This Horror anthology is nicely presented, with an introduction that gives the reader a small taste of what's to come. The stories are topped by short commentaries from the authors on how they came to write their stories, and tailed by their biographies.
When it comes to the actual stories, however, the anthology is an exemplar of the Horror genre. That's either good or bad depending on your point of view. If you don't like traditional Horror, then there's little here that hasn't been done a thousand times before, sometimes done better, sometimes even worse. No innovation, no experimentation, just the same old tried-and-tested tropes and devices that Horror has used ever since its inception. If you do like traditional Horror, see above.
Looks Like A Rat To Me by Nicholas Grabowsky
A man's family is attacked by giant rats--or is it? The first person narrator is a cipher, and we don't get a chance to care about his wife and children, but the somewhat pedestrian narrative is almost saved by a killer last line.
With Love, Veronica by Ken Goldman
The overused trope of the patient chatting to his psychiatrist is dragged out for yet another airing, complete with the switch from first to third person at the end. The story's about twice as long as it needs to be, and that may be part of the reason why the punchline to this horror-by-numbers falls flat. Why the patient should be delusional about everything except his own looks is a question the story doesn't ask or answer.
Eating Crow by Garrett Peck
A happily-married woman is pursued by a killer crow in this overlong tale. The story's padded out with a lot of detail that doesn't advance the story or reveal character, making the narrative feel dull and plodding. The reveal at the end is so predictable it's hard to believe anyone would dare use it.
Fowl Play by Keith Gouveia
A dislikeable man enlists another, similar, to take revenge on the man who just sacked him by killing some ducks. Fortunately, the ducks have a supernatural protector. Unfortunately, the protector doesn't have a very vivid imagination.
Bug Powder by Meghan Jurado
It's business as usual for a cowardly drug dealer when a giant bug gives him some white powder to sell. The writing in this one is superior, but the story itself travels a well-worn path as Bad Things Happen.
When Black Fades to Grey by Andrea Dean Van Scoyoc
This story constantly defeats expectations. When Andrew approaches the cemetery, you might expect the story to progress to his encounter with his old friend Guy, but instead it mires itself in backstory. And more backstory. And yet more. When Andrew comments on Guy coming back into his life, you might expect the next paragraph to describe that reunion, rather than going in an entirely different direction. There is the core of an interesting story here, but it's hampered by the lack of a coherent plot structure and drowned in irrelevance. Important details pop up in the unlikeliest places or at the last minute--but so do insignificant details, making it hard to tell which is which.
November Girls by Katherine Smith
This is definitely a superior story to the rest. Although the plotline isn't new, the story itself is well written and engaging. Good pacing, a well-structured plot and a character who comes to life. Nice job--especially the ending.
The Tree by Katherine Smith
There's some good description in this piece, and an attempt at developing an is-it-the-tree or is-it-the-man story that doesn't quite pay off. With a little more thought and depth, this could have been a good one. It would work better perhaps if the hated wife weren't so hateable.
Clown School by J. Edward Tremlett
Some good writing here--the clowns are depicted well--and the pacing's good. Unfortunately, Bill, the central character, is presented as an unpleasant whiner, and his daughter the same, so it's hard to care about what happens to them in the end. I had to laugh when Bill had the thought that refusing to watch the clown's show would be as bad as hitting a child--this comes a few paragraphs after he did just that.
Crushing Giles by Stephen C. Hallin
A couple go to Salem and discover that a man who was prepared to be tortured to death rather than admit his guilt is somehow guilty after all. Lots of exposition-as-dialogue and some masochism.
Door Bitch by Dave Field
This one's so-so. Slow build-up, a genuinely nasty situation for the central character and her boyfriend, and a surprise ending. Not bad, but could have been tighter.
Tempest by Matt Hults
Some young people. A cabin. Acid rain. Blobs. Goes on a bit too long for what it is.
A Baker's Dozen by Nancy Jackson
A from-beyond-the-grave revenge story involving a bakery. There's a nice cross-generational touch but ultimately the story has nothing new to offer. And if Patterson has to have the significance of the ears explained to him, how can his antagonist be so sure anyone else will understand the message?
Interludes by Jodi Lee
Cowardly psychiatrist who has it coming is lured into a trap of pain and terror. Not sure there's much more to say.
One Hell of a Dell by Giovanna Lagana
A writer is severely punished for using a ghostwriter. Or, a moral tale about always reading the fine print. Lines like, "But he hadn't had a dose of Melanie Clavier in over a year and his manhood was in dire need of a romping..." make it hard to take this story seriously. Especially when you consider the duality implied by "dose".
Ice Cold Shakes by John Everson
Although this one starts out somewhat conventionally, it develops along interesting lines and has a strong, moody ending.
Science Fiction is often derided as a genre intended for hormonal teenage boys, and there was probably truth enough in this at one time. There's still some truth in it now. However, modern SF can also attract a more mature and educated audience--there's something for everyone on those SFF shelves. Horror, however, reads as if it's written for thrill-seeking adolescents, and, if anything, it's gone downhill since the age of Edgar Allen Poe. Everything's great when you're young and you haven't yet developed a yardstick to judge by--that's part of the secret of Rowling's success. Many of the tropes she employs have already been exploited to death, but her readers don't know that. Read slush for a little while, however, and you begin to realise that all Horror stories look the same. The genre desperately needs some cross-pollination from other genres, other art-forms; it needs to look beyond endlessly recycling the same tropes and the same forms. It needs to get past being read by thrill-seeking adolescents and those who write it, and being written only by those who read it uncritically. It needs to offer something to the outsider looking in if it ever wants to break out of its loop.
Definitely one for the hardcore Horror fans, with the honourable exceptions of November Girls and Ice Cold Shakes.
Note: a .pdf was reviewed.
[Reviewed by Debbie Moorhouse]