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Book Reviews: The Mutant Files + Miskatonic University + Authority + The Burning Dark

The Mutant Files edited by Martin H. Greenberg & John Helfers
This 2001 anthology is about those born to be different.

A woman wants to help a homeless man, he tries to help her too but virtue is not its own reward. Bleak.

Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice
By Tanya Huff. A four year old girl is far more then she seems. She manipulates her playmates (still unable to concentrate or socialise) into helping her commit murder. Excellent.

The Great Deep
Family legends are real. Unnerving.

Paint Box
Annie only wanted to help Cassandra, but her diligence leads to disaster. Menacing.

The Killing of Bad Bull
A slot machine player has too much luck. Nice.

In The Dark Valley
Careful who you love. A newlywed desperately tries to escape her husband and his hometown. Unnerving and disturbing.

Behind His Gates of Gold
A reworking of ‘The Tempest’. Nasty.

Lucky Guesses
A man learns his capacity to be a hero. Sweet.

Mutant Mother from Hell: A Fizz Smith Story
Lurid David Lynch weirdness in a post-apocalyptic society.

Rednecks have gothic secrets. Okay.

Rite of Passage
Mutants are sentenced to planetary exile. Solid.

Art can read the secrets of pennies. Sweet.

Fire and Rain
Never annoy a rainmaker. Brisk.

A tale of acceptance and secrets.

The price for telepathy. Dark.

Miskatonic University  edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Robert Weinberg
This 1996 anthology is inspired by H.P Lovecraft.

Kali Yuga Comes
A teaching assistant (and member of STOP-NOS) goes head to head with a cult of Kali. Good.

Scavenger Hunt
Just what sort of student would want to attend Miskatonic? Hearty.

Black Celebration
Music has a secret message. Creepy.

To Be As They
Love and human sacrifice. Tangy.

Second Movement
A man manages to ruin his life all over again. Bleak.

A Dreaming of Dead Poets
Artists learn the truth of Lovecraft’s work.

Best Lines:
“Inexplicable losses from the student body were not good for enrolment.”

“It’s this or head in the oven time.”

The Smile of a Mime
Two dredominant students open a doorway to a very, very bad place. Good.

The Sothis Radiant
The college’s Sparhawk observatory reveals a horrific secret hidden in the stars. Excellent and scary.

Best Lines:
“Neither did Sparhawk at first.”

“Sparhawk had discovered something so terrible that he went to the federal governed to warn the world.”

“If only he used standard stat charts like everyone else!”

“I understand he died in a madhouse.”

The Play’s The Thing
A vile ascetic teacher bullies his students during their one-man shows. One student desperate to put on a robust performance enacts something he read in a dread tome. His acting turns out to be too effective. Excellent and coldly comical.

Best Line:
“Cold as a breath from a newly-opened grave.”

Authority by Jeff VanderMeer
Book 2 of ‘The Southern Reach Trilogy’ isn’t as good as ‘Annihilation’. Following the twelfth expedition, John Rodriguez is the new head of the Southern Reach. It is in disarray and Area X is still a mystery. Nothing in his lived experience can prepare him for what is emanating from Area X and what is already hiding at the Southern Reach. Notwithstanding a few Lovecraftian hints, the compromising of the Southern Reach is obvious and progressive. But there is no trepidation in his book, nor value either. In comparison to ‘Annihilation’ it is boring and the ending is ridiculous.

Best Lines:
“He wondered if he’d subconsciously been trying to keep something out.”

“What is a box of accusations?”

“No other place safe enough to look.”

“Putting trust in a word like border had been a mistake.”

“Figuring it out had exposed him to something that had then figured him out.”

“Had been manifesting for much longer than anyone could have guessed.”

“There may not be anything we’d recognize out there very soon.”

The Burning Dark by Adam Christopher
From the author of ‘Hang Wire’ and ‘Seven Wonders’ comes this sci-fi/horror misfire. Captain Abraham Idaho Cleveland has one last mission, to decommission an outpost orbiting a toxic star. Once aboard he gets no respect from the hostile marines, so he listens to an old fashioned radio and hears the disembodied voice of a long dead woman. What is going on? What is the secret of the star? Why has the captain’s great victory in the spider wars been erased? This is an unprecedentedly bad novel as idiot behaviour is revered, ass pull plot points stifle any interest and the big reveal is confusing. This is an immense waste of time and expectations and patience. This book continually refuses to be readable.

Best Line:
“Was what kept you from being visited in the night and taken away to somewhere very dark and cold.”
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