Read-Only: A Review
I’ve always liked the idea that horror is an early adopter. It’s easy to believe Mary Shelley created her masterpiece ‘Frankenstein’ to deal with any issues she might have had with the progress of the darker side of science at the time and ‘The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Hyde’ has always felt to me like it’s trying to process the theories of psychology and human nature. It’s a trait horror has never lost and it’s carried on into the movies. ‘The Ring’ changed the poisoned artefact from some dust covered relic to a VHS tape. ‘The Blair Witch Project’ pretty much gave birth to a new genre when it armed its doomed protagonists with their own camera and sound equipment, whilst modern offerings like ‘Unfriended’ have begun to speculate on the supernatural perils of social media. I guess it all has something to do with our unspoken angst when it comes to the relentless march of technology. Well, there’s a new piece of evidence that’s been brought to the table by WatchMojo Publishing and it is pretty damn convincing, never mind absolutely terrifying.
Last year I was lucky enough to share a little page space with some truly talented writers in the Shadows at the Door Anthology. Now two of them, Caitlin Marceau and M. Regan, have written their own collection of stories that deals with the perils and terrors that are lurking in the shadows of our digital age. ‘Read-Only:A Collection of Digital Horror’ features 14 stories that each turn a piece of technology we take for granted it into the linchpin for some brilliant, old school scares.
The juxtaposition of, say, a selfie filter or a new AR app set against a slowly growing sense of classical horror laced doom works brilliantly. No longer can we dip into a ghost story and find ourselves comfortably removed from the chance of damnation because it’s pretty unlikely we’ll ever go out digging up crowns or finding strange books that can awaken the wrath of some ancient, slumbering myth. Nope, thanks to Marceau and Regan, now the horror is waiting for us in our phones, our laptops, in the terms and conditions we just ticked or the alarm clock setting on our phones. It’s a great theme and a great spin on the modern horror story and they execute it with true style and intelligence.
I’ve always felt Caitlin Marceau captures reality quite like no one else. Her characters have real heart and their motivations and problems lend genuine depth to whatever world she’s showing us. It also means that she can subtly twist the everyday into the nightmarish as she unleashes whatever horror she has waiting in the wings for us and always catch us unaware. Trust me, when you read ‘Meat Cute’ in this collection and see what she does with dating apps, you’re going to wonder exactly where she finds all this darkness. M. Regan, on the other hand, seems to channel her stories, conjuring them with a brilliant, poetic use of language. There’s a flow to her writing that gives it the edge of a stream of consciousness. It creates an immediacy that suits her flavour of horror perfectly. It allows her to weave the dread around you as you keep on turning the pages.
Across these fourteen tales, the work of these two writers balances out brilliantly. Between them, they create a rhythm that can constantly catch you off guard as they take you through chat rooms and business meetings. Radio call in shows, quiet little chats in people’s back gardens and the thriving party life of the big city. Not forgetting a trip to Japan and a strange turn of events in a room with two struggling writers. Now, for obvious reasons, I don’t want to give too much away about the contents of every story. Regan kicks off proceedings for us with the unsettling ‘Kinda Stuck’. This captured piece of online conversation between a group of friends just keeps adding the tension until, by its conclusion, you’re left on edge, unsure of what happened, but ready for all manner of different horrors. At the other end of the collection is Marceau’s unnerving take on the dangers of ignoring chain emails.
None of the stories here are too long, so they never run the risk of overstaying their welcome. Also, because these are two fantastically talented writers at the top of their game, none of the stories ever really let you in on what they’re planning until they’ve got you truly hooked. It’s a great collection, easy to read and with plenty of stories you’re going to want to go back and experience again and again. For me, the stand outs are ‘Track 001’, which deals with a music sample that has a troubling effect on its listeners and ‘Honey’, which had me on edge from the moment I started reading it until I reached its deeply twisted conclusion.
The changes in tone and style works really nicely. As do the illustrations for each story, provided by Thu Khuu and Jessica Leng. Each artist has their own style but, much like the writers, they neatly compliment each other and also the stories their work is framing. The single image they have chosen to offer you for each tale is a great little creepy tease before you set foot into the nightmare waiting beneath.
If you’re a fan of The Twilight Zone, Black Mirror, Tales of the Unexpected or the classic short ghost story, you’re going to find something to love here. With the technological overtones, there is no doubting fans of Black Mirror in particular are going to be drawn to a horror collection that deals so intelligently with the topic of technology turning on its owners. However, there is no escaping the vein of pure, thoroughbred ghost story that runs through every narrative the collection has to offer.
I can’t wait to see what these two writers come up with next.
(If all goes to plan, and if I can face using my laptop without running for the hills and screaming that it’s trying to steal my soul now, I’ll be interviewing Caitlin Marceau and M. Regan next week about this fantastic collection. So why not grab yourself a copy and do some research ready for when I question the minds that brought us this chilling look at what might be lurking on the other side of our screens. You can pick a copy up through www.watchmojo.com or Amazon, I've attached some links below.)