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cover1000-1-678x1024Hey, another collection of shorts! The kind of book I usually dislike because it is a good story in the midst of garbage. Old, smelly, fish garbage, usually.

Not. This. Time.

Holy…um…Hell, but this was solid. Not a wasted tale in the bunch. Not one. Which is beyond impressive.

Each story is about someone arriving into hell, and what happens next. There is an oddly overarching theme that hell is a waystation, and once you learn an important lesson, you move on to a heaven better than anything you could ever imagine. I do like that idea, personally. It is an echo of some of what I read decades back in Whitley Strieber’s Catmagic, that hell is only for those who need it, not for the everyone. It also echoes some interpretations of the Book of Revelation (or the Revelation of St. John the Divine – depends on the version you prefer), that you do have a last chance to repent, and enter heaven.

Of course, if you check the tags on the bottom, you’ll see a recurrence of the ‘Zoroastrianism’ tag. One conceit across the bulk of the stories is that Zoroaster (Zarathustra) got it right, no one else. Amusing, especially if you know some of how modern religion developed, and see the parallels that are there.

Anyway, I could do that all day, let’s talk book. First, this is emphatically not a horror anthology. Yes, Hell, but not horror. That is vital.

The stories are all about the idea of a personalized hell – one you have managed to create for yourself. There is (excepting one story) no generalized hell for all, which is a nice touch. In each, the protagonist is sent to learn a lesson of some kind, the learning of which will set them free. Of course, we are not privy to the lesson, only that it is personal, exceedingly hard, and you have eternity to get there. If you think of how hard it is to change a small thing – say cutting out carbs, smoking, sugar, Diet Coke – then you can imagine how hard it is to make a fundamental change to your person. When you also have to identify the problem. And the solution. And not just mouth the words, but make the change.

So, yeah, you’ll be there a bit.

Of all the stories, the one I was most impacted by was ‘A Tall Vanilla Order’ by Tonya Adolfson. On one hand, I was cringing at what looked like a overly blunt social message – one of those where you get it, understand it, and keep being clubbed by it. Of course, then the rest of the story happened, and it hits like a gut punch. Hard. Brutal. A virtual Judge Dredd of an impact. And it does exactly what it is supposed to, and makes you think. A lot.

I was less impressed with ‘The Egress of Hell’, but then the long-form poem is not a style I have even been able to get into. As much as I might want to, it eludes me. Good ending though.

Finally, the last story, ‘A Hell of a Life’ by Steven L Peck is the optimistic one of the bunch, and it has a tremendous outlook on things “In addition, there is so much joy to be had in life! It is true there are lives of such misery that it truly would be better not to be born, but it is not as often as you might guess, and even some lives that appear withered and worn have had moments of joy and experiences that make their life worth having been placed here below. I always think of heaven as upward, and myself as below it, down here in Hell. Whenever I can, I gaze that direction though the eyes of my shell and try to catch the attention of whatever God might be gazing back.” Powerful stuff.

So, yes, I can suggest this without hesitation or reservation. It is amazing, with stories that make you think, and keep you engaged throughout. It isn’t being archived on the Kindle like most. It is staying in active memory, to be revisited.

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