Column: On the Marches of Dreamland: Review: Expiration Date

By Randy Stafford

Kilpatrick, Nancy, ed. Expiration Date. EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, 2015. Kindle USD $5.99. ISBN: 978-1-77053-063-8. Paperback USD $15.95. 288 pages. ISBN: 978-1-77053-062-1.

An anthology that promises stories that “examine all sorts of expirings, but mainly the ones that are personal,” seems like a good idea. The execution? That’s another matter.

First off, all but four stories – by a generous count – personify Death.

Yes, that sounds like fun. We all like stories about Death with a capital D.

We can all make up our own lists of fiction, comic books, songs, paintings, poems, and movies with Death. And that’s where the trouble starts.

There’s Death as muse, Death as ferryman, even cosmic accountant Death adjusting the balance sheets of human lives. It starts getting repetitive after a while – and quite un-novel and un-memorable. More than once, I found myself sighing, “Is that it?” at the end of a story.

So, I am not going to cover every story because you might end up nearly as bored as I was. A table of contents exists at the publisher’s website. You’ll find many talented and popular names, so it’s not for lack of talent that I was bored.

Still, I did like some of the stories of Death, mostly historical pieces. Death is an icy Russian countess in David McDonald’s “To Dance, Perchance to Die,” and she grants her favorite dancer of the Ballets Russes the curse of a long life. Rebecca Bradley puts her archaeological experience to good use with “An Inspector Calls.” The manager of a mummy factory in Ancient Egypt shows a new employee around. New employee is not amused at the corners being cut.

A couple of non-historical stories pleased me. J.M. Frey’s “The Twenty Seven Club” is a refreshingly mean-spirited tale of a rock star trying to renege on his contract with Death. I don’t completely understand the ending of Steve Rasnic and Melanie Tem’s “Night Market.” The title refers to a roving urban carnival held in semi-trailers. The fantasies fulfilled inside those trailers are both common depravities and more exotic fare.

The Tems’ story does not involve Death, just death. Another story I’m not sure I understood completely was “This Strange Way of Dying” from our very own publisher Silvia Moreno-Garcia. But I liked its setting in the tumult of the Mexican Revolution and portrait of Death as a destroyer of eras, stealer of a young woman’s heart – in other words, more a real character and not just an allegorical representation.

A refreshing deviation from Death was Judith & Garfield Reeve-Stevens’ “things in jars” and the anthology’s capstone, “Right of Survivorship,” from Nancy Holder and Erin Underwood. In its setup of a criminal on the run encountering a sinister roadside attraction, the Reeve-Stevens story reminded me of a Twilight Zone episode, though the ending seemed more a series pilot for a Friday the 13th-type show of cursed objects. It’s humanity’s lease on earth that’s expiring in the Holder and Underwood tale.

To be fair, going back over my notes several days after finishing this book, I looked at the stories again. Few are bad. Some deal with real world stuff that has touched most of us: the death of friends, families and pets, and the sometime-burden the dying place on the living.

And, if I were reading my review, I’d probably say the number of worthwhile stories makes it worth buying as an e-book.

And it’s entirely possible you haven’t had enough Death stories, or are starting out your reading life in fantastika, so take this as a conflicted review.

The poison’s in the dose and I OD’ed. You may read more responsibly.