Utter Fabrication: Historical Accounts of Unusual Buildings and Structures is a collection of twenty-two light horror short stories published by Mad Scientist Journal. The stories run from flash to the upper end of short stories at 8000 words. Of the twenty-two authors twelve self-identify as women.
Overall the stories are competently written – with one exception – demonstrating passable to great craft. Gwendolyn Kiste’s story A Pocket Guide for Mistress Horne’s Home for Weary Travelers has some wonderful lines such as, “[D]uring a storm as gray and hopeless as heartbreak…” and Ian Smith’s Heart of the City has great mood and wonderful scene-setting. The problem with this piece is that the author doesn’t really have a story. It’s all world-building with no actual plot. For me, it reads unfinished. If you don’t mind your horror being atmosphere only, then the story will work because of its craft.
But for me, I like my light horror to have a purpose and not be simply a mood piece. A couple of the stories do this really well and lift simple creepy to an examination of life. They are Alanna McFall’s Can’t Be Locked Down, M. Lopes da Silva’s Thump House, and Lyndsie Manusos’ Caution. The first deals with a woman who hates to be tied down and a ghostly bike rack. The second looks at psychological pain and how it can physically manifest in our world. This story has one of the most satisfying last lines in the collection. Finally, the third examines our world where people are tasked to eliminate wonder, which says a lot about our culture without the soapbox.
Speaking of soapboxes, there are a few stories that have an excellent theme/message but stray past the line and fall into harping like Carolyn A. Drake’s The More Things Change. This is a case of less is more. But it is still worth reading.
Timothy Nakayama’s Remnants could have used a bit more polishing (he doesn’t trust his readers enough and explains to us what he just showed us) but the story is interesting, the creepiness right on, and the message not overstated.
The Michael M. Jones story, the poorly titled The High Cost Of Answers, is part of series. It is well written with interesting characters but the explanation paragraphs to situate it in the series feel like a commercial. Ignoring that, the story works. Ali Abbas’s story The Girl Who Gives Me Sunsets is also well written with a satisfying ending despite a few overreactions of the main character and a pacing that wavers.
Some authors ran with the collection’s constraint of first person but some failed. Two stories have narrators who die. During the story, they never had time to write the journal that is purportedly found. They could have done better. If it bothers you, don’t read the biographies of the main characters at the end of each piece or it will destroy your suspension of disbelief.
Christine Lucas’ Stand Not Between A Cat And His Prey is well written, has a wonderful mood, and a tasty battle scene. (Read the story and you’ll get the pun.)
Upshot: if you like light horror, this is a buy. If you are on the fence, it might still be worth the purchase to find some new authors with great potential. And if you hate light horror, why are you still reading this review?
Dr. Kathy Kitts, a recently retired geology professor, served as a science team member on the NASA Genesis Discovery Mission. Before that, she directed a planetarium for nine years. She has dozens of non-fiction publications spanning professional papers to textbooks to general interest articles. However, she no longer writes about “what is” but rather “what if.” Her speculative short fiction has appeared in James Gunn’s Ad Astra, Mad Scientist Journal and The Storyteller’s Anthology. Her latest short story collection Getting What You Need is now available on Amazon. Born and raised in the southwest, she is currently living in the high desert of New Mexico.