By Al Sarrantonio (Leisure; 2006)
The third book in Al Sarrantonio’s Halloween themed Orangefield saga, preceded by HALLOWEENLAND and HALLOW’S EVE. Unlike the others, HORRORWEEN is composed of three standalone stories, all previously published in slightly different versions. Thus it never satisfies as a “novel,” nor as an anthology. At least HORRORWEEN has Sarrantonio’s usual fluid and energetic prose, but with such disjointed material I’d say that’s scant compensation.
First up is “Hornets,” about a children’s book writer dealing with a hornet infestation that only seems to intensify after his wife goes missing. It’s no big trick figuring out the “twist” here, although the ending contains an unforgettably gruesome description of the type Sarrantonio does especially well.
It’s in “Hornets” that we first learn of “Sam,” a personification of the Celtic deity Samhain (never mind that the word is actually pronounced Sah-win). Sam carries over into the book’s second portion “The Pumpkin Boy,” about a robot boy with a pumpkin head loose in Orangefield. As with “Hornets” there’s an inexplicable disappearance, although the explanation here, unlike that of the previous tale, is a genuine surprise.
The third and lengthiest part of the book is ORANGEFIELD, which is unfortunately also HORRORWEEN’S weakest portion. Here Sam psychically interacts with various residents of Orangefield: Aaron, a freaked-out war veteran turned pumpkin tender, the naïve young Annabeth and the teenage punk Jordie. Sam is using these three to consolidate his power and take over the world, and plans to do this, appropriately enough, on Halloween–although precisely how this is supposed to occur is left vague.
That’s certainly not the only problem with ORANGEFIELD, which is quite dull, and only grows increasingly slow and disjointed as it goes along. It’s been said that Sarrantonio is more skilled drafting short stories than he is with the novel–or in this case novella–format, of which ORANGEFIELD, and HORRORWEEN overall, provide more-than-ample evidence.