Tag Archives: Necro Publications

XXL-Sized Eco-Horror with John Leahy’s CROGIAN

CROGIAN_shopify_largeAfter nearly closing their doors a couple years ago, Necro Press and founder David Barnett have rebounded nicely, with 11 titles published by my count since their rebirth.  One of those new titles is the debut novel from John Leahy, the somewhat-awkwardly titled CROGIAN.

In the spirit of Stephen King’s “The Mist” and countless other tales, CROGIAN is based on an ever-reliable source of horror — namely, a military experiment gone very, very wrong.  The story begins with a very engaging premise — the discovery of an alien artifact by a reclusive loner living outside the small town of Goodman, Alaska.  The top of the artifact turns out to almost literally be the tip of the iceberg, and soon word of the bizarre find reaches the military, who move in to take ownership.  A short bit of aggressive experimentation later, it turns out that the artifact is a portal to another dimension…  A few more years later, and an automated expedition is dispatched, ultimately returning with video of a strange planet of gigantic flora and fauna, and soil samples containing molecules that could revolutionize the agriculture and food industries.  But of course the military is far more interested in weaponizing the discovery, so that an enemy’s own environment could be turned against it.

The remainder of the tales is set in 2017, where the military has relocated the project to an abandoned chemical facility in Texas.  (CROGIAN is actually the code name for the military’s experiment, standing for CReator Of GIANts.)  Rancher Ken Forde and his family live adjacent to the facility, which turns out to be a very bad zip code to be in when a disaster causes the CROGIAN formula to leak out into the local environment, resulting in exactly the sort of massive growth spurts the military had hoped for — but in their own backyard, rather than in some foreign “axis of evil” country.

Early on, the mutations seem relatively harmless, in some cases just freaks to be abused by the cruel and the clueless:

Ken had seen some of the clips. They had ranged from the disgusting to the psychotic: two smiling men holding up a section of an earthworm so thick that their hands couldn’t close around its body; a woman standing by an enormous spider-web who, when she touched it with a long stick, brought a huge black and yellow spider scampering from under a shed eave; two teenage boys kicking a soccer-ball as hard as possible against the shell of a colossal snail ascending a wall, the ball bouncing back each time from the shell the size of a bass-drum, the boys deciding to change to baseball, one of them throwing the ball to his buddy holding a bat, the buddy connecting perfectly with it, sending the ball smashing through the snail’s shell, both kids throwing their hands in the air and cheering.

But as time goes on, the mutations keep growing… and growing… and growing, leading to a “nature run amok” tale that’s something like an updated and more hardcore version of The Land of the Giants — for those who remember that late ‘60s TV show — although the mutations in CROGIAN are localized to a large swath of Texas and seem to be limited to plants, insects, reptiles, and fish, and (thankfully) not mammals or birds, for unknown reasons.

The remainder of the novel is taken up by the struggles of Ken and his family — and others they encounter along the way — to escape the contaminated zone and reach a safe harbor.  Their journey begins with tense, suspenseful scenes but unfortunately the repeated close encounters and narrow escapes soon start to feel repetitious.  Additionally, the interesting characters found in the early stages of CROGIAN are replaced in latter sections by far more stereotypical characters, especially some of the military villains portrayed, and there are some awkwardly-written passages to further weigh things down.

In sum, CROGIAN has a great germ of a plot, and is nicely-paced for the most part, but I ultimately wanted to like it a lot more than I did.  The novel does, however, qualify as a good summer “beach read” — meaning that, as long as you don’t focus too closely on the details, or think too much about the science or logic, it’ll keep you entertained as the tide rolls in.

A round-up of new horror small presses

The list that I maintain of active small presses whose output is predominantly horror, dark suspense, or dark fantasy continues to grow, with the count growing to a rather astonishing 138 publishers. Over the last few months, I’ve added no less than 27 presses and imprints to the list, and I’ll summarize each of those 27 below.

The following presses are recently launched, recently discovered by me, or recently re-evaluated and found worthy of inclusion.

  • Acid Grave Press – an ebook-only publisher with one title to their credit so far — the anthology Living After Midnight, which contains six stories inspired by hard-rock/heavy-metal songs, by authors such as Randy Chandler, L.L. Soares, and David T. Wilbanks.
  • Altar 13 – a new imprint from Delirium Books publisher Shane Ryan Staley, which seeks to take classic genre titles that have only been published in paperback and reprint them in hardcover for collectors.
  • Bandersnatch Books – debuted in 2010 and has published a chapbook by T.M. Wright, a novella by K.H. Koehler, and an anthology, Dead West, containing some familiar names. Their website is currently a bit of a mess, however — among other issues, the “Bookstore” page offers no way to actually purchase any of the titles.
  • Belfire Press – a mult-genre publisher with 13 titles to their credit, including horror titles such as Gregory L. Hall’s At the End of Church Street, Aaron Polson’s Loathsome, Dark and Deep, K.V. Taylor’s Scripped, and several anthologies.
  • Black Room Books and the Zombie Feed – two new imprints of Apex Publications. The former will publish both horror and science fiction, with their first title being a reprint of Tim Waggoner’s novel, Like Death, while the latter is yet another zombie-focused publisher, with three novels/novellas and an anthology published.
  • Blasphemous Books – an ebook-only imprint of Black Death Books, with a single title so far, a min-collection by John Everson.
  • Camelot Books – restored to the active publisher list after previously assumed to be moribund (probably my mistake). Recent titles include a collection by Ray Garton and an anthology of four novellas that includes Brian Keene and Nate Southard.
  • Crossroad Press – formerly appearing to be only a distributor of ebooks from other publishers, but now publishing both print and ebooks under their own imprint. CP has quickly become a prolific publisher of ebooks, with recent titles from Elizabeth Massie, Tom Piccirilli, and Chet Williamson, among many others.
  • Dark Prints Press – Australian press founded in 2010, with three anthologies and a collection by Martin Livings to their credit.
  • Dark Silo Press – published a novel by Brian Kaufman, but an anthology originally scheduled for March 2011 still hasn’t appeared, so viability of this press may already be in question.
  • Fungasm Press – a new imprint from bizarro publisher Eraserhead Press, “Fungasm Press grounds its weirdest ideas in contemporary realities, meeting at the freaky juncture where genre and mainstream collide with indescribable strangeness.” Fungasm will publish 2-3 titles per year, starting with Laura Lee Bahr’s debut novel, Haunts.
  • Harrow Press – longtime publisher of The Harrow magazine began publishing POD books in 2007 and has so far produced two anthologies, with a third in the works.
  • Hersham Horror Books – UK-based publishers of the Alt-Dead anthology, with two more anthologies announced.
  • House of Murky Depths – UK publisher of a namesake magazine, several graphics novels, and four novels by Sam Stone.
  • Innsmouth Free Press – Canadian publisher of a novel and three anthologies, most recently Future Lovecraft, which features authors such as Nick Mamatas, Jesse Bullington, and James S. Dorr.
  • LegumeMan Books – an Australian press “devoted to extreme and/or unusual fiction for extreme and/or unusual people,” with twelve titles already to their credit, including novels by Steve Gerlach and Brett McBean.
  • NECON E-Books – Leveraging the connections he’s made from running the eponymous convention for thirty years, publisher Bob Booth has assembled an impressive roster of writers, including Ramsey Campbell, Christopher Golden, Charles L. Grant, Tom Monteleone, and Tim Lebbon. Despite the press’ name, they do offer print editions of some titles.
  • Necro Publications –  moved from moribund back to the Active Publisher list after recently publishing the Jeffrey Thomas novel Blood Society and an ebook-only collection by Edward Lee, Grimoire Diabolique.
  • Panic Press – UK-based multi-genre publisher with 11 books published already, including titles such as Jason Whittle’s The Dead Shall Feed and Nate D. Burleigh’s Sustenance.
  • Rainstorm Press – another multi-genre publisher, with apparent vanity leanings, as all four announced titles are either written or edited by the owner of the press. If Rainstorm turns out to be strictly vanity, they’ll be removed from the list.
  • Rocket Ride Books – SF/horror publisher who made an interesting debut with a new edition of John W. Campbell’s Who Goes There? (basis for three movie versions of The Thing), available in print and audio versions. Their second title is William F. Nolan’s Kincaid: A Paranormal Casebook, “in the tradition of The X-Files and Kolchak.”
  • Sinister Grin Press – launched at KillerCon 2011 with a chapbook containing original stories by Ramsey Campbell, Ray Garton, and Bentley Little, and have announced two upcoming novels from Wrath James White, one solo and one co-written with J.F. Gonzalez.
  • Strange Publications – taking a buffet approach since their 2008 debut by publishing a chapbook, three anthologies, and a collection (by Cate Gardner). As of this writing, their website appears to have been hacked, so it’s unclear how active the press still is.
  • Swan River Press – Ireland-based publisher of 28 chapbooks and mini-hardcovers, some of which are dedicated to writers from decades past (there are multiple Bram Stoker and J. Sheridan La Fanu titles, for example), and some of which feature work from contemporary writers such Gary McMahon, Rosalie Parker and Mark Valentine.
  • Terradan Works – announced as a multi-genre publisher, but their four titles published to date have all been horror or suspense fiction, including books by Jeffrey & Scott Thomas, and Wilum H. Pugmire.
  • Ticonderoga Publications – this Australian multi-genre publisher has been around since 1996, but I only recently concluded that they produce a sufficient amount of horror to be included on the list. Published authors include Terry Dowling and Kaaron Warren, and Ticonderoga recently launched an annual Australian Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror series.
  • West Pigeon Press – Putting forth a prospectus that is, depending on how one looks at it, either extremely ambitious or off-puttingly arrogant, WPP has one title so far, the collection You Shall Never Know Security, by J.R. Hamantaschen, which certainly sounds intriguing.

Conversely, the only publishers removed from the publisher list since my last column are Snuff Books and Twisted Publishing, both of which seem to have sunk without a trace. With 27 presses added to the list vs. just two removed, either the horror small press field is faring better than the overall economy, or the genre has a knack for converting overly-optimistic fans into would-be publishers.

While I’m talking numbers, the other thing I took the time to total up is how many of the 138 presses on the list are publishing at least some of their titles in ebook format. The result?  No fewer than 56 presses (40%) have jumped on the ebook train, strong evidence of the growing adoption of ebook formats.