Review by Kathryn Lamont
From alien planets to medieval battles, athletes to clones, Eugen Bacon and E. Don Harpe’s collection of literary speculative fiction, Thirteen Wicked Tales, tackles a wide variety of places, people and themes in thirteen bite sized pieces: easy for any book lover to devour on the go.
While each tale is different and exists as a standalone piece, all centre around peculiarity, uncanniness: situations one could only imagine in their most bizarre dreams. Short stories vary in length, so while fourteen pages outline a tale of time travel, girls and a planet in dire need for new offspring, a mere three pages explore a backwards individual sentenced to banishment and the Earthling desperately lusting after them. This variation in length works perfectly for people who pick out stories to fill in variant gaps of time (which, as an assignment writing university student, worked perfectly for me).
Even if speculative fiction isn’t your most well-versed genre, I found that there was something rooted in each story that made it easy to understand and be very readable, such as the rich cast of likeable characters I could personally invest in. Things are also painted in such vivid detail; the description of otherworldly beings and landscapes so visceral at times it’s almost like a movie. The writing in this collection can easily be noted as exceptional. I also enjoyed the quick pace of each work. In fact, there were times when I could see the end coming up in a mere page or two and couldn’t fathom how it could all possibly be tied up in a few paragraphs, but was pleasantly surprised by the twists and turns in each original ending.
Indeed, originality is a big stand out for this collection. Aside from following typical generic conventions, Eugen Bacon and E. Don Harpe collaborate brilliantly to create thirteen speculative pieces that each take a new turn down another original and exciting train of thought. Twists and turns that I never saw coming unfolded in a matter of sentences, sometimes leaving me gasping at the page. As a reader very much in love with the idea of having some semblance of a conclusion, I also thoroughly enjoyed the way each piece seemed to circle back around to the beginning to tie everything up in a big, satisfying bow.
I did find, however, that one does need to be tuned in at all times while reading this anthology, unless they are unopposed to going back and re-reading passages. Due to length, speculative content, and the fragmented nature of the short stories, one misread or missed sentence could lead to confusion later down the track. As someone new to short stories, let alone speculative fiction, I initially thought the fragmented gaps in the pieces were almost jarring at times – too big – but soon found a rhythm to the jumps, and, a layer of subtle detail in each piece that answers the questions one cannot go without knowing the answers to. Things are rarely spelled out for you, which I found refreshing, but that also accounted to the need to read things carefully and mindfully, lest you miss an important line.
Overall, there is something in this collection for anyone who has interests in anything fantastical, extra-terrestrial, otherworldly, or, futuristic. Thirteen Wicked Tales contains thirteen different universes, all ripe and ready for exploring.