Undercurrents

Undercurrents: An Anthology of What Lies Beneath

Fear is primal. Instinctive. Unavoidable. And right now, there is something you fear—and you can feel it. Creeping up behind you. Lurking in the darkness that lives under your bed, or in your closet. A nameless dread. 

In Undercurrents: An Anthology of What Lies Beneath, twenty-three talented authors, including New York Times bestsellers Kevin J. Anderson, Rebecca Moesta, and Jody Lynn Nye, have stood on the shores of their psyches and looked out over the ocean of possibility and wondered “What lies beneath?” 

The sea creatures and sea monsters that answered their calls range from a giant kraken that rules the deepest ocean to the smallest puffer fish that creates intricate works of underwater art. Creatures of classic mythology—mermaids, sirens, and sea serpents—swim alongside more unusual beasts—underwater cats and singing whirlpools. These stories dive deep into the fears many of us face, including loss, abandonment, death, and physical, mental, or emotional danger. When the fears we keep buried beneath the surface rise up and threaten to consume, we must make a choice: conquer or be conquered. 

This anthology is the fourth volume produced by the alumni of the Superstars Writing Seminar, and all royalties benefit the Don Hodge Memorial Scholarship Fund. 

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After attending the Superstars conference this year, I picked up the newest anthology, Undercurrents. I’ve never been a big anthology reader though I own several (including all the rest of the Superstars anthologies).

But since I’ve been so busy lately and not had much time for reading, I found reading an anthology to be the perfect antidote to never feeling like I’m finishing anything. Instead of reading a chapter before bed, I get to read a whole story!

And, I really liked this anthology. I think every story in it was well-written, unique, and fresh. It was interesting to see how people interpreted the theme of “what lies beneath” and what they did with it. Many of the stories were more “classic” and involved krakens and sea monsters and sirens. But none of them were exactly conventional. Other stories took the theme of “what lies beneath” to thoroughly unexpected locales like Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons. The stories also covered a range of genres from horror to sci-fi to fantasy and even contemporary fiction. There was only one story in this anthology I couldn’t really get into, but I think its style just didn’t appeal to me.

This anthology is a great one to have on your shelf and if you’re a person who is obsessed with the sea or sea monsters, you will definitely want to add this one to your collection!

 

Series Spotlight: The Dark Tower

By Stephen King

Beginning with a short story appearing in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1978, the publication of Stephen King’s epic work of fantasy — what he considers to be a single long novel and his magnum opus — has spanned a quarter of a century.

Set in a world of extraordinary circumstances, filled with stunning visual imagery and unforgettable characters, The Dark Tower series is King’s most visionary feat of storytelling, a magical mix of science fiction, fantasy, and horror that may well be his crowning achievement.

Because of the nature of this series, where the seven books really equate to one rather long novel, I am reviewing all seven books in one post.

The Gunslinger was my very first Stephen King book! After years of staying away from the master of horror because of my aversion to horror movies and being scared, I finally relented when my friend sent me the first two books in the series. And then I just gobbled them up from there. Like if you’ve been following me on Goodreads and have seen how many books I’ve read recently and how few actually have reviews on this blog, in my defense I have to say it was The Dark Tower. And if you’re my neighbor who’s wondering why I have been missing our writing dates or my boyfriend who wants to know why I’m not starting on the seriously amazing book idea he gave me, I also have to say, it was The Dark Tower.

I wish that excuse worked as well for me as it does for Roland.

~ Here there be spoilers ~

The Gunslinger

In The Gunslinger (originally published in 1982), King introduces his most enigmatic hero, Roland Deschain of Gilead, the Last Gunslinger. He is a haunting, solitary figure at first, on a mysterious quest through a desolate world that eerily mirrors our own. Pursuing the man in black, an evil being who can bring the dead back to life, Roland is a good man who seems to leave nothing but death in his wake.

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I didn’t particularly love this one, but I was intrigued enough to keep reading. And the book got better towards the end. Loved the confrontation with the man in black and Roland’s relationship with Jake. For the most part the story rattles along at a great clip and ends with you dying to get your hands on the next one. Which I already had, which leads me to…

The Drawing of the Three

While pursuing his quest for the Dark Tower through a world that is a nightmarishly distorted mirror image of our own, Roland is drawn through a mysterious door that brings him into contemporary America.

Here he links forces with the defiant young Eddie Dean, and with the beautiful, brilliant, and brave Odetta Holmes, in a savage struggle against underworld evil and otherworldly enemies.

Once again, Stephen King has masterfully interwoven dark, evocative fantasy and icy realism.

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This book really started to show me why Stephen King is one of our best storyteller’s. Eddie and Odetta were both just insanely complex, crazy characters. A junkie mixed up with the mob and an amputee black woman with schizophrenia. I can’t even imagine how you dream up characters like them, but I’m so glad King managed it.

I also enjoyed Roland’s foray’s into “our time” and how charmingly fish out of water he was and also how resourceful. His whole difficulty with figuring out how to get medicine and bullets was kind of ridiculous, but it was hilarious how he overcame his own shortcomings to succeed.

There’s a twist concerning the third person that is “drawn” that is so, so, so good. This and the zaniness of Odetta and Eddie really hooked me on this series. So I bought the third book…

The Waste Lands

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Several months have passed, and Roland’s two new tet-mates have become proficient gunslingers. Eddie Dean has given up heroin, and Odetta’s two selves have joined, becoming the stronger and more balanced personality of Susannah Dean. But while battling The Pusher in 1977 New York, Roland altered ka by saving the life of Jake Chambers, a boy who—in Roland’s where and when—has already died. Now Roland and Jake exist in different worlds, but they are joined by the same madness: the paradox of double memories. Roland, Susannah, and Eddie must draw Jake into Mid-World then follow the Path of the Beam all the way to the Dark Tower. But nothing is easy in Mid-World. Along the way our tet stumbles into the ruined city of Lud, and are caught between the warring gangs of the Pubes and the Grays. The only way out of Lud is to wake Blaine the Mono, an insane train that has a passion for riddling, and for suicidal journeys.

…which was even better than the second and I loved the second!

Although what happens to Jake in book one is revisited in book two, it was book three that really convinced me that the more random parts of book one were necessary after all. Jake comes back. The man in black comes back. Sex with demons comes back. Ali comes back.

It is also in book three that Roland’s “world” really comes alive. Finally, we start getting clues of how this whole place is set up with the twelve points, the guardians, the tower, and the beam.

King also introduced my favorite character in the series thus far: Oy! Oy is just amazing.

In this book the coincidences between things really start to pile up. And again, King proves how masterful a storyteller he is in that capacity. It’s one thing to write a story. It’s another thing to write that intricate of a story.

I feel sorry for anyone who had to wait between books three and four though. I would have gone out of my damn mind if I couldn’t immediately flip to book four and the resolution of the conflict with Blaine the Mono…

Wizard and Glass

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Roland of Gilead and his fellow pilgrims determine to reach the Dark Tower, but their quest is rife with confrontation, conflict, and sacrifice – from a vast computer system which bargains in riddles to Roland’s old enemy Walter and the wizard’s glass.

…which is continued in the opening pages of this book at a hurtling pace. As fast as Blaine the Mono is traveling. And then the pace comes to a screeching halt. Just like Blaine.

So apparently people are of two thoughts about this fourth book: either that the whole story of Susan is one of the most important elements of the whole story because it shapes Roland and starts his quest for the Dark Tower OR it’s a complete waste of time, super boring, about five hundred pages too long, and really takes away from the continuity of the narrative.

I’m more in the first camp, but I also found the story of Susan super painful to read because you already know there’s no happy ending here, though you don’t know exactly what happens, and then you find out and your heart is absolutely crushed beyond belief.

Seriously, I have hardly been able to tear myself away from the series and I had to give myself a few hours to recover from the horror of it.

But I did, so here we go to book five…

Wolves of the Calla

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Roland Deschain and his ka-tet are bearing southeast through the forests of Mid-World on their quest for the Dark Tower. Their path takes them to the outskirts of Calla Bryn Sturgis. But beyond the tranquil farm town, the ground rises to the hulking darkness of Thunderclap, the source of a terrible affliction that is stealing the town’s soul. The wolves of Thunderclap and their unspeakable depredation are coming. To resist them is to risk all, but these are odds the gunslingers are used to. Their guns, however, will not be enough….

So after the detour back to Roland’s youth, we’re finally back in the main timeline with Susannah, Jake, Oy, and Eddie (yay!)

We get a confirmation on that Susannah pregnancy (ugh) and that it’s a demon baby (double-ugh). The ka-tet gets drawn into the fight at Calla Bryn Sturgis because Pere Callahan has something they need: Black 13, another of those mystical orbs like the pink one that caused so much trouble in the Susan story. Apparently, there are 13 of these things (one for each point on the beam and one for the Dark Tower itself) and they all have strange abilities. Black 13 has the ability to help them open doors into other world’s which is important because they’re trying to save the rose that Jake found in New York.

So, they end up helping the Calla fight the Wolves who steal one from each pair of twins and send back that twin stupid and “Roont”.

Along the way, we hear the story of Pere Callahan, a character from Salem’s Lot who seems poised to join the ka-tet on their journey to the Dark Tower.

But before they can continue to the tower, the ka-tet has to chase after Susannah, who has been abducted by yet another personality from her delicate psyche. A personality that also decided to steal Black 13, because you know, nothing can ever go right in this quest.

The Wolves of the Calla also hearkens back to Book 3, The Wastelands, because it further establishes the coincidences and connections that seem to undercut this entire world. This book is super lengthy (almost 950 pages!) so it’s definitely an event to get through it, but like all the books in The Dark Tower series, worth the read.

In addition to the story of Pere Callahan and his vampires, and more strange robotic creatures like The Bear, we get introduced to the Manni, a group of almost mystical holy figures that I am itching to learn more about. It is they who discovered a door in a cave and it’s through that door the ka-tet will go….

Song of Susannah

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To give birth to her “chap,” demon-mother Mia has usurped the body of Susannah Dean and used the power of Black Thirteen to transport to New York City in the summer of 1999. The city is strange to Susannah…and terrifying to the “daughter of none,” who shares her body and mind.

Saving the Tower depends not only on rescuing Susannah but also on securing the vacant lot Calvin Tower owns before he loses it to the Sombra Corporation. Enlisting the aid of Manni senders, the remaining katet climbs to the Doorway Cave…and discovers that magic has its own mind. It falls to the boy, the billy-bumbler, and the fallen priest to find Susannah-Mia, who, in a struggle to cope with each other and with an alien environment “go todash” to Castle Discordia on the border of End-World. In that forsaken place, Mia reveals her origins, her purpose, and her fierce desire to mother whatever creature the two of them have carried to term.

Eddie and Roland, meanwhile, tumble into western Maine in the summer of 1977, a world that should be idyllic but isn’t. For one thing, it is real, and the bullets are flying.

These are the simple vectors of a story rich in complexity and conflict. Its dual climaxes, one at the entrance to a deadly dining establishment and the other appended to the pages of a writer’s journal, will leave readers gasping for the saga’s final volume (which, Dear Reader, follows soon, say thank ya).

 This was the first book I felt had moments of actual “creepiness”. Nothing so far in this series has been unsettling to me, but the climax of this one was.

This book has a lot of revelations in it (you would think by book 6 of a 7 book series we’d be done with revelations and waiting for the final confrontation, but no). About Mia, about the chap, about the dark tower, about Castle Discordia, about the Crimson King, even about Stephen King himself.

The most insane thing about this book to me was that the author wrote himself in as a character. That’s not breaking the fourth wall, this is something else entirely, breaking the fifth wall maybe? The end notes are an awesome read for Stephen King fans and I can’t help, but shiver that he aligned the birth of the chap with the exact date he gets hit by a car. We also learn the greater significance of the numbers 19, 99, and 1999.

And so we go onwards at last to The Dark Tower…

The Dark Tower

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The seventh and final installment of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower saga is perhaps the most anticipated book in the author’s long career. King began this epic tale about the last gunslinger in the world more than 20 years ago; now he draws its suspenseful story to a close, snapping together the last pieces of his action puzzle and drawing Roland Deschain ever closer to his ultimate goal.

This book me the most time to read out of the whole series. Partly because I had a lot of things going on and partly because I was hesitant to end my journey to the dark tower.

What a series this was. What a series indeed. I’m so, so glad I read this.

I have little to say about this book because it would just be too many spoilers, but this is a heartbreaker for sure. But so worth the read.

That ending is still endlessly debated by Dark Tower fans. I’m still sorting it out for myself and it’s been a week since I finished the series.

 

If I haven’t convinced you to read this series yet, I don’t know what it will take. Oh yes, perhaps that there’s a movie dropping in February 2017. So you better hustle if you want to read it all before you see the movie!

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Acceptance

By Jeff VanderMeer

It is winter in Area X, the mysterious wilderness that has defied explanation for thirty years, rebuffing expedition after expedition, refusing to reveal its secrets. As Area X expands, the agency tasked with investigating and overseeing it–the Southern Reach–has collapsed on itself in confusion. Now one last, desperate team crosses the border, determined to reach a remote island that may hold the answers they’ve been seeking. If they fail, the outer world is in peril.

Meanwhile, Acceptance tunnels ever deeper into the circumstances surrounding the creation of Area X–what initiated this unnatural upheaval? Among the many who have tried, who has gotten close to understanding Area X–and who may have been corrupted by it?

In this last installment of Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, the mysteries of Area X may be solved, but their consequences and implications are no less profound–or terrifying.

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As I mentioned on my other two reviews, I’m so grateful that when I started to read this series all these books were out. I couldn’t have handled it if I had to wait months or years for the rest of the story.

Acceptance brings The Southern Reach trilogy to a close. Some answers are revealed, but in true VanderMeer form, we get more questions that don’t have ready answers.

The form of this book was quite a bit different than Annihilation and Authority. We jump from character to character as well as backwards and forwards in time. We hear from Control, Ghost Bird, the old Director of the Southern Reach, and Saul, the lighthouse keeper. So many different viewpoints means a lot of the questions and clues were either filled in completely or at least partly elucidated upon.

Finally, we begin to see inside the final days of the Coast and the birth of Area X. We learn a bit more about The Southern Reach and its shadowy controllers and employees. Control’s questions about the old Director get some explanation. And Control and Ghost Bird plunge into Area X, one final time.

I think this was my favorite of the three book. More answers, less secrets, but not all the answers. For those of you who remembered me being so scared while reading Annihilation, this book is not any creepier than that was.

Just go read it already. If you’ve come this far in the series, you might as well finish it!

Annihilation

By Jeff VanderMeer

Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; all the members of the second expedition committed suicide; the third expedition died in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another; the members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within months of their return, all had died of aggressive cancer.

This is the twelfth expedition.

Their group is made up of four women: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist, the de facto leader; and our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain and collect specimens; to record all their observations, scientific and otherwise, of their surroundings and of one another; and, above all, to avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.

They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X delivers—they discover a massive topographic anomaly and life forms that surpass understanding—but it’s the surprises that came across the border with them, and the secrets the expedition members are keeping from one another, that change everything.

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Annihilation takes the cake as one of the creepiest books I’ve read recently. I was thoroughly creeped out from the opening pages and nothing had happened yet, just description of landscape. Now that’s good writing!

As intrigued as I was, I wasn’t sure I was going to finish this book. I didn’t think I could handle it. But then, when I wasn’t home alone, I finished the rest of the book in one sitting.

If you’ve seen other reviews for this book, you know it opens a Pandora’s box of questions without bothering to solve much of anything at all. Good thing I got copies of the next two books, Authority and Acceptance, right away. I believe all three books originally came out within a few months of each other. Which was a good move on the publisher’s part. These books need to be binge-read together.

If you’re considering reading Annihilation, do yourself a favor and buy all three books.

The 5th Wave

By Rick Yancey

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After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one.

Now, it’s the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth’s last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie’s only hope for rescuing her brother–or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.

I’m almost a broken record at this point…. Book sat on my shelf forever, never started, then I did, and Holy Crap I Loved It!

You can go home now.

Just kidding. I actually did write a review.

Enter Cassie, last woman on Earth. Or so it would seem. Cassie on an impossible journey to keep an impossible promise. A promise that is the only thing that matters as trust has eroded in the wake of a faceless enemy.

Damn, talk about a dark book. Dark, dark, dark. Nothing like an alien apocalypse to make you feel hopeless.

There are other narrators too, but Cassie was my favorite. I can’t talk much about the others without spoiling anything. But Cassie was awesome. Ass-kicking all the way through, in the tradition of Katniss or Triss.

Action packed from start to finish. There were some wonderful, wonderful lines in this book. Quotes like:

“How do you rid the Earth of humans? Rid the humans of their humanity.”

“Because we will die, but at least we will die unbroken.”

“I thought I knew what loneliness was before he found me, but I had no clue. You don’t know what real loneliness is until you’ve known the opposite.”

“But if I’m it, the last of my kind, the last page of human history, like hell I’m going to let the story end this way. I may be the last one, but I am the one still standing. I am the one turning to face the faceless hunter in the woods on an abandoned highway. I am the one not running but facing. Because if I am the last one, then I am humanity. And if this is humanity’s last war, then I am the battlefield.”

“The minute we decide that one person doesn´t matter anymore, they´ve won.”

“Do you know how to tell who the enemy is, Cassie?”

This book also brought Robert Frost’s poem, Fire and Ice, to my mind:

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

I have the second book, The Infinite Wave, on my shelf, which I may start right away. The 5th Wave movie is due in theaters soon and the third book in the trilogy is coming out this spring.

While I may have waited forever to start this series, it seems like now is a great time to become a fan of The 5th Wave series.

Here is the trailer for The 5th Wave movie:

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

By Neil Gaiman

Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.

Another wonderful Gaiman masterpiece. Beautiful, imaginative, and melancholy….all the notes he so regularly hits with each book.

I read The Graveyard Book a few months back, which was less frightening and a bit more humorous than The Ocean at the End of the Lane, which is also features a child protagonist. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is just all sorts of creepy and scary for me, a big wuss.

Overall this was a quick, engrossing read that I’m glad I wasn’t reading all by myself at night!

Hard to talk about this one without giving away any of the magic, so just go read it!

White Fire

By Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

Special Agent Pendergast arrives at an exclusive Colorado ski resort to rescue his protégée, Corrie Swanson, from serious trouble with the law. His sudden appearance coincides with the first attack of a murderous arsonist who–with brutal precision–begins burning down multimillion-dollar mansions with the families locked inside. After springing Corrie from jail, Pendergast learns she made a discovery while examining the bones of several miners who were killed 150 years earlier by a rogue grizzly bear. Her finding is so astonishing that it, even more than the arsonist, threatens the resort’s very existence.

Drawn deeper into the investigation, Pendergast uncovers a mysterious connection between the dead miners and a fabled, long-lost Sherlock Holmes story–one that might just offer the key to the modern day killings as well.

Now, with the ski resort snowed in and under savage attack–and Corrie’s life suddenly in grave danger–Pendergast must solve the enigma of the past before the town of the present goes up in flames.

After the Helen sub-series, (see my last review of Two Graves) Pendergast gets backs to his roots: a fast and thrilling read from start to finish with all the twists, turns, and daring detective work we’ve grown accustomed to from our favorite, bizarrely weird FBI agent.

I read this on the plane back from Colorado to San Diego, so the Colorado winter was fresh in my mind and my still-cold toes. The novel takes place in a town that bears more than a little resemblance to Aspen, Colorado.

At the center of the mystery is a nefarious real estate agent (also, how apropos) so I was more than a little excited to get lost in this book.

I plowed through the whole thing between the airport and the plane ride, reading as fast as I can go. And I loved every minute of it.

Just when you think maybe Preston & Child are getting lost in the mire of their own amazing creation, they pull off a novel that puts the faith back in you.