Reviewed in the United States on October 10, 2019
Good morning, my lovely nerdlings! I’m bringing you something a little extra-special today. You all know that I have a deep affinity for the twisty, the bump-in-the-night-y, the creepy and the kooky, the mysterious and spooky (ok, ok, I’ll stop), but this time, I’m reading my favorite stuff for a wonderful cause. In the Dark Tides anthology, a whole lot of my long-time favorite authors and a few marvelous up & comers contributed stories, with all proceeds going to the families and victims of the mass shooting in Virginia Beach (which happens to be one of my favorite places), with all of the stories having a watery-depths theme.
And oh my darlings, what an eclectic treasure chest this book is! There truly is something for everyone - Cthulu-ish cosmic horror, ghosts and zombies, serial killers and witches, mob hits, makeout sessions, the past, the future, children, the elderly, and of course, everything aquatic.
If you want a quick overview, as a whole, I can tell you that Dark Tides is one of the most solid anthologies I’ve ever read. I’m a salty (heh) old nerd, so generally, when I read a collection, about a quarter of the stories are fantastic, half are enjoyable enough, and the final 25% is a firm meh-to-bad. I’m thrilled to report that this one has no clunkers. I’m also concerned that I might be losing my famously impeccable taste.
That said, there were a few stand-outs, and those ones have stars next to them in the list below. If I had a gun to my head & were forced to choose a favorite, I’d have to go with Hanson Oak’s “They Came From the Sea. They Went To the Stars.” because even though it didn’t feature water or the beach as much as the others, it was a mind-bending blend of horror, love story, mythology, and a lot of Alice In Wonderland hallucinogenic weirdness.
Although it’s probably a tie between that one and Widow’s Point, because my heart is always in haunted houses, and that one is so freakin’ innovative. And legit creepy.
Because Dark Tides is a leviathan-sized collection of 30 gems, I can only devote a few words to each of them. Let’s dive in (heh), shall we?
Terror From the Briny Depths, by Elizabeth Massie - Say you’re a young bride-to-be in the 1950’s, on a beachfront vacation with your somewhat-overbearing fiance, when you happen to notice an enormous monster beneath the waves. And it knows your name. Wait, what??
Pockets Full of Rocks, by Justin M. Woodward - On the worst day of a young man’s life, he meets an old man on the beach who has some very strange things to say to him.
Old Bastards, by Tony Bertauski - Thomas wakes up on a deserted island with no memory of how he got there. Fortunately, there’s someone else in his head who can give him all kinds of helpful information - how to treat his wounds, what to eat, where to hide, and most importantly, how to sabotage what needs to be sabotaged.
** Flange Turner, by Gene O’Neill - Ian’s been let go from the waterfront factory where he worked for 20-odd years. But his job isn’t the only thing in his life that’s fading away. A creepy story that’s a brilliant portrayal of a dying rust belt town.
** NIGHTSWIMMING: A Creepy Little Bedtime Story, by William F. Aicher - A rebellious teenage girl convinces her boyfriend to go skinny-dipping in the pool of a closed-up mansion. Surely nothing terrible could happen.
By the Seaside, by Kevin J. Kennedy - When it rains on their beachside vacation, little Sarah and her parents decide to spend an evening inside, telling scary stories. But no matter how creepy the story is, it’s just pretend, right?
The Burdens of the Father, by Mark Matthews - In a not-too-distant future America, air is rationed, and any citizens deemed not worthy of their share are eliminated. Everything is carefully controlled by the government, but Janis’s wife is secretly pregnant, and a strident street preacher seems to be openly flouting all the rules, with no consequences. And that’s just the start of the strangeness of the day.
Black Mill Cove, by Lisa Morton - When Jim kisses Maren and leaves their camper to hunt for abalone in the pre-dawn dark tidal pools, he finds something completely unexpected. And horrifying. And then things get REALLY bad.
** Down to a Sunless Sea, by Neil Gaiman - A mother’s heartbreaking lament, lyrical and haunting, a shocking amount of story in very few words.
** Devourer, by Andrew Lennon - When Pete persuades his cousin’s grown-up boyfriend to take him on a jet-ski ride, he thinks it’s the coolest thing ever. Until it isn’t. Sidenote: I am never again swimming where I can’t see the bottom. No way.
A Quickee, by John Skipp - A moonlight tryst is not what it seems.
Dark Skies, by Jason Stokes - Trying to walk home in a hurricane is a bad idea. Getting lost in a hurricane is bad luck. Or maybe it’s something worse.
** Cycles, by Chad Lutzke - A young man decides to face his (well-deserved) fear of the ocean while on his date with the girl of his dreams. What could go wrong?
** They Came from the Sea. They Went to the Stars. By Hanson Oak - Oliver, nearly destroyed by the loss of his wife and sons, goes into the graveyard to mourn them and ends up somewhere entirely different. Beautiful and strange.
Night Surf, by Stephen King - A classic, moody piece in which the world ends not with a bang, but a sniffle.
** Anniversary, by John R. Little - Jimmy and Gail really love the ocean, and each other. My heart can’t take this one, y’all.
Beneath the Tides, by Kelli Owen - After a painful breakup, Trevor rents a beach house for a quiet weekend of reading & relaxing. And then the screaming starts.
Eternal Valley, by John Palisano - In 19th century Missouri, there’s no Medexpress. So when little Jesse becomes deathly ill, his father has to look elsewhere for a cure.
** Widow’s Point, by Richard Chizmar & Billy Chizmar - found footage (yes, I know it’s a book, just go with it) piece in which an author spends a weekend in a haunted lighthouse. I’m a sucker for haunted houses, and this one is superb
Messages, by Mark Allan Gunnells - A grief-stricken man who doesn’t really believe in anything finds and replies to a message in a bottle. Probably not the best idea.
Show Me Where the Waters Fill Your Grave, by Todd Keisling - It’s been four years since Glenda died, and something amazing and terrifying happened during the first big rainstorm afterward. Now, another massive rainstorm is due to hit and Jonathan is ready for it.
Come Tomorrow, by John Boden - A man mourning the loss of his wife and daughter decides that a quiet afternoon of fishing might help, but he’s not prepared for what he catches.
** A Night at the Lake with the Weird Girl, by Ray Garton - Tom’s new in town, and Mina is, well, weird. But Deepshadow Lake takes strange to new levels. Also, weird girls are the best and everyone should appreciate them more.
Alone, by Taylor Grant - Jess has lost everyone and everything she loved, and really just wants to be alone with her thoughts. But then she hears the voice from the water.
The Cerulean Tide, by Somer Canon - Ok, but hear me out: toilet bowl cleaner on a planetary scale.
Night Dive, by F. Paul Wilson - Safety, schmafety. Sometimes a wealthy man just wants to go diving alone, is that so wrong?
The Abalone Thief, by Matthew V. Brockmeyer - Theodore is a marine biologist studying abalone populations off the coast of California. But when a large number of the shellfish disappear, his investigation turns up something much crazier than he expected.
In the Shadow of the Equine, by Kenneth W. Cain - A father & son duo, along with a couple of dozen others go camping on an island famous for its wild horse population. But instead of beautiful manes and shaggy coats, they get an old man ranting a bunch of religious-ish gibberish. It couldn’t get much worse than that, right?
Thicker Than Water, by Paul Kane - Naomi’s life has been sad and solitary, until she meets Gerry, The Perfect Guy. She just has to meet and win over his family.
Walking With the Ghosts of Pier 13, by Brian James Freeman - Visiting the place his brother always loved, Jeremy is haunted by more than memories.
So you see, this is one must-have collection. And if you’re on the fence about buying it just for the stories, (what kind of fan are you???), then you should absolutely consider picking up a copy to support the Virginia Beach Tragedy Fund.
The Nerd’s Rating: FIVE HAPPY NEURONS (and some abalone, because I’ve never tried it, but apparently, it’s really really good.)