OF THE GOOD: POSTSCRIPTS 19
Here’s the latest installment of PS Publishing’s popular POSTSCRIPTS anthology series, showcasing horror, science fiction and the unclassifiable from a variety of authors. The contents are varied enough in style, quality and subject matter that it’s difficult to render any sort of overall verdict--to some of you I’m sure that fact will be off-putting, while others will take it as a strong recommendation. As for me, I’ll say this: I didn’t actively dislike any of the stories, which should by recommendation enough.
The rising fantasy specialist Daniel Abraham starts things off with the rip-roaring steam punk offering “Balfour and Meriwether in the Adventure of The Emperor’s Vengeance,” concerning the pursuit of a clockwork monstrosity through the sewers of 19th Century London. Following is Andrew Hook’s enjoyable “Bigger Then The Beetles,” about synthetic frogs that grow really, really big when placed in water; the things happen to serve a definite purpose, which we discover in the story’s final pages.
Tim Lees’ “Meeting Mr. Tony” is an almost Bradbury-esque account of Mr. Tony, who invades the life of the London-based protagonist, a young boy--but of course there’s far more to Mr. Tony, and the protagonist’s world, than meets the eye. Scott Edelman’s “The World Breaks” is a searingly bleak look at America in the wake of a nuclear war, related through letters written by parents to their children and vice-versa. “The Portrayed Man” by Justin Cartaginese has a terrific TWILIGHT ZONE-ish premise--an overworked man procures the services of an agency that replaces people like himself with look-alike actors--but an unsatisfying ending. The title story by Matthew Hughes is a novella-length science fiction piece involving interstellar thieves and a long-vanished cult. It’s well written, but also excessively drawn-out and dull.
Chris Beckett‘s “The Famous Cave Paintings on Isolus 9” is another one for the sci fi field. It concerns a cosmonaut writer who travels to a distant planet whose primitive inhabitants live underground, wherein a series of cave paintings lead to intriguing speculations on the nature of religion and reality itself. I found the story a bit overwritten, but it has a powerfully haunting air. Continuing the fame theme is “Famous People” by Ron Savage. This one has a vaguely supernatural vibe, but is notable mostly for its thoughtful and all-too-realistic look at the pratfalls of stardom, as represented by a popular child actress, her plain-Jane sister and a long-dead girl starlet, whose outdated but still relevant diary entries punctuate the tale.
There are a few short, surreal oddities. “The Cacto Skeleton” by David T. Wilbanks has a walking skeleton whose touch causes people to fall down dead. “A Life Clichéd” by David N. Drake is an intriguing two-pager about a couple shopping for an offspring in a store called Birth Rite, which sells children with pre-destined futures. Oddest of all is “The Red King’s Sleep” by Marly Youmans, a wild, unclassifiable dream tale.
The final story is “The Warlock and the Man” by M.K. Hobson. It’s a weird western that reads like the NIGHTWATCH books/movies transposed to Wild West America, with a race of monstrous “Hell Niggers,” led by the demonic Mountain King, existing in uneasy conjunction with the human residents of a small town. But when the brother of the Mountain King is gunned down the truce is shattered, leading to a supernatural showdown. A good story, and also a good book.