Dark Screams Vol 5

Dark Screams: Volume Five: A Review

Edited by Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar

Standard Disclaimer:  I received this book as a free download with the expectation that I would review it.  By doing so I am eligible to receive other titles in this series.

Another solid outing from editing team Freeman and Chizmar.  This time around we have material from five of horror’s best and brightest.

“Everything You Have Always Wanted” by Mick Garris is a morality tale wrapped up in a bloody bit of body horror.  The longest of the stories in the book, it is also one of the most engaging.  The reader jumps right into the world of horror movie fandom and conventions.  Anyone who has ever vended at a Con will relate at least a little.

“The One and Only” by J. Kenner New Orleans, the perfect city for a group to boys to go party, the best spot to see ghosts, and for one young man, it will complete a life long prediction that he would end up in the Big Easy.

“The Land of Sunshine” by Keelan Patrick Burke plunges the reader into a dark, atmospheric world where people avoid the main character.  He is constantly shut out by those he has known his whole life.  A journey, a mysterious box, a mute wife, and a surprisingly touching ending.

“Mechanical Gratitude” by Del James  There is the love between a husband and wife and the love of a many for his car.  Both of these culminate in a shocking act and a tie the lasts forever.  A nicely written story but it loses something at the end.

“The Playhouse” by Bentley Little A creepy story about the perfect playhouse, one so perfect that even adults get pulled in.  The fact that time passes differently for those inside the house as out adds an additional wrinkle.

All together, it is a great compilation of stories.  Some are stronger than others, but they are well written, well executed examples of modern horror.

Dark Screams Vol 3 — The Best So FAr

Disclaimer:  This is a review of a book which I received as a free ARC.

Dark Screams: Vol 3 is the best addition to the series to date.  Every story in this collection works and the work well with each other.  Granted, this is to be assumed when you put together some of the giants of the horror community in a collection edited by two masterful editors.

The short stories in this collection are:

“The Collected Short Stories of Freddie Prothero” by Peter Straub

All right, I have a confession: I’m not really a big fan of Peter Straub.  For the most part the only works of his which I have enjoyed were his collaborations with Stephen King.  “The Collected Short Stories of Freddie Prothereo” has definitely been added to my list of great things by Straub.  It is written in the psuedo-intellectual style of many literary reviews.  What makes this rather tongue in cheek is that the collected works being reviewed are the almost incoherent, yet terrifying, ramblings of a young boy.  They start out when the child is barely older than a toddler and continue for only a few years.  The interplay between the high-brow criticism and the style of the stories themselves only accentuates the creepy nature of what the child is writing about.

“Group of Thirty” by Jack Ketchum

This was my favorite of the book.  Ketchum explores the oft asked question “Who is ultimately responsible for the actions of a reader?  Is the creator of a work of fiction culpable if a reader then goes on to mimic the horrific acts in that work of fiction?”  These themes are examined through this tale of an author who is invited to an intimate gathering of fans.  Naturally, this being Ketchum, things aren’t quite what they seem on the surface.  The ending was extremely satisfying.

“Nancy” by Darynda Jones

What is worse than being the new girl in school?  Being the new girl in school and knowing that eventually the popular kids will find you out and you will end up a social outcast, just as you have been in every school before.  Standing up to the popular crowd and befriending the other downtrodden students seems like a good idea, but it goes awry when one student is not only being picked on by the in crowd, but also by a poltergeist.  A twisty tale of haunting and social cliques.

“I Love You, Charlie Pearson” by Jacquelyn Frank

The other side of the high school popularity coin, this is the story of an outcast who knows that he and a high school beauty are destined for each other…if only he could get her to see that truth.  Frank does an admirable job of portraying how the filter of obsession can change the view of the world.

“The Lone One and Level Sands Stretch Far Away” by Brian Hodge

In lesser hands this would have just been a tale of free-runners and the horror that they stumble upon.  Instead we have a masterful story of human interaction, how people can fall in and out of love, and how emotions can force people out of their comfort zones and into a world of horror.

Alive: A Review

Disclaimer: This is a review of a book which I received as a free ARC.

Two things happen when you filter something like The Hunger Games through the mind of horror/sci-fi author Scott Sigler? The first thing is that you get the Alive. The second is that you, as a reader, are in for a wild ride.

This is going to be a difficult review to write. There are so many amazing twists and turns, fantastic reveals, and other inventive plot points that I don’t want to give away. To do so would rob future readers of the chance to encounter these things for themselves. However, to avoid all of them would reduce this review to “It was really well written and I like it a lot.” I will do my best to walk the tightrope between review and spoiler.

Alive starts with the main character waking, trapped in a coffin with no idea how she got there, where she is, or even who she is. All she knows it that she is 12 years old and it is her birthday. Her knowledge is vague at best. She can identify some things, but lacks the words for others. She has a strong feeling that her parents loved her, but can not recall their names or faces.

She soon encounters other who are experiencing the same symptoms. They two have little to no memories of their lives before waking up. They too think they are 12, despite looking much older. Some become allies, others…

What follows is a series of horrific discoveries which the characters must deal with while trying testing the dual boundaries of their own knowledge and their mistrust of one another. They are attacked by animals, mutants, and each other.

Sigler does an amazing job of keeping both the characters and the readers in the dark. As some clues are revealed, the reader begins to make assumptions about where they are, some of which may be true. The author also illustrates how quickly social strata are formed and the dangers of schisms which result from such divisions.

Alive is a equal parts thriller, mystery, and science-fiction story. It is another fine creation from a very talented author.

Dark Screams, Vol 2

Once again, let me preface the review by stating that the copy I read was an ARC I received for free for the purpose of reviewing it.

While I enjoyed Dark Screams: Volume Two, I found it a little disjointed. The stories did not mesh with each other as the stories in the first volume did (despite different topics, the tones were similar enough in the first volume that the book seemed more seamless).

The second volume in the series contains five short stories by masters of the horror genre.

“The Deep End” by Robert McCammon was by far my favorite in this volume. The story of a shape-shifting creature living in a community pool, taking small children year after year, is full of tension and genuine fear. There is an undertone of uncertainty as well. Is any of this actually happening or has the protagonist been driven mad with grief?

Norman Prentiss’ “Interval” starts as a heart wrenching tale of loss and grief. The build up of emotions is almost unbearable. When it switches to a different type of story near the midpoint, the result is a totally different story, but one which is equally entertaining. My only complaint is that the end seemed a bit as if it was the set-up for a series of related tales.

“If These Walls Could Talk” is reminiscent of classic people-invited-to-explore-a-haunted-house stories like The Haunting of Hill House and Hell House, but with an ending twist from Mr. Poe. Creepy and fun.

In “The Night Hider,” Graham Masterson poses the question: what if CS Lewis’ Narnia series had a horribly dark inspiration? The answer is a story of revenge and haunting which is fun, but a bit too long.

The only story which I did not particularly care for was the last one, entitled “Whatever.” I am normally a huge fan of Richard Christian Matheson, but this history of a rock band, while intriguing, lacked any genuine scares.

Monthly Submission/Progress Prompt

One of the themes of the recent Global Domination Retreat was setting goals and working towards achieving them.  Towards that end I have created a thread on the ProBoards (Pedantic Pedler > January Goal Discussion) where we can publicly share our goals.  Hopefully by sharing them with others, we will hold ourselves accountable.

One of my goals is to submit at least one story a month (if not more) by the 15th.

Head over to the ProBoards and share your goals and progress!