The Extremist and Other Tales of Conflict
(Pendragon Press, £4.99, 73 pages, paperback, published 30 September
I wonder how this one ended up on my desk?
Paul Finch's slender collection from Pendragon Press is comprised of
five stories and a lengthy introduction from the author, on the theme
of war and conflict and in particular its lasting effect on the human
psyche, told through the medium of horror stories. Quite rightly, the
real horrors of war and its effects are held up as worthy competitors
to the fantasy horror of vampires and ghouls, and in his introduction
the author outlines the reasons for putting together this collection
in addition to a role call of family members whose experiences and sacrifices,
reviewed again once you have read the collection, informs much of what
is to come.
The title story gives us a glimpse into the mind of a man who, tortured
by memories of the Far East in WW2, the loss of his wife and constant
abuse by a problem family on the estate where he lives, loses grip on
reality and the concept of appropriate force, exacting vengeance on
his abusers in as uncompromising a way as if they were Japanese soldiers
faced in battle. Well written and thought provoking, but poorly structured
and a weak ending.
"We Who Fight Monsters" is for me the stand out story of
the collection. Neo-Nazi sympathisers, children snatched and raised
in the enigmatic Farm as assassins to purify the country of the physically
and mentally handicapped, facing east and worshipping a dead Fuhrer
(with clever allusions to the trappings of Christianity and the sacrifice
of 'Our Lord'). One such hardened killer finds himself developing feelings
towards a potential victim and of course, it all ends in tears. Excellent
premise and delivery.
"My Day Dying" was my second favourite, extremely well structured
account of a wounded soldier trying to come to terms with his own father's
death in WW1, his troubled childhood and his own ever increasing-brutality
during combat as he lies dying at Arnhem.
The collection ends with two weaker stories in comparison to what has
gone before. "Ordeals Inc" treads the same ground as the movie
The Game with a company specialising in extreme 'treats' for
the rich and bored -- in this case, the protagonist wants to live out
his childhood hero fantasies in order to live up the images of his VC
winning grandfather and air ace father. "The She-Wolf Shimmered"
had me baffled by its ending -- a good build up with a notorious Nazi
female guard being held prisoner by brutalised British soldiers -- but
in the end made no sense to me.
Overall this is a strong collection with a powerful theme, and even
those stories I criticise as weak show much skill in characterisation
and pacing, it is just the denouement which sometimes fails, which surely
is half the battle -- no pun intended -- with the short form? Recommended,
and I will be hunting out more work by Paul Finch.
Elsewhere in infinity plus: