WPPB

Jason Heller

"Brain matter will squeeze through a keyhole," says Jake Baker, the main character of Craig Davidson's new novel 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. 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.

Richard Kadrey has never faced a deficiency of darkness. From his early cyberpunk novel Metrophage to his bestselling fantasy-noir series Sandman Slim to his stint on DC Comics' Hellblazer, the author's work has steeped itself in the murkier extremes of morality, technology, and the supernatural. At the same time, there's a pulp sensibility to Kadrey's fiction that's become almost a brand — a brand that he's rebelling violently against in The Grand Dark.

When Xavier Wentworth was 12, his parents took him to a party. Bored with the adults, he wandered into a room of the host's house where he saw, hanging on the wall like some rare tapestry, a quilt. It was crude, ugly, with clashing colors and roughhewn shapes, but something about it called to him. Images seemed to flicker across it. The pattern pulsed. And the longer he stared at it, the more it came to resemble a portal — a window on the wall that opened up into a place of salt water and tall grasses, of lush trees and a certain purple-pink color that infused the very air.

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.