This collection is intensely curious.
I, and I’m gonna guess many others, never pegged Kevin J. Anderson for a dude with a dark side.
I listen to his Pod (Creative Futurism), I have heard his Building My 1st Lightsaber/Popcorn Theory Of Success talk (which I highly recommend all creative types watch here), and I’ve seen and heard countless interviews with the man and he really comes off easy going and unflappable.
But this book feels like he’s purposely out to break your preconceived notions of him, his personality, and his style and I loved nearly every word of it.
As is usually the case round here, consider this your official ***Spoiler Alert***, gang.
1st and foremost, just to get this out of the way, the best story in this book is Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I.: Role Model.
I was hoping he would include a Shamble story in one of these Fantasy volumes, I would have been supremely disappointed had he left out this character.
I talked a bit about this story in my review of Working Stiff, so I won’t go over it again.
But I have 2 things I have to say in regard to this entry.
1. We are going to go over this story with a fine tooth comb next month in Series 5 of The Nerd Blitz Book Club, so keep your eyes peeled for that.
And 2. The little intro revealed something I didn’t know, I love this Shamble story almost as much as KJA himself and, though it should be obvious, his love for this story is apparent in the extremely short intro.
At least until Services Rendered comes out, this is the best of the Shamble short stories, I really can’t recommend it enough.
The 2nd best story is the 27th of 29, The Sum Of His Parts.
It’s a Frankenstein story that KJA developed for the 2005 Dean Koontz novel Frankenstein: Prodigal Son as background and went unused.
It’s the story of how Victor Frankenstein acquired the various body parts to create his monster and it is delightfully chilling.
This one plays like the best anthology movies, a little bit Pulp Fiction and a heaping helping of Trick R Treat.
Seeing certain events from multiple perspectives and how they impact characters is a stroke of genius that I don’t have the confidence many other writers could pull off.
Reading this I couldn’t help but wonder why this hasn’t been turned into a movie itself, it is a great twist on the classic story.
But showing his love for the old Universal icons, Frankenstein’s isn’t the only classic monster on display here, there a few Vampire/Dracula stories in here that really pop as well.
Rude Awakening, The Fate Worse Than Death, & Much At Stake all handle that specific monster in inventive and fresh ways.
Two deal with the monsters being awakened from their slumber, but diverging down vastly different paths and one features a doped up Bela Lugosi and Vlad The Impaler having a meeting through time to discuss the power of fear and reputation.
As I said above, this volume of short stories seems to be about bucking your expectations, and it does.
One of the earliest examples of this trend is the story, written with musician Janis Ian, Dark Carbuncle.
I have to say, on behalf of Thornton Velbiss, KJA is a real torturous bastard!
Velbiss is a swear-slinging rockstar (my kinda guy!) who died, but a particularly dedicated group of his fans aren’t ready to let go just yet.
They resurrect him in the hope of getting him to play his classic song for many years to come.
Exasperated due to his hatred of the hit, he drops to his knees and bellows for mercy from the almighty…and ends up possibly playing the tune for all eternity.
It’s the M. Night-esque middle finger twist I’m coming to love from Anderson.
Keeping with the musical theme, he includes 2 stories written with legendary RUSH drummer, and his long time friend, Neil Peart that are fun and make you want to find the other stories they wrote together.
Tucker’s Grove (the fictional Wisconsin small town I was first introduced to when I read Selected Stories: Fantasy) is really the star of this book.
I’m damn skippy between these 2 Fantasy volumes he has republished nearly, if not, all 13 of the stories from the 2011 short story collection focused on the town.
The depth of thought that he put into the history of this little hamlet over the years is admirable.
It’s his “Derry, Maine” or “Arkham, Massachusetts”, and you can tell he has the small town experience to draw on and make it feel legitimate.
I feel like I have barely scratched the surface of explaining this grouping of prose, but I know I’m running long.
I’ll start wrapping up by saying that this book features horror of all stripes, it feels like it covers more bases than the previous two Selected Stories collections combined.
You get classic monsters, modern slasher, humor, and psychological horror.
There is murder, abduction, betrayal, revenge, thievery, and magic curses in abundance, not to mention all of the sex, drugs, & rock ‘n roll that comes along with all of that.
Despite my love of the Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I. series, I almost feel ashamed for still viewing KJA as the guy that just writes epic Science Fiction novels.
Stories range from back in 1984 up to flash fiction written during his MFA courses in 2018, giving a sense of how prolific and various he has always been.
And that has been my main take away from this Selected Stories series.
I have never hated a single thing I’ve read of his, but I, and a lot of people, had this dude pigeon-holed.
Age Rings (which he told me on Twitter he wrote in 15 minutes) alone should shatter all of that.
He can shift gears and write any genre with the best of them and he fuckin’ knows it.
Welcome to the dark side, sir, I hope you visit more often.
Special thanks to @acferrell1976 for her editorial help on these reviews.
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