Jared Shurin & Anne C. Perry (eds) – A Town Called Pandemonium

pandemonium-atowncalledpandemoniumBoomtown-gone-bust Pandemonium sits four days’ ride from the Texas border, just south of Deseret and on the edge of the Anasazi lands. Under the rule of cattle baron Representation Calhoun, Pandemonium is a rough and tumble place – a town with its fair share of secrets…

A Town Called Pandemonium is the fourth anthology edited by Jared Shurin and Anne C. Perry and this one is a little different from the themed anthologies they released before. A Town Called Pandemonium is a shared world anthology, which means that all the stories share the same setting (Pandemonium) and some of the characters. I found that I really enjoy this kind of set-up as it allows the reader both the pleasure of getting to know a specific setting and to discover a diversity of writers, writing styles and sub-genres. A Town Called Pandemonium is filled with speculative fiction stories, but some of them are more firmly set in the fantastic than the others and several of them are nothing less than horror stories (Will Hill, I’m looking at you!).  

Pandemonium is a played-out mining town which is slowly falling to pieces now that the silver has dried up. Its faded glory makes for a fascinating and colourful background to the stories the reader is presented in this anthology. There are several characters that pop-up throughout the stories and who give the stories a sense of continuity, such as the local cattle boss Representation Calhoun, his foreman Praisegood Scroggins, the town madam Washington Jones, and Sheriff Payne. And of course there is the Silver Dollar, the local saloon, where the people congregate. There is a fascinating interweaving of stories, themes and characters and it must have taken some intricate editorial tap-dancing to keep all of the continuity straight.

While I enjoyed all of the stories there were a few that stood out to me. The anthology starts out with The Sad Tale of the Deakins Boys by Will Hill and it sets the tone for the entire collection of stories. A mixture of dusty Western adventure, showing the harsh life of those on the Frontier, and dark horror, the story literally kept me awake after bedtime, as every time I closed my eyes to go to sleep those worms showed up. The next story in the book, Sam Sykes’ Wish for a Gun, had as much of an impact though this time not due to the horror elements, but due to the genuine emotions the protagonist experiences as he suffers through the throes of grief. I always tend to forget how well Sykes is able to evoke emotion between reading his stories, but Wish for a Gun reminded me of it forcefully.

Joseph D’Lacey’s The Gathering of Sheaves was fascinating and its themes reminded me a lot of some those in his novel Black Feathers, which was published earlier this year. They share the bleak future painted by the visionaries and while the causes of the collapse were quite different, they shared the same sensibility. This being my second taste of D’Lacey’s work, it seems that he truly has a distinctive voice. I enjoyed the character of Nicholson, who purports to behave as a gentleman at all times, but in truth is rather priggish and rude. D’Lacey gives the story a huge twist somewhere a little past the middle of the story, one which I really hadn’t seen coming. And the ending of the story was both genius and depressing.

Two stories I enjoyed a lot and two stories that shared a common theme were Raise the Beam High by Jonathan Oliver and Belle Deeds by Chrysanthy Balis. They both reflect on the power of stories and the importance of the human spirit, though they approach them from quite different angles. Both stories are tragic, though in Belle’s case there is also somewhat of a feeling of just deserts, though it is also seemingly a warning to heed our instincts and not gain by deceit that which should be freely given. For me Oliver’s story is the more tragic of the two, as its protagonist, Chauncy Montclair, so desperately needs saving, from his pain, his memories, and his circumstances. The stories he collects bear witness to the harsh realities of a frontier town and even given its supernatural twist is more a study of the human need for repentance and redemption than anything else. Its ambiguous ending lets the reader interpret Chauncy’s fate for themselves, but whatever it is; it doesn’t seem to be a happy one.

The ten stories that make up A Town Called Pandemonium conjure up visions of a dusty, declining frontier town, inhabited by cowboys, ranchers, miners and those who see to their needs. An impression beautifully strengthened by Adam Hill’s almost vector-like illustrations characterized by a quite angular style. I really enjoyed this anthology and it’s a great addition to the Pandemonium line. The town of Pandemonium is a really cool setting and Jurassic London recently announced they’ll be publishing The Streets of Pandemonium, a sequel set seventy years later, in the autumn of 2014. I’m looking forward to booking my ticket to roll into town again.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.


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