For some, sleep is a peaceful proposition. For others, like me, lights out has always been more of a punishment. The latter is the intended audience of Evil Hat Productions’ Don’t Read This Book, a collection of 13 waking nightmares for the hard of sleeping.
These stories are set in the world of the Don’t Rest Your Head RPG, which I haven’t played, but seems perfectly designed for someone like me. My loose understanding of the game, based on reading this book (despite the admonition of its title) and researching a little about the RPG, is that it takes place in a dystopian dreamland (Mad City) populated with clockwork cops, shadow stalkers and any other gritty creature your mind can conjure up. You are among the Awake—insomniacs who have stayed up far too long and find themselves within the freak show of Mad City.
The Awake are in quite the pickle. Fall asleep and you die. But stay awake for too long and you’ll go mad and permanently inhabit the nightmare.
This is genius. Having been lifelong frenemies with the Sandman, I recognize this world, and it is more terrifying than most fictional places. Probably because I know what it feels like to go to work on your fourth day awake. I know the psychedelic side effects of clocking out from your graveyard shift and then clocking in at your day job a few minutes later. Things move in ways they shouldn’t, you lag a few seconds behind in every conversation and, worst of all, a mechanical noise fills your ears—not a buzz or a ring, but a machine-like pulsing that clouds thought and creates the sensation that someone is constantly following you.
Hallucinate from staying awake? Been there. That’s why the nightmares within Don’t Read This Book, edited by Chuck Wendig, are familiar territory for me.
And thoroughly enjoyable.
Standouts include Stephen Blackmore’s “Don’t Lose Your Patients,” Mur Lafferty’s “Don’t Bleach Your Memories” and Harry Connolly’s “Don’t Chew Your Food,” but this is a solid anthology front to back.
Gamers, steampunks, urban fantasists and horror fiends will find something to love in here. But those who may enjoy it most are us insomniacs.
Those of us who know that the torture of falling to sleep is worse than any nightmare that may be lurking on the other side.