Dunesteef Does “Scare Tactics”

The audio fiction magazine Dunesteef has published an audio production of my horror story “Scare Tactics.” They really nailed the voices, and I’m very pleased with how it turned out. It’s free to listen, so click the link and check it out.

Episode 194: Scare Tactics by Aeryn Rudel

Lindsey is a paranormal investigator, but she has an advantage on most, because she has the demon Adramelech captured in a Raggedy Ann doll, and it does her bidding, which makes casting out the demon really simple. Today, however, things are different. The house they’ve come to investigate has an actual presence that’s already there, and it has bad intentions.

Alien: Covenant – A Review

Let me start this review by stating that Alien is perhaps my favorite film of all time, and Ridley Scott is my favorite director, so there was a decent chance I would come out my viewing of Alien: Covenant happy with what I’d seen. As a horror writer, I’ve drawn a lot of inspiration from Alien, and I hoped Alien: Covenant would be similarly inspiring.

With that out of the way, here’s the spoiler free part of this review. In my opinion, Alien: Covenant is a good film, not a great film, but a solidly entertaining one that doesn’t shame (much) the truly great movies in the franchise. It has some issues, which I’ll get into in more detail below, but as sci-fi horror goes you’d be hard-pressed to find a better film in the last ten years (one of you will almost certainly remind me of a better one I’ve forgotten). If I had to give it a letter grade, I’d give it a solid B. On a star scale, 3.5 stars out of 5.

Okay, now on to the review proper. I’m going to assume that everyone knows the plot of the film by this point. I mean, there were only like, what? Thirty separate previews of this movie? If you do need a summation of the film’s plot, just head on over to Wikipedia, where you’ll find a good one.

Oh, lots and lots of spoilers ahead. Obviously.

Things I Liked:

  1. Visually stunning. Ridley Scott has a knack for making films that are beautiful to look at, and Alien: Covenant does not disappoint in this department. From the sweeping natural vistas of the Engineers’ planet to the gloom-shrouded necropolis where David exterminated them, there is a haunting majesty to the whole thing.
  2. Music. I’m pretty sure a lot of the music is lifted straight from Alien, and at first I thought that might bother me, but, in the end, it’s just a good score, and I didn’t mind hearing it again. Certainly, there are new pieces, but the old music invoked a pleasant sense of nostalgia and was as effective at conveying urgency and terror as it was in Alien.
  3. David: The android David is an effective villain, and he’s played to perfection by Michael Fassbender. He’s a cross between HAL 9000 and Hannibal Lecter, and his ghoulish laboratory in the dead Engineer city is one of the most horrifying part of the film. One of the best things about Covenant, is that it looks like David is going to be a prominent villain going into the next movie(s). I’m all for that.
  4. The Neomorph. Good god, these things were gnarly. These proto-aliens, which are sort of precursor to the Xenomorph we all know and love, are created when spores from fungus-like pods in the corrupted biosphere of the Engineers’ planet enter a human host. They gestate quickly and burst out of their host pretty much anywhere that’s convenient. In the film we see one tear it’s way out out of a man’s back and another come out of a victim’s mouth. The birthing sequence is far worse than the traditional chest-burster, as the neomorph is born in a pink amniotic sack that looks a lot like a massive length of intestine. It’s gross in the best possible way. The adult Neomorph is even better, with its sickly white skin, weird clicking and chirping noises, and a bulbous head that seems to lack a mouth until the thing decides to literally chew someone’s head off. The Neomorphs are scary in the way the original Xenomorph was. They’re weird, completely alien, and just kind of awful to look at (in a good way).
  5. Some of the crew: Certain members of the crew were great. For starters, Danny McBride’s Tennessee was a very pleasant surprise. McBride showed a range with his acting that, frankly, I didn’t think he possessed. I would very much like to see him do more dramatic roles. Katherine Waterson’s Daniels is also very good. At first blush, you might think she’s simply a Ripley clone, but she isn’t. There’s a depth to her character that Ripley lacked in Alien (though she gained it in Aliens). Her motivation is different from Ripley’s as well, and it goes beyond simple survival. Finally, Michael Fassbender in his dual role as the android Walter and David, the older version of the same android, is probably the best performance in the film. Fassbender’s ability to play them in a way that makes them feel like completely different individuals, down to their unique accents and physical affectations, is superb.
  6. Disturbing. I wouldn’t say Alien: Covenant captures the horror of the original Alien, but it is definitely disturbing in a way that’ll make you squirm in your seat. A lot of this hinges on David’s ghoulish experimentation on the fauna of the engineer’s planet and, horrifically, Dr. Elizabeth Shaw. His laboratory in the dead engineer city, festooned with his ghoulish anatomical drawings of his many experiments with the black goo, is downright nightmarish. As far as monsters, the Neomorphs were the stars of the film, and they definitely upped the creepy factor in a major way.
  7. Brutal: The gore in this one is pretty intense, but it’s not cheesy or over-the-top in my opinion. It’s used primarily to demonstrate just how fucking crazy dangerous the Neomorphs and Xenomorphs are. In past films, a lot of the Xenomorph kills happen off-screen, but here you get to see what one motivated parasitic monstrosity can do to a human body, and it ain’t pretty . . . but it is kind of cool.

Things I Didn’t Like:

  1. The Xenomorph. Yep, I’m sad to say that the classic Xenomorph is old news, and when it finally shows up in this film, I was pretty underwhelmed. The CGI is superb, as I’ve said, but I had a real problem seeing the old Xeno walking around in broad daylight. It worked so well in Alien because you didn’t see it. It was the shadowy monster in the dark that you glimpsed but never saw completely. Despite the excellent CGI that allowed the Xeno to move in ways that were strange and unnatural (like going from bipedal to quadrupedal smoothly), not to mention doing justice to its bizarre anatomy, it, honestly, wasn’t scary. The Neomorphs, which are frighteningly original, simply outclassed the Xeno in this one. That’s not a good thing for a movie with “Alien” in the title.
  2. Sped-up Xenomorph lifecycle. Yep, they went ahead and monkeyed with the classic Xeno’s lifecycle, speeding it up and removing the worm-like embryo stage. Now it takes, like thirty seconds for the little monster to gestate and it emerges fully-formed but in miniature.  Oh, and the Xeno grows to full-size in something like five minutes. Come on, Ridley, this is the kind of shit I expect from Alien vs. Predator not from you, the guy who directed the original Alien.
  3. The rest of the crew. All the actors did a fine job in the limited time they were on screen, but most of them had little purpose other than to be ripped to shreds by alien nasties. It was especially disappointing with Billy Crudup’s Oram and Demián Bichir’s Lope, both of which showed us tantalizing hints at interesting characters but whose talents were largely wasted. Oh, and if there was a reason James Franco is in this film for the ten seconds we seem burn alive in his hypersleep pod, it’s completely lost on me.
  4. Stupid, stupid decisions. Like in Prometheus, the “professional” folks (and, yes, all of them are pros in one field or another) in this film made some really head-scratchingly dumb decisions. Some of this is because the entire flight crew was composed of married couples, so a lot of the bad decisions were based on a character’s emotional attachments to his or her spouse. It’s exactly why no one in their right mind would ever compose a crew like that. You know bad decisions are going because people will not be able to think clearly and pragmatically when their loved ones are about to be torn apart by aliens. Also, some characters seem to be making bad decisions just to further the plot. For example, when David leads Captain Oram into the Xenomoprh egg chamber, Oram, who is armed at the time, by the way, blithely stares into the churning pink innards of an open egg for what seems like minutes at David’s urging. This is especially irritating because at this point in the movie Oram has figured out that David is one unhinged motherfucker, yet he still follows David’s instructions, which are basically, “Hey, stare at this egg for a long time and hold still.”
  5. Dr. Elizabeth Shaw. Man, did she get the shit-end of the stick. When it’s revealed that David has killed Shaw, and we see her mangled corpse, on which David has performed some kind of unspeakable vivisection/experiment, it’s initially awful and disturbing. But, I felt like I did when I first saw Alien 3 and learned Hicks and Newt had been killed off-screen. I would have very much liked to have seen Shaw, surviving, Newt-like, after David destroys the Engineers. Then, she could have met up with the crew of the Covenant and relayed what had happened to the Engineers, which would have been a much more realistic way to get that information than the series of strange flashbacks that are supposed to be David’s memories. Sure, you can still kill her off at the end of the film if you must, but I think her presence would have strengthened the film.
  6. A little too much like Alien. The set-up is practically a carbon copy of Alien. Crew awakes from hypersleep, gets a mysterious transmission from an alien planet, go to investigate, discover derelict ship and horrible aliens, etcetera, etcetera. I know the filmmakers were trying to give folks what they want (another Alien), I just wished they could have been a little more original with how it all came together.
  7. Kind of unnecessary. I’ve stated this elsewhere, but the basic premise of Alien: Covenant (and Prometheus to a lesser extent) rankles me a bit, and after seeing it, I feel even more strongly that it’s a film no one really needs. Basically, I DO NOT CARE WHERE THE ALIENS COME FROM. In fact, this film, as good as it is, hurts the legacy of the first two films in the franchise in my opinion. What made Alien so effective was the unsettling unknowable, the dread mystery of the derelict spaceship and the horrific monsters in its hold. The more you pull back the curtain on something like that, the less effective it is. Like I said before, the Xenomorph in Covenant is, honestly, a little boring. I know too much about it now to really be scared of it. I’m all for more Alien films, but I would have preferred Ridley make sequels that furthered the stories of his characters rather than, well, potentially ruining the legacy of what may be his greatest film.

So, in summation, Alien: Covenant is a good movie with some effectively disturbing scenes and one terrifyingly original monster that, unfortunately, we’ll probably never see again. In the pantheon of Alien films it ranks third for me, after Alien and Aliens. Admittedly, some of my critiques of the film are based on what I want out of an Alien movie, and I know there are folks who absolutely want to know more about the Engineers and the origins of one of Hollywood’s most famous beasties. So, as with any review, this is one man’s opinion and should all be taken with a grain of salt.

What’s your take on Alien: Covenant? Tell me about it in the comments.

Excerpt: “Caroline” from Red Sun Magazine #3

My story “Caroline” was just published in Red Sun Magazine #3, and it’s the cover story. The you can check out that cover below by the incredibly talented Mitchell Malloy. The piece perfectly captures a scene from “Caroline,” not to mention the overall tone of the story. Also in this issue, Red Sun horror editor Phillip Englund interviews me in a vain attempt to discover what exactly is wrong with my brain that makes me write such bleak and horrific tales. 🙂

The good folks at Red Sun have also given me permission to publish the first 500 words of “Caroline” right here on my blog to whet your appetite for the rest of the story, not to mention the other great stories that are offered up in issue #3.

An Excerpt from “Caroline” from Red Sun Magazine #3

“Can I go to the basement to see Daddy?” Caroline said.

Barbara set the shotgun on the kitchen counter, made sure the safety was on, and knelt down to her daughter. “No, honey. Daddy isn’t ready for visitors yet.”

“When he finishes his lessons?” Caroline asked, hopeful. She and David had been very close, and Barbara knew she felt the loss more deeply than her twelve-year-old brother. Mark wanted nothing to do with his father.

“Maybe, but that might be a long time from now.” She pulled her daughter close, and Caroline melted into the embrace. After a few moments, Barbara gently pushed Caroline away. It took real effort to let her go. “Now go outside with your brother and Uncle Robert. I’ll call for you when I come back upstairs.” It was just too dangerous to have the kids in the house during rehab.

“I could help you with the lessons,” Caroline said. “I could help Daddy too.”

Barbara smiled. “I know you could, but remember what the people from the Rehabilitation Agency said. Just one of us right now, until he gets a little better.” Caroline was so smart, and she was fascinated by the rehab process, questioning Barbara on every detail. Barbara didn’t tell her daughter much–most of it wasn’t fit for an eight-year-old to hear, and the rest . . . She wouldn’t dash Caroline’s hopes like that.

“Please, Mom. I miss him so much.” Tears stood in her pale green eyes. Green like her father’s used to be.

“Go on, honey. Now,” Barbara said. It was a knife in her heart to see Caroline like this.

Caroline shuffled to the sliding glass door, opened it, and stepped out into the backyard. Her brother and her uncle were waiting for her. Robert looked a lot like David; he was three years younger, though his hair had started to gray at the temples. Stress, probably. She watched him scoop up Caroline, saw her come alive in his arms, smiling and laughing as he spun her around. Mark walked up behind them. He was smiling, too. They all looked happy. Despite the terrible thing that had happened, her family looked happy.

She watched Robert and her children for a few moments, trying to soak in as much of their joy as possible. Robert didn’t like staying outside while she was downstairs. He wanted to be with her if things got bad, but she wouldn’t allow it. She needed him to stay with Mark and Caroline. She didn’t want to worry about them while she worked with David. There was another reason, too, one she couldn’t tell him. Robert had become the bedrock upon which they were rebuilding their lives. She couldn’t risk him getting hurt, or worse. She remained devoted to her husband, but if David couldn’t come all the way back . . . She pushed the thought from her mind, guilty for even considering it. It was too soon to be thinking like that.


If you like what you’ve read, head on over to the Red Sun Magazine website and purchase issue #3 for the rest of the story, plus a whole bunch of other goodies.

Flash Doom & The Molotov 10

Let me start this post by announcing my first acceptance and publication in 2017. My story “An Incident on Dover Street” received an honorable mention (7th) in The Molotov Cocktail’s Flash Doom contest. You can read it right now along with a nine other great stories in the Flash Doom mega-issue.

This publication also marks a fairly momentous occasion, as it is my tenth (10) publication with The Molotov Cocktail. Most of those publications have come in their various flash fiction contests. The themes for these contests always seem to be right up my alley, and, hey, they apparently dig my style enough to publish me in double digits. To celebrate this double-digit day, I thought I’d share all ten stories I’ve published with The Molotov Cocktail. You can read them all, for free, just by clicking one of the links below. So, in order of publication, here’s my Molotov 10.

  1. At the Seams” – A little story about falling apart, literally.
  2. “Shadow Can”A tale of a shadow gone rogue.
  3. “Night Walk”This one puts a non-zombie horror spin on the post-apocalyptic story.
  4. “Side Effects” – A piece about drugs and spiders, mostly spiders.
  5. “Beyond the Block” A head without a body, a body without a head–will they ever find one another?
  6. “A Man of Many Hats”A weird one about, uh, hats.
  7. “The Sitting Room” –  An art connoisseur with very specific tastes.
  8. “The Father of Terror” Dead cats and Egyptian god-demons for the win.
  9. “Masks”Children’s Halloween masks and ancient demons. A winning combo!
  10. “An Incident on Dover Street” – A story about dinosaurs. With feathers! (Screw you, Jurassic World.)

Got an opinion about any of the pieces above? Tell me about it in the comments section below.

Real-Time Rejection II: The 4th Rejection of “Story X1”

Nearly half-way there! The fourth rejection for “Story X1” has arrived. If you’d like to see the last three rejections, go here.

Okay, here’s what number four looks like:

Thank you for your interest in our magazine. Unfortunately, after reviewing your submission, we have decided that it is not for us at this point in time. As much as we hate to reject any work of fiction, please remember that it is not a value judgment based on your lovely skills and talent; it really is us, not you. We hope to see you on our submissions list in the future!

Again, thank you for your interest in our magazine.

This is a new market, and this is my first submission to them, so I can’t quite tell if this is a standard form rejection or a higher-tier form rejection. My gut says standard despite the mention of future submissions. It’s a nice form rejection, and it reminds authors of a very important fact: rejections are not personal and are often not a reflection on your ability as a writer. Not much else to say about this one since there’s no real feedback.

Pickings are a slim right now for horror markets, and a lot of my go-to publishers are closed to submissions until next year. I know I said that after the last rejection, but I managed to find this new market shortly afterwards. I really mean it this time (unless I find another new market). Anyway, it may be a bit of a wait for the next update.

Hey, tell me about your latest rejection in the comments.

An Interview with Strix Publishing – The Book of Three Gates

Strix Publishing is at it again with another Kickstarter for fans of horror and H. P. Lovecraft in particular. This time it’s a collection of stories and essays called The Book of Three Gates. I recently spoke with Strix founder Simon Berman and the very talented artist Valerie Herron about their latest project. Check it out and see why you need to run right over to Kickstarter and support this bad boy.

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AR: So Strix Publishing has launched another Kickstarter campaign with another very intriguing product called The Book of Three Gates. Tell us about it. 

SB: I’m pretty excited about this one. It’s a companion volume to The Book of Starry Wisdom, the first book I published via Kickstarter. I’ve chosen three of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories as the centerpiece for the collection, and the brilliant Valerie Herron has returned to illustrate them. “The Dunwich Horror,” “The Dreams in the Witch House,” and “The Haunter of the Dark” were chosen for their common themes of alien horrors transgressing the thin walls between our world and others. “The Dunwich Horror” is one of my personal favorite Lovecraft stories, and this book also gave me the opportunity to bring in a good friend and talented cartographer to produce a map of the Township of Dunwich as the book’s endpapers. The book concludes with a selection of essays by some notable authors, all of whom were given the chance to write pieces that blur the lines between fact and fiction.

three-gates

AR: Again, you’ve assembled a fantastic group of writers to contribute to The Book of Three Gates. Tell us about some of the contributors. Any returning from The Book of Starry Wisdom?

SB: Absolutely! I’m pleased that a number of authors have returned, including Adam Scott Glancy of Delta Green fame, noted poet and weird fiction aficionado Bryan Thao Worra, Orrin Grey of Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings renown, C.A. Suleiman, known for his work on Mummy: The Curse, and artist and occultist, A.S. Koi. I’m particularly excited about that last one. Koi has promised me an instruction manual for how to bend time. The new authors I’ve chosen for this volume are all very accomplished writers as well. Evan J. Peterson, is a 2015 Clarion West writer, who is writing an extremely interesting academic essay on the queer history of Miskatonic University’s Apollonian Dionysian fraternity, and Don Webb, a noted occultist, is producing a piece on the history, theory, and practices of the Order of the Trapezoid of the Temple of Set.

AR: You’re also working with talented artist Valerie Herron again, so I’ll direct this question to her. How will your contributions to The Book of Three Gates differ from those in The Book of Starry Wisdom? 

VH: The obvious difference will be the subject matter. While Starry Wisdom focused on the Cthulhu mythos, the subject matter in Three Gates gets into witchier and inter-planar territory. The illustrations will be less character-driven and more atmospheric, so expect more use of unsettling scenery and evocative visual texture. I will be preserving more of the traditional elements in the work to try and capture this ambience. Don’t worry, there will still be monsters!

valerie-art

AR: Another one for Valerie. You obviously have quite an appreciation for Lovecraft’s work. What about the mythos gets you drawing, painting, and creating?    

VH: This work is largely my way of processing my own sense of cosmic horror. It’s a reaction to these titanic forces that govern our lives with no regard for our existence and how insignificant I feel at their mercy. I make this art because it’s much more effective than remaining frozen in panic or hopelessness while all of these slow-motion disasters in the world play out around me. This is the way I feel like I relate to Lovecraft as a creator. The crushing weight of a materialist’s reality left him catatonic as a young adult, but he was able to channel that particular anguish into timeless allegory. I am honored to give visual form to these unbridled forces.

AR: Simon, you’ve become quite the old hand at this Kickstarter thing, and you’ve funded your first four campaigns. What is the secret to your success? 

SB: Being willing to go without sleep. Honestly, it comes down to having an idea for something that people want and then making sure you get it in front of them, treating your backers like the generous supporters they are, and being as transparent as possible about everything you’re doing. A high tolerance for sleep deprivation does help, though.

AR: Since The Book of Three Gates is a companion volume to The Book of Starry Wisdom, can we expect a third volume in the series?

I don’t want to say too much just yet, but if all continues to go well with Three Gates, there are two possible collections on the docket for a third volume. One goes beyond the wall of sleep, the other beyond the veil of death.


Simon Berman worked as a Social Marketing Manager and staff writer for Privateer Press from 2008-2016. He worked in both capacities for the award-winning miniatures war games, WARMACHINE and HORDES, and the Iron Kingdoms Full Metal Fantasy Roleplaying Game, winner of 4 ENnies awards. He also works on the ENnies nominated roleplaying game, Unhallowed Metropolis. He has also worked as a social media manager on Kickstarter projects for WARMACHINE: Tactics, Widower’s Wood, The Book of Starry Wisdom, the Problem Glyphs art book, APOCRYPHA: The Art of Jason Soles, and Orrin Grey’s Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings.

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With an enduring love for the unusual, Valerie Herron began expressing her interests through writing and illustration in childhood. Fantasy illustration, mythology, the occult, and the natural universe remain her greatest inspirations. Valerie’s work has evolved in time to be conceptually layered and mysterious. She collages together a powerful visual-vocabulary that is mystical and socially relevant. Valerie creates allegorical narratives that are poignant and beautiful, ugly and elegant.

Fascinated by contours, Valerie considers her primary medium to be line. She finds the synthesis of traditional wet media and digital media best communicates her visual style.

Valerie received her BFA in Illustration at Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, OR. She currently lives in Seattle, works for Privateer Press, and is also a freelance illustrator. Outside of her creative practice she spends her time listening to music and podcasts, being out in nature, writing, reading, and venturing a myriad of sorcerous activities.

Listen to “Night Games” on Pseudopod

My vampire/baseball story “Night Games” was published on Pseudopod today. If you’re unfamiliar with Pseudopod, they’re a top-notch horror podcast that features short stories in audio format. Their readers are fantastic, and my reader, Rish Outfield, did a hell of a job bringing my story to life. Anyway, click the link below to listen to “Night Games” and let me “stake” you out to the ballgame. (Hah! I’m a bad person.)

Click Here >>>>> “Night Games”