Ed Gorman is one of the top writers of genre short stories. His most recent collection of short fiction, Scream Queen and Other Tales of Menace, features the Gorman short story at its best. It includes 14 stories published between 1989 and 2014. The stories range from science fiction to straight crime, but each has the commonality of the outsider perspective, and a certain discomforting velvet darkness.
The collection opens with the 1999 story “Angie” (originally published in the anthology 999: New Stories of Horror and Suspense). Angie has goals. She wants the best life has to offer. As a girl she heard the term “kept woman” and has spent her life aiming toward that destination; somehow she ended up the live-in of a bigoted small time criminal, with his son, in a dilapidated trailer. The story builds quickly, and in unexpected ways—not once, but twice—and the ending is a perfectly dark shadow of humanity.
Scream Queen is a rich collection of stories; none are weak and each is entertaining and even provocative. The best of the group—first among equals, in a sense—is the 1994 science fiction story “Cages” (originally published in the anthology Earth Strikes Back. It is written in third person from the perspective of a young boy whose father is a “dreamduster” (read drug addict). There is strife between the boy’s mother and father, mostly due to lack of money, and he has the dream of a perfect life. A new car. A sunlit afternoon. And peace. He thinks the key is money, and he has a plan to get it for his mother.
“Cages” is truly a masterpiece. It is set in an undefined place and time; a futuristic (in a bad way) place to be sure. A gray world with bitter gray people. The boy’s plan is executed, but not quite revealed until the final paragraphs of the story, and its revelation is stunning. It is reminiscent of Richard Matheson’s early science fiction stories—it particularly reminded me of his “Dance of the Dead”—but it is wholly Ed Gorman from its sympathetic treatment of the boy to the pity of the denouement.
Scream Queen and Other Tales of Menace is published by Perfect Crime Books, and it includes a very nice Introduction by Tom Piccirilli, an Afterword, which is a brief interview with Ed Gorman, and there are editorial notes at the end of a few of the stories.