They say that anthologies and short story collections are a tough sell; it makes sense, then, that you don’t see that many on the shelves in your local big box bookstore (if you still have one in your neighborhood, that is). The mainstream merchants want product they can move and move fast, so yeah, they’ll stock a collection if it says Stephen King or Daniel Woodrell or Michael Chabon on the cover – otherwise, they might not be so inclined.
Multi-author anthologies with a narrow, albeit intriguing theme? Don’t hold your breath.
Thank goodness once again for the small press, for whom “good business sense” (or the line of thinking the big publishers brand as such) often runs a distant second to “damn, that’s a good idea, let’s assemble twenty stories on that, and be sure to leave a few spots open for relative newcomers, because quality is far more important than name recognition.” From such wonderful, radical thinking, anthologies like Dark Faith: Invocations are born. A volume of horror stories investigating the dark implications of faith, and a sequel to an earlier volume of such stories, no less?
Only in the small press.
Apex Publications and editors Maurice Broaddus and Jerry Gordon have returned to the well to follow up 2010’s Dark Faith with this challenging, powerful collection of stories that explore the various avenues of faith, belief and trust. They’ve called upon a talented mix of horror, fantasy and sci-fi veterans and newcomers and given them free reign to explore the deep and complex ideas of what we believe in, why we believe, and what happens when that belief is rewarded in different ways than we expect.
Sometimes, as Tom Piccirilli masterfully illustrates in his story Subletting God’s Head, faith is less a concrete understanding than a bewildering, blind trust. His character Eddie has rented an apartment that’s actually located in God’s head. Eddie is as close to God as physically possible, with full access to the Book of Life (it’s in a bedroom closet) and its lists of sins, the redeemed and the damned. Eddie expects this access to serve as a virtual roadmap to Heaven, but he soon finds that he’s really no closer to understanding his relationship with God than he was before he moved in.
Max Allan Collins and Matthew Clemens weigh in with a more straightforward take on trust with A Little Faith. We meet a DEA agent whose cover has been blown; he’s tied up in a dank basement, the bad guys are hovering over him and asking questions, and there’s a thin rag and a bucket of water that’s about to come into play. The agent has to put his faith in a partner who may or may not know where he is. With the clock ticking and the interrogation under way, it becomes a battle with his own doubts and fears – the kind of test that quickly tells a person how strong their faith really is.
Then there’s The Cancer Catechism by Jay Lake. I may never read a more terrifying story than this one. Lake takes you step-by-step through the process by which cancer and chemo strip a person of who they are and what they believe, until the only faith they have left is in uncertainty and death. If this is what it’s really like for those with cancer, then my admiration runs deep for those who somehow survive and manage to move on.
Different stories here will speak to different people in different ways – a lot like faith itself. Whatever you have put your own faith in, these are the kinds of stories that will make you examine that faith a little closer. For some, that examination may be a source of strength; for others, such examination might expose the cracks and send you seeking something a little sturdier.
One thing’s for sure – with releases this strong, I have no problem whatsoever in putting my faith in Apex.
Learn more about Dark Faith: Invocations from Apex Publications.
Blu Gilliand is a freelance writer of fiction and nonfiction. He covers horror fiction at his blog, October Country, and contributes interviews to the Horror World website. Follow him on Twitter at @BluGilliand.