ENGINES OF DESIRE by Livia Llewellyn (to be released 3/15/11 by Lethe Press / 196 pp / tp)
This 10-story collection by relative newcomer Livia Llewellyn features dark stories in several genres (and mixed genres). After a short & sweet introduction from author Laird Barron, ENGINES kicks into high gear with the apocalyptic HORSES, which tells the tale of Angela Kingston, a missile facilites technician dealing with an international nuclear exchange. This one goes from bleak to bleaker and (literally) leaves you in the void (if you don't like your fiction extra dark, now would be a good time to abandon ship...)
AT THE EDGE OF ELLENSBERG is the sexually-charged tale of Tesla, a smart college girl who becomes entranced with a drug-dealing womanizer named Brett who lives on campus. Despite her friends' warning that the guy's a loser, she begins to stalk him, and what at first seems like a pulpy smut story turns into anything but. This one takes a surreal twist toward the end and left me wanting more.
Llewellyn shines with her super-short pieces: THE TESLATED SALISHAN EVERGREEN is a nifty bizarro fantasy, as is BRIMSTONE ORANGE (both stories deal with trees and fate), while TAKE YOUR DAUGHTERS TO WORK is as heartbreaking as it is horrific.
The title tale, ENGINES OF DESIRE, is a very well-written coming of age/lesbian piece, told over the course of four decades (and is easily one of the best stories here). JETSAM is one of the more unique 9/11 stories I can think of, and actually left me chilled.
THE FOUR HUNDRED THOUSAND is a military scifi story told from the point of view of a young woman who understands her sole purpose in life is to bring her 400,000 eggs to fruition as soldiers to help fight an on-going intergalactic war. Her father tries to stop her, convinced there IS no war, and struggles come from every angle. Llewellyn is gifted at getting emotions going strong, and here the reader feels them even from the side characters. If you read one story in this book, make sure it's this one.
OMPHALOS is the only non-reprint here, and it's a richly symbolic "road trip" story dealing with incest and other dark family secrets.
The novella, HER DARKNESS, ends the collection on a note (almost) as bleak as the opening tale. Gillian is an artisan, gifted with the ability to reform rocks with her bare hands. Her lover Emanauel has plans for her, but isn't revealing them until they arrive at a giant stone which he believes houses his God. With elements of fantasy, horror and an amazing steampunk-atmosphere, this is a fine taste of what Llewellyn may soon deliver in novel form (she's currently working on her first one).
ENGINES OF DESIRE showcases an author I'm sure we'll be seeing a lot more from. Llewellyn's ability to combine the erotic and the horrific has helped her to quickly carve out her own niche, and her settings (regardless of genre) always have a sense of impending doom and mystery that'll surely resonate well with fans of dark fiction.
A very impressive first collection you won't soon forget.