“A comprehensive volume that is even more than the sum of its parts.”
We here at This is Horror described Cohesion Press’ debut anthology, SNAFU, as having ‘consistent quality and extraordinary variety’. It’s pleasing to note that this follow-up volume, SNAFU: Survival of the Fittest not only maintains the level of quality but in a few cases exceeds that displayed in the preceding volume.
Opening story ‘Badlands’ by SD Perry takes the reader to Korea in 1952 and sets the tone for the anthology as a whole with a corker of an opening line and plunges straight into the action. The author’s background in writing tie-in novels to the Alien film series shows as she efficiently introduces the reader to the squad of soldiers, and her descriptions of the action as they are confronted by their unexpected enemy never become repetitive. The environment the soldiers are in is so well described you’ll feel like you’re right there beside them.
Next up is a collaboration between Tim Marquitz and J.M. Martin. ‘Of Storms and Flame’ jumps back to Norway in 955AD and as such provides a nice break from the heavy weaponry of the majority of these stories. It won’t be a story to everyone’s taste but the use of period names and language gives the piece an authenticity without the authors over-doing the inclusion of their evident research of the historical setting.
‘In Vaulted Halls Entombed’ by Alan Baxter emerges from the rather rote set-up of a group of soldiers venturing into an uncharted area of the theatre of war to provide an engrossing and well-written tale that competes amongst the best stories of the collection. The claustrophobic setting is brilliantly evoked and contributes to a palpable sense of tension in the reader. The Lovecraftian elements are strategically woven in at opportune times and the ambiguous ending is note perfect.
Onwards to Vietnam we go for B. Michael Radburn’s ‘They Own the Night’. There is more than a shade of Indiana Jones to its story of a covert operation where the grunts assigned find out along with the reader the nature of their special mission. There is little wrong with the writing here, and the characterisation is solid, but it’s difficult to shake the feeling you’ve experienced a version of the story a time or two more than you really care for.
‘Fallen Lion’ by Jack Hanson is the most fun of the stories presented in this volume. Set in his world of sentient dinosaurs built for war the story is self-contained enough to enjoy without prior knowledge, but you will probably finish it eager to read more stories set in this unique and captivating world.
Kirsten Cross’ ‘Sucker of Souls’ will likely be the most divisive story of the anthology. Whilst the tale is interesting enough it’s hard to shake the feeling the author has suffered a little bit of ‘Dan Simmons Syndrome’ in that there feels like an effort has been made to cram every single piece of research into the resulting story. Covering similar ground to a classic of the genre with its focus on Prince Vlad III is perhaps unwise and the numerous instances of telling the reader about his powers of strategy and his viciousness, rather than showing examples of such, become grating. It’s hard to escape the feeling the story would have been better realised with an original antagonist instead.
The anthology reaches its zenith next with its best story, ‘The Bohemian Grove’ by Weston Ochse. It is subtitled ‘Cold War Gothic II’ which indicates it as a follow-up to the author’s story from the first volume. Whilst, as with the Hanson story, it works well-enough as a self-contained story, there can be no denying that prior knowledge of the preceding story does make the experience this time around more rewarding. Ochse’s prose is as delightful as we have come to expect and his knowledge of weaponry and tactics evident without him feeling the need to over-balance the story with too much gun porn. The setting and the weaving in to the historical period is masterful and the characters are flawed, but compellingly so. Short fiction rarely comes along as accomplished as this.
It’s a tough gig to be the following story, but, Matt Hilton, with his story ‘After the Red Rain Fell’, is able to hold his own with an engrossing tale that fans of his Joe Hunter series will not be disappointed by. It further showcases his skill with action scenes. An unabashed monster movie the piece moves at break-neck pace in almost real-time to create a fun, entertaining story.
‘The Slog’ by Neal F. Litherland takes us again to Vietnam. Another returnee from the debut volume, Litherland once more provides an interesting, well-executed tale that shows a progression in line with that of the anthology as a whole. Both the characterisation and the dialogue feel more refined this time around and instances of being jarred from the narrative were non-existent, which was a pleasing improvement on his previous story. The ending is perhaps a little underwhelming but probably in keeping with the events that precede it.
The anthology is brought to its conclusion with another collaboration, this time between Jeremy Robinson and Kane Gilmour with their story ‘Show of Force’. It’s an action-packed, fun story that brings the volume to a fitting and entertaining conclusion. It’s billed as ‘A Jack Sigler/ Chess Team Novella’ but no prior knowledge of the series is required as the authors ably get the reader up to speed on the personnel, and operational dynamic, of Chess Team as they come up against more than they bargained for in this story that imagines how it may have played out if the worms of Tremors came up against a team of highly trained soldiers rather than a few hick farmers with rifles.
SNAFU: Survival of the Fittest is another winner from a publisher with a pleasing, and ever increasing, series of winners under its belt. The Editors have once more corralled a varied selection of settings and voices into a comprehensive volume that is even more than the sum of its parts. Seek out the anthology and enjoy. Then await with eagerness the next in the series.
Publisher: Cohesion Press
Release Date: 21st August 2015
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