Be Careful When You Play Dangerous Games

Dangerous-Games-Jonathan-Oliver-smallDangerous Games
Johnathan Oliver, ed.
Solaris Books
Paper $9.99
electronic $7.99 Kindle Nook Kobo

Solaris has become one of the premiere publishers of original anthologies, and I would like to thank Lydia Gittins at Solaris for the review copy. Dangerous Games is a concept anthology that overall I found quite satisfying.

The premise (obviously) is that some sort of game must play a significant role in the story, and that there’s an element of risk involved.  With a theme like that, possibilities are wide open.  And while there are examples of science fiction and fantasy, the overall trend is towards horror, often with elements of other genres thrown in.

Here are some of the ones I like the most:

In “Big Man” by Chuck Wendig, a divorced father gets into a game of chicken on a rainy freeway that quickly turns into something much darker and sinister.  Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s “The Yellow Door” adds a Lovecraftian twist to Mah Jong; just stay away from the shoggoth soup.

Many of the tales in here are disturbing (not always a positive, as I’ll discuss below).  One of the most effective is Lavie Tidhar’s “Die”, in which a group of children play a game in which their very survival is at stake.  I’ve only read two novels by Paul Kearney (really need to finish that series), but he has yet to disappoint me, although his selection here gets a little preachy.  “South Mountain” involves a group of Civil War Reenactors who slip back in time to the real thing.

Melanie Tem is a fantastic writer whose work is always original.  In “Death Pool” a young man getting involved in a betting pool regarding when certain individuals will die.  He foolishly makes a side bet on the date of his demise.  “The Bone Man’s Bride”by Hilary Monahan is a deeply chilling tale of what the parents in a Depression era Southern town are willing to do to their children survive.

The most common game represented is some type of card game.  Nik Vincent has a naive young lawyer learn a card game from a serial killer on death row with deadly results in “The Strange Cards”.  And Pat Cadigan rounds out the anthology with a tale of sibling rivalry in “Lefty Plays Bridge”.

With the amount of variety in this anthology, the chances are high that not all stories would be to any individual reader’s taste (except the editor’s).  The stories by Benjanun Sriduangkaew and Yoon Ha Lee were more political commentary than story.  Personally I find this kind of thing dull, but YMMV.

The only story I actively disliked was Robert Shearman’s “The Monogamy of Wild Beasts”.  In this one, two men and a woman are on an ark with three of every kind of animal, two males and a female.  They’re killing a male animal one by one, and you can see where this is going pretty quickly.  I found the whole thing repulsive.  When you open your story by gratuitously killing a dog, you’ve lost me as a reader, and probably not for just that story.

With a few exceptions, Dangerous Games is a solid anthology, especially if you like horror and suspense.

5 thoughts on “Be Careful When You Play Dangerous Games

  1. Paul McNamee

    Too bad about the Shearman story. He did some great Dalek tales for the Doctor Who universe. I’ve been curious about his horror tales but I guess I’ll stay away from this one, at least.

    1. Keith West Post author

      I hadn’t heard of Shearman before reading this. I might be willing to give him another try on your recommendation, but this story hit all the wrong buttons with me.

      1. Rob Shearman

        Sorry about that, Keith – but genuine thanks for being honest about the story and expressing your problems with it. It’s rare to get responses for individual pieces within anthologies, and they’re always valuable – even if they’re critical! Glad you enjoyed the rest of the book, though. 🙂

        1. Keith West Post author

          Rob, thanks for commenting. I appreciate your taking the time to respond. A number of the stories in the book were disturbing in one way or another, which is what the contents of a horror anthology should do. Of course not everyone reacts to things the same way. Paul speaks highly of you, and you’re definitely an effective writer. I’m going to give some of your other work a try at some point.


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