Sometimes you're taken by surprise by a story collection which comes your way, offering you a chance to read work by someone whose voice you hadn't yet noticed. Sometimes you find yourself wishing you had noticed before. That's one of the joys of reviewing, by the way, coming upon new voices with things to say and a facility for saying them, or whispering them into your ears late at night, after you've turned out the light. Sometimes these whispers return to you because the author hit some cosmic bullseye you yourself have aimed at in your career. Sometimes it's because the whispers underline some aspect of your life, some experience you've had. Sometimes these whispers make you uncomfortable. I'd say this forms a workable definition of the dark story collection at its best.
Happily, WONDROUS STRANGE, a collection of 25 new and reprinted stories by Robin Spriggs, fits the definition quite well. With the best of these coming off the pages of Cemetery Dance, Going Postal (anthology), Pirate Writings, Space & Time, Terminal Frights, and others, the collection is constructed of solid efforts. A few stories miss the mark or seem a bit underdeveloped, but by far the great majority of the contents here reflect the writings of a new voice well-worth following.
In "Mr. Aberystwyth and the Three Weird Sisters," a certain savior may or may not visit a certain trio nightly for eternity. "Chimaera's" is the familiar but effective cautionary tale about the club you shouldn't enter, the unsafe path you shouldn't tread, and the beautiful woman you shouldn't desire - but you do, oh how you do.
"The Messenger" is a touching story about a companion faithful to the end, while "Ladylove and the Old Nick of Time" reminds us that sometimes the magic we long for is actually not good for us, and "Becoming Father" casts a dark shadow on that old cliche` about becoming our parents. In "The Bottle" we have the opposite, a sad time-bending story of intertwining father and sonhood.
Some stories, such as "Bobo's Monsters," "Nocturne Eterne," and "Kudzu
and Poison Ivy," seem too short and undeveloped to achieve full effect,
though their premises are intriguing.
But the success of the Orwellian "The Butler," for instance, and the Rod Serling-esque "Richard Culpepper's One-Man Show" help keep the ship on an even keel. Other stand-outs include the superhero fantasy given a grim Southern spin, "Return of the Red Death," and the Bradbury-echoing "Cinema Surrendari," which forms an appropriate anchor to this fine collection.
Robin Spriggs writes visions dark and light, creating epic or sometimes cosmic, other times personal horror with which we can all connect. Horror at its best disturbs us not with its gore, but with how it projects itself into our dark dreaming, the kind done while lying awake in the middle of the night. Horror at its best disturbs us by reflecting bluntly our own lost dreams and clinging nightmares, and WONDROUS STRANGE consists of enough such material to haunt your dark, lonely nights for a good long time.