"Lost Signals" Book Review
Written by Shane D. Keene
Published by Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing
Edited by Max Booth III and Lori Michelle
2016, 378 Pages, Fiction
Released on July 30th, 2016
When it comes to short fiction, themed anthologies are fairly common in horror. Nearly all of Grey Matter Press' anthologies are that way, as are those of legendary editor Ellen Datlow. But those are shining examples in a field of largely uninspired entries, and it's often difficult to find unique, high quality books with subject matter that hasn't been handled or mishandled a million times. There are two elements that have to come together perfectly to take such a volume from the mediocre to the extraordinary, and it's a rare and delightful experience when they do. Those elements, in order of priority, are a strong, original motif and an exceptional response on the part of the authors. Lost Signals, from Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing (PMMP), meets those criteria in spades.
When editors Lori Michelle and Max Booth III put out the call for Lost Signals, they were looking for "...horror fiction about radiotelegraphy. We want to be disturbed. Stories should somehow involve radios, radio stations, radars, cell phones, military broadcasts, distress signals, walkie talkies, podcasts, or anything similar." So, right out of the starting gate, we have that first element covered. They have a unique and intriguing theme that is of interest to the authors involved in the project, and entertaining for readers of the finished product. In addition, it's a concept that's open to many different interpretations, affording the authors the freedom to think and create outside the box, in some cases, such as David James Keaton's "Sharks With Thumbs," way outside the box.
Lost Signals gathers together twenty-four authors as diverse and unique as the content presented here, each one responding to the theme with superbly creative vision and style. The stories are often heavily experimental as in the aforementioned David James Keaton work, "Sharks With Thumbs," a tale told in darkly humorous vignettes that seem at first to be disjointed, but eventually come together as a coherent-and brilliant-whole. Experimentation was one of the things Booth and Michelle expressed interest in when they made the original call, and Keaton wasn't the only author to take that to heart. The third story in the book, Joseph Bouthiette Jr's "From: Item L5161ORDE, 'The Dangsturm Interruption'" is the first piece to make you really realize what a different sort of reading experience you've entered into as it's told in a series of surreal snippets or events:
/SAMPLE: Audio L5161ORDE-04. 00:10:47.
[...] but he never spoke of the pulsars, not directly. He'd rather postulate on the existence of the jackalope, or question why restaurants didn't bake an entire meatloaf each time a customer ordered a meatloaf dinner entree. He watched football, and only ever cheered for his one team, never giving any other a second thought. He raised an eye to conversations of gay men, but never missed a chance to jump into one on lipstick lesbians. But the pulsars weighed on everything he did, everything he said. They were his tic.
Lost Signals brings together a cornucopia of the strange and horrific, ranging from the weird cosmic horrors of T.E. Grau's "Transmission," to the slow creeping horror of "The Givens Sensor," Josh Malerman's tale of how a young cemetery caretaker deals with a macabre situation involving the recently dead. In addition, there's "The Desert of Wounded Frequencies" by Betty Rocksteady. It's the story of a man racing across a desert in a car with a seemingly haunted radio. While it's a very short little story, it has a huge emotional impact and isn't something you'll forget anytime soon, nor are you likely to forget Matthew M. Bartlett's "Where Night Cowers," a strange piece that reads like a cross between a dark fairy tale and a work of cosmic horror.
While it's true that this anthology brings together a whole collection of shining stars with not a bad story in the book, there are a few major standouts to mention here, including Gabino Iglesias' entry, "The Last Scream," a gut-punch of a horrorfest in which a group of students give an audio presentation to their college class. With blood and terror aplenty, it's a brilliantly imagined premise that could only come from the mind of Iglesias. Then you have Damien Angelica Walters' utterly human "Little Girl Blue, Come Cry Your Way Home," a tale of a young couple dealing with a newborn infant that cries almost incessantly and a baby monitor with chilling properties. Walters has a way of terrifying her readers while simultaneously tugging on the heartstrings and that ability is well showcased here. And finally, you have John Foster's "Armageddon Baby," the story of a private eye on a terrifying quest to a radio station at the top of the world. It's the kind of mashup of horror, noir, and thriller that has become John Foster's stock in trade. It's also one of the creepiest stories in the book and, like most of Foster's short work, it would segue quite comfortably into a full length novel.
It's difficult to stop talking about the high points of Lost Signals because, in truth, every single story in the book is a high point and everyone's favorites will differ. There is so much to love about this anthology and nothing to dislike, with a selection of outstanding original fiction by some of the best authors in the business and a brilliantly creative experimental finale by James Newman, a story whose placement in the print version of the book is also somewhat experimental and creative on the part of the editors. It's been a banner year for short fiction, with extraordinary single author collections and anthologies popping up all over the place, and Lost Signals is a phenomenal addition to the field. Max Booth III and Lori Michelle both have a keen eye for great fiction and it's readily evident in this sublime gathering of talent and creativity that will have you thinking twice the next time you reach for the TV remote or the dial on the radio.