THE BEST OF GAMUT edited by Richard Thomas (Gamut, Inc; January 01, 2024) Kindle edition. 220 pages. ISBN # 9798989247813

Gamut Magazine is returning in 2024, under the House of Gamut umbrella. Gamut Magazine was an online magazine devoted to speculative fiction that ran from 2017 through 2019, successfully funded through a Kickstarter campaign. Along with the return of the magazine, the House of Gamut includes a publishing arm and a teaching academy.

As a former supporter, I received an advanced review pdf copy of THE BEST OF GAMUT from editor Richard Thomas, without obligation. However, I knew as soon as I became involved in the stories that I wanted to say something about this. (Scheduled release date is January 01, 2024).

I resisted the impulse to read this well-assembled anthology without interruption, and took my time in order to fully appreciate the stories individually on their own merits. THE BEST OF GAMUT is a very fine assortment of various genres and themes. I rated 10 of the 15 stories as above average, including a Five-Star stand-out, “The God Of Low Things” by Stephen Graham Jones, and four more that rated Four Stars or higher.

The stories:
ETCH THE UNTHINKABLE by Kurt Fawver – – The collection opens with a grim, disturbing tale that seems to symbolize much, and perhaps set the tone for this anthology. A crowd assembles to wait in line for a special pop-up comedy show with Etch The Clown performing inside a rundown, abandoned warehouse in an unnamed city. Some lines come to mind . . . . Comedy is Dead. Funny or Die. . . . . Funny and Die. Hard to get attached or feel something for any of these characters but the story and imagery linger in the mind. Shudder. THREE STARS.

METAL, SEX, MONSTERS by Maria Haskins A woman who discovers she is a succubus and/or soul-draining creature during a middle school lights-out party goes on a lifetime sex-and-destroy rampage until finally questioned by an investigator. There’s a twisty ending to this one. The authors choice of first person narration makes this work. THREE AND ONE HALF-STARS.

SLIPPING PETALS FROM THEIR SKINS BY Kristi DeMeester DeMeester puts a creepy spin on vampiric and body snatcher themes with a story about a middle sister of three who tries to prevent a transformation after the older sister is invaded from within in flowery fashion. A bit predictable, as I saw the ending coming but I still enjoyed this symbolic tale. THREE AND ONE-HALF STARS.

GHOST STORIES WE TELL AROUND PHOTON FIRES by Cassandra Khaw A graveyard between the asteroids. Only two passengers left on the space ship. Maybe only one is real, and he’s in love with the one who may not be real. They both age, but at vastly different rates. Will there be a confrontation with death? Lots of questions about this one. The way it is written is somewhat vague and often full of big words that I think the author included on purpose to add to the confusion. In spite of all that, I liked the story especially the back and forth dialogue. THREE STARS

GARNIER by Brian Evenson My favorite of the collection so far. A love triangle culminating in a murder, related to a real estate transaction. Narrated in two different points-of-view, those of the two male competitors for the female’s attention. Which one of them murdered her? Both narrators drop clues while Evenson keeps us guessing.FOUR STARS

LOVE STORY, AN EXORCISM by Michelle E. Goldsmith This one really crept under my skin and kept tingling. Throughout the entire story, you get a sense of dread and just keep reading waiting for the payoff (on the last page, for those keeping track – and subject to interpretation). Told in second person, which is a neat trick, but skillfully done here. A coming-of-age story where it’s easy to empathize with the narrator, subject to a nearly lifelong dangerous relationship with an abusive and controlling best friend. FOUR AND ONE HALF STARS – best rating so far!

AN ENDING (ASCENT) by Michael Wehunt I felt this one, especially during the perfectly chosen scenes and descriptive wording. Wehunt packs a punch, first to the gut and then to the heart.
In the near future a cure for aging is developed. But through an unspecified glitch, the cure is ineffective on anyone born before 1980. A senior citizen who just missed the mark has to carry on knowing his wife, children and grandchildren will outlive him. (Gut punch).
Then, the best part of his life for decades is about to be taken away from him, causing him to contemplate his purpose and reason.(Heart punch). That’s a lot of hurt.
A real contender for top story in this collection. But, like many of the stories here the ending is not crystal clear and final resolution is left to the reader to decide. That took a bit of the bruise away. FOUR AND THREE-QUARTER STARS.

THE BUBBLEGUM MAN by Eric Reitan Two young children try to rescue their drugged mother from an abusive relationship with her pimp. A creepy clown with strange powers may provide the solution. Weird and unsettling story. THREE STARS AND ONE-QUARTER STARS

THE MARK by Kathryn E. McGee Speaking of weird, I found myself saying “WTF?” after reading this story. McGee takes a seemingly minor situation and exaggerates both the scene and the outcome. Body horror of a most unusual variety. A lonely woman on a dinner date is troubled by a facial blemish. THREE AND ONE-QUARTER STARS

FIGURE 8 by E. Catherine Tobler I’m not sure that the second person narration is absolutely essential to the way this science-fiction story is told. I did not relate to the main character, a female clone. She’s the eighth version, and for unexplained reasons is determined to eliminate the seven that came before her. Still, this is fast-paced throwaway entertainment with a twisty ending that some may see coming. THREE STARS

THE MOMENTS BETWEEN by Kate Jonez A horror story of the worst kind, and that’s a compliment. It got under my skin and disturbed me. A mother in a rural farmhouse suspects something awful in the root cellar and takes drastic action. It’s just a symbol for the bigger problem, and the real source of the horror. FOUR AND ONE-HALF STARS

THEY ARE PASSING BY WITHOUT TURNING by Helen Marshall A fantasy tale set in a post-religious war society where a young girl is recruited by the ministry and has several encounters with Archangels, eventually helping one to pass through it’s final moments. More of a scence rather than a complete story. I found it difficult to determine what was the point of this long story. TWO STARS.

CRADLE LAKE by Jan Stinchcomb I read this story twice but, unfortunately, this was vague enough that I couldn’t determine what the author meant. Here’s what I guess happens: In the near future, a pregnant high school girl drowns herself in a lakeside community. It’s an incident that adults want to forget, perhaps because the world has become sterile. The young folks, including elementary students, memorialize the death with plastic baby dolls that ends up driving their parents away. TWO STARS.

THE ARROW OF TIME by Kate Dollarhyde An emotional story about the bond between daughter and a dying mother. Together they mourn the ravages of climate change in California. The mother, an astrophysicist, invents a time machine to go back to better times. Time travel may have caused her incurable cancer. After her death, her daughter risks everything to use the machine. FOUR STARS

THE GOD OF LOW THINGS by Stephen Graham Jones It appears that the best was saved for last, and very deserving. A heart-warming blend of dark humor, some OCD behavior, nature and horror as only Stephen Graham Jones can tell it. A bicyclist has a collision with a prairie dog, and takes what he believes are humane actions that have both expected and unexpected consequences. FIVE STARS

About Author /

Born in the 50's; developed in the '60s. An eternal child with the training wheels still on. Love all things pop culture: books, comics, film, tv, music, horror, crime, fantasy, science fiction.

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