Travel By Bullet returns fans to John Scalzi’s The Dispatcher series following a pandemic that isn’t altogether too dissimilar to the one we’ve experienced in the real world. Unlike the real world, Tony Valdez and other dispatchers like him have had more work than they can handle, as grieving families insist on postponing the inevitable for loved ones hooked up to machines. Unfortunately, resetting only goes so far, and it won’t repair the damage done by the sickness itself. It’s a bleak and depressing scenario we find ourselves experiencing through Tony’s perspective. When a friend is rushed to the hospital, begging Tony to let him die, it triggers a series of events that brings Tony to the attention of wealthy and powerful figures with secrets they’ll do anything to keep under wraps. This installment continues Scalzi’s trend of combining the alternate reality science fiction of The Dispatcher series with an old-fashioned dose of noir that blends perfectly. The overarching mystery is satisfying and sufficiently convoluted, especially impressive considering the relatively short length of the story. I particularly liked the concept behind the title of this installment of the series. The premise of utilizing the reset in that way seems both obvious and strangely horrific. As with the previous two volumes, Zachary Quinto’s narration is superb, lending Tony a uniquely nuanced personality and bringing the other characters (many familiar faces from previous glimpses into the world of The Dispatcher) to life. I hope that Scalzi continues writing these tales and that Quinto continues narrating them because, like Scalzi’s seamless combination of genres, it’s a perfect blend.
Childbirth is always a disorienting, dangerous, and painful experience. As beautiful and fulfilling as it also might be, it remains those things. It should come as no surprise that Todd Love’s Birth focuses heavily on those first three things. It’s a horror story, after all. What else did you expect? Nora’s labor begins early, while she’s alone at home and unprepared. Bleeding, experiencing pain like she’s never known, and horrified that something’s gone wrong, it’s a relief when the professionals arrive and spirit her away to the hospital. Unfortunately, trained professionals can only do so much. Nora’s fear that something might be wrong is well-founded and has something to do with the donor material she utilized. Once again, Todd Love takes the rug by its frayed edge to not only yank with all his might and pull it out from under us, but also leave us sprawling on the floor, wondering what the hell just happened.
This title, like many of Todd Love’s stories, can be found at http://www.godless.com or by downloading the Godless App to your mobile device of choice. The link is below:
Judith Sonnet takes a hammer and chisel to our sensibilities and good taste with her collection, Something Akin To Revulsion: Six Extreme Short Stories. There is nothing safe, nothing sacrosanct, and nothing off-limits within these pages–and that’s how it should be. It was my pleasure to be one of the first to experience LOLCOW, the story that starts this particular collection. Judith’s rendition of this grotesque and graphic tale was the winning performance of the 2022 KillerCon Gross-Out Contest, and with good reason. Plumbing the depths of the internet for hilarious, perverse, and captivating content might provide more stimulation than one is prepared to experience. But like the narrator of LOLCOW, we can’t help ourselves as we return to the trough. Liquid Sick suitably tackles the TERF epidemic, showcasing for readers that those people spend too much time spewing excrement and too little time on empathy. Judith’s own trans experience influences and informs this narrative, and she does an excellent job of providing both amusement and poignant social commentary. Also, apropos of nothing…fecal emesis has always fascinated me. Sonnet’s next story, Rehearsal, provides a grim and unrelenting glimpse into the hours before a school shooting transpires. Kids who did nothing wrong find themselves prey to the whims of cruel and maladjusted classmates with pizza cutters to grind. Body-Crunch takes us to the dimly lit, poorly constructed ring of a backyard wrestling match that goes horrifically wrong. It’s not every day one almost feels bad for a pedophile, but it’s hard not to feel some faint stirring of sympathy as everything comes crashing down–and spilling out. In Coke-Nail, a group of bored, slacker teenagers decide they know where they might be able to score some cocaine. The deal doesn’t work out as planned, but one of them still manages to reach a state sort of like snowblindness. Finally, we have Something Akin To Revulsion, wherein some truly awful preadolescent girls decide they’re going to play a prank on the dumpy, less popular girl in their class. The conclusion might have you in stitches, though, so it’s worth sitting through the horror. Sonnet’s collection is as gripping as it is bleak and nihilistic, and it’s got those traits in spades. Her story notes clarify the inspiration and motivation behind each of the inclusions, and it’s always a pleasure to spend a little time getting to know the author after finishing something that’s hollowed you out like this collection is sure to do.
Stephen Graham Jones has a knack for forcing his readers to look at the world–and aspects of it–in wholly different ways. The Backbone of the World will have you looking at prairie dogs (of all things) and our perceptions of time differently. If this installment of the Tresspass Collection is indicative of what the rest of the stories have in store for me, it’ll be one hell of a trip. Millie Two Bears is a lonely, socially isolated living on property that she’s about to lose with her husband in prison and his family breathing down her neck to parcel up the land. When she invites a peculiar stranger to rent the camper on the property, she has no idea what sort of repercussions it’ll have and how it ties in with the peculiar prairie dogs plaguing the distant edge of her land…and something growing deep in the earth below. Jones’s knack for taking the seemingly prosaic and transforming it into the mysterious and sinister is on full display. The simple reservation life of a woman with all-too-familiar troubles gets upended as her everyday environment becomes increasingly unsettling. Charlotte Flyte’s narration of Millie’s story is superb, and she makes the listener feel as if they’re hearing the story from the woman living it.
In Cerberus Exploitation: A Grindhouse Triple Feature, Patrick C. Harrison III, Mike Ennenbach, and Chris Miller nail the storytelling aesthetic of grindhouse exploitation cinema with a Troma flair. It’s particularly appropriate that I mention Troma since this book begins with an introduction provided by none other than Lloyd Kaufman. Like proper triple-feature experiences, the book contains trailers, film credits (with dream casting choices from the authors), and everything a fan could hope for…aside from the popcorn. Electro-Satan Comes To Wolfe City introduces us to a group of kids hoping to enjoy a summer camping trip, only to have everything disrupted by mutant hillbillies. Ennenbach’s contribution to this collection gets the reader/listener’s attention almost immediately with a musical performance that should have anyone in stitches. From there, it’s a barrage of violence, humor, and all the splattery goodness fans of the genre adore. Patrick C Harrison III then hits us with his twisted take on the women in prison genre with Vampire Nuns Behind Bars. Replete with lesbianism, sadism/torture, scientific experimentation, rebel uprisings/prison riots, and–of course–vampires. Terrible things are taking place at this women’s prison, where political dissidents and troublemakers–and a handful of nuns–are swept under the rug and channeled into one of two secret chambers where horrors await. When a prison break’s attempted, the balancing act that kept the facility functional gets disrupted hugely, and the halls and cell blocks become a slaughterhouse. And finally, we arrive at Chris Miller’s Sons of Thunder, focused on a military recovery mission in the dystopian Hellscape outside of the “safely” bubbled cities owned and operated by corporations. Escape From New York and Assault on Precinct 13 come together, producing a malformed and grim, action-packed adventure. Mutants, terrorists, and doomsday cultists stand in the way of an elite team and one man bent on revenge at any cost. There’s no point in trying to describe the escapades these authors have assembled. It’s something one just has to experience for themself…and I recommend doing so as soon as possible. Daniel Caravetta’s narration is spot-on, capturing the lunacy and low-budget mayhem of grindhouse cinema in a way only a fan of the films could manage.
When I first heard about Beyond Reform, and the authors involved in the book, I knew it was something I had to read. This need became more pronounced when Brian Keene announced the nominees for the Splatterpunk Awards at KillerCon Austin 2022. As a nominee myself, in the same category, I felt a compulsion to dive into the nominated works from my competitors/colleagues/friends. They’re not mutually exclusive categorizations. Upon reading Beyond Reform, I felt confident that it would be the title that blew the rest of us out of the water. As it turns out, I was correct, and I was waiting to post this review until after I’d confirmed my assessment. Beauregard, Athan, and Bark capture the theme of Beyond Reform in essentially every conceivable sense. The stories are grim, fatalistic, captivating, sometimes amusing, and often horrifying in their portrayal of the worst aspects of human nature. Aron Beauregard kicks it all off with the title story, Beyond Reform. Hoping to score some quick cash and have some fun along the way, Marcus finds himself the focus of a couple’s revenge. Unfortunately, for everyone involved, Marcus has made enemies of more than just the two of them, and even the best-laid plans fall apart sometimes. Beauregard pulls no punches and dares the reader to flinch as he ups the ante with each new roll of the dice. Midnight Glory by Jasper Bark introduces us to a dysfunctional couple with a seemingly unlimited capacity to hurt one another and a similar capacity to sustain the damage. The source of this seemingly supernatural horror is rooted in a gift that turned out to be a bit more than bargained for and a punishment a long time coming. Bark’s grotesque and graphic sexual imagery was almost gag-inducing, and that’s something to be proud of. Jon Athan hits us next with Tortured Until Proven Innocent, a tale of a vile sexual predator who appears to be getting his comeuppance at the hands of distraught parents. In Athan’s work, as in real life, the stories don’t always have a happy ending, and he doesn’t shy away from hammering that point home with painful clarity. The Martini Club is Beauregard’s second addition to the collection, and its focus on desperate, lonely women obsessed with rehabilitation and sexual fantasies oriented around a convicted serial killer is a thriller, for sure. As it turns out, not all of the women in The Martini Club have the same sort of fantasies in mind when they finally have the object of their obsessions at hand. Athan’s Dead But Alive introduces us to a funeral director with a dark and perverse secret that knows no limits, just as the man knows no shame. The disgusting, depraved, and uncompromising delivery from Athan only makes the conclusion to the tale all the more satisfying. And finally, Jasper Bark concludes the volume with A Most Chemical Wedding, the most unique of the tales included in Beyond Reform. While it is indeed a tale of revenge like much of what came before it, it’s one with numerous twists and wry humor in the mix. Spirituality, alchemy, and a voice that breaks the fourth wall with obvious pleasure make Bark’s second inclusion a fun and fascinating way to wrap everything up. As you can probably tell, I’m quite a fan of this title. I’ve heard it said there’s no shame in losing to the best, and the three authors involved in this project showcased why they are some of the best at what they do.
Before Deadman’s Road, I’d only been acquainted with Reverend Jebidiah Mercer via one of the short stories contained within this volume, but the character stuck out as one with a great deal of potential for additional adventures. I’m pleased to discover that I was not wrong. Joe R. Lansdale populates his fictional version of the American Wild West with monsters, both human and inhuman, familiar and strange. All of this is filtered through the sardonic and rueful Reverend Mercer as he struggles to fulfill God’s will, a capricious and cruel thing. As he faces off against zombies, werewolves, goblins, and other monstrous entities, Mercer is joined by assorted men and women who frequently don’t survive the encounters with the same sort of adroitness the Reverend displays. Short-lived as his companions may be, they provide ample fodder for Mercer’s wit and derision in some of the most entertaining dialogue Lansdale’s written outside of the Hap and Leonard novels. The narration of the audiobook provided by Stefan Rudnicki perfectly suited the gruff and acerbic Reverend, as well as the other characters filling these tales. This was only my second encounter with Rudnicki as a narrator, and he was no less impressive this time around.
Todd Love finds a new way to surprise his readers, both in the pure dialogue construction of this narrative and in the shockingly sad twist revealed at the conclusion. But this isn’t one of those twists shoehorned in for the sake of taking the reader by surprise, the hints are there throughout the story, if only we knew to pay attention. A conversation takes place between two old friends as a former detective, Lloyd Andrews, evaluates his life and the mistakes he’s made. Reflecting on the events that transpired when he successfully ended the killing spree of The Barrhaven Cannibal, he needs to unburden himself to the only person he knows will understand. If you’re looking for something different, I can assure you that Last Day should make your list. I can imagine this performed on a stage, a contrast between stark shadows and light, and I’d love to see that happen. Imagine it for yourself when you check out Last Day.
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Thomas KS Wake deftly combines cosmic horror, folk horror, and kaiju with environmental consciousness in a captivating tale with The Buried King. Raymond, an unscrupulous building developer visits the site of an out-of-the-way vacation resort that should have never existed, at least not where it’s been erected. Unfortunately, his arrival coincides with the consequences of his predatory and deceptive business practices coming to fruition, and it’s a price we all have to pay. Beneath the construction, buried for centuries, a malevolent force of nature awakens. As those tasked with containing the monster give up hope and give in to righteous anger, the results will be catastrophic and undeniable. Nature will take its revenge. Reaching the final page of this story inevitably causes the reader to immediately hope that Wake is working on a follow-up to this title. The disaster porn addict within us wants nothing more than to see just how far the devastation will go and how long humanity will manage to survive.
This title was released as part of the Emerge series, focused on providing a platform for emerging authors. This was brought to us by a partnership between D&T Publishing and Godless. You can obtain a copy of this story by going to http://www.godless.com or by downloading the Godless app on your mobile device. The link is below: