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The Monster’s Corner edited by Christopher Golden – review
As long as writers have been stretching their imaginations towards the fantastical, they’ve been creating and exploring monsters. They can range from the very human kind through demonic abominations and everything in between. Some of them are born, some of them created, and some of them are only victims of circumstance and misunderstanding. Not every monster has to be a villain, not all of them do bad things, and not every hero is really the savior they seem to be. Readers of fantasy, horror, and science fiction are well acquainted with the many forms that a monster can take and that sometimes, monster is just a word used to classify a new being as “a creature that looks scarier than I do.”
In his introduction, Golden writes about his love for old horror movies and comics. He lovingly explains the fascination with creature features and the joys of discovering a novel take on a familiar monster, and explains a little why he tried to avoid including either vampires or zombies in this particular anthology. (This was a choice that made me very happy as a reader, since I am starting to suffer a bit from both zombie and vampire fatigue. I often find myself longing for the days of vampires that never sparkled and zombies that were slow, stupid, and disgustingly squishy). To say that I was excited by the theme of this anthology would be a terrible understatement, because I, too, like to find novel approaches to familiar monsters.
The Monster’s Corner includes stories from David Liss, Kevin J. Anderson, David Moody, Kelley Armstrong, and Simon R. Green. There are stories about demons, a couple about humans, and some in the mix that contain monsters who are clearly defined but far less easily classified or identified. Each story stands well on its own merits, and they fit the theme very well without feeling monotonous. These are stories that make readers reconsider their idea of what a monster is and why they would call something a monster. Most of the stories fit very firmly into the realm of horror fiction, though some could definitely fit into either dark fantasy or urban fantasy quite well. This anthology could be all about shock, awe, and gore, which would make it just another cheap addition cashing in on the recent pop culture success of the genre, but, instead, these stories offer up larger questions and bigger issues, without being too didactic or beating readers over the head with a Big Idea.
“The Awkward Age” by David Liss is the opening story in the book. It features a fourteen-year-old girl who is actually a ghoul, a fact which she doesn’t even bother to hide from the parents of her new friend, Neil. The story is told from the point of view of the ghoul, and the structure of the story lends itself very well to the voice of its teenage protagonist. Throughout the piece, the narrator tries to keep an objective third-person voice, but mostly fails, especially during any of the parts where she actually refers to herself. She could be a simple character, a throwaway monster in a world filled with angsty teenagers so caught up in their own lives that they fail to notice the monster in their midst. Instead she’s, if not exactly sympathetic, definitely compelling. As the story unfolds, readers discover her motives and find out what she really wants, which may not be all that surprising, but still leaves readers with a churning, unsettled feeling they should definitely get after thinking about whether or not they would see her for what she is.
Kevin J. Anderson contributed “Torn Stitches, Shattered Glass,” a story that combines both the Frankenstein story and a fictional recounting of Kristallnacht. The Frankenstein monster has taken up residence in a Jewish ghetto as a tailor. He lives peacefully enough amongst his neighbors, though he largely keeps to himself and doesn’t make much fuss. He may not be respectfully regarded, but, at least, he is not feared amongst the people who live there. As tensions escalate between the Jewish citizens and the Nazi government, the monster finds himself hopelessly trapped in the middle. This story was a real heartbreaker. It was sad and poignant in a way that I certainly didn’t expect from a horror anthology. The story was really about choices people make and the reasons that they make them, and about the only character who doesn’t garner any sympathy is the Nazi commander stationed in that particular city.
I had heard of David Moody, but the piece “Big Man” was my first encounter with his work. This story hearkens back to 50’s era low-budget creature features where scientific experiments always go awry and produce horrifying results. Glen Chambers is a recently divorced man trying to make ends meet by cleaning in a laboratory and undergoing a medication trial. When he gets exposed to radiation, he begins growing uncontrollably. The parts of his body aren’t growing at the same rate, but his brain is still perfectly intact and functioning. The creature that Glen Chambers becomes is tormented by the destruction that he accidentally causes and the terrible pain that he experiences because of his accelerated growth. The point of view shifts between the monster and a British military officer charged with stopping the monster in its tracks. It’s an effective and emotionally brutal story, but one that’s well worth reading.
“Rakshashi” by Kelley Armstrong is a story that could qualify for urban fantasy or horror easily. Amrita is a Rakshasi, held in thrall by a family that uses her to destroy evil people and prevent them from inflicting harm on others. An interesting side benefit that these families experience is that they are allowed to keep the assets of the people they assassinate in order to support themselves. Rakshasi, are, essentially, beings that must do penance for the crimes they committed during their lives and, once their time is served, are meant to be released by the families that hold them. The problem is that the man who controls Amrita has become very accustomed to living in high style and fears that in freeing Amrita, he will be forced to give up that lifestyle.
Simon R. Green’s “Jesus and Satan Go Jogging in the Desert” is about exactly what the title suggests. Jesus is wandering through the desert and, on the fortieth day, Satan is sent to tempt him. The story is told from Satan’s point of view, and it’s surprisingly hilarious as Satan tries to coax Jesus to give into temptation and avoid being crucified. This is the one story that stands out above all the others for having an ambiguous monster. Green leaves it up to the reader to decide for themselves if the monster should be interpreted to be Satan, or if it’s really God.
The Monster’s Corner really maintains a good variety of stories. There are funny stories, sad stories, stories full of gore and stomach-twisting moments meant to disgust readers, and stories that do carry surprise and shock. It was one of those books that I read entirely too quickly for my own good; in fact, I was surprised to realize that I had reached the last page when I did. I’d highly recommend this one to readers who love monster movies or comics of all stripes, though, if you have a weak stomach be forewarned, you may have a hard time with a few of the pieces. the collection is definitely something I’d recommend to older male teen readers as well as adult readers. It does have some graphic parts, but all in all, there isn’t much worse than an average late night on network TV. It was both a very enjoyable read and an exciting entry to the monster sub-genre.