader. Instead, Jenkins writes, "Not a good time to make eye contact with his reflection, he decided, and he hastily backed away." It's a tiny scene, but it's telling. By and large, Curioddity tries to subvert — or at least smirk at — a whole host of fictional clichés and tropes.

"It was a great time for storytellers," says Matthew Biggs, the central character in Kenneth Calhoun's haunting debut novel, Black Moon. The irony of his comment comes with a horrific aftertaste: The world is suffering from a sudden, unexplainable pandemic that's made everyone a perpetual insomniac. Biggs is one of the few who can still sleep. Humanity's state of chronic wakefulness has caused mass insanity — in the noonday sun, dreams overflow and chaos reigns.