Book Title: Tales from the Canyons of the Damned: Omnibus 10
Editor: Jessica West
Publication Date: July 29, 2019
Available on: Amazon as an eBook and as a paperback
Indie Athenaeum Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
In this tenth omnibus of the Tales from the Canyons of the Damned series, it collects issues from Canyons thirty-two, thirty-three and thirty-four. That means you get twelve amazing stories from ten different authors and all of them tell exciting, disturbing and compelling stories that you won’t be able to put down until you finish reading the story from the beginning to the end. The first one highlights different kinds of games, the second presents tantalizing mysteries and the third brings you to space and tells some great science fiction tales.
Let’s explore how each author makes you wonder what’s going to happen next with the games these characters play, starting with:
Gustavo Bondoni’s “Superclasico” – Dario and Emilio are super soccer fans working in Argentina’s criminal underworld. Suspecting that magical intervention is being used to prevent their beloved Boca Juniors Club team from beating the competition, they set out to put a stop to it. However, what they find is not what they expect!
The author paints a stark and engrossing picture of the poor and desperate in a dog-eat-dog world. But it’s also a dark and gruesome tale filled with magic, sacrifice, and spilled entrails, all for the love of the game.
M.M. De Voe’s “The Fourth” – Our twenty-six-year-old narrator and expert board game player agrees to a challenge offered by the malevolent entity Lord Zhyklon. But this game, while complicated and yet familiar, plays out in an unfamiliar fashion that forces her to try something radical!
I liked how our narrator has snark and spunk while her intelligence and observational skills enable her to cope with her increasingly problematic predicament. And that ending made my jaw drop with surprise and how winning in this situation is redefined.
Ann Stolinsky’s “Killer Shot” – Miss Stone appears in court to hear the sentence of a man who committed unspeakable acts against her. But this court has some thought-provoking rules and how justice was carried out was astonishing to me. How do Miss Stone’s dart-throwing skills have anything to do with this?
The mind-blowing answers startled me, the intensity of the reading experience shocked me and when I finally saw how it all came together, I found that the suspense of what would happen next was killing me. As a result, I loved its deliciously perfect ending.
Daniel Arthur Smith’s “Hide and Seek” – Conrad is meeting his childhood friend Hansen for a reunion in a top-notch hotel. After reminiscing about old times, they nostalgically engage in a friendly game of hide and seek in a virtual reality simulation. What could go wrong?
I really enjoyed and appreciated the lush details the author used to stimulate my imagination here, engaging all five of my senses with its immersive descriptions about the height of luxury. It all lends itself to the situation being set up here, with an unpredictable and amazing payoff by the time all is revealed, leading into a stunning ending. This story is part of the authors imaginative “Spectral Shift” sci-fi universe and once you read it, you’ll understand why this setting is crucial to the story.
Next, we transition from games to conundrums that grab at your mind and trigger terror with the tales they tell. From stories about unusual babies, time travel, serial killers and bounty hunters, this issue has a wide variety of tales that will enthrall you:
Molly Thynes’ “Auntie_lena314” – Lena is a teenager whose sister Nan just gave birth to a new baby, Henry. Recording videos for her channel, she documents how Henry isn’t an ordinary baby, crying nonstop. Somehow, Nan’s mental and physical health slowly declines, and she blames Henry for this! How will Lena handle the situation?
This story terrified me down to my bones and made me imagine how I would feel if my children were babies and were living out the scenario depicted here. This story both really made me feel ill and even queasy by the end, but its gripping premise kept me wondering what would happen to Lena and Henry.
Barry Charman’s “A Wonder Made of Skulls” – Judd lives in a world where time-travel is widespread and as easy as pressing a button. To society at large, it has become mundane and even boring, commercialized to the point of tedium. As Judd wonders about how the world became this way, he’s shaken out of his boredom by something out of the ordinary. But what is it?
This is a fantastic and original take on the concept of time travel which was really fascinating. How it was used and how it impacted Judd, his ruminations on his past and interacted with the time periods he visited all were perfectly intertwined. It made for compelling reading, especially after I discovered what happened to him by the end, which gave me the shivers.
Jason LaVelle’s “Masks” – A serial killer meticulously makes face masks of those that they kill, sculping them out of plaster. Jessica is a reporter pursuing author interviews with some big names and finds out some scoop about a reclusive author coming to Florida. Will she get the interview? And how does the serial killer tie into all of this?
When the big twist is revealed, it is both shocking and surprising. And the brutality of the violence and the tenderness of making face masks provide a duality to the poetic tale. The author also savors the exquisite details of the story both large and small, from the process of making masks to the smell of newsprint and paper. This immersive and involving storytelling sent chills down my spine and mesmerized me right from the beginning all the way through to the unpredictable ending.
Daniel Arthur Smith’s “Off-World Kick Murder Squad VI” – Quickly flying away from the Syndicate prison from which they liberated their prize, the squad is on the run from their pursuers! As they’re fleeing, they start to wonder why Cerulean Blue, the reason for their mission, was imprisoned and why he’s so valuable.
The last episode of this serial was in “Tales from the Canyons of the Damned: No. 25” so I was glad to see it return here. I enjoyed the deeper background I was given as I learned more about Cerulean Blue and the Spectral Shift universe he inhabits. The mystery behind their mission gets intriguingly deeper here and the twists that threaten their ability to complete this difficult task gets more complex. I continue to long for more of this serialized story.
Finally, rocket off into space with four imaginative science fiction tales to uncover the threats from deep space. From stories about trillions of insects harboring a sinister secret to disposing of dead bodies in a star to pondering the purpose of life to following a squad of people trying to complete their mission, these tales will captivate you with the stories they have to share. Read on to find out more, starting with:
Nathan M. Beauchamp’s “Exclusionary Symbiosis” – Jaxson is running a ship that has powerful shields, eradicating millions of insects at a high rate of speed. Those shields are needed so they can help thin out the trillions of bugs on a distant planet important to humanity’s research. But when something goes wrong with his ship, will he even survive?
Jaxson’s plight is a harrowing one and as he tries to survive a crash-landing, it firmly places you in his shoes and twists your guts up in knots. What he discovered made my skin crawl as the revelations about the planet and its inhabitants are unfurled in a way that made me want to know more about what was happening. It’s a terrifying tale that I could not put down.
Charles Barouch’s “Ship of the Dead” – Brenna is a manager of a company that hauls and disposes of dead miners by sending them into the sun. Asteroid mining is a risky business and her business is so specialized, there are very few competitors. It also keeps her very busy. So, when the government gives her an offer she can’t refuse to bankroll and expand her business, will she take it?
Brenna is in an unusual business and an offer to expand her fleet from one ship to three appears to be too good to pass up. The author fleshes out this story with the dark details of Brenna’s gruesome job and demonstrates how it takes its emotional toll on her. In examining this deal, it’s clear Brenna is no fool and she shrewdly considers all the angles. Once she makes her decision, we see the results, expected and unexpected, with an ingenious twist that I couldn’t have predicted.
Terry R. Hill’s “Last Visit to the Park” – As an old man sadly ponders the entirety of his existence and the lack of meaning it now has, he makes an important and life-altering decision. But when a stranger appears and inquires about his life, the old man decides to share his story. But what kind of life has this old man lived and why is he so depressed?
This story works on two different levels, each one reflective and fascinating. On one level, it’s an introspective look at aging and each ache and pain that comes with it. This also layers in how it impacts the old man on both a physical and emotional level that immersively places the reader firmly into the body and soul into this unique individual.
The second level has to do with the search for purpose in our lives and how it affects the way we perceive it. Pulling it all together with the old man’s surprising and fantastical examination of a long-lived life and you get an enthralling tale that hits you in the gut and delights you at the same time. Having read this author before, I can tell you it’s one of his best short stories to date.
Daniel Arthur Smith’s “Off-World Kick Murder Squad VII” – Flying away in their ship, the squad is trying to escape the planet with the alien they freed from captivity, Sss’karo. But they are confronted by bounty hunters, who want Sss’karo and are willing to pay well for him. Wondering whether the bounty hunters can be trusted and finding themselves in a corner, how will they escape this no-win situation?
The action and intrigue increase with this episode, with some of Sss’karo’s secrets coming to light. His abilities are frightening and formidable, making for mutually beneficial advantages but also potential problems. I liked the way the squad tried to work their way through these issues, the unique solutions they tried to bring to the table and how Sss’karo’s unusual skills changed the odds for them. I also liked how those skills helped their injured teammate, Will, and demonstrated some deeper characterization of their personal history together as well. The last episode of this serial is earlier in this Omnibus, so I’m glad to see it continue here.
Six out of the ten authors in this omnibus are new to me and I’ve started to read some of their other works based on the high quality of their stories here. The other four authors I’ve enjoyed from previous issues of the “Tales from the Canyons of the Damned” series and I’m always happy to read more of their imaginative works.
Each tale presents their stories in new and innovative ways that are suspenseful and engaging. They also all have delightful twists that made me appreciate the craft of their storytelling that much more. These short stories are enrapturing and pull me into the worlds they create with their boldness and style.
I’ve read all the issues in the “Tales of the Canyons of the Damned” series to date as each one is a must-read for me when each new publication of the series. This ongoing series is always a terrific showcase for wonderful stories that I can’t wait to read.
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Previous Indie Athenaeum book reviews about stories published by Daniel Arthur Smith include “Tales from the Canyons of the Damned: No. 34, No. 33, No. 32, No. 31, No. 30, No. 29, No. 28 & Omnibus 9“.