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Close Encounters of the Urban Kind, edited by Jennifer Brozek Book Review | SFReader.com
Close Encounters of the Urban Kind, edited by Jennifer Brozek Genre: Mixed Genre Anthology Publisher: Apex Published: 2010 Review Posted: 6/23/2013 Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: Not Rated
Close Encounters of the Urban Kind, edited by Jennifer Brozek
Book Review by Joshua Palmatier
Have you read this book?
The theme of this anthology is to use an urban legend-either something
well-known, something made up, or something local to a particular
region-and give it an alien twist or alien explanation. In other words,
involve aliens in some way. I was invited to participate in the
anthology and had fun writing my own version of that theme. Here are my
thoughts on the rest of the stories in the anthology.
Lollo by Martin Livings: This is a take on the "babysitter with
someone in the house" legend, twisted together with the "evil toy
clown" legend. I found the main characters interesting, and loved the
overall idea and some of the nice touches (such as the main character
being mostly deaf), and the element of horror made me cringe, but in
the end there was one simple element, easily fixed, that kind of ruined
the story for me. When the characters were fleeing, trying to get out
of the house, they run into a deadbolt and can't escape because they
need the keys. . . . But deadbolts aren't locked with a key from the
inside (not that I've ever seen).
Green Tears on Black Velvet by Jeff Soesbe: This story used an
urban legend I hadn't heard of: the "crying boy painting" legend from
Britain, where a bunch of fires with paintings of crying boys in the
burnt remains set in a kind of panic for those that owned such
paintings. The main character is a fire investigator and this story
does a good job of mixing the crying ALIEN paintings in with the
investigator dealing with his divorce and how it affects him and his
son. A good story, and the author handles the mysterious aspects of the
Racing Lights by Erik Scott de Bie: A take on the "headlights
following you" while you drive down the highway legend, always in your
rear view mirror. I know I've been creeped out by a car that appears to
be following me late at night. Here, the main character is a teenager
who likes to race cars, and the lights (initially) are street lights he
uses to judge when he can safely make a hazardous turn. Of course,
when he's out late one night, in a strange mood, and those light appear
to follow him . . . well, trouble ensues. An interesting story.
Waterheads by Ivan Ewert: Here, the legend is one about a
mysterious section of woods near a bridge, the idea being if you're
there late at night, then the "Waterheads" that live in the area will
get you. I liked the characterization of the teenagers in this one, but
felt that the ending was a little predictable.
The Fingernail Test by Bev Vincent: This one plays with the
idea/fear that we are constantly being watched, through hidden cameras
and one-way mirrors. Mostly, we think of the watchers as being the
government in some form, but of course this is an anthology about
aliens, so . . . Here, the main characters are criminals on the run and
hiding out in a skanky hotel. Paranoia sets in after they've been
there for a few days and one of them starts obsessing about the mirrors
in the hotel room. Of course, is it really paranoia when it's true? I
liked the tone and feel of this story.
Headlights by Jennifer Pelland: Another headlight story,
although here it's about driving around with your headlights OFF and
killing the people in the first car that flashes their lights at you.
Apparently this was a gang initiation ritual at some point. This story
also plays with the idea that sometimes your opinions of the friends
you made early in school change as you progress through high school . .
. and sometimes you should give your friends more credit. A good
story. I liked the idea that the characters are shocked at one of the
decisions made during the course of the story, but I'm not sure I like
the very end of the story, the way the characters react to the events
Shiny Eyes by Jonathan McKinney: This is a boogeyman story-the
"shiny eyes" part-mixed with the idea that maybe those doodles in that
borrowed textbook from school are more than they seem. This story was
different from the others in that it was set in our world . . . sort of.
There was an obvious twist to the world, with the characters living
in a small community with certain specific rules they had to follow,
such as taking their pill every day. So of course our main character
starts defying those rules with not so favorable outcomes.
The Invitation by Carole Johnstone: The setting for this one is
across the Pond and plays off of the idea that the "bad thing,"
whatever it may be, can't come into the house unless invited. Here,
the "bad thing" comes during storms and can be invited into the house
through mirrors and other reflective surfaces. When the main
character's grandmother insists he help her cover the mirrors, he does
so . . . but scoffing at her at the same time. His derision doesn't
last long. I really liked the feel of this story, and how it ends. It
was a little rough getting into, but a good story.
Frames of Reference by Nathan Crowder: We've all heard about
those snuff films supposedly out there, where someone is killed on
camera for "entertainment." This story starts with the main character
asked to determine how a particularly gruesome and realistic piece of
film could have been faked . . . if it's been faked at all. As the
story progresses . . . well, I don't want to spoil the twist, so I'll
stop there. I really liked how the author inverted another common myth
and combined it with the snuff film idea. I'm a little iffy on whether
I like how the story ended though, its only drawback.
Late Night Snack by Robert Farnsworth: Another headlights story,
this time a couple headed to Vegas is followed by a mysterious black
SUV. When the SUV turns aggressive . . . well, the plot picks up its
pace. I thought this story took too long to get started and I had
trouble connecting to the characters, although I liked the idea behind
Two Out, Wendigo by Rosemary Jones: An urban legend out of the
Midwest this time, about how wendigo infects people with insatiable
hunger. It's mixed with the "curse of the billy goat," which supposedly
explains why the Cubs haven't played in a World Series for 60 years. I
liked the story and the main character. I did feel that there were
some unanswered questions at the end of the piece though, and the
solution to the wendigo seemed a little . . . easy. I don't see why it
didn't immediately spread after that. But still a good story.
The Hippie Monster of Eel River by Shannon Page: Some good
characterization here, the main character coming across strong and
believable. The urban legend is made up, but it follows the familiar
boogeyman in a specific location theme well enough that it's instantly
believable. And in the vein of the original episodes of the X-Files,
the set-up is such that you can either believe that the events actually
happened and were alien in nature . . . or that there's a perfectly
plausible explanation, in this case drug-induced hallucinations. This
set-up left the ending kind of open to interpretation.
Roadkill by Rick Silva: I hadn't heard of this cardboard box
legend either-where someone driving a car swerves to hit a cardboard box
or pile of leaves, for fun or in anger, only to find out that a kid
had been playing in the box of leaves. I think this idea is horrific
because it's so easy to see it occurring. We have an alien twist on it
here, which makes the unintended consequences that much more terrible
for the main character, but I think this story would have been horrific
enough even without that. Well written and certainly made me think
long after the story finished.
End of Life by Richard Lee Byers: The urban legend here is based
on much more recent events, the idea being that the government may
send out suits to counsel the elderly on ending their life, perhaps
with assisted suicide. In the story, the suits show up merely to take a
survey . . . but of course the suits are more than they appear. This
was much more a psychological horror story than most of the others in
the anthology so far and certainly creeped me out a bit because of that.
Hard to say more without ruining part of the story though. Well
Teacups and Saucers by Ramsey Lundock: This one used about ten
different urban legends all thrown into one, to the point that I felt it
would have been a better story if there weren't so many different
things going on. There were crop circles and flying saucers and secret
bases, etc, etc, etc. The main idea-that perhaps the aliens aren't
what we think they are-was a cool idea and I wish more time had been
spent on developing that. I really felt this story needed more space,
so that all of the connections the author was making would have had
more depth to them and could have been revealed at a slower pace.
Gloomy Sunday by Eddy Webb: A really good story about how there
could be subliminal messages in music, and that music could be used to
control us. Here, the urban legend is that a particular song called
"Gloomy Sunday" would actually cause you to commit suicide. I liked the
feel and set-up of this story, with the main characters being ex-Army,
one who got out completely and the other who went on to join the
secret government group. I thought the relationship between them was
worked in well.
Mastihooba by Joshua Palmatier: OMG! This is the bestest story
ever written! Get ready Pulitzer! . . . But I may be slightly biased
since I wrote it. It's the first short story I've written in
years. I used a local urban legend about a vagabond who used to go from
bar to bar promising work for drinks. He'd get the drink, but never
perform the work, so became something of a legend. Somehow, that
morphed into a boogeyman kind of story, the man used to scare the local
children into behaving. I gave it an alien twist that I thought was
cool. I hope you all enjoy it. I certainly had fun writing it.
I Am Sorry For Talking So Rarely to Strangers by Alma Alexander:
I wondered if anyone would do a take on the Mothman urban legend and
here it is! A completely different take, of course. This story is more
about the alien perception of the story and how sometimes "alien" is
ingrained in us by society, along with the fear it engenders. A fairly
quiet story, compared to the rest of the selections in the anthology,
but well written. I like that in the end, it wasn't so much about the
Mothmen as it was about the main character and her relationship with her
Dead Letter Drop by Pete Kempshall: Here the urban legend is
about a blind man who supposedly lured young women to their deaths
during the food shortage after World War II. I hadn't heard of this
legend, so went into the story blind. (Haha.) It certainly drew me in
with the bombed out city of Berlin and the young main character
fighting to survive there. Very well written and I loved how it wasn't
what you were expecting in the end.
It Came From the Backseat by Eric R. Lowther: This is a grand
old story in the style of a B-movie, using the obvious urban legend of
having someone hidden in the back seat of your car without you knowing
it. Mix in a little MIB black suits (sort of) and a main character who
doesn't take shit from anyone after a bad day overall, and you've got a
rollicking story. If you take it like that, all tongue-in-cheek, it's
a good read. My only issue was that there was some serious
head-hopping-meaning we start off almost exclusively in Mary's head, for
a long while, but then we start getting thoughts from other characters
at random. While omniscient unlimited is a valid POV, it's not one
that I like much. But if you can set that aside, good story.
So, as with any anthology, I thought there were some really good stories
in here, and others that I thought needed a little tweaking. Overall a
good anthology though. I enjoyed reading what all of the other
authors came up with regarding an urban legend with an alien twist, and
really liked some of the twists on the obvious way to use that theme.
Click here to buy Close Encounters of the Urban Kind, edited by Jennifer Brozek on Amazon