Skip to content

Carry on Screaming – Oktober by Stephen Gallagher (1988) #BookReview

Welcome, ladies, gentlemen and fellow horror lovers, to this month’s Carry on Screaming post. Each month I’ll be reviewing a vintage British horror novels and reflecting on what was happening in both the horror genre and the news in the UK at the time. You can read previous posts in the series by clicking on the ‘Carry on Screaming‘ category.

oktober by stephen gallagher book cover

An apparently fatal incident occurs when schoolteacher Jim Harper is skiing near a small research station owned by the giant multinational Risinger-Genoud. Even treatment with their new, untried and experimental superdrug cannot save his life.

Or so it seems. For Jim Harper, though left for dead, has survived. But in the long haul back to health and sanity, he begins to realise that something terrible has happened to him. Now the only way in which he can unravel the mystery in his mind is to go back to the point where it began to develop – back to Risinger-Genoud and their Oktober programme. And Risinger Genoud are going to be very interested to see him.

Oktober is a frightening journey into a world of greed and lies, a world in which the cover-up is not only a way of life, but something planned ahead of time. Step by horrifying step, Jim Harper unravels what has been done to him, and then designs the perfect act of vengeance, an act that teeters on the brink of madness… 

Title: Oktober | Author: Stephen Gallagher | Publisher: New English Library | Pub. Year: 1988 | Pages: 256 | Genre: Horror | Language: English | Source: Self-purchased | Starred Review: No

Stephen Gallagher is one of those admirable authors who has never achieved the popularity he deserves but who keeps going anyway. He’s published over 20 novels (including novelisations of the film ‘Saturn 3’ and the movie turned TV show ‘Fame’) as well as writing extensively for television. This book, ‘Oktober’ was adapted for the small screen in the 90s, as was his earlier novel ‘Chimera’. There are a few of his books (‘Valley of Lights’, ‘Nightmare, with Angel’, ‘Down River’ and ‘Rain’) which I remember really fondly. ‘Oktober’ isn’t Gallagher at his best, but it’s still an entertaining horror novel and an interesting take on the 80s conspiracy thriller.

 It tells the story of Jim Harper, a young man who gets experimented on in the Swiss Alps by a mysterious European pharmaceutical firm, and then dumped back in the UK under observation by a team of the company’s agents. The drugs he’s been exposed to give him nightmares and hallucinations which plague Jim as he tries to figure out what has happened to him. These make up the horror part of the book, and are generally quite effective. What’s left is a thriller that feels a little Ludlum-eque (although far less bloated) filled with globe-trotting, fiendish scientists, betrayal and lots and lots of talk about computers.

It’s generally gripping and entertaining, the horror and thriller elements work well together and Harper is a hero it’s easy to feel sympathy for. What holds the book back from being a more notable entry in the genre is the fact that it can be quite confusing at times. The plot is non-linear, skipping about in both time and location, and I found I got lost more than once. That’s a shame, because what is otherwise a fun chiller, became a bit of a chore at times.

Don’t let that put you off Gallagher though. ‘Oktober’ night not be his best work, but he’s turned out a number of books that are well worth a look.


I’m adopting a slightly different rating system for my Carry on Screaming review, because, let’s face it, vintage horror novels are about more than just the quality of the actual book.

Book: 3 out of 5

Cover: 4 out of 5 – this is a good example of a later 80s paperback, bold and well-executed with great font work

Nastiness: 2 out of 5 – it has its moments, but on the whole ‘Oktober’ is more thriller than horror

Sauciness: 0 out of 5 – I think this is the first Carry on Screaming book without a hint of how’s your father.

Cover promise vs delivery: 2 out of 5 – the cover had me expecting something wolfier.

Overall Carry on Screaming rating: 11/25

Page break indicator for Sci-Fi & Scary

What else happened in 1988?

Looking through the news for ’88, four things leapt out at me, It was the year that Comic Relief started, this a now annual charity event run by comedians and famous because members of the public wear a red nose for the day. It was also the first year of GCSEs (the exams British school children take at 16). I was 15, but for some reason my school decreed that we should take Maths and English Language a year early, so I was in the first wave of kids to take the new exams.

In politics, it was the year that the Poll Tax was announced, a replacement for property rates that was widely seen as regressive (because everyone paid the same, regardless of wealth) and which later inspired protests and riots. 1988 also saw the introduction of Section 28 – a clause in the law that made it illegal for local governments and schools to promote LGBTQ+ lifestyles or laws. Even the right wing of British politics has come a long way since then, and seeing how man organisations and firms now eagerly support Gay Pride it seems unthinkable that this was a law in my lifetime.

It was a pretty weak year for horror cinema with nothing to note from UK producers except the first sequel to ‘Hellraiser’ and Ken Russell’s famously bad ‘Lair of the White Worm’. There were a tonne of weak sequels from the US too – ‘Nightmare on Elm Street 4’, ‘Friday 13th VII’, ‘Fright Night 2’ and ‘Return of the Living Dead part 2’. David Cronenberg cashed in on the success of ‘The Fly’ with the great ‘Dead Ringers’ but that’s really the only big budget horror film of note for the year. It did however see the release of 2 low budget faves of mine: ‘Scarecrows’ and ‘The Blob’.

Almost unbelievably, this was a year Stephen King didn’t release a book. Koontz and Peter Straub held up the side for the US with ‘Lightning’ and ‘Koko’ respectively. It was also the year that Thomas Harris released ‘The Silence of the Lambs’. In the UK we had a new ‘Crabs’ book (yay!) and a sequel to ‘Necroscope’ from Brian Lumley.

Page break indicator for Sci-Fi & Scary

Next up, a book from a writer I’ve never read ‘Toady’ by Mark Morris.

Published inCarry on ScreamingHorror Book ReviewsUnstarred Reviews


  1. There is this to be said in favor of the movie, “Lair of the White Worm:” it’s more fun than the Bram Stoker novel on which it is (very loosely) based.

    • Olly_C

      Lol! Well there is a reason Stoker is only remembered for one book

Comments are closed.

©Sci-Fi & Scary 2019
%d bloggers like this: