With a great deal of trepidation, Edmund powered the turntable and placed the needle just forward of the first cut.
After the static hiss, he heard the sound of children crying. It was as though someone had recorded a nursery full of crying babies. The track sped up and slowed down intermittently and the effect was positively nauseating. He brought the needle ahead five grooves and dropped it again. A woman groaned in what was either pain or pleasure or both while a little girl giggled in the background. There was a sick, wet smacking sound, like a bat hitting a head of cabbage over and over, and beneath that, almost imperceptibly, someone chanted in a language that sounded like German, but wasn’t.
The moaning choked off suddenly, the rhythmic smacking quickened, and the little girl started to cry.
Edmund lifted the needle.
Real quick update on my ‘changed’ book review rating policy. My previous ranking system (available here if interested) was great; nuanced, carefully thought out, and impossible to use in practice. I found myself twisting myself in knots about whether a book was 3 or 4 stars, whether I needed to rank books outside my genre’s of interest differently, whether a rocking but simple YA book I loved should ever be given the same rating as an elegantly crafted classic that I hated.
So welcome to my new rating system, stolen outright from Amazon:
5 stars – I loved it
4 stars – I liked it
3 stars – It was OK
2 stars – I didn’t like it
1 star – I hated it
Uncomplicated. Understandable. This has the added advantage that I don’t need to change any of my previous ratings (well maybe I need to upgrade this one to a three…maybe later).
Well, with all that said…
Blood Sushi – 5 out of 5 Stars
Short, brutal, creative.
I owe The Deadguy for this one. I was made aware of Dirge Magazine following Richard Dansky on Twitter (SkilletKiller@). I saw he had written one of the stories in this short anthology and pretty much leaped on it. That’s right, I actually pre-ordered this book on the strength of a decades old fanboy crush on Dansky’s work and writing on the World Of Darkness game, Wraith: The Oblivion. I may have also had a beer or two…but I’m sure that didn’t influence my decision.
So, what’s so good about these stories? Basically, I think they are horror done right.
In my view, the best horror should unnerve. It should make the reader uncomfortable and voyeuristic. It should make you wriggle in your seat, and worry about what someone reading over your shoulder might think about the sort of person who would read this stuff. You freak.
Then again, too much in the genre confuses terror with gore, emotion with body count. Good horror is better than simple torture porn, it fascinates while hitting a deeper nerve. Good horror is imaginative and emotive.
With its varied stories, Blood Sushi hits this balance dead on.
Thematically I think I can split these stories into three broad groups:
Dark (Urban) Fantasy
These dark fantasy stories are probably the closest to commercial or traditional horror – right along the lines of Stephen King. These ideas are creative, fantastic, and (of course) dark. Personally these three tended to be more interesting than uncomfortable, but still .
A Splash of Blue – Richard Dansky: Not quite a noir-styled fantasy mystery, a father hires the main character, a supernatural detective, to find his daughter. The detective demands payment in emotion, and the father pays well. Our detective seems a bit dubious, but takes the job – I mean, how often can you find genuine uncut remorse these days?
An interesting short, this one tells its story as it skims over the top of what felt to be a far deeper world of super and supernaturally powered people. I also liked the ‘payment in passions’ angle – enough to warming this old Usurer’s ectoplasmic heart.
Honor Killing – Richard Lee Byers: A woman police officer interviews a suspect; a man who she suspects hires himself out in bizarre ‘honor killings’ against women who ‘shame’ their families. During the interview, the suspect reveals a fantastic and chilling story of how, and why he does it.
This one…grated me a bit. The writing’s good and the story is interesting, but I found the narrator, the vastly arrogant and evil suspect, tweaked a nerve of dislike. He irritated me. Still, not a bad story, just not my favourite out of this bunch.
Windy City Blues – Joseph Morgado: A returned soldier takes his girl out; a night out on the town to watch her while she dances with everyone. She flirts, but he’s not jealous. He knows she will never leave him…no matter how much he might wish otherwise.
Solid story with a great melancholic feel to it. Drips with regret.
These stories are psychedelic horrors, bad trips, and otherworldly intrusions onto our reality. They are linked by a common feeling of unreality.
A Culinary Error – Samuel R George: Simple premise – a babysitter takes too much acid, and as things get trippy, things go very very wrong.
A simple premise, and an ending that’s pretty obvious (if you ask me). But don’t get me wrong – this one gets you squirming. Figuring out what’s coming simply means you have longer to feel the dread.
Happy Sunshine Music – S.C Hayden: Playing a mysterious vinyl record results in wicked, primal sex and uncontrollable depraved violence.
The first story in the book, it does a great job of setting the expectations for the others. Some great imagery here with a heavy pagan feel to parts.
Anxiety Square – Joseph Wood: takes that acid trip and slams it straight into your brain. Just when you think you are getting comfortable, Wood yanks the carpet out from under you.
I’m reading William Burroughs’s Naked Lunch at the moment, and these story really shared this demented dreamlike quality that suddenly turns nightmarish and unhinged.
These stories were (in my opinion) the best of the lot. Both had a terrible weight, an oppressive and sadistic texture, whilst leaving the actual violence merely suggested, or implied. Difficult, distressing, powerful stories.
Remember This – Kat Dalziel: A terrifying exploration of a single room, by an isolated and drugged captive.
Our disoriented narrator brings a personal sense of terror to this tale.
Her Mother’s Daughter – K.L Grady: In a post-apocalyptic world a young woman seeks escape from her increasingly terrifying father and his…farm.
Oh this one. This one has suggestive and off-screen violence that is truly skin-crawling.
A short, excellent compilation of horror short stories.
So – been a while, but I want to get back into the more regular writing and more regular book reviews. I’ve read some seriously excellent books recently, so I’ve really got to get into it!