Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Monstrous edited by Ryan C. Thomas

Giant monsters! From King Kong to Godzilla to Cloverfield, they have pervaded our world and our fiction. No, the stories are rarely even remotely plausible in basis, but they can sure be fun! With no small sense of excitement, not dampened by Steve Alten's okay-but-not-great introduction, I dove into this anthology. What follows is a story by story breakdown, and then a full anthology review.

"Present Tense, Future Imperfect" by D. L. Snell: Right out of the gate, we are given Snell's story of a man who bounces back and forth between present and future. In the present, Cole struggles with "blackouts" that are in fact moments of time travel, and his family is growing apart from him. In the future, Cole, in the body of a man named Frank, struggles to save his community against Nayk, a giant spider, as well as a host of giant insects, in a world falling apart. The two stories intertwine well, as they become very tied together, and the story even manages to pack in emotional resonance. Snell did an incredible job.

"Crabs" by Guy N. Smith: Far shorter than the previous story, Smith's tale of crabs the size of cows assaulting beach-goers still maintained a high level of intensity and power. The characters were deeply human, and could have been explored a little more, but all in all, this was another solid piece.

"A Plague From the Mud" by Aaron A. Polson: In this tale, Polson presents us with a slowly evolving tale of dread, as the clues are all there, and we all know what will happen, but we can't turn and look away. This dark piece works that dread well, playing on suspense and short bits of story with lots of breaks, nailing the suspense of the dying town of Monument, Oregon.

"Lost in Time" by Steve Alten: I like generally like Alten's work. I have read all of the Meg books. However, I have never felt like he has written a novel that was truly horror. His Meg books just felt like thrillers to me. They were good, just not horror. I haven't read his latest, The Loch, so maybe that is more horror-oriented. This story, with its many references to his favorite Megalodon, felt like just another of his underwater thrillers. It was a Poe-esque revenge tale, with the secret giant creature was hardly a secret based on the anthology it was included in, and just didn't match with the previous tales. Also odd to note is Alten's use of present tense. This was an okay story, but at this point in the book, by far the weakest.

"Scales" by J. C. Towler: Much better than the story that proceeded it, Towler's tale still wasn't quite as good as the starting trio. While the story was certainly well written, with solid dialogue and believable characters, it just didn't feel like that original of an idea. There have been movies in abundance about people trapped in a cave with creatures that want to eat them (The Descent and The Cave come to mind), and even, to a lesser extent, written fiction. I just would have liked a little more originality. With that said, the story still wasn't bad.

"The Enemy of My Enemy" by Patrick Rutigliano: A highly original story, Rutigliano's World War I tale of biological warfare was one of the most inventive uses of the "monstrous creature" trope found in this book thus far. Short and to the point, Rutigliano delivers a truly effective piece.

"Savage" by E. Anderson: This short story about a woman on a colony on an alien world, who is destined to kill the giant feline predator Jessari, was not the best of the bunch in this book. The story's idea can't be faulted, as it really was intriguing, but the execution just didn't seem to match it. I felt no horror, no dread, no terror. Mainly, it felt like a far more literary bit that had a pinch of action thrown in, and a tacked up ending that just didn't do anything for me.

"Attack of the 500-Foot Porn Star" by Steven L. Shrewsbury: This story tried to be a pastiche of the corny B-movies of giant people wrecking cities, with the hint of sexuality and the over the top situation that is funny into itself. Instead, the story was a vehicle to let a male porn star drop dumb sexual and drug-related comments, and wasn't very funny at all. This was the worst story in this otherwise good anthology. One should consider just giving this story a pass as they read through the rest.

"Keeping Watch" by Nate Kenyon: In this dark tale of New England terror, Kenyon packs a true sense of dread. Up there with the other story in this anthology, Polson's "A Plague From the Mud," the dread factor is raised to a higher level, and rests its malevolent presence on your mind as you flip through the pages. This tale of childhood innocence lost at a lake in the woods of Maine is excellent.

"Nirvana" by James Thomas Jeans: This story of a future world overrun by zombies barely qualifies for the common thread of the anthology, that of "giant creature terror." The tale was good without being great, but just didn't do it for me for some reason. It felt slow at times, or rather anti-climactic perhaps.

"The Long Dark Submission" by Paul Stuart: A strange tale of two very different types of fisherman, this story was rather dull in its attempt at mixing Buddhism and giant creatures. It just didn't work that well. The story had a neat premise, with fisherman at the bottom of the ocean, but beyond that it just fell flat.

"Whatever Became of Randy" by James A. Moore: With four of the previous five tales being less than stellar, I was looking for a story that reminded me of what absolutely blew me away at the beginning of this anthology: an original, intriguing idea, well-wrought characters that acted and spoke in convincing fashion, and a sense of horror and dread, written down by a solid wordsmith who knew how to put the phrases together. Moore does exactly this with his story of losing a friend to cancer. This was one of the best stories in this collection.

"Cooties" by Randy Chandler: This story about the cost of infidelity was quick, rough, and violent. Chandler creates characters that I found hard to sympathize with, but the story still was entertaining, the brevity helping this story achieve its goal. Still a step up from many of the other stories in the middle of this volume.

"Extinction" by Evan Dicken: This anthology is subtitled "20 Tales of Giant Creature Terror." Is Dicken's story terrifying, horrifying, or scary in any way? No. Is it the best story in the anthology? Quite possibly. Can we forgive its lack of horror due to the incredible level this story flies by on? Oh yes. This tale of an alternate form of war was by turns intriguing, action-packed, and poignant. Dicken portrays wonderful characters, a tough situation, and the devotion of two dear friends. This story was incredible.

"The Cove" by Gregory L. Norris: This story of a secret military project had its moments. While at times it was slow, and expressed some views of the army in particular that I did not appreciate, all in all the story was entertaining enough. Middle of the line in regards to the average quality of this anthology.

"The Locusts Have a King" by R. Thomas Riley: Another tale involving the military, this tale follows an Air Force mission to recover data from a downed Predator, and the evil of biblical proportions that they found there. This was a gripping story, and while not the best of the bunch, it really worked well.

"The Big Bite" by Jeff Strand: While the first humor piece in this anthology, Shrewsbury's "Attack of the 500-Foot Porn Star," fell flat, this tale of a giant vampire worked far better, combining humor with a decent plot, as the citizens try to stop a giant vampire from destroying their city.

"Gone Fishin'" by John R. Platt: Another solid story, as the anthology seems to be recovering from a weak middle to achieve the level of excellence found at the beginning. In Platt's tale of a farmer who pays the price for his vengeful actions, we are treated to a very well written piece that creates a very solid character that we can believe and see change over the course of events. An excellent contribution.

"Six-Legged Shadows" by David Conyers & Brian M. Sammons: Conyer and Sammons create an interesting tale here, as scouts in the far future return to Earth and don't quite find what they expected. While the story was well-written, I must admit that almost right as the story started I knew what the big secret was, which killed the reveal at the end for me. Other than this fact, the story was fun, and ti kept me going even though I felt the surprise wasn't original enough to be a surprise. It is certainly worth a read.

"The Island of Dr. Otaku" by Cody Goodfellow: The longest story in this anthology, Goodfellow's story of giant kaiju being used for the government was rather confusing. It is the sequel to another short story that appeared in another anthology, and maybe reading the other story first would have helped, but I found the beginning of this tale very confusing as I tried to figure out what was going on, and in the end, I'm still not sure that I had a great grip of the point of it all. I like to have an idea of what happened when I'm reading a story for fun.

Overall, this anthology had some pretty wonderful highs and a few more lows than I would have liked. The stories "Present Tense, Future Imperfect," "A Plague From the Mud," "Whatever Became of Randy," and "Extinction" were the best of the collection by far, and they really buoyed this book along. If you are a fan of this type of fiction, or of old B-horror movies, give this a go, and you will like most of it. Otherwise, lay off, as it probably won't appeal to you. And, after having read through the whole thing, if a story isn't working for you, just skip it, because they don't get much better after the story starts. I hope that other books from Permuted Press capture the glimpses of brilliance that we are treated to in the rest of their books, and loses the slack.



  1. I've only been able to find a handful of reviews of the book, and this is the first one I've found that breaks it down on a per-story basis. Thanks for taking the time to write it!

    I can understand why you might feel like "Nirvana" is anti-climactic. It does just sort of end. That's the unfortunate downside of having a word-space limitation. I had a finale planned but didn't have the space to write it, which would account for the Stephen King's "The Mist"-style ending.

    I hope that, if it gets published and you happen to read it, my next story is more to your tastes. :)

    Take care!

  2. One thing that always frustrated me was reviews of anthologies that didn't tell me what was in them. Especially when buying books online, and not having the chance to flip through them at the bookstore, it was a critical part of the purchasing process. When I set out to review books, one goal was to rectify what I thought was missing from most reviews. Thank you for the kind words; hopefully it means more people out there agree!

    Please let me know when and where your next story is published. As I said above, while your story may not have perfectly worked for me, it wasn't bad, and I would be interested in reading more.

  3. Thanks for taking the time to review Monstrous. It's rare to see an anthology broken down and reviewed story by story. Your review was direct and honest, and we definitely need more reviews like yours :)