In this wide-ranging collection, the New York Times-bestselling urban fantasist opens doors into hidden places: strange realms bordering our own mundane existence and prowled by creatures of fancy and nightmare. Here are the strange, frequently deadly – and sometimes even dead – things that lurk in garbage-strewn city alleyways and grimy subway stations after midnight, visible only to the most perceptive human or inhuman eye.
In these tales, Green revisits the ingenious worlds within worlds that he created for his wildly popular novels. Take a stroll on the Nightside with a jaded street wizard, an underpaid government functionary responsible for keeping demons, vamps, and aliens in line. Enter the hidden recesses of Drood Hall, where the aging family member who creates powerful weapons that protect humankind recalls his long and bloody career. Join a squad of no-longer-human soldiers dispatched to combat the all-consuming jungle on a distant planet. Visit a house at the intersection of two realities that serves as a sanctuary from the evil of “all” worlds. Confront the unstoppable zombie army of General Kurtz in a brilliant homage to Apocalypse Now. And, whatever you do, never forget that there are monsters out there. Really. Each story includes a new afterword by the author.
–blurb from Goodreads
I’ve been a long-time fan of Simon R. Green, having read his Nightside series and sobbed when it ended. Mercifully, his Secret Histories series is still going strong, so I have something to look forward to from him. What I’ve marveled, loved, and laughed about in his writing is his enviable skill with humor most of all. He has a way of turning the most dire of situations into something that will make me laugh, and twist everything on its head.
Another enviable skill is his world building – it doesn’t matter if he’s writing about an alien world or a world inhabited by zombies, he brings these worlds to life with singular focus, creating them within the space of a short story and a few choice words. It’s a treat to see him turn his urban-fantasy eye to the most mundane of things on the streets of Soho, bringing the night to life – this is the story in the collection upon which the Nightside series was based, but to be honest, I would not mind seeing this become a book series in his hands.
There’s a thread of darkness running through this collection as he explores death, age and loss. The one that stuck with me the most is Jack Drood, the Armorer of the Secret Histories series. He’s the Q (i.e. James Bond’s quartermaster) in that series, devoted to creating the most fantastic of weapons for his family of secret agents, but in this story we see a Jack weighed down by loss, and we learn how he became the character we know from the Secret Histories series.
Then there’s Dorothy – yes, that Dorothy – and her return to Oz, years after she’s left. It’s twisty, it’s unexpected, and it will stay with you long after you’ve moved onto the next story.
Granted, you have to be in the right frame of mind for these stories, for they are darker than his usual fare, and an unexpected introduction into his writing beyond his more famous works. Some stories are not without their twists too, and they’re always, always worth it. I envy his ability to create a story in a handful of pages; ones that linger with me still – like that of a homeless man seeking a place to stay in a section of town filled with zombies, inexplicably “alive” and with nowhere to go because nobody wants his kind.
I don’t think fans of his longer works will be entirely satisfied with these short stories, but if you’re looking for an introduction to the wealth of his sci-fi and fantasy writing, this is a good place to start. And, an added bonus are the little afterwords from him, giving readers insight into how these stories came about.