Sunday, 2 August 2020

Animal Uprising! (2020) - Horror Anthology Book Review

Any frequent visitor to The Rotting Zombie will know I absolutely love anthologies due to the variation they always bring with them. Any anthology worth its salt will have a theme, and by the title, Animal Uprising! it shouldn't be too much of a surprise to discover the theme here is, of course animals...and insects as it turns out. Included in this anthology are 14 different short stories, each of which written by a different author. Some of the stories included here might not be as good as others, or not particularly to my liking, but all of them are well written with even my least favourites fitted in well.
Rather than go through the stories in order I have instead tried to group them together as best I can into four different categories. These are magical and mythical stories, stories about made-up animals, stories about insects, and stories concerning real life animals. 

Magical and mythical stories make up nearly half of the 14 here and are a varied bunch. Michelle Mellon's The Goat is the books first story. It wasn't bad, but having a goat possibly be a devil in disguise is something I have seen done to death in plenty of other media and so it felt maybe a bit too familiar.
Old Shuck by Patrick Winters is another one that uses a familiar idea, this time in the form of a dog that portends doom. I did like the industrial revolution setting used here though.
How Does Your Garden Grow by M.R Deluca is one of only a couple that injects some humour into things. This one is about a nosy journalist whose curiosity into the secret behind a woman's award winning garden leads to great misfortune for him.
Jacob Floyd's Taxidermy Nightmare does exactly what the title suggests. Like so many stories in Animal Uprising! this is a cautionary tale, made all the better by a hunting enthusiast's twisted taxidermy creations coming to life to get their revenge!
Now everyone dislikes the deceitful and sinister animal that is the fox and Judith Baron's The Fox is a good example for why that is the case. I really loved this one, both with the unique setting; a car in Hong Kong one dark and rainy night, and how it blends myths and legends into real life. Sure it was obvious where this was going but it was a great read.
The final magic based story is the collections one true comedic story, J.T Haven's The Lion, The Witch, and The Walrus. This was sandwiched in between two much darker stories and so it was a breath of much needed fresh air.

I dislike insects in real life and I find they are often misused when it comes to horror. All too often people think the mere inclusion of insects is enough to create fear, and don't bother going the extra step to make their inclusion appropriately horrific. To be honest I don't think insects really had any place in a collection which is meant to be about animals (though they do belong to the animal kingdom) and so I felt dedicating four of the stories to insect based horror was a bit much. I have to admit these include among them one of the best tales in the whole collection. The Day of the Deer Flies by Stanley B. Webb is the fifth short in the collection and tells the tale of a mans tortuous journey to his car while under daily assault from paralysing deer flies. I may not like insect horror but this was something unique.
Child of the Earth: A Tale of the Bajazid by Kenneth Bykerk was horrific. It was everything I hate about insect stories. The owner of a mine heads deep into it, along with his crew in order to see for himself the terrible secret that was accidentally uncovered. The descriptions here were nightmarish, makes my skin crawl just thinking about it! It was very effective though with more than a few different ways it created revulsion, it was good enough that it was very nearly my top pick from the collection.
With just one story in between, Hannah Shannon's Grime didn't really stand a fair chance. This one, about a couple discovering a cockroach infestation in their new home would have been fine on its own, but the general barebones plot is kind of identical to Child of the Earth, but with less grotesque ideas, and less developed characters, so it ended up feeling like a pale imitation. I know that's not fair on the author, but that's what it felt like.
Tarantula Hawk by Kevin Folliard follows Grime and by this point I was insected out. A Saw like tale of a man being forced into a deadly game, it didn't really stick in the mind.

With real animals (kinda) we have first The Gull by David Turton. Everyone loves birds, they truly are natures comedians, who it is often said want nothing more than seeds to be happy. In this story a writer, wanting solitude, heads to an isolated island populated only by birds, but, as it turns out, they are none too happy to have a new neighbour. This was the second story in the collection and was more like what I expected of the anthology, lots of gore and violence here.
Upsweep is another unique story in that it is the only one to take place underwater. This has sci-fi elements to it and features a diver who has gone deep down to the ocean floor to search for a missing sub and encounters a giant mantis shrimp. I liked the open ended finish to this one.

Finally, the invented animals, first up is Radish Hunting by Melinda Brasher. This was the most sci-fi story here, taking place on a different planet entirely. A husband and wife go hunting for unicorn/deer type creatures, unaware of just how intelligent these actually are.
Crocopork ends the collection and was my favourite of the bunch. Liam Hogan's story is an apocalyptic (apocalypig?) tale about government created pig/lizard hybrids that swiftly swell to uncontrollable numbers. I love post apocalyptic stuff anyway, but I also liked the format which had sections set in the nightmare present, as well as lots involving a particular soldier's experience of how the world fell apart.

I can't say I have ever read a horror anthology dedicated purely to animals. When I began reading this I was a bit concerned the stories would all blur into one. Instead there is a lot of variety here, and while there were too many insect ones for my liking, these were all well written. For people who enjoy extreme violence and gore many of these will appeal. Animal Uprising! has been released by indie horror label Nightmare Press, and can be found on Amazon.


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