Edited by Nathaniel Lambert
Published by Stygian Publications
Publication Date: 2009
Format: Black /White
Let me see them hands if you love yerself a good, old-fashioned trip to the hospital? That’s what I thought. There is something about those sterile environments filled with stoic, mask covered faces, reeking of antiseptic and a mild undercurrent of something much uglier that sets the skin to full out goose mode. And let us not forget the marvelous service at the front desk that does everything possible to remind us that we are nothing more than another number and another pain in the ass in their day. But all of that pales in comparison when we begin to think about what happens once we get admitted and rolled down those too-damn-quiet hallways into the rooms without windows. Places where a masked man or woman will drug us and begin to cut. And cut. And cut. Even if we scream, no one will listen because everyone else wants so desperately to believe that they are here to help, not harm.
That basic fear, what is referred to in the introduction as Acute White Coat Syndrome, is what this first anthology from the makers of Necrotic Tissue magazine (damn fine title, that) is all about. Poking and prodding at our subconscious with images of abuse, torture, monstrosity, aberration and a bit of political allegory for spice. And you know what, they make it work.
I’ve said before that anthologies live and dieΒ by the taste of their editor and Nathaniel Lambert has more than shown the value of his buds here. I’m not sh*tting you when I say that there isn’t a single bad story to be found, or even one that left me indifferent. There are works of absolute genius like Bryce Albertson’s meditation on crime, punishment and judgment, βUniversal Donorβ, a story that shows no fear when pointing out the dark recesses within ourselves as well as others. Or there is the dystopian medical future of Paul Harris’s βA Kind of Livingβ cozying up to the surreal nightmare of βCold Coffee Cups and Curious ThingsβΒ by Catherine Gardner. Kevin Lucia’s βTherapyβ is a surprisingly honest cautionary tale that I would love to use in a high school class room, but might stand a good chance of getting fired if I did. Then there are the 100 word βbitesβ that nicely fill out the gaps between the stories and work as a bit of a pallet cleanser while sucker-punching you repeatedly. The use of those among the more traditional sized tales has to be one of the better ideas I have seen in an anthology since the Borderlands series.
This book is also about as tight as you can possibly get, not allowing for a single wasted page. Not only keeping every story tied to our fear of hospitals, but also going so far as to keep all of the events to a single hospital (Bloom Memorial). Doing this gives the whole collection the feel of a bunch of old-timers sitting around at the local bar telling tales about that creepy ass hospital just outside of town. In short, it creates the effect of a single tale instead of the usual buffet style sampling that comes with most of its ilk. Yet, at the same time, Nathaniel is not so tight as to keep the style, tone and approach of the stories monotonous. We’ve got the bitter old bastard, the happy drunk, the paranoid freak, the joker, the sadist and more all gathered round tonight and they all have their own bit of spice to add to the lore.
The point is, I loved the crap out of this book and you would be a moron not to be willing to drop $16 for something this good. Buy yourself a copy, and maybe even an extra one for that friend that is going under the knife. Forewarned is forearmed after all…
Available at Stygian Publications