Anthologies typically have some theme or common element to them. It could be something specific like the impact of augmented reality upon society or Lovecraft mythos stories in a futuristic setting. It can also be something very general like "space opera" or "horror stories with an erotic element." You get the idea.
But in the case of the Derby Scribes 2011 Anthology the common element is that all of the writers are members, or guests, of the Derby Scribes writing group, a mix of veterans and the newly published, in Derby, England. As such, the stories are a mixed bag of genres and quality. Reading this anthology was a bit like going to a restaurant and asking for a sample of everything on the menu.
The anthology opens with an excellent piece, "In the Spirit of Darwin" by Simon Clark. In the story, Lloyd Jefferson encounters the eminent biologist while sitting in a park on a sunny day. But the dark secret Darwin reveals, and his subsequent offer, belie the pleasantness of the afternoon.
"Brylcreem and Pipe Tobacco" by Stuart Hughes follows it up rather well. In it, a widow seeks the blessing of her dead husband in her decision to re-marry. The outcome was a pleasant surprise.
"Stump" is a very short piece about a little girl whose pets tend to meet unfortunate ends. I was expecting a dark finish to this story, but the author kept it light all the way through. I admit I was let down by the course the author chose. After the first two stories, this was a sudden turn.
"Leaving Jessica" by Jennifer Brown was a really good thriller that left me wanting more. It seemed criminal that this was just a short story and not the first chapter in a novel.
"Last Respects" by Richard Barber is a somber, World War One piece. It has a Twilight Zone feel to it, which is good but a little predictable.
I didn't like "The Wake Up Call". It got off to a good start: Some bloke is pouring gasoline on his car and setting it ablaze, which instantly gets the reader to wondering, "Why is he doing this?" As the protagonist moves on from here, we get conflicting reports from reality as to what's truly happening. In the end, the author gave us a variance of the "it was all just a dream" story (I won't spoil the variation for would be readers).
These sorts of stories are tired and have been done to death. Several pro zines have gone so far as to state in their submission guidelines that they don't want "just a dream" stories because they've been so overplayed. Even Stephen King failed with his variance on it with Dreamcatcher and ruined an otherwise good story.
"The Gallery" by Conrad Williams is the longest piece in the anthology and just as excellent as the opening story. Williams drags us into a post-apocalyptic Orwellian future where the reading of unsanctioned books ("litcrime") is punishable by death. While the topic has been visited before, Williams puts his indelible stamp on it. Told in the first person, we get a visceral look at a ruined world, pockmarked with additions to the English language that come from the culture that precipitates out of rubble, brutality and cybernetics.
"Dave's Dinosaur" is a very short piece involving a couple out camping who are waylaid by a dinosaur. It plays on the absurd and attempts to resolve the situation with humor.
"An Interstellar Taxi Ride" tells us about a snooty interstellar diplomat who is forced to ride in a space taxi for various reasons. The author plays on the culture clash for humor.
"Obsolete" gets off to a good start. We're introduced to an old man who lives alone in a big house with a sprawling garden in the back. We learn that he's a prisoner here but we don't know if it's a figment of his imagination or true. Ultimately, when the "reveal" comes, it's handled rather awkwardly. The story ends not in resolution so much as the author just stopped writing.
The anthology ends with "The Smell of Fear". In this one, a bully terrorizes a neighborhood and everyone wants to get back at him. The author tries so hard not to reveal the nature of the characters of the story until the end that, except for the bully, we're left with faceless nobodies. It's a ham-fisted mess.
The Derby Scribes 2011 Anthology is a mix of stories comprising several genres and authors of varying skill level. While there are a few gems therein, the reader will have to sift through the slurry to get to them.
The book is available through in several formats. Check out the Derby Scribes website or from their publisher, Stumar Press, for your preferred platform.