Here are 16 short stories by the author of the Repairman Jack and The Adversary suspense/supernatural novels, who has, since completing those series, gone on to write best-selling medical thrillers. Most are firmly in the horror genre, and all are well-written, in a pleasing array of styles and moods. There is even a whiff of humor, and nothing sets off terror to advantage like a bit of comic relief.
What makes this book such a valuable addition to one’s collection of F. Paul Wilson’s writings is the inclusion of his autobiographical commentaries, year by year. Did you know that he was part of the advance wave of writing for computer games? Did you know that several of his best short stories were inspired by the artwork of Alan Clark? (Look up Imagination Fully Dilated.) What about the agonizing process of seeing your one of your books mangled into a mediocre movie, when there were numerous occasions for developing it into a magnificent production? Wilson’s explanations of how he was inspired by such writers as Robert Silverberg and Ray Bradbury help you appreciate his own stories as a deeper level. He describes his many transitions from doctor to author of varied genres in a conversational manner that makes you feel like you are in the same room with him. You also realize how thorough he is, how seriously he takes his craft.
“Dreams” is a vampire story with inverted tropes a literary technique Wilson delights in and employs with panache. He also loves words for their own splendid sakes, and pays readers the sublime compliment of expecting them to be willing, nay, eager, to look up what they do not yet know if he includes an unusual word in a story. “The November Game” is a creepy sequel to Bradbury’s “The October Game”, with body parts and psychological torment. “When He Was Fab” is from a Weird Tales anthology in Wilson’s honor, a weird tale of symbiosis, love, and self-loathing.
“Foet” is one of Wilson’s most widely read stories, originally published in Tom Monteleone’s Borderlands 2. It was inspired by an argument about fur coats and the ethics of wearing them for fashion, as opposed to survival, extrapolating the question to apply to human skin. I may disagree with some of his social and demographic premises, but the story is a knockout, a real classic.
“Please Don’t Hurt Me” is another inverted expectations story, this one about the perils of dating, that blurs the lines between humor and horror quite effectively. In “Aryans and Absynthe” the ambience of post Great War Germany is vividly conveyed, the mix of liberty, license, despair, rage, and defiance. A precognitive dream sets one man on a quest to divert a terrible future, but another man has an opposing agenda, and some historic passion plays seem to possess a terrible momentum.
Some of the other standout stories are the one with the deliberately unpronounceable title, an overlay of DAVID, COPPE and RFIEL. This wonderful tale of magic mishandled was written for a David Copperfield tribute anthology, and it is one of Wilson’s best working of a less than sympathetic narrator getting his comeuppance. Then there’s “Lysing Toward Bethlehem”, one of the stories inspired by the Alan Clark painting “Phagescape”. Wilson opens his medical bag of tricks for this one, imbuing his protagonist bacteria with anthropomorphic yearnings and aspirations. This would be a great story to include in a philosophy class. The story “Aftershock” won a Bram Stoker award; it combines several of Wilson’s favorite elements: the supernatural, curiosities of knowledge, romance, and the courage of desperation in the wake of loss and grief. A physician is at first puzzled, then intrigued by, then obsessed with the behavior of a woman who chases storms in order to get struck by lightning, for in that instant of almost dying she is able to glimpse over the threshold of death and see.…
“Anna” is the other story that started with an Alan Clark painting, and it is perhaps my favorite of the lot. A less than likable character gets his just desserts as mysterious, annoying incidents gather pace like a locomotive, or an avalanche, to overwhelm him. The twist at the end is especially well-crafted, and it is perfectly set up, too.
The cheerfully unapologetic homage to 1930s pulp literature and Sunday comics, “Sex Slaves of the Dragon Tong” is lurid fun, with laugh-out-loud moments. Its sequel, “Part of the Game”, is grimmer, with more diabolical irony; but it is a perfect closer for the anthology, at once a chaser and a metaphor for the choice we readers make when we read speculative horror.
At a recent convention, the question was asked: Who are our living Grand Masters of SF? Who are the authors who are actively writing masterpieces? It’s a great question, and the panelists and audience members came up with great answers. F. Paul Wilson was named to a resounding chorus of agreement. ~~ Chris Wozney
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