Modern Gods Edited by Nicolas Ahlhelm. ebook review

Modern_Gods_Cover_for_Kindle-e1363529261469MODERN GODS (Anthology) edited by Nicolas Ahlhelm

Metahuman Press, eBook, www.metahumapress.com

Reviewed by Richard Webb (@RaW_writing)

This anthology of short stories is based around the theme of ancient gods in modern settings, an intriguing premise. Rather oddly, it features only four stories, making it the equivalent length of a novella. For this to be value for its $8.00 list price on Amazon it would have to deliver quality if not quantity. Sadly this is not the case.

Each story is from a different author, with the final story contributed by the overall author who is also the owner of publisher Metahuman Press, making it perhaps just one step removed from a self-published work. Unfortunately it has the hallmarks of the lower end of that spectrum, lacking a veneer of professionalism which might have helped it achieve adequacy.

There is no evidence of editorship. All stories require judicious revising for style, pacing and plot, particularly the first entry, ‘Too Much Whine’ by Teel James Glenn. This was a trying read, disjointed in structure and grammatically awkward (or often, just plain wrong, such as mid-sentence changes of tense). It is littered with errors and has seemingly not even been spellchecked. For instance, reading about a horse’s ‘gate’ rather than it’s ‘gait’ is either comical or irritating, but either way it is distracting. As is ‘nauseousness’.

I can forgive a few oversights in self-published books, and even in small press publications, but multiple such mistakes by an author if not corrected soon become the mistakes of the proofreader and editor too. In this case I couldn’t be certain it had even been read by the publisher.

The first story focused on the appearance of Dionysus in C19th England. It was intended as light-hearted (I think), but the silliness of events (eg. narrator transformed into a talking horse), flippancy of the characters and the clumsiness of the mockney Victoriana bordered on the juvenile and I ceased caring. One quip about ‘mounting’ brought a smile though…

The second inclusion, ‘Ice Beauty’ by Bonnie J. Stirling, was an improvement, the best of the anthology. It centers around a long-distance husky-sled race, of which the author weaves in solid details, grounding the tale nicely if occasionally at the expense of pace. The central event is the discovery of ‘someone’ by a racer. The ‘reveal’ of this figure’s identity comes too easily though, as does the lead character’s acceptance, dissipating any potential dramatic tension. This made for a tale without much conflict which undermined the poignancy the ending strived for. However, there were elements of promise in the setting and characterization, and with a touch more enigma the story could possess a charismatic charm.

Next came ‘The Spirit of Metal’ by Viktor Kowalski, which according to the biog is the pseudonym of a pair of young Croatian writers. The story, which had a promising beginning with a gritty episode in the epic fantasy vein, then became a tale in which the god Thor is a guitarist in heavy metal band Ragnarock. Seriously. With a guitar shaped like a giant hammer, I kid you not. The band’s initial success gives way to an ‘A Christmas Carol’ sequence in which Thor realizes he has lost the spirit of metal and then goes in search of it. After a ‘Metal-style’ scream-off against evil rock promoter Lokke, Thor finds it again. It was in his leather trousers. Or something. I can only assume ‘Viktor’ watched the Tenacious D movie ‘The Pick of Destiny’ and believed it was a documentary tribute. It is even dedicated to Ronnie James Dio, apparently without irony.

The final installment, ‘Deserted’ is from Nicholas Ahlhelm. It begins in a somewhat repetitive style, taking a chapter to say little several times, but then finds another gear when an encounter ousts the ponderous opening. From here it is better paced with moments of real urgency when the author limits the verbiage. However, whilst the first-person PoV works for action it jars when offering the internal ruminations of a naïve god on the contemporary world. For instance, having a deity describing a jeep as a ‘strange chariot,’ ‘strange cart’ and ‘strange wagon’ all within a page rather hammered in an obvious point with the subtlety of Thor’s guitar. The premise of an ancient god of combat confronting the technological advancement and martial instinct of modern humankind has potential but this is undermined by over-exposition, one-dimensional characters and dialogue surely borrowed from Xena: Warrior Princess.

It ended with the phrase ‘To Be Continued.’ If one took that as meaning ‘To Be Completed Properly’ I couldn’t agree more.