Kevin J. Anderson
(WMG Publishing, August 2017, pb, 284 pp.)
Reviewed by Victoria Silverwolf
Approximately half of the stories in this anthology of fast-paced, action-packed tales contain elements of science fiction or fantasy. Those by Kelly Washington, Michael Kowal, Patrick O’Sullivan, David Stier, David H. Hendrickson, Daemon Crowe, Travis Heermann, and Eric Kent Edstrom do not, and will not be reviewed here. Readers of war stories and crime fiction will find them of interest.
The title of “A Demon from Hell Walks into a Speakeasy” by Ron Collins sounds like the start of a joke. That’s fitting, given that this is a madcap farce set in a magical version of Al Capone’s Chicago. The demon gets mixed up with a seductive elf, whose father is trying to take over Capone’s territory. The poor devil has his hands full, with cops, gangsters, a leprechaun, and even his grandmother (who happens to be the Queen of Hell) out to get him. This lighthearted romp is likely to raise a smile.
Set during the Gulf War, “Blood Storm” by Bob Sojka deals with a group of American soldiers in a tank who are attacked by supernatural creatures. The author creates a sense of reality with authentic dialogue and technical details. The nature of the unnatural beings may not be surprising, but the story is certainly vivid.
“So Many Ways to Die” by Dayle A. Dermatis is the only science fiction story in the anthology. A meteoroid hits a spaceship orbiting Mars, badly injuring two of its crew. To add to their problems, the ship’s docking port is damaged. As a result, the two remaining astronauts are trapped in the small vessel carrying them from the red planet to the mothership. The only uninjured person aboard is the ship’s medic, who must overcome her fear of outer space and go outside to repair the port. By the end of the story, she must pay an even higher price to save the lives of her companions. Although the theme is a familiar one, the protagonist’s plight is compelling.
The narrator of “Egg Thief” by Debbie Mumford steals a priceless dragon egg from its nest, then faces the mother’s wrath. The author provides a straightforward demonstration of the fact that crime does not pay, likely to appeal to readers of traditional fantasy.
The editor’s introduction to “Dust to Dust” by Annie Reed reveals too much about the story. Suffice to say that a woman is sent to track down an evil man who commands a gang of children and return him to the place from where he came. Through flashbacks we learn the woman’s tragic backstory, discover the extraordinary nature of her assignment, and the surprising identity of the one who sent her. This is a unique dark fantasy with strong emotional appeal.
The hero of “The Mark of Blackfriar Street” by Scott T. Barnes is a bounty hunter in a fantasy world. A magical device implanted in his eye allows him to detect those whom he can capture for a reward, but not their exact nature. With the help of his mighty steed, he traps his target. Meanwhile, he has to evade officers of the law who want the reward for themselves. The climax reveals the nature of the hunter and his prey. This is an effective adventure story.
Firmly tongue-in-cheek, “Rude Awakening” by Kevin J. Anderson provides the kind of vampire familiar from monster movies. He’s a count, wears a long black cape, lives in a castle, and has three vampire brides. The twist is that the story is told from his point of view, and the vampire hunter is seen as a homicidal maniac. It all leads up to an ironic conclusion.
Victoria Silverwolf has a mind that is about half science fiction and fantasy.