I enjoy reading short stories almost as much as I dislike reviewing short story anthologies. It is just so hard to quantify an anthology since the stories can vary so widely in content and quality. Still, a good short story anthology is a treat and so I start every new one with the hope that I will be pleasantly surprised by just how good the stories are. I started “Truth or Dare” edited by Max Booth III hoping that the promise of authors that I know mixed with some names I did not recognize would provide an enjoyable mix of stories to savor.
“Truth or Dare” is a little different than many anthologies in that it is not only a themed anthology centered around the campfire game of the same name but that the stories also share the same universe and, at times, even the same characters. This serves to connect the stories in a way that few anthologies try to achieve. This framework, however, is not very restrictive and there are not many strong ties between the stories and each works as an individual story and not just as a part of a greater whole. The theme is applied loosely at times, as well, giving the writers the freedom to express themselves in their own voice rather than trying to force the story into the theme. I thought this was a strong aspect of the anthology as it provided some framework for the stories but was not overly restrictive as some themed anthologies can become.
A couple of my favorite genre writers bring some very strong stories to the collection as I had expected when I saw their names in the table of contents. William Meikle gives us “The Pole.” This story, which finds its horror in the ghost of Nazi soldiers, is interesting in that it is told in first person almost as if it is being told around the campfire. As expected from Meikle, the story is sufficiently shocking and scary to satisfy his fans. The other favorite of mine that shines in the anthology is “Change” by Peter and Shannon Giglio. This story is more haunting than scary and has a deeply human take on a horror story. Like the other works I have read from the writers, this is the type of story that can haunt your mind just as much as it haunts the pages of the book.
There were a handful of other stories that stood out from the crowd from authors that I am less familiar with. One of these was “Mantid” by Kenneth W. Cain which is a fairly straightforward monster story and I like monster stories. “Laal Andhi” by Usman T. Malik is a bit of a departure from the rest of the anthology both in setting and theme as it is a more introspective story than most of the others and is also set far away from the other stories in the anthology. It is also unique to the book in that the true horror in the story lies in the real-life horror that arises from terrorism. The final story in the anthology by Joe McKinney, whose title I will not put here as it contains a profanity, was probably my favorite story in the anthology. While it is has a setup that I was a bit leery of at first since it is a fairly standard horror setup, McKinney turns the story into a very entertaining and frightening story as it progresses. It was a great read and a great way to end the anthology.
All in all, “Truth or Dare” is strong anthology in which none of the stories was a disappointment. While some of them did not rise above the level of average, they are all worth reading and some of them were very good indeed. Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing and Max Booth III did a good job of coming up with a strong lineup of writers and stories for the anthology and fans of the genre and of short fiction are sure to find several treats in this book. “Truth or Dare” is a very good anthology and one which I am sure I will revisit in the future.
I would like to thank Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing and NetGalley for this review copy. “Truth or Dare” is available now.