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The democratization of publishing tools is a double-edged sword, for sure. You get a lot of people shoving out an unending sting of sub-par, shoddily edited (if at all) swill. I’ve listened to podcasts espousing the benefits of getting a ton of material out quickly—as in, 5,000 words or more a week—in order to start LIVING THE DREAM NOW. There’s reams of digital copy available online right now that would never pass muster with any self-respecting publishing outfit of any size.
The other consequence, of course, is that we now have access to the work of writers and editors who might not get a mainstream publishing opportunity. Few things are more enjoyable than when I discover a new writer (through a small press or self-published) whose work is unique and of high quality.
Broken Worlds is a book from an editor whose passion for genre literature is clear. This is the kind of book that has benefited from the digital and print on demand revolution. It’s got a ton of short stories from independent (and some underground-established) authors. The book is very uneven in terms of genre, writing styles, and arguably quality—but that’s what makes it charming. It’s big enough and diverse enough that you’re bound to find something you like. It’s books like this that represent the future of small press publishing: new editors and authors getting their sea legs under them, getting their work published and read, developing their voices and deciding where they want to go as artists—and those of us who take a chance on their work get to go along for the ride.
The book’s central theme is that we live in a reality of systems—and these systems degenerate or evolve (much like traditional publishing itself). Each story contains some sort of breakdown, whether of a social order, of innocence, or of reality itself. Beyond this wide apocalyptic conceit, however, the stories are very diverse in tone, style, and narrative. Again, this is both the book’s greatest strength and weakness. But it’s in this diversity that you’re sure to find something you like.
The stories I enjoyed the most were by a couple of authors I was already familiar with, and a couple that I had not heard of before. “The Wailing Women” by M. R. Ranier is at the front of the book and sets its tone as one of its strongest stories. “The Interview” by Shannon Iwanski is both hilarious and macabre, especially for anyone who has ever worked for a giant institution or government. Scott R. Jones is as always in fine form, this time offering us a story about language, words, and the unmaking of all things in “I Cannot Begin to Tell You”. Robin Wyatt Dunn’s “The Coens” mixes science fiction slipstream adventurism with cosmic finality. “Five Laments for the Horizon Summer Resort, to be Destroyed and Never Built Again” by Tom Breen (his short fiction debut) is a slow burn ghost story that reminded me of subtle yet emotionally powerful classical supernatural stories. I’d like to see what Tom can do in the full-on weird/horror forms.
The majority of the book’s offerings fall somewhere between science fiction and fantasy, but there are a few horror offerings here. That said, I wouldn’t recommend this for someone looking for a purely horror anthology. Reviewing such an eclectic book is difficult, as personal preferences in style and tone (and occasionally quality) vary so widely that I can’t really sum up a book like this. While I think the anthology would have benefited from a few less stories and a greater focus on theme (or genre), it’s still promising to see so many new (to me, at least) voices in a volume that is anything but another printing-mill short story anthology. It’s an exciting time to be a reader (and writer!) of genre literature, and Broken Worlds is a solid step forward into speculative fiction territory for young editor Jack Burgos and A Murder of Storytellers.