You’ll hear people saying that we’re in something of a horror renaissance right now, a new golden age of terrifying fiction across page and screen. I think that’s true, but it’s worth noting that the world itself is also pretty horrifying right now. So it’s no surprise that there are any number of contemporary horror novels on shelves that address, both explicitly and less so, a lot of the issues that face modern society. Here are ten of our favorites.
S. L. Grey
If you’ve traveled in the last few years, there’s a good chance you’ve found lodging through Airbnb or a similar home-sharing service, but after The Apartment, you may think twice before putting your trust in strangers. After falling victim to a traumatic crime, Mark and Steph decide it’s time for a break, so they trade their Cape Town home for a flat in Paris on a popular home-swapping site. But their Parisian pied-à-terre turns out to be un-lived-in–and not for the living.
Unless you were a member of the armed forces or a loved one of someone who was, the American invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 didn’t fundamentally alter the fabric of daily American life–but the same can’t be said for those countries who suffered invasion and occupation, even today. Set in U.S.-occupied Baghdad, Frankenstein in Baghdad follows Hadi, an eccentric local character who collects body parts from bombings and stitches them together, intending his creation as an expression of rage and frustration at what’s been done to his city and country. But the corpse disappears, and a series of grotesque murders follow in its wake, and Hadi realizes his creation has quite literally taken on a life of its own.
Horror fiction has taken on a life of its own in the internet era, and nowhere more so than in creepypasta. Slender Man, the best-known creepypasta character and something of a collective internet nightmare, gained real-life notoriety when a young girl stabbed a classmate in order to please him. Now, in this original novel, we finally have a full-length Slender Man story to read on sleepless nights.
It’s possible you’re sick of seeing stories about how millennials have killed various consumer goods and behaviors–and trust me, as a millennial, I’m plenty sick of them myself. But here’s one more: millennials killed the satirical apocalypse novel, and that’s because, with Severance, Ling Ma has written the best one. Candace, a young office worker in New York sleepwalking her way through early adulthood, finds herself one of the few survivors of a plague that renders most people mindless, non-violent zombies, doomed to perform simple tasks over and over until they expire. It’s a darkly funny, existentially scary book about what it means to find meaning after the apocalypse when you’re not sure you’d ever had it before the apocalypse.
Brian Coldrick; Introduction by Joe Hill
Brian Coldrick’s webcomic Behind You is horror distilled down to its essence: a single image, a couple words of text, and the lingering certainty that something is watching you from just outside the radius of the bedside lamp. And in the age of internet-shortened attention spans, a single image can be just what you need. This collection of comics is perfect for dipping into when you just need a shot of horror or a jolt to the senses.
The water wars are coming. Access to clean water is the sine qua non of human civilization, Day Zero is on the horizon in scattered locales all around the world, and it’s only going to get worse. So what happens next? In The Water Knife, Paolo Bacigalupi imagines a near future where climate change has triggered devastating droughts, horrifying in its plausibility. Fresh water is controlled by dueling business interests, with all the corporate intrigue and sabotage you might expect. When news of a new water source arises, forces mobilize to take control–with deadly consequences.
The opioid crisis gets most of the news coverage, but meth addiction is on the rise again in America. Peter Stenson’s novel imagines a vision of the zombie apocalypse where a group of addicts discover that their meth dependency is the only thing keeping them from succumbing to the virus that’s turned the rest of society into shambling, ravenous monsters. But how do you survive when the thing that’s keeping you alive will eventually kill you?
The way most of us relate to our own bodies is the stuff of horror without any fictional embellishment–unrealistic beauty standards, endless diet culture, dysmorphia, and more–so a collection of short stories about body image? A no-brainer. These five stories, each named after a different body part, explore vanity, fear, expectations, and health in ways that are as surprising and suspenseful as they are horrifying.
The owner of a buzzy culture website invites four legendary horror authors to spend Halloween night in a haunted house with a particularly grisly history. None of the four are particularly excited by the idea, but all of them could use the publicity boost, so off they go. But the house, and whatever entity resides there, has an agenda of its own, since notoriety is its lifeblood–and where does notoriety thrive more than online?
Apollo Kagawa is a very proud new father, and like so many parents, he loves to post pictures of his baby on Facebook. But before long, Apollo and his wife Emma discover that someone or something else is watching their digital presence, and that someone or something is taking an unhealthy, otherworldly interest in their son. This is a cautionary fairy tale for the digital oversharing era, and you’ll think twice before posting any photos after you read it.