Book Review: Lost Signals, edited by Max Booth III and Lori Michelle

The end result is a themed anthology that consistently tunes the frequency to the fear channel, then cranks the volume up to eleven.”

Lost Signals

There are signals all around us, flowing through us. Most are undetected, though occasionally, we are on the receiving end of a transmission that alters our very lives. These lost signals often carry a heavy price on those of us on the receiving end. What we hear, what we feel, are transmissions that have the power to bring insanity and despair, even death. Some seek out the signal, while others do everything they can to escape it. The one constant is that the signals are ever present, if only for a few seconds, and if we catch the transmission, it has the power to change our lives forever.

Max Booth III and Lori Michelle of Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing have assembled writers across time and space here for an anthology based around a theme that’s long overdue … Lost Signals: Horror Transmissions.Scott Nicolay, host of The Outer Dark, writes in his intro: “By our very presence we interfere with transmissions to which we are oblivious. Our bodies block and distort, but they also receive.” Obviously, when the good folks at PMMP put out the submission call, they had a certain signal in mind, and were receptive to the stories they chose.

The anthology starts off with ‘If He Summons His Herd’ by Matthew M. Bartlett. Relatively new to the scene, Bartlett still writes like a seasoned pro, as he conjures transmissions that are rarely seen in most fiction as he combines the occult with technology with a flair for the dramatic and the demonic. ‘Transmission’ by T.E. Grau tells of a man on the road, escaping his past, and losing himself at the radio stations at the far end of the dial, tuning in to the new path his life is about to take, while ‘From: Item L5161ORDE, ‘The Dangsturm Interruption’’ by Joseph Bouthiette Jr. showcases a powerful new writer pummeling us with his ‘words with a series of audio snippets and case file notes that build a subtle paranoia into an unsettling crescendo.

Josh Malerman’s ‘The Givens Sensor Board’ completely switches gears, this time using a stream of conscious style to drive the tension to dizzying heights, quickly establishing character and dread with an ever quickening pace with a nice twist on the signal theme; a mechanism that allows those buried alive to signal they are trapped in the grave. ‘Sharks with Thumbs’ by David James Keaton is exactly what one would expect from him; combining an odd-ball concept with his fluid and intense style to deliver a tale that lingers long after you finish it. Told in tight vignettes, the story quickly narrows down to a whip-smart conclusion. Next up is ‘Bad Lieutenant’ by Tony Burgess, a rather sad tale with some disturbing imagery, which while somewhat muddled by disconnected footnotes, become perhaps more subjective, especially after a second reading, while ‘How the Light Gets In’ by Michael Paul Gonzalez follows young lovers traveling near the Salton Sea who hear a strange tale and investigate the alleged vicinity with recording equipment, discovering a weird ripple in time and space, somewhat sentient, and quite possibly dangerous.

Radio operators near war-torn Kabul flirt with paranoia within the signals from the radio in ‘Darkhorse Actual’ by George Cotronis, providing yet again another steady buildup of dread and deadly obsession, while ‘The Desert of Wounded Frequencies’ by Betty Rocksteady adds another road trip tale to this anthology, this time with a broken radio that works only when it wants to, channeling those weird basement stations—FM reverends preaching damnation through the static, and ‘Eternity Lie in its Radius’ by Christopher Slatsky deals with radio signals influencing a death metal band, disrupting the band members and leading to violence and death.

Returning to the anthology with his second story, Matthew M. Bartlett shifts this time into a delightful body-horror nightmare with yet another blend of the occult and technology that tells the tale of a talking box that transmits signals of demonic destruction in ‘Where Night Cowers’. while ‘Rosabelle, Believe’ by Amanda Hard features a young boy trying to break a code on a short-wave radio, and the horror his father feels when he recognizes the voice at the other end, reciting the code into the dead air. ‘The Last Scream’ by Gabino Iglesias goes to school with a story about a student presentation with a ghostly recording. The recording summons an evil beyond the grave that turns the class into a bloodbath in the goriest story of the whole anthology.

‘The Man in Room 603’ by Dyer Wilk, an awesome cover artist working with the best in the business, reminds us that yes, he can write, and write very well, with a creepy story about the sole patient in a hospital who is actually a signal of death incarnate, while telephone calls from long lost loved ones set the stage for ‘The Sound of Yesterday’ by Ashlee Scheuerman, in which the familiar voices on the other end, while at first soothing, finally exhibit a calculated control and begin a chain-reaction of murderous rage, and ‘Children of a German Autumn’ by Matt Andrew uses the real-life setting of the 1977 German Autumn for a story of disturbing codes broadcast over short-wave radio, and a young mother’s desperate search for son that lasts decades, plunging her into a hidden world of the undead.

First published in Weird Tales in 1926, ‘The Night Wire’ by H.F. Arnold shows us that the concept of intercepting lost signals is not entirely new. This Weird Fiction pulp classic is the perfect example of a lost signal story, with a mysterious unheard of town enveloped in a sinister fog. ‘Armageddon Baby’ by John C. Foster continues to exhibit his ability to combine noir with horror, a combination often called the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of genre mash-ups. His narrative it tight and punchy and smacks a hard hit at the end, while ‘The Small Hours’ by Vince Darcangelo recounts those first few hours after midnight, as an obsessed man loses his mind via webcam voyeurism, and a serial prank caller seeks the pregnant silence for solace, and finds it, if only for a little while, in ‘Hush’ by Regina Solomon.

‘Feedback Loop’ by Joshua Chaplinsky deals with short-wave radios and human antennae, crushed by intense feedback, folding time in unimaginable ways, while a wicked baby monitor in ‘Little Girl Blue, Come Cry Your Way Home’ by Damien Angelica Walters proves why she is one of the best horror writers working with a tale that cuts to the bone. ‘All That You Leave Behind’ by Paul Michael Anderson deals with the painful aftermath of a miscarriage. Deleted files reappearing on a computer and an alternate reality leaves the reader wondering what is real and what is hallucination, packing a solid gut punch at the conclusion, and finally, ‘SOMETHINGINTHECODE’ by James Newman combines podcast episode transcripts, newspaper clipping, transport receipts, and classified documents to bring the book to a satisfying conclusion with a transmission that doesn’t end until the very last page.

Though many of the stories here use the same kind of devices for transmissions of the signals—short-wave receivers, FM tuners, even old car radios—each author applies their own spin on the theme, with compelling characters and interesting plots. Each story is personal, and in most cases, the theme is not just some backdrop shoe-horned into the story, but is an integral part of the setting that provides the catalyst for powerful, emotional stories that hit the reader in all the right places—each writer taking the premise and hitting the ground running as they deliver their own tales without compromise to make their stories emotional and very personal. The end result is a themed anthology that consistently tunes the frequency to the fear channel, and then cranks the volume up to eleven.

It’s very rare for a themed anthology to consistently fire on all cylinders, but that’s exactly what happens here, and with cover art and design by Matthew Revert and interior illustrations by Luke Spooner for every story, this is one anthology we can’t recommend enough.


Publisher: Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing
Paperback: (378pp)
Release Date: 2 August 2016

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