shining the spotlight on short story collections
Ambannon Books (USA), 2013
“The worst expectations are those that emerge when the sudden ringing of a phone takes place at 2AM… It was my sister-in-law. … At that moment I knew Michael, my brother, was dead.”
The product of a call for stories and art work among the members of thedarktower.org – basically a group of Stephen King fans – In Mint Condition 2013 is a good anthology where newcomers and scarcely known authors try their hands at dark fiction. The book includes thirteen short stories, three poems and a bunch of original illustrations.
Obviously not everything is top-notch, but on the whole I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the overall quality of the contributions. As a reviewer, however, I will point out only the highlights of the book, with my apologies to the rest of the authors.
To me, The Train Graveyard by Alex Bosi is outstanding, the very best story in the volume. Perceptive and extremely well written, the tale features a man reminiscing about childhood secrets after the death of his brother.
“I saw a framed old black and white picture that I recognized immediately. It was taken by our mother during a breakfast thirty-five years ago; it showed both Michael and I laughing while facing the camera… Everyone who saw that picture loved it for those sincere childish expressions. But I hated it, because it was taken just hours before my childhood days were over.”
Tabula Rasa by Hannah O’Connor, is a truly excellent tale of terror and crime, where a pregnant woman carrying a baby cloned from a famous wicked character, fights hard to save herself and her unborn child.
“I was done. There was no way I could step off the windowsill and not fall to my death. No way. I stepped down and looked down to the concrete deck below in despair. There was one last hope… I went down into the closet and curled up into a ball. I closed the doors behind me, leaving them just barely ajar so as not to arouse suspicion. This was it; it was my Hail Mary.”
Bob Ireland’s The Receptionist is a Kafkaesque, nightmarish piece perfectly blending horror and SF.
“‘Don’t worry, Mr Granger, everything is clearly marked. You’ll have no problem finding your work space. Don’t worry if you don’t see any other employees, either. Employees come and go all hours of the day, and after you have been here a while, you will probably start working from home a few days of the week anyway.” She laughed, then sighed.”
The Rule of the Three by Thomas Cranham, a weird mix of horror and eroticism, stands out as a gripping and extremely unsettling piece of fiction.
“‘Aren’t you coming in?’ asked Kate from some unknown position. ‘And close the door behind you, I’m off to get undressed’ . That was the magic word – undressed – it got his blood pumping, and not to the brain. His feet moved without conscious thought and took him into the house, into the darkness. He was lost to Kate’s spell. His mind was blank.”
All in all this anthology represents a very good start for an In Mint Condition series (a 2014 issue is already in the pipeline), and for the new imprint Ambannon Books. Best wishes and keep up the good work. I’m looking forward to the next volume.
About the reviewer: Mario Guslandi was born and raised in Milan, Italy, where he’s currently living. Most likely the only Italian who regularly reads (and reviews) dark fiction in English, his reviews have appeared in a number of genre sites such as The Agony Column, Horrorworld, The Alien Online, Emerald City, The SF site, The Harrow etc.