Book Review: Dangerous Games

 Dangerous Games by Jonathan Oliver (ed.)

In a world ruled by chance, one rash decision could bring down the house, one roll of the dice could bring untold wealth, or the end of everything. 

 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.

 In this anthology of the weird and the macabre, multi-award-winning editor Jonathan Oliver brings together a diverse collection of voices from some of today’s finest writers, to create an original and fresh collection that’s unlike anything you’ve read before. 

1.     Big Man, Chuck Wendig   
2.     The Yellow Door, Silvia Moreno-Garcia  
3.     Die, Lavie Tidhar
4.     Chrysalises, Benjanun Sriduangkaew
5.     South Mountain, Paul Kearney
6.     The Game Changer, Libby McGugan
7.     Distinguishing Characteristics, Yoon Ha Lee
8.     Captain Zzapp!!! – Space Hero from 3000 AD, Gary Northfield
9.     Death Pool, Melanie Tem
10.  The Bone Man’s Bride, Hillary Monahan
11.  Honourable Mention, Tade Thompson
12.  Loser, Rebecca Levene
13.  Two Sit Down, One Stands Up, Ivo Stourton
14.  Ready or Not, Gary McMahon
15.  The Monogamy of Wild Beasts, Robert Shearman
16.  The Stranger Cards, Nik Vincent
17.  All Things Fall Apart and Are Built Again, Helen Marshall
18.    Lefty Plays Bridge, Pat Cadigan 

I have heard very good stories about the anthologies that come from Solaris books, both from Jonathan Strahan and from their lead Editor in chief Jonathan Oliver, could it be in the name? Dangerous Games is my first Solaris anthology, when I look for an anthology one thing that has to speak to me is the theme of it, I am a sucker for a solid epic fantasy anthology but one that really surprised me earlier this year was Dead Man's Hand a full focused western anthology. The name of Solaris latest anthology, Dangerous Games, should already say enough, and the promise of the weird and the macabre fully topped it off. Many games are dangerous to play; how far will you go to win? The stories that feature in this anthology aren't only based on card games or gambling they are diverse and mean games in the most broad sense also think of computer games and the virtual world associated with them down to "games" played in traffic.

As with all of the review of anthologies that I do I always highlight a couple of stories that I enjoyed the most. So lets begin!


1. Big Man by Chuck Wendig

Dangerous Games starts of just perfect with the story Big Man of Chuck Wendig. If you any sort of vehicle, be it car, truck or motorcycle everyone of us must have at one point or another encountered some jerk on the road or something along those lines that has managed to draw blood from underneath your fingers (it's a dutch saying), they must have frustrated you a lot. A clear warning: Never drive when you are angry. In this story you follow Richie, who just had a bad encounter with his wife which ended in a with a possible divorce and some thoughts of his wife wanting full custody over their child are already going trough his head, most importantly perhaps is the fact  that he might never see his girl again... At that moment, Richie get overtaken by a different car which just get on his nerves again and he shouts something but this driver doesn't take it kindly and dump a big can of soda on his windshield, and now the race is just getting started. Richie makes some horrific findings in the back of other drivers car, a girl fully tied up bound and gagged. This somehow does clear the rage from Richie heart and he tries to call the cops, yes tries because his cellphone fails him... Now Richie does everything to call this possible kidnapper to halt... ill stop here as in the end of the story there are some unexpected twists, something supernatural is going on, sort of like Christine of Stephen King but different. And remember never drive angry!

3. Die by Lavie Tidhar

I already mentioned in my Short Fiction Friday review of Selfies that I did two weeks back that I would review his short story, Die, in Dangerous Games as well. Lavie Tidhar is one of those author that doesn't mind to get you wholly uncomfortable while reading. Selfies had an interesting structure in story telling with the numbers of the photos telling the story. In Die, Lavie Tidhar does the same but this by the current number of the game, but not a harmless game as the name implies, after each round there is only one number. Every contestant is marked with a number and in Die we follow number 54, who first faces against number 12. In each of these games a die is being rolled, the one that throws the highest survives. You know the die part has two meaning throwing of and the actual fate of the loosing person. The winner each time gets to kill the opponent in a different way, be it by knife, gun or electrocution. The first few round of games that you see you only read what happens, who wins and how the person is killed but as the story progresses and No. 54 has started to live for many games and thus is building a name for himself you see more of a backstory and emotional current developing. Though he might seem like a merciless killer, No. 54 is forced to do it. In the ends it is another day another game for no. 54. Lavie Tidhar managed to get the thrills running through my body with this in the front it says that it was reminiscent to the Milgram Experiments, with this in the background Lavie Tidhar managed to give it his own eerie spin. 

5. South Mountain by Paul Kearney

I know Paul's writing the best from The Ten Thousand and Corvus. These are to marvelous book (also published by Solaris). These books focus heavily on Epic Fantasy, I haven't had the chance to pick up his UF series that he published via Solaris earlier this year so this is my first sort of modern story that I read of Paul Kearney. Yes that is correct sort of, as the by just a few words you will probably understand where I am hitting at. Battlefield re-enactment. In this story you follow a group of people who set out by car to drive to a spot to participate in an historical battlefield re-enactment at South Mountain a battle that took place during the American Civil War. Early on in the story it become quite clear that a few of the bunch are very into battlefield re-enactments, they are devoted to the cause and see it more than a hobby. Soon this does start something of a friction between the people but they eventually turn to go to bed. And this is where something spooky happens, as one person, Avery,  wakes up and sees someone unfamiliar sitting around their campfire... Now with having read the premise that mentioned "some fantasies hold a great deal of truth" I should have seen this one coming but I was so caught up in the moment and the world that Paul Kearney describes that I hadn't and this last plot twist gives a very nice ending to the story and the "are you a believer" part makes much more sense. Really cool and unexpected story. 

6. The Game Changer by Libby McGugan 

I only gotten to know of Libby McGugan's writing last year when I read The Eidolon which was quite a provocative story.I liked how she brought "every day" to the forefront in the wake of an thriller aspect so when I found out that she had written a story for this anthology I immediately jumped to the page to read it. And again it was a treat. It does mention up front that her background in medical and science helped in this story and I do sincerely second that opinion. In The Game Changer Libby McGugan creates a very realistic setting that some people must have encountered. Being faced with the news that your son or daughter is suffering from something incurable, like cancer, and that the only option left is to count down the days. Max is suffering from just this in The Game Changer, and his parents don't see any other option until they take it into their own hands and Adam, Max's father find something new. As a last resort, Max receives a new treatment called Nano2, and this is the game changer for sure. Now you might guess the direction, Nano here means nanoparticles. But while they make a scan of Max's body they see that the cancer has spread... but what they don't know and which is said in the end of the story “We’re dealing with quantum particles here. And in the quantum world, the observer is inextricably entangled with the outcome of the experiment. Max is the observer in his own game.” . Does this however also apply to our modern day medicine? How far we actually from this point? Libby McGugan has produced a very realistic and emotional story. Perfect. 

18. Lefty Plays Bridge by Pat Cadigan

I know that Pat Cadigan is a really established writer who has won multiple awards, though I do have to admit that this is my first story of her. Yes I know shame on me. Anyway on to Lefty Plays Bridge, just a note up front this will make you say WOW out loud in the end, my coworkers were looking at me pretty weird when I said this a bit too loud. One thing you normally associated with games are cards. This is exactly what Pat Cadigan involves in her story, however in the start of the story there is a mention that not all it actually what it seems in Lefty Plays Bridge. Read closely between the dealing of the cards. So naturally I proceeded with high caution. The story starts of rather innocent with a focus of introducing the characters and their respective backgrounds but it very soon starts to turn into a not so nice game as a rivalry becomes notable between the two twins of the story. Diana and Camille, one was always the favorite and the other was more like the third wheel to the wagon. Diana was and still is constantly bullied by her sister and you know when you read through the card moves it becomes obvious that Diana just want everything to stop and become just one happy family but her sister enjoys bullying her too much. Now I have to stop telling what happens next but there is very dark plot twist at the end, where Pat Cadigan leaves the follow-up pretty opens but in that very powerful last paragraph you as a reader damn (Oh no swear jar!) well knows what happened. Lefty Plays Bridge is just spot on. Psycological, emotional and very unpredictable, just how we humans are. 


Just to sum it all up. Unfortunately I cannot discuss every story in a review, but these five stories were my favourites, this doesn't mean that the other were bad at all. No Jonathan Oliver has selected a very nice set of stories that truly fit in the lines of what dangerous games could be. Now you have to take the term dangerous games in the broadest sense possible as not all games are solely based on playing cards (which with they are normally associated with). Added to this comes a very diverse set of different genres, from historical fiction, urban fantasy and a more contemporary horror-thriller setting. Dangerous Games is definitely an anthology that will get the hairs rising on your arms. Perfectly suited for those darker months ahead of you!


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