The second in April Moon Books’ Short Sharp Shocks series can best be described as a mental menagerie of unconventional giant beasts. Gone are traditional Godzilla and Kaiju type monstrosities and instead what you get is more “Night of the Lepus”. Sadly there are no giant killer rabbits on the rampage but the tongue is most firmly planted in cheek for more than a few of the stories contained herein. If the book solely consisted of giant killer giraffes, beavers and mammoth duck billed platypuses then I would a bit disappointed but editor Neil Baker deftly balances the absurd and outrageous creations with beautifully written and engaging stories.
From that description you may be thinking this is a book of two halves and to be honest, it is. The book’s content is heavily weighed towards the more unconventional and outlandish spectrum of giant creatures. So be prepared to have your perceptions challenged by (in no particular order) a space jellyfish, giant wasps, killer giraffes, flesh hungry beavers, an escaped Hound of Hell, a kangaroo god, a huge killer frog from hell, gargantuan rhino, a giant clown avatar created via weird science, rampaging mutated insects, Mayan space gods and the Kraken. The majority of stories are entertaining light hearted pieces of escapism but the anthology is lifted by the inclusion of some really great stories which are just that bit more in terms of execution. That’s not to denigrate or downgrade the contributions of authors to this anthology. It is just that there were certain stories that had a style and creativity that really grabbed my attention and it’s those ones that stand out.
The first of these is the opening story “Juggernaut” by the late, great C.J. Henderson. An apt title for the relentless nature of those other dimension creatures that are unbound by time, physics and space, The Hounds of Tindalos. It is a great opener of a story as Henderson’s Teddy London finds out what happens when you really mess with them.
The next story that captivated me was “The Humming” by Christine Morgan. Ostensibly it falls into the category of “unconventional big creature”, in this case a Hummingbird that just keeps getting bigger and bigger with each bit of sweet stuff that it sips. So far so bizarre but it is the style in which it conveys the frenetic energy and mannerisms of the bird that just lift it of the page. Morgan is definitely turning into one of my favourite speculative fiction writers.
The same can also be said of Konstantine Paradias. His writing has this energy, creativity and vibe about it that just leaps off the page. “Sadie and Tho’Thok” is a cracking little story about the lonely voyages of a sentient celestial body as it hurtles through the void in response to the distressed cries of a little blue planet. It is just a really good idea that is well executed with style and panache. This sentiment is echoed in “The Knot” by Edward Morris III. This starts off as an interrogation of a murder suspect with a preoccupation about knots. It starts off subtly and much like the rope that the suspect plays with throughout his questioning, twists and turns all over the place. I’m not going to spoil this one. It deserves a closer read and I’ll be searching out more of his work.
So all in all I would recommend the anthology. Stomping Grounds is a varied and most of all, fun to read anthology. Personally, it isn’t quite on par with the first book in the series, “AMOK!” but compared to a fair few themed anthologies I’ve read it stands head and shoulders above the crowd. I can’t wait to see what April Moon Books unleashes next!