Edited by Jeani Rector
Published by Imajin Books
We’re at an odd time for the art of print. Writers, poets, and artists are having a very hard time mass marketing their work, as the world moves towards digital-only publishing and the death of print. Publishers are going out of business, bookstores are shrinking, the entire industry is facing the gloom that the music industry faced not so many years ago when digital trumped physical.
More and more, print artists are turning to the web to reach the masses. Just like musicians before them, they find that releasing their work for free or donations on the web will get their names out there far better than traditional means such as agents and manuscripts.
With What Fears Become, we have the reverse: a website dedicated to print art actually publishing a hard copy of the finest of their work. The Horror Zine is a UK-based site featuring poetry, art, and fiction from artists all over the world. Chief editor Jeani Rector has collected these into a volume published by a small Canadian independent publisher, Imajin Books. I’m happy to say this was a good move.
I’ve read and reviewed many short story collections, and this is one of the better ones I’ve seen in recent years. While one would expect to find work from undiscovered writers, this collection has stories by luminaries such as Bentley Little, Ramsey Campbell, Joe R. Lansdale, and Graham Masterton. There are many lesser-known writers mixed in, but the surprise is that, often, the new blood tops the old masters.
There are some real rip-snorters in this volume. Little’s “Dogleg” is a bizarre little tale of metamorphosis that’s been recommended for a 2011 Stoker Award. New author Rachel Coles weaves a lovely, original little ghost tale in “The Orphans of Lethe”. Another new author, James Marlow, tells another ghost story of a much meaner variety in “3AM”. “Wandering Daniel” is a delightfully inventive tale of a vampire without any prey by budding screenwriter Jagjiwan Sohal. In probably my favorite story in the book, “A Bad Stretch of Road”, veteran writer Dean H. Wild has created a vicious, creative tale blending action and horror. This one is almost worth the price of admission alone. Nine pages of balls-to-the-wall grinding horror as a man takes a detour into hell itself.
Of course, like any collection, not every story shines. Some, like Ronald Malfi’s “Chupacabra” and horror icon Melanie Tem’s “Fry Day” are so surreal that they fail to carry any real narrative and leave the reader feeling less than satisfied when they finish. “Fish Night” by Joe R. Lansdale and “Lost Things” by Piers Anthony just don’t feel anything remotely like horror and thus seem out of place in the collection.
Still, even in those instances, they aren’t bad stories. The former just seem soft when paired with the other selections, and the latter just don’t fit with the rest of the work despite being very solid tales in their own right.
Following the short stories is a section of poetry. While I feel this is a much more mixed bag than the fiction, poetry is drastically more subjective than fiction, and I don’t feel confident enough to individually point out pieces to critique. Suffice it to say I enjoyed some of it and didn’t enjoy others, and you’ll probably feel the same.
The poetry is followed by art, and artwork is also placed throughout the book between stories. This is the only place where What Fears Become fails.
Imajin is not a self-publisher, but they use a self-publishing company to print their physical books. As with many self-publishers, they simply do not do justice to artwork. While the book is attractive with fantastic full-color cover art, the art inside the book is reproduced very badly. Comparing some of the art on the website with the reproduced versions in the book could leave an art lover in tears. Pixelated, dark, and sometimes not even printed in the correct proportions, the art would have best been left out entirely if it couldn’t be presented in a more appealing manner. Do yourself a favor and skip this section entirely and look at the originals on the site, which are wonderful. The work is amazing, but the reproductions here do a terrible disservice to the artists.
The final section is the “Editor’s Corner”, where Rector has printed a couple of her own stories. They stand up in quality to the rest of the collection so she was smart to do so.
Notice up above that I advised you to skip the art section? That’s because I’m recommending that you buy this book. It’s honestly one of the finest short story collections I’ve read in quite some time and kept me very entertained throughout. The poetry and art are really just bonus features, to me, as this would still be quite a large volume without them. I guarantee you’ll find some new authors you otherwise might not read and discover rare material from some of fiction’s best and brightest veterans.
3 1/2 out of 5