Reviewed in the United States on March 4, 2018
In this sixth omnibus of the Canyons of the Damned series, it collects issues from Canyons twenty, twenty-one and twenty-two. That means you get fourteen wonderful stories from eleven different authors and all of them use the short story form to tell fantastic tales. Each one highlights the dangers and the unusual situations you will find out there in the cosmos, getting readers into a gruesome Christmas spirit or exploring tales of love that are zany, unusual and heartbreaking.
Each one also tackles its theme and presents an exciting and involving story that sucks you right into it and you’re unable to put it down until you’re done reading. Want to know more? Dive right in with:
Eamon Ambrose’s “The 2K” – Henry and Kristen are humans helping aliens called the Efiri terraform a new planet. Accomplishing this goal together, it will help both Earth and the aliens. But what will happen once the project is finally complete? I enjoyed this tale because it not only illustrated the situation with the humans, it also flashed back to the past to explain how the Efiri came to Earth offering a collaborative partnership. Storytelling and world-building done right with many unforeseen twists along the way.
Jessica West’s “Mary Janes on the Moon” – Alice faces a new beginning, wistful at the past and looking forward to the present. But what were the disturbing formative events that shaped her into who she is at this moment? A quick yet visceral tale that pulls you into Alice’s world and makes you understand and sympathize what happened to her.
Rhett Bruno’s “Patient Zero” – Stuck on the planet Rusina with meager resources and abandoned by the government, Desmond watches his wife Alora slowly succumb to a debilitating disease with no cure. As she grows worse with each passing day, what will Desmond do? The love Desmond has for his wife struck home with me, immersing me in Desmond’s helplessness and despair. The actions he took shocked me and his daring plan held me enraptured to see what would happen next.
Bob Williams’ “Mara” – Nine-year-old Mara was born into a difficult life and her circumstances only get worse as she strikes back against an alien tyrant, Popan. As a result, Popan punishes her with imprisonment, subject to his every despicable whim, including being physically beaten. How will she find the will to survive? This is a brutal tour-de-force showcasing a downtrodden child whose struggle you root for as she tries to rise above her situation. You feel it each time she is repeatedly struck down and by the end of the story, I was surprised at where it ended and how it got there.
Daniel Arthur Smith’s “The Off-World Kick Murder Squad IV” – Picking up where the story left off in Part III from Tales from the Canyons of the Damned: No. 14), the mercenary squad initiates their plan to infiltrate The Korean Syndicate’s facility and acquire their target. But who is their target and why are they so important and so valuable? The banter between squadmates is a lot of fun and the different cybernetic augments they used, along with their military precision executed here, made for a suspenseful installment with a jaw-dropping ending.
Michael Ezell’s “Captain Sharpteeth” – Eddie is a 14-year-old teen whose friend was horribly murdered but no one knows what happened. But when Eddie and his friends find a new collectibles store, what will they discover about the murder? This is a visceral tale that puts you right into the mind of a teen, experiencing the world he inhabits and the depth of his loss. The primal terror it invokes is grisly and the suspense of its mystery kept me turning pages. And all of Eddie’s friends were real people, not just characters, given strong motivations, appreciation of pop culture and unique personalities.
Will Swardstrom’s “A Cookie Cutter Story” – When Jeremy and his crew want to rob a dead old lady’s house for valuables, Tyrone joins in, but not before calling his girlfriend’s voicemail to apologize again for his screw ups. But during the ransacking, what they all find puts their lives in extreme danger! Each character in Jeremy’s crew stands out and handles this distinctive threat differently. The danger is creative, horrific and comedic all at the same time, as it’s the last thing you would ever expect. The author maximizes the potential in this scenario and I both laughed and went slack-jawed with awe at each new unlikely situation Jeremy’s crew faced.
Terry R. Hill’s “Third Shift” – Dr. Abercrombie is working the emergency room at his hospital during the holidays, covering for other doctors. As the doctor is working save lives, one unusual case comes in. Will they be able to diagnose and treat it in time or will there be disastrous consequences if they don’t? This gripping story unfolds very realistically with authentic dialogue and mounting tension. It ratchets up the suspense with each page as the real horror of what’s happening is slowly unveiled and the reader won’t realize what’s truly happening until the end.
Amira K. Makansi & Jessica West’s “The Butcher Boy” – When Charlotte, a nine-year-old in the old south, calls Johnny a liar for saying he saw a ghost, she dares him to bring her to see it. What she finds down by the creek is scarier than she expected. Will she find the courage to face it? Moody, atmospheric and dark all describe this spooky and engrossing tale about a ghost story that has depth, tragedy, and unpredictability.
Daniel Arthur Smith’s “The Lacemaker” – Imogen is the titular character meeting with a very important client, Amory, who is going on a one-way long-distance business trip that requires a special procedure on his brain. But what is the procedure for and why is it so complicated? The answers to those questions are fascinating and layered, filled with mesmerizing details and surprising developments, perfectly immersing me into its tale. This story takes place in the author’s rapidly expanding Spectral Shift (Spectral Worlds Book 1) universe and it doesn’t disappoint. It melds cyberpunk and science into a dystopian future that continues to delight.
Robert Jeschonek’s “Dirty Dreams of a Dishwasher” – Mack is a repairman who specializes in home appliances with artificial intelligence built in. When Quinn, a beautiful young woman, calls him for help, he gets in way over his head as one after another, things begin to go awry. Will he be able to fix it all in time? Love is in the air… for everything in Quinn’s home! This is an outrageous tale that had me in hysterics and it’s probably the funniest love story I’ve ever read, bar none. Given the colorful and sexual dialogue from each of these appliances, they all sounded like Isaac Hayes with his low baritone voice (!). And the conclusion to this tale was ingenious and made me grin at its complete uproariousness.
Nathan M. Beauchamp’s “Twisterville” – Allan lives in a home that’s been held aloft in a tornado for a long time. But when he sees an Airstream trailer fly through the air and pull up in the midst of the storm, he meets Cindy and they form a connection. But what happens when a competitor for Cindy’s affection gets vengeful? This is an imaginative tale filled with scares and an innovative fight in the middle of a tornado that was heart-stopping and gripping. I also enjoyed their musings on why the tornado itself “chose” them over other people and why as well. The society that develops because they are all riding along inside the tornado together is intriguing as well.
Jessica West’s “A Heart for Mariah” – Medic Alpha 3, known as MA3, is a sentient android helping out in a hospital. Abused by his boss and treated like dirt, he feels something for Mariah’s precarious situation. What will he do to try to help her and why is her situation so dire? As usual, the author pulls at my emotional heartstrings with this story. Thankfully, it doesn’t do so literally, based on the dark and deliciously devious turn it takes. It’s an unpredictably beautiful short story that packed an emotional gut-punch while also exploring the nature of humanity.
Daniel Arthur Smith’s “Love Day” – In the far future, Jacques and his wife Gillian are on a distant planet, awaiting the arrival of a ship bringing critical supplies for their colony. But when an asteroid threatens this ship, how will they respond? And why is this mission so important anyway? An involving tale that provoked strong feelings and was filled with eventful surprises as it played out with a twist of an ending that left my jaw on the floor. This story also takes place in the author’s “Spectral Shift” universe and it has some subtle connections to the author's story “The Lacemaker”, which is found earlier in this collection.
Fourteen captivating tales that all tell a complete story filled with characters who are superbly illustrated and face difficult circumstances. There’s a wide variety of tales here that will entrance you with their style and boundless imagination. Only in the Canyons collection will you find such eclectic and electrifying stories that feature virulent diseases, aliens, loss, ghosts, mind-altering procedures, ghosts, cybernetic people and danger from every corner you look in? They are funny, intriguing, suspenseful, horrifying and heart-rending, every single one.
I’ve read stories by many of these authors before and they never fail to absorb me with the breadth of their imagination and the strong writing skills. That’s why “Tales From the Canyons of the Damned” is my go-to series when I have a need for innovative, compelling and high-quality storytelling.