Saturday, 15 November 2014

Wicked, Twisty Tales

When it comes to anthologies, I find it a little hard to judge them on a whole. Most times you get a mixture of good and decent, though some stories just don't tend to stick with me. For example, if someone asked me about the Carniepunk anthology, I would tell them that it is a great series of stories, but that only four of the stories stuck with me, and three of those came from my favorite authors. However, there is one anthology that doesn't have this problem: Shooting Monkeys In A Barrel by one of my favorite authors, S. G. Browne. Not only was every story unique and interesting, I'll know they'll stick with me for a long time.

Cute, simple, and hopefully nothing I'll see at a target range. I like monkeys!
The anthology contains exactly what it advertises: ten very twisted tales:

A Zombie’s Lament” – A newly reanimated corpse attends Undead Anonymous meetings with other zombies and comes to terms with the reality of his new existence. The predecessor to Browne's highly successful Breathers novel reminded me just how much I enjoyed Andy's story. It offers a refreshing twist on the zombie-concept, and might make you feel a little guilty when you see the lonely zombies stumbling around on The Walking Dead.

Softland” – A family of luck poachers living in central California attempts to turn around its fortunes from a deal gone bad. I finished Lucky Bastard, the tie-in to this story a few days ago, and have to say that it was fantastic. The whole idea of taking luck from someone and selling it to buyers is both twisted and thoughtful. It puts a new spin on good luck, average luck, and reminds me how much I want to stay away from bad luck.

My Ego Is Bigger than Yours” – A new designer drug reinvents role-playing games by allowing its users to temporarily become dead celebrities and fictional characters. Another tie-in to Browne's novel Big Egos, this story was mostly a refesher for me, since it seemed to come straight from the novel itself. Not that it kept me from reading and enjoying it again. Big Egos was a compelling novel, and reading this short story almost had me re-reading the full length story.

Dream Girls” – A futuristic tale of sexual obsession, extraterrestrial intelligence, the death of Marilyn Monroe, and the assassination of JFK. What I was talking about earlier? Stories sticking with you? This was one of them. The short follows a man who uses a virtual sex doll to enact all his fantasies. He goes through the "moral" implications and legalities of it, trying to justify the reasons for having one. The end however, completely shocked me. I was even a little horrified, and needed to re-read a couple sentences. But it captured my attention and rattled me, the exact kind of reaction I enjoy when a writer surprise me.

Shooting Monkeys in a Barrel” – A writer suffering from writer’s block becomes addicted to the words he purchases from a drug dealer. I resounded with this particular story, because I'm still working on Path of the Horseman, and I'm at the point where I'm not sure if what I'm writing will lead to anything cohesive. Granted I'm still in the rough draft phase and know this is something every writer goes through, but the days when you struggle with creativity can be hard to deal with. I know I would never take words from a drug dealer, but this short was all about temptation, and how easy it can be to give in when you know what you desperately need.

Captivity” – A lonely and terrified prisoner is held captive in a bizarre and mysterious place. Of all the stories in this anthology, this one was my favorite. I won't say much, other than it wasn't the sort of prisoner/torture/escape story I was expecting at all. Once I caught on, I was amused. Then I felt a little guilty. I never questioned Browne's extensive creativity, but he blew my mind with this little story.

The Sodom and Gomorrah Shore” – The Seven Deadly Sins star in the original reality television show, set back during the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Written in script style, this story featured some characters who made an appearance in Browne's novel Fated (also excellent so check it out). It was a different style of reading, and I loved the twist on the infamous story. If this were actually a reality TV show, I would watch it. Which considering that I find most reality TV shows to be a pretentious, ultimately scripted waste of time and money, is saying something.

Homer’s Reprise” – A modern day story of Odysseus that blends Greek mythology with Big Foot, the Loch Ness Monster, and Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. A great little story featuring some of my favorite monsters and heroes, it had me rooting for Odysseus all over again, and made me glad that infamous monsters like Scylla and the deadly whirpool Charybdis didn't live in this society.

Dr. Lullaby” – A panhandler and professional guinea pig discovers that the pharmaceutical drugs he’s been testing have given him unusual side effects. I wasn't quite sure if this was a prequel/teaser to Browne's upcoming novel, Less Than Hero, until I reached the end. Now that I know it's true, I cannot wait for this new novel. Superheroes are huge nowadays, and most of them gain their powers through wealth or accidents or alien worlds. But superpower via pharmaceutical drug? Who would ever think of that? Thankfully, someone did, and I couldn't be more impressed or excited.

Zombie Gigolo” – A day in the life of a living corpse who provides a unique service for lonely and desperate female zombies. This is even more disturbing than you think it is. If Dream Girls made you consider sex, this will take the urge away for a little while. Completely and visually disgusting, but as Breathers proved, zombies get lonely too, and it isn't hard to understand that zombies would desire intimacy as much as the living do. Too bad about the whole rotting-body thing.

S. G. Browne is one of my favorite authors because I know that no matter what he writes, it will be insanely in-depth, creative, and unlike anything I've ever read. His stories will still stick with me years after I've read them. I'd recommend this anthology to anyone who's bored of cliches and wants to experience the talent of a truly gifted writer. You'll get way more than you're expecting, and you'll be craving more. I already am.


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