Borderlands 6 edited by Olivia F. Monteleone and Thomas F. Monteleone
Borderlands Press (June 2016)
258 pages; $50.00 limited edition hardcover; $15.99 paperback; $5.99 e-book
Reviewed by Josh Black
It’s been 26 years since Tom Monteleone brought us the inaugural volume of Borderlands. That volume and subsequent ones have been filled with stories that veer off the beaten path of genre tropes, journeying instead into the uncanny, the inexplicable, the unexpected. There’s a twelve year gap between this sixth volume and the fifth, but in this case the adage proves true: Good things come to those who wait.
Take equal parts familial horror and monster movie goodness and you’ve got the bones of John McIlveen’s “Eye of the Beholder.” The advance of the tentacled abomination terrorizing a father and son in their home is described in deliciously lurid detail.
The tone of Dan Waters’ “Sinkers” shifts from mordant humor to pitch black horror as a pair of drunken lowlifes careen off a cliff and descend, literally, into depths of fear they’d never imagined. It’s a sad speculation on what might happen when an earnest desire for redemption comes far too late.
The death of a child and its echo through the passage of time haunt the pages of Michael Bailey’s “Time Is a Face on the Water.” Ostensibly it’s about the grief and heartache that follow the parents through the decades after their daughter’s passing. The language and structure give it a mythic air as it quietly delves into the illusive nature of memory and the cyclical nature of life.
In Steve Rasnic Tem’s “Red Rabbit,” a man struggles with taking care of his partner who’s afflicted with an unspecified illness that affects her memory and view of reality. Or maybe it’s about something else entirely. The horror here is in the unknown. The story being set on the couple’s property, the “outside world” relegated to the occasional sound of traffic from the highway beyond a treeline, enhances the sense of isolation.
When his artist wife is afflicted with postpartum psychosis, the devout minister in David Annandale’s pulse-pounding “Lockjaw” struggles with his weakening faith in her. The series of paintings she’s been working on are increasingly disturbing, and her insistence on one thing in particular makes her illness perhaps more serious than he’d considered. It’s a highly tense and effective tale.
The horror of Sean M. Davis’ “In God’s Own Image” stems from ostracism and the dissolution of identity in the face of societal pressure. The story could have worked well enough in a familiar setting. Davis wisely adds to the disconcerting effect by setting it in a world where the “normalized” are literally faceless, instantaneous thought transference is commonplace, and skin-to-skin contact can lead to assimilation.
David Morrell’s “The Architecture of Snow” is the emotionally gripping story of a reclusive author whose highly successful first novel coincided with a personal tragedy. He’s hidden himself away from the public eye over the years, amidst some massive changes in the publishing industry, but when opportunity knocks he opens his door for the right person. A dash of fantasy enhances the nostalgic tone of the story, closing the collection on a high, albeit melancholy, note.
Not all stories will appeal to all readers, as can be expected from any anthology. Some of the more ambiguous ones may prove frustrating to some, just as the ones with more straightforward plots may prove disappointing to others. That said, what you’ll get here are 22 stories that cast a wide net as far as genre and subject go, and the best of them alone make Borderlands 6 an anthology well worth the purchase. If you’re a collector, you can also purchase the signed, limited edition hardcover from Borderlands Press. Recommended.