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Criminal psychologist Seonkyeong is shocked when she learns that notorious serial killer Yi Byeongdo wants to meet her. He’s always refused to speak to anyone about his crimes, and so out of curiosity she agrees to interview him. Soon, she begins to notice frightening similarities between Yi Byeongdo and her own young stepdaughter, Hayeong, who has recently come to live with Seonkyeong and her husband after her grandparents died in a mysterious fire. The unravelling that follows is a masterwork of creepy psychological suspense.
Dear reader, you know that I can’t deal with demons or evil kids, and now it’s time to reveal the third arm of the trifecta of shit I can’t handle: aliens. I’ve feared them since I was a small child running upstairs to hide under the covers when I heard the Unsolved Mysteries theme music, and I did it during the first half of the movie Arrival, too. Don’t get me started on Honeymoon or Annihilation, or especially this new one, Horse Girl. I CANNOT EVEN. I CANNOT.
Don’t judge me: even Stephen Hawking said it was rational to fear extraterrestrial beings, and I will continue to do so until they suck me up by my chest into the mothership. (Seriously, even E.T. freaked me out, like, I’m gone fling these Reese’s Pieces to create a diversion while I Scooby-Doo run until my legs give out BYEEEEE.)
In case you couldn’t tell from my frantic ramblings about the horrors of aliens, you’re in Book Riot’s weekly horror newsletter, The Fright Stuff. This week’s theme is all about outer space, AKA number three in the trifecta of shit I can’t handle, and I’m Mary Kay McBrayer. I’ll be your Virgil through this realm of hell, the extraterrestrial.
Earworm: “On & On” by Erykah Badu: “You rush into destruction ’cause you don’t have nothin’ left. / The mothership can’t save you so your ass is gone get left. / If we were made in his image, then call us by our names. / Most intellects do not believe in God, / But they fear us just the same.”
Exhalation: Stories by Ted Chiang
So… this is Ted Chiang’s new collection of short stories, and they’re every bit as creepy as the one on which the movie Arrival was based, “The Story of Your Life.” That novella is in the collection Stories of Your Life and Others, and both collections are definitely worth checking out if you can steel yourself against the extraterrestrials.
“Fallow” by Sofia Samatar, in her collection Tender: Stories (f, AOC)
The stories in Tender are all retellings of fairy tales and folk lore, but the one entitled “Fallow” is about a colony in space that was founded by fundamentalist Christians. The rules that they put into place are terrifying, and when our protagonist becomes extremely interested in the man from Earth… it gets twisted.
Broken Places & Outer Spaces by Nnedi Okorafor
This book is an autobiography of one of the most prolific authors of science fiction and horror, Nnedi Okorafor. It talks about how she found refuge in speculative fiction while undergoing an operation to correct scoliosis and then woke up to partial paralysis. It’s a story of how limitations can become outlets to creativity, and it details a formative experience of the writer of Akata Witch, Binti, Who Fears Death, and many other well-beloved science fiction works.
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin
Genly Ai, the ambassador of the planet Terra, gets sent to Gethen, a planet of gender-fluid beings. This novel is the one that earned Ursula LeGuin much of her early fame, and the novel is a first among feminist science fiction in that it examines the roles that gender and sex play on a society.
Amatka by Karin Tidbeck
When Vanja is sent into the colony of Amatka as a government informant, she finds a huge government cover up that puts the entire colony at risk. In this novel, “everyone is suspect, no one is safe, and nothing—not even language, nor the very fabric of reality—can be taken for granted.”
Under the Skin by Michael Faber
You might recognize this book from its film adaptation of the same name, starring Scarlett Johansson. The premise is similar: a woman drives through the Scottish Highlands sizing up and picking up hitchhikers. It’s not long before the audience realizes that she’s an alien, and the men are her prey. The book goes into much gorier detail than the adaptation about what happens to her victims, but it’s certainly not one to be missed.
Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer
You might also recognize the first of his trilogy from its film adaptation of the same name, too, this time starring Natalie Portman. Four women (a biologist, an anthropologist, a psychologist, and a surveyor) are called to explore Area X, a mysterious environment that seems to be growing. Former expeditions have been met with catastrophe, and the people studying it don’t know why. It’s gotta be aliens, right?
Dawn (Xenogenesis) by Octavia Butler
This book is basically what I thought Annihilation was going to be: Lilith Iyapo wakes up in a spaceship full of tentacled aliens who saved her and all the other surviving humans from a ruined Earth. They’ve rehabilitated the planet, and now they’re welcoming humanity back to Earth in exchange for genetically merging with human civilization.
Apollo 14 took seeds into outer space in 1971. Want to know what happened when the Moon Trees sprouted?
Want to win a $50 Barnes and Noble gift card? Sign up for Book Riot’s Daily Deals.
2019 saw the release of Memory: The Origins of Alien, which details how the franchise was created, including all its literary references like Greek mythology, H.P. Lovecraft, a ton of comics, and more.
Wired Magazine says the newest trend in cli-fi is Doomer Lit. Read here to learn more.
The Safdie Brothers (the writers of Uncut Gems) are producing a show about a cursed couple who flip houses.
Check out these blue slime Ghostbusters Twinkies!
Have a drink at this Lovecraft Bar in Portland.
And if you want more women in horror to honor Women in Horror month, look at Erin Al-Mehairi’s article about how women CAN write horror.
And last but not least, the 2019 Bram Stoker Award Finalist list has been posted! A LOT of great contenders!
I hope that you’ve enjoyed this realm of hell, extraterrestrial horrorscapes.
Until next week, you can find me hiding under the covers in fear of abduction (I DO THIS FOR YOU.), or on Twitter @mkmcbrayer and Instagram @marykaymcbrayer. I always love to hear of what news I missed OR what topics you want to read about in the upcoming newsletters, so let me know!
Mary Kay McBrayer
co-host of Book Riot’s literary fiction podcast, Novel Gazing