Echo in Space

Monsters are everywhere—in the closet, over the rainbow and 20,000 leagues under the sea. You can even find monsters on sunny Sesame Street (Check it out: The Monster at the End of This Book: Starring Lovable, Furry Old Grover). And they’re not earthbound either; monsters can also be found in “spaaaace” (insert spooky echo FX here).

But what is a monster, really? Beyond our limited earthly experience, the question is somewhat abstract. Are they unkillable bog men (“Atoms”), cosmic arachnids (“Spider In a Space Helmet”), a single, lonely aqua-man (“Black Lagoon”) or a bunch of lady astronaut clones (“Captain Clone”)?

Traditionalists will be happy to discover that vampires, werewolves and mummies continue their reign of terror in outer space. In fact, some of my favorite stories in this collection feature these hoary monster icons. A vampire pilots a ship of pilgrims on a long-term deep space mission in Jen Haeger’s “Cold Comfort.” Thrill seekers spend a fright-filled evening in a werewolf sanctuary in “The Moon Forest” (“come to the forest for a unique experience,” writes author Dirck de Lint with a smirk). And three embattled astronauts debate the difference between mummies and zombies in “The Silver Crown” by Mariah Southworth. Btw: It’s nice to know people in the future are still debating the old mummy/zombie chestnut.

My favorite of these classic-monsters-in-space stories is definitely “AstroNosferatu and the Invisible Void.” Author Brandon Butler basically introduces Vlad Tepes to the Universal Pictures “MonsterVerse.” Butler describes the difference between the Impaler and the King of Vampires this way: “The Impaler’s a warrior with a stomach for shocking brutality. The dainty vampire, on the other hand, concealed hungers born of crueler appetites.” Even before the surprise ending, it’s interesting to see how each monster navigates age-old grievances and alliances.

More than anything, Monsters in Spaaaace! is about all the otherworldly creatures that give humanity the heebie-jeebies. The most nuanced of these stories is “The Rise of Iës” by Rose Strickman. Stranded on an unsettled alien planet, 39 Earthlings fight a day-by-day battle for survival. Spying a human-like figure lurking nearby, a search party attempts to make contact.

Strickman’s resolution involves large and gross centipedes, orgasmic venom and a not-so-mutually agreeable conjunction. Quite frankly, it’s unthinkable, inevitable and icky. “Needs must as the devil drives,” quotes the author. In other words, if Satan is driving the car, you have no choice but to sit back and accept your fate. One night of murder and terror gives Strickman her happy ending.

[Monsters in Spaaaace! / Edited by Michael Cieslak / First Printing: November 2019 / ISBN: 9780998887890]