“Sweet Dreams are Made of Teeth”

Richard Roberts

I have to admit, right here at the beginning, that I didn’t finish this book. Which is generally grounds for disqualification from my writing a review, because I can’t exactly have a fully formed opinion based on an unfinished book!1 I’m making an exception this time, though, both because of the quality of the writing and because the reason I didn’t finish it.

Let’s start with the latter: this book is creepy. Read the title; that alone should’ve warned you going in. It’s a book about nightmares. And I… am not at all a horror person. My sister tried to convince me to watch The Haunting of Hill House on the grounds that “it’s not scary, it’s sweet!” and she was absolutely wrong. The first couple episodes now permanently occupy space in my brain, lurking there to pop back up and make sure I can’t sleep. My brain’s repository of nightmare fodder is already much fuller than I’d like it to be, and will gladly expand to make room for more; I do not want to give it that opportunity.

But the former, oh, the former. I really wanted to read this whole book. I mentioned earlier that it’s about nightmares; what really made it shine, in the amount of creepy that I made it through before I had to give up, was how, exactly, it’s about nightmares.

Each of the characters we meet early on is a specific nightmare. They have names, but they’re shorthand, because these are conceptual characters. The protagonist goes by Fang, but really what he is is running and running, and it’s right behind you, all you can see is a glimpse of teeth, and you keep running but you can never get away. We meet him hanging out with his friend Jeff — a little boy, well-dressed, blond hair, sitting quietly eating, and everything seems fine but then you get up close and see what he’s eating, and what his teeth look like. There’s a love interest, of course, and frankly I didn’t make it far enough to know if she’s got a name, but what she is is a long hallway in a decrepit house. eyes open in the walls when you aren’t looking, but they hide when you try to catch them staring. you walk past dozens of rooms but never find an exit. sometimes, in the hall, you see statues; people, frozen in the act of trying to escape the walls. you’re never sure if there in the same place or if they’ve moved, changed positions. in the distance, faint sobbing. if you walk far enough, you find her—a girl in a dusty dress, weeping quietly into her hands. she doesn’t look up when you enter the room, doesn’t seem to hear you at all. if you get close, you can see she has no eyes.

It’s a book about nightmares, about what they’re thinking when you’re caught up in a nightmare, about what they do in their spare time. And it all has that dreamlike quality to it, that sense that you can turn a corner and find yourself somewhere completely different. That things don’t have to make logical sense, they just have to be able to string together enough of a story that you don’t realize you’re asleep.

That’s what really captivated me about the book, and what kept me trying to fight through my natural distaste for horror. I wish I could’ve finished it, and at some point I may come back to chip away at it some more, but for now I had to give up. But if you, unlike me, can tolerate being creeped out—or, god help you, enjoy it—then I absolutely recommend it. I really have no idea where the plot was going, or what happens next, but I did like the setting and the way the characters were described. It was interesting. Give it a go.2

  1. Or, at least, not one that I think is worth sharing; “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” applies to book reviews, too.
  2. This is an Amazon affiliate link – if you buy it from here, I get a little bit of commission. It won’t hurt my feelings if you buy it elsewhere; honestly, I’d rather you check it out from your local library, or go to a local book store. I prefer Bookshop affiliate links to Amazon when possible, but in this case, the book wasn’t available there, so it’ll have to do.

“Iron Truth”

S.A. Tholin

Ebooks are fun, because unlike a paper book, you don’t have that physical sense of how far through the book you are. With a paperback, the first page feels very different from the second-to-last—the weight is distributed differently, it’s thicker or thinner in the hand. Not so for an ebook. I tend to leave the “percent complete” display on to try to get that back, but it fades into the background pretty quickly.

I became very aware of that… less than halfway through the book. Because, by the way the story was going, I thought I was nearly at the end. But no, that wasn’t the peak, just a local maximum, and then it was off again, with more to uncover.

Pretty early on, I was having a bit of a struggle, trying to decide if I was going to keep reading. (I did, and I’m glad of it!) As part of that, I skimmed a few reviews, and from that I remember a mention that “the book has a lot of sci-fi tropes.” That stuck in my mind a bit, because after all, nothing is original, it’s all just remixes. If you’re wondering, this book is a touch of Passengers, a great deal more Pandorum, a little bit of Halo, a splash of Doom, and a surprising little bit of Killjoys. And that’s not a bad thing; it’s fun to pick apart the pieces that made something, and try to figure out which piece you’re going to find next.

That’s what made this book so interesting, and why, despite the fact that it’s not at all a short book, I powered through it in just a couple days. I didn’t want to put it down—I had theory after theory of what was going on, why the planet it’s taking place on is like that, and wanted to know which was correct. Is this going the way of The Satan Pit, or is it a political intrigue whose cover-up is falling apart? Are the high-tech, vaguely church-y guys the good guys, or are the eco-terrorist-inspired people actually in the right? Or is it the—well, okay, no, it’s pretty easy to discount the cannibals as “the good guys,” but then, maybe nobody is the good guy. (That aspect of the story really shines as the book switches between two narrators—one, a true believer in one of those causes, the other, an outsider to everything, just as confused as the reader.)

For as creepy as the book was, I didn’t wind up jumping at shadows nearly as much as I was expecting. Because, sure, it’s a science-fiction horror thing, but it’s also a military piece and, more than all of that, a big ol’ mystery. And if I’m trying to solve a mystery, well, no time to be scared of the monsters in the dark—in mystery solving mode, I default to being Velma, and a jump scare just gets a “you stop that!”

All in all, this was a great read, and I highly recommend it if you love a good mystery, and a cool setting, like I do. Check it out.1

  1. This is an Amazon affiliate link – if you buy it from here, I get a little bit of commission. It won’t hurt my feelings if you buy it elsewhere; honestly, I’d rather you check it out from your local library, or go to a local book store. I prefer Bookshop affiliate links to Amazon when possible, but in this case, the book wasn’t available there, so it’ll have to do.

“Beyond the Rift”

Peter Watts

I had this book down as science fiction, and while that’s true, I don’t think that’s really the primary genre. It’s an anthology of horror sub-genres — there’s some body horror, a bit of existential dread, some psychological horror. Really runs the whole gamut! Frankly, if I’d realized it was going to be this creepy/bleak/depressing, I don’t know that I would’ve picked it up, but I’m glad I did. For all the gloom, it’s also captivating, and very well-written.

“The Island” was my favorite of the stories. Given the setting, it seems like something I’d love — more of that gigantic infrastructure, a road crew building a highway but for a civilization a couple of notches up the Kardashev scale from us. But for all that mind-boggling technology, I pictured it all as very dark; the aesthetic I imagined for the ship would fit just as well in a Diablo game as it does in this story. And the scary part of it is the sheer scale of time that passes, has passed, and will continue to pass.

“A Word for Heathens” was the most interesting concept, I think, although “The Things” is also a strong contender. I was a bit biased against the latter, as I haven’t seen the film it’s based on; if you have, you’ll probably like it more.

“Home” definitely wins the award for Most Horror; something about the body horror/creeping change over time really gets to me. Vaguely similar vibes to The Enigma of Amigara Fault. Or possibly that’s just my go-to for body horror? Cronenberg, you have been unseated.

“A Niche” hits on some of the same imagery, and thinking back, I believe they’re actually a shared universe. Which works… pretty well, overall. As does putting “Home” before “A Niche” — it predisposes you to think about that aspect of what’s creepy about it, and that’s really not where “A Niche” is going.

All in all, I absolutely loved this. My only regret is reading it at night because I suspect I’m going to have a rough time trying to get to sleep after this. Whoops.

So, if you want some gloomy (but surprisingly not doom-y) science fiction, give it a go.1

  1. This is a Bookshop affiliate link – if you buy it from here, I get a little bit of commission. It won’t hurt my feelings if you buy it elsewhere; honestly, I’d rather you check it out from your local library, or go to a local book store. I use Bookshop affiliate links instead of Amazon because they distribute a significant chunk of their profits to small, local book stores.

“Catfish Lullaby”

A.C. Wise

About 2/3 of the way through this book, I wound up texting a friend, “I didn’t want t get invested in this book, because it’s creepy, but here I am, queueing up the nightmares.”

And, really, that’s a great summary of the book. It’s definitely creepy, but it’s also enrapturing. Think of… a swamp. It’s a place of decay, and death – but also, full of so much life. Beautiful, and terrible; ancient, but always changing. That’s how the story feels, all the way through.

In short, it’s excellent. Not too long a read, so not too long a review, but I quite liked it. Check it out.



Jonathan Barnes

I realized, somewhere around a third of the way into this book, that I don’t actually like anyone in it. The protagonist is an astonishingly boring man, for someone living through this upsetting a series of events, and the other main character is a rather good example of what’s wrong with acting like a proper Victorian.

All that said, I did enjoy the book. It was the kind of mystery that I enjoy, less about figuring out who did the thing than it as about what, precisely, they did. That mystery is what carried me through – I had theories, thoughts about what might have been going on with that second main character, and I had a great deal of fun trying to figure out which of them were right, which were wrong, and why. (And, it turns out, I was wrong on all counts – the end was stranger than I expected, and all the more creepy as a result.)

All told, I quite enjoyed this book, and I can recommend it to anyone who likes a creepy mystery. (Bonus points if you like Victorian literature — you’ll probably catch more of the references than I did.) If that’s you, give it a read.


“Two Hundred and Twenty-One Baker Streets”

I’ve actually read several of the stories in this anthology before, in other anthologies. Which, I suppose, is a statement about my taste in books.
Of the ones that were new, however, a couple of them were sufficient to make a partial repeat purchase worth it.
So, which stood out to me?
Far and away the best was The Lantern Men, which was a mildly interesting take on the Sherlock story (he’s an architect this time around!), but was one of the creepiest things I’ve ever read. It followed The Rich Man’s Hand, which was creepy enough that I thought “oh, I can’t go to bed on that, I’ll read one more,” and that turned out to be a mistake.
A Woman’s Place is a delightful little cyberpunk kind of thing, and my favorite take on Mrs. Hudson that I’ve seen… quite possibly ever. The opening scene, of her delivering tea and sandwiches while Sherlock and Watson interview a client? Oh, I won’t spoil a thing, but within the first page I was enraptured, and by the end, utterly delighted.
The Small World of 221b turned into a different genre than I thought it was, which was a fun twist, and I like the story that it told.
The Final Conjuration, too, was a genre-blending version of the story, and one I quite liked.
Finally, The Innocent Icarus was a great piece of world-building, and I’d quite like to read more in that setting at some point.
And that’s more than half the stories in the anthology; there’s also, as I mentioned, a few that I’d read before and quite liked, so it’s well worth the price. Check it out.


“Meddling Kids,” or, “alright, who gave Shaggy a gun”

Edgar Cantero
I am a big fan of Scooby-Doo. It’s got something of that James Bond aesthetic to it — every few years, there’s a new one, and we get to see a new take on the tropes. The recent series have been pretty good — What’s New was, basically, a straight modernized version of the original; Mystery Incorporated did some interesting things with the characters; Be Cool is one of the funniest shows I’ve ever watched; and Guess Who is a love letter to the people who watched the original series.12 The movies are a bit more hit-or-miss, but growing up in the 90s meant I had Zombie Island, Witch’s Ghost, Alien Invaders, and Cyber Chase; Alien Invaders is a hilarious concept, Zombie Island is, I’d argue, the best Scooby-Doo media to date, and Witch’s Ghost is part of why I was so excited to visit New England.3
In short, I love the different takes on the same story; there’s nothing new on Earth, but the different ways people combine ingredients are still creative and interesting. So when I saw that somebody had written a Scooby-Doo book with Lovecraftian influence? Alright, I’m interested.4
The writing style is interesting — Cantero switches back and forth between a more conventional novel style and something inspired by a movie script, with labelled dialogue and annotations for Scooby.5 Where it really shines is the occasional action scene; the sentences get longer, flow together, and it feels like a choreographed fight in a movie.
It’s also definitely creepier than anything in my usual reading; the book is set roughly a decade after the gang broke up, and Fred having died in the interim doesn’t stop him from showing up when Shaggy forgets his meds. The interactions between Shaggy and his hallucination of Fred range from hilarious, through bittersweet, and occasionally into the grotesque.
Plot-wise, the book is enjoyable; it gets a bit weird in places, but eventually pulls itself back together, while leaving room for Cantero to come back and write more if he wants.
Which leads me into something that I felt he did excellently: tie-ins. Because, yes, it’s a Scooby-Doo book that can’t say “Scooby-Doo,” or “Fred,” “Daphne,” “Velma,” or “Shaggy.”6 It’s also a Lovecraft book, though — the Necronomicon is explicitly mentioned, and there’s a passing reference to Miskatonic University, as well as several scenes in Arkham. And other bits and pieces makes appearances — Cantero has certainly read more Lovecraftian horror than I have, but based on what I could pick out as references, there were quite a few that I missed. And it’s tied together to give the book the feeling of being part of a larger universe — you could pick up one of Lovecraft’s books, read it, and mentally slot it in to this same continuity without an issue.
So hey, if you want a creepy, fun little romp in the Pacific Northwest, watching Shaggy, Daphne, and Velma try to deal with PTSD and the results of living in a world that has both “some guy dressed up in a costume to scare people away” and the Necronomicon, I can heartily recommend Meddling Kids.

  1. Seriously, it’s artistically gorgeous, and whoever is doing the soundtrack? Give them a raise, it’s excellent. 
  2. Yes, I know I left one out; we don’t talk about Get a Clue
  3. Zombie Island also made my time in Louisiana more enjoyable, and Cyber Chase is set in an amalgamation of MIT, Stanford, and UC Berkeley, two of which I’ve visited. The moral of the story is, I need to go to Roswell to finish my Scooby-Doo Tour of the United States. 
  4. Admittedly, it’s not an official Scooby-Doo book, so everybody has different names, but it’s also clearly meant to tie in to the same “hey, recognize this trope?” pattern, and gains a lot by then subverting them. 
  5. As mentioned in the previous footnote, the dog isn’t named Scooby, but I don’t feel like writing a conversion chart for what’s meant to be a short review, so I’m just going to do the name-swapping myself. 
  6. It’s possible they could get away with “Scrappy,” but didn’t try.