Title: All in Fear
Authors: Steve Berman, K.J. Charles, Avon Gale, Roan Parrish, Kris Ripper, J.A. Rock
Genre: Queer Horror Anthology
Publisher: Open Ink Press
Horror wears many faces, and its masks can be tantalizing. Some of the top names in queer fiction come together to spin their own versions of horror. Worlds rife with dark beauty and mystery, the familiar becoming terrible, creatures ethereal and alluring—and all bearing the gleam of love. Does hope lie along these grim passages or only doom? It will become clear. All in time—and all in fear.
Review (story blurb–then review):
Company by Roan Parrish
NICK LEVY’S family is falling apart and he has no friends, but at least he can escape into the world of his favorite comic book series, The Face of the Vampire. Naturally, when the vampire in question shows up one day, Nick is enthralled. After all, what could be better than his own personal fantasy made real? Except that Nick isn’t exactly sure whether Michel is real or not. And when the arrival of a new boy in school promises romance, Nick sees a side of Michel he never could have imagined. This Michel is cruel, jealous… and he’ll do anything to keep Nick for himself.
I HATE to pick favorites in anthologies, but this story exceeded my wildest expectations. Wow. It was achingly beautiful and terrible, and everything I wanted in a horror anthology. I literally put the book down immediately after finishing and told everyone I had just read the best queer science fiction horror anthology in my life, and they’d better read it. Considering this is the first story, that’s saying how confident I was in the quality of this anthology.
The characters were exceptional. The scenery added to the misery of the protagonist perfectly. The plot was knuckled-whitening good. Probably my favorite part of this story was how the author completely mind-fucked me. By the end of the story I couldn’t tell you what was real and what wasn’t. And I like it like that.
Love Me True by Kris Ripper
PALMER’S LIFE is as good as it gets. Well, okay, so he hates his mind-numbing office job. But he’s found a hot, smart, incredibly kinky guy. The sex is explosive. The power play is off the hook. And if he gets his way, Jon will soon be his husband.
When Palmer asks, Jon says yes. For the first time ever, Palmer thinks things might be really good. Sure, bad things happen in the world—to other people. But this is all he needs: Jon at the end of the day, in their bed, arms around him.
How could he have possibly been so stupid?
I LOVED this story too. Sure, I kinda saw where this was going, a mile away, but it still entertained me. I think what probably threw me for the biggest loop was how much I identified with Jon’s side of the story. Palmer was clearly the protagonist, but Jon just seemed… so happy with Palmer and their relationship. He was clearly selfish, and they were both not quite right in the head, but I was impressed with how I was sucked in–even knowing what was going to happen–that was the true genius of this piece and I’m afraid to say more because I’d ruin it.
The Price of Meat by KJ Charles
JOHANNA OAKLEY will do anything to save her beloved Arabella from the cruelty of Mr Fogg’s madhouse—but ‘anything’ turns out to be more than she bargained for when she finds herself working for a man suspected of worse than murder. As Johanna is plunged from the horror of Sawney Reynard’s barber shop into the foul, lawless labyrinth at the heart of London, can she or anyone get out alive?
THIS WAS one of the most unsettling pieces in the anthology, for me. Possibly because the practice of locking women away in an institution, to punish them for not being ideal wives for men, was something done not too long ago. ‘Frigidity’ is an idea that makes me shudder with it’s insidious connotations. The gall of those who are given the privilege of power boggles my mind and terrifies me more than fiction ever good. Be wary of this one….
His Mouth Will Taste of Chernobyl by Steve Berman
JOINING ZETA Psi isn’t Steve’s dream, it’s his dad’s. Nevertheless his dad’s gift of the mysterious Bailey flask gets Steve an in to the frat house, and maybe his best shot at being accepted on campus. But the flask’s silver sheen may only be lighting his way into the darkness at the heart of the frat—and the darkness he’s learning is within himself. Steve wants to choose who he is, but choices are dropping like flies as he learns the true mystery of the Bailey flask. How does he give back a gift that’s also a curse?
THIS WAS another story where I sort of knew where it was headed, but I completely respected how it got me there. There wasn’t anything lovable about Steve, which made him sort of an antihero, and I think the ending was more a try-fail than anything, but it was still poignant, still relevant to this day and age, and still horrifically good. For some odd reason Lord of the Flies came to mind–chilling–and perfect for this anthology.
Legion: A Love Story by Avon Gale
STAFF SERGEANT JASON ESSEX, YOU HAVE RECEIVED THE FOLLOWING ORDERS FROM THE UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS:
REPORT TO: CAIN INSTITUTE [ADDRESS REDACTED]
ACTIVE DUTY COMMITMENT: GUARD AN ENTITY CURRENTLY HELD IN AN ENCLOSURE AT THE CAIN INSTITUTE. RECORD DAILY MEASUREMENTS. KEEP ANY AND ALL PERSONS FROM ENTERING OR LEAVING THE FACILITY. ENSURE THE ENTITY REMAINS COMPLETELY INCARCERATED. OBSERVE THE ENTITY WITHOUT ENGAGING.
ADDITIONAL INSTRUCTIONS: THIS ASSIGNMENT WILL BE CARRIED OUT IN FULL ISOLATION. PLEASE BE ADVISED.
Holy shit I loved this story. And I have to admit, the ending sort of surprised me, thanks to the epilogue. Without the epilogue this would have been an entirely different piece.
What really worked for me was the suspense. Holy shit. The entire story (except the epilogue) is told in letters Jason writes to various people: himself, his friends, and to his superiors in the military. It was impressive how effective that method of storytelling was, and I give Gale five glorious stars for that alone. The plot was brilliant.
As I said, the epilogue changed the entire message of the story for me. I can’t go into details, obviously, but I urge you to read this story. It was amazing. Holy shit. (I keep saying that, but seriously, read this story.)
Beauties by J.A. Rock
WHEN DR. Lester Usole attends an event at AI developer Carnificiality, he’s introduced to Beauties: artificial beings designed to provide tailored sexual experiences for their human owners. Lester isn’t interested in sex—but he is fascinated by Ira, a Beauty too violent to be sold.
Lester convinces Carnificiality to give Ira to him. Lester has always wanted the chance to work with an adult AI, and around Lester, Ira isn’t violent. He’s strangely innocent, uncannily perceptive, and his company does much to ease Lester’s loneliness. Except something’s not quite right: Ira roams at night, even when Lester’s sure he’s locked Ira’s door.
Soon Lester is certain of only one thing: Ira has a secret. Something that will link their pasts and change the course of their future—if Lester is willing to face what’s on the inside.
THIS WAS another story where the ending sort of surprised me, and not because it ended up somewhere where I thought it wouldn’t, but more how the epilogue kinda pushed the boundaries of my palate, if you will. Because of how terrifying and horrible the gruesome details were, my brain may have blanked out the ultimate message of the piece, and I’m uncertain I want to take the deep breath necessary to analyze it further… which of course means it was a perfect addition to this anthology. *shivers*
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Ben Brock is a reviewer for The Novel Approach and Queer Sci Fi. He enjoys reading, writing, running, family and food, and fills his life with bent bunk. He especially loves to discuss LGBTQ+ literature. His website is http://www.babrockbooks.com. You can find him on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/BABrockBooks.