Review: Sha’Daa: Last Call

By Mike Griffiths

Edward McKeown, Edward, ed. Sha’Daa: Last Call. Altered Dimensions. Michael Hanson, series creator.

This is the second book in what I hope will be a very long series of Sha’Daa titles. In case you have been captured by aliens or the like (and didn’t read our review of the first title), the Sha’Daa is an event which takes place every 10,000 years. During the 48 hours of the Sha’Daa, the barrier between Hell and Earth is weakened. Throughout this time, the denizens of Hell not only journey to the Earth to feed, but also to try to claim it as their own. It is up to various, and mostly unsuspecting, humans to turn the tide and defend their world.

But, luckily for us, humanity is not without its allies. Chief amongst these is the mysterious trickster, Jonny, also known as ‘The Salesman’. Jonny himself is barred from interfering directly in the Sha’Daa, but is able to supply people with items that could save the day, as long as they are willing to trade something dear in return.

Jonny also has another ally: the eternal barkeep Bak, the sole owner of the Triple Six Tavern. He has run his bar for thousands of years and realizes that an Earth-destroying apocalypse would probably be bad for business.

The book contains 12 stories, written by 10 different authors, set in this universe. But there is also a unifying interlude between each story, which, in this case, tends to focus on Bak’s Triple Six Tavern and Jonny.  If that isn’t enough, the book also features over a dozen illustrations based on the various stories.

The saga begins with the cover story, “I Kill Zombies”, by Edward McKeown. When a comic-loving teen is asked for a second, he picks the ultra-hottie superheroine of his dreams, Raven. But when he meets her, will she really be what he expected, or even able to help him fight through hordes of zombies?

We go from non-stop action to a more esoteric tale in “A Matter of Faith” by Arthur Sanchez. An old priest, who speaks of needing to sacrifice his life to stop the legendary Sha’Daa, has either gone completely mad or is the hero that could end up saving all of San Francisco.

Next is Paul Barrett’s “As You Sow”. A man watches as his estranged grandson is killed at his doorstep. Things go from horrible to abysmal when the man’s own farm turns against him.

“The Road Forsaken”, by Sha’Daa creator Michael Hanson, comes next. This is a straight-up horror story with several creepy details. You just have to read it. It’s my favourite tale in the anthology.

Sarah Wagner is the author of “In the Chamber of Skulls”. I have read her cyberpunk novel Hard Hired Humanity and she does the transition to horror nicely. A mom tries to keep her kids safe, but she is surrounded by people hell-bent on using her daughters for foul rituals.

“The Voyage of Eris” by T.  Anthony Truax is an inventive story where a small group of people quickly discover they’d better step up and try to be heroes before they all end up dead. Like many of the stories in this book, you can’t put this one down until you read the whole thing.

Ed McKeown gives us “Hellbeast”. This isn’t some kind of monster, but rather a monster-sized military vehicle used to haul broken-down tanks. Between Ed’s two stories, I think I favour this one. It is full of action, suspense, and loads of violence and gore. He leaves you wondering if these veterans of battle and their vehicle have what it takes to go up against a true hellbeast.

Michael Hanson also takes another swing with “Iron Girl”. I challenge anyone to find a dark fantasy story where the hero is a deaf, dumb and blind girl. And boy, can she kick some ass. Innovative and pushing boundaries, it leaves you wondering if Michael was trying to challenge his writing abilities, or if he was writing this one on a dare.

“Silent Hunter”, by Deborah Koren, starts with a cliché: Inexperienced Lieutenant Javers is suddenly put in charge of a submarine after all his superior officers are killed by a huge, Cthulhuish beast. However, the story makes up for this little fault by the sheer, gut-yanking terror the crew goes through when the crewmembers try to engage in combat with a creature over the size of ten whales.

Bruce Durham brings us “Deathstalk”, another story where the military take its hand at fighting creatures that no one discussed in boot camp. This one is pure adventure, the character development is good, and the monsters are pretty darn scary. At the risk of sounding repetitive, I have to say this story really delivers. By the time you get here, the reader is left thinking, “Damn, I’m reading a jam-packed book.”

Jordan Lapp gives the anthology an injection of terror with “Reach in the Acid”. The protagonist is trapped and alone on the Moon, until a bizarre, foul beast arrives.

“The Four Horsemen” by the late James I. Wasserman is a new take on this archetype. What if the Four Horseman were real and you were stuck fighting them? Oh, yeah, by the way, they can’t be killed by any normal means. The result is not a pretty picture.

Some of the stories in Sha’Daa are comicbookish rather than pure horror or dark fantasy, which dilutes the experience. Also here and there, one sees instances where clichés are employed. However, don’t let these small faults slow you down. Sha’Daa is entertaining and packs a real punch. Any fan of horror or dark fantasy should have this book on a shelf. But be warned: watch out for that Salesman, because if he comes calling, that means you are about to be thrust into some serious trouble and you’d better have something to trade.

You can buy Sha’Daa: Last Call on the Altered Dimensions site.