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Strange Pleasures

edited by Sean Wallace

(Cosmos Books, 216 pages, $15.00, paperback; August 2001.)

Strange Pleasures features the work of ten different authors but the stories all have the cover scansame 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 his allegiance.

"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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