Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Demons through Different Eyes

When a year ago I was reading that a local author and friend of mine, Paul Genesse, was starting a shared world writing project, I was intrigued. His idea was simple: a secret alliance of humans is fighting demons, and has been, for all of human history. The alliance has gone by various names, depending on the language of the time, but in English they are mostly known as the Crimson Pact. Paul wrote a starter story to get participants off on a common footing, and invited flash fiction (short short stories of less than 1,000 words) contributions of all genres. The best contributors were invited to perhaps expand their short short to short story length. The result was compiled into an anthology that was published about six months ago, Crimson Pact volume one. Since then hundreds of thousands of additional words have been submitted to Paul, and he's now published Crimson Pact volume two, with the help of digital publisher Steven Saus (Alliteration Ink).

How do these stories hold up? There are contributors who are established authors in their own right, like Larry Correia, but most of the authors are relative unknowns: this kind of an anthology could not possibly have been published by a mainstream publisher, and yet Paul manages to present over two dozen stories that are almost without exception up to the highest standards of stories found in professional magazines like Isaac Asimov's or Analog.

The very first story "Body or Soul" by Chanté McCoy captured my attention. The setting was medieval, the characters archetypal but real. In this format there's not much room for wasted words, but she put the place before my eyes and allowed me to meet what might be real people, dealing with real problems.

"Cats, Caves, and Dynamite" by T. S. Rhodes was something completely different. Using a serious tone, but describing events bordering on the hilarious, Rhodes describes what happens when a hillbilly Vietnam vet with plenty of dynamite meets up with a demon.

"Last Rites in the Big Green Empty" by Lon Prater is about knowing right from wrong, set in the Vietnam War, or a reasonable facsimile. Prater keeps you guessing to the end about who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. When your actions are dominated by a desire for revenge and by hate and fear, how can you decide?

Patrick M. Tracy's "Red Bandanna Boys" tells of a horrifying future, a world torn by war, with unkillable demons egging us on. Lucky for us there are angels, too, though we might not recognize them as they help us with our challenges.

And about two dozen more, for a total of twenty-six stories, plus bonus material consisting of authors' notes explaining the genesis of their stories. This collection is well worth your time.