Book Title: Tales from the Canyons of the Damned: No. 36
Editor: Jessica West
Publication Date: December 19, 2019
Available on: Amazon as an eBook and a paperback
Indie Athenaeum Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
In this thirty-sixth issue of Canyons, it exhibits unusual ideas, some with a dystopian theme and others with a supernatural one. All of them have unexpected bombshells contained within them. From toys going to war, a crazy man who brings chaos to a small town, selfish skinheads, Weird Westerns and a clairvoyant predicting their death (!). Read onwards to find out more about:
Steve Oden’s “Toys and Monsters” – Fuzzy Bear, Sock Monkey, Fairy Princess Doll and their team of other assorted toys wage war like highly skilled military professionals. Executing a bold strategy and armed with automatic weapons, sniper rifles, and explosives, they’re on an important mission. But what is their objective and whom are they attacking?
This story feels like something out of a gritty war novel, with toys standing in for soldiers, but with the same accumulated years of experience and tactical knowledge. Unfortunately, there are also with causalities on both their side and the enemies. It’s gripping and astounding how these toys are cold and capable of such destruction and cruelty.
By the time all is revealed and all my questions were answered, I was surprised and saddened at what happened to them. The ending was also completely unexpected and filled me with a profound sense of lost innocence.
K.H. Vaughan’s “Judas Steer” – In the wild west after the Civil War, the Brink family has been brutally massacred! With the small town in an uproar and thinking it was Indians, Pete and Sheriff Ward must investigate. When they think they found the culprit, a crazy man covered in blood and standing naked in the street, they decide he’s guilty and hang him! But this only causes even more strange occurrences in the town. What is going on here?!
The central mystery here of who murdered this family that is a pillar of the community creates a palpable sense of outrage. The idea that the sheriff teams up with some of the town’s constituents to solve this baffling mystery is an intriguing one as well. It also contributes to the small-town atmosphere, where everyone unites for the common good, while stuck in the middle of nowhere.
There’s also a religious theme running through this tale, as who is deserving of redemption, which only adds to the richness of this story. As for the mystery, it is an unusual one, with plenty of weird events culminating into a chaotic, frenzied ending where we find the answers to the question of how these events occurred and why.
Kevin Lauderdale’s “The Skinhead and the Cavalier” – Gunner is a skinhead, low on cash and looking for something to steal in the sleepy little town of Collier, North Carolina. Not finding anything of worth, he finally finds an old lady and her dog. She befriends him and he finds something to steal. Will he succeed in getting what he wants?
Gunner is a detestable human being who is continually looking to take advantage of someone else for his gain. His point of view is repulsive, and the reader is not meant to like him. And the old lady, Mrs. Dilmore, she is as sweet as pie and the contrast between the two personalities is striking. But when he tries to steal something valuable, he discovers he’s in way over his head! It’s a satisfying finale with an unexpected jaw-dropper of an ending.
Jessica West’s “Fallen Angels” – It’s 1865 and a mesmerizing, dangerous woman marches into a saloon and makes demands of its finest prostitute. When the woman disappears and the prostitute is found dead, this dark adventure begins. As we learn how this woman appears in other towns over the span of many years, we also learn she leaves behind a trail of destroyed relationships, dead bodies and broken souls in her wake. Who is this woman and why does she do what she does?
This is a weird Western that uses time as a tool to tell a fascinating story over the years it depicts. Using these time periods, the author taps into humanity’s darker proclivities. She then adds a dash of the supernatural and flawed characters where you see their hidden motivations on display for all to see.
Whether it’s a saloon keeper, a sister telling the story of two harlots or a sheriff trying to find the person(s) doing these things, each of these elements combines to tell a compact but thrilling story where I continually wondered which direction the story would twist into next as I read onwards. There is also a captivating reason why the story is being told this way and it’s not for the reasons you might think.
Having read Jessica West’s stories before, I always know when I see her name on a story that I will have a visceral response to it, as well as a tale filled with darkness, surprises, and imaginative storytelling. This tale delightfully fulfills that promise and lives up to her high-quality storytelling style.
Daniel Arthur Smith’s “The Lost Tapes – Future Told” – Agents Muldoon and Meyer are investigating a claim by a self-proclaimed clairvoyant and Professor of Anthropology named Charles Rampart. When he talks about future homicides that he says he has seen, including his own, the agents discover there’s even more to the story! What do they find out and how do they respond?
This tale talks about clairvoyants, how they perceive time and how other cultures achieve this experience in unique ways. It’s a compelling story that continually made me wonder how it would unfold and how it would end. Tying in into future murders, including the professors, adds that much more spice to it, keeping me turning the pages wondering what is going on here.
The stories in “The Lost Tapes”, a periodic but ongoing feature in the Canyons anthologies, always showcase fascinating scientific ideas, sparkling storytelling, and stunning conclusions. Each installment meets all those criteria and then some so when I see a “Lost Tapes” story, I know what to expect, while still being astonished at what I find.
Steve Oden and K.H. Vaughan in this anthology are new authors to me. I’ve also read the other three authors before in the “Canyons” series. All of them tell terrific tales that enthralled me with the stories they had to tell with their different genres, styles, and ideas. Each edition of “Canyons” is a must-read and continually proves to me why it deserves that praise.
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Previous Indie Athenaeum book reviews about stories written by or published by Daniel Arthur Smith include “Klarissa Dreams Redux“, “Spectral Shift“, “Attack of the Kung Fu Mummies“, “Gazer: A Spectral Worlds Story“, “Tales from the Canyons of the Damned: No. 35, No. 34, No. 33, No. 32, No. 31, No. 30, No. 29, No. 28, No. 27, No. 26, Omnibus 9 & Omnibus 10.”