by David Sakmyster (Wordfire Press)
This short speculative fiction collection by veteran A&A author contains two stories published in this magazine: “Turning Time” and “The Wrong Basement.” The former is chilling, the latter whimsical and heartwarming. So I knew David Sakmyster had range before I picked up this volume.
I was wrong. Those two stories don’t show even half of span of stories he can weave. Many of them wander into the horror genre, but Sakmyster does dark fiction without a squick factor, with one notable exception (“Combers”), so I even enjoyed those
“Ladders,” originally published in ChiZine, is one of the most despairing and literary stories I’ve ever read. Anyone who wants a definition of ‘hopeless’ should just reference this paean to urban loneliness.
Next is “Five Star Review.” How Sakmyster turned online foodie reviews into a horror story is worth reading. He does the same chilling thing to your friendly GPS and such in “Roadside Assistance.” “For Sale” also skews the mundane: he turns a real estate add into…how to sell a haunted house.
“The Red Envelope” is more exotic, involving a jealous Chinese ghost wife that a westerner does not, at first, believe in. “Plastomancer” is also set in China, and is a straight fantasy about vanishing cultures. In their unfamiliar settings, they echo “Turning Time” – but that story borrows from the culture of Madagascar.
I pretty much despise zombie stories but “Bait” hooked me by suggesting how they would act underwater. It gave ‘chum’ a whole new meaning.
Fans of Philip K. Dick will love the twists and turns in the surreal “Past Tense,” “Casualty Notification Officer,” and “Time Frame.” Meanwhile, your inner Star Trek fan will really enjoy “Guardians” and “Blackout Man” – a story I simply cannot get out of my head.
“Hotline” is a straight horror story that turns a hapless volunteer into a victim, while “Internal Affairs”— surely the title is a contender for Pun Of The Year—takes backwoods magic and applies it to the modern battlefield. This is especially terrifying and memorable. What a reveal.
These are only some of the stories. It’s great. I will be re-reading it, for pleasure.