“Scenes from the Second Storey”
Publisher: Morrigan Books
Review copy received through the courtesy of one of the editors, Amanda Pillar
I like music, but I cannot say that is one of my passions. I guess I like it as much as any other person, I enjoy listening and buying the albums of the bands and singers I like, but I tend to be pretty conservative and inconsistent on the matter. But when I heard about Amanda Pillar and Pete Kempshall’s anthology based on a music album, The God Machine’s “Scenes from the Second Storey”, the concept I was immediately intrigued and my curiosity picked. I was very interested to see how the wheels of imagination were spun by The God Machine’s songs.
“Dream Machine” by David Conyers – After seventy-six years in Hell Barry Adamson is reassembled at the Hell’s Overload order for an assassination mission. David Conyers spawns with frightening ability scenes that could fuel the most terrifying of nightmares. The hell’s torments traded for a world of endless corridors full of strange paintings and whispers, the painful reconstruction of Barry Adamson’s body and an operation held in the hallucinatory surgical tent together with the deviant methods of training are meticulously shaped into an amazing story. The reason for Barry Adamson’s punishments in Hell is revealed too, but I found it lacking a bit of motivation. I understand from the author’s afterword, however, that “Dream Machine” is part of a series of interconnected short stories, so maybe these aspects have a connection with the other tales. Nonetheless, David Conyers’ “Dream Machine” is the perfect start for the anthology.
“She Said” by Kirstyn McDermott – It is the story of an artist, Josh, and of his girlfriend and muse, Mallory. A beautiful and melancholically story, but with very dark elements. The inspirations and creation of art works tightly hand in hand with life in general and love in particular here. There is a parallel between Josh creating his art pieces and his romantic relationships with his lovers and muses. The touch of life on the artwork gets a new meaning on “She Said” though, but despite this new distinction Josh doesn’t seem to be able to feel fully accomplished neither in art or life.
“The Blind Man” by Felicity Dowker – After the savage beating of a school colleague Greg is condemned to a suspended twelve-month juvenile detention and one hundred hours of community service. While serving his community service hours at The Willows aged care facility Greg meets the mysterious Mr. Salioso. There is a twist in the presence of Mr. Salioso, but the true horror of the story is not found there. The story is told in a strong and bitter voice of Greg, a character with an internal turmoil, but with whom the reader cannot feel sympathetic. Moments of tenderness are turned into brutality and innocence is twisted by violence in a story that is uncomfortable in many ways, but very difficult to forget at the same time.
“I’ve Seen the Man” by Paul Haines – The story of an addictiveness. Paul Haines plays his addicted character to perfection, revealing his dependency late into the story for a greater impact on the reader. The end of the story adds a heavier accent on this aspect, but also a sadder tone. Paul Haines’ recent and unfortunate departure from our world gives “I’ve Seen the Man” new depth and meaning.
“The Desert Song” by Andrew J. McKiernan – When people start disappearing in an outback town Josh the undertaker goes out into the desert for coffinwood trees to use for his coffins while Reverend Garland Wallace sees the situation as an opportunity to gain new followers and redeem their souls. The post-apocalyptic setting is the scene where religion and science clash again. Since neither ideology is willing to make concessions the conflict will rapidly escalade. The solitude of the desert is highlighted by a new world emerged after a world-conflict. The respective conflict is barely hinted by Andrew J. McKiernan, but enough to give the setting shape and representation. The zombie/vampire tropes take a scientific form in “The Desert Song” and that is a very welcomed changed for two sub-genres that tend to become very stereotypical.
“Home” by Martin Livings – The soldier Jack tries to makes sense of his surreal present situation. “Home” is a haunting short story, with elements that not only send Jack, the main character, in an uncertain position, but makes it feel like a perpetual nightmare. Or an endless punishment in Hell. Martin Livings’ story has an undertone that hints at the horrors of war, be they physical or mental.
“It’s All Over” by L.J. Hayward – James goes to an isolated old lighthouse reported to be haunted by a ghost in search of material for his psychology thesis, but also in need to make peace with his past and present. L.J. Hayward creates a very nice ghost story mixing atmosphere with mystery while steadily building the climax amplified by an excellent twist. The journeys James takes down his memory lanes into the past leads the reader to what seems to be a certain outcome, but the story’s finale makes this deceiving one of the main qualities of “It’s All Over”.
“Temptation” by Trent Jamieson – Bolland and Smirker are attempting to cross Victoria Bridge. This is the base idea of Trent Jamieson’s story, but the imagined world of “Temptation” is definitely wider. Crossing a bridge seems to have become a profession in this story and the task is not as simple and carefree as we know it. The bridges are a world on their own, labyrinthine and dangerous as the setting that encompass them is very dark. But Trent Jamieson’s story is very confusing, raising more question than offering answers. It has an intriguing universe and I did not ask how this world came into existence, but I had a few unanswered inquires, important to the development of the story in my opinion, that don’t seem to have an answer. Unfortunately, I have to say that I was unsatisfied by the general feeling left by “Temptation”.
“Out” by Stephen Dedman – Suri was born and raised on zero gravity, but the perspective of landing on a new planet is not as welcomed for her as it is for the rest of the space crew. A wonderful story, which comes with a twist that is another excellent addition to this particular turns encountered in the anthology. The story is told through the voice of a tech and offers the tale of a misfit from the perspective of another misfit. A very solid tale, with a wonderful tone and a clever spin.
“Ego” by Robert Hood – Stefan Clemens and Merrin reached a breaking point in their relationship, but when Merrin’s younger sister, Alice, shows up at Stefan’s door things take a new turn. “Ego” is a short story that keeps the reader almost clueless of what it is actually taking place and what is going to happen. If I can make a comparison it is like walking along a dark corridor with a closed door at the end outlined at the edges by the light behind it. I was never certain what awaited me behind the door, but curiosity push me forward and rewarded me at the end. Better still, I recommend a return to the opening paragraph of “Ego” after finishing Robert Hood’s story, because in the light of the story’s conclusion that particular start recompenses the reader further more. I was not sure about the significance of the main character’s cancer, but after reflecting on this matter a bit more I believe that this is another great approach from the part of Robert Hood, because I do think that in the case of “Ego” cancer doesn’t refer literally to the disease, but rather to a more subtle psychological affection, as dark and dangerous as this terrible illness is.
“Seven” by Stephanie Campisi – Elizaveta tries to cope with the disappearance of her beloved Mikhail and recollects the relationship with him. The story exhales a melancholy infused atmosphere. The main character suffering is almost palpable, the bitter memories of her past lover and their not always easy relationship are enforced by the feeling of solitude induced by her move from home country and the isolation she feels in the new home. Most of the story conflict is implied, nothing is stated clear in the face of the reader. The same goes for the speculative element of the story, only barely seen, but efficient nonetheless. With an excellent technique Stephanie Campisi might not line up “Seven” is the same category as the rest of the stories when it comes to the force with which the subject is delivered, but it is a very sensible tale.
“Purity” by Kaaron Warren – Unsatisfied by her personal life and the medium she lives in Therese joins Calum and Daniel, an unusual preacher and his grandson. It is a story that touches firmly the bizarre, but with an adequate effect. Kaaron Warren is proficient in creating the atmosphere of religious hypnosis and the image of a strange cult leader and his followers. The end is unsettling and amplifies the impression of grotesque and strangeness.
“The Piano Song” by Cat Sparks – Charise fights against a system and tries to find her unique way in the middle of an imposed behavior and hierarchy. Cat Sparks creates a world, a vision of Earth’s possible future, in which the music stars are created by a certain pattern, each role is clearly defined and where uniqueness is not easily accepted. Charise’s struggle against the all defining current ends in a shift of her perceivable reality, inducing a dreamlike state with cheerful tones, but with an unclear border between the two.
I am not sure about The God Machine’s “Scenes from the Second Storey”, it doesn’t seem to fit any of my musical preferences, but Amanda Pillar and Pete Kempshall’s anthology is impressive. I’ve rarely seen such an exceptional collection, with such powerful voices, strong narratives and outstanding stories. I might seem overly excited by it, but I assure you that Amanda Pillar and Pete Kempshall’s “Scenes from the Second Storey” is nothing but top quality. It is an anthology to be held dear, a collection to be read and re-read.