The players have gathered around the table, each to tell their story—often dark, always compelling. Within you will find tales of the players and the played, lives governed by games deadly, weird, or downright bizarre.
Bringing together tales of the weird and the macabre, Dangerous Games is a diverse collection of voices, featuring incredible new fiction by Chuck Wendig, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Lavie Tidhar, Benjanun Sriduangkaew, Paul Kearney, Libby McGugan, Yoon Ha Lee, Gary Northfield, Melanie Tem, Hillary Monahan, Tade Thompson, Rebecca Levene, Ivo Stourton, Gary McMahon, Robert Shearman, Nik Vincent, Helen Marshall, and Pat Cadigan.
I’m not really sure how to write an anthology review. I could say it’s an exemplary collection bringing together diverse voices around a compelling subject, dealing with hope, fate and identity. But that doesn’t tell you much. I could single out one or two favorites for particular attention. I mean, I wanted to read the Pat Cadigan story and I loved the Pat Cadigan story. But maybe you’d want to know about Lavie Tidhar’s story instead. I could try to draw conclusions about Jonathan Oliver’s selection criteria and speculate about his tastes or savvy. But like a lot of these author’s, this is my first experience with his work. So I’m going to try micro-reviews of each entry.
“Big Man” by Chuck Wendig reminded me a little bit of Grand Theft Auto. A divorced father tries to come to terms with his situation and master his rage on the road. Visceral and affective.
“The Yellow Door” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia was miasmic and disorienting. Power imbalances among friends yielded to cthonic undertows. A coming of age slice of Gothis-gris.
“Die” by Lavie Tidhar was deeply disturbing. Fare like The Hunger Games tends to glorify compulsory violence even as it critiques it. This does nothing of the sort.
“Chrysalises” by Benjanun Sriduangkaew was densely figurative and difficult. The tedium of a struggle for survival balances against an end of days epic. If we don’t understand our weapons, do we understand ourselves?
“South Mountain” by Paul Kearney followed four friends into a Civil War reenactment. Everyone gets something different out of history and cosplay. Everyone gets the same thing out of the moment.
“The Game Changer” by Libby McGugan was sad and surprising and hopeful. A child with terminal cancer plays a game designed by his father. And his parents are willing to try anything to help him win it.
“Distinguishing Characteristics” by Yoon Ha Lee was incredible. Combining political theater, tabletop roleplaying, and identity politics, it explores the contours of society and the academy. It’s not force feeding if you ask for it.
“Captain Zzapp!!! – Space Hero from 3000 AD” by Gary Northfield is a three page hand drawn comic strip about televised conflict. And it’s one of the stories that won’t let me go. It’s a bit like a devastatingly effective This Modern World.
“Death Pool” by Melanie Tem was a study in contrasts. The protagonist stopped and smelled the roses until he considered pushing up daisies. Obsessing about mortality overshadows joie de vivre.
“The Bone Man’s Bride” by Hillary Monahan reminded of Red State set in the Dust Bowl. Blind Faith blinds the faithful and terrible sacrifices are made in a climate of fear and desperation.
“Honourable Mention” by Tade Thompson was the most promising story in the anthology. I still want to know more. A recent immigrant turns to the underworld(s) in a last attempt to make ends meet.
“Loser” by Rebecca Levene held shades of Gyllian Flynn and Chuck Palahniuk. A murder mystery told in second person not to the reader but to a dying subject. Unique and discomfiting.
“Two Sit Down, One Stands Up” by Ivo Stourton was an introspective investigation of regret, reality, and reaffirmation. A semi-public game of Russian roulette with a robotic body double calls into question which contestant is flesh and blood and which is human. They might not be the same.
“Ready or Not” by Gary McMahon was perhaps the most conventional tale. However, it’s told with a quiet confidence. A man returns home to reclaim his childhood.
“The Monogamy of Wild Beasts” by Robert Shearman was unpredictable, blasphemous, and strange. A second ark struggles with the freedom of choice and cruelty. Eros and Thanatos expressed and indulged.
“The Stranger Cards” by Nik Vincent was a fascinating thriller. A junior lawyer meets a client on his last appeal and learns to play clock solitaire. And then learns how the man must have felt.
“All Things Fall Apart and Are Built Again” by Helen Marshall was poetic and allegorical. It takes Herodotus’s account of Lydia and expands it into a long march against entropy. Here at the edge the proprietor of a paper theater lies with a handsome devil.
“Lefty Plays Bridge” by Pat Cadigan used a complex card game as a metaphor. And a series of metaphors as a complex interrogation of familial relationships. Twins is a foster home work out their issues in bids, contracts, and trumps.
Recommended for fans of Stanley Milgram, Gone Girl, and HP Lovecraft.