If you can imagine the natural outcome of the much-maligned ninth installment of the Friday the 13th series, Jason Goes To Hell, you’ve got some idea of what you’re in for with Reincarnage by Ryan Harding and Jason Taverner. With the titular Agent Orange, Vietnam Veteran turned slasher extraordinaire, we have a masked, seemingly immortal serial killer who routinely returns to slaughter people who make the mistake of venturing into his territory. The government knows he exists, and they know they’ve found no way to stop him in his murderous rampages more than temporarily. The only solution is to evacuate the region and build a fortified perimeter around the region Agent Orange inhabits. Patroled by military personnel tasked with killing him, again and again, to keep him contained within the walls, the perimeter isn’t perfect but it’s all that separates Agent Orange from the outside world. Taking a page from Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s Roadside Picnic, Harding and Taverner imagine a culture of “stalkers” developing; brave or insane souls who venture into the kill zone for memorabilia, or for the sake of saying that they survived crossing into Agent Orange’s territory. At the point when Reincarnage takes place, Agent Orange has become as much a part of pop culture as Charles Manson or Jason Voorhees. Books, video games, and collectibles of all sorts proliferate the world the authors introduce us to. When eleven people wake up in an otherwise abandoned hotel, it doesn’t take long for them to realize they’re on the wrong side of the walls, with no idea how they got there or why they’ve been deposited in the last place any of them would want to be. Conspiracy theories abound, but answers are harder to come by. Maybe, if this band of survivors could find the time to catch their breath and think things through, they could discover why they’re in the ghost town of Morgan and who would want to leave them there; but the number of survivors is steadily diminishing, and staying still for too long only invites disaster. Will anyone stay alive long enough to discern the truth? Will anyone escape? You’ll have to read it to find out. This edition of the book includes additional material focused on another group of survivors venturing through the kill zone simultaneously, with no better fortune favoring them.
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You’re a 15-year-old boy living with a foster family when you awaken to the sounds of shattering glass followed by what can only be violence. This isn’t the first time your short life has been punctuated with instances of horrific bloodshed, and if you choose to join the band of peculiar killers reveling in the chaos they’ve created in what is your third home in only a third as many years, this most certainly will not be the last. Don’t worry, this isn’t a choose-your-own-adventure story, and this pivotal decision is taken out of your hands and placed in the skilled, albeit sadistic custody of Chandler Morrison. Entering the dizzying narrative of Until the Sun, you’ll be swept along currents of blood, strange drugs, and adolescent hormones until you find yourself standing dazed, in the sunlight of a new day, waiting for the ride to end. Morrison thoroughly captures that sense of being caught up in a life that feels entirely out of your control. This extends so far as to include the fact that, as a reader, you’ll see the final moments coming long before our protagonist does…and you’ll experience sensations that range from pity to heart-wrenching sympathy as you witness events unfolding. We’re forced to wonder–if we’re being honest with ourselves–whether we’d be any more capable of wresting control from those who steer us along the destructive path ahead of us if we’d experienced the same tragic and disorienting life of young Casanova. I suspect we’ll never know, and we should be grateful for the fact that the dreadful sequence of events befalling that young man could only happen in fiction. Morrison provides us with a vampire story that is both more and less than that. Until the Sun is a dark, twisted, and perverse coming-of-age tale that abruptly detours us through the worst possible paths to reach the conclusion. A conclusion, I might add, that is equal parts hilarious and cruel in both its predictability and subversion of what a reader might expect when first choosing the book. John Wayne Comunale’s narration is effective in bringing to life the characters who often feel like caricatures of people we might have known in our own lives, or maybe people we’ve been at different points in our lives. There probably isn’t a narrator who would have been better suited for this drug-fueled, bloody, and irreverent combination of various horror subgenres.
Wile E. Young paints a grim portrait of the postbellum American west, replete with magic and mystery. In this shadow permeated version of the wild west, the author spins a tale that fuses horror and fantasy with otherwise familiar tropes and western motifs. It would be impossible to talk about The Magpie Coffin without first spending some time introducing the protagonist of this amazing Splatter Western. Salem Covington is a riveting character. One can think of him, in the simplest terms, as being equal parts Jonah Hex, a wild west incarnation of Dexter Morgan, and a little bit Elric of Melnibone–substituting a pistol for the sword, Stormbringer. A student of dark magic from various sources and cursed with the need to kill for the sake of his own damned soul, Mr. Covington is far from a heroic figure. There is a strained and rigid nobility to him, though. As with most antihero characters, he has a code of sorts that guides his actions. Upon discovering that his old Comanche teacher, Dead Bear, has been murdered and that a white buffalo has been slaughtered by the same band of killers, Covington sets out on a quest to bring down everyone involved. Enlisting the assistance of one of the men associated with the killing, his pursuit of vengeance carries the reader through the Dakota Territory and into the Rocky Mountains of what would soon become Colorado. Leaving a trail of bodies and tortured souls in his wake, Salem Covington chases quarry who might just be too dangerous for even The Black Magpie to overcome. My only complaints with this book are present because I happen to be a South Dakota resident. North and South Dakota didn’t become states until 1889, and Deadwood is nowhere near North Dakota, sitting approximately 130 miles South of the North Dakota border. But, considering how few people seem to recognize that North and South Dakota exist at all, it’s not exactly a deal-breaker. The narration by Sean Duregger for the audiobook is fantastic, capturing the grit and cruel nature of Salem Covington with a degree of authenticity that felt right. The narrative, being shared by Covington in first-person, making it simple to distinguish the voices of secondary characters without any trouble.
Most of the time, I’ll rate them and leave it at that, but it also means I’m left with a lot of my reading material never receiving the review it deserves. I’m going to try to get better about that.
Death’s Head Press decided the Christian apocalypse–as popularized by The Book of Revelation, that hallucinatory bit of end times fan fiction John the Revelator got included in the Bible–would make for a fitting topic. They weren’t wrong.
It’s an uneven anthology, but it’s challenging to find one that maintains a certain tone throughout, so that’s not a fault. It’s not a bug, it’s a feature…so to speak. Whatever sort of horror you might be in the mood for, there’s something in this book for you.
We’ve got stories that are heartbreaking and strangely touching like Chris Miller’s Behind Blue Eyes and Godless World by Michelle Garza & Melissa Lason (The Sisters of Slaughter).
There’s sacrilegious, irreverent humor in Christine Morgan’s Censered, K. Trap Jones’s Ham and Pudge, and Hell Paso by C. Derick Miller.
There are unique, takes on the apocalypse or the interpretation of Revelations like those found in Apocalypse…Meh by John Wayne Comunale and Wrath James White’s Horse.
That’s not even half the contents of this anthology. As I said, there’s a little something for everyone. If you’re not opposed to a little bit of heresy and a whole lot of hell on Earth, I absolutely recommend this anthology.