Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Strangers Outside Are Drowning Their Sorrows

As a precursor, I feel the need to say that I don't particularly like horror. I don't watch horror movies, and I usually don't read horror books. When the author contacted me to review her self-published short story and novella, I was a bit leery, but decided perhaps I'd benefit from expanding my interests. After all, I've read Dracula without any negative repercussions. So long as there aren't any needles involved, nor people jumping out at me (I HATE that) from my screen, I figured I would be alright.

Thus, I may not be the best judge of horror, but I shall do my best.

The Strangers Outside

Two sisters, Jennifer and Louise, return to their remote holiday cabin after a day at the seaside. But little do they know they’re being surrounded. Shortly after their arrival, the girls will come face to face with THE STRANGERS OUTSIDE. When the assailants make their intentions known, things take a shockingly terrible turn and an intense battle for survival will begin. [Goodreads]

For a horror story, I was surprisingly not put on edge. Okay, so I did jump at a noise behind me while reading it, but I call that being because it was late at night.

We begin with introducing Jennifer and Louise traveling to their 'remote cabin' for a relaxing holiday. The entire first scene is there for the sole purpose of setting up their characteristics. We are told Louise is the elder idealistic of the two, who worries her younger sister won't let herself find happiness. Jennifer is the mopey younger sister who refuses to believe in luck or good fortune.

Once they get to their cabin out in the middle of nowhere, they stop for a dance-break, but quickly realize they're not alone. I guess seeing guys dressed in black outside your house with no rational explanation for being there isn't a red flag for these girls. They retire to their cabin for a few minutes, deciding they'll freshen up and go see a movie. But surprise, surprise, the Men-In-Black haven't left, and now more of them are appearing.

With their paths of escape now blocked, the sisters have to look to each other to survive.

I had a lot of problems with this piece. Without ruining the plot, I found the writing simplistic and unrefined. There was little flow, the dialog was robotic, and the little description there was was blunt. Story-wise, the concept is solid, but the execution is sloppy with the time elapsed bordering on insane and the exposition coming in one huge clump at the end.

As a short story, it was a quick read at only 24 pages. Unfortunately, the pacing made it a chore to read, and the characters didn't make things any easier. I honestly didn't care what happened to them and, after some of their bickering, was even rooting for one or the other to die. I know I'm new to this horror thing, but I'm pretty sure that's not how it's supposed to work.

Unless you have some extra time and money on your hands or you're looking for a spooky source for inspiration, I think I'd pass on this one. As I said, I think the story's there, but The Strangers Outside could have stood a good round or three of editing to get the tone to match the subject. On the bright side, I do think the movie that is being made off this work has a chance to be terrifying, so look out for that.

Approximate Reading Time: 30 Minutes

Drowned Sorrow

Megan Blackwood has just lost her son in a terrible accident. Now she has come to Moonlight Creek with her teenage daughter Jenna, hoping a change of scenery might help to put her life back together.

But something odd is going on in Moonlight Creek.

When rain falls over the village, its inhabitants commit grisly murders, leaving the place deserted with the first rays of sunshine.

Beneath the lake's surface, an eerie presence watches... and waits... Waits to reveal a tragic past drowned in mystery and fear. One that doesn't bode well for visitors.

By the time Megan realizes that her daughter's life is in danger, it may be too late to escape.

I will admit I put the bar pretty low for this one, hoping I'd enjoy it, and it worked out alright for the most part. The story was much more compelling, the characters were fleshed out a little better, and there was actual suspense in the plot. I think having it as a novella instead of a short story helped a lot.

I liked that there were more characters this time around. It made it easier when I didn't connect with the main ones, I could wait a few pages until I found someone I did like. On the other hand, by having so many characters we weren't ever given a fully formed character. All of them had their flaws, but with almost all of them I had a hard time finding redeeming qualities to root for. Realistic? perhaps, but it was pretty depressing to realize that none of these characters had anything but luck (and some of them didn't even have that) on their side.

Unfortunately, a lot of the same problems from The Strangers Outside returned here. The book read much like a movie script, with descriptions seeming more like concise notes for the director or actors. Here's one example from later in the story: Sensing impending doom, Megan hurried toward the village. Now, as a reader we expect to have her feelings described, backed up, and explained over the course of a couple sentences or paragraphs. Instead, we have her fear bluntly thrown out there, like a note to an actress that "you should look afraid here".

I also had a bit of trouble with the storylines. The pacing of the story was better, but at the same time was still off. There was definitely an ebb and flow to the suspense, but instead of propelling us toward the end, the separate characters' plots created stops in the action. The fact that they had little to do with one another didn't help at all, plus their ends came at different times, making the last quarter of the book extremely choppy in transitioning.

It also seemed like the three plots (as well as a couple side-plots) had completely different settings. There was no consistency from one storyline to the next. In one case, the townspeople acted solely like zombies, while a few pages later another character had a normal conversation with one. It was like there were three different stories that had the same overall problem (lake/water = evil), so why not have them all take place in the same town at the same time? But really, other than some overlapping characters, there won't be anything similar about any of them. It made it especially hard to read at the end.

Speaking of the ending, at one point I was literally hissing, "Deus ex machina!" at my screen, I was that mad.

Ultimately, I still don't think this story is quite up to publishing standards. Good concept, better character-building, some improvement in pacing and mood-building, but still lacking full descriptions, realistic dialog, and overall polishing. Perhaps keep an eye out for later editions, but as is it still has a few drafts to go before I'd be willing to give it another shot. I've heard this is also being adapted into a movie, and, once again, I'd recommend looking out for it.

Approximate Reading Time: 3 Hours