City of Freaks and Aliens
The city of Paxton, more popularly known as Punktown, is an Earth colony located on the planet Oasis. There different races and species, both indigenous and foreign, cohabit and collide. The brainchild of the American writer Jeffrey Thomas — author of the notable horror collections Aaaiiiieee! and Honey Is Sweeter Than Blood — Punktown , with its varied urban setting, has already been the location for a previous short story collection published by Ministry of Whimsy Press in 2000. Now joined by his brother Scott (author of Westermead), Jeffrey comes back to the dangerous streets of this alien city to observe and dissect the events taking place in there. The stories feature monsters, mutants, clones, robots and other weird creatures.
An unusual mix of SF and horror (but definitely unbalanced towards SF), this volume collects eight new stories by Jeffrey and seven by Scott. The themes vary from mutant "children" born from an unhappy whore ("Sweaty Betty") to an alien menagerie at loose in a dilapidated building ("Perfectly Beastly"), to the difficult relationship between a man and a bunch of his own clones ("Hydra"), and so on.
Jeffrey manages to really hit the target with several pieces. In "The Unbearable Being of Light" a huge, bizarre creature dominates the scene in a zone inhabited by enigmatic people and repellent parasites. The alien atmosphere makes the tale dark, fascinating and not so subtly unsettling. "The Hate Machines" relies upon a very original idea. Life sucks in Punktown, and special puppets are made available to get rid of anger and hate, and to allow people to let off steam.
"Adrift On The Sea Of Milk" is an excellent story about a carnival ride and a peculiar doll given out as a prize. The ambiguous nature of the doll (mechanical? animal?) is depicted in a delicate, disquieting manner, revealing an undercurrent of sadness and despair. The beautifully written "Willow Tree" is an offbeat tale of murders taking place around an old tree at a traffic intersection.
Among Scott’s contributions I particularly liked "Pulse", the intriguing report of the strange adventures of a necrophiliac bus driver forced to face murder and violence, and "The Merciful Universe". The latter is a gentle, compelling piece of fiction describing the lives of a young girl and a lonely woman, and the unlucky fate of their pets. The remaining stories I found a bit too "alien" for my own taste, but that is Punktown’s nature, I guess.
A mix of strong colours and delicate shades, this collection will disturb more than one reader, delight some, disgust a few, but it won’t bore any, which I think is no small merit. Isn’t entertainment the first objective of fiction?