As someone who cut his literary teeth on Poe, The Pan Book of Horror Stories and Weird Tales magazine, the phrase “dark fiction” seems tame. Once you’ve read about rats gnawing their way through a man’s back to reach the spiced meat in the bowl tied to his stomach (“The Copper Bowl” by George Fielding Eliot in the Pan Book), there’s no going back. Not that Unburied, the most recent anthology from Dark Ink, is less than, but it didn’t connect with me as often as I would have liked it to. That said, it contains some fine stories well worth your time, and you may find its batting average higher than I did.
Unburied has a good mix of new and established authors, and both have some interesting entries. Queer stalwart Felice Picano does an excellent job with the mirror trope in “Flawed,” the story of a man who finds paradise in the looking glass. I also enjoyed Sarah Lyn Eaton’s “When the Dust Settles,” an interesting SF/horror story about an asteroid miner’s accident and the replacement limb she receives as a result. Laramie Dean also turns in a twisted tale, “The Other Boy” about a father, his son, and a strange boy who leaves his mark on both of them.
For my money, however, the hands down winner of the bunch is Daniel M. Jaffe’s “The Procedure.” It’s also the first Covid pandemic story I’ve read since this whole thing started last March, and takes place in the near future after the virus has mutated several times. Each mutation has decimated a specific population—men, women, Anglos, Latinos. They’re now dealing with Covid-35, which seems to be targeting gay men. Enter Harry, the only gay man to have survived the mutation. What follows is both Orwellian and surreal as Jaffe leads us to a twisty ending that makes perfect sense but will have you cringing.
Indeed, there are a few medical science fiction stories here. J. Askew’s “Cut Off Your Nose To Spite Your Race” is another, this one taking place on a Martian breeding colony where women are required to have three children. Once that number is reached, they’re free to lead their lives. If they are unable to bear children, they get sold into slavery. But the real outlier is “1,000 Tiny Cuts” by Veronica Zora Kirin, and its difference is that it’s neither horror nor science fiction. Rather, it’s a simple story of domestic abuse, but its simplicity is its strength. Kirin does a terrific job of building up the tension, and the climax is very satisfying.
Unburied has some excellent reading for you, and again, if dark fiction is your thing, you might find a wealth of goods here. As it is, several stories deserve your attention.
© 2021 Jerry L. Wheeler