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Book Review

Book Cover

Visions Fading Fast


Edited by: Gary McMahon
Pendragon Press
RRP: £9.99
ISBN: 978 1 90686 433 0
Available 29 February 2012

I think I’ve already stated that anthologies are a great way of catching up with both authors you know as well as discovering some for the first time. They are like the jokes in Airplane, even if you don’t particularly enjoy one, there is always another following directly on.

Visions Fading Fast, edited by Gary McMahon, is a slender volume of five horror stories. Although I’m not a great fan of horror, outside of King, Lovecraft and Barker, the genre is currently being drowned in a wave of post-pubescent vampire novels, many of which offer up their slim carrion pickings from much more accomplished authors, wrapped in unimaginative wet dreams and believe that entertainment equates to the art of writing. So, for me to like a collection of horror stories, is a pretty hard sell, but I did like this book.

It has always been my belief that the true horrors which surround us are perpetrated by other human beings, rather than any mythical creature, an idea which is explored in The History Thief by Kaaron Warren.

The central figure of the story is a rather unassuming man called Alvin, who unexpectedly finds himself dead. With his body lying undiscovered, due to his recent retirement from the police force and the overwhelming lack of social interaction, Alvin discovers that he is stuck on earth as a ghost. However, not all is lost when he accidentally discovers that by passing through living people he is able to not only become corporeal, but also steal their memories.

This is a bittersweet experience for him. On the up side he gets to experience emotions which his own life had denied him, but what lies in the heart of most men is best left hidden. Warren does not make Alvin misanthropic, it is the lack of experience, rather than any lack of desire to feel and to connected to the greater human race which has shaped this rather sad and lonely character. The closest he had come to feeling love and affection was towards Mrs. Moffat, a poor woman whose husband had raped and killed their only daughter.

This is an extremely well written character study, presented as a ghost story. As Alvin discovers that his fellow man could be a creature of great passions, he also discovers that many of them are dark and destructive. Reading the equivalent of a paperback a day for the last many decades, I find great delight in being surprised by an author and, without giving it away; I just did not see the ending coming.

It is not only other people which can exact a negative cost from you and in Blues before Bedtime, by Joel Lane, the author explores the costs of getting what you wanted. Exposing an impressive knowledge of music and musicians, Lane postulates that not every man has to go to a physical crossroad, like Robert Johnson did, to sell your soul to the devil.

I have to agree with Lane, that Johnson, given his modest fame outside of the legend and his death at a young age, made a very bad deal, but then so does Simon McKie, possibly there are no good deals to be done with the devil to really learn what it takes to play the blues.

It’s another well written story; my only criticism would be around the depth of musical knowledge on display. It’s fine if you like old and contemporary bands, though in the case of some of the bands mentioned, I’m not sure that they are still recording, if not you’re going to get lost in the reference. There is also a point that the contemporary reference root the writing of the story to a particular time and country, as time goes by these references will become obscure, eventually dating the story.

In the worlds of the fantastic, there is always a time when reality and fantasy will meet each other in a darkened wood, which is what happens in Wild Acre, by Nathan Ballingrud, though even here we see a refreshing twist on an old theme.

Three friends are camped out in the forest in a partially completed housing development waiting to catch and beat a local group of vandals. At first we have a very traditional scenario, woods, isolation and the inevitable attack by a werewolf. What makes this a clever story is that most authors would feel content to follow the well-worn linear path towards our hero blowing the devil's spawn away and probably getting the girl.

Ballingrud injects a sense of reality to the situation, after all what would you really do if your friends were being torn asunder, even if you had a gun, personally I’d piss myself and run away. Jeremy, the central character, doesn’t wet himself, but he does do the sensible thing and run. He then goes on to suffer catastrophic survivor’s guilt.

I liked the fact that the story, whilst having some fantastical elements, was another great character study of a man brought under increasing pressure, mostly from his self, which pushes him to breaking point. Ballingrud takes his time to build the pressure up and you really get to feel the explosion of emotion which Jeremy finally succumbs to.

The Dancer in The Dark by Reggie Oliver is a much more traditional ghost story which is very reminiscent of a Tales from the Unexpected episode. The structure is quite traditional as well. Allan Payne is a struggling actor who gets a job after the previous actor mysteriously drops out. The company is a group of fading talents, from the stars to the writer and director. As the play's run commences strange things start to occur and deaths soon follow.

I say it felt traditional as it was an attempt at sleight of hand, with the author attempting some misdirection with the three oldest members of the company. We are to suppose that there is something sinister about them and that the horror aspect of the tale will involve all three, although this does not turn out to be the case. The problem I had with the story was that Oliver showed his hand way too early, with allusions which were less clues than road signs.

Still, like the others in the anthology, Oliver displays a keen eye and ear for character and the overall structure of the story was sound.

The last story in the anthology is Night Closures by Paul Meloy. It’s another tradition ghost story. Even though it is well written. I’m guessing that most people would presume that if your central character had no name of his own and was only referred to as ‘the boy’ that he might as well be wearing a red shirt, because you can bet that he’s dead Jim, which only leaves the reader to discover the manner of his death. Meloy, like the other authors (I’m detecting McMahon's personal preferences in horror), concentrates on giving you a character study of the boy. Richly detailed, the tale takes you through a short period of his life, but it’s enough to feel empathy for the child and his plight.

I started out by saying that it took a lot for me to like a horror story, but then these, for the most part eschew the traditional clichés of the genre to bring something refreshingly new to the table.


Charles Packer

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