“War is Hell” is a figurative and well-worn term that describes the most ghastly human experience possible. The expression, first coined over 150 years ago, has been used for great effect by everyone from Gen. William Sherman to Sgt. Franklin Rock.
Contact!, a new nine-story military horror anthology, uses the phrase “War is Hell” in a non-metaphorical sense. Devils, gods, aliens (and a few large crickets) literally turn Earth into a burning Neo-Testament inferno.
“Black Ice” by R.F. Blackstone is probably the best example of this. The story even adds a meta element to the narrative. A group of mercenaries enlist in a mysterious search-and-rescue mission. Following a path of black ice to their target, the “Filthy Animals” find themselves on the highway to Hell.
But is it Hell? Or is it another theological black pit of doom? Blackstone pauses twice or thrice to allow his characters to muse about the topic.
“This is the perfect location for the realm of Helheim,” says one of the mercs. “It’s nothing but ice and darkness, with only the souls of the dishonored dead to give any light.”
Naw, says his comrade. “This is clearly Hell from Christianity—specifically the lowest level Cocytus the frozen lake that keeps traitors and fraudsters trapped forever. In the center at Judecca you’ll find the Devil. Not some bitch from a Marvel movie, but the real deal. Satan, who isn’t some buxom wench, but is, in fact, a three-headed monster that is also trapped and buried waist-high.”
Hel, Satan, Luzifer, Der Teufel, whatever god they feared, the Filthy Animals knew they were fallen angels on the road to ruin.
With “Man of His Word,” author Alister Hodge sends 80 centurions into the desert to search for a charismatic holy man. Whether they’re looking for Jesus is unclear. Instead they get ambushed by a powerful seer named Bārû who communicates with gods and demands their presence.
“I am here to rid the world of Rome’s pestilence!” the seer screams—his body exploding in a ball of mucous, shit and blood signaling the arrival of a holy warrior with a really big sword. The demon is ferocious and righteous, but can’t complete its mission on Earth. The Roman Empire lives to see another day.
This is the second anthology I’ve read from editor Chris McInally and they are both very good. Like its predecessor Aberrations (see my review here), Contact! fully delivers its intended objective with vigor. I’ll admit some of the contributions are disappointing. For example, I have no patience for stories with surprise endings that aren’t surprising at all. But otherwise, efforts by Daniele Bonfanti, Lucas Pederson, Justin Coates and others are all worthy monster-military smashups.
[Contact! / Edited by Chris McInally / First Printing: February 2021 / ISBN: 9798713943677]