(Cosmos Books, 216 pages, $15.00, paperback; August 2001.)
Strange Pleasures features the work of ten different authors
but the stories all have the same
flavour, giving the book a sense of flow that is lacking from many anthologies.
"Genocide", by Gord Rollo, opens on two battered prisoners, one driven
close to despair by the knowledge of his impending death and the other
holding onto the last of his strength to keep from unravelling. When
his captors aren't torturing him, our nameless hero thinks about the
world he left behind and the family he left vulnerable and starving.
He wonders what his people have done to be targeted for genocide. No
prisoner lives past dawn of his fourteenth day. That day comes as the
story ends and our hero finally sets eyes on his executioner.
One story that's fun in a violent, psychotic way is "The Berserker
Captain" by Neal Asher. A routed army is in full retreat to the sea,
where they hope to find ships to carry them away from their enemies
and their shame. The ragged troop comes across an infamous archpriest
called the Red Bishop, who assumes command for the band. Upon joining
the Red Bishop the men find themselves hunted by a lone warrior intent
on capturing the Bishop and bringing him to justice for crimes against
the warrior's people. At first they obey and defend the Bishop, as any
good soldiers would. As the Berserker Captain thins their ranks, their
loyalties falter. Parrick, the "battle captain", must choose between
the lives of the men he swore to lead or the Priest to whom he owes
"The Planter", by Lauren Halkon, is a fast-paced post-apocalyptic tale
about the last living human, who has been granted immortality to complete
a mysterious quest. She scours the world without rest, searching every
city and street for her quarry. During her search she finds two mutated
men about to pounce on a smaller creature. She rescues the being; in
return it shows her the world she's been too preoccupied to see -- a
world full of hope and beauty. The woman feels her heart warming, but
her joy is short-lived as tragedy befalls herself and her companion.
The final narrative is an unusual ghost story that deals with love-induced
madness. The central figure in "Snare", by John Grant, is an ex-rocker
named Dave who, as we join him, is preparing for an annual pilgrimage.
He shuts out the world and moves methodically from his home through
the streets of an English city, his only company a tape of his band.
The band was formed as a joke between him and his college friends. To
their surprise they enjoyed some modest success due to a song co-written
by Dave and his bandmate Alyss. Dave loved Alyss and welcomed the songwriting
as an opportunity for their friendship to grow into something more.
Alyss resisted Dave at first but a relationship developed, one destined
to end in pain and sorrow.
Sean Wallace has assembled a thoroughly enjoyable collection of dark
tales that keep the reader guessing. Each author offers smooth and well
written prose in their own voice while adding heft to the anthology
as a whole. Strange Pleasures was just that for this reviewer.
Review by Thomas Staab.
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