Quality collections of stories from a gaggle of different authors are difficult to find. In fact, I'd go so far as to say they're rare enough in the literary wilderness to be considered an endangered species. What a relief then to find one edited by Brian Keene that, after a slowish start, ends up being an excellent selection of mostly horrific tales. And better still, it's all in the name of helping out a friend of many of the authors included here, Dave "Meteornotes" Thomas.
Operation: Ice Bat opens strongly with Christopher Golden's BREATHE MY NAME, a tale of a group of miners trapped underground and slowly dying of asphyxiation, before taking a major downward detour with Kelli Owen's ho-hum, THE TIN BOX. Unfortunately things then go from mediocre to perhaps the worst story in the entire collection in the form of the almost-incomprehensible FOR WHOM WE MOURN by Geoff Cooper. It was right around here that I was sighing and shaking my head, ready to be disappointed by yet another short story collection.
Thankfully, Mandy Degeit's ultra-short and incredible effective INVIOLABLE righted the flagging ship, before Nate Southard knocked it out of the park with his excellent MOUTH (seriously, this one should be a novel all of its own). There follow a few average stories - including one very odd piece by Michele Mixwell that feels completely out of place when compared to what else is on offer in Operation: Ice Bat - though THE TASTE OF OUR INDISCRETION as Robert Ford's version of what death may be like is entertaining enough in its own right. Keene then slots in his own bizarre homage to all things Robert Howard with THE GUARDIAN OF TSALAL, which is too ridiculous to be taken as anything other than his practice run at writing weird fantasy before The Lost Level.
The back third of the book is almost all quality, however. EMILY'S KILL by James A Moore mixes Sherlock Holmes with H P Lovecraft to intriguing effect (at least until a massive cheat of an ending robs the reader of what should have been the best part); I'M DREAMING OF A WHITE DOOMSDAY by Mike Lombardo is another excellent tale depicting a different type of apocalypse featuring Santa in a way you'll never have seen him before; while Michael H Antonio's THE WRETCHED SPAWN hits all the right buttons in describing the opening minutes of Cthulhu's rise out of the ocean depths near a tourist-filled city.
But for sheer creeping dread, the reader need look no further than Mary San Giovanni's THE MIME. I'm not sure how up to date her horror-film viewing is, but if I were her, I'd be asking my lawyers to take a fairly close look at the recent film, It Follows, to determine if she has a viable case of plagiarism on her hands. Finally, the collection concludes with another clever (though considerably less creepy) story, this time in the form of NOOGLE KNOCK by Robert Swartwood.
I haven't quite mentioned every story within Operation: Ice Bat, and truth be told, I didn't overly love any that I've missed singling out. But they were all absolutely fine; they just did not shine next to some of the excellent tales specified above.
In terms of number crunching, there are eighteen stories collected within Operation: Ice Bat. I truly loved four of them, really enjoyed six others, found five to be distinctly average, and really disliked three. For me, with my penchant for longer horror fiction, those are some pretty damn fine numbers.
So do yourself a favour, help out a good cause, and pick this one up. It's well worth it.
4 Sidelong Glimpses of a Creepy as Fuck Mime for Operation: Ice Bat.