Varying Distances by Darren Speegle

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A solid collection with fleshed-out characters and good world building. Most of the stories left me wanting more including the dream-like opener, “In the Distance, A Familiar Sound” in which a drug-using artist in Germany obsessed with consciousness and time meets a figure of chaos. We get another artist in “The Flesh Winks while the Ghost Weeps” who is forced to do a portrait of a cult leader.

Military contractors narrate a few of the stories such as the enigmatic “The Staging Yard” in which a missing convoy in Iraq shows up again unexpectedly and “For Love of War” in which a wounded military contractor in Iraq falls in love with the Muslim girl who nurses him back to health. “For Love of War”, like many of the stories in this collection, had an abrupt ending which made me feel like I was missing something.

Many of the stories take place on Halloween such as “Balearic Moon: A Question of Masks” which takes place on a hippie commune in Ibiza, Spain in 1971, although there are scenes which take place in other times and places as well. Although I liked this one, I was confused by it.

Perhaps tying into the previous story, “A Carousel of Faces” features a robot disguised as a human in Germany in 2116. The sniper assigned to assassinate her has a difficult job due to the target’s ability to change her face.

“Death Paper Burn”, which features a homicidal satanic biker gang, and “That’s the Game” in which a military contractor crashes into one of his Facebook followers on the road in Thailand, are also enjoyable Halloween stories with abrupt confusing endings.

“Song in a Sundress” is more conventional horror story about a 12-year old girl who drowned in a river years ago and her ties to a local urban legend. The most horrifying story is probably “A Puddle in the Wilderness” in which a river rafting trip goes bad when a couple meet some inbred hillbillies intent on torture, but there’s more going on than it at first appears.

I really liked the writing in this collection, even if many of the stories had confusing twists at the end. Perhaps the stories will make more sense when I reread the collection.

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