I chose to review this anthology based on the title, which intrigued me. I grew up hunting and trapping, no big surprise from a rural girl with a family that hunted, fished, and trapped. Add to that I have a poster from Schlock Mercenary hanging over my desk with Maxim 37: There is no over kill, only ‘open fire’ and ‘reload.’ What I was not expecting was a series of very dark stories about eras and genres ranging from the old west to urban fantasy to steampunk. The cover, when I looked it up, certainly evokes the Old West, and some of the stories, like the eerie tale of a Mexican farmer who sets out to kill a witch only to become her, are set there.
As with any short story collection by many authors, the quality is uneven. Some of the splatter gore blacker-than-black stories were all but unreadable. The story entitled “The End of Underthings” provoked an entirely inappropriate giggle from me for what I am sure was an unintended pun, and then the style of writing was so very contrived I gave up reading it and skipped to the next story. The story “The Predators of Winter” isn’t about a monster at all, but the descent of a man into madness in the long winter on a rural farm, something that resonated with me, having lived through many bleak winters worrying about feeding my family and keeping them warm.
One of the stories that was enjoyable to read was “Victims” by Mike Phillips, which evoked childhood folk tales with a richly woven tale in a surprisingly short space. The true jewel of the collection was “Vermin”, by Blais Torrance, with the story of a feral cat, and the true nature of fairies. I will be looking for more by this writer. Overall, this collection will doubtless please fans of exploitative horror, especially those who enjoy the uber-dark and gory tales.
What it did make me contemplate was horror fiction, and the nature of it. I’ve never been a huge fan of horror. Life is bad enough without looking into the abyss on purpose. This wasn’t that kind of horror. It was the kind that sounded a lot like a teen at the dinner table trying to come up with the grossest possible scenarios to make his family lose their appetite, and it was about as mature. Horror ought to be, done right, very cerebral. It should suck you into a prison of the mind, trapped metaphorically with the protagonist, who even though they could move out of the way, cannot for some reason, and instead faces the oncoming train with dilated pupils and no hope…
I like a little hope with my tales, even those who offer no way out for the main character. I’m sure I’m not alone in this, as we all have to live a life, and even in pain, you don’t want to think the light at the end of the tunnel is a train.