Book Review: Autumn in the Abyss by John Claude Smith

Autumn in the Abyss cover

I had the pleasure of reviewing John Claude Smith’s earlier collection, The Dark is Light Enough for Me. I was suitably impressed with Smith’s work, and so I embarked on my new reading journey with Autumn in the Abyss with some excitement.

I was not disappointed. In fact, I can see a maturing of Smith’s style and subject matter/themes. Deeper insights and sophistication; greater complexity—and yet a well balanced structure. Additionally, Dark is Light Enough for Me was a heterogeneous collection of short fiction, without an obvious thematic context of the whole (albeit, it was a good collection of individual stories), while Autumn in the Abyss is, on several levels, a case where the stories, together, have strong collective impact, more so than the individual components. More on that later.

Smith is a visceral writer—he does not feel the need to be limited in subject matter and description to get to the guts of a tale, and yet he is also an artist, choosing from his expansive palette to achieve the right hues, proportions, texture. Squeamish readers should carefully consider reading his work.

Smith’s five stories have two major themes or threads running in a zigzag fashion through them, both distinctly Lovecraftian in influence, and clearly delivered in a unique voice.

Firstly, and most notably conveyed in the first story, ‘Autumn in the Abyss’, the author deliberately eases the reader into a creeping and growing sense of cosmic horror. There’s nasty shit out there and humanity features rather insignificantly. While this sense runs through all the other stories to some degree or another, ‘La mia immortalita’ certainly oozes this sense as well. Smith’s style—and again, particularly in ‘Autumn in the Abyss’—pays homage to Lovecraft’s style, particularly with the use of first person in ‘Autumn in the Abyss’.

The second thread is more interesting and effective, and saturates the last four of the five tales: the depths of depravity and evil that humans can attain, without the aid of the supernormal. By intertwining the cosmic-layered horror with the human-layer, Smith etches a greater clarity in each, but the human side of the equation is the most disturbing, and insightful.

The first story, ‘Autumn in the Abyss’, was a pleasant surprise and sowed the seed of my view of Smith’s growing sophistication. On the surface the short story is a surrealistic tale of a man obsessed with writing a biography of a long dead Beat-period poet. I won’t spoil the ending by detailing much more of the plot. As stated above, it decidedly invokes HPL’s style and allusions to the Mythos. Smith slowly and cleverly reveals horrifying powers linked with the poet that the narrator is obsessed with, where words have multidimensional powers that parallel Lovecraft’s depiction of the terrifying dimensions associated with angles in space and time, as per the ‘The Whisperer in Darkness’ (which in turn was influenced by Frank Belknap Long/August Derleth). Ultimately, the most Lovecraftian element of Smith’s story is the sense, at the end of the tale, of the utter futility of humankind, in the face of horrifying powers that dwell on the edge of perception. This is a highly recommended piece, for the reasons outlined above, as well as being a great horror tale in itself, and its thorough research into the poetry movements in the US in the 1950s and 60s.

‘Broken Teacup’ is probably the most disturbing of Smith’s short stories, where he explores in jagged, clawing depth the depravity of humanity. Nothing can easily come near the heartless horror of men who choose to torture and destroy people for the sake of entertainment—including their own. In terms of tapping into a dark, bleak underbelly of America, this story is somewhat reminiscent of ‘I Want To Take You Higher’ in The Dark is Light Enough for Me, although without the brief moments of humor. This story, however, is plainly intense. Where one of the dimensions of horror that comes out of Lovecraft’s ancient, alien gods is the sheer detachment of these cosmic entities, in this tale Smith presents a very different, vivid detachment from a pair of snuff moviemakers. Not for the faint-hearted, this is a well-constructed story.

La mia immortalita’ moves away from the physical horrors that can be perpetrated by humanity, to the psychological. Again we have indifference in an individual—in this case a self-obsessed artist blind and deaf to the feelings of other human beings, even those who are close to him. A strong piece, adding another dimension to the impact of the anthology as a whole, and drawing from Smith’s exposure to art, and in particular, sculpture.

‘Becoming Human’ seems, perhaps coincidentally, to draw the physical and psychological together. This story has the least tie-in with the Lovecraftian theme, but certainly stabs deep into human depravity. Two detectives’ lives were scarred for life by their exposure to a sadistic serial killer, leading to the suicide of one. The other is an emotional husk and must contend with a copycat killer and his own humanity at the same time. This story contributes the least to the two-theme effect of the anthology as a whole, but doesn’t lack quality, and certainly does provide another insight into the indifference of evil—with a twist.

‘Where The Light Won’t Find You’ is the last story and rounds the anthology nicely. Mr. Liu and representation of his ‘patrons’ make another appearance, and, most interestingly, draws a little back from the visceral horror well executed in most of Smith’s previous stories. Yes, there’s some nasty stuff, but it’s at an arm’s length, where the focus is on a young man, following an argument with his girl friend, enters a movie theatre with dire consequences. This story isn’t as deep as the previous tales, but it adds information about Mr. Liu and his patrons, and contributes granularity to what evil is (and isn’t) at the supernormal level.

I had a lot to say that’s good about John Claude Smith’s ‘Autumn in the Abyss’, and it is deserved. The allusions to the sinister, indifferent powers that exist beyond most of humanity’s perception is well crafted and multi-dimensional when the anthology is read as a whole. The evil that exists in human beings are more tangibly described, and are more horrifying by far. So much so that even the mysterious Mr. Liu and his patrons must sit up and take notice.

I recommend this anthology to any serious reader of horror. Five well-deserved stars.

The book can be purchased in print and ebook format from all good online stores, including Amazon.

News: The Pillar of the Small God makes it to the Tangent Online Recommended Reading List 2013

Pleased to have my science fiction short story, The Pillar of the Small God (which appeared in Aurealis Magazine #63) made it to the Tangent Online Recommended Reading List 2013.

cover Aurealis 63

Movie: Gravity

I saw Gravity today and was impressed on a number of levels. There were a few, small number of physics issues but that wasn't why I came to see the movie – I was hoping to get quality speculative entertainment in the survival theme of near-future/now scifi. I got it, and the escapism was breathtaking. Clooney was beautifully cast – he was cast as Clooney, and it worked very well. I was a bit reticent when I saw Bullock's name appear as principal protagonist, although not as much as some – I have seen her in serious roles and generally they have been performed well to excellently. To my delight, she was good, well integrated into the movie. I hope not too many people superimpose some sort of typecast layer over her when viewing the film.

The special effects were breathtaking, with a great deal of emphasis on the vistas of Earth-orbital space, as well as small, subtle things, like tear drops and curios/nicknacks floating in zero-G. However, the action sequences were also heroes of the special effects.

The plot was a good workhorse, extracting the survival theme to the maximum, and wasn't always predictable.

All in all, I enjoyed the film. I'd see it again. 4.5 stars from me.

Book Review: The Gate Theory by Kaaron Warren (Cohesion Publishing)


I had the misfortune of only being exposed to Kaaron Warren's fiction for the last few years – I wish I followed her career from the start. She is a truly wonderful writer of the disturbing, and has evocative prose. The Gate Theory is not an original fiction anthology but collects some of her best work in the period 2005 to the present day, and they deserve a solid gathering in a single title. You could call it a 'best of' work except that I was blown away last year with her collection, Through Splintered Walls, where none of the stories represented are in this work. Nevertheless, there are definitely stories in this work that will blow you completely away.

All in all, most of Warren's work in The Gate Theory are reflective of her greatest strengths: the ability to disturb (to the degree of horrify) readers, and to taste, smell and feel what is being invoked in her stories. I will pick on several of the stories, although in passing I feel compelled to say that 'The History Thief' is the least of her stories in the collection, in the sense that it is the odd one out (it is in fact an excellent story). While all the other stories in the anthology are strong treatments of the dark, 'The History Thief' has less in-your-face prose and is more of a fantastical mystery.

'That Girl' is one of Warren's Fiji stories influenced by her stay in the island nation, although on a number of levels it could have been set in other places. Nevertheless Fiji's backdrop is vivid, incredibly so, and has the right mystery and association with older cultural practices to springboard a backstory of horror experienced by a young woman. Warren paints a horrifying story of rape and cover-up, and for much of the story there is also a tangible fear of the supernatural; yet at the end, without lessening the throttle, we are exposed to what is the true horror – that of the subjugation of females in this society – and which can easily extend far beyond. A deep, well-written piece.

'Dead Sea Fruit' is my favourite story in the collection. It is a piece describing the personal horrors of anorexia in excruciating detail, iterating consistently through the length of the short and adding a tangible, bona fide supernatural dimension. The antagonist wasn't evil through-and-through, and the protagonist isn't a stable figure – she was entering the lion's den and the reader's tension-meter shot up with concern for her. The ending was a perfect closure, but with hardly any happiness for anyone. This story is soaked in death, and with one exception, was long and agonising.

'The Gaze Dogs of Nine Waterfalls' is a horror story, but of a highly unusual, perhaps Bizarro nature. Another Fijian short. I liked this story perhaps for less obvious reasons than some readers may usually expect. The idea of a world-treking business to find highly unusual breeds of dogs, often intertwined with the supernatural – and readily accepted by the protagonists – is novel, interesting, entertaining. The adventure to obtain a most unusual breed in Fiji, protected by a gigantic, old, and deadly canine is also very good reading. However, what I liked most was the protagonist, Rosie, a person who is an efficient, cool adventuress, and devoid of what we would understand to be human compassion, and who is, I believe, a sociopath. She is not likeable, and this is what intrigues me about the story as it leads the reader along with interest and yet there is little, if any, sympathy for her. Most stories fail with that basic structure but this one doesn't, and I think it's because of the Bizarro, weird storyline that raises the reader's eyebrows every few paragraphs.

I left a few stories out and leave it to you, the reader, to fully explore. Kaaron Warren is undoubtedly one of the world's leading short fiction horror writers, defined by her mastery of disturbing prose. You would do yourself a disservice to miss this work. Anyone who rates The Gate Theory below 4 stars out of 5 are either maniacally against the horror genre, or are trolls. I give it 5 out of 5, although if the scale was out of 10 I would give it 9, as Through Splintered Walls sets her benchmark for perfection.

The ebook can be purchased at Amazon.

Book Review: The Rebels by Elizabeth Lang

The Rebels, by Elizabeth Lang, sequel to The Empire, is an entertaining, clever book.

I say 'clever' for several reasons. Firstly, Lang's greatest strength is her dialogue, which engages the reader with the characters and adds a sense of realism. Secondly, her backdrop is tangible, a future society where dystopian nightmares come true, but on a galactic level. Finally, and perhaps most pertinently, Lang cleverly continues themes from her first book, but at the same time twists them in ingenious ways.

In The Empire, a great amount of Lang's book is devoted to Adrian, the tortured soul of a genius scientist. It continues into The Rebels, but we have another soul (the bounty hunter Drel Argus) who in fact is the most poignant, noticeable tortured character.

I simplify when it would be unfair to Lang. There are many characters who have depth and turn this science fiction novel into a memorable one indeed.

The Rebels Cover

Five deserved stars.

Book Review: Against The Elements by Esme Carpenter

I have had the privilege of reading this book prior to publication. This is a young teen fantasy, that was written by a teen – that is, when Esme Carpenter was a teenager. She has revised it at the age of twenty.

The story is about a girl called Delphi, living on an island that doesn't state, but has the definite feel, of a Mediterranean island. She is a servant in a regimented household, but quickly gets thrust into an adventure that is both life-threatening and has the state of the world at stake. A familiar line? Yes, but what makes originality isn't the macro-plot – there are no such new beasts anymore – but it is the way all components of the title hang together. It is original and fascinating.

The land where Delphi lives – the world – isn't just that. The universe is held together by the balance, and the co-existence, of worlds that represent the four elements. And it is Delphi's task to journey through these four elemental lands as part of a quest – one I would rather not spoil by divulging to you, the good reader.

This story has it all that a young teen would love (and possibly a mature pre-teen), and most importantly it excludes what young teens don't want – they don't want over-indulgence of love, nor the angst of 'teenagerhood'. This story is adventure-driven with nail-biting episodes. It has magic, deities, and battles. More importantly, it has strong characters, a sense of what evil is about, and what goodness entails. It is also about companionship and faith.


I heartily recommend this story to children from about twelve to fifteen, but adults will love it as well. A deserving 5 stars.

Book Review: Blackthorns Of The Forgotten by Bree T. Donovan

The IFWG Publishing blog site provided an intriguing description of what Blackthornes Of The Forgotten is – by stating what it isn't. Firstly, it is labeled as a paranormal/romance story, for want of a better label (which, I agree, there isn't). The site then says that even though it isn't paranormal, it has no vampires, werewolves, zombies or witches, nor does it have unrelenting action and gore. And yet it is paranormal. While it is labeled as romantic, there are no long passages of passion, and certainly no erotic narrative. But it is about love, and more importantly, it is about 'soulmateship'.

I am not big on paranormal fiction, and certainly not on romance, but this story was a superb read. And the reason why was because a) it was technically well written, and b) it has its own, unique voice, hence the labeling issue.

This is a story where there is an incredibly strong connection between the world as we know it (Ireland in this case), and the 'higher plane' which is only obliquely described – in fact, hardly at all. It really is Irish in my mind, and how modern day Irish people who believe in such things, would look at it. This makes for a subtle, evocative set of parallel worlds, devoid of ham, over-worn tropes, and the over-theatrical.

Another thing I liked about the book is the complete lack of black and white, good and evil. The angelic types have amazingly serious (and ironically human) flaws, and the few evil types have their chances of redemption – they are grayish-black, so to speak. In other words, the characters are well crafted, and to be honest, represent the core of what makes this novel. That, and the enduring power of love and sacrifice.

If you are after action and pyrotechnic magic, you will be disappointed. If you are after torrid sex scenes, or small talk in Victorian parlors, etc – or the emerging sexuality of young adults, then you will definitely be disappointed.

If you are after subtle relationships among adult characters – not always in the expected manner – that are three-dimensional, and if you want an in-depth probing of what love is about, and what soul-mates are, set in a vivid world that parallels another, then you will be delighted.

Five stars without question.

Book Review: Ferryman by Jonathon Wise

Paul Goat Allen, B&N speculative fiction reviewer, says that 2012 will be the year for post apocalyptic fiction, in no small way to do with the media beat up of the Mayan end of the world predictions. I heartily agree, not just because of his logical reasoning, but because if Jonathon Wise's new novel, Ferryman, is indicative of what's turning up in 2012, I'm happy to read many more.

Ferryman is, in my mind, treating well worn tropes in a fresh way, and I am impressed with the extent to which he raised the bar in this sub-genre of science fiction. These are, in my mind, the main reasons why it is fresh:

1. There are no zombies.
2. There are no zombies. There, I got that out of the way.
3. While there have been top notch virus-based post-apocalyptic fiction in the past – the one that comes to mind as one of the best, was Michael Crichton's The Andromeda Strain, most such stories are focused on the main protagonists solving the problem – finding the cure for the virus, snuffing out the contagion, or some other rescue technique. This is goodness, but it is also, in mind, rather well-worn. Ferryman is clearly about the effects of the virus that affects humanity (and in fact, most animals – naaaasty), but this is secondary, the backdrop. This story is about people – how they are affected in various ways by a catastrophic disaster and how the human spirit rises. Again the human spirit thing is not new, but the way Wise balances the science/effects and placing focus on those who survived, is remarkably fresh.
4. This isn't about good versus evil, which is so well constructed by Stephen King in The Stand. There is definitely evil generated in the aftermath of the pandemic, but it isn't intrinsic. It has reasons attached to it, explored in detail by Wise's excellent narrative. There are moments in his story that wrench your heart – both in terms of brutality as well as sacrifice or unjust loss among some of the characters the reader emphathises with – this is a differentiating feature of the Ferryman.
5. The conclusion. I won't give it away, but I found it appropriate, well balanced, and unexpected. We don't have a cataclysmic good versus evil clash, nor a laboratory cure of a disease. But we have a very good ending nevertheless.

Ferryman is appropriately titled because the main protagonist is a man who, through complex and evolving reasons, turns into a hero. A man who saves others, by getting them from one place to another. A ferryman. Wise develops complex and vivid characters, which is certainly another key feature of this novel.

This is a stand-out novel of 2012, and well aligned with the popular interest in post-apocalyptic fiction (I should mention here that no mention is made of the Mayan end of world prediction – this is also, in my mind, refreshing).

Five well deserved stars.

Book Review: Tales From The Fathomless Abyss, Edited by Philip Athans

It was with no small amount of glee that I downloaded Tales From The Fathomless Abyss, as I was instantly caught up in the idea of a shared world project, via a posting on Jay Lake's blog. He advertised it because he was one of the authors, one of the world-builders. Basically there is a wondrous core concept of this world (so to speak) – there is this whopping great big vertical shaft that appears to have no bottom. It always exists, but periodically the top of it opens in some random where and when. Including alien planets – not just Earth. Stuff fall down – not everything all the way. Creatures, people, plants, you name it, can live on the inner face of the Abyss, or in tunnels, ledges etc. A fantastic tableaux for writers to spin stories on.

And so Philip Athans, the central control in this project, gathers a stellar collection of writers, including himself, and spin six stories: aside from Philip, we have J.M McDermott, Mel Odom, Mike Resnick/Brad R. Torgersen (co-writers), Cat Rambo, and Jay Lake. This was another reason to purchase this e-tome. These are 'tales' and what will follow will be longer works, published as single monographs – my understanding is that they will be roughly novellas in size. I will certainly partake of some of them.

Before I get into a qualitative spiel regarding the tales themselves, I want to mention two things about the ebook that annoyed me. Firstly, being an ebook as a sole platform (as opposed to print), the quality of the formatting was terrible. While they got the hyperlinks right, the centering of stuff needing centering, and the full justification – why in hell didn't they indent the first lines of the paragraphs? It amazes me they didn't. It really was distracting and in places even lowered the impact of some of the passages. Secondly, only the last two stories in my estimation (Rambo and Lake) were truly self-contained tales. The others were preambles to bigger stories. While this, on the surface, is not necessarily a bad thing, I felt mildly cheated that four of the six stories didn't quite have endings. I think this should have been made more clear to the reading public.

Having said what I said about 'incompleteness' of the first four stories, I should state for the record that all the stories were well written. I didn't expect any less from seasoned and talented writers. However, it does rankle me that the first four stories were prologues to other stories. Another thing that rankled me a bit, in terms of the plots, was that such a large percentage of the writers chose to write with alien races as the protagonists. Each were done admirably – in the case of Cat Rambo, stupendously well – but from an editorial point of view I just felt that it was a bit lop-sided, out of balance in terms of overall content. This was an editorial weakness, not a writing failing.

To some extent, by lack of coincidence, I'm sure, the two stories that were complete stories: Rambo's A Querulous Flute of Bone, and Lake's That Which Rises Ever Upward (I can spot a Lake title anywhere!), were also the best tales in the anthology by far. They were SHORT STORIES, by any decent definition, and had a lot to say, and to entertain. Rambo's take on the world, the microcosm of the protagonists and antagonists (in fact, showing there is a blurry line there), is nothing short of uber-unique, and her command of descriptive narrative was an absolute pleasure to read. Jay's story is also quite unique (on a par with the other four stories) but he constructs a wondrous short-epic journey through a man's life, spinning all manner of emotions in such a short number of words. These two authors were worth the purchase.

I don't want to belittle completely the other authors. Each story had me captured in their prose and the quality of their writing. But I…well, I've already said it. I have also deliberately left the detail out of each story so the reader can read them sans spoilers.

All in all, this work is good, within a growing world-building project that really is already great. Rambo and Lake's stories are gold.

Four stars.

Book Review: Dark Is Light Enough For Me by John Claude Smith

I am, apart from several other roles, a speculative fiction writer. And 'horror' is an equally important element of the super-category for me. I like to call my horror pieces 'dark fantasy' – as I like the subtle, and I don't necessarily want to go heavy on gore, nor do I like to dabble in standard motifs, like zombies and vampires. And yet I will dabble in the more extreme on occasion. The term 'dark fantasy' is not a clearly defined concept, but one that I'm more comfortable with than most. John Claude Smith's Dark is Light Enough For Me is an anthology of dark fantasy, interspersed with horror, but none of the stories consist of recurring popular motifs – internally or within the genre. Each story is original, and in most cases, very dark indeed – coal black.

Smith's anthology isn't for the sensitive or the faint-hearted. Many of the stories are edgy, working on concepts and thoughts that all us adults are familiar with, but rarely talk about. Smith isn't being quirky, or finding satisfaction in the gory, sexually perverse or the profane. No, he is writing this stuff because it unbalances the reader. Disturbs. Sometimes frightens – the essence of what quality horror/dark fantasy is all about. And he does it admirably, especially for a debut title.

You will find stories of high craftsmanship, but not all of his pieces are equal. I have found a few that could have been tighter, better polished, but never lacking in originality and perceptiveness. There are places in some stories that could have been better edited and proofed as well – but these are few and far between, and do not materially affect the overall quality of the piece. (I'm also an editor, and stuff like that rarely avoids my notice).

The remainder of this review is a blow-by-blow review of Smith's stories in the anthology.

** Black Wings

A very good story of guilt – and with a most interesting set of occurrences that lie at the root of the protagonist's guilt, as well as the way it manifested at the end of the piece.

The protagonist is, right from the beginning, a ruined man, and he is visited by crows, and in particular a big one. Smith skillfully reveals their meaning, as well as the protagonist's past. The flashback is finally revealed and it was surprising, and horrific.

The ending is appropriate and quite surreal.

** The Dark Is Light Enough For Me

This is a particularly good short story. We have the protagonist, James, with a disturbing life history (a pattern in many of Smith's stories), being drawn into a writer's group, discovering not only that the entire group have written the same complex work, but that there is a strange story associated with why he uniquely joined the group. This short is extremely well written – with a highly mature, insightful narrative, and without resorting to the more blatant tropes of horror, is in fact very horrifying. A dark piece worthy of wide readership.

** I Wish I Was A Pretty Little Girl

A powerful piece. It's hard to be original as a writer, writing from the POV of a serial killer. Smith succeeded. Again, the protagonist had a horrendous, nightmarish life leading to the current events. An explanation as to why this particular person became a monster – and convincingly. This story set me in uneasiness from the first few sentences. A child being led somewhere by a clearly disturbed adult – one of the hardest things to read about if Smith chose to follow the path of describing murder in gory detail. And yet he didn't. This story isn't about love of violence, rape, sex, or some bizarre blood letting. This is about the man who wants to be something else. The uneasiness generated from the start was a masterful stroke, allowing the reader to be unbalanced from the beginning, and then throughout the story. The ending was apt and horrifying, and almost makes one feel sorry for the killer.

** Gladiatrix

Again, a powerful piece, delving deep into the psyche of an exploited woman, and how she was turned into, a gladiatrix of sorts. The descriptions and language are superb, but I do have a slight reservation – it almost seems that the long (and quality) descriptions of the woman and her background in the first half of the story, seem too disjointed from the narrative revelations later. They seem more disconnected than what I would have appreciated.

Nevertheless, well worth the read.

** I Want To Take You Higher

A very good pastiche of drug and sex underlife, mixed with obscene, edgy satanic-like religion. With all the hard core imagery and descriptions, Smith was able to find moments for flippancy and humor. This is a well constructed story, sending up many elements of our society. A nice twist is constructed at the end.

** Not Breathing

A very powerful story about the degredation of a man's soul, woven into a most interesting plot. The use of second person is very efective here. Don't want to reveal much, but this is one of my favorites.

** Make Pretty

This is different from the past stories thus far, because it is more like a traditional horror piece – and yet masterfully crafted. Without giving too much away, the story is about vanity, and how it can bite you back if you choose to dabble in the spurious. Smith proves he is as much a traditional horror writer, as an innovator.

** Strange Trees

Another piece that has a traditional structure, but with unique undercurrents. The concept that malevolent trees awaken by the onset of menstruation with one of the protagonists, is effective. I also found the language and the POV more tradional than any other of Smith's stories in the anthology, almost (in a modern sense) like H.P. Lovecraft – clinical language – longer sentences, with
evocative descriptions.

** The Perceptive One

I like the premise of the story – the egotistical, shallow sociopath, teams up with an almost seer-like young girl, and their lives are inextricably crossed with an old tramp who has something dark, powerful, to impart. The egotist, Travis, becomes ruined, when in fact he was already broken, and the story ends with promise of a continuation of the cycle. Destiny is a strong theme in the story.

This is good – but, I think Smith works too hard at it, and there are scenes that seem to me too filled with repetitive descriptive sentences, and probably are 3 to 4 times longer than they should be. The intention, perhaps planning, is good, but the execution is slightly flawed. I feel this is a less mature work of Smith's, and I saw evidence of lack of polish here and there (not to mention editing/proofing). This is, despite some good points, one of Smith's weaker pieces.

** Plastic

A very good story that is superficially a classic scifi trope, but excellently meshes with the hunger of a man who hasn't attained his soul's desire. While the ending is in purest form something that a reader can guess at, the details aren't. This was also one of my favorites.

** The Sunglasses Girl

Another powerful, edgy, and raw piece, juxtaposing the seedier aspects of a man's depravity, with the stuff that matters more – the ability to make decisions on a higher plane. And in failing, suffers the consequences of what emerges from the lower plane (so to speak). This is another example of Smith's prime motif throughout the anthology.

** Things That Crawl in Hollywood

The final story is a wonderful comedic horror piece, sending up Hollywood, the 'plastic celebrity' phenomenon, and the shlock of zombie flix. A funny, and yet thoughtful piece – fast paced. Amazingly clever.

All in all I give Smith's work 4 stars – I would give 4 and a half, but most systems don't cope with fractions. 5 is on or near perfection, and this anthology isn't quite there – but I bow and acclaim a wonderful work nevertheless, and stand in awe at this debut piece. As a writer, I have learned much from Smith, in terms of the power of descriptive narrative.