Guest Reviews

{Guest Review by Glen Donaldson } The Russian Sleep Experiment by Holly Ice

by Holly Ice
Published by Almond Press on August 16, 2015
Genres: Horror
Pages: 130
Format: eBook
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Four political prisoners living in a 1940s Siberian POW camp volunteer to be Subjects in a Soviet Military experiment. They are promised freedom in exchange for completing the exercise. In return they must endure 30 days without sleep, fuelled by Gas 76-IA.

The longer the experimentees endure insomnia, the more they deteriorate. Words and pleasantries break down until they turn on each other. Researchers look on, neutral, and take notes for the super soldier applications possible with this new, wonder drug. One researcher, Luka, stands alone in believing the experiment needs to be stopped before irreversible damage is done but is he too late?

The Subjects no longer want the Gas switched off...

Illustrations by award-winning graphic artist Daniel Tyka.

***The content of this review/article does not reflect the official opinion of Horror After Dark or its Team Members. Responsibility for the information and views expressed in this review/article [therein] lies entirely with the author(s) who submitted the work. ~ HAD

In October 2002, Islamist extremists took 850 people hostage in a Moscow theatre demanding the withdrawal of Russian forces from Chechnya. Authorities came up with a seemingly ingenious plan to flush out the militants without harming hostages. A chemical gas (thought to be weaponised fentanyl) was delivered through the buildings ventilation system. Acting effectively as an aerosol anaesthetic, the bold plan worked to the extent that all forty of the attackers were killed. The unintended effect however was that 130 hostages also died due to adverse reactions to the gas.

This dramatic event really happened. The situations described in Holly Ice’s THE RUSSIAN SLEEP EXPERIMENT are by contrast fictional, yet to the same extent detail what can happen when a gas experiment involving ‘an undisclosed chemical agent’ goes disastrously off the rails.

This 122 page novella is an attempt to add extended characterisation to a fictional story that has been circulating on internet sites (including for many years which itself sprung from a series of real life sleep deprivation experiments conducted in late 1940’s Soviet Union Russia.

The story’s opening sees political prisoners in a Russian Gulag promised their freedom in exchange for agreeing to participate in an experiment involving the inhalation of gas that ‘denies the subject sleep for thirty days’. (The Australian National Sleep Research Project lists the record for observed time without sleep for a human being as 18 days, 21 hours and 40 minutes.) The four volunteers who step forward are warned the gas is known to have a number of side effects other than the intended insomnia.

Without going into spoiler alert, it’s possible to observe that the startling news this week from the medical fraternity that Alzheimer’s disease may in fact be contagious and be able to be spread on contact holds a not entirely unrelated parallel here.

Events are delivered via a first person narrator who changes throughout the story, beginning first with Mikhail – one of the prisoners – and later moving to Dr Glukhov, the head scientist conducting the experiment. The language used to unfold events alternates between straightforward and unadorned to poetic (“Valdis put his hands up in surrender but a tick leapt in his brow” p58) to an unfortunate tendency to the melodramatic. A heavy pall, befitting the settings as well as the theme of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which emerges in the final third of the story, lingers over every page.

Not so much FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE but more From Russia with Loathing – with an extra garnishing of madness, paranoia and blisters amply supplied.

Holly Ice, who it should be made clear is in no way related to the West Indian religious rights activist Holy Water, is an up and coming young writer who is to be applauded for taking on and largely doing justice to an ambitious and indeed fabled story and writing project such as this.

About Holly Ice

Holly Ice loves the unusual and subjects which bring a numinous longing for more than reality provides. She would love it if she woke to all the monsters being real… as long as they were not out to kill her in particular.

Her horror novella The Russian Sleep Experiment was published by Almond Press in 2015, and she has a number of published short stories: ‘Trysting Antlers’ (La Femme, Newcon Press, 2014), ‘My Oasis Tower’ (Looking Landwards, Newcon Press, 2013), ‘La Morte de La Résistance’ (Fall, Almond Press, 2013) and ‘A Bit of Contrast’ (Born of the Island and Other Sea Stories, H G Wells Festival, 2012).

Holly hopes her stories bring enjoyment to those that read them.


Scary books make everything so much better! I've been reading them since I was a wee, weird little thing and grew up with a steady diet of King, Koontz, Barker, and Brite and will read and watch just about anything with a hint of darkness.

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