Anthology Review: Whispers from the Abyss ed. by Kat Rocha

Whispers from the AbyssWhispers from the Abyss by Kat Rocha
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This anthology solidly delivers an array of Lovecraft inspired tales. Accordingly, horror and the supernatural permeate the collection, though humor and historical fiction are well represented, too. Thankfully, most tales share a fresh perspective rising above mere Lovecraft fan fiction. The best of the bunch carve their own path through the mythos to great effect.

I’ve separately reviewed and rated each of the collection’s component stories, giving top honors and 5 stars to Erica Satifka’s “You Will Never Be the Same”, an imaginative horror-sci-fi in which humans break dimensional boundaries for the sake of interstellar travel at the risk of their sanity.

My 4-star honorable mentions include: Greg Stolze’s “Iden-Inshi”, a humor-thriller that devolves into a horror-sci-fi. Two others which ply humor to great effect are Martin Hill Ortiz’ “Nutmeat” which imagines a parasitic takeover and James Brogden’s Monty Python worthy “The Decorative Water Feature of Nameless Dread”. Two works of historical fiction shine through in Corissa Baker’s “The Deep” which reimagines the Irish Famine as a slow supernatural horror and Jason Andrew’s “Fear and Loathing in Innsmouth: Richard Nixon’s Revenge”, a fun detective noir. Finally, Lance Axt’s “Henry” shows a young boy succumb to the sci-fi tales he reads.

Also included are:
Almand, Nicholas–“Leviathan”–3 stars
Barrows, Brandon–“Suck It Up, Get It Done”–3 stars
Black, Charles–“Horrorscope”–3 stars
Brown, Stephen–“The Thing With Onyx Eyes”–3 stars
Bundschuh, Mason Ian–“When We Change”–3 stars
Crich, Kelda–“Stone City, Old as Immeasurable Time”–3 stars
Fifer, Chad–“Afraid of Dobermans”–3 stars
Finney, Josh–“Death Wore Greasepaint”–3 stars
Finney, Lee–“Give Me That Old Time Religion”–3 stars
Fultz, John R.–“I Do the Work of the Bone Queen”–3 stars
Hemphill, J.C.–“Pushing Back”–3 stars
Jeffreys, Tim–“The Well”–3 stars
Moreno-Garcia, Silvia–“The Sea, Like Glass Unbroken”–3 stars
Pratt, Tim and Greg van Eekhout–“Secrets in Storage”–3 stars
Provine, Jeff–“The Floor”–3 stars
Rocha, Kat–“The Jar of Aten-Hor”–3 stars
Sharp, Jonathan–“Nation of Disease: The Rise & Fall of a Canadian Legend”–3 stars
Ulibarri, Sarena–“Other People’s Houses”–3 stars
Wise, A. C.–“Chasing Sunset”–3 stars
Detwiller, Dennis–“Waiting”–2 stars
French, Aaron J.–“My Stalk”–2 stars
Mamatas, Nick–“Hideous Interview with Brief Man”–2 stars
Stickel, W. B.–“The Substance in the Sound”–2 stars
Wunner, Nathan–“The Neon Morgue”–2 stars
Black, Charles–“The Last Tweet”–1 star
Tallerman, David–“My Friend Fishfinger by Daisy, Age 7”–1 star

I received this anthology directly from 01 Publishing through I’ve also reviewed the companion anthology
Whispers of the Abyss 2: The Horrors That Were and Shall Be
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “Death Wore Greasepaint” by Josh Finney

3 of 5 stars.

Lovecraft’s worship and rising of Cthulhu has been evoked by many authors across many anthologies paying homage to the writer of horror and the occult. This tale finds an original spin leaning into drugs, alcohol, the impressionability of youth, and the influence of media. The combination imagines one of the most inappropriate children’s shows of all times and the role it plays in the lives of children when their parents aren’t playing a role.

Charlie is a barely functioning alcoholic television producer relegated to the periphery of Michigan to run a small market station after a sex scandal ruined his first marriage and first crack at a career. He’s on his second wife and thousandth bottle of Dewars. His wife’s ex-con, druggie brother is writing and starring in the locally produced clown kids’ hour for the station as Wacky Wilbur.

Wilbur says horrifically inappropriate things on air. He also has been teaching the town’s children the occult language of the Cthulhu Rising Rite and the accompanying mythos through his character, The Octopus King. Without other obvious role models, the kids are eating it up and growing savage . . .

This tale appears in Whispers from the Abyss edited by Kat Rocha, the author of this tale. I received this new anthology directly from 01 Publishing through I’ve previously reviewed a few of this author’s interesting graphic novels: Casefile: ARKHAM, Utopiates, and World War Kaiju.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “A Water Matter” by Jay Lake

A Water MatterA Water Matter by Jay Lake
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

To narrate through a non-human perspective with no-human senses, cultural givens and sensibilities is a difficult task, and yet it pays off beautifully and sensuously here.

The Dancing Mistress, who centers this tale, is one of the People, an ancient predatory non-human race that has suppressed its magic and instincts for the sake of living among the more populous humans. This unspoken truce is shattered when a human shaman hunts some of the people for their ancient wisdom and magic. He seeks the Dancing Mistress, but kidnaps their herbalist.

The Dancing Mistress enacts a hunt for the duo by entering a mesh-mind with 3 others of her race. This allows them to think and act as one leaning into the sensory strengths of each.

The moon glowed faintly through the low clouds, but the shadows outflanked the light at every turn. Torches burned at compound gates while lamps hung at intersections and in the squares. The nighttime streets of Copper Downs were streaked with smears of heat and scent.

The hunt slid through the evening like a single animal with four bodies. Her vision was complex, edges gleaming sharp at all distances and ranges. Odors told stories she could never read on her own, about the passage of time and the sweat of fear, passion, even the flat, watery smell of ennui. The very feel of the air on her skin as she ran had been magnified fourfold. She saw every door, every hiding place, every mule or person they passed, in terms of force and danger and claws moving close to the speed of thought.

The sheer power of the hunt was frightening in its intoxication.

They slipped through the city like a killing wind …

This tale appears in Street Magicks edited by Paula Guran. I received this new anthology from Netgalley. The short story was originally published in [29 October 2008]. I’ve previously reviewed this author’s eye-opening Love in the Time of Metal and Flesh.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “You Will Never Be the Same” by Erica Satifka

5 of 5 stars.

Science fiction like no other, this tale dismisses light speed and warp speed as child’s play and bypasses hibernation sleep. The final frontier is cutting through dimensions, skirting the vast open spaces, making the galaxy-skipping travel in a matter of hours like one would take a ferry from England to mainland Europe. But make no mistake, this is horror sci-fi.

A woman wearing nothing but a bathing suit jogged up to the Stop-captain. “Captain, is something wrong?”

He thought of the crew, toiling away in a room fifty yards and one layer of reality away. “Just a bit of interference, my dear. Don’t be alarmed.”

While passengers lounge on holodecks of oceanic beach scenes, a Go-captain maneuvers the ship through the madness between dimensions, the gnawing insanity filling the empty spaces. These mavericks burn brightly and quickly, many going insane. Surrounding the Go-captain are the pinlights, the telepaths that keep the insanity out and the passengers blissfully happy. Finally, the unassuming Stop-captain takes over to land the ship after the true renegade work has been done.

The 20-year veteran Stop-captain of the Wong-Danforth narrates this tale as he finds pinlights and the Go-captain going mentally astray and veering the ship off-chart and speaking of ancient horrors. Even the passengers can tell something is going wrong as their idyllic scene breaks down.

The Stop-captain had no telepathy, no talents of any kind. Maybe that was the key. maybe a mundane person could guide the Wong-Danforth through this patch of “interference.”

. . . “Go,” he said, then screamed as the room melted–

From the depths of the cosmos, Lovecraftian horrors speak directly to the mind of the Stop-captain just trying to get the ship back on course before it’s irretrievably lost. He awakens to reality in a hospital, much of what he’s experienced is blocked out:

He remembered the grinding of an inhuman voice below a sheet of ice, beckoning him to come closer, whispering in his ear, with a voice that seemed to encircle his brain like a thick webbing …

This tale appears in Whispers from the Abyss edited by Kat Rocha, the author of this tale. I received this new anthology directly from 01 Publishing through
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Novel Review: Indomitable by J. B. Garner

Indomitable (The Push Chronicles #1)Indomitable by J.B. Garner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The strength of a superhero origin story, aside from the storytelling itself, is in the inner struggle of the individual common person thrust into uncommon circumstances. Suddenly problems and solutions are larger than life and the ramifications of actions are likewise amplified. Throw in a sense of fun and irony and one gets the winning combination that is Indomitable.

Though centered on Atlanta area professor, Dr. Irene Roman, this tale is more than one person’s origin story, it’s a world-wide origin story as an apocalyptic event creates superheroes and supervillains everywhere, all at once. Cleverly filtered through the lens of comic books come-to-life, skeptical Irene seems to be the rare person who sees through the new reality superimposed over the old. Disconcerting as it is for her, her narration breaks the fourth wall of the comics world consistently and humorously such as when she’s able to call out the supervillain in mid-exposition on the brink of his assumed victory for defaulting to such a tired trope.

Irene Roman feels responsible for the new reality that has created “the Pushed,” the superheroes and villains, when her confidence-lacking, unimpowered boyfriend, Dr. Eric Flynn, steals her experimental bio-feedback machine to commandeer his new found “God particle” that converts belief into physical reality. His imagining himself as the new world’s godlike mega-superhero in a world of heroes and villains is corrupted by his own unrealized insecurities which warp his intentions. Eric, aka Epic, is suddenly not alone in his immense level of power in the battle between good and evil. Irene’s abilities, seemingly created by Eric himself from his doubts as to his girlfriend understanding his vision, lead her to vow to cut through the new reality. She dons a leather mask and straddles her motorcycle as “Indomitable”. . .

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “Other People’s Houses” by Sarena Ulibarri

3 of 5 stars.

Some subtle thrill-seekers knowingly break laws, likely viewing their crimes as victimless even when the victim’s privacy is at stake. This tale delves deeply into that mind set as the narrator explains the obsession and exhilaration at going through other’s property, from purses to homes. However, it also shows the reality when things don’t go as planned.

A door is opened to the narrator when a domestic issue between the couple across the street leads to one throwing the other’s possessions in the yard. A copy of the house key gets tossed with the tchotchkes and found by the serial trespasser who takes the opportunity to explore the owner’s house after he leaves for work.

She’s not caught, but finds more than she can comprehend in a second story room full of occult symbols, marionettes, and a musty black-bound book on a pedestal. She soon plans another excursion across the street to get another look at the book. Her second trip doesn’t go as planned when the owner of the house returns with company and the occult room and its purposes are their destination …

This tale appears in Whispers from the Abyss edited by Kat Rocha, the author of this tale. I received this new anthology directly from 01 Publishing through
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Graphic Novel Review: Twisted Dark, Volume 1 by Neil Gibson

Twisted Dark, Volume 1Twisted Dark, Volume 1 by Neil Gibson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Character studies comprise 10 of the 11 stories in Volume 1 of this series which has since branched into interactive and multimedia directions as the Twisted Dark Universe expands. All of the character studies lead to a darker aspect of some humans, or some psychosis. The twisted nature of some characters is apparent from the outset, others hide it beneath the veneer of normalcy. Think: Edward Gorey in narrative form.

Twisted though the tales may be, they’re also realistic with the exception of one speculative tale. A couple pairs of tales also share common characters. Eventually, all of the tales are promised to converge on one world view and an emerging plot not yet hinted in this Volume.

Themes of suicide, child abuse, spousal abuse, and torture all emerge. A couple others show the mind sets of those that like to hurt others and possibly what brought them to that point. Varying levels of madness also arise repeatedly.

As a start to a series with characters spanning the globe, the promise of pulling it all together is intriguing. The art from the various graphic tales is handled by many different artists, but largely the quality of art is even, if not overly safe. The tales feel like drawn case studies and biographies at this point.

I received access to Volumes 1-4 directly from the author after meeting at C2E2 in Chicago. These Volumes can be accessed at Twisted Dark‘s website. Also available is a short multimedia film set in the same world [Twisted Dark Film] which is one of the tales from Volume 6. I’d rate the film as 4 of 5 stars.

No need to fear reading and watching the tales out of order as that is one of the many experiments explored in the Twisted Dark Universe.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “Waiting” by Dennis Detwiller

2 of 5 stars.

Time trudges forward unceasingly, and yet many tales ask about the implications of moving through time, and even altering time. There is the notion of correcting history to that which must happen, vs routing a tragic event or stopping a dastardly person before unspeakable things happen. This is the direction that this tale feels like it wants to take, it just never arrives anywhere.

Emmanuel works a lonely, quiet life at a bus station in rural New Mexico not far from where an army base has scientists working on radioactive materials on account of the war effort [WWII]. A couple times a week, a scientist gets dropped off by a bus only to be picked up by a waiting army truck.

One day a strange man appears just waiting. But he doesn’t get on a bus, nor meet anyone. Nor does he leave with the army. At close of day, he departs into the desert. The next day plays out the same way. This goes on for weeks.

After many weeks of the same, the stranger starts to talk what appears to be nonsense. But he predicts when the war in Europe will end, and the war in the Pacific. He also accurately describes the modern life of the early 2000s. And even where Emmanuel will live out his days. Emmanuel is freaked, and rightly so . . .

The conversations between Emmanuel and the stranger are hard to follow as they don’t follow conventional formatting rules. The stranger speaks in paragraphs. And normally when one character speaks multiple paragraphs consecutively, the quote marks are left open to show that it’s the same speaker. However, all quotes are closed making it extremely hard to follow who is saying what. Many lines pass without dialogue tags, nor proper punctuation. To read the dialogue paragraphs as alternating between the characters, doesn’t seem to make much sense either. Making the reader guess as to which character speaks what line isn’t clean storytelling. Editing would clear this up, strengthening the tale.

This tale appears in Whispers from the Abyss edited by Kat Rocha, the author of this tale. I received this new anthology directly from 01 Publishing through I’ve previously reviewed this author’s “The Knot”.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “Street Worm” by Nisi Shawl

3 of 5 stars.

Teenage coming-of-age stories mesh well with tales of superpowers and magic. The already anxious themes of finding oneself, trusting one’s instincts, and finding one’s independence from parents and other adults get ramped up as supernatural abilities confront larger than normal life obstacles.

Brit runs from her house and parents into the dark streets of Seattle when they refuse to believe her visions of nests of worms clinging to the sides of buildings and fixtures throughout the city. They call her “troubled” and want her to see a therapist. She just wants to be trusted, and to be told she’s not crazy.

Not successful in securing a bed in a hostel for the night, Brit finds refuge in a restaurant but is soon joined by an older overweight man. He claims she has magic abilities, and a lasting aura that he’s able to follow. She ditches him at the first opportunity …

Not that that works when one leaves a trailing aura, a shining. But he cannot see what she can. Magic realizes differently in different people. She must be the one to figure out the worms …

This tale appears in Street Magicks edited by Paula Guran. I received this new anthology from Netgalley. The short story was originally published in Streets of Shadows [Alliteration Ink, 2014].
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “The Floor” by Jeff Provine

3 of 5 stars.

Buying a house often carries an element of risk, and faith–especially when said house has a history. Many a movie has been made about homes, and other locations [hospitals, schools, asylums etc.], that have a dark history. This is the stuff of urban legend and horror.

This brief vignette paints one such picture, but with resolution and without tension. A longer version surely would have dealt with implications and ramifications to delve into a horror-scape.

Two guys, the unnamed narrator and his buddy Chad, flip houses for fun or trade. However, after one such purchase, neighbors seem to shun the pair or the presence of the house in general. Inside, they encounter a nightmare–a putrescent smell accompanies appropriately questionable stains across all carpets. Also disturbing are the claw marks on all walls down by the floor and stretching up a meter or so.

Removing the living room carpet and padding deepens the mystery and scraps the plans to merely put in new flooring and a couple coats of paint. The floor showcases scenes of a mural of a murderous, sadistic orgy with humans, animals, and other creatures not easily falling into either category. It’s arranged in an occult-like demon-summoning circle with a mere blue “X” crisscrossing the scene as the lone ward against such depravity.

This tale appears in Whispers from the Abyss edited by Kat Rocha, the author of this tale. I received this new anthology directly from 01 Publishing through
[Check out my other reviews here.]