The selection for this, the third week of Six Weeks of Scares, is a collection of horror tales by Ty Johnston. Originally published as three separate e-books under the titles Sever, Slice, and Stab, this volume brings all eighteen of the stories included in those collections and adds an additional two stories.
Johnston has tended to focus on heroic fantasy in recent years and has built up a substantial body of work both in genre and out. His Kron Darkbow novels are among the best indie published works of fantasy out there. Today, though, we’re going to take a look at a darker side of Johnston’s work.
This is a varied horror collection. Most of the tales involve the supernatural, but not all of them. Some, such as “The Death of Lester Williams,” “The Happiest Day of Her Life,” and “The Note” are set in the mundane world. They’re no less chilling despite their lack fantastic elements. In fact, these are some of the most horrifying stories in the collection for that reason. They could have been taken from the headlines of your local newspaper. Not surprising, since Johnston once worked as a journalist.
Zombies in some form make several appearances. Of the zombie stories, “Zombie Tears” is probably the most moving. It’s a transcription a new zombie leaves on a tape recorder he found in his brother’s house. This is one of the best zombie stories I’ve read in a long time.
Breaking away from the standard horror tropes, we have “Dark Side of Io,” a blend of science fiction and horror. There were one or two scientific points that gave me trouble, but I liked the ending of this one and should have seen it coming.
My favorite selections in the book were the eight linked stories starting with “Midnight in Oplontis.” These revolve around a sorcerer named Simon Magus who has been around since the days of the Roman Empire. His character seemed to change from one story to the next, but considering his age and the two thousand year span over which the stories take place, that’s not too surprising. I’ve always enjoyed well done historical fantasy concerning immortal characters, and this series is no exception. Most of the stories in this series are fairly short, although “Midnight in Oplontis” and “Interlude in Lombardy” are exceptions. I’d like to see more of this character, preferably at longer length. Hopefully Johnston will revisit him in the near future.
The stories in Sever, Slice, and Stab make a nice little Halloween grab bag of grisly treats. Consider the words in the title. These are not the kind you want to give to the kiddies, but for the adults they’re just the thing.