The five excellent short stories on offer here all follow a similar theme; insanity. Characters who are ‘on the verge’ are always fascinating to me. A protagonist or antagonist who’s mental state makes them unpredictable is always a great hook, especially in a horror story. Phil Sloman has done a superb job here of luring you into a world of the unhinged, and once inside he just dares you to read on.
After the first couple of stories I knew exactly what I was in for; intriguing tales with more twists than a bunch of decaying lemons gyrating in a 60s dance hall. These short stories do exactly what a short story should do; have you yearning to reach the conclusion and being entirely satisfied once you’re there. And making you feel a little bit creeped out.
The collection starts with the title track, Broken on the Inside, where Kira undergoes an operation for an unnamed ailment. This state of the art treatment involves nano-technology but, of course, it comes with a price, and not a financial one. The implant speaks to Kira’s mind, warning of potential dangers to her health. These warnings seem a little extreme, like an over-the-top parent, something she certainly doesn’t have in real life.
As the story progresses Kira becomes increasingly angry at the voice in her head and constantly tells it to shut the hell up. But can it ever shut up, and what damage is this treatment actually doing to her and those around her?
Next up is another strange tale, Discomfort Food. Rebecca has done a bad thing. What’s worse is that her evening meal of fast food from the restaurant she works at, knows about it, too. Being mocked by food is quite a strange concept, but the way this is pulled off makes it seem, I don’t know, kind of normal? The interactions between Rebecca and her burger, chips, and onion rings make the food stand out like real characters themselves.
Of course as the story develops we discover what the bad thing is. And it’s bad. Really bad.
Paul is the protagonist of the next story, The Man Who Fed the Foxes. Paul is a lonely guy, his wife has left him and no one seems to care about him, except for the nosey busy-body neighbour, and even she’s just after the gossip. But Paul finds friendship in the most unlikely of places. His garden, once pristine, is now overgrown and home to the wild foxes he feeds every night. It seems they are all he has left. The ending to this story creeps up on you and then bam, smacks you with one hell of a twisted and ‘woah, what?’ ending.
Things turn a little icky in There Was an Old Man, where John swallows a fly. He soon convinces himself that the fly is alive and well inside him and goes to extreme lengths to rid his ageing body of this parasite. But he doesn’t swallow a spider, then a bird and so on; no, he takes things to the extreme. This one brought a few audible ‘eew’s from me I can tell you.
The collection is rounded off nicely by Virtually Famous. Without being as brutal and sickening as the other four, this one is definitely high on the weird and disturbing spectrum. Think virtual reality/celebrity culture gone insane. Doesn’t everyone just want to be famous?
So what an introduction to Phil Sloman this was. It got me aching for more. This is well worth your investment.
Categories: book review