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Spotlight on: Badass Horror edited by Michael Stone and Christopher J. Hall

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Badass Horror edited by Michael Stone and Christopher J. Hall Michael Stone and Christopher J. Hall (editors), Badass Horror

The second book from Tim Lieder's Dybbuk Press, the follow-up to the solid anthology edited by Lieder, Teddy Bear Cannibal Massacre, is another anthology of horror stories (more or less) edited by Michael Stone and Christopher J. Hall and called Badass Horror.

Gerard Brennan starts off Badass Horror with "Pool Sharks," a story where metaphor meets extreme violence when Northern Ireland meets the south in a game of pool to the death. Brennan's tale reeks of authenticity (I get the feeling he's spent a good deal of time in pool halls) and moves quickly, up until its ending, where it turns philosophical and trite and just about loses all the punch it brought in the beginning. Endings are notoriously hard, but this one was too soft.

Next up is Garry Kilworth's "The Stray," an is-it-or-isn't-it, what-am-I-supposed-to-be-thinking kind of tale about a fellow named Tom who hangs around a brothel. To say much more would give the point away, but it's kind of a one-joke piece anyway. Kilworth is a solid wordsmith, though, and doesn't waste time getting to the point. My main complaint is that it's not a horror tale, although it may be a little badass. (But, then, Teddy Bear Cannibal Massacre wasn't the epitome of truth in advertising, either.)

Then, "Hardboiled Stiff" by Michael Hemmingson ups the "badass" factor significantly. Hemmingson offers up a blend of the private-eye and zombie genres that works surprisingly well. Arthur Gideon awakens with two bullet holes in his chest, covered with dirt, no memory, and a inexplicable craving for fresh brains. We follow Gideon as he discovers how he got into this state, finding things out as he does. Hemmingson throws in some necrophilia for good measure (dead guys have needs, too!), but the effect is lessened by the fact that the whole thing reads like a first draft. (Editors, don't be afraid to do your jobs, even for someone so widely published.)

Next comes the highlight of Badass Horror, "All the Pretty Girls" by Ronald Damien Malfi — a reprint originally published in Bare Bone #8. Some people worship cars, but monastery groundskeeper Pablo Santiago is taking things a little bit too far. Malfi really knows his craft, creating a protagonist who remains engaging no matter his actions, a gripping premise, and a good measure of suspense toward how it will all turn out. The conclusion is direct and fits all the pieces together, and though the here-we-go-again epilogue is cliche (it has become a standard of the horror genre), it actually imparts more needed information for the reader. Plus, he has a real ear for dialogue, giving each character a discernible speech pattern. "All the Pretty Girls" is like Mary Poppins: "practically perfect in every way."

But Davin Ireland's "The Essences" really gives it a run for it money. There's real storytelling brilliance here. The beginning is not only a grabber, but is also cleverly deceptive — and I love surprises in fiction; they are so rare. A stakeout gone awry leads Paul Gemson onto the abandoned thirteenth floor of an office building, and to the Keeper of the Essences. The pure imagination involved in this story was stunning and it is not only readable but also brought back memories of old-time radio with its taut delivery. My only complaint is that it should have ended (as I thought) prior to the accompanying illustration, instead of (as I discovered the next day) on the following page. That last page does nothing for the tale itself and its meandering tone actually detracts from it.

(Speaking of the illustrations, there are eight that appear throughout the book by artist Federico Dallochio, and some are repeated on the book's final pages. Every story is illustrated — except "The Stray," and for good reason — and "Pool Sharks" and "All the Pretty Girls" each get two, if you include the cover. They don't all come off equally well, though; the monochromatic design of the book often makes the blacks too black and the whites too white, causing a loss of detail. They are successful as often as not, however, and are a good addition to the anthology.)

I first read Gord Rollo's work in an anthology called Tooth and Claw, Volume One that put humans "at the bottom of the food chain." Rollo's piece in that anthology, "Friends of a Forgotten Man," focused on an uncommon manner of revenge, as does his entry in Badass Horror. "Moving Pictures" is the story of Ronnie, a protection-racket enforcer trying to redeem himself to his boss, extorting a free tattoo out of a small-businessman in the process. Don't people know you never anger a tattoo artist? Only bad can come of it. Rollo's talent lies in details, in his description of Ronnie's inner thoughts, and especially in the directness of the closing paragraph. "Moving Pictures" is a throwback to the pulps, and a damned good one.

If you know the name Michael Boatman, it's as likely from movies like Hamburger Hill or TV shows like Spin City as from reading books, though his short work has been widely anthologized and he has published two novels. His entry, "Bloodbath and Landsdale Towers," is a perfect closer, because there's not a story in Badass Horror that is more badass or more horrific; and I can't imagine one having such a complete sense of finality as this one. Filled with purely despicable characters, the horror comes not from their deaths (which are actually welcome) but from their vile actions toward each other. Sex, drugs, and violence abound. The title is a nice (though misspelled) tribute to Joe R. Lansdale, since Boatman's characters are so obviously influenced by this most badass of all horror writers. This thinly veiled inspiration makes it difficult to take the story on its own terms, but Boatman is at the very least an excellent mimic — though I do wonder what he's like when he writes in his own voice.

Coming in at 145 pages, Badass Horror is a slim volume, but a tightly packed one. The average story length is twenty pages, the ideal length for short fiction in my experience. Editors Michael Stone and Christopher J. Hall have done their book a service by picking only the very best to represent them, instead of padding out the length with less badass, less horrific ones just to up the page count (and most likely the price). Kudos to Dybbuk Press for another fine volume of genre fiction; this and Teddy Bear Cannibal Massacre speak well for their future. Now, if we can only get a novel out of them ....

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