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Thirteen Specimens, by Jeffrey Thomas
Genre: Horror Anthology
Publisher: Delirium Books
Published: 2008
Review Posted: 11/25/2008
Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: Not Rated

Thirteen Specimens, by Jeffrey Thomas

Book Review by Ray Wallace

Have you read this book?

Jeffrey Thomas, author of BONELAND, the "Punktown" books, and the novel-length guided tour through Hell entitled LETTERS FROM HADES, here presents us with THIRTEEN SPECIMENS, a collection of -- yep, you guessed it -- thirteen short stories. If you've never read any of the author's previous works then this collection is a good place to start. It could have easily been named the Jeffrey Thomas Primer as three of its longer tales are set in the Boneland, Punktown, and Hades universes. Fans of the author's earlier works should enjoy this new book also as it will allow them to revisit the worlds created in the aforementioned works as well as introduce them to tales solely unique to this collection.

First up is "These Are the Exhibits." Here a young woman takes a guided tour through a museum where the oddities on display are only outdone by the tales of their acquisition imparted to her by the museum's guide. Next, after a short and grimly amusing piece of poetry called "Titles of Poems Not Written," we come to "Close Enough," a novella set in the author's Boneland universe. The tale centers around a photojournalist named Robert Candle who finds himself in the employ of the enigmatic alien beings known simply as the Guests. It is Candle's job to photograph wartime atrocities in the depths of the Viet Nam jungles using a living, insect-like camera, a piece of Guest technology that allows the gruesome images to be transmitted back to its creators who apparently take some form of pleasure from viewing such depictions of suffering and tragedy.

The stories continue with "Sympathetic Identity Disorder" which documents a rare and rather bizarre medical issue, detailing the physical, mental, and emotional symptoms suffered by its victims. "American Cchinnamasta" tells the tale of a young Indian woman living in America and her ultimately tragic obsession with one of the ancient Hindu goddesses. "Six Hundred and Sixty-Six Women" is a poem listing the terrible deeds of... six hundred and sixty-six women. This is followed by "Monsters." Set in the author's Punktown universe, it centers around a doctor named Fleck and the trouble that ensues when he decides to aid a monstrous alien creature that has been mortally wounded during a ritualistic punishment common among its race. Then we come to "October 32nd" in which a man drives home on a certain Halloween night that just might never end.

With "The Mask Play of Hahoe Byeolsin Exorcism," one of the collection's longer tales, the author shows a murder as witnessed through the eyes of an American tourist on his own in Korea. It is an awful situation made worse by the fact that the man is alone in a foreign land surrounded by a people and a mythology he doesn't really understand. "Scared Shirtless," one of the collections shortest tales, depicts the dangers of wearing a T-shirt that doubles as a portal to another dimension. In "The Burning House," the author invites us to share his vision of Hell depicted in the novel LETTERS FROM HADES. Here, a young boy must be rescued by his biological father, now an angel in Heaven, and the man who has become a father to him in Hell after he is abducted by a roaming torture factory known as the Skull. The short-short "On Making Clam Chowder" offers a recipe sure to NOT be gracing menus in seafood restaurants any time soon.

Then we come to the book's last and longest offering entitled "Door 7." It is a first person narrative told by a man who has all too recently watched his son die of Leukemia and his wife leave him. He spends his nights pushing a stroller occupied by one of his son's toys, a Grover doll, around the neighborhood. Soon a nearby factory which was shut down some years ago becomes an obsession of his and he begins to investigate what he sees as a series of strange goings-on taking place there. A local woman who once worked at the factory warns him to stay away, that it isn't safe. But by then he is already in too deep and discovers a series of doors leading into the defunct building which eventually take him to the titular door number seven. It is only then that he realizes just how right the woman was and the terrible consequences of his insatiable curiosity.

All told, THIRTEEN SPECIMENS is a strong effort by a gifted and darkly imaginative writer. As mentioned earlier, it is sure to appeal to longtime fans of Mr. Thomas's work as well as those who are discovering him for the first time. Smooth and deftly written, the stories here have a knack of turning up the "weird factor" -- for lack of a better term -- as they progress, a characteristic more evident in the longer and ultimately more effective works. A recommended addition to any speculative fiction collection.
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