If I could write only three words about this collection, they would have to be, “Read it immediately!”
Twenty one fantastically different stories make up this anthology (plus an extra fifty-five 55-word flash fiction shorts) and every single one is remarkable and outstanding. Short stories can sometimes be difficult to get right, the author has only a limited space to grab a hold of the reader and show them what they’ve got, but Rocksteady clearly has no such problems.
Her first story welcomed me inside, a short but captivating tale, like a sweet smile from the greeter at a shop door. A bait and switch for certain, it is dark, but not too dark. The second had cats — wonderful, frightening, chilling cats — and by then I was hooked completely. Too late, I realised that Betty had locked the cellar doors behind me.
“In Dreams…” is a unique mix of gothic imaginings, brutal body horror and emotional despair. It delves deep into the most grotesque depths of human nature and grabs you tightly by the throat as it slowly unravels your weaknesses. Reading this collection feels a little like poking at a cavity in a tooth with your tongue. It’s uncomfortable, and distracting, but despite the self-inflicted nerve-jolts of pain, you simply just can’t stop.
For me, “Postpartum” is easily the most chilling in the collection, and the inevitable climax leaves you hollow and raw, and hyperaware that mental health and horror are, and might always will be, fateful bedfellows. Wrapped in these dark pages are many stories where I feel that only women might fully appreciate the true horror, exploring what it means and how it feels to be female, yet Rocksteady has made every one accessible. “Larva, Pupa, Moth” is “Rosemary’s Baby” body horror at its very finest, playing nastily with alien-style impregnation and the total loss of body autonomy.
Rocksteady writes of trauma and loss, of weird sex and even weirder dreams. She captivates you from the very first words of every story, takes you with firm hands and pulls you into multiple hellish scenarios. By the end, when the nausea has finally passed, and the blanket of despair she wove for you now comforts you rather than smothers, you understand that her honesty, her visceral (yet beautiful) writing style and the horrors she creates also speak of some underlying vulnerability and an astute understanding of the many dark facets of human nature.
This is a truly powerful collection of amazing stories, and definitely one of the very best I have read this year. Rocksteady gives you an open invite to explore the secret places many horror writers are still too nervous to go, and what’s even better, she brings cats.
Betty Rocksteady creeps and crawls around a small town in Canada, watching 1920s cartoons and introducing herself to stray cats. Her fiction explores body horror, weird sex and trauma, diving into the deepest darkest places she can go. Her short fiction has been published in Forbidden Futures, Dark Moon Digest, Eternal Frankenstein, and more. Her cosmic sex horror novella The Writhing Skies was the winner of the This Is Horror Awards Novella of the Year, 2018. Find out more at www.bettyrocksteady.com or by following Betty Rocksteady on Facebook or Twitter.