The Dark Screams series have been able to boast some truly big names in horror since the first book was published. Among those authors one can note Stephen King, Peter Straub and Richard Matheson and now once again Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar have compiled a small collection of stories, this time with names like Clive Barker and Heather Graham.
Here follows a short summary from the publisher:
THE DEPARTED by Clive Barker
On All Hallows’ Eve, a dead and disembodied mother yearns to touch her young son one last time. But will making contact destroy them both?
THE NEW WAR by Lisa Morton
Mike Carson is a war hero and a decorated vet. He doesn’t deserve to be trapped in a hospital with some black thing sitting on his chest as patients die all around him. His only hope is to take out the nurse—before it’s his turn.
SAMMY COMES HOME by Ray Garton
It’s what every family prays for: a lost pet returning home. But when Sammy, the Hale family sheepdog, appears on their doorstep, he brings back something no parent would ever wish upon his or her child.
CREATURE FEATURE by Heather Graham
What could be better publicity for a horror convention than an honest-to-goodness curse? It’s only after lights out that the hype—and the Jack the Ripper mannequin—starts to feel a little too real.
THE BRASHER GIRL by Ed Gorman
Cindy Marie Brasher is the prettiest girl in the Valley, and Spence just has to have her. Unfortunately, Cindy has a “friend” . . . a friend who tells her to do things . . . bad things.
If one goes into the collection with the hopes of being frightened, horrified or kept in suspense then Dark Screams volume four is going to be disappointed. Even though the storytelling in itself is flawless, it is quite obvious that these writers know their trade; the stories are far from engaging. There is no common ground between them either something that would be preferred in a collection like this, a similar theme at least.
Even Barker’s story feels as if he wrote it with his left hand, sure there was room for quite an emotional tale here, but being far too short and brief it falls flat. This is the story of all the tales here; there is something that doesn’t click. Graham’s story is far from original and has more of Scooby-Doo than a true tale of terror. Morton and Garton’s fiction it trite and derivative, far from suspenseful in the least.
In the end the best story is the one produced by Ed Gorman. It is far from unique, but his storytelling ability keeps the reader quite uncomfortable. It is not a surprise that Gorman thanks Stephen King in his afterword; his tale contains all of King’s elements. Small town, youngsters and a hidden evil unknown to others it is all there.
Alas Gorman’s story isn’t enough to make the collection in itself worth reading, if one has the ability to find Brasher Girl through other venues then one should take the opportunity to read it.
The earlier installments of the Dark Screams series have been well received and boasts fine reviews and it seems as if number four grinds it all to a halt. If one is interested in well written fiction from a wide spectrum of authors than this collection may be of interest, but if you are looking for horror and thrills, than this is not for you.
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Series: A Tale Told Twice
What happens when two authors take one word and build a story from it independently, without any common parameters or rules? That is the plan behind the A Tale Told Twice series and first out is the strange worlds of Birdsnatch; an experiment between C.J. Cummings and Mark Ryan.
The first Birdsnatch Tale is by C.J Cummings and the apocalypse is upon us. As people all around the world are hiding in their underground bunkers Melon, a thieving, hoarding, nasty man has another idea. He is finally going to do what he has always planned to do and that is to transform into the hero Birdsnatch. While his cat/rat pet Cattermole watches he dresses in a superhero costume and ventures out into the empty world. During his exploration his Birdsnatch persona takes over more and more, the opposite of his depraved true personality. He meets Trinket, another outcast, who has escaped a life trapped in a bunker with her father and his friends. Like Melon she has dreams of being something other than what she is, but without going to the same extremes. Together they watch the world burn, hunting for food and living in a nest with Cattermole.
The second Birdsnatch tale, written by Mark Ryan, is set in the future. A future where plastic surgery has become very dangerous. So dangerous in fact that when it goes wrong it turns the patients into mutated, deranged killers. Faye Crichly is an administrator who has been assigned to a special task force designed to take out these mutated victims. Events become more interesting when Dex Finor, the second son in a prominent family, vanishes after fat reduction surgery. It is also revealed that the Government, the second government, has willingly experimented with plastic surgery to produce mutated monsters. When Finor surfaces the team must spring into action.
The concept of finding a word and then have two authors create separate tales from it is an interesting one, more so if the tales share a similar beginning or taking off point. Birdsnatch, the word, is the only thing Cummings’ and Ryan’s stories have in common and therefore the yarn they spin from that becomes less interesting. The most fascinating part is how varied the stories actually are; In Cummings’ fiction we are confronted with a husk of a man finally getting the opportunity to be the hero he has always wanted and what happens to him once that personality begins to dominate their shared body. This is more interesting than what has brought on the ensuing end of the world, as is the few other characters one encounters in the story.
Ryan’s tale on the other hand gives the reader a fascinating glimpse into quite a bleak future. The politics and structure of that world is only hinted at, but is interesting enough that, as a reader, one has to ask oneself what has lead to this. In contrast to this fact Ryan’s main character or any character for that matter are fairly uninteresting or engaging. It isn’t until the very end that one really starts to wonder what the implications of the actions of the government will have on the world.
Since both tales are so very different it would be unfair or even unwise to pin them against each other, both of them have strengths and weaknesses, but are both worth a read.
Cummings’ tale is an open and closed story whereas Ryan’s definitely gives the impression of an introduction or prequel to a grander story that he may revisit in the future. Cummings’ is also the only author who constantly uses the word Birdsnatch where Ryan uses it but twice. This makes it seem as if Cummings wins out in the end, seeing as he used the word better, but without knowing the parameters of the method used it is a moot point. The stories are both wonderfully told in their weirdness and there are some truly bizarre aspects, but never going overboard.
In the end Birdsnatch becomes an interesting exercise in how different two writers can imagine the same word, but it never breaks down any doors. Instead it is a good introduction to two young authors who very clearly have exciting and bizarre tales to to tell.
Birdsnatch is available from amazon.com