Scaremongers 2: Redbrick Eden edited by Steve Savile (Tanjen Ltd, £6.99, all royalties donated to SHELTER; paperback, 308 pages, ISBN 1-901530-14-0. Published August 1998)
In his introduction to Scaremongers 2 Steve Savile relates an anecdote that seems to have been pivotal in the creation of this book. Quite simply, he witnesses a homeless person being beaten up on a crowded city street; passers-by, Steve included, turn a blind eye, and the 'Fucking Beggar' is kicked, punched and spat upon by three kids in expensive Hip-Hop tracksuits. Failure to be a good samaritan weighs heavy on Steve's conscience over the next few weeks, and after several sleepless nights the idea of putting together an anthology of horror stories - the royalties of which would be donated to the charity SHELTER - is spawned. Stories are gathered and ideas thrown around, but (surprise, surprise) not far down the line it becomes apparent that publishing houses aren't interested. In their market-driven opinion (no doubt they ran the idea up the flagpole and no one saluted it...) homelessness is not commercial. Vampires, yes; X-Files, Star Trek, latest Hollywood Sci-Fi Blockbuster Schmaltzfest spin off, yes; but not the homeless. Too depressing. Too real.
Thus began a long hard slog which, at last, has come to an end with the publication of Redbrick Eden.
The collection itself is quite diverse. Traditional horror, like Ben Leech's 'Hobyahs', in which small goblin-like creatures run amok, sits alongside more experimental pieces, like Nicholas Royle's 'Auteur', which I considered to be especially good. The plot of 'Auteur' revolves around an out of work actor forced to wait tables in London who, one night, gets involved with a bunch of amateur film-makers planning their latest film. In one of the strangest stories I've read in a long time, the protagonist becomes more and more immersed in the film, until it and his life converge in a wonderful final scene.
Equally diverse, in that it's almost science-fictional horror, is 'Brighton Town' by Keith Brooke (why's that name ring a bell?). There's a lot of concepts in 'Brighton Town' packed into just ten pages, and it might take a second read for them all to sink in, as it did with me. It's well worth the effort, though. I'd like to see more stories like 'Brighton Town' being accepted by horror editors.
The use of vernacular language to narrate a story, vis-a-vis Trainspotting, is a pet-hate of mine, so it was with dismay that I read the opening paragraph of Peter Crowther's 'Three Plays a Quarter', the story on which Redbrick Eden closes. However, putting my prejudices aside, I persisted, and was glad that I did, because it turned into a brilliant little story that lingers long after the last word. Two drifters find themselves in a 50s diner, reminiscent of the television programme Happy Days, the clientele of which are far from normal. The final page, in which one of the drifters, having escaped the diner, continues to be haunted by people from it, is certainly a chilling highpoint on which to end this, the second in the Scaremongers series. Very Twilight Zone. Very Outer Limits. And very scary.
In all, a fine collection of stories, including excellent reprints by Kim Newman and Christopher Fowler. But remember, Steve Savile won't be able to sleep at night just because Redbrick Eden has been through a printing press and is now on the shelves. Only when you buy a copy will that happen. So if not for the people in shop doorways, and the guy who Steve saw being beaten up, then at least for the bags under Steve's eyes...
Scaremongers 2 is published by Tanjen Ltd,
First Floor, Alpha House, Countesthorpe Road, South Wigston, Leicestershire LE18 2PJ, United Kingdom; priced £6.99, all
royalties donated to the charity for the homeless, SHELTER.
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© Jason Gould 7 November 1998