After Death

Editor: Eric J. Guignard

Illustrator: Audra Phillips

Contributing Authors: Andrew S. Williams, Alvaro Rodriguez, Edward M. Erdelac, Steve Rasnic Tem, Lisa Morton, John M. Floyd, Kelda Crich, David Steffen, Aaron J. French, Sanford Allen, Josh Rountree, Brad C. Hodson, James S. Dorr, Ray Cluley, Jonathan Shipley, Jacob Edwards, John Palisano, Bentley Little, Jamie Lackey, Robert B. Marcus, Jr., David Tallerman, Christine Morgan, William Meikle, Peter Giglio, Simon Clark, Kelly Dunn, Trevor Denyer, Steve Cameron, Larry Hodges, Benjamin Kane Ethridge, Emily C. Skaftun, Joe McKinney, Josh Strnad, Allan Izen, & John Langan

Publisher: Dark Moon Books (April 5, 2013)

Death is something that has touched everyone and something we all have to face at some point. What comes next is the ultimate mystery and a question all of us ask at one time or another. All religions and mythologies offer up some answers, but with so many different ones how can we be sure. Is there an everlasting paradise, torment, limbo, or something in between? After Death is an anthology of 34 stories that attempt to answer the question in some form or another. 

After Death is an impressive collection with tales such as: A man tries to remember his life while waiting on the river Styx. An evil man kidnaps a seven-year-old, who desperately wishes for something, and gets it. An unemployed man wanders Aokigahara, the Japanese suicide forest, with an ill planned out end in mind. Can sleep be preparation for death? In the future your body can be renewed if you die, you just better not miss payments. Reincarnation can bring you back to your loved ones but only to be an animal by their side, watching as they move on without you. Joe Strummer finds himself in the afterlife, and the order he is supposed to follow though his very being rejects order. Each belief system is taken over by the new more powerful one, but some of the old beliefs don’t want to be trapped. The afterlife is a period of endless waiting, only some don't want to wait; some want to take over. The afterlife may not just be for humans. If everything dies and moves on, what happens if God dies and moves on? The anticipation of torment truly can be worse than the torment itself. A man who studied the afterlife his whole life dies but finds a way to come back; the story he tells makes everyone want to live forever.

This was truly an exceptional collection of stories. Anthologies are always a mixed bag; it is their nature. Though there weren't any bad stories included within, there was a handful that was easily forgettable. The reincarnation into an animal (whether as punishment or reward) is a tired trope. The reincarnation stories were well written they've just been done too many times before. A few stories that really stood out were "The Reckless Alternative," "Like a Bat out of Hell," "I Was The Walrus," "My Father Knew Douglas MacArthur," and "Hellevator."  I felt the final story, "With Max Barry in the Nearer Precincts" by John Langan, was a bit of a weak note to end on. Langan took an original stance on the afterlife that was broad and powerful, but the execution was lacking. It was a dry description of an intriguing afterlife that was in ruins. It was similar to "The Dream-Quest Of The Unknown Kadath" by Lovecraft, but it doesn't have the same impact or resonance on the reader.

Guignard introduces each story in a Rod Serling-esque manner, both laying out a general idea of the story and setting the mood in which to read it. Editors can be a blessing or a curse (depending on where the writer's story gets used, or doesn't). A bad editor may stack big names in an anthology, generally one in the front and the rest in the back. Guignard is of the former. The stories are placed perfectly: the first stories act as an introduction and the last stories work as a good closing. The stories that are similar are placed far enough apart not to be mixed up. And enough different visions are represented to hold our interest.

Overall I found this to be a great collection that I looked forward to each time I picked it up. Even the weaker stories wouldn't keep me from reading it again. It may not answer the questions of what lay beyond death, but it will give you something to think about. And ultimately give us pause to think about our lives and whether we live them the way we truly want to or not. 

Reviewed by Adam Armstrong

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