SILVER SCREEN CINEMA

The Sterling Standard in Movie Reviews 

Follow Us On:

THE OUTCAST HOURS

In the Midnight Hour or Two or Three 

Mahvesh Murad
Mahvesh Murad
         
Edited by: Mahvesh Murad; Jared Shurin 
347 Pages
  
B
The Outcast Hours

To paraphrase that well-known philosopher, Forrest Gump, “An anthology is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.” That’s especially the case when the subject matter of the short stories in the anthology is quite broad and somewhat ill-defined. And that’s especially, especially the case when the authors of those stories are relatively unknown. Yet, even though The Outcast Hours, a collection of 25 short stories edited by Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin, manages to check all the cautionary boxes, this anthology proves to be quite tasty indeed. I am indebted to Tracy Fenton of Compulsive Readers, who asked me to take part in the blog tour for this book and graciously provided me a copy.

 

The theme of The Outcast Hours, as the editors explain in their introduction, is the night, or, more specifically, people who live their lives primarily at night. However, the individual authors don’t always stick too closely to that central theme (there’s nary a vampire to be found); in fact, in several of the tales, the lack of sunlight plays at best a minor part in the story. And while the tone of many of the stories is somewhat dark, there are a couple of more humorous ones to be found as well, including one of my favorites, “The Dental Gig,” by S.L. Grey, which turns the familiar children’s legend of the tooth fairy into a case study of a ruthless corporate big business run by those very same fairies.

 

What struck me most about The Outcast Hours wasn’t the time of day that the action, with a couple of rare exceptions, takes place, but, rather, the tremendous breadth of these stories, both geographically and in terms of theme. These tales take place all over the world, from New York to Los Angeles to Vancouver to Karachi to Cairo to South Africa to Austria to England and all parts in between. These varied locales shouldn’t come as a surprise to readers since the authors themselves and their editors similarly hail from the four corners of the world. As far as genres are concerned, some might expect The Outcast Hours to contain a heavy dose of horror, considering the theme, but that’s surprisingly not the case. The book includes all sorts of stories, from action thrillers to real-life dramas to speculative science fiction to fantasy, with, of course, a few chillers thrown in for good measure.

 

It’s always a good idea in an anthology to get off to a strong start, and the editors lead with one of the best stories in the collection, “This Book Will Find You,” by a trio of authors: Sam Beckbessinger, Lauren Beukes and Dale Halvorsen. It’s a variation on a very familiar theme in occult fiction, that of bringing someone back from the dead. The narrator of the story is a young woman whose lover has died recently and who can’t cope with the loss. One night (yes, this is one story that fits in with the nighttime theme), she finds a book at her door with a multi-step spell that, if followed precisely, will return a dead person to life. Naturally, she tries to use the spell to revive her dead lover. But, as anyone who has ever read a similar story can tell you, these spells never work as the spellcaster intends. What makes this story fascinating, however, is just how things go wrong, and it’s not one big shock either. Instead, the authors have dropped some subtle clues into the narration that gradually reveal the entire story surrounding the loved one’s death, leading to a shocking twist at the end that delivers quite a jolt.

 

Author Jesse Bullington explores another familiar horror theme (and one that’s definitely associated with the night) in “Above the Light.” This one is a story about two childhood friends who enjoy taking long nighttime hikes together. As one who has done his share of daytime hiking, I can tell you that many outdoor trails can be treacherous after dark. Still, these two friends have been doing it for over 20 years, planning their annual vacations around new locales to explore. Their latest venture takes them to Austria, where, thanks to oodles of foreshadowing, they learn that several hikers have disappeared in the last few years from this small town, and several of the locals even go out of their way to tell the pair that nighttime hiking is illegal. Here, the surprise isn’t that they encounter something bizarre (that’s pretty much a given), but what that bizarre is, which turns out to quite different from what I expected.

 

For a change of pace, as well as for proof that a good writer can build a story around virtually anything, Sally Partridge’s “The Collector” does involve collecting, but not of the morbid variety one might imagine from having seen a few too many horror films. Instead, the title refers to e-bay collectibles, which a South African security guard acquires from flea markets, yard sales, and the like and then sells at inflated prices to those wanting, say, an authentic My Little Pony doll. But when Bennie, the guard, tries to sell the toy, he gets ripped off by the would-be buyer. That winds up being a poor decision on the thief's part; let’s just say that the buyer didn’t realize who he was trying to rob. "The Collector" is a taut, hardboiled story built around as the most innocuous McGuffin imaginable.

 

Then, there are the stories in The Outcast Hours that I really can’t talk about too much without completely spoiling them, including “Gatsby” by Maha Khan Phillips. The titular Gatsby here is the F. Scott Fitzgerald character, and Fitzgerald’s book serves as the theme for a lavish Roaring 20s-themed New Year’s Eve party thrown in, of all places, Karachi. The host, like Gatsby, is a mysterious businessman who has recently come to town, and a bored party guest runs into him sitting by himself away from the hubbub. You’ll have to read the story for yourself to find out what happens next, but I will say that the story diverges considerably from the plot of Fitzgerald’s novel, and in a direction I never expected.

 

While many of the stories in The Outcast Hours seem to exist in different sorts of alternate fictional night worlds, a couple of the tales hit on very topical and all-too-real themes in this world (all of the stories were written in 2018). “It Was a Different Time” by Will Hill looks at the #MeToo movement from a different perspective, as a fading, former big-time actor talks with a night clerk at a Hollywood hotel at length about the actor’s “romantic” experiences in the Tinseltown of old. As the story unfolds, it’s clear to the clerk that this man in his heyday would have given Harvey Weinstein a run for his money. Equally topical is “This Place of Thorns,” by Marina Warner, a story about a Middle Eastern woman trying to flee the all-too-real terror of civil war, only to find her way blocked by a boundary fence in the middle of the desert. Both stories present thought-provoking fictional perspectives on two very real, pressing issues of the day.

 

The Outcast Hours is certainly not a perfect anthology. There are three or four duds mixed in, as well as a couple of tales that start well and then fizzle out by the end (of course, as with any collection, an individual reader’s opinion about these stories may vary). Still, about three-quarters of the stories range from good to excellent, and that’s a pretty good ratio, considering the nature of the book and the wide variety of authorial backgrounds. The editors are to be commended for their skill and judgment in assembling a group of stories that include several that will stay with readers for quite a few nights. The tales in The Outcast Hours may take place at night, but they make for good reading 24 hours a day.   

    Mahvesh Murad is a critic, editor, voice artist, and radio host, and former host of the popular podcast, Midnight in Karachi. She edited the 4th volume of the Apex Book of World SF, is a regular reviewer for Tor and Dawn books and a reviewer for Pakistan's largest English-language radio station. She is from Pakistan and lives in Kuala Lumpur.


    Jared Shurin has edited or co-edited over a dozen anthologies of original fiction in conjunction with Tate Britain, the Royal Observatory, the Egypt Exploration Society and other partners. He is the founder and editor of the award-winning pop culture website Pornokitsch.com.


    He has been a finalist for the British Science Fiction, Shirley Jackson and Hugo Awards, and twice won the British Fantasy Award.




    Follow Mahvesh Murad on Twitter: @mahveshm / Website: http://www.mahveshmurad.com/


    Follow Jared Shurin on Twitter: @straycarnivore / Website: https://www.jurassic-london.com / Amazon author page: https://amzn.to/2UkEGpS  

    BUY MAHVESH MURAD: