Here's a shameful confession: I don't read as much as I used to.
There was a time when I used to plow through a new book every few days, gobbling them up at a rate that scarcely afforded me the time to fully absorb what I'd read (an unfortunate side effect I'd frequently balance out by rereading the stuff I really enjoyed). But these days, in between my work here at Birth.Movies.Death., bartending at the Drafthouse on the weekends, a steady stream of new movies I can barely keep up with, marriage, and a fairly serious gaming habit, I've gotten all too comfortable with the phrase "I just don't have the time". It's a lame excuse, I know, but that's where I'm at.
This is one of several reasons I've found myself getting more and more interested in short stories and anthologies: I might not feel comfortable committing to an 800-plus page epic, but a collection of short stories? Hell, I can knock out a short story (or two!) every night before bed, while sitting in a waiting room (pro-tip: always, always have a book in your car), or, y'know, in the john.
And so, when I was contacted about doing a book review for a new anthology called Lost Signals - a collection of short horror stories from Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing - I leapt at the opportunity. I knew next to nothing about the included authors or the theme of the collection (which, as it turns out, is "a tome of horror fiction featuring radio waves, numbers stations, rogue transmissions, and other unimaginable sounds"), but so what? Beyond fitting in well with my overstuffed schedule, short fiction also promises a low-risk investment: if one story sucks, you can easily just move onto the next.
I am pleased to report that Lost Signals does not suck, and that there was very little "skipping ahead to the next one" in my read through. This is a great collection, one I'd recommend to anyone with a taste for the macabre, the weird, the horrific, or even just good ol' fashioned fringe-element conspiracy theories.
The collection kicks off with "If He Summons His Herd", by Matthew M. Bartlett, and it's one hell of an opener. Bartlett's story is set in the fictional town of Leeds, where a number of children have gone missing...and where, as you might have guessed, nothing is as it seems. It's a hallucinatory, oddly feverish little story, and was so effective that it left me scrambling to find out what else Bartlett's written.
This, by the way, is the other great thing about short story collections: you're almost always guaranteed to come across one new author you can fall in love with.
Bartlett's story sets a high bar, and many of the stories that follow live up to it. To one degree or another, all of them revolve around strange radio signals - freaky radio waves, transmissions and the like - and it's interesting to see how much variety these two dozen authors (a diverse group, at that, including Betty Rocksteady, David James Keaton, Tony Burgess, Vince Darcangelo, Michael Paul Gonzalez, Regina Solomond, John C. Foster, and Joshua Chaplinsky, who also wrote the beloved-by-me Kanye West: Re-Animator) are able to wring from that basic set of guidelines.
There's stories here about time travel and numbers stations; about the terrors of new parenthood and weird shit happening out in the desert or up in the snowblasted landscape of Alaska; there's radio signals driving people mad, top-secret transmissions from who-knows-where being investigated by the government, nods to Lovecraft and King...sure, many of the stories are similar thanks to the overall concept of this collection, but it's fun seeing what all these writers have done with the same basic setup.
Like any anthology, there were tales that worked like gangbusters for me (Bartell's, Rocksteady's, Foster's and Chaplinsky's were probably my favorites) and a handful that did not, but again: that's part of the charm of any anthology, particularly one where you're largely unfamiliar with the contributing authors. I wouldn't dream of pointing out the tales that didn't blow my skirt up (I would also like to add that I was never bored), but I will happily tell you that, overall, I had a helluva time working my through this collection, and I think the Birth.Movies.Death. readership would be particularly responsive to its brand of Twilight Zone-esque weirdness.
If, like me, you've found yourself pressed for time, in dire need of a solid new collection, and have a taste for the macabre, you should pick up Lost Signals with confidence. You'll almost certainly enjoy yourself, and there's a very good chance you'll discover a favorite new writer in the process. Isn't that the best experience any anthology can hope to provide?