My Most Anticipated Horror Books of 2020
Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre
World War Z inspired multiple, similar efforts through the years, trading zombies for some other brand of monster or threat. Robopocalypse and its sequel took the “oral history of humanity’s brush with genre-inspired Armageddon” approach into the realm of science-fiction horror. 2018’s A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising is essentially World War V. At least the pretty cleverly named Sleep Over (I’m a sucker for a quality pun) did something different with the format and made the immediate threat something passive that can’t be shot, hacked up, bombed out or set aflame: mass insomnia.
Of these World War Z offspring, only Robopocalypse attained any level of popularity.1 It wasn’t great, but at least it landed a film deal that Spielberg was originally attached to (that hasn’t moved forward significantly for years, now).
This year, Max Brooks returns to the faux-non-fiction horror sub-genre, albeit with what appears to something closer to the classically epistolary format than an oral history. Devolution is, as the subtitle indicates, a story about a Sasquatch massacre as told through the journal pages of someone who suffered through it. To add to the horror’s hellishness, there’s apparently also the eruption of Mount Rainier to contend with, in addition to Sasquatches slaughtering people.
Three things I can’t get enough of are journal entries found in the aftermath of a fictional disaster 2, cryptid horror and volcanoes, so I’m all in for this.
The Boatman’s Daughter
I really dug John Langan’s The Fisherman, and the A24 film The Blackcoat’s Daughter, and much of John Hornor Jacobs’ Southern Gods. I have no reason to believe The Boatman’s Daughter will be a combination of these three distinct creations, but the title makes me think of the first two, while the Southern setting made me think of the latter, so here we are. Still, if that hadn’t been enough to justify this book making my personal list, its cover art would have done it for me.
Mining supernatural horror from factual, horrific historical events can seem a little bit pointless on paper. Having read a few books on the Donner Party disaster already, I had no interest in Alma Katsu’s The Hunger when it was first released, despite the acclaim it received. How could it even be on par with the horror of what actually happened? What was even the point? Then I finally got around to watching season 1 of The Terror, which reminded me of how much I liked that novel, which reminded me that, of course, this sort of thing has been done effectively before, which steered me toward finally reading The Hunger. And, whaddyaknow, it was great. Hence my excitement for Katsu’s follow-up, The Deep, which takes place first on the doomed RMS Titanic, then on her also-doomed sister ship, HMHS Britannic.
Titanic was one of my semi-obsessions as a child, along with dinosaurs, natural disasters in general (but tornadoes and hurricanes especially), ghosts and football. That Titanic interest followed me into adulthood (though it lost intensity) so I’ve read a lot on the subject, watched multiple documentaries, and have fallen down a rabbit hole of searching for newspaper clippings from the days surrounding the event. Now, however, I know better than to think that I won’t find Katsu’s latest book appealing just because I’ve read A Night to Remember, The Night Lives On, The Other Side of the Night and several other books about the Titanic (some that don’t even have the word “Night” in the title).
Kathe Koja is one of those authors who I know I should have read long ago and just never got around to it. Or, really, I’ve avoided some of her more lauded works because, it has been described even in positive reviews as “too bleak…too hopeless.” I remember also reading Ligotti’s work described that way, then thinking, “Ehhh, how dark can it be,” before diving into the only work of fiction I think I’ve ever had to set down and take a break from (despite being intrigued by it) solely because it was graying my day. So I’ve been cautious about just picking up Koja’s novels Cipher or Mindless, but I’m going to make Velocities–a collection of 13 short stories, two of which have never been published–an unofficial point of entry for me properly familiarizing myself with her work.
The Only Good Indians
I just flat out like Stephen Graham Jones. He can elicit more chills from me with a title (e.g. After the People Lights Have Gone Off) than some horror writers can with hundreds of pages. Here again, he delivers a title that reads like an unfinished sentence promising something horrible will occur. I’m anticipating this one and bracing myself for it at the same time.
Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Gods of Jade and Shadow is on my list of books from 2019 that I really, really meant to read, swear to everything, and just didn’t get to. While I’m rectifying that in 2020, I’ll also be looking forward to reading her next effort, Mexican Gothic, which is even more in my wheelhouse.
I have a soft spot for a good, classically Gothic horror story that features a giant old mansion, family secrets, forbidden rooms and dark histories. Whether the horror is entirely human-made, blatantly supernatural or left ambiguous, if the story is well-told and the family secrets live up to being as grim as promised, I’m all in. I think this stems back to my long-held affinity for the secrets of Glamis castle, which will likely be referenced in an upcoming entry in my “Confessions” series.
Anyway, back to this book, introducing a different setting for this type of work (the Mexican countryside of the 1950s) just adds to the allure. This not only feels like a strong contender for one of my favorite books of 2020, but also for the one I’ll be most likely to recommend to people I know who don’t often read the kind of stuff that I read.
The synopsis of Night Train reads like a movie pitch. “A woman wakes up, frightened and alone – with no idea where she is. She’s in a room but it’s shaking and jumping like it’s alive. Stumbling through a door, she realizes she is in a train carriage. A carriage full of the dead.” Fortunately, this premise isn’t just “28 Days Later on a train” (not that a story featuring train-zombies can’t work, but there’s room in the world for only one Train to Busan). It seems these dead folks will not be “undead,” and nary a single zombie-bite may appear on a single page. Instead this story will revolve around multiple mysteries. What happened to this woman (my first guess: she died)? Who are these others on the train, and how did they all get here? What is the train’s “hideous secret”? I’m confident that Emmy-winning writer David Quantick is way too smart to be holding onto a plot twist of “It’s really a train…to Hell!” So I’m looking forward to seeing what he’s got in store for this story.