The Proud & The Dumb by Bob Freville

The Proud & The Dumb manages to be simultaneously hilarious and depressing, irreverent and poignant. There’s a message in Freville’s story. Sadly, the people who should benefit from that message are probably just as incapable of reading at the appropriate grade level as Liam, Connie, and Gunther. It’s up to the rest of us to enjoy this bitter, sarcastic, and cynical glimpse into an evening amidst a small crew of white nationalists in the midwest.
Nothing is quite as it seems, and least of all Curry, the compatriot this trio of imbecilic alt-right gentlemen suspect of being a closet-libtard. Desperate to keep his former associates from killing him in cold blood, Curry talks circles around the other three, calling into question the coherence and consistency of the beliefs they supposedly stand for in their neverending battle against immigrants, homosexuals, and liberals. But is it simple desperation or a more sinister objective pushing Curry to test the limits of the tolerance of his three former friends, as well as their intellects?
While there isn’t much wit to be found in the characters populating this novelette, from the trio of alt-right fellas to the police who find themselves dealing with this unfortunate assortment of dregs, there’s plenty of wit in Freville’s storytelling. He expertly showcases examples of the seemingly limitless barrage of inconsistent, incoherent, and–frequently–incompatible beliefs espoused by groups just like those featured in The Proud & The Dumb. Within these few pages, we’re exposed to so many contradictory statements from the characters that we can only wish it was satire; but that same duration spent listening to people who travel in these social circles would quickly erase any hope of that being true.
The truest absurdity of this tale is that the truth is stranger than fiction.

This story was released on http://www.godless.com during the AntiChristmas event for December of 2021. You can obtain it for yourself by going to the website or downloading the Godless app to your mobile device. The link is below:

Vanitas by The Professor

The Professor delivers more than we could have hoped for with his epic poem, Vanitas. With this Robert Browning-inspired poem, he manages to create a vanitas of sorts. Both in the narrative conveyed within the poem and from the reading of the poem itself, the reader is subjected to a consideration of the contrast between life and death.
Subtle nuances in the still life painting of his wife send a Duke down meandering and shadow-cloaked pathways within his bitter and jealous imagination. As the Duke becomes increasingly certain the Duchess has been seduced by the painter, he determines that there might be a bit of artistic sensibility in himself as well.
Was the Duchess scampering through the maze, seduced by whispering promises of what the artist would give her if only he could? Did seeds of this infidelity take root in the soil of her heart where they germinated, decaying the love for her Duke?
Perceiving this rot inside her, the Duke had only one course of action. Of course, it’s always possible the Duke is simply a madman driven to extremes by a jealous nature and bitter envy of the painter’s skill. The truth is something we might never know.
Could this latest release from The Professor serve as a prequel of sorts to the Browning poem, My Last Duchess? Are we reading the sordid details of what transpired before Browning’s poem begins? The Professor may be revealing to us the telltale unfaithfulness captured in the Duchess’s slight blush, sending the Duke reeling toward horrific conclusions with fatal consequences. I, for one, choose to accept this as a canonical antecedent.

Vanitas can be obtained by going to http://www.godless.com or by downloading the Godless app to your preferred mobile device. The link is below:

Abigail by Daemon Manx

Adrian had a spectacular night on a date with Mike, who might be the man of his dreams. His life might be changing, and he’s feeling a sense of optimism when he arrives home to find an unexpected package at his front door. Fearing a basket filled with venomous snakes, Adrian instead discovers that his life is indeed going to change, but in wholly unexpected ways.
The gray-skinned, tiny-horned baby with violet and silver eyes is nothing Adrian could have anticipated. Nevertheless, he finds himself immediately in love with the peculiar child and desperate to protect her. As a gay man, he knows precisely how cruel the world can be to those who aren’t like everyone else.
Shut away from the outside world, devoted to caring for his unexpected daughter, it still doesn’t take Adrian long to learn that Abigail has a strange effect on people. Deciding it’s time to stop dodging Mike’s calls, Adrian hopes the doctor and potential lover might be able to answer the numerous questions he has regarding this bundle of joy.
Daemon Manx manages to surprise readers with a twist that’s so subtle in its build-up that no one is going to see it coming. It’s a challenge to craft such a surprise in so few pages, but Manx pulls it off admirably well. The reader will find themselves wondering how they could have missed something so huge, only to wonder why it’s such a colossal revelation in the first place. For a story that focuses so heavily on preconceived notions, it’s a spectacular feat that Manx forces the reader to evaluate their own preconceived notions by the time they reach the end.

Abigail is a short fiction nominee for the 2022 Splatterpunk Awards taking place at KillerCon Austin 2022 in August.

Musings of a Sadist by Ryder Kinlay

Musings of a Sadist (David Longbottom’s Misadventures) collects the first four stories Kinlay’s written about our favorite Australian Patrick Bateman impersonator. Kinlay successfully crafts something that feels less like a collection of separate stories but serves as more of a sequence of vignettes about Longbottom’s life over a specific period. There is an assortment of self-referential moments throughout the included misadventures, reminding readers that each installment is sequentially consistent.
Naturally, this begins with Longbottom’s Thailand honeymoon from the story that introduced us to this depraved maniac, Bloodymoon. I’ve already reviewed this story, so I’ll refer you to the following link if you want to see what I had to say:


https://meltdownmessiah.com/2021/08/05/bloodymoon-by-ryder-kinlay/


We move on to an installment that is of personal interest to me, as Ryder Kinlay incorporated a character named after me in the debauchery and cruelty taking place. Again, I’ve reviewed This Is Not An Exit previously, and you can find my thoughts at the following link:


https://meltdownmessiah.com/2021/09/13/this-is-not-an-exit-by-ryder-kinlay/


Next up, we have Dia De Los Death, wherein David feels like he might have finally found a woman he can love, and we learn just how perverse his devotion to his mother happens to be. I’ve reviewed this story previously at the following link:

https://meltdownmessiah.com/2021/10/28/dia-de-los-death-by-ryder-kinlay/


And finally, we come to Hot Shots, the newest Longbottom tale and one exclusive to this volume. When David’s best friend, Dakota, calls him in a panic, seeking assistance because he’s in an apartment with a dead man he’d only recently been intimate with, Longbottom resigns himself to helping out. Readers have the distinct pleasure of learning new facts about biology and the biological functions that can transpire post-mortem, so it’s educational. Of course, the excitement doesn’t stop there, and everything turns out splendidly for Dakota and David as they jump into a bonding experience and set the stage for future misadventures.

You can obtain this omnibus collection by going to http://www.godless.com or by downloading the Godless app to your mobile device of choice. The link is below:

Shattered Skies by Chris Miller

The Foreword provided by Patrick C. Harrison III accurately captures the most impactful component of Chris Miller’s stories collected in Shattered Skies, suspense. There is an underlying sense of suspense to these tales, sometimes bordering on dread and other times sweeping the reader away with excitement, but ever-present just the same. Combining that anticipation and tension with masterful storytelling, Miller has assembled an amazing cross-section of what he’s capable of as a writer.
Instead of delving into each of the stories, as I often do, I’m choosing to focus on the handful that left the most lasting impression on me. This is not to say that anything is lacking in the others, just that I’m going to be spoiling things in small ways, and I’d prefer to avoid doing so with everything in this collection.
Kicking everything off with 10-35 At First United Bank, Miller thrusts readers into an all-too-plausible sort of horror as an elderly bank security guard finds himself caught up in circumstances he can’t control as he desperately tries to save the lives of those he loves. The bank heist trope receives a refreshingly sincere treatment that’s sure to be heartbreaking for readers.
Behind Blue Eyes was a story I’d already thoroughly enjoyed when I read And Hell Followed, an anthology of the end times. Miller’s portrait of a world going progressively more mad with each pressure wave of the horns blasting to signify the end is something that propels us toward a conclusion that feels simultaneously unfair and fitting. This one is a story of guilt and remorse over the way little things can have a profound and lasting impact on our lives, amplified in the recollection.
An attempt to relax with a house full of family transforms into a confrontation with a looming and mysterious terror enveloping the protagonist’s world in Horror On Lonesome Lane. Discovering what awaits on the other side has rarely seemed this awful and sinister.
Road Kill Gods provides us with a glimpse into what might be required of us to hold nature at bay as we carelessly and callously slaughter our way through our lives. Unwilling to accept the price to be paid, will our protagonist release a wave of horror upon the whole world?
As a child, there was no one in my family with whom I spent more of my time than my grandfather. In my case, it was my maternal grandfather rather than my paternal, but that doesn’t change the way Miller devastated me when I was reading Farewell. I was lucky enough to be in my 20s before my maternal grandfather passed away, and I can only imagine how much worse it would’ve been if he’d gone when I was much younger. Farewell is a touching and heartbreaking story, but it’s also a story of how tragedy can sometimes bring families closer and establish new roles for us as we seek to fill the void left in someone’s absence.
A Magnificent View brings us back to the same event from Behind Blue Eyes, or a similar enough event that we can assume they might be the same. Forced to witness the world collapsing into chaos from miles above the surface, a lone astronaut measures his life by oxygen percentage, knowing that he might still be the last survivor of the human race when all is said and done.
Wrapping up this collection with the M. Ennenbach co-authored Neon Sky was an excellent choice. We experience another story that, at its core, is about family and the risks we’ll take to save them. We’re gifted with another tale of a heist gone wrong, this one in a near-future cyberpunk dystopia. Fast-paced and endlessly exciting, Neon Sky is a fascinating juxtaposition from the somber tone of 10-35 At First United Bank. Miller and Ennenbach deliver a thrill ride populated by police drones, horrifying machines that keep the city functioning, an army of mafia killers, hackers, and confusing firearms.

Shattered Skies is a finalist on the ballot for the 2022 Splatterpunk Awards to take place at KillerCon Austin in August of 2022.

Permafrost by Alastair Reynolds, Narrated by Natasha Soudek

Most of my exposure to Alastair Reynolds has been in the form of grand, far-future space operas. Reynolds’s work appeals to me, in large part, because it’s typically heavy on the darker aspects of human nature–as well as the incomprehensible or frequently sinister nature of other intelligences humanity encounters amongst the stars. Of course, there’s also the necessary focus on the uncaring and hazardous nature of the universe itself.
While Permafrost takes place on Earth, in our not-too-distant future, it’s imbued with that theme of humanity struggling against forces of a universe that is indifferent to our survival. Only a couple of decades from where we find ourselves today, an unexpected global catastrophe begins. As insect, plant, and other animal life dies off, we find the remaining human population facing imminent starvation and dwindling numbers. The only solution is to find a way to make small changes in the past that will allow the humans of 2080 to implement their only chance of saving the human life that remains.
Unfortunately, we can’t send anything like a human being into the past. However, scientists have discovered a way to tether two consciousnesses separated by half a century or more via a neural interface grown from nanoscale machines transported back in time. By sending pilots–individuals who will assume control of an unwilling and presumably unwitting subject–downstream and into these hosts, the Permafrost project hopes to salvage the only thing that can save the future.
The unlikely protagonist of Valentina was a surprising choice, an elderly woman and mathematician, the daughter of a mathematician who specialized in paradox and the potential for time travel. Chosen as the first pilot sent back, Valentina soon discovers unanticipated consequences of assuming control of a host. More than that, Valentina learns the chilling truth that there might be forces further upstream, unexpected foes who might not want them to succeed in their mission.
The final scene of this novella is positively heartbreaking but totally in line with the sort of ending one might expect from Reynolds.
Natasha Soudek’s narration is perfect for both Valentina and Tatiana, capturing the differences between the two characters with effective nuance. She successfully managed to tackle the other characters no less effectively.

Firefly: Life Signs by James Lovegrove, Narrated by James Anderson Foster

With Life Signs, James Lovegrove addresses one of the well-known–though never overtly stated–elements of the Firefly narrative. Had the show been allowed to flourish–beyond the abbreviated single season–it would have become a plot point that Inara was dying before she’d ever joined the crew of Serenity. There were hints and allusions in the existing episodes, setting the stage for that revelation, but Firefly didn’t have sufficient time to delve into the assorted elements it was establishing.
When it came time to create Serenity as a follow-up to the series, the fat had to be trimmed, to make a story that would appeal to both the disaffected fans of the original series as well as a new audience not already immersed in what had come before. There was no time to dig into the more obscure details that only the most die-hard fans were aching to see as the filmmakers’ focus. Thus, a whole narrative thread was snipped and allowed to drift away like a leaf on the wind.
Thanks to a team of writers who never stopped fleshing out the world of The Verse, there have been graphic novels as well as these supplemental novels providing us with answers to questions we had as well as some we’d never thought to ask.
This book, more than the other four, satisfies the Firefly fan by addressing Inara’s sickness. It also provides a much-desired glimpse into the story that was taking place between the conclusion of Firefly and the opening scenes of Serenity.
Because this story relies on the reader having been previously introduced to characters who weren’t set up during the television series, it makes sense that Life Signs is the fifth of these releases.
Learning of Inara’s terminal cancer, Mal is desperate to find some way to restore the woman he loves to good health. The knowledge that there is a scientist who might have developed a cure sends Mal and the crew of Serenity on a trajectory that leads to a distant, frozen prison planet where The Alliance deposits only those they most want out of sight and out of mind.
In the frigid wastes of Atata, the crew faces impossible odds as Mal’s desperation to save Inara endangers everyone. Alliance forces, dangerous inmates, mutated predators brought about by failed terraforming, and an environment unsuitable for human life might be less hazardous than the quixotic pursuit Mal leads Zoe, Jane, and Simon on as he drives them toward unknown dangers.
As with all of the previous installments in this series, James Anderson Foster does a superb job of bringing the characters to life with his expert narration.

Insatiable by Rayne Havok, Narrated by The Professor

Insatiable is, at least for those who listen to the audio narration, a match made in Hell. Rayne Havok’s tale of uncontrollable lust giving way to hunger that bleeds into gluttony is, on its own, a spectacularly visceral story. When one includes the eloquent and superbly articulate narration provided by The Professor into the mix, it serves to take the story to an entirely different level. His voice lulls the listener into a receptive state with an almost soporific cadence that belies the sinister undertones hinting at what’s to come. Even as we arrive at the tale’s vile and blood-drenched conclusion, we’re still held captive by the strangely soothing, borderline palliative quality of The Professor’s voice.
Havok captures the all-consuming nature of obsession with Insatiable, portraying in literal terms the insatiable need of our narrator as well as the object of that attention. Insatiable feels like the result of what we’d discover if one were to eavesdrop on a sexting exchange between the smuttiest members of the extreme horror community; this story could be the adaptation of that cruel, visceral, and uniquely erotic conversation. With The Professor’s narration in the mix, the listener might be forgiven for suspecting that they’d dialed into the phone sex line of the damned. For those old enough to remember the late-night advertisements promising forbidden pleasures with real live participants only a phone call away–and some ungodly per-minute price. Ungodly is certainly an appropriate term in the context of this story, but the price is far more palatable.

This title is available from http://www.godless.com or through the Godless app. The link is below:

The Pale Ones by Terry Miller

Is Audrey Tipton plagued by night terrors, those nightmare visions and impressions that remain after she’s opened her eyes? Or are the pale, sinister beings she sees peering in at her and walking the halls of her house at night really there? If it’s not Audrey’s imagination getting the best of her, what could these creatures want with her parents or with her?
Terry Miller crafts a surprisingly atmospheric tale for how brief the narrative is. It’s a chilling plunge into the deepest shadows of the night that transform our otherwise familiar homes into strange places populated by stranger creatures. Just as horrific, Miller explores what it means when familiar faces feel like hiding places for foreign entities. We’re left to question every minor inconsistency or out-of-character behavior as potential revelations of sinister life venturing from darkness into the light.

You can obtain this story by going to http://www.godless.com or by downloading the Godless app to your mobile device. The link is below:

Time by Todd Love

It can be difficult living in the shadow of one’s father, especially if that father is particularly successful and celebrated in certain circles…or maybe pentagrams.
Time is a quick and brutal story of a son determined to show his father that he’s not only ready to take over the family operation but that he can be both inventive and innovative in doing so. By the time the story reaches its satisfyingly grotesque conclusion, it feels like we’ve been there for a while, but that’s the nature of forever, I suppose. Time loses all meaning when there’s no end to it.
Choosing a pedophile as a victim is an excellent choice, as it makes it impossible for the reader to sympathize with his plight. It guarantees that we’ll be in it for the long haul, regardless of how vile and cruel the punishment becomes. We’ll be cheering at the sidelines, hoping to see more suffering.
By the time all is said and done, I’d certainly say this son has met or exceeded his father’s lofty expectations. It’s not every day a father and son celebrate by spit roasting a pedophile on their cocks, but in a Todd Love story, one really shouldn’t be surprised.

This title is to be released through http://www.godless.com on January 31st, 2022. You can obtain it for yourself by going to the website or by downloading the app to your mobile device of choice. The link is below: