Shadowhawk reviews the latest horror/weird fiction anthology by small press publisher Angelic Knight Press.
“These are stories that are going to mess with your head, so bring your game face. Oh and they are also quite awesome too.” ~The Founding Fields
Tim Marquitz is another author I’ve met through Facebook/Twitter and have been interested in reading for a while now but didn’t quite get around to. Still, he is a fairly chatty person and a great guy to interact with. When he offered review copies of his new anthology of weird/horror fiction, I jumped on the chance, even though neither of those are my genres. Quite outside my comfort zone in fact, and I’ve read very, very little weird/horror fiction over the years. If I had to even take a guess, I’d say that the last truly horror fiction I read was some Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Ghost Mysteries (?) stuff about thirteen-fourteen years ago, or some Goosebumps novels around the same time. Yeah, I know, kind of depressing to a degree. But its just not my thing. Chance to rectify was had however and I dove into Fading Light with enthusiasm, waiting to be surprised and wowed or whatever as I really had no expectations from it given my relative inexperience.
Fading Light opens with some truly fantastic stories by Adam Millard, Nick Cato, and Stephen McQuiggan. The first one is all about parasites in a soon-to-be post-apocalyptic world, the second about a man’s fear of gravity, and the third about a (sorcerous) serial killer in an out-of-the-way town. What helped my immersion into these stories was that they were all short and they set the tone and mood for the rest of the anthology. They also hint at what can be found in the rest of the pages, especially in terms of the the type of stories being told. In that respect, these three stories worked really well for me and were a good intro to weird/horror fiction. Based on this experience, I’d like to read more of the same from these authors. Adam Millard and Stephen McQuiggan’s stories particularly have a strong kernel of emotion to them, the former being all about the creepy-crawly horror, and the latter about the tragedy of an entire town losing its children to a man who could give even Joker nightmares.
From then on, the anthology starts to mature in leaps and bounds. You have stories set in the depths of the deepest waters of Earth, stories about all kinds of other parasites and insects, stories about the weirdest aliens you can imagine, some Lovecraftian stuff, doom-and-gloom end of the Earth type of stuff and so on. Some of these stories were downright disgusting, some were just plain weird that I didn’t get, some offered interesting protagonists in the everyday world, some were about the most silliest of characters and so on. The mix of stories in terms of the lengths and the contents and the styles means that Fading Light has something to offer for everyone and is, to my inexperienced eyes, widely representative of the genre.
The overarching theme of the anthology is that mankind’s rule over Earth is coming to an end and that horrors from the beyond, whether a different dimension or out of the solar system or what have you are hastening that demise. The light of humanity is, literally, fading. As such, there are a LOT of stories in the anthology that deal with extraterrestrial horrors, a high percentage of those with a science-fiction bent. It certainly is an interesting theme to stick to, however, it is not represented so well by many of the stories therein as they don’t play up that angle as much as they could have.
To be fair however, while the title offers clues as to the content, I wasn’t bothered that many of the stories didn’t enforce that fading light theme. I gave the back-of-the-book blurb only a passing glance before I dived into reading the anthology and as I remarked to Tim at one point, there were a lot of extraterrestrial horror stories here. Bit of a slip-up on my part but there you have it! I was far more interested in the stories themselves rather than with the themes they were conveying.
Some of the really stand-out stories were, apart from the first three I’ve already mentioned:
Friends of a Forgotten Man by Gord Rollo. This is about a man trapped in a very, very small room where his only friends are a hive of blood-sucking leeches. This was, hands down, one of the best in the anthology. It had the creepiest premise and it was executed brilliantly. I kept shuddering when reading this. Those leeches? I hope to all the gods that I never meet them. Ever. Or any other leech for that matter.
Degenerates by D L Seymour. This is a Lovecraftian story and while the elements of that distinctive style don’t actually come into play until the very end, I think this is another top story as what made it work for me was how normal everything seemed until things irreversibly went south. Diana Collins was a great character and I really wish that things had turned out much better for her. Alas, it was not to be.
Born of Darkness by Stacey Turner. I liked this one because it is one of the very few (extremely so) stories in the anthology with a somewhat decent, positive ending and because of the themes that the author plays with. Its a simple story of good versus evil told in a really great post-apocalyptic setting and with a heck of a religious bent to it. A contender for the top spot.
The Beastly Ninth by Carl Baker. This was a historical horror story about a battle between Napoleon and Lord Wellington involving were-beasts and zombies. A perfect story. The dark and dreary mood of the battlefield is captured really well and the execution of the story is also perfect. The casting of Napoleon as some kind of a black magic sorcerer is what really sold me on this one, although we don’t see the man himself at all.
Overall, Fading Light is a great anthology that certainly held my interest for the majority of its length. Some stories just didn’t work for me, such as Gary W. Olson’s Goldilocks Zone or Wayne Ligon’s Dust because of either their super-gross nature or the lack of proper context and description, but overall, my first proper introduction to weird/horror fiction has been a success I think. Tim Marquitz has done a great job with the diversity in the anthology and that kind of thing is no mean feat, thirty different stories in the main anthology and another four in the companion version (the one I read).
So yeah, I would recommend the anthology to all readers of the weird/horror genre out there and would also say that I’d very much like to dip into the genre more myself.