Doris V. Sutherland reviewed for Horror After Dark, the contenders for Best Antho at this year's Splatterpunk Awards, including MONSTERS OF ANY KIND, edited by me and Daniele Bonfanti (Independent Legions), containing works by David J. Schow, Jonathan Maberry, Ramsey Campbell, Edward Lee, Lucy Taylor, Owl Goingback, Cody Goodfellow, Monica J. O'Rourke, Damien Angelica Walters, Michael Bailey, Jess Landry, Bruce Boston, Greg Sisco and many others.
Here's the review of Monsters of Any Kind:
As its title suggests, Monsters of Any Kind is an anthology of stories about monsters. Some of these are traditional varieties of creature, albeit not necessarily portrayed in traditional ways. “We All Make Sacrifices” by Jonathan Maberry is a werewolf story set in the criminal underworld, with a mob performing a human sacrifice in an attempt to raise Fenrir. “Sealed with a Kiss” by Owl Goingback uses the Devil himself as its monster, as a lost motorist and a sex worker encounter an apocalyptic storm where Satan manifests as a gigantic face formed from blood and guts. “The Other Side of Semicolons” by Michael Bailey is an unusual variation on the doppelganger theme, in which an adolescent girl with self-harming tendencies and abusive foster parents sees alternate versions of her bedroom – and herself – through holes in a wall.
Other writers in the anthology opt to create their own monsters, sometimes through the tried-and-true method of combining the human and the nonhuman. “Silt & Bone” by Jess Landry depicts two mounties trying to evacuate a flooded area, only to find that one resident has been turned into some sort of plant-woman hybrid through a parasitic infection. In “Sucklings” by Lucy Taylor, a young New Mexican mother runs into a race of Thing-like creatures that take people’s faces; a vivid portrayal of broken family sits alongside such grotesque images as disembodied human faces suckling a monster’s teats. In “Brodkin’s Demise” by Michael Gray Baughan a woman working from home is forced to deal with both her husband (an underachieving musician) and a plague of cicadas, the two annoyances eventually merging together into something infinitely worse.
Not all of the stories are out-and-out horror, as a number of the authors play their monsters for laughs. “Bad Hair Day” by Greg Sisco, which has a comedic sci-fi setting where humans share Earth with various aliens, sees a man insecure about his baldness purchase an extraterrestrial organism to replace his lost hair – only to doom humanity. “The Dive” by Mark Alan Miller is a long, character-based story where a man tires of his humdrum life (he believes himself destined for greatness) and visits a weird bar for monsters, where he meets an uncouth centaur and inscrutable robot – who agree to mete out punishment on his boss.
In “Old Sly” by Gregory L. Norris, a man inherits a sizeable estate from his estranged uncle, but finds that it comes at a price: he is forced to follow a harsh diet; he has no television or wi-fi; and he is made to take care of his uncle’s hideous parrot. “The City of Sixes” by Edward Lee is a gross-out comedy typical of the author, following a rapist as he is sent to a sector of hell where men and women alike are forced to give Birth.
How, exactly, do we define a monster? This is a question mulled over by some of the more thoughtful tales in the anthology. “Perpetual Antimony” by Cody Goodfellow, set in a post-apocalyptic world that the main character has survived with the aid of an old antimony pill, contains a lot of rumination about mutation and beauty. “The Thing Too Hideous to Describe…” by David J. Schow is about a tentacled monster who resents being feared and hated by humanity, and blames horror writers for this state of affairs. “Midnight Hobo” is a typically intelligent and tightly-constructed tale by Ramsey Campbell, in which a radio host sees weird things on the way from home at night – and finds that these embodiments of his fears and anxieties have followed him back to the studio the next day. “Noverim Te” by Santiago Eximeno (translated by Daniele Bonfanti) is a magical realist story about commodification, set in a village where an eldritch deity sleeps – making the location a hotspot for souvenir-hunting tourists.
A recurring approach to the monstrous in the anthology is to cast the supernatural beings as agents of punishment, allowing issues of morality to be probed. In “Mammy and the Flies” by Bruce Boston a neglectful mother sends her son to the cellar whenever she has a romantic partner around; the boy, who has supernatural abilities (he is the son of a “mojo man”) eventually gets his revenge. “The Last Wintergirl” by Damien Angelica Walters is an adult fairy tale where a town is visited by mysterious ice-maidens; wen the local boys molest the newcomers, and are defended by their parents, the wintergirls have no choice but to strike back. “Crisis of Faith” by Monica J. O’Rourke is a story of religious angst, in which a man whose religious beliefs has been troubled ever since a teenage bereavement meets an incarnate nephlim; as the being subjects him to torment, he is forced to confront his shaky faith.
Capping off the anthology is Erinn L. Kemper’s “Cracker Creek”, a well-textured weird western where the women of a town give birth to a spate of monstrous, flesh-eating babies. Each of the stories is accompanied by an illustration courtesy of Stefano Cardoselli, visualising the narrative’s monstrous star.
It is safe to say that most – if not all – horror fans have an abiding love of monsters in one form or another. Monsters of Any Kind fulfills its titular promise with an irresistible gallery of fiends both old and new.
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