Edited by Robert N. Lee and David T. Wilbanks
Published by Hellbound Books Publishing
Everyone’s heard the phrase “Go to Hell.” For some of us, hearing it many times a day is commonplace. But has anyone ever stopped to consider what Hell might actually be like? More to the point, what might the world be like if Hell manifested itself on earth? Plagues of demons and carnal debauchery are only a few of the horrors in the realm of eternal suffering, imagined by twenty-two talented authors in Damned Nation.
Contained in this collection of short stories are tales varied enough to provide at least one set of class-A shivers for anyone. While some seem downright comical, others are brutal in their descriptions of pain and suffering. Most of the characters deserve to be in the fiery plane, but they’re written in such a way that readers still sympathize with them, connecting to the pain they feel and leaving a lasting impression.
The best stories in this book shine in their own sulfur-and-brimstone-smoked way. “Cul-de-Sac”, by William D. Carl, is startling in its sense of desperation which takes place in the Dust-Bowl era of the United States. It centers around an entire community whose hope dwindles with every death of each starving child. Tom Piccirilli provides a chilling look of the future, in which the mad are given license to act upon their insane impulses in “Tortures of That Inward”. A real sense of desperation is revealed in “The Punishment”, by Jenny Drosel, in which a young woman begs to be taken to task for her sins. There are even touching moments, courtesy of Matthew Fryer’s story “Even Hell Breeds Martyrs”, in which an escapee from Hell finds a kindred spirit.
However, lest you think this book is full of nothing but heavy emotions and general melancholy, there are tales which can only be described as the blackest of humor. In “Kheller’s Treats” by Eric S. Grizzle, for instance, the powers of Hell set up a snow-cone stand across from the lead character’s house, and it’s driving him crazy. Paul McMahon brings to light the Hell that many men go through, seeing that only the jerks get the girls, in “Killing Puffball”. And in the appropriately titled “Funny”, Michael Nethercott seems to be taking out his own dark fantasies on insipid sitcom writers.
Other stories seem more designed to be thought-provoking than anything, and they pull off their intent with flying colors. In “Das Hollenfeuer”, Mark Justice remakes the world with the supposition that Germany had won the last world war, with the help of demons. A man gets a glimpse at those who are damned in Bev Vincent’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights”. A man is transported back in time and discovers the reasons behind his mother’s death in “Dark Return” by William F. Nolan. And post-apocalyptic Earth, in which surviving humans have to dodge demons and avoid the walking dead, is the unsettling setting for John A. Burks’ “Message Board.”
Still, there are other stories in this collection that defy classification, and can only be described as twisted, but entertaining. For example, in James S. Dorr’s “‘CRAP!’ Said the King”, a man discovers that enjoying his daily bowel-release is a sin and therefore decides to worship Satan. Also present is the scathing commentary against the media’s habit of over-glorifying tragedy in Norman Prentiss’ “The Everywhere Man”. There is even something for those who miss the old cop-noir thrillers made famous by Dashell Hammett with “Hell” and “Half of Georgia”, by R.W. Day.
While there are few stories in this collection that seem as if they don’t belong, the best all have a few common points. They are vividly told, are well written, and tap into the deep sense of dread that comes with living in a place of eternal suffering. Among the best are the stories by Tom Piccarilli, William D. Carl and R.W. Day. Other stories that stand out include those by Bev Vincent and Eric. S. Grizzle.
The only trouble with a collection like Damned Nation is that the stories, in some cases, only give readers a glimpse. Several of these tales could be expanded into full-length works in their own right, while others seem too restrained by their page numbers. For some writers, it seems that they just get going and get their voice when the story ends, leaving the reader unsatisfied. However, out of twenty-two stories, only a few match this description.
The real strengths of Damned Nation come from the talents of the twenty-two writers whose visions of Hell are contained herein. It doesn’t matter if you see hell as flaming walls of brimstone, being lost in a place where everyone ignores you, or a place that exists only in your own mind; it’s in here, waiting to grab the readers and shake them.
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