Stumar Press contacted me to review this anthology by the Derby Scribes plus, which includes short stories from Simon Clark, Conrad Williams and Neal James, plus short stories from Derby Scribes members Stuart Hughes, Richard Farren Barber, Christopher Barker, Victoria Charvill, Jennifer Brown, David Ball, Peter Borg, and Alison J. Hill.
In general, I shy away from short stories, since the really good ones beg the question of “what next?”–and I read them quickly enough that where I had been looking for several hours of entertainment, I instead get several minutes.
The upside of an anthology, though, is that you get a collection of authors noodling on a similar theme; in this case, death seems to be the unifying element. I was a little worried by the summary:
The short stories in this anthology include horror, supernatural, contemporary fantasy, science fiction and humour.
Since I’m not a big fan of horror, I kept waiting for the hammer to drop and really freak me out. I suppose the dystopia described in “The Gallery” or the harsh hopelessness in “Obsolete” could be defined as horrifying, but the whole book was threaded through with a touch of humor that really meant even a riot, death, and military imprisonment couldn’t rightly give me nightmares.
The “Brylcreem and Pipe Tobacco” short was my favorite, with its indicator of both enduring love and late-in-life romance–both lifted out of the ordinary by an extraordinary visit to a medium.
“Leaving Jessica” and “Stump” tied for a close second; the first for its insight into the human inclination to run rather than face unpleasantness, and the second for its insights into a child’s view of the relationship with her pets.
The weakest, in my view, was “An Interstellar Taxi Ride;” the Ambassador conveyed as an unrepentant blowhard, and even knowing this was just a short story, I had the sense that the other half of the story was missing, given how abrupt was the ending and disjointed the last few paragraphs were from the beginning.
“The Smell of Fear” should have given me a clue as to its surprise reveal from its title, but that reveal lost some of its humor and made me groan more than laugh, given the twist on perception of the beings carrying out the fantasy, and my natural inclination to like the “bully” more than the “bullied.”
It’s difficult to know how to properly review such a diverse range of story offerings, other than to say that the editing was pretty well done, and the theme definitely helps the collection hang together. Given that the weakest of the stories was still more than palatable (I actually do want to know where the Ambassador is off to in such an all-fired hurry that he allows himself to stoop to such plebian transport!), I can absolutely recommend this anthology to anyone who likes fantasy with a thread of humor tied together with a more or less evident thread of the fantastic.