Sunday, March 13, 2011

Title: The Spectrum Collection
Publisher: Dark Continents Publishing
Authors: Simon Kurt Unsworth, John Irvine, Sylvia Shults, Tracie McBride, Adrian Chamberlin, Carsin Buckinham, Maureen Irvine, David M Youngquist, Serenity J Banks and John Prescott.

If a collection of well-realised horror is your cup of tea, then The Spectrum Collection won’t disappoint. Tightly edited and engaging, these stories and poems are slivers of horror offering glimpses into other worlds readers can enter knowing that things can end very badly, in all the right ways.

First up is The Elms, Morecambe by Simon Kurt Unsworth. The author sets about weaving his story in a manner that isn’t often as successful as this example: a story told within a story. We learn about Wisher, a haunted man, who tells his story to Nakata, whom I assume to be a journalist of some stripe in an eatery. Although slow-moving, the story nonetheless conveys the sense of a great sadness and a mystery that is never quiet explained. No great denouements here but still thought-provoking.

The direction of Wild Goat Curry by John Irvine became very clear early on in the story and although the concept of a hunter getting his just deserts is an old, dear one, I feel this story misses the mark slightly. It’s well written but the plot needed just that little extra push to give it a stronger twist, because I wasn’t all that surprised or horrified at the ending.

Wicked Appetites by Sylvia Shults takes a playful nod at the current fascination with vampires in contemporary fiction, and elicited a few chuckles on my part although I had a good inkling as to how wrong the tale would go. Once again, I feel the ending could have been stronger but overall Shults delivers an entertaining tale.

Although I’m no fan of poetry, The Tooth Fairy by Tracie McBride is deliciously nasty for my tastes. I was suitably moved to read it out to my partner, and we shared a quiet chuckle.

Adrian Camberlain’s The Bodymen is on my shortlist for one of my favourites in this collection. Offering a nod to classic splatterpunk and Stephen King, and although by no means unique in its subject matter, this little yarn tells the grim tale of an unfortunate series of events surrounding a pet crematorium. To say any more would lead to spoilers.

Another story about just deserts, Lemminaid by Carson Buckinham is quite vivid when it comes to evoking the setting but it was another where I could see the twist coming from a mile away. Still, the end is suitably inevitable for the main character and Buckinham provides some fine, sold writing.

Lost by Maureen Irvine, although offering me the enjoyment of seeing typical husband-and-wife interchanges, didn’t work for me. One of the major issues I had with it was the omniscient point of view, of head-hopping between the wife and the husband. The obvious horror element also didn’t do much to scare me or build tension. Other than that, it’s still an evocative piece.

Archi’s Story by David M Youngquist hit all the right spots for me. Maybe it’s because I’m a big fan of the Rodriguez brothers’ films, or just that zombies are the “it” thing at the moment. This is a novel masquerading as a short story, so in the shorts stakes, it’s not a classic fit for the vehicle. However, Youngquist has created a compelling tale with characters I immediately loved. This is begging for treatment into a longer format or, dare I say it, a screenplay. This one also hits my favourites list.

Maureen Irvine’s Gift from a Vampire is pretty. As far as poetry goes, I’m a poor judge but I did like this piece.

With the current literary trend showing preference for end times-themed stories, The End, by Serenity J Banks, addresses all the issues plaguing modern culture. This is not so much a post-apocalyptic tale of horror as an examination of the futility of human existence in the light of absolute finality. Thoroughly depressing, this tale is not for the squeamish. Well done, Serenity. You’ve got a winner here.

Lest We Forget by Tracie McBride is also on my short list for the hits from this collection. Stark, the tale hints at the horrors of a twisted Orwellian future at the hand of a mysterious dictatorship, it examines the emotions of people who have accepted their lot. There are many subtle undercurrents in this story, which begs a second read.

My Sister Doesn’t Live There Anymore by John Irvine is a haunting mood piece. While it doesn’t have a heavy horror element, the story did offer a somewhat poignant illustration of sorrow.

The End of Leonard Bangston by John Prescott didn’t quite work for me. Perhaps the shades of a Roald Dahl story were too fresh in my mind, but I saw the ending’s shape very early in the piece. Also, while I applaud the visceral detail the author gives in describing the house, I almost felt there was too much style and not enough substance to the tale. Nonetheless, visceral is possibly the right word to go with the story.

Overall, this is a pleasing collection of short stories and, in my opinion, well worth the investment. It reads quickly and, in general, the tales are suitably grim, grisly and dark, as one would expect from a good horror anthology. Go buy this and read it on a rainy night, at your own peril!

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