Solaris Books, out now
A motley collection of terrifying tales around the theme of games…
My Christmas holiday treat to myself has been sampling one or two of the stories of this anthology per day – by luck, I’d reached Libby McGugan’s on Christmas Day morning; in contrast with many of the other stories in here, there’s a more upbeat element to it! It’s a book that rewards this sort of rationing, and allowing each story to percolate in your mind after reading it – some (Pat Cadigan’s, for example) take time to resonate and allow the full story to be revealed.
The stories are very varied in their settings – some, like those by Rebecca Levene, Melanie Tem, Nik Vincent or Gary McMahon, are recognisably in contemporary society, even if they’re shining a light on people within that society who don’t conform to the rules; others, such as Yoon Ha Lee and Benjamin Sriduangkaew’s, take place in their own tightly-created worlds. In many instances, you are left wanting to know what happens next – Helen Marshall’s highly creepy tale, Paul Kearney’s Civil War re-enactment story and Tade Thompson’s effective updating of They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, are prime examples – and others where you really wouldn’t want to encounter the protagonists (Rob Shearman’s trio, and Lavie Tidhar’s No. 54 come to mind!).
Oliver has assembled a very diverse group of writers and styles – there’s even a three-page comic strip by Gary Northfield that is nowhere near as simplistic as it first appears – and while you may be able to accurately predict the outcome of some of the stories, there are plenty of surprises in here, notably in Ivo Stourton’s tale which reminded me (in a good way) of Roger Spottiswoode’s The 6th Day in its volte-face of perspective. Some authors put their pedal to the metal (notably Chuck Wendig, which will surprise no-one who’s read his Miriam Black novels), others such as Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Hillary Monahan allow their stories to exude a tight grip. What they all have in common is a strength of writing and characterisation.
Verdict: A masterful blend of different brands of horror writing. 9/10