Review: Dangerous Games

6 years ago
Til Knowles

“Games are ubiquitous,” claims Jonathan Oliver, editor of Dangerous Games, a short story anthology set to be released by Solaris on the fourth of December this year. Each of the eighteen short stories collected in Dangerous Games explores the nature of games, the unclear lines between playfulness and seriousness.

dangerous games cover

A cross-section of genres including science fiction, fantasy and horror, the stories here can be placed in the broad category of speculative fiction. There’s the borderline mythological to the utterly hard science fiction. The opening piece, “Big Man” by Chuck Wendig, eases the reader into genre with a tale of divorce and the effects of anger. Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s “The Yellow Door” flirts with body horror. Lavie Tidhar presents a simple yet utterly confronting piece with “Die”. So it goes. The stories have been positioned so that when reading cover to cover there is a tonal link or a narrative thread between each one, like a well thought out mix tape.

Oliver is right, there is a universality to game playing, and it lends these stories a touch of the familiar, even when their premises are bizarre or horrific. Particular stories stand out as affecting. Yoon Ha Lee’s “Distinguishing Characteristics” merges with layers of fantasy and role playing, building perhaps the most political of the short stories. Lee’s use of the second person is subtle, generating character and employing the traditional narrative voice of role playing games. Ivo Stourton’s “Two Sit Down, One Stands Up” pulls on dark moral questions of authenticity while delving into the possibilities of future technology. Stourton’s pacing is quick, the characters’ thoughts engaging and the setting mysterious enough to prompt intrigue. The piece is just the right length, neither outstaying its welcome or cutting off its narrative too soon. By contrast “Lefty Plays Bridge” by Pat Cardigan, the final piece of the anthology, is hard to let go of. The narrative and its conflicts are gentle but well defined, and it prompts a desire to stay with the central character and to see her, in some sense, ‘win’.

Be warned: there’s a lot of violence in this collection, with many stories focusing on the “game” of murder, life and death. Nik Vincents’ “The Stranger Cards”, Gary McMahon’s “Ready or Not”, Rebecca Levene’s “Loser” all touch on the twisted fun of life or death stakes.

There are no dud stories in Dangerous Games, just varying genres, and as such different readers will appreciate different narratives. The collection prompts consideration, and which stories stay with you all depends on how you play your narrative games.

Dangerous Games is available from December 4, 2014. It is published by Solaris for Rebellion Publishing.

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