One of the most common fears is the fear of the what might be lurking in the shadows, what we can’t see. All of the monsters from your childhood could be hiding in that darkness.Given this, what could be more terrifying than the infinite void of space? Who knows what creatures await you once you leave the comfortable confines of your home planet.Monsters in Spaaaace! contains seventeen such explorations, classic monsters in off world settings. This collection contains werewolves, vampires, ghosts, haunted items, and more all in the blackness of space or the terrifying settings of foreign worlds and abandoned starships. Prepare to be scared out of your spacesuit.
Michael Cieslak is a lifetime reader and writer of horror, mystery, and speculative fiction. A native of Detroit, he still lives within 500 yards of the city with his wife and their two dogs Tesla and Titus. The house is covered in Halloween decorations in October and dragons the rest of the year. He is an officer in the Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers. His works have appeared in a number of collections including DOA: Extreme Horror, Dead Science, Vicious Verses and Reanimated Rhymes, the GLAHW anthologies, and Alter Egos Vol 1. He is the current Literature Track Head for Penguicon. Michael's most recent endeavor is the Dragon's Roost Press imprint which published it's first two books in 2014: The Maiden's Courage by Mary Lynne Gibbs and the anthology Desolation, 21 Tales for Tails A portion of the proceeds of each sale of Desolation benefits the Last Day Dog Rescue organization.
Michael's mental excreta (including his personal blog They Napalmed My Shrubbery This Morning) can be found on-line at thedragonsroost.net.
Editor extraordinaire Michael Cieslak of MONSTERS IN SPAAAACE!--whose title I take for a cheery nod to the classic "Pigs in Space" Muppets sketches intro--wrote in my copy "Have a monstrous good time!" And you know what, I did.
The premise had me at "classic monsters like vampires and werewolves but in outer space." Thus whetting my appetite for clever retellings and re-castings I could really sink my teeth into, flavored with some nostalgia, some humor, some gore, and spiced with twists and eerie extraterrestrials, and with suspense and menace slathered thicker by being trapped on isolated ships or planets.
I was satisfied on all counts, but also delighted some tales either contained wholly original life forms or merely echoed themes or monstrous aspects from the classics.
Although my particular palate enjoys the finish of evil vanquished and heroes beating the odds, horror of course means some endings will hold more bitterness or bittersweetness whether in victory or defeat--and anyway, a tale well told can be savored regardless of outcome.
Here's a little note on every entree, er, entry, in order of appearance, with NO ENDING SPOILERS.
"Nana" by Sarah Hans is a creepy tale of expertly escalated dread that puts YOU in the body of a child and in the thick of the horror. On a planet of exiled families subsisting on regular garbage dumps, you find a ragged eyeless doll whose mind games are downright deadly. I enjoy second person narrative, and this one gives the anthology a solid, heartwrenching kick-off.
"Cold Comfort" by Jen Haeger sends sassy vampire Elton on a long, cold space colony transport voyage with only his long distance shrink Tanya for company amid rows of sleepers in stasis pods. Does he have the right stuff, or will he succumb--and is there anything in space more dangerous than the undead? This story portrays vampires as I best recognize them: ancient, calculating outsiders with an unholy hunger and an understandable superiority complex from the whole 'immortality' deal.
"Thin Air" by Jude Reid is a fast-paced whodunit that leaves you gasping and guessing amid a series of freaky fatalities at an isolated, inhospitable deep space relay station, reminiscent of the film The Thing. The all-female scientist and engineer cast of Soyinka, Banerjee, and Park swiftly become paranoid and suspect one another of sabotage, even as they search for an intruder. Will anyone survive the endless night?
"AstroNosferatu and the Invisible Void" by Brandon Butler is the wicked fun, cinematic action-packed monster mash closest to what I imagined the book title heralded. Legendary Vlad the Impaler and mad scientist Griffin the Invisible Man are teaming up with Wolfman Larry to double cross the nearly un-killable Count Dracula. But monsters will be monsters and alliances, like supernatural beings, can change...
"Bellerophon's Gambit" by Hillary Lyon spins an enjoyably irreverent yarn of carnage and doom aboard a pleasure cruise spaceship whose crew scooped up the wrong free-floating spacepod sarcophagus. Andrew, ornery assistant to snooty sous chef McBride, reflects on weeks spent barricaded with his superior in the kitchen after foolish thrill-seeking tourists and everyone else succumbed to a mysterious and murderous possession of some kind. And muses on how losing his battle with exhaustion brought him face to face with ravenous evil…
"The Moon Forest" by Dirck de Lint slyly asks "Who dares to vacation to a werewolf preserve, even if weapons are allowed?" and shows not all monsters sport fangs or fur. Adebiyi is mesmerized by the lupines' grace and intelligent eyes, but faced with the prospect not reaching the compound before lockdown, his up-till now-predictable life will become a race for survival. Primal terror and lighthearted moments interweave in this taut and surprising tale of cunning.
"The Silver Crown" by Mariah Southworth draws the diverse and lovable, tight-knit crew of the Vega into a living nightmare, albeit one lent levity by former space pirate Captain Vega’s prankish son Emilio and a running debate about mummies and zombies. Haley “Comet” Marquis may live to regret her salvage mission aboard the abandoned “ghost ship” colony transport, but it may not be for long. Some evils can’t be outwitted or outrun—this funny but ominous tale gives a spooky high tech update to an ancient curse.
"The Rise of Ies" by Rose Strickman is the most disturbing of the lot for me, and its debonair central antagonist obsessed with a human woman reminded me strongly of the vampire boss of the Curse of Strahd RPG module. Kudos to the author for the creativity behind her alien bloodsuckers. Savvy young Asha Smith’s fellow crewmates have starved and seen their numbers decimated by an inhospitable planet since a wormhole threw them off course and into a crash landing—and soon they’ll face a crossroads where the paths to survival end in blood one way or another…
"Spider in a Space Helmet" by Budd Dixon is the only poem. Bite-sized, biting, and rude.
"Hairy Jack" by Hailey Piper is a twisty and lyrical cautionary tale about a witch hunt by a brutish and superstitious mob of planetary pilgrims who blame a passenger and her mutt for setbacks and mishaps on their voyage. Zana the levelheaded and compassionate janitor usually keeps her head down, but now she dares to defy the mob and seek out a new scapegoat before they execute the poor woman. And lo, that mob has no idea who they’re messing with…
"Government Issue" by Chris Edwards serves up a fun, snark and action-packed thriller starring a squad of super-soldier AI, including narrator Mina. What starts as a diplomatic mission with self-important yokel planetary settlers fast escalates into an all out war against a terrifying space wolf whose claws shred skin like it’s damp tissue and steel like it’s tin foil. Who will triumph, machine or beast--or is there a third option?
"Ashes, Ashes" by Katie Davenport pits an empathetic lone survivor in a spaceship crew against fatal decisions and potential disaster. After a feral madness-inducing plague claims her fellows, and with their port of destination drawing tantalizingly near, can Vivien trust her own senses and defend herself--or is it already too late? Strong character development and toying with what’s real or not in this somber outing.
"Atoms" by James Dorr is a high concept slice of military sci-fi horror, bizarre and unnerving with sharp turns from start to end, and I had to re-read it carefully to fully appreciate its hair-raising implications. Arrogant Admiral Yanov is debriefing and dressing down stoic Commander Robertson, whose marines just encountered a deadly new hive mind species so resilient it can re-assemble corpses into new bodies (not necessarily with matching limbs). Can Robertson sway his superior in time to avert another attack?
“Black Lagoon" by S. Ranger/M.B. cleverly updates the Creature from the Black Lagoon in a dramatic pulpy adventure starring Jaz, a thrill-seeking and oft daydreaming spacefaring marine biologist. When an alien gillman rescues Jaz on her night swim but gets mistaken for her attacker, can she return the favor and protect him and his habitat from her superiors? And what will become of her own ambitions?
"Captain Clone" by Deborah Walker may not offer a one-of-a-kind protagonist in clone Mikar, but her awakening to independent personhood is riveting and original—albeit laced with yearning, loneliness, and tragedy that make it a rough read. The shrewd grey-tentacled plant-like alien being, whose spines infect her victims with fatal fungal growth, was fascinating and macabre. She grew on me much faster than the unscrupulous captain whom Mikar thinks of as her mother.
"Cracking Open a Cold One" by James Toner is a fun lighthearted romp pitting witty and warm spacefaring monk and brewer Friar Clump (our narrator, whose other short stories I must now track down) aginst some seriously sinister and tricky vampires. Lucky for the crew of the good ship Long Haul, Friar Clump’s at their side with a cross that repels the undead just as well in outer space, but they’re still outnumbered and vampires really have ways of really getting in your head. I raise my glass in cheers for the punny title.
In "Red Death" by Richard Beauchamp the independently contracted salvage duo of Lana and Mitch bicker their way through an eerie Russian spaceship whose long deceased occupants show unusual decay patterns. Someone has scrawled a message on the wall in Russian, hopefully a clue their AI can translate in time as paranoia starts to set in… This last tale developed the fraught relationship between its protagonists authentically and its thrilling conclusion is worthy of a Twilight Zone episode.
Caveat: I have a story in this. My thoughts on the book exclude my own contribution, and as there's no royalties forthcoming I have no financial interest in any future sales.
With that as a foundation, let me begin:
It's REALLY good. One usually finds an anthology to be an embodiment of the concept of the bell-curve, with some exceptional stories, some that aren't particularly appealing, and some for this praise soars only to the height of "yeah, it's good enough." Not so, here. This book is end-to-end good stories, with the variations only in how good they are.
The lone poem is also a delight. I'm not big on poetry, generally, but I am happy to have read this one.
This all assumes you like horror, of course. It's a book full of monsters.