by Terrance Mc Arthur
I like short-story anthologies. They’re like the all-you-can-eat buffet of the publishing world. You get to sample all sorts of things. Authors you know bring out dishes that may be familiar, but with different ingredients. Unfamiliar writers are like foods you’ve never tried before, but you can scoop up a small serving of short stories without having to commit to the whole meal of a novel.
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Charlaine Harris (the Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire mysteries that inspired the True Blood TV series) and Toni L. P. Kelner have made a cottage industry of themed horror anthologies, featuring some popular writers and some wanna-become-popular writers. They have tackled everything from education to home improvement, birthdays to vacations, coming up with some fascinating collections of short stories. What have they come up with next? Sports and games.
Games Creatures Play brings together fifteen authors and their stories, taking a swing at recreational activities from graceful ice skating to brutal lacrosse, traditional baseball to unconventional versions of hide-and-seek, sophisticated fencing to down-and-dirty roller derby.
Some are funny, some are scary. Some are gruesome, and some are fairly tame. Each story has its own charms and will attract its own set of fans, but this umpire found a few that hit home runs:
• Scott Sigler’s “The Case of the Haunted Safeway” mixes Ghostbusters with Field of Dreams on the site of a former ballpark in San Francisco, where an eighty-year-old tragedy is re-enacted in ways that the frozen food section was never built to accommodate. It includes pleas for tolerance and how families must learn to accept and nurture the capabilities of their children.
• “Hide and Shriek,” by Adam-Troy Castro, comes off as H. P. Lovecraft horror as it might be told by Douglas (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) Adams, where all=powerful creatures compete childishly to destroy worlds and are embarrassed by the results. It is raucous and silly—I liked it.
• “Dead on the Bones” is a no-rules, river-bottom fight that starts out as a community entertainment with a bit of voodoo, until it turns into revenge. Written by horror master Joe Lonsdale, it’s big on atmosphere and strong medicine.
• Caitlin Kittredge’s “The Devil Went Down to Boston” combines traditional Celtic lore with typical bar games and a deal with a demon into a winning deal.
• “On the Fields of Blood” offers time travel and lacrosse, and delivers a frightening, violent tale by Brendan DuBois.
• Mercedes Lackey penned “False Knight on the Road,” which pits moonshine runners against something else, a vehicle that might have origins beyond their understanding.
The editors have their stories, too. Harris returns to Sookie Stackhouse to introduce Manfred Bernardo, a character from her next series of books, in “In the Blue Hereafter.”
Terrance V. Mc Arthur is a Community Librarian for the WoW! (WithOut Walls) Division of the Fresno County Public Library, roaming the Valley to meet the public's information needs.