Rating: 4 out of 5
Steve Weddle and Nick Kolakowski edited the deliberately-timely pandemic anthology Lockdown: Stories of Crime, Terror, and Hope During a Pandemic. Some people I’m sure just want to use their reading to escape the current pandemic, but some of us wouldn’t mind the opportunity to see other sides of what could be. Note that these stories tend to be built around a pandemic that is worse than what we’re seeing now. Either it’s just a different pandemic, or it’s a mutation, or it’s a second wave, etc. Overall I give this anthology a 4/5: like most multiple-author anthologies, not every story will be to every reader’s taste. There’s a preponderance of good stories though, and very few zombies. Please note that the proceeds from this book are to go to the Book Industry Charitable Foundation.
Some stories, such as “Everything Is Going to Be Okay” by Gabino Iglesias, give us stories of crimes that could just as easily happen during “normal” times, but they happen to take place within the context of a pandemic. In this case, the story involves commercial fishermen who just took a new guy on board. Rob Hart’s “No Honor Amongst Thieves” involves an attempted theft of something that’s locked away in an office no one’s going to due to the pandemic.
One of my favorites in this volume is “Desert Shit,” by Renee Asher Pickup. The protagonists have stolen a load of jugs of bleach, only society seems to be deteriorating too quickly for them to unload it. This is definitely a look at a bleaker pandemic than what we’re experiencing right now, and what really makes it excellent is the relationship between the characters. Another favorite was Scott Adlerberg’s “The Rescue.” A man realizes he left something important in his office when they were told to go home and work from home, and he needs to find a way to get it. It’s largely a charming story of relationships and emotions, with a couple of darker notes.
Angel Luis Colón wrote “Your List,” which is told in the second person. Apparently the reader is a person who very much likes making lists, and this is a somewhat whimsical (and enjoyable) piece.
Some stories show the worst of what humanity might be like at the end of the world. In “At the End of the Neighborhood,” by Steve Weddle, someone in a neighborhood manages to “out” everyone who’s traveled overseas recently. It can only escalate from there. Richie Narvaez brings us “Apocalypse Bronx.” It’s a tale of police corruption and desperation set against the backdrop of an extremely virulent pandemic. Nick Kolakowski’s “A Kinder World Stands Before Us” is quite a journey. It takes place in a tourist area where the off-season is usually empty and quiet. Not this time, though–the rich have fled to the countryside, some of them bringing the pandemic with them. Our protagonist takes up with a Silicon Valley bigwig and his flock of followers as they take over a huge mansion. Another neighborhood story is Jen Conley’s “Fish Food.” Immune and recovered people are allowed to remain in their homes and even go out to do a certain amount of shopping for necessities. If anyone is caught harboring a transient coming through, well, the result won’t be pretty. Unlike a previous story, this is a neighborhood that sticks together.
Gemma Amor’s “The Diamond” is one of the most clearly horror-themed stories in the book, to my mind, and it’s another of my favorites. A handful of roommates are already having trouble riding out the pandemic together. When they find a mysterious and rare red diamond, it only tears them further apart. Another horrific favorite is “Misery Loves Company” by Ann Dávila Cardinal: a college building has a reputation of being haunted. What will the ghost do when everyone starts working from home? Terri Lynn Coop wrote “Personal Protection,” a memorable story about a couple who are both essential workers. When Dr. Eliana Delgado, the wife, is exposed to the pandemic, her husband Josh starts to flip out.
S.A. Cosby’s “The Loyalty of Hungry Dogs” takes place sometime post-pandemic, in the sort of world we’re somewhat more accustomed to seeing on TV. Tasha and her little boy Luke are living on home-grown vegetables and her husband Jimmy’s hunting. One day a handful of outsiders find Tasha and Luke at home and decide to take over their little hideaway. Tasha warns them that they should leave before Jimmy gets home, but they aren’t worried. This is another favorite of mine.
“Por Si Acaso” by Hector Acosta is a tale of three 17-year-olds who are making bank off of the pandemic because Luis had the foresight to stock the freezers with fast food. Eryk Pruitt’s “Herd Immunity” is an odd little tale of a group of people–perhaps a cult?–who refuse to interact with anyone. At least, until one day a well-meaning neighbor drops by. Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason bring us “Unscathed,” about what happens to a woman who just killed her abusive husband, and the neighbor who tries to help her.
V. Castro’s “Asylum” is an intriguing look at a world where the US became so plague-ravaged that the Mexican cartels finished building the border wall to keep Americans out! It’s told as if someone who’s been there for a while is explaining the place to a new person, and it’s unusual and memorable.
Alex DiFrancesco’s “Outpost” is a wild ride. The main character sometimes undergoes unusual “changes,” and their plans are thrown off when an old lover, Fai, arrives in town. Fai is integral to the times when our protagonist changes in a way that best suits them. All of this takes place in a world after “the Final Illness” and “the Last War.” The pandemic is just distant background to this one.
Cynthia Pelayo’s “Come Away, Come Away” is about a girl left behind by her parents to care for her two younger brothers. She tells them stories every night and hasn’t been outside in forever. One night, someone comes looking for her.
This is a very good collection of stories, and I definitely recommend it for anyone who wants a little bit of a different pandemic read.