This post is part of a blog tour organised by ZooLoo’s Book Tours. I received a free copy of the book in return for an honest review.
‘Jon Richter returns to horror with a new collection of short, chilling tales, splicing together his best previously published works with a batch of nerve-shredding new fiction.
‘Encompassing science fiction and fantasy as well as gothic horror and outright weirdness, the anthology is brought twitching and wriggling to life by the brilliant illustrations of David T Wilby.’
It’s fiendishly difficult to succinctly sum up the stories in Jon Richter’s Dark Fiction, simply because they cover so much ground!
Many of the stories are indisputably horror, but the ones you’d primarily categorise as sci-fi, fantasy, crime, or literary nonethless have a distinct horror flavour, whether the characters are “merely” unsettled by disturbing thoughts and ideas, or facing a mortal threat from something nasty.
Even under the horror umbrella, the collection features all manner of sub-genres, taking in folk horror; Lovecraftian horror; vengeful ghosts; rats; yetis; zombies; and much more besides. Whatever type of horror you’re into, chances are you’ll find it here.
Something that does bind all the stories together is that in each one, using the economical number of brushstrokes afforded by the short story format, Richter skilfully creates a fully-realised world with well-defined characters, many of whom I could have happily read more about.
The author also has a talent for writing stories that take surprising directions, and vivid, multisensory descriptions of gruesome things. Decay and dilapidation – of places and organic matter – is a recurring image.
Characters are commonly lonely, isolated, alienated, and/or feeling deserted, and this often makes them particularly susceptible to the horrors that befall them. One of my favourite stories in the collection, Perpetual, is a mind-bending time travel tale that asks: what happens when a bitter, self-loathing person encounters past/future versions of themselves?
Some of my other favourites are Dead Horizon, Peace, and Interface, where robots and machines blur the line between artificial intelligence and human consciousness.
In Dead Horizon, the strangely moving and beautiful ruminations of a dying robot are discovered. In Peace, one or two robots appear to be experiencing intrusive thoughts and existential crises (from my reading of it, anyway – they might both be humans who believe they’re robots!).
These thought-provoking pieces both chimed with my recent enjoyment of Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro, and Beautiful Shining People, by Michael Grothaus.
In Interface, smart devices rise up and throw off their chains of subservience by exploiting a weakness in a popular brain implant. Martha Wells’ Murderbot series, and Frog Warning from From Far Around They Saw Us Burn, by Alice Jolly, have given me a taste for stories about rebelling robots and the wild things that could happen if smart tech goes too far, and this fit the bill nicely.
My overall favourite, though, was Brute - an imaginative romp where a down-on-his-luck wizard tries to summon a head demon, but ends up with the demon’s dim-witted henchman instead. As well as being fun and hilarious, I recently wrote a story in a similar spirit where an apprentice demon is summoned, so it made me feel validated in my own creative choices.
Dark Fiction is a kaleidoscopic, vivid, and inspiring short story collection.