The Horror Zine Review
The Ghost is the Machine
Edited by Patrick Scalisi
|Paperback: 204 pages
Publisher: Post Mortem Press (July 26, 2012)
Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.5 x 0.5 inches
The Ghost is the Machine
Edited by Patrick Scalisi
Review by Kristen Houghton
There is something vastly satisfying in reading a short story. An anthology of stories is a quick reader and book lover's fix. With time constraints and the need for brief moments of respite from hectic lives, a book of short stories is a perfect fit.
Of course as with any fiction, a short story has to be a pleasurable read; you need to feel involved even for only a brief time and that is what happens when reading The Ghost is the Machine. I am happy to say that the short story is alive and well in this steam punk anthology I am reviewing.
What exactly is 'steam punk' you might ask? Steam punk is a unique genre of science fiction that typically features some type of machinery, steam powered or otherwise, that has a sinister anthropomorphic effect on humanity. The Ghost is the Machine follows this description perfectly. Machines, even small ones, rule here. Imbuing machines with sinister intent is a hallmark of many great short stories and the tales written here are no exception.
The book is neatly sectioned into the Past, the Present, and the Future with the stories in each nicely blending into their time frames. An insightful introduction by author Patrick Scalisi who edited the book, leads you seamlessly into a world where the writers have taken seemingly innocuous machines and given them power over the human senses.
The machines from The (Fanciful) Past section deals with simple human feelings; love, longing, fear, and a Frankenstein-esque recreation of life. Who hasn't longed to speak to someone you love who has passed over to the ghostly realm, which one of us hasn't feared becoming invisible at work, with our very existence being taken over by a machine, who doesn't occasionally fantasize about saviours who vigilantly guarded ancient worlds at great personal cost? And the idea of playing God as a Dr. Frankenstein has certainly hummed at the edges of our minds. Writers J. David Anderson's The Voice in the Box, Anton Cancre's Interchangeable Parts, Kenneth W. Cain's Rebirth, and Eternal Service by Gloria Weber offer us the chance to entertain our imaginations with their stories of an incredible past where machines alter lives.
The ‘gory section’ of the book called The Future shows a new and innovative world that still retains unexpected human emotion and sense of morality which may or may not win in the end. The Watch by Jay Wilburn is reminiscent of a futuristic world right out of the movie Blade Runner. We enter a world of machinery and the salvage of long-lost artifacts, one of which begins to control the mind, and actions, of a man who made his fortune as a 'salvateur'. His journey, demanded by the object he carries, is one of revenge and, in his own human way, possible redemption.
The means of repairing a human body seems to be something that we already have at our disposal. Joint replacement is a common enough medical procedure in our current world but Alexis A. Hunter turns this technology into a ghoulish future undertaking in Afterimage. A blind woman is given sight through the means of ocular implants. But, besides seeing the current life around her, she gets an unwanted bonus; images from another woman's life. It seems the eyes had a previous owner, so to speak.
Though all the stories in the book are enjoyable and well worth reading, the section called The Present was my favorite. Beginning with Scheherazade's Typewriter by Stoker Award-winning, NY Times best-selling author, Joe Hill, the stories in The Present are very reminiscent of the old black and white show The Twilight Zone.
In Joe Hill's tale, a machine continues a writing legacy. After years of faithfully writing three pages of stories a night, an unpublished author dies, leaving his IBM Selectric typewriter in his basement office. That the typewriter whirs itself to life at the same time every night and continues to write stories after its owner has died is surely the ghost in the machine. I always believe that what we love to do lives on after us and this story seems to prove that theory if only fictionally.
Body parts, particularly bones, haunt The Talent's in the Bones by Christian A. Larson and Eidiss by Rose Blackthorn. Will you be a great pianist if the keys on the piano are made with the bones of Mozart? How about placing a curse on someone's family who made clock workings out of your own bones? It seems that talent as well as curses are more likely to take hold if the inanimate objects, Larson's piano and Blackthorn's clock, are made with human bones. Word to the wise: Don't wind that clock your great-great-aunt handed down to you no matter what and be very careful of a master piano maker who doubles as a graveyard groundskeeper.
In Love the Ride, Jonathan Templar reminds us that machines can fall in love but with sometimes fatal consequences. His soon-to-be college freshman protagonist, working a summer job in a seedy carnival, discovers that a love affair between a him and a machine doesn't make for a happy ending. The ride he loves wants him with 'her' forever.
Like having your fortune told? For only ten dollars, The Iron Prophet will tell you how you're going to die. Doug MacKensie's story shows that while the Prophet may always be right on target with the predictions, that little slip of paper with your fortune written on it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy that you definitely help to come true.
You'd think you'd be pretty safe with a calculator, wouldn't you? Well, not if it's possessed by The Ghost of Ozzie Hobbs you aren't. Changing numbers to letters and summoning a fictitious spirit who grants wishes from Hell is the basis of Eric J. Guignard's story. In the hands of a group of high school math students the innocent little calculator unleashes its own brand of hellish horror.
VHS cassettes and old Polaroid cameras come into play as machines which are slightly possessed. Remember the video stores of twenty years ago? Cool places even if there were some people working there who gave you the creeps. But at least those creepy people let you walk out the door even if you didn't rewind the tape. In Video Express, Kristopher Triana takes you on a trip to the past where the old time video store you're entering has a strange way of not letting customers leave...ever.
Rob Smales' Photo Finish proves that you can't get away with murder. A hidden figure in the camera is waiting for just the right person to figure out your crime. That person just happens to be a young boy with a detective for a father.
Hello Chucky! Toys have always seemed inherently evil. Maybe it's the eerie humanoid features with which toymakers imbue each toy or maybe it's the fact that we all seem to fear that at night, alone in a toy box, they're really plotting our demise. Bad Toys by Matthew Alan Hughes is a perfect example of our hidden toy fears. After nealy disposing of Grandma by having her slip on a Hot Wheels, fall, and crash her head into the counter, the plastic and metal toys in this story stalk a twenty month-old little girl to come and 'play' with them. The cat-and-mouse game played between little Clara and the bad toys has an ending that is more than gratifying.
The Ghost is the Machine is an anthology that will quickly satisfy your reader hunger for horror stories that have a nicely sculpted beginning, middle, and end. They're filled with all the fears and thoughts that seem to come to mind in the middle of a sleepless night. It's guaranteed that you will never look at a 'mindless' machine in the same way again.
As for me, I'm off to go unplug a machine in my house. I have a very strange feeling that my coffee-maker is trying to communicate with me. Happy reading!
You can buy the book HERE.
About the Editor
Patrick Scalisi is a magazine editor and emerging author from Connecticut. He has published fiction in several magazines, including The Willows, Neo-opsis, Twisted Dreams and Space Westerns, among others. His short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies, including Shadowplay, Dark Doorways, and An Honest Lie Vol. 2: Delusions of Insignificance. When he's not writing, Pat enjoys watching way too many movies than are good for him, reading more books than he has shelves for and listening to music (his tastes range from classical to classic and modern rock). Visit him online HERE
About the Reviewer
Kristen Houghton writes "nice little horror stories" guaranteed to make you check your locks and look under the bed before going to sleep." Her book, Stolen Property- Tales of Terror, is in pre-publication. She is currently at work on the Catherine Harlow, Private Investigator series where her detective encounters plenty of horrors of her own. The first in the series is due to be published in late 2013.
Kristen is the former head writer and fiction editor of Mused Literary Magazine. Besides blogging for The Huffington Post, her portfolio includes a weekly column for the new, innovative TwoDayMag.com, writing for More Magazine, the San Francisco Examiner, and various other in print and online magazines. She also writes under the name CK Houghton.
A California girl at heart, she and her husband, Alan reside in the New York City area which is "magical." For more about Kristen, her books and short stories, please visit www.kristenhoughton.com/