Posted on May 23, 2011 by Nix
Scenes from the Second Storey
Edited by Amanda Pillar and Pete Kempshall
Each story in this anthology was based on a particular song by the band God’s Machine, and in particular the album Scenes from the Second Storey. Being utterly unfamiliar with either I was at a loss to see how each work coincided with it’s assigned song. I simply read each story as it was presented.
My interest was heightened when I discovered that the writers were either from Australia, or near that region. As I read I picked up subtle differences between ‘American’ writing and that of their homeland, I am sure this affected my expectations within each tale and my eventual opinion. I delighted in this look at another part of the world and how they write and construct a story. Several of these authors interested me enough that I wrote their names down for my next visit to a bookstore; though it appears that most do short stories, I hope to find their other works.
What follows are my thoughts on each individual story, since holding an entire collection of tales from several different authors all to one opinion would not be fair to those that excelled. I wrote the review for each story as I finished that individual story and it was not till I had completed the entire book that I realized that it was not a work purely of horror. The album that the authors based their stories on must have been rather dark and moody leading to equally dark and moody narratives.
by David Conyers
Perhaps the start of a good novel or series of stories, the vapid carnage and indiscriminate torture slowed the progress. It was only when the descriptions of ‘Hell’ were left behind that the story truly began to flourish. Had the story rolled on, with the extremely familiar depictions of hell established, Dream Machine might have turned into an interesting read. I did find it intriguing that the main character, after decades of mistreatment, only felt the pangs of his current situation after he was reminded of why he had been sent to Hell in the first place.
by Kirstyn McDermott
An extremely chilling tale: it draws you in with simple and subtle hints of things being off and weaves those allusions into a delicious story. I found this story to be much more in line with my taste in horror where darkness is at ones fingertips and at the edge of ones sight. She Said is a superb and haunting work that I read several times.
THE BLIND MAN
by Felicity Dowker
I had a difficult time seeing this story as being horrific. Despite the fact that the horror aspect seemed to be more of an after-thought, I still found it to be one of the more believable stories. It retained just enough of a supernatural quality to it that it could qualify as being at least ‘eerie’. I appreciated the fact that the author deconstructed the main character from raging hooligan to traumatized youth, and then exacted justice upon the main character with no joy taken in the act.
I’VE SEEN THE MAN
by Paul Haines
I have to admit that I did not enjoy this tale. The pacing was fine, the author built it along at a steady pace but it still left wanting. Perhaps it was my lack of knowledge regarding Eastern methodologies or perhaps it was my relative lack of medical knowledge, but I just could not identify with any aspect of the story of a man heavily into Indian philosophy slowly killing himself via an odd assortment of medical procedures. I also failed to recognize the horror aspect – there were no quivering mounds of flesh ready to madden minds and rend flesh and there were no dark and haunting secrets that would reveal flaws in our psyches, there was merely an addict that seemed to be killing himself in small increments.
THE DESERT SONG
by Andrew J. McKiernan
What do you get when you mix post-apocalypse, science run amok, and religious zealotry? ‘An extremely well thought out and executed work of fiction’ would be the correct answer. Doom and despair were prevalent, as well as blind aggression in the guise of strict adherence to religion, but one still had hope as the story unfolded. Coming off of the previous addition to this compilation of horror stories I must admit that my spirits were low, yet after its completion my day was actually brightened. Having been a long time table-top role-player, I often read a novel or story and think to myself ‘would this make an interesting event in a campaign’, and Desert Song would be the unfortunate conclusion to several things going wrong in a campaign. The author kept a steady pace and despite its condensed space moved among several main characters in a manner that kept a persons interest honed. I’d certainly look for more work from him next time I am at a book store.
by Martin Livings
An interesting piece and a departure from the other works. I was unsure if the main character was being transported to hell, already suffering in hell, or some other monstrous possibility. Home constantly twists the poor main character into knots as his journey unfolds and his torment is constant. It wasn’t very dark, but it was extremely disturbing.
IT’S ALL OVER
by L.J. Hayward
I ended up being confused by this story, even though I greatly enjoyed it. It’s All Over did not lack in anything and kept a pleasantly tense feeling that tightly gripped my imagination.
by Trent Jamieson
Though I had a tough time finishing this story, I wouldn’t say it was ‘bad’. What Temptation was though, was difficult to follow. Too many concepts that were never explained, and the reader was thrown into the fray. Upon reading the afterword that the author wrote up about his work, he explains that the song he had to write about lacked lyrics. I could see how that would be problematic to creating a well-tuned story that is supposed to be based on a particular song.
by Stephen Dedman
A decent bit of science fiction which, while it was appreciated, was unexpected. It was a finely crafted peek into the future that remained identifiable to modern minds. Out kept away from being so far-fetched that one could not identify with the characters. It was also one of the shorter works offered, and it sped by astoundingly fast. I wish it had been longer, but I’m not sure how since the writer did an exemplary job of completing his story.
by Robert Hood
A thoroughly enjoyable piece that fell squarely in the realms of horror. Obsession and murder, mixed with a dollop of madness led to a delightful story. I would have liked to have seen it drawn out in some manner, perhaps covering the the various deaths in the basement through flashbacks. The other women could have made appearances as well in their ghostly forms, but it was a short story so space was a constraint I am sure.
by Stephanie Campisi
This was one of the few stories that I didn’t enjoy. A woman desperate to revive a dead lover that had cheated on her just failed to resonate with me. The story crept along at a constant pace, but with neither highs nor lows it was difficult to become involved with the main character or plot line.
by Kaaron Warren
I admit that I am a sucker for stories about extreme cults so this contribution caught my attention right away. Dysfunctional people becoming warped, trapped, exploited, and then cast off appeals the cynical side of my soul. Though the rhythm of the story was somewhat hard to follow at time, it managed an intermittent flow. I would have liked to have had something darker about the cult, but that is a tricky edge to ride since as soon as things become too estranged it could succumb to being Cthulu-esq very easily.
THE PIANO SONG
by Cat Sparks
Piano song was a wonderful story. It called out to me instantly due to my extreme distaste of the various High School Musical movies and their many spin-offs. Piano Song dove into a world where every aspect of your life was prearranged and if you were lucky enough to go to school, then you were there to fit a specific role or image. Everything was filmed, everything was choreographed, and everything was planned to make it more exciting for the masses, create merchandising, and sell media. Yes, it was another story that appealed to my cynical and sarcastic side, and I adored it. I also found it to be extremely well-written with a constant churning movement. It jarred you along with the main character as she sought freedom and recognition of her abilities in a world that abhorred freedom and rewarded overly produced commercialized refuse.
Overall, I enjoyed this collection. I was under the impression that it was to be all horror related, and while several fell squarely in that realm many others did not. A few were exemplary, a few were a trial to read through, but each was certainly a decent piece of literature. However, even the pieces I personally didn’t appreciate were still excellent works.
Reviewed by Sean “Nix” McConkey