Reviewed in the United States on November 30, 2017
This is the fifth omnibus edition collecting the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth issues of Tales from the Canyons of the Damned. It’s loaded with fourteen excellent short stories written by eleven different authors that explore a wide range of tales from science fiction to suspenseful to outright wacky. Unusual situations, nautical stories, and horrific themes highlight each story in this collection. Find out more about each one, starting with:
D.K. Cassidy’s “103 Days” – Retiring in 103 days, Helen is a nurse who’s superstitious and isolative from her peers at work. As we learn the origins of her beliefs through flashbacks, we also learn something startling about the fate of the planet! How these seemingly two separate stories intersect in a touching and surprising way makes for a stirring tale filled with character and the power of personal convictions.
Jason LaVelle’s “Keep Rolling” – Kendra is a contestant on a game show that showcases her survival skills in the middle of the jungle. But when something bad happens that’s against the rules, the natives of the jungle get angry! This tale made me both laugh with the situation she faced and the terror it induced as the situation she’s stuck in escalates from humorous to horrific in all of the worst ways that you can imagine and even those you cannot.
Jon Frater’s “Hazard to Navigation” – Emma and Sam drive out to a distant clear spot to watch an unprecedented celestial event. As they talk about it, it becomes clear that this event is an atypical one, no matter what you might think the situation is. How the event occurred and what’s being done to remedy it is only part of the mystery that entranced me in its story, made me laugh with its satirical depiction of a government leader and the completely unexpected revelations with the truth.
Paul K. Swardstrom’s “Hugo King vs. The Many Menacing Minions of the Malevolent Menace Doctor Chicago” – Hugo is a business magnate wielding enormous influence in the community whose girlfriend Glory is in some trouble. She’s been found by Dr. Chicago and that is only the beginning of their problems when Hugo tries to save her! The title itself highlights only some of the true zaniness hiding inside this tale, where the story gets stranger with each scene and the enemies they struggle with. But it also keeps you chortling in uproarious laughter when it’s aware of its own crazy and continues down a road of creative lunacy. A delightful and quite original tale from word one right to the end.
Daniel Arthur Smith’s “The Lost Tapes – Jack Carter” – Professor Carter is being interviewed by special agents investigating a murder of his young research assistant, Emily, as they both work together at the Stem Cell Research Institute. So, who is the murderer and why? As the suspense mounts, all the little clues add up to something you’ll never suspect with an audacious ending and interesting science underlying this tale.
Next, Canyons adds a nautical theme to its usual mix of strong stories, from dangerous creatures to whales and from merfolk to sirens calling sailors. Intrigued? You should be. Read on to discover more in:
Kevin Lauderdale’s “A Personal Account of the Battle of the Eurydice and the Sceptre” – In a series of incidents in 1808, the British fought against the French ship Sceptre and lost…but how? And in the next skirmish, will they be able to succeed against such overwhelming odds? A thrilling series of battles that highlights courageousness, seamanship and an intriguing mystery that is both surprising and scary. It’s also fascinating to be taken back to a time to when battles were fought on the high seas using cannons and cutlasses, as the storytelling was top-notch.
Terry R. Hill’s “Voices from the Deep” – Dr. George Martin runs the cetacean research facility at NOAA’s marine laboratory, working with a male orca that has a brain injury. Nursing it back to health, George makes a startling discovery that could have tremendous ramifications for all of humanity! A deep character study about a doctor and his autistic son as well as a scientifically mesmerizing tale that expertly weaves both storylines together to create a compelling story with an unexpected and emotional ending.
Philip Harris’ “12 Things You Need to Know About Merfolk” –At a construction zone deep underneath the water, accidents keep occurring… but they’re being caused by merfolk?! How did this happen? This short guide details the history of this feud between humans and the underwater dwellers. And what a dark and absorbing history it is, dating back to mid-1800’s. This secret history is succinctly brought to light and is woven together seamlessly. It makes for a spellbinding tale of two peoples who cannot get along and the escalation of their warfare and the unusual ways it manifested.
Daniel Arthur Smith’s “The Lost Tapes – Sirens of Bartholomew” – Special agents are interviewing Mr. Volkov about the disappearance of his crew out at sea. What he has to tell them is spooky and just a bit unbelievable. But did it really happen? This is a disturbing and enrapturing short story about the things he said he witnessed and I got caught up in the telling of the tale and its events.
Finally, we pivot to Halloween themed stories, which is especially appropriate given the types of tales these Canyons collections always feature. From satire to humor, strange homes, alien invasions and bloodthirsty murder, there’s plenty of nerve-wracking scares and alarming surprises for the reader. Slice your way through these five tales starting with:
Christopher J. Valin’s “Carving in the Pumpkin Patch” – Lee is sitting in the pumpkin patch on Halloween, waiting for his friends to join him, even though they fear the murder spree going on in their town. As we meet all of them, the night gets stranger. What is going on here?! This is a darker, more grown-up and satirical take-off of “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” featuring the Peanuts characters as teens in a horror movie, complete with beer, weed, chaos, murder and an unknown killer. The humor comes from taking these characters and putting new spins on them. But it’s also a scary tale that builds suspense until it reaches its deadly climax.
Kevin Lauderdale’s “James and the Great Pumpkin (Carving Contest)” – Reggie and his faithful servant James are visiting his friend Woody, who is opening a big play but he needs more investment money or the play won’t go on! Reggie doesn’t have the money but has an idea on how to get it. A madcap adventure ensues, filled with fantastical events, flying pumpkins, and magic. This one was innovative in its ideas and uproarious in its execution as one unlikely thing led to another and I was swept along for the entire journey.
Lara Frater’s “The Real Estate Market” – The Tanner family has outgrown their small overcrowded home filled with two children and a third on the way. Finding their dream home in a great neighborhood for a reasonable price was unrealistic until today. So, what happens when they look at the house? A humorous and horrifying tale of letting the buyer beware and an unusual, strange feature of this home that must be read to be believed.
Peter Cawdron’s “Mirror, Mirror” – Jenny, Lisa, and Deon are kids living underground, trying to survive a world changed after an alien invasion. As we learn the story of the aliens and this conflict, the kids venture out into the world unattended in search of candy. What will they find? This terrific tale is filled with plenty of surprising twists and turns, one giant revelation and a jaw-dropping solution to what looked like an unsolvable problem.
Daniel Arthur Smith’s “The Lost Tapes – The Madness of King Street” – Sean is an actor being interviewed about what he witnessed at the King Street Station. As we listen to his tale, what frightening events did he witness and who slaughtered all those people? The disturbing events here slowly mount as the tension rises and culminates into many grisly deaths and a deliciously shocking ending. A hair-raising tale of fright!
This entire omnibus features powerful and heartfelt stories with character as a focus and the weird, strange, frightening, and unusual events that happen to them. Each character is motivated by something that appeals to the reader and makes them relatable, which grounds these stories in the real world and making them hit home emotionally. Each captivating tale utilizes their theme well and with storytelling panache.
This omnibus is perfect for anyone looking for some delightful storytelling, ingenious twists and some tales of horror that you will enjoy! Darkness has never seemed so sinister and so funny, as this collection perfectly illustrates. The Canyons collections haven't disappointed me yet and with stories like these, it continues to stoke my desire to read more of them. They showcase a fresh variety of talent and style that I look forward to reading whenever a new edition is published.