Hidden within the heart of this collection are a few poems with a true subject or a tangible event being referenced. A couple are about the shock and horror of specific airliner crashes; a few more are about the state of Nigerian politics and/or war. These are the strength of the collection. My favorite was “Mid-Night Sun” dedicated to the 2005 Bellview plane crash.
. . . We didn’t hear the metallic groans Of the shattering aircraft Nor the scared screams of loved ones In the throes of death.
We won’t forget you ‘Cos in a moment’s flash You lit up the dark night like a mid-night sun Only to leave us gloomy days darkened by grief.
The bulk of the poems in the collection had no discernible specific subject. They spoke in allegory and in cliched metaphoric abstractions. More troubling was the overbearing rhymes wresting control of the poem from the poet.
It’s possible that “bombs” and “floods” referenced in the final poems are speaking to real events or specific occasions. However, after scores of allegorical poems, bombs and floods without specific references could be more hyperbole. It’s concerning that I cannot tell the difference.
I received my copy of this collection directly from the author.
This zombie-themed anthology came out in the 1980s and shows it. At the very least, it makes obvious the more complex view of zombie lit as a genre. These tales stem from an era when zombies had not broken out of B horror films. Many cliches plague the narratives. And often times the zombies don’t move and act in a consistent way which takes seriously the defining situational characteristics they’ve been assigned. That’s a problem. Zombies, by cultural definition, are humans deprived of free will and acting the animal or the manipulations of another [such as a necromancer or obeah/voodoo priest].
There are of course exceptions in a zombie sub-genre where the zombie retains thoughts and memories and must deal with their “condition” as if it were akin to chronic disease. All zombie detectives fall into this category.
Two of the sixteen short stories and novellas rose above the rest for me, meriting 4 stars: –Glen Vasey’s Choices follows a young man’s journal of the first months of a zombie apocalypse under the looming cloud of knowing that the journal is “found evidence” not accompanied by the writer. His fate resides within the pages. The journal mostly explores the variety of reactions found in the other survivors he meets along his journey. –Nicholas Royle’s “Saxophone” depicts self-aware zombies living the chronically hampered and deprived life of those behind the iron curtain. The Berlin Wall separates the free from the zombie in this well developed tale of alternate history.
Memories are notoriously fickle things. People both remember things that never happened and yet incorporate it into the fiction of their lives, and also forget things without the recourse to reverse the process. Some want to remember; others would do anything to forget . . .
This collection of eight tales examines a multiple of related themes as memories prove their elusiveness. The first six of the eight tales take place in the same world with the same cast of characters. A bit of clever tweaking could have nicely pulled them into a single hefty novella, much the way Gloria Naylor’s brilliant Bailey’s Cafe tells a series of interrelated character tales exploring identity and abuse. Here, the business of remembering and forgetting is monetized with people paying others or for services that will remove memories or plant false memories. People should be careful what they ask for, lest they actually get it. Some want to erase painful memories, others are more playful with their brain health and tweak things for fun or out of boredom.
The very brief seventh tale show a war of the roses between a vampiric love triangle. Vampires have the ability to plant false memories as they seduce. [Think succubus vampires.]
The eighth tale is a novella in which the narrator notices the world changing about her in ways that others do not. People and places seem to be suddenly gone. The psychological play here is nice and spins this tale into a thriller.
In a couple scenes in unrelated tales, I found myself pulled from the story by characters not acting appropriately or competently for their occupation or place in life. Thankfully and redeemingly, on both occasions, the scenes or characters turned out not to be real. They were false memories or experiences, akin to dream logic. Many a thing seems logical in dreams that doesn’t hold up with 15 seconds of lucidity. And yet these out-of-characters sections weren’t over-written which was also nice in that it kept the mystery of what was reliably true hidden.
This annual competition and anthology never fails to introduce emergent voices in the genres of fantasy and science fiction. The open-to-all format leads to a pleasantly wide diversity. The anthology also always includes a short story written by L. Ron Hubbard and a couple other guests writers. These were far less impressive than the contests winners–as usual.
Five stories stood out for me, all meriting 4 of 5 stars: —“Moonlight One” by Stephen Lawson is a murder mystery set on a moonbase. When the detective is the only other person on the moon, things are interesting . . . —“The Armor Embrace” by Doug C. Souza is a profoundly moving tale about a military man that merged his thoughts and memories with that of the AI in his mech suit. The blurred lines between human and android lead to interesting developments. —“Envoy in the Ice” by Dustin Steinacker is a Lovecraftian tale of a centuries-old alien envoy to Earth plopped down in the Antarctic. After centuries of sitting there, the reasons for the visit remain elusive. But this trip is different . . . —“Useless Magic” by Andrew Peery conveys the generational gap and the loss of traditional lore through the metaphor of magic. The older generations know lots of magic, but the next knows very little and it’s increasingly useless. But yet, it’s no less endearing to share . . . —“The Magnificent Bhajan” by David VonAllmen depicts one man’s aging through his descent from being an able wizard to a mere illusionist living within his memories of former greatness. Pride, wisdom, and self-worth all tug at his grip on reality.
Where urban fantasy and detective noir come together lies a fertile field to explore the human [and non-human] condition. The detectives themselves are often the fantastical variant. This collection brings together tales of a zombie, 2 vampire, 3 werewolf and 7+ wizarding detectives, among others, providing an external view of the modern human life. Also included are a couple supernatural Sherlock Holmes tales and a handful of ghost tales with a couple stretching all the way back to the Elizabethan era. The crimes are mostly murders which by nature shatter the accepted human social ethics.
This diversity of tales despite a common sub-genre is reflected in my top 3 each meriting 5-stars and in my “honorable mention” 3 earning 4-stars. I’ve reviewed and rated each of the 23 tales included.
–Jim Butcher’s “Love Hurts” [5 stars] depicts an intimate look at his Chicago-based wizarding detective, Harry Dresden, as he tries to stop a series of curse-induced love-suicides. –Neil Gaiman’s “The Case of Death and Honey” [5 stars] tells a heart-felt Sherlock Holmes from a vantage beyond both Watson and Holmes. –Charlaine Harris’ “Death by Dahlia” [5 stars] circumstantially places an ancient vampire in the role of detective when a political vampire coronation of sorts is disrupted by a murder. –Patricia Briggs’ “Star of David” [4 stars] tells a familial tale when a werewolf mercenary is called upon by his 40-years estranged daughter. Faith Hunter’s “Signatures of the Dead” [4 stars] pairs an elemental witch and her coven-family with a shapeshifter to solve an Appalachian vampire problem. Jonathan Maberry’s “Like Part of the Family” [4 stars] depicts the canine-like loyalties and ethics of a werewolf evening the playing field in defense of domestic and sexual abuse survivors.
This is a collection of eighteen vignettes and modern day parables. Few rise to the level of being a true short story in that characters are left undeveloped, backgrounds are unexplored and plots remain overly contrived rather than organic.
Most of the themes revolve around philosophical issues: ethics, the nature of reality and God, and free-will vs determinism. However, repeatedly, they assume their own conclusions without truly offering multiple points of view. Many of the vignettes devolve into an unchallenged Socratic method of one person espousing ideas and another concurring. One-sided philosophical speculations can make for good fodder for stories and novels, but here the ideas remain kernels and are presented unexplored.
Most troubling was the reliance on characters having to narrate how brilliant or clever or devious they were without the actions, thoughts, or dialogue to show it. “Brilliant doctors and professors” would remain without a clear field of expertise which is troubling, as medical doctors are well aware of their specialty and tend to self-identify. The thin character constructions hinder the strengths of the tales and the immersion of the reader.
This collection of four urban fantasies spans major common themes: zombies, vampires, urban legend, and dystopian apocalyptic. However, none of the tales are run-of-the-mill.
The opening novelette, “The Rotting City,” is the strongest of the bunch. The world is generations past an environmental apocalypse that sank most of the major cities of the world beneath the rising seas. The world economics and academics shifted to formerly third world countries. This is the backdrop to an archaeological excavation at Old London under the heavy eye of a xenophobic, dystopian regime. Unexpected ties to Lovecraftian lore brings this tale home. I highly recommend the tale.
“Graveyard Shift” is a forgettable vignette offering a slightly different perspective from the POV of a zombie.
“The Man Who Knew” is equal parts urban legend and supernatural ghost tale. This tale twists and turns to its surprising end.
Finally, “Down in the Cages” provides a new take on vampire/human relations. The vampire politics and mind games make for an interesting inclusion into the vampire canon. This tale is recommended.