World’s Collider: A Shared-World Anthology edited by Richard Salter (book review).

Richard Salter, the editor of ‘World’s Collider’, makes a bold claim for it in his introduction, stating, ‘This book is unique.’ He goes on to explain that this uniqueness comes from it being an anthology of Science Fiction/horror short stories set in a shared world but where the various stories link together sufficiently closely to form a genuine novel. Is he right to make this claim?

The book includes eighteen stories or twenty-one if you count the four parts of ‘Keep Calm And Carry On’ by David N. Smith and Violet Addison, which are dotted throughout the rest of the pieces as separate stories. These have been penned by twenty authors. So this is a pretty massive undertaking and I can only tip my hat in Richard Salter’s direction. I imagine that editing this project into a coherent novelistic narrative must have taken quite some effort. Not because these guys can’t write. They can. However, there are a lot of different characters and sub-plots going on here and it would have been easy for the unifying thread to get lost. The fact that it doesn’t is a testament to all concerned.

The main plot which provides that unifying thread runs roughly as follows. It is 2015. An experiment at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva goes catastrophically wrong, blowing up the entire facility and taking much of France and Italy with it. The explosion opens a dimensional rift, linking our universe to a parallel one full of horrors. As the alien creatures flood through the rift to feed upon the easy prey at our end, civilisation in mainland Europe quickly collapses. While most of the survivors focus on staying alive, a few brave souls try to understand what the rift is, in the hope of being able to work out how to close it again before it swallows humanity whole. Will they succeed?

There are too many stories to talk about them all, so I’ll restrict myself here to a discussion of the three I liked most and the two I didn’t enjoy.

In ‘Displacement’ by Aaron Rosenberg, we are introduced to Joseph Tern, a serial killer who crosses over from the parallel universe to our one when the cops get too close in his world. Rosenberg writes Tern as a truly shocking sociopath and the way he casually murders ‘our’ version of him during dinner, having decided that he’s a wimp, will stay with me for a long time.

Simon Kurt Unsworth’s ‘The Coming Scream’ is the second outing for main character Scott Fletcher, a man who was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour that turns out to be a mini-version of the rift. He has been put into a lunatic asylum due to some of the visions he has had. When everyone else in the asylum starts to hear a scream from the rift, a scream so awful that it slowly drives them either insane or suicidal, Scott’s mini-rift protects him from the sound. As a result the army rescue him from the asylum once everyone else is dead, then send him towards the rift, hoping he’ll be able to get close enough to help them neutralise it. Unsworth does a great job of showing us the visceral horror as one after another inmate in the asylum self-mutilates in an attempt to get the rift scream out of their head. Yet this is counterpointed by Scott’s ordinariness, which makes him such an attractive everyman hero.

‘Collisions’ by Dave Hoskin is Joseph Tern’s second outing in the story. When he feels his body get taken over by a hostile intruder, it looks like Tern’s life of casual murders may be at an end as the alien presence forces him to kill a stranger a few metres away from a police detective and then does everything it can to get him caught. Tern’s battle to regain control of his body and avoid arrest is written with great attention to detail and the story twists that follow are both unexpected and thought-provoking.

On the negative side, the third part of Smith and Addison’s ‘Keep Calm And Carry On’ does not match up to the high quality of the other three parts. In this part of the story, all four parts of which are told in the form of blog posts between Jess, an American nurse working at Hammersmith Hospital, and her friends as she is trying to get out of London to escape an airborne pollutant that causes vicious mood swings in the victims. The story itself is fine but what completely lets it down are the numerous errors in the timeline of the blog posts. When days and dates are repeatedly wrong and then someone is shown replying to a post before it has even been written, it is difficult to continue to suspend your disbelief.

The other story that I didn’t enjoy was ‘Lead Us Not’ by Megan N. Moore. In it, a rat exterminator called Cal is unlucky enough to fall in love with the daughter of an old-style preacher who sees the rift as an early warning of the Second Coming. When Cal is stupid enough to express his doubts about his father-in-law’s views, he is tortured and exiled. Then some seemingly benign ‘angels’ arrive and while they are mollycoddling everyone, Cal is wondering why no-one else wonders what’s going on. My problem with this story was that it started well and ended well but the middle of the story made very little sense and was hard to believe, making it an effort to force yourself to read right to the end.

There is a lot to like about this book. The underlying premise of the LHC creating a tear in the fabric of the universe is deeply intriguing, no matter how physically unlikely. The range of situations explored by the authors is broad, creating a multi-dimensional narrative. In addition, the two main characters who appear in several of the stories are both fascinating in very different ways. Scott Fletcher deals with his brain tumour and its extraordinary effects in a remarkably sanguine way, ultimately putting the survival of the species far above his own fate. In complete contrast, Joseph Tern is one of the most unpleasant sociopaths I have ever come across in a book and I applaud the different authors for managing to write him consistently as such a brutal, cold-hearted and remorseless character. Finally, the cover image is a spectacular painting by Lukas Thelin which brilliantly sets the scene for the horrors within.

Apart from the couple of stories that didn’t really work for me, my only other disappointment was that the book, taken as a whole, did not quite gel together as a single coherent novel in the way the editor intended. Most of the stories did exactly that, but there were a couple that didn’t seem to fit the overarching storyline. For example, ‘The Rise And Fall Of The House of Ricky’ by Kelly Hale is a brilliant short story about a fashion designer who uses the skin of certain rift creatures as his cloth, with extraordinary and eventually fatal results. It’s a great story, but it sits in a world where fashion is still important and celebrities still exist. It didn’t therefore seem to me to fit into the story world occupied by the rest of ‘World’s Collider’, where humanity is trying very hard to avoid going to hell in a handcart. This is not to say that the book is nothing more than a short story anthology. It is. I would say that nine-tenths of it fits together well as a novel. The other one tenth, however, doesn’t.

Nonetheless I would warmly recommend ‘World’s Collider’. It is an enjoyable book which starts from a great premise, puts strong characters into awful situations and ties almost all the stories together in a satisfying novelistic way. The authors, editor and publisher have produced something original and unique and I applaud them for that.

Patrick Mahon

(pub: Nightscape Press. 470 page paperback. Price: £10.31 (UK), $15.99 (US). ISBN 978-1-938644-02-3)
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