As I write this, I’ve got Slipknot pounding through my headphones, the cacophony of shredding guitars and driving bass careening off my eardrums. I mention this because it seems appropriate given the subject matter I want to talk about. When Grey Matter Press (henceforth, GMP) put the call out for submissions to SAVAGE BEASTS, their author guidelines were simple, the key instruction being to write a story inspired by a song that had some meaning to them, that stuck with them for whatever reason. The result of this is a volume of dark tales penned by some extraordinarily talented authors, some of them familiar, and some of them unknown to me before now.
From the product description on Amazon:
SAVAGE BEASTS is a volume of all-new contemporary dark fiction inspired by some of the greatest artists in musical history. SAVAGE BEASTS is a thrilling and thought-provoking nightmare of devastating supernatural experiences exploring darkly introspective science fiction and fantastical alternative realities, each accompanied by the sound of the music that defines your life.
Written by some of the most talented authors in genre fiction, the short stories in SAVAGE BEASTS shine a light on eleven dark worlds with fictional work inspired by rock icons Nine Inch Nails, Pink Floyd, The Cranberries, Genesis, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, Danish death metal band Pestilence, new wave and dancehall diva Grace Jones, Portuguese electronic house duo Underground Sound of Lisbon, indie rockers School of Seven Bells, classical composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Johann Sebastian Bach and many more.
Soothe your desire for exceptional music-inspired fiction in SAVAGE BEASTS with dark tales by Edward Morris, Karen Runge, John F.D. Taff, Shawn Macomber, Konstatine Paradias, J.C. Michael, Daniel Braum, Maxwell Price, E. Michael Lewis, Paul Michael Anderson and T. Fox Dunham. Edited by Bram Stoker Award-nominated editors Anthony Rivera and Sharon Lawson.
When approaching an anthology for the purpose of review, I have several components that I’m thinking of and watching for in every story. Some of these are: a good story concept, consistent pacing, a unifying theme, and well developed characters. That last one is most important to me. If I can’t find something to love or hate about the characters, some reason to invest myself, then the story doesn’t work for me. It doesn’t move. Editors Anthony Rivera and Sharon Lawson obviously share some of the same criteria when it comes to selecting stories for their anthologies. The stories in SAVAGE BEASTS are not only well written, they are character driven, intelligent, and in some fashion special, riveting and memorable in a way that few short stories are.
I’m not going to write a synopsis of every one of the eleven stories in this book. That feels like filler and it bores the hell out of me. Instead, I’m going to touch briefly on some of the stories that were exceptional, even within a volume of exceptional stories:
“To Soothe the Savage Beast” by Edward Morris: The opener to the anthology and a subtle creeper of a story with an unexpected but delightful ending. Morris’ familiarity with Portland (my own home town) and it’s jazz and blues scene lends realism and depth to this tale.
“Going Home” by Karen Runge: I won’t say much here because this one would be really easy to spoil. Suffice it to say that this one scared the hell out of me. A chilling tale from beginning to end. I’ve read several of Runge’s short stories now and she is quickly climbing up my list of favorite authors.
“That Song You Can’t Get Out of Your Head” by John F.D. Taff: It’s well within the realm of possibility that I have read everything this guy has published to date. His stories are always top notch and often heartbreaking. This one isn’t heartbreaking, though. It’s a horrific story that will leave you with a new understanding of a familiar term.
“An American Ghost in Zurich” by Daniel Braum: This surreal little gem is hard to describe. Suffice it to say it’s a very unique ghost story. Or maybe it’s not a ghost story. Or maybe…Gah! Go read it.
“Die Musik des Teufels” by T. Fox Dunham: A heart wrenching story of cosmic horror, debilitating guilt and the heavy price of a father’s love. Read this one with a box of tissue on hand.
Warning: Each of the authors in this volume follow their story with a note about the music that inspired them and why it had an effect. This is both interesting and often extremely revealing. Don’t read the notes first if you don’t like spoilers.
Overall, SAVAGE BEASTS is a love song to music and the art of story. And it’s a damn good song by two of the best virtuoso editors in the business today. In just a few short years Grey Matter Press has produced eight outstanding multi-author collections of dark fiction, establishing themselves as a mainstay of the speculative fiction industry. From the Bram Stoker nominated DARK VISIONS: VOLUME I to DEATH’S REALM to SAVAGE BEASTS, their work is imbued with a quality and consistency that is virtually unsurpassed.
If I were a person who gave (highly personal and subjective) star ratings, SAVAGE BEASTS would get a 10 out of 5. If you are a lover of dark fiction and short stories, you’ll be doing yourself a favor picking up this beautiful collection of music and terror. And smart money says you’ll be looking for GMP’s other books as soon as you turn the last page.
To avoid becoming overly verbose, I’ll wrap this up as Slipknot screeches to an echoing halt and my player queues up “Ghosts in the Machine” by the Police. Apropos of everything…
You can buy SAVAGE BEASTS here.
To learn more about Grey Matter Press visit http://greymatterpress.com/