Friday, January 25, 2013

Dark Faith: Invocations, a Review




A few weeks ago I received a copy of Apex Publications newest anthology, Dark Faith: Invocations.  This book, edited by Maurice Broaddus and Jerry Gordon, is a follow-up to the highly acclaimed DARK FAITH, a book that was nominated for multiple awards within in the genre.  Invocations sets out to “explore the concept of faith in a fantastical setting” through various religious and spiritual viewpoints.  

As the title suggests, most of these viewpoints will stem from the darker side of faith.  I imagined the stories to be heavy, but I had no idea how heavy they would be until I started reading.  It’s like watching the most recent version of Battlestar Galactica, in that each episode (story) is so dramatic and heavy that I can only handle one or two at a time.  And that’s how I read this anthology, taking a story in with my lunch each day. 

My immediate reactions are recorded below for each story.  I’ve remained spoiler-free.  Boldfaced stories are the ones that I can most recommend.  The star ranking follows the GoodReads 5-point scale.

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Subletting God’s Head (Tom Piccirilli) – Did not really like at all.  A jaded and cynical guy rents an apartment that’s located inside God’s head.  Not a great way to start the collection, though it definitely sets the tone for what’s to come.  *

The Cancer Catechism (Jay Lake) – Depressing, but well written and thought-provoking.  I imagine the author is intimately aware of a life stricken with this terrible disease.  Still, very bleak and mostly without a clear conflict (excepting the obvious).  **

The Big Blue Peacock (Nick Mamatas) – I’m not sure I know exactly what happened in this story.  **

Kill the Buddha (Elizabeth Twist) – The first piece that I’ve really liked so far.  This hooked me from the get-go and didn’t let up until the end.  Delightful to read and a unique idea.  The world is infected and attacked, at least according to some.  *****

Robotnik (Lavie Tidhar) – Another delightful and thought-provoking story.  I’d like to see this short turned into a novella or something longer.  The world created by Tidhar leaves me very curious about everything in it.  The melancholic tone was perfectly fitting, too.  Great work.  ***** 

Prometheus Possessed (Matt Cardin) – Eh… That would be my immediate reaction.  What?  That would be my follow-up.  This one reminded me of a cyberpunkish noir story, but told in a format that was very off-putting, kind of a second-person omniscient voice.  Sort of.  Some great imagery, but the overall impact of the story left me scratching my head.  ** 

Night Train (Alma Alexander) – Some nice prose and interesting themes, but this didn’t speak too much to me.  A woman is losing her religion on a train… or finding it.  ***

The Sandfather (Richard Wright) – Oh.  Nice.  Absolutely tragic, but a wonderful little tale.  This is a bleak story that is all too realistic.  The absence of a father leads to an interesting life for a boy.  *****
Sacrifice (Jennifer Pelland) – Wow.  This was a short and entertaining little piece that fans of a What if… scenario should love.  ****

Thou Art God (Tim Waggoner) – Hmm.  A second person POV is always fickle, but Waggoner did a pretty good job with this.  It kept me engaged, though I felt the tale contrived and familiar. ***

Wishflowers (Tim Pratt) – An engrossing little story with a rich world and an interesting premise.  There is a dandelion-like flower that actually grants wishes when blown.  What happens to that kind of world?  This story is the kind of thing I look for in an anthology.  *****

Coin Drop (Richard Dansky) – Now that was rather original.  The office vending machine is not exactly what it seems.  This was a pretty clever piece, with some familiar tropes but a unique perspective.  Fun to read.  ****

Starter Kit (R.J. Sullivan) – Another fun little story that provided some thoughts on a common cliché pertaining to Creation.  I liked this piece.  **** 

A Little Faith (Max Allan Collins & Matthew Clemens) – Not really sure why this story is in this collection.  The subject matter seems fitting, but the overall feeling doesn’t jive well.  A well-written piece that was basically a romp through a waterboarding experience. ***

The Revealed Truth (Mike Resnick) – Started off promising but quickly devolved into something less than I had hoped.  Quasi-amusing but ultimately unsatisfying.  ** 

God’s Dig (Kelly Eiro) – Oh.  Wow.  That’s a speculative piece, and in few words, too!  This one left me pondering.  A boy hears from God that there’s a present for him buried in the back yard.  ***** 

Divinity Boutique (Brian J. Hatcher) – Hmm.  Reminds me of a Lovecraft bit, honestly, but a little more interesting.  A man is at a curiosity shop in the market for a new, personal god. ***

The Birth of Pegasus (K. Tempest Bradford) – Not entirely sure what just happened here.  Certainly readable, but the impact was lost on me.  ***

All This Pure Light Leaking In (LaShawn M. Wanak) – A beautiful little poem filled with a few biblical errors (or false perceptions of clear biblical facts), we have a story of a few friends deciding to summon an angel.  ****

Fin de Siecle (Gemma Files) – I couldn’t finish this piece.  I read a few pages and had no idea what in the world was going on.  Something about an artist and an angel and not sure.

The Angel Seems (Jeffrey Ford) – Hands down the best story in the collection.  Reads just like an Old English fairy tale with a proclivity toward the macabre.  An angel offers a village its protection in exchange for a small price.  This was very speculative and I enjoyed it very much.  Makes me want to as Mr. Ford how he came up with the tale.  Wow.   ***** 

Magdala Amygdala (Lucy A. Snyder) – Not your typical zombie/vampire SFF story.  In a post-plague world nearly all of humanity is infected with a peculiar disease that progresses through four stages of severity.  Most of the populous is fine, but a select few aren’t so lucky… or maybe they’re the lucky ones.  A fun, if not disgusting, short.  ***

A Strange Form of Life (Laird Barron) – Has a noir feel to it.  Very dark and quite vulgar.  Also quite trippy.  The formatting was a bit confusing on the Kindle, but not too hard to get.  A story about a guard and a lover at a prison with a very dark history.  ***

In Blood and Song (Nisi Shawl & Michael Ehart) – An Arabic infused short story about a fighting ring and the sorcery that goes on around it.  Somewhat confusing at first, but quickly attainable, and then again dropping into confusion for the ending.  There was action aplenty, though.  ***

Little Lies, Dear Leader (Kyle S. Johnson) – This is a fictional story set in a non-fictional place with a non-fictional message about problems in the world.  Quite engrossing, yes, but also terrible and ruthless.  The tragedy is the non-fiction in the fiction.  The concluding paragraphs were jarring and somewhat awkward, but nevertheless appropriate.  This piece seems out of place with this anthology in terms of genre.  **** 

I Inhale the City, the City Exhales Me (Douglas F. Warrick) – This is for the manga lover, Japanese culture lover, video game lover.  The story is both meta and not.  An American man is being chased by a cowboy, while the city of Osaka is quickly changing into something else.  This was a weird piece and kind of misses the “faith” side of the anthology’s purpose. Readable and confusing, but fun.  ***

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So of the twenty-six stories, there were some real treats.  I can’t decide if Jeffrey Ford’s “The Angel Seems” or Kelly Eiro’s “God’s Digs” is my favorite.  Both were really great to read and wonderful in their own way.  I almost felt like “Wishflowers” would fit nicely into the Dark Tower universe.  Elizabeth Twist’s “Kill the Buddha” had a great premise, one that would play out nicely on the big screen.

Dark Faith: Invocations is an interesting anthology.  It’s certainly not for the casual reader or the reader desiring lollipops and roses.  The stories pack a punch.  There are some forgettable works, yes, and some confusing pieces, too, but I’m sure they would resonate with a different reader.  All in all, I can recommend this to a Reader who knows what they’re after.  Weird, dark, and twisted, Dark Faith: Invocations is a crazy little read.


FTC Thingy: I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for a review.  No monies or other goods were exchanged.  No illegal cookie trading going on here.  Move along.  Move along.

5 comments:

Carl V. said...

That is a huge collection! Wow!

I read Apex for awhile and eventually got away from it because it was much often darker than what I enjoy in my fiction. I like the occasional dark story, but it would take me forever to finish a collection of this size because I wouldn't want to read them often.

Lot of authors there whose work I have enjoyed, however.

logankstewart said...

Yeah, much agreed there, Carl. The dark fiction stuff definitely requires a certain mood in order for me to appreciate. Still, definitely some fun ideas here.

LaShawn Wanak said...

I'm glad you liked my story poem. I did indeed put distort the biblical facts deliberately...that will be explained more when Apex puts up my devotional in a couple of weeks on their website.

And uhh...my last name is Wanak. It's that extra 'a' that makes all the difference.

Richard Wright said...

Hi Logan - just a quick note to let you know that I'm (obviously!) delighted you liked The Sandfather, and the book as a whole - thank you for taking the time to write it up.

logankstewart said...

@LaShawn Wanak: Hmm, interesting. Thanks for the insight. And I've got the name changed. Sorry about that. That extra 'a' does indeed make all the difference.

@Richard Wright: No problem, sir. Several great stories here made it rather enjoyable. Thanks for stopping by.