Rough Beasts and Other Mutations, by Thomas F. Monteleone
Five Star Press, 2003
$25.95 trade hardcover

 

Back in 1981, Doubleday Science Fiction published a collection of short stories by a then-new writer named Thomas F. Monteleone. The collection was called Dark Stars and Other Illuminations and was easily one of the best collections released that year, and arguably one of the best of the decade. It has become one of those "legendary" books, insomuch that it's impossible to find -- at least for less than the cost of your kid's college education.

The good news is that Tom Monteleone's new collection from Five Star Press, Rough Beasts and Other Mutations, reprints all but 2 of the stories from Dark Stars, as well as several others spanning the last 3 decades; you'll find everything here from science fiction to thrillers, fantasy to mystery, and, of course, horror.

In case you only know Monteleone as a novelist, editor, or columnist, you've been missing out on one of the best short story writers in the business. While it might be tempting for readers to dismiss Rough Beasts as the warm-up to Fearful Symmetries (a massive collection of Monteleone's horror and dark fantasy due this year from Cemetery Dance Publications), you're doing yourself a massive disservice if you fail to read this collection; there's not a clunker to be found. In fact, Rough Beasts contains some of Monteleone's all-time best stories: "The Way Of The Cross" (a poignant and angry depiction of the loss of faith in a technocratic future society), "Camera Obscura" (a stunning, semi-surrealistic fable about a photographer who inherits the ultimate camera), and "Taking The Night Train" (a dark fantasy, inspired by the works of Harlan Ellison, that depicts a New York street-cripple's descent into an abandoned subway tunnel where he encounters a being that may or may not be the living embodiment of the city's apathy toward the homeless).

While I too am impatient for the release of Fearful Symmetries, I would urge you to get your hands on Rough Beasts; this is an exemplary collection of first-rate fiction from a writer who can move between genres with dazzling ease and confidence, and who never disappoints the reader.

As an added incentive, for those of you who have read Monteleone's landmark collection of columns, The Mothers and Fathers Italian Association, there's a hidden bonus here: many of the stories contained in Rough Beasts were written near or at the same time as many of the early columns to be found in the MAFIA collection: it's fascinating to read these stories in tandem with the columns that were appearing at the time. Monteleone practices what he preaches, and whether it was his intention or not, Rough Beasts and Other Mutations makes for an invaluable companion piece to MAFIA.

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