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5 Weird Horror Books You Won't Have Read For Halloween!

Last year we ran a 'Top 5 Weird Horror Books' list for Halloween, and it was so popular that we thought we'd do it again. After all, who really wants to read yet another list of Stephen King books this All Hallows Eve?

As before, we're celebrating the weird and the unusual for our list. We've asked some of the contributors to The Shadow Booth: Vol. 2 to recommend something strange, unsettling, and not widely read for Halloween. This is what crawled out of the swamp...

The Hawkline Monster by Richard Brautigan
Recommended by Aliya Whiteley

A monster has been created. In the basement of his huge house atop a network of ice caves, Professor Hawkline made something unspeakable from a mysterious bottle of Chemicals, and then he vanished. His daughters have enlisted the help of two guns-for-hire to explore the caves and kill the monster, and nothing I’ve just told you is exactly accurate about that situation. This sounds like horror in a Western setting, which is unusual enough, but it’s far too weird to make you scared for anything except your sanity. The monster and the novel manipulate you, and make everything surreal and strange and ridiculous. Richard Brautigan uses repetition so well throughout this story, and his imagination moves freely through genre with no concern for boring old realism. If you want a highly enjoyable Halloween where you’re too baffled and entertained to be frightened, then this is your book.

The Pedestal by George Lanning
Recommended by Ralph Robert Moore

'These last nights, dark has come on the boom of wings.' That’s the opening sentence of Lanning's 1966 novel about John and Eleanor Bayden, wealthy city folk who move to the country after John is released from the hospital. One day, on a lark, they go to an auction and John buys a six-foot pedestal with three delicately carved clawed feet. Avon issued a series of red-cover horror paperbacks in the Sixties, and I walked around town with one or another of them jammed in the back pocket of my jeans throughout my late teens. The Pedestal was my favorite. Told in the first person, we watch everything in the novel unfold from John's perspective, including the latter parts of the book where we begin questioning just how reliable John is as a narrator. Having thoroughly enjoyed The Pedestal I read another of the three novels Lanning wrote in his lifetime, but it did nothing for me. So it was a fantastic first date with an author, to where you're talking in your head to them afterwards, but a disastrous second date, surreptitiously checking your wristwatch as the veal piccata is set down in front of you. But I do definitely recommend The Pedestal. I believe it's currently out of print, but used copies are readily available for a reasonable price on Amazon. Here's the final sentence of the novel: 'Dear God, what wonder, what strangeness, what magnificence of the terrible will she find?'

The Doll's Alphabet by Camilla Grudova
Recommended by Kirsty Logan

This is one of those books I can't get out of my head, even if I try. I loved it both as a reader of weird, unexpected fiction, and a writer looking for something new to inspire me. I felt genuinely sick while reading these sinister, mood-rich short stories about wax-babies, spider-men and sewing-machine-women. Not because they're gory or violent, but because everything is so grimy and wretched – and yet it's not an entirely hopeless world. There is love and wonder and beauty, and there is trying, in its own way. The book has to be read in short bursts, as the stories are so intense and so unpleasant. The incredible world-building and command of language gave me serious writer envy. Grudova is a Canadian writer, and she has recently moved to Edinburgh and is now working on a novel – I'm so excited to see how Scottish myth and culture feed into her future writing.

You Should Come With Me Now by M. John Harrison
Recommended by Anna Vaught

Comma Press describes M. John Harrison as 'a cartographer of the liminal. His work sits at the boundary between genres.' That makes me sit up. This is (weird) horror and science fiction, fantasy and travel writing; it is also satire upon, amongst other things, our mixed-up appetitive world; our spiritual vacuity. There is a sense of rootless horror; sometimes the things you see are unsettling enough in and of themselves - the 'black fibrous mud'; a 'basic substrate of the city'; but sometimes - as Tennessee Williams wrote of Carson McCullers's Reflections in a Golden Eye specifically and of Southern Gothic more roundly - they feel like symbols for something appalling which is incommunicable: the chartless horror. The sense of the awful, with a human veneer on top of this (I'm quoting E.E. Cummings) 'socalled world of ours.' That concept of the liminal mentioned by the press: where we are at boundaries, in places or states transitional: those tropes are all over the show here. You think you know: you don't; things swirl, in an urban landscape, with delicate but revolting beauty. That's what M. John Harrison is the 'cartographer' of. There are gelatinous aliens from the astral plane taking over global financial capitals, a man escaping the pressures of new parenthood by going missing in the attic of his own home, another who begins to 'let things slip' and knows that he will, if not careful, 'begin to crack or peel or flake away': not to be able to corral our very self is one of the most frightening things we may encounter and I think the writer nails its evocation with compassion and chilly humour - hardly an easy feat to pull off. He does it again with a story of visions (often of chickens) following a cardiac arrest - and then a sinister imaginary friend who comes to stay. It's properly frightening, weird and gorgeous. It's frequently funny. The language is brilliantly innovative: there are invented illnesses, people, echelons, anything you like, woven into the familiar so that even a white geranium on a windowsill becomes terrifying. The vocabulary is so beautifully delineated and sensual. I read the book in one sitting and was both unsteadied and delighted by it.

Ubik by Philip K. Dick
Recommended by George Sandison 

It's not horror in the traditional sense, but it is weird as hell and scares me on a deeply profound, phenomenological level. Written a few years before Dick had a revelatory experience involving a fish and some sodium pentathol, Ubik shows the flimsy, barely sustainable sense of reality that he explodes in Valis taking form. What should be a paranoid conspiracy thriller descends into a nightmare of dissolving worlds and limbo. Characters literally don't know if they're alive or dead, and get very little time to find out before they are consumed by this weird spiritual parasite. Search not for answers, lest the questions consume you. It's shot through with Dick's trademark humour as well, the manic cackles at chaos that help us cling on to this life. Because that's a core aspect of horror fiction - the need to stare into the void and make some kind of sense of it, or at the very least, us. Dick is one of the few writers I can think of who simply stared at the void, and tried to experience it directly. The horror is best encapsulated in the knife-edge balance of Ubik itself, literally spray on reality complete with catchy jingles. An inane gag? Desperation? The madman's solution? Our only weapon against entropy? All that, and more.

Until the end of October you can buy The Shadow Booth Vols. 1 & 2 in paperback for the bargain price of £15. Visit our online store for more details, as well as subscription offers, ebooks & more.

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