Horror A.D.


Book Review: Horns by Joe Hill
May 21, 2013, 2:37 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

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I found the book in question in The Guardian’s best young novelists from the SF universe under 40 article.  The article lumps speculative/ science fiction, fantasy and horror at the kids table  and takes a stab at the genres good young authors.  They have a yearly under 40 novelists thing for the sophisticated authors.  Joe Hill stood out in the article as the author stated he is the most significant writer in horror today.  His actual words were “Joe Hill is arguably the most significant horror author of the last decade, with 20th Century Ghosts, Heart Shaped Box and the upcoming NOS4A2 setting the bar for the entire genre.”  I shrugged and accepted the challenge.

I hopped on the Kindle store and looked Joe Hill up and found Horns, his first novel, on sale for $1.99.  Score!  The reviews are favorable and at 500 pages all it would cost me is a couple weeks of reading time.  The story is simple, a guy wakes up one morning, months after being accused of brutally killing his first and only love and raping her corpse.  Pretty horrific, I know, but it has to be brutal to really hate the criminal.  In his sleep, he’s grown a set of horns that give him powers.  People in his presence tell him their deepest darkest desires.  They ask him what to do about them and follow his suggestion on a course of action.  If he touches someone, he sees their past. And he can make people think his voice is someone else’s.  They are nothing ground breaking, but historically interesting to explore.  He finds out everyone he meets hates him and wishes him a violent death.  Everyone but his brother.  There’s also a guy who’s a pretty standard Big Bad Friend.  I didn’t call spoiler alert on that, because it is laid out out early on.  Hill tries to make it a little ambiguous, and he gets an A for effort.  Imagine this type of story and you have the rest of the book.  Man, obvious stories make writing a synopsis easy.  If you want to read more go here.

Because the book is a horror story about good, evil and the devil, I expected some interesting religious analysis.  It would be disingenuous to say it has none at all.  I can say  what it has is not the type I had expected.  Everyone in the book is active in the same small New England town protestant based church and has homogenous atitudes.  All but the Big Bad.  He is the aid for a right wing politician.  This is where the only thematic depth is shown.  He represents the God Guns and Country machine that uses religion only for influence.  There is nothing groundbreaking, scathing or even interesting here.

The high point of the book is Hill’s attention to detail in building the scene and characters.  I had a clear picture and feeling of every locale in the book.  I felt the desperation and loneliness of his room mate/ fuck buddy’s apartment.  I felt completely unwelcome in the locals only diner.  The foundry felt magical, destitute and later like sanctuary.  I was everywhere in this book.  The characters were just as rich.  I felt I knew each one of the characters, from the diner waitress to the Big Bad, extremely well.  Unfortunately the lackluster plot doesn’t allow any real connection to these well written characters.  It’s a shame, really.

Overall I can sum up my feelings for Joe Hill’s Horns with a resounding “meh” and a shrug.  You’d be better off watching some urban fantasy jive on the CW.

This brings me back to the beginning of this article.  The one that said Joe Hill sets the bar for the horror genre.  This statement makes me question the author’s thought process when formulating his list.  I have read one other writer from this article at length, Carlton Mellick III, and am currently reading Robert Jackson Bennit’s  The Troupe.  Mellick is one of my heroes.  He is a genre blazing, prolific, imaginative mad man.  So far, Bennit has me hooked.  He has a fresh voice and a great way with a story.  That being said, neither one of these guys are horror genre writers.

I’m going to keep this rant short to accomodate my 15% battery.

Where are the Deadite Press, Damnation Books or any of the other indie published authors?  These are the people that are pushing horror to it’s boundaries   They are the ones that take on new ground in new horrific ways.  This is the way it always is with genre fiction.  The boundaries are pushed on the fringe.  The next wave of best young authors will be inspired be the people that are not on this list.  Yes, Mellick is a true hero of indie genre fiction, but he does have his counterparts in the horror genre.