Book #43: The Black Whole

*Please note that I received this book as part of www.librarything.com's Early Reviewer group directly from the publisher.

Short story collections, even by the best authors, are often a mixed bag for me.  I think it's almost impossibly difficult to maintain a level of quality and theme across what is (usually) by definition a series of self-contained narratives that aim for the quick punch rather than the prolonged war of a novel.  I know that the point isn't always to maintain the same feel or theme throughout the stories, and that it's my own personal preferences of prejudices that are working against me in this field, but there you go.

When you factor in anthology collections, this becomes even more evident.  When the anthology is as purposely varied as something like The Black Whole, the dangers become practically unavoidable.  From the mission statement/summary posted on the cover:

"A collection of new thoughts in short-story form by new writers to appease for a moment your mind's quest for an out-of-common experience."

Editor Jackie M Jones (who also provides three stories in the collection) has gathered together a number of new writers with the goal of writing short, punchy speculative fiction.  And although it takes a while to get moving and there are a few stories that leave you as soon as the last word is digested, the pleasant surprise is the number of stories that not only work, but linger in your craw afterward like a stringy piece of meat, its taste continuing to remind you of the meal.

For me, things really began to kick in with Rocky Wood's "Disposable," a twisted New Orleans tale about body possession which deals more with what happens to the person being co-opted.  Wood comes up with a truly unique perspective on the nature of our existence and building of the universe. 

It's the "WFT?" moments that occur, in stories like Jones's "The Better Half" (which benefits from being crazy and not making a lick of sense at the end - believe me, this was a good thing), "Cajun Red" by Steven Marshall, and Edward Morris's "The Devil Was Hot," which uses a crazed radio broadcast to fun effect, that bring out the better stories to the forefront.  There are more conventional stories - vampires and zombies abound, but "Organ Donor" by William Blake Vogel III shines through for coming up with a use for zombies I had never thought of.

There are more...like any good collection you have to dig in and find them.  One of my favorite stories, "Spiked!" by Bruce Bretthauer reads very traditionally but has a terrific sense of fun.  The three stories by Jones provide a compass of sorts into the expected weirdness: all provide seriously fun "WTF?" moments.  But I think more than anything else what I like about The Black Whole is the sense of opening up new voices to the world, and for that the book as a whole is to be commended.