This is a collection of 17 horror stories that all take place in the same venue, a music club called The Shantyman in San Francisco. The first story, “What Sort of Rube” by Alan M. Clark sets the stage. In the era of horse-drawn carriages, a sailor is shanghaied outside of a music hall, then shipwrecked on an island of cannibals. He curses the music hall, so presumably, all the bad things that happen in the rest of the stories are a result of this old sailor’s curse.
We get a couple stories from the prohibition era, a couple from the hippie era, a few from the 1990s, half-a-dozen taking place in the present day, and even one from the future. With one exception, I don’t think any of the stories referenced each other. It would have been nice for the present day stories to mention the same bartender or band name, but unless I missed it, I don’t think this happens.
We get vampires, a villain from a movie becoming real, time travel, demonic possession, the Manson Family, and a lot of normal people deciding to become murderers for various reasons. Some of the stories are straight up horror, while others, like “True Starmen” by Max Booth III, are humorous.
As with all multi-author anthologies, it’s a mixed bag with me not liking some stories as much as others. I think my favorite is “In the Winter of No Love” by John Skipp in which a woman heads to San Francisco in 1969 hoping to experience the summer of love, but arrives a couple years too late. She experiences a truly horrifying psychedelic nightmare. It’s the most gruesome story in the collection and I usually don’t like splatterpunk, but this one works.
“Ascending” by Robert Ford is another favorite, featuring a girl-shy guy meeting a woman online. The ending was confusing and surreal, but I liked it just the same. “Running Free” by Brian Keene is about a member of organized crime finding out he has cancer. Since he’s a smoker, his family won’t get a life insurance payout if the cancer kills him, so he becomes a runner, hoping to die of a heart attack. He starts seeing things, including characters from previous stories, kind of tying the collection together.
We end with a story from at least 15 years into the future, “We Sang in Darkness” by Mary SanGiovanni, in which music is banned because it opens portals to other worlds and we get a glimpse of the alien apocalypse.
I didn’t like every story in this collection, but I liked enough to make it worth reading.