(Sorta) Book Review: Dangerous Games edited by Jonathan Oliver

14 Jan

(This is a partial review, as I did not read the entire anthology for Reasons*.)

Dangerous Games, edited by Jonathan Oliver, is a 2014 horror and dark fantasy anthology whose stories are united by gaming. The games featured are pretty diverse; I initially thought (for some weird reason) it’d be all western gambling, which I find pretty boring, but not so much. There are games from all over the world, as well as several stories revolving around RPG’s (of course, silly me).

Dangerous Games edited by Jonathan Oliver

I found three stories conceptually very interesting. “The Yellow Door” by Sylvia Moreno-Garcia is a Lovecraftian story. While it ended a little abruptly, it does what only great horror writers can do in rendering the completely innocuous — things you cannot fathom being creepy — frightening. In this case, it’s the generic westernized Chinese restaurant — and component parts thereof. This I found more interesting than the Cthulhian element, not being a Lovecraft person. Though I must say, shoggoth soup. Ahem.

Tade Thompson’s “Honourable Mention,” which is haunting on multiple levels, is also a monster story. It’s also about the horrors of an entirely different form of consumption — the victims of exploitative labor systems, slavery as well as others. An emigrant to Britain, Tito plays the Nigerian game ayo, and Thompson adds to the historical game higher stakes, sleep deprivation, and what one man’s desperation will drive him to do to win. This was both the game I found most interesting and the story I found to be most thought-provoking.

Bex Levene’s “Loser” is amazing and grotesque, and to describe its concept too much would spoil it; it has no speculative fiction elements and is the story of a serial killer. It also has one hell of an opening:

You remember when we first met. I know you do, we’ve talked about it so often we’ve worn the memory threadbare. Or… I suppose I should say, you remember when you first saw me. We were seven, I think. Eight? Still at primary school, still kids, still half-made, half-human really: only a sketch of what we would become…

You saw me and you thought: I want to be her. You told me that, years later. You didn’t want to be me, though, not really. You just didn’t want to be you.

No, god, don’t die. Don’t die. Not now, not yet.

This well-paced story’s use of intimate, lyrical prose makes its progression and conclusion all the more horrifying for the juxtaposition.

Dangerous Games also includes stories from some very big names such as Yoon Ha Lee, Chuck Wendig, and Lavie Tidhar. As to the anthology as a whole, I can only come up with a partial conclusion, for Reasons*, which is that this anthology is not for readers weak of stomach, for you’ll be sending Solaris the cleaning bill from where you upchucked on your rug. Who it is for: dark fantasy fans that don’t mind some body horror.

That’s my (sorta) verdict, anyway.

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*Reason: the formatting in the e-ARC of this anthology was absolutely appalling. Solaris, please do not ever do this to me again.** I feel I, and the anthology’s contributors, are maybe owed, IDK, a box of cheeses. Something.

**I still heart you though, Solaris.

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