Eric J. Guignard

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After Death
       
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Table of Contents:
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  Introduction by Eric J. Guignard
Someone to Remember by Andrew S. Williams
Boy, 7 by Alvaro Rodriguez
Sea of Trees by Edward M. Erdelac
The Last Moments Before Bed by Steve Rasnic Tem
The Resurrection Policy by Lisa Morton
High Places by John M. Floyd
Circling the Stones at Fulcrum’s Low by Kelda Crich
I Will Remain by David Steffen
Tree of Life by Aaron J. French
The Reckless Alternative by Sanford Allen & Josh Rountree
The Thousandth Hell by Brad C. Hodson
Mall Rats by James S. Dorr
Afterword by Ray Cluley
Like a Bat out of Hell by Jonathan Shipley
The Overlander by Jacob Edwards
Forever by John Palisano
My Father Knew Douglas MacArthur by Bentley Little
Robot Heaven by Jamie Lackey
Beyond the Veil by Robert B. Marcus, Jr.
Prisoner of Peace by David Tallerman
A Feast of Meat and Mead by Christine Morgan
Be Quiet At The Back by William Meikle
Cages by Peter Giglio
Hammerhead by Simon Clark
Marvel at the Face of Forever by Kelly Dunn
The Unfinished Lunch by Trevor Denyer
I Was The Walrus by Steve Cameron
The Devil’s Backbone by Larry Hodges
The Death of E. Coli by Benjamin Kane Ethridge
Final Testament of a Weapons Engineer by Emily C. Skaftun
Acclimation Package by Joe McKinney
Hellevator by Josh Strnad
In and Out the Window by Allan Izen
With Max Barry in the Nearer Precincts by John Langan
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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Product Details:    
       
Available in Trade Paperback and Electronic Media   Edited by Eric J. Guignard
Paperback ISBN-13: 978-0-9885569-2-8   Illustrations by Audra Phillips
Paperback ISBN-10: 0-9885569-2-8   Cover art by Kevin Scott Sutay
Library of Congress Control Number: 2013930612   Published by Dark Moon Books
Made in the United States of America   First edition published in April, 2013
   
 
Winner of the 2013 Bram Stoker Award® for Superior Achievement in an Anthology
 
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  Blurbs: spacer
   

AFTER DEATH raises the eerie voices of many of today’s top horror writers in a ghostly chorus of wonder, magic, and tragedy. Highly recommended.”

Jonathan Maberry, New York Times bestselling author of Extinction Machine and Fire & Ash; www.jonathanmaberry.com


“I don’t want to die, and the stories in AFTER DEATH offer numerous examples why. This terrifying collection presents stories that are unsettling, disturbing, frightening, heart-breaking and, in the end, guaranteed to chill your bones and make your blood run cold.”

Rick Hautala, Author of Indian Summer and Chills; www.rickhautala.com


“With stellar contributions by some of speculative fiction's most talented writers, AFTER DEATH offers a deliriously diverse array of imaginative hereafters. By turns chilling, poignant, funny, hallucinatory, and awe-inspiring, these stories fascinate in a manner worthy of the ultimate mystery they explore.”

Stephen Woodworth, author of the New York Times Bestsellers Through Violet Eyes and With Red Hands; Stephen Woodworth

 
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
       
  Reviews Posted Below:    
       
  Publishers Weekly    
  Collings Notes    
  Black Gate Magazine    
  Count Gore    
  Famous Monsters of Filmland    
  Horror News    
  Cross (Stitch) Your Heart    
  Target Audience Magazine    
  True Review    
  Dark Eva’s Dark Delights    
  Tales of the Talisman    
  Andrea’s Book Nook    
  Amazing Stories    
  Shock Totem    
 
 
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Publishers Weekly"This anthology addresses one of the most basic questions of human existence: what happens when we die? The answers come in the form of 34 stories that explore diverse notions of ghosts (Edward M. Erdelac’s “Sea of Trees”) and demons (William Meikle’s “Be Quiet at the Back”), trapped souls (Steve Cameron’s “I Was the Walrus”), mishaps in resurrection (Lisa Morton’s “The Resurrection Policy”), and unbearable eternities (David Tallerman’s “Prisoner of Peace”). The newly deceased protagonists may be confused, angry, resigned, or unaware that they are dead, so even those vignettes with more exposition than plot convey a sense of personal discovery (if perhaps of the hopeless kind). Though the majority of the pieces come from the darker side of the genre, a solid minority are playful, clever, or full of wonder. This makes for good variety but a bit of emotional whiplash, somewhat mitigated by Guignard’s clever introductions and Audra Phillips’s portraitlike illustrations. This strong and well-themed anthology is sure to make readers contemplative even while it creates nightmares."

 
  —Publishers Weekly; Publishers Weekly Top of Reviews  

 
 

Collings Notes"The idea of an anthology of stories devoted to visions of an after-life is inherently intriguing. After Death: An Anthology of Dark and Speculative Fiction Stories Examining What May Occur After We Die, it is an article of faith.

To some degree or another, each of us has a sense—an intimation—of what we expect will happen after death. For some, it is clear, precise, highly detailed; for others, it is amorphous, vague, a presentiment only; for others still, it is merely a window onto emptiness, nothingness. For all, however, as Eric Guignard notes in his introduction to After Death: An Anthology of Dark and Speculative Fiction Stories Examining What May Occur After We Die, it is an article of faith.

Even for those of us who share a particular perspective based on religion, philosophy, or reasoned conclusions, the specifics of what we might expect will vary widely. I suspect that if a group of thirty or so like-minded ‘believers’—regardless of the source of those beliefs—were brought together in a room and questioned directly about heaven, the after-life, whatever it might be called, no two of them would agree in every detail. Even among religions that overtly preach a world beyond this, details are sketchy and, usually, left up to the individuals’ imaginations.

That is why a book like After Death appeals. Its point, as Guignard also states, is not to “deliver affirmations but to offer suggestions. Anything is possible when the mysteries of the afterlife are concerned.” It is not a compilation of theological treatises, philosophical tracts, or anything of that sort—it is an anthology of stories, overt fictions, each set in a universe designed, implemented, and controlled by a writer’s unique, unrestrained imagination.

And in those universes, anything might happen.

The thirty-four tales present an extraordinary range of possibilities, from something approximating a ‘traditional’ view, as in Alvaro Rodriguez’s simultaneously horrific and comforting “Boy, 7” or Jamie Lackey’s sweetly satisfying “Robot Heaven,’ to situations as outré as that in Simon Clark’s “Hammerhead” or Benjamin Kane Ethridge’s “The death of E. Coli.” Some are stunning in their simplicity, as with Josh Strnad’s “Hellevator,” in which the single phrase “Well, what next?” takes on the weight of eternal damnation. Others are complex, capable of almost novelistic effects, as in Joe McKinney’s excellent “Acclimation Package,” a complex tale of life, death, and resurrection…sort of.

I find myself wanting to comment at least briefly on every story, since each brought an entirely different sensibility to the theme. Just flipping through the anthology’s 300+ pages—noting titles, authors’ names, and the remarkably evocative and apt illustrations by Audra Phillips—reminds me of thoughts, images, mental explorations of my own stimulated by the stories. There are favorites; there are a few that I found I could not resonate as completely with…no surprise, since no anthology can hope to provide everything for everyone. But taken as a whole After Death is a strong collections, well-constructed, beautifully illustrated, and certainly worth reading."
 
  —Michael R. Collings, Collings Notes; http://michaelrcollings.blogspot.com Top of Reviews  

 
 

Black Gate Magazine"As you can guess from the title, Eric J. Guignard has assembled an assortment of viewpoints about the afterlife. These thirty-four stories (illustrated by Audra Phillips) cover a surprising range, especially since the viewpoint most professed by science fiction fans is the least represented. Please do not interpret that remark as a criticism. There’s not a lot of story to tell in a story about nothing happening. Yet even the perception of the afterlife as nothingness is included with ‘The Last Moments Before Bed,’ in which Steve Rasnic Tem confronts the dreadful hole remaining after a loved one is gone.

These stories run the gamut from blissful to black; John Palisano’s ‘Forever’ anticipates a joyful reunion, while Kelly Dunn’s ‘Marvel at the Face of Forever’ is one of the darkest horror stories this reviewer has ever seen. Several authors contrast the Christian afterworld with the pagan, as in the Christian displacement of the Greek afterlife in Jonathan Shipley’s ‘Like a Bat out of Hell,’ or Valhalla’s continued rowdy intrusion into the Catholic middle ages as told by Christine Morgan in ‘A Feast of Meat and Mead.’

Naturally, the traditional views are represented. In ‘Tree of Life,’ Aaron J. French presents the Jewish cosmogony, while in ‘Hellevator,’ Josh Strnad portrays a simultaneously modern yet classical image of heaven and hell that is straight out of C.S. Lewis. On the other hand, Allan Izen shows us reincarnation and its rationale in ‘In and Out the Window.’ Brad C. Hodson warns of the darker side of rebirth in ‘The Thousandth Hell.’ And ‘Mall Rats’ by James S. Dorr is simply a sad little tale of hungry ghosts.

Whatever the medium, many authors felt that an afterlife must surely serve as a vehicle for justice. Lisa Morton inflicts the perfect sting on a corporate shark in ‘The Resurrection Policy.’ William Meikle also shows us a biter bit in ‘Be Quiet at the Back.’ Other writers believed that death would change little or nothing. Bentley Little documents a man singularly unimproved by death in ‘My Father Knew Douglas MacArthur,’ while in ‘Prisoner of Peace,’ David Tallerman suggests the dead take all their hurt and fear with them.

There are a half dozen tales of less classifiable afterlives. John Langan takes a very different look at the bright light at the end of the tunnel in ‘With Max Barry in the Nearer Precincts’ and Peter Giglio’s ‘Cages’ turns the whole concept of afterlife upside down. There are even comic visions of the afterlife, such as ‘The Devil’s Backbone’ by Larry Hodges.

These are only half the stories included in this excellent collection. That leaves seventeen more to surprise you!"
 
  —Michaele Jordan, Black Gate; www.blackgate.com Top of Reviews  

 
 

Count Gore"I don't think there's a person alive who hasn't pondered what will happen after they die. Will there be a spiritual resurrection of some sort in another realm, a reincarnation back into our plane of existence, or is it just going to be goodbye and lights out?

Editor/author Eric J. Guignard asked acclaimed authors of dark fiction to tackle this theme, and the resulting 34 speculative stories are some of the most entertaining and thought-provoking tales on the subject you're likely to find.

In these pages you will encounter a singular ferry ride with Charon; wishes granted post-life; the results of suicide; resurrections gone wrong; a pecking order in Paradise; the persistence of memory after death; self-created afterlives; ghostly guidance; heaven for robots; a soul bound by witchcraft; virtuous lives vs. evil; the hereafter of microbes, and crimes and punishments.

Each author brings a remarkable singular vision to this anthology, creating unique journeys past the veil of life that are moving, terrifying, unnerving and outright funny. You're sure to find your favorite dark scribe here: Steve Rasnic Tem, John Langan, Lisa Morton, William Meikle, David Tallerman, Bentley Little, Simon Clark, Joe McKinney, Ray Cluley, Peter Giglio, Benjamin Kane Etheridge and many more.

AFTER DEATH... is one of the strongest anthologies I've seen this year. If you think you don't want to die, read AFTER DEATH... This superior volume is gorgeously illustrated throughout by the very talented Audra Phillips."
 
 

—J. L. Comeau, Count Gore; www.countgore.com

Top of Reviews  

 
 

Famous Monsters of Filmland"When we last saw an anthology by Eric, he asked the authors to explore ancient civilizations with his outstanding anthology “Dark Tales of Lost Civilizations”.

What happens when we die? The eternal questions that has haunted man since the first days of rational thought.

In Eric Guignard’s latest anthology he gathers some of the biggest and most talented authors on the planet to give us their take on this entertaining and perplexing subject matter.

I have to say that I have often pondered and speculated what happens after we die and after reading this outstanding collection of stories my imagination was set afire by the diverse, horrifying and mystifying tales that are gathered in this anthology.

I didn’t think there was a weak story in book but, there were a few that really struck a note with me and were my favorites;

The Resurrection Policy by Lisa Morton is my favorite story of the collection. Lisa has long been one of my favorite writers and she really delivers with this tale of resurrection gone awry. It is witty, funny, thought provoking and just a hell of a lot of fun to read.

Forever by John Palisano is a bit different from the other stories in the book. It is a touching, heartwarming, heart wrenching tale that will make you smile and make you cry.

Hammerhead by Simon Clark is a story for everyone that has ever been wronged. There is justice in the universe and in this tale justice is delivered by a man-eating shark.

Be Quiet At The Back by William Meikle is a tale that everyone who has gone to school can relate to and those who wished ill will upon the teacher who always treated their favorites better than the rest of the class.

These are just a few of my favorites and the ones that really struck a chord with me. I am sure that anyone who reads “After Death” will find favorites of their own. The tales are varied, well written and original. Mr. Guignard has once again delivered a fantastic group of tales and I highly recommend it to anyone who is fascinated by what happens after we die and just enjoys a great short story.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the amazing illustrations by Audra Phillips."

 
 

Peter Schwotzer, Famous Monsters of Filmland; www.famousmonsters.com

Top of Reviews  

 
 

Horror News"After Death is a collection of thirty short stories each conveying the author’s theory on what happens to us after our Earthly journey is complete. The anthology was assembled and edited by Eric J. Guignard.

I will say that if you are looking for a collection of pure horror, this is not it. There are many of the stories I would place well outside this genre; some are even uplifting. That caveat aside, the stories are all well written, diverse and incredibly imaginative. They all fit nicely within the labels of “Dark, Speculative Fiction.”From diesel powered ferries on the River Styx to condos carved from the Devil’s Backbone, Mr. Guignard has accumulated a very creative group of authors into a single tome that attempts to answer one of Humanity’s oldest questions; “What’s Next?”

Even reading through my ‘editor’s POV’, I found the stories well written and edited. As with any work, there are always word choices and turns of phrase that I might have changed, but nothing that pulled me away from enjoying the story at hand. Some of the stories are a very quick read, perfect for filling a few spare moments between other projects or duties.

Some of the darker choices within the collection will certainly appease your appetite for horror and may even give you pause to examine your own choices in life. “Helevator”, “The Thousandth Hell”, “Be Quiet at the Back” and “Like a Bat out of Hell” all paint some decidedly dark images of what may wait for those who are judged and found wanting. On the other hand, “The Acclimation Package” deals with a future in which death is not necessarily the end and “Hammerhead” paints a picture of afterlife retribution. All in all, “After Death” is a good read and may even elicit a “hmmm” or two from the reader."
 
 

Edward Owen, Horror News; www.horrornews.net

Top of Reviews  

 
 

Cross Stitch Your Heart"This is the second anthology I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing edited by Eric Guignard, the first being Dark Tales and Lost Civilizations.  While Guignard cannot take credit for the individual stories themselves as they’ve all been written by authors’ talented in their own right, the man knows how to put together an excellent anthology.  Unlike his first anthology, After Death includes stories that detail the multiple possibilities of what happens to the spirit after the body is dead (or in some cases what can happen to a recently deceased body as well).  The stories vary from the entertaining, to the literary, to the bizarre so while not every story might be for you, there’s at least one story for everyone.

Some of the stand outs (and my personal favorites) include:

The Resurrection Policy by Lisa Morton which explores the possibility of paying for “after death” insurance, and the somewhat disturbing results of defaulting on your payments.

Sea of Trees by Edward M. Erdelac that’ll make you think twice before ever thinking twice about suicide, and will make you grateful for your ability to make changes in your life, and the opportunities being alive offers you.

The Devil’s Backbone by Larry Hodges detailing what happens when a bad person reformed gets sent to hell…with an ice cream truck.

Not all of these stories are excellent, and there were several I had to force myself to finish, but overall this anthology provides enough interesting tales to make it worth the effort.  But, while not all of these stories kept me glued to my seat, they all give you something to think about.  Who hasn’t thought, even briefly, about what happens to us when we die?  Have you thought about where your recently departed loved ones are and whether or not they’ll meet you on the other side?  To believe that a deity will be waiting to usher you into paradise (or the alternative…)?  Or are you a non believer, who wants to know what science can do to keep our consciousness alive?

Whatever the questions you’ve asked yourself about life after death, this anthology provides you with a possible answer, whether or not it’s the answer you’re hoping for.  There’s one thing this anthology is not, and that is a bunch of stories about creatures who survive after death.  You will not find stories detailing the lives of vampires, zombies, mummies, or ghost.  If there’s one thing all these stories have in common it’s that all of these characters, at least before their death, were human and these are the stories of what await us beyond."
 
 

Resa Nienaber, Cross(stitch) Your Heart; http://crossstitchyourheart.wordpress.com

Top of Reviews  

 
 

Target Audience Magazine"Though many of the stories in Eric J. Guignard’s “anthology of dark and speculative fiction stories examining what may occur after we die” stay serious, depressed and angry in tone, some are also hopeful, tender and even serene.

“Someone to Remember” by Andrew S. Williams engrosses readers (with an unexpected, though well set-up, ending), and ensures anticipation for the rest of the stories that follow. Classical references, to Charon, Lethe and so on, with an updated twist are only part of what makes “Someone to Remember” so engaging. Williams’ tale presents Lethe not as a river of the underworld as in Greek mythology, but as a beautiful bartender at the tavern where the dead gather.

John Palisano’s “Forever” manages to accomplish something that many horror reads haven’t: it presents horror coupled with hope, pairing them believably.

William Meikle’s “Be Quiet at the Back” contains well-executed, but hardly hopeful, visions, and Joe McKinney’s “Acclimation Package” may stay with readers long after finishing the stories.

In fact, every single story included in this anthology is worthy of a mention, as Guignard definitely made the right decision including John Langan’s “With Max Barry in the Nearer Precincts” as “the closer” because it “perhaps leaves the strongest lasting impression” and a “good sentiment to retain” (p. 295).

The darkly delightful illustrations of Audra Phillips included before each story also leave lasting impressions.

Each of the 34 authors included in this anthology does a great job of “offering suggestions” as to what the afterlife may be like. Further, since we’ll all shake our mortal coils, sooner or later, well-written reads that focus on this relevant-to-all subject matter are unquestionably alluring to most great minds."
 
 

G.L. Giles, Target Audience Magazine; www.targetaudiencemagazine.com

Top of Reviews  

 
 

True Review Online"What is it these days about editors and their obsession with “end of days”? In True Review 85 alone, we have apocalypses; Stoker’s manuscript, and dealing with death and destruction through vampirism; end of our species as we know it (through genocide) with the Ellison/Chadwick graphic novel 7 AGAINST CHAOS; and now this, what’s going to happen to us after we die. Wow, I feel warm and comfy already.

Guignard has assembled stories here that can be memorable but are far too well-tread; I don’t see a lot of innovative speculative fiction. But there are several great twists on old tales. I would recommend the following:

“Boy, 7” by Alvaro Rodriguez brings us a young prisoner of a male sadist who is bound and gagged in the truck of a car. The boy wishes for only one thing, no matter how it is granted.

“Sea of Trees” by Edward M. Erdelac. Manabu is a despondent, depressed, bored-out-of-his-mind clerk living in Japan. Manabu remembers a tale his mother told about Ubasuteyama, which involves taking the elderly and/or infirm and abandoning them in Aokigahara Forest, the Sea of Trees. Manabu’s lost his job and feels hopeless, wanting to leave this existence for the promising next one. But what, if any, guarantee does he have “the next one” will really be any better?

“The Last Moments Before Bed” by Steve Rasnic Tem. An elderly man does what he can to his bed so that, as difficult as it has been, he can sleep. The gentleman recounts the days when his wife was alive and thinks about the worries he has had when he was a father and the life he leads up to her death, and about his own kids, and THEIR kids, looking for solace and a chance to find some comfort in what he knows. This is a haunting, immeasurably satisfying tale of reconciling the past with the present, of looking to the past to grant some hope to the future.

“The Resurrection Policy” by Lisa Morton. Martin Lavelle has “died” but, lucky for him, was fortunate enough to ensure he had a “resurrection policy” – his personality saved on a downloadable chip so that, after death, he can still be Martin. But Martin was late for payments, so the policy administrators “resurrect him” instead in a low-cost, almost undesirable body of an overweight, flawed woman. Of course, as ruthless as he was when alive in his male body, that doesn’t stop him from finding out what went wrong, who is responsible, and reclaiming his life. Maybe Martin won’t like what he finds.

“High Places” by John M. Floyd. A lawyer who is killed in a bus accident makes it to “paradise.” But in this Nirvana, the lawyer, along with everyone else, is “sorted” and placed in the body of another creature. The selection of what creature will fit your soul of course depends on the good deeds you have done.

“Circling the Stones at Fulcrum’s Low” by Kelda Crich. Esmar Tanner is old – very old – and has already lived countless lives, since her spirit is forever bound to the stones at Fulcrum’s Low. Even physical death provides no escape for her soul.

“I Will Remain” by David Steffen. A man who died in a terrible boating accident is back as a loyal dog, with his beloved wife, now his Master. The dog/husband’s love remains with her, and he will protect her, even from suspicious suitors. Especially suspicious suitors.

“Mall Rats” by James S. Dorr. John, Wendy, and Mark seem to spend a lot of time wandering around the mall. In fact, they never seem to leave, because they can’t for some odd reason. John believes they are all dead and they are trapped to wander the gates of J.C. Penney. Yet, if this is the afterlife, John believes they are still having a lot of fun. Even when the best opportunity to leave the mall arises, John remains content to stay with his friends. But should he?

“Forever” by John Palisano. This story recounts a woman’s dying moments as she is led by a former companion, a pet dog, to her new life on the other side.

“Robot Heaven” by Jamie Lackey. Even artificial intelligence, whether in the form of a robot (or a toaster), may have a chance of reaching SOME form of heaven.

“Beyond the Veil” by Robert B. Marcus Jr. A Florida attorney (what is it with all these tales of attorneys?) and legislator is near death, but he has a “gift” for being able to not only recount, but LIVE, in his own past for a vast amount of time, perhaps even forever. So the attorney relives the years when he met his only true love, all the while attempting to come up with a way to “die” before his beloved does.

“Be Quiet at the Back” by William Meikle. English instructor John Davidson dies of a heart attack at 49 years old, thinking of course of his proud and illustrious career. That’s the thing, of course, PROUD – so proud, in fact, and so self-absorbed that he literally does not understand the trepidations of things around him. John pushes successful behaviors onto the best of students and leaves the others go, even ignoring their pleas (why be saddled with importune and mentally lacking students?), allowing of course for monsters to develop. Of course, John may have a hard time passing through any pearly gates because of this callous attitude.

“Hammerhead” by Simon Clark. Damian Keller – or the consciousness of Damian, anyway – emerge in the body of a hammerhead shark drifting around in the sea. Circumstances bring Damian/hammerhead shark to his before-death life as a deep-sea diver, and before this strange reincarnation, with former friend Glenn Harrap, also his killer. Glenn murdered his diver friend over Damian’s lover, a woman research specialist named Ruth Constantine. Circumstances again bring Damian/hammerhead face to face with his killer, and give Damian a chance once again to prove his love during a rescue attempt for Ruth. Love knows no boundaries, even between species.

“The Unfinished Lunch” by Trevor Denyer. A man who is visiting Paris with his loved one dies suddenly, and his soul becomes attached to her lunch plate. So who said the soul really “goes” anywhere – maybe it locks onto something, anything, and then slowly just dissipates?

“Final Testament of a Weapons Engineer” by Emily C. Skaftun. Mike, a retired weapons developer, does not want to “go” the way his parents did – with run-down bodies in wasted lives waiting to die in pathetic stages of senility, a deplorable, indecorous end. Instead, he sets a claymore mine rigged to a garage cabinet, thinking, if I have gotten so forgetful that I can’t remember the dangerous mine is there, well, death is a deserved thing. But instead, while shoveling snow, Mike dies of a heart attack without informing anyone of the trap. How is he supposed to stop his kids from accidentally tripping the mine? As a ghost, could Mike somehow warn them of the danger?

“Acclimation Package” by Joe McKinney. When someone dies and is revived from cryogenic sleep many years later, an “acclimation package” comes in handy – a store of information about the present time in terms of the society at large, its social makeup, and your place in it. But what if a person’s memories can be overlaid onto another’s body, and what kind of criminals trying to usurp that technology will emerge?

I’ve had some fun with this collection, even though some other stories are sort of trite with worn-out ideas. But check out these stories – many are very short and pack a punch."
 
 

Andrew Andrews, True Review Online; www.truereviewonline.com

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Darkeva's Dark Delights"People have always wondered what the definitive answer is to the question, “What happens after we die?” We all die. We know this. We accept it. Most of us try to run away from or otherwise ignore the truth of the matter most of the time. But we all want to know what comes next. Although no one can really know for sure, the stories in this anthology from Dark Moon Books, After Death try to answer that question in a variety of different ways, and with entertaining–and in some cases, unexpected–results. Before I start things off, I want to bring particular attention to the artist, Audra Phillips, who deserves a good dose of praise for her illustrations, which worked to enhance each piece.

The first story, “Someone to Remember” by Andrew S. William, begins with Charon, who mythology buffs will recognize as the ferryman of the River Styx in Hades from Greek mythology. Our main character is chatting with Charon about a girl he’s waiting for. Apparently, one of the reasons why Charon puts up with our ill-fated protagonist is because he misses company (who knew?). There are some clever alterations to some of the things in the underworld, including the transformation of Lethe, usually a river of Hades, into a bartender. The ending is tinged with sadness, but in a tale like this, it would have to be.

Next up is “Boy, 7″ by Alvaro Rodriguez, which has a devastating impact upon the reader in this tale of a kidnapped child who wishes for the death of his kidnapper. It’s pretty sad to hear how he’s hoping to get out of his predicament and the way his mind imagines it, and this ones also seems to take on a tragic ending, but it’s one of the memorable stand-outs of the pack.

I wasn’t surprised that “Sea of Trees” from Edward M. Erdelac was as good as it was, having enjoyed his Merkabah Rider series. This one concerns a guy who has gone to the famous Aokigahara Forest, which is known as a place where many go to commit suicide, so it wasn’t a shock to me why he was headed that way. He lives like a hermit and is overworked until he’s fired. Although the story has no shortage of sad things about it, including the main character’s history and what drove him to feel like death was his only option, the worst part is he thinks he’ll be at peace, but he learns the hard way that he had the complete wrong idea about suicide.

Similarly, I knew that Lisa Morton’s entry would be fantastic, as are all of her short stories, and “The Resurrection Policy” is another one of the stand-outs of the bunch. Basically, if you think that technology is already being used for nefarious purposes, including the government using it to spy on us, it’s only going to get worse (and the scary thing is that the technology depicted in this story isn’t something we’re too far off from). The story opens with a guy trying to remember what happened to him before the stroke he suffered. He realizes he’s dead. But before he died, he arranged to get a “resurrection policy,” which guarantees that he’ll have a clone body after he dies so that his consciousness can return to that. But he missed the last two payments, and as he soon learns, there’s not a hell of a lot he can do about it, especially since the policy makers can read his mind. He definitely gets a body, although definitely way far off from what he expected. He soon learns that there are rules after resurrection, and he pays the price big time. The ending is disqueting to say the least.

“Circling the Stones at Fulcrum’s Low” by Kelda Crich involves a twenty year-old Prometheus-like being who rises from the dead repeatedly only to die again and to have to relive the agony and all the other things she’s gone through, doomed to repeat the cycle, so, again, not the most uplifting of tales, but very well-done and with excellent characterization.

There’s no shortage of stand-outs in this anthology, and another one is “I Will Remain” by David Steffen, which sees a man who has returned to life as a dog. He used to be Ian, and in life, courted Emily, who keeps him as a pet not realizing who is really in there, but nonetheless having a strong bond. He protects her fiercely and has a sharp nose for what he terms “bad people” who give off an equally pungent odour. The reader will feel for Ian’s predicament big time.

I also had high hopes for “Tree of Life” by Aaron J. French, which was also another interesting story, this one about Keter, the sphere of Heaven though to be closest to God in the Kabbalah belief system. The main character continues to hear angels repeating this word over and over until some measure of finality emerges. If you like your stories more on the existential side, be sure to check this one out.

“The Thousandth Hell” by Brad C. Hodson depicts a very grim, brutal, and specific torture that occurs After Death, which is specific to every person who ends up there, with the protagonist encountering a special kind of hell. The truth can be downright awful, nasty, and better left unheard. Sadly, our protagonist isn’t spared this from his father, and finds out many disturbing things, including that his dad and ancestors blame him for a lot of things. If you think your family nags you ceaselessly, it’s probably a picnic compared to what this guy goes through, reminding us that things could always be much worse.

“Like a Bat out of Hell” by Jonathan Shipley goes a different route, exploring the answer to what happens after creatures of myth and legends die. It’s another Greek mythology story in which our protagonist Revel is determined to break out of Hell. He speaks to Cerberus, who advises him to talk to the Furies, and things end on a bit of a humorous note, which gives the reader a much-needed respite from the doom and gloom of much of the first half, which is important for readers not to feel as though they’re constantly drowning in a sea of sorrow and fear. Editor Guignard strikes a nice balance between the two.

Keeping in line with the more upbeat range of stories featured in the anthology, it was nice to see John Palisano’s “Forever” as I’ve enjoyed his other works. After a near-death experience, the protagonist sees someone from the other side to provide hope that there is more to the afterlife and that it’s not as terrible as we fear. I thought the use of second person for some portions and first for others was also a great technique as it lended a lot of immediacy to the story.

Master of Horror Bentley Little also goes a different route with “My Father Knew Douglas MacArthur” about an afterlife existence in which there is neither Heaven nor Hell but rather people find themselves in a room. There’s also some humour injected and people are talking about how there will be a park soon, a store, and there’s even a minister here who promises he’ll be able to marry people. Basically, they’re rebuilding a society for dead people, although not everyone is in favour of the idea.

After her story in Dark Tales of Lost Civilizations, I eagerly anticipated seeing what Jamie Lackey had come up with this time around, and “Robot Heaven” is another creative stand-out from this anthology. Until this point, most of the stories have revolved around human deaths, but this one focuses on robots, because they, too, have an end. Robby, our robot protagonist, is dead, but has a guide to help him navigate through the next steps. The only way to earn a spot in Robot Heaven is to earn the love of a human, which was quite inventive. As well, it’s possible but difficult to create sympathy for robots (Blade Runner, some of Asimov’s works, Data in Star Trek: TNG and movies like A.I.: Artificial Intelligence come to mind), but the author deserves kudos for that.

Taking things back into more tragic territory is “Beyond the Veil” by Robert B. Marcus, Jr., which sees the protagonist relive the first meeting he had with his wife, Angeline. She dies a short time after they get together. He knows his past, present, and future. He knows the date of his own death, in fact, but the worst part is that he doesn’t simply remember what has happened to him. He has to relive it bit by bit.

“A Feast of Meat and Mead” by Christine Morgan is another favourite for me as I’m big on historical fiction. This one deals with Norse mythology and concerns Lord Aelfstan who wants his troops to stay behind because he doesn’t trust the Danes. Osbert is a psychic servant boy who, when asked what he believes will happen, says he foresees the Danes will come and bring battle. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but suffice it to say, it’s another stand-out.

Scottish horror scribe William Meikle’s tale “Be Quiet At The Back” is not only a stand-out, it’s a knock-out. The story shows that our choices affect others and have much deeper consequences for them than we think. John, a teacher, remembers leaving school one day, then nothing. He’s in Hell, having died of a heart attack. He doesn’t realize what his sin is until he’s told what it is and the demons show him just what a prat he was. In contrast to most of the previous tales of the anthology where the reader sympathizes greatly with the plight and situations of the protagonists, this one reverses that, which makes for a great read.

I’ve heard a lot about Peter Giglio and his work, and so I was anxious to see what his story, “Cages,” would be like. In it, the protagonist tries to remember the good times he had with Monica, who was his wife. She was a believer (in God). He remembers her, warts and all, and she was like a God to him because she was his everything and his universe. He wants to see which religion is the “right” one, so he digs up Monica only to find that in death, God is many and one. Although the story reads a bit fragmented, which can make it difficult to get through in certain parts, it’s an engaging look at one man’s struggle to understand the complex theological aspects of death.

I’m not too sure what it is about these Brits, but they deliver consistently wonderful stories, including Simon Clark, whose “Hammerhead” is another of the knock-outs for me. The title refers to hammerhead sharks, which Hawaiians believe to be divine. Although some of the beginning parts of the story read like a National Geographic article, even though the facts we get about these sharks are interesting, things get rolling when we find out that as with David Steffen’s “I Will Remain,” Damian Keller has returned not as a human but as a shark. In life, as a research scientist, he was on an important research investigation when he made the mistake of revealing to fellow scientist Glenn that he was marrying Ruth, who used to date Glenn. Suffice it to say, things didn’t end up well for Damian, but just when we think we’ve hit the end, it turns out that Damian and Glenn have a more cyclical relationship than just this one encounter. This story has compelled me to seek out more of the author’s work, which I look forward to reading.

Another of the stand-out stories was “Marvel at the Face of Forever” by Kelly Dunn, which reveals a protagonist looking at his own body. He was murdered by a guy named El Cubano only to be raised from death via witchcraft. The protagonist makes it his mission to bring down El Cubano, which leads to an interesting turnout of events.

“The Unfinished Lunch” by Trevor Denyer shows a main character who ends up not in an animal body or something else, but in something that doesn’t even begin to embody the phrase “cruel twist of fate” while the protagonist of “I Was The Walrus” by Steve Cameron seems to remember vivid details about the Beatles that he couldn’t possibly have known. He’s had many past lives, but it’s more than that, and makes for an interesting read.

Another highly anticipated story for me was “The Death of E. Coli” by Benjamin Kane Ethridge, whose novels and short fiction never cease to amaze me with how good they are. This story is no exception, concerning the afterlife of diseases, specifically E. Coli (or as he’s known in this story, Edward Coli), of which the protagonist is one strain, Lamar. Listeria is also personified here, enraged that an outbreak of E. Coli was cured by the UN. Although disease is normally thought of as leading only to negative things for humanity, mostly widespread infection and death, this story takes a much more interesting and unpredictable turn, which is something that makes this story a must-read!

“Final Testament of a Weapons Engineer” by Emily C. Skaftun deals with one man’s terrible regret at forgetting to defuse a weapon in his garage before he passes away, but the question is, will he find a way to save his loved ones from being blown to bits when they inevitably go inside?

I’ve loved much of Joe McKinney’s work since I started reading it a few years ago, and “Acclimation Package” is another serious knock-out, one of the best of the bunch in this anthology. There’s usually a good reason not to bring the dead back to life, which doesn’t always stop people from attempting it, but in this case, it’s even worse because a resurrected person remembers someone else’s life as if it’s his own. The future has changed, and it’s not all pretty. He knows things he shouldn’t. This story calls to mind the sophistication of Blade Runner, particularly as those who seem benevolent turn out to be anything but that. There’s a great trick at the end, and you won’t realize you’ve been manipulated and strung along until the very end. I don’t really need to go on anymore about how good McKinney’s work is, but this is also another absolute must-read.

Each story in the anthology has something unique and different to offer, even the stories that are similarly themed or that take place within the same framework. As with the Bram Stoker Award-nominated Dark Tales of Lost Civilizations, Guignard has produced another highly readable, compelling anthology of dark fiction that is of such a high calibre that I am sure it will also be nominated for a Stoker Award. If you see it at any convention tables or booths during the fall season, buy it on the spot. There are very few horror and dark fantasy anthologies with this amount of incredible, high quality stories, and I know it’s always a gamble with anthologies because even though you may be familiar with some of the bigger names in the table of contents, you’re not to sure if it will deliver (which is understandable, of course), but I’m telling you straight up that if you buy just one horror anthology this year, make it After Death even though there are at least a few that rise above the rest each season, including The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror and pretty much anything Ellen Datlow edits. After Death is on par with all the most quality, worthwhile anthologies in the genre."

 
 

—Anita Eva, Dark Eva’s Dark Delights; www.thedarkeva.com

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Tales of the Talisman"In After Death… Eric J. Guignard brings together 35 stories to demonstrate that there are as many different ideas about what happens to us after death as there are individuals to speculate on it. From tales grounded in familiar legends to the completely new and unique, After Death... considers an extensive assortment of possibilities based in mythology, religion, fantasy, and science. Not every story will appeal to everyone, but this anthology presents a variety of styles—horror, humor, bizarre, inspirational—that should attract fans from all genres of fiction.

Personal favorites include “Boy, 7” by Alvaro Rodriguez about a kidnapping with a violent end that results in a little boy’s wishes coming true; “The Reckless Alternative,” a combined effort by Sanford Allen & Josh Rountree about rock and roll and second chances; “Afterword” by Ray Cluley in which an author finds heaven populated by the characters of his novels; “Like a Bat out of Hell” by Jonathon Shipley where the mythologies of Cerberus, Bacchus, and the Furies combine in a demi-god’s amusing attempt to escape the afterlife; and “Cages” by Peter Giglio which considers what happens when God decides to transcend to the next level and leaves us all behind.

The best of the bunch was “With Max Barry in the Nearer Precincts” by John Langan. Explorer, Max Barry, travels to the afterlife and finds the remnants of a paradise destroyed by a great war between the souls of men (called ka) and the giant, beastly Children of Nun. It struck me as having the methodical voice of Edgar Rice Burroughs mixed with the mysticism of Richard Matheson.

“…we ka are difficult to destroy outright. It is not utterly impossible, but it is beyond the power even of the Children of Nun. What the creatures could do was feed on their captives, suck and scrape every last vestige of everything everything that made those men and women who they were out of them, until all that remained was a husk, too tough for digestion. Emptied, the husks wandered the lairs, hungry for what they had lost.”

Guignard says in his editor commentary that he would like to see “Max Barry” developed into additional stories or a complete novel. I wholeheartedly agree.

Some of the fiction was uplifting. Other stories were wonderfully strange, or dark and disturbing. Several included violence or mature content best suited for adult readers. All were high caliber contributions from a group of clever and prolific authors. As the editor, Guignard proves his talent by producing a thoroughly professional and polished collection."
 
 

Karissa B. Sluss, Tales of the Talisman Volume 9, Issue 1; www.talesofthetalisman.com

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Andrea’s Book NookQuote: "'Careful, though—she likes tearing apart soft flesh.' Revel wanted to argue that his flesh wasn’t particularly soft, then considered it from an alternative perspective. Dancing, drinking, lolling about—he wasn’t exactly a Hercules." - Revel "Like a Bat Out of Hell" pg. 109

"I was very impressed with the quality of writing. I wondered if it would be, with it being short stories from multiple authors, but each story was very well written. My favorites were "Like a Bat Out of Hell" and "Mall Rats." I enjoyed the different, thought provoking perspectives of what could possibly happen after death. Each story is an original peep hole into the "other world" - each story's version being unique. For example, "Like a Bat Out of Hell" is about what happens to mythical characters after their time on Earth has passed. If those creatures had existed, what happened when the world moved on and stopped believing in them (keeping them alive)?

I highly recommend this to lovers of dark fiction or horror stories. Keep in mind that it is an anthology of short stories. It is obviously dark just because several of the stories mention the death of characters or describe "hell," so if you struggle with depression you may want to skip or at least take it slow and possibly pick and choose stories.

Why I gave this book 4/5 stars: Well written, original, thought provoking short stories. The only reason it isn't five stars is because I'm not going to lie, some of these were difficult for me to read (the whole depression thing?) and this is my personal opinion after all."
 
 

Andrea Still, Andrea’s Book Nook; http://andreasbooknook.blogspot.com

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Amazing Stories"It is part of the human condition to wonder what happens to us after we die. The irreligious say nothing happens to you after you die, other than the natural decay of organic matter. Maybe they are right, but that doesn’t make for a good story, does it? With Eric J. Guignard‘s After Death anthology, you are given almost three dozen tales of the afterlife that range from being horrifying, heartwarming and hilarious. You can see a full list of all the short stories here.

What is great about short stories is that it excludes the fluff, excess backstory and author fetishes (like food porn) that can sometimes hurt a good yarn. A short story forces an author to get to the meat of the story immediately or else risk losing the reader who sighs and skips to the next story in the anthology. Luckily for me I did not experience this pitfall with After Death. Although a couple of the stories were forgettable (in the sense that after I looked back at the table of contents I couldn’t remember what they were about) the vast majority were entertaining and thoughtful. Some were even emotional like “Forever” by John Palisano. I admit I cried reading this tale about a woman on her death bed being guided to the afterlife by her pet dog.

Some might be scratching their heads right about now and asking: isn’t this supposed to be horror? Yes and no. There are certainly several trips to a hell, but I would classify most of the tales as weird fiction myself. Yes there is a lot of supernatural and mythical elements to these stories, but also modern (and future) science finds its ways into the stories such as in “Someone to Remember” by Andrew S. Williams where Charon drives a diesel-powered ferry and “Be Quiet At The Back” by William Meikle where demons have found out just how useful a pit full of bureaucrats with computers can be when torturing the damned.

Still, in my humble opinion, the most frightening tale of the afterlife was also the one with the least elements of religion or the supernatural. In the near future of “In The Resurrection Policy” by Lisa Morton, humans have perfected the ability to preserve their personalities in case they ever die. Perfectly preserved memories can be inserted into young and healthy bodies to carry on where we left out. But that begs the question: who benefits? I doubt anyone would work to collect, preserve and resurrect humans out of the goodness of their heart. They want to be paid. So what happens when you miss a payment? What made this story so terrifying is how real it felt. I am sure we have all felt the frustration and rage of dealing with an uncaring bureaucracy that feels like they hold your life in their hands…but what if they actually did?

Regardless what you believe waits for us when we die, I strongly believe you will find After Death an excellent collection of imaginative tales of what waits beyond the veil."
 
 

Matt Mitrovich, Amazing Stories; www.targetaudiencemagazine.com

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Shock Totem"I met editor/author Eric J. Guignard last year in Las Vegas while attending KillerCon. An amiable guy with a great sense of humor and an appreciation for beat-up red Chuck Taylors. We hit it off.

So when he asked me if I’d be willing to review his latest anthology, I said certainly.

After Death... is a collection of over thirty tales, all involving what happens upon the departure from this mortal coil. Some of them are good, others are amazing, and a few are merely okay.

The volume opens with Andrew S. Williams’s “Someone to Remember,” which is a wonderful meditation on loss and promises, all threaded through the mythos of Charon, the ferryman. “Sea of Trees,” by Edward M. Erdelac contains some horrific and lingering images and a story that is as jarring as it is resonant. Steve Rasnic Tem, an author I have adored for years, turns in a heartbreaking tale of the abandonment death leaves and those who remain. It is haunting and full of hurt.

In “Mall Rats,” James S. Dorr exposes the hereafter as trapped in the after mall. And in “Forever,” the strongest story in the lot, John Palisano weaves a quilt of sadness, loss, and heartbreak that will leave you reeling. I have no words to express the emotions this tale stirs, but stirs it does and quite violently. Brilliant!

Jamie Lackey turns in the sweet and wonderful “Robot Heaven,” and Simon Clark’s “Hammerhead” is an exercise in reincarnation and revenge that is spellbinding. Steve Cameron gives us “I Was the Walrus,” in which a man follows his past identities to some lofty and surprising conclusions. “Be Quiet at the Back,” by William Meikle, is a humorous parable of the definition of sin and consequence.

There are quite a number of tales I didn’t remark on, not because they were poor, but because they just didn’t have the same impact as those mentioned above. That is the rough cross to bear with an anthology. On the whole, Guignard has assembled a great roster of talent—quite a few of which I had never heard of or read before—and given us a rich and heavy menu of possible aftermaths to the grand finale. You won’t be disappointed."
 
 

John Boden, Shock Totem; www.shocktotem.com

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