Reviewed by Rick Hudson
Of all the independent horror publishers in operation at the moment, Smart Rhino must have the most characteristic brand image. Most of the company’s books are distinctively packaged by designer Scott Medina and feature the disturbing art of Shelley Everett Bergen, giving the Smart Rhino line a unique and recognisable look. The content of Zippered Flesh 3 is equally dramatic and impressive; this collection features established writers such as Graham Masterton, Shaun Meeks, L.L. Soares and Jezzy Wolfe, as well as many others who are recognised names amongst the indie horror circuit.
The volume cites itself as being a collection of fiction focussed on body enhancements gone awry and ostensibly appears to be centred on ‘body horror’. While this is certainly true, this very narrow sounding remit does not in anyway constrict the scope of the fiction this collection contains. Neither does the horror in each story explicitly dwell on gross-out bloody violence, not that there is a shortage of that. Within this seemingly narrow mandate each writer has produced a story which challenges both the limits of the horror genre itself and readers’ expectations. Sandra R. Campbell’s ‘Gehenna Division, Case #609’ gives us an infernal undercover operation which reworks Orpheus in the Underworld; Christine Green’s slick and minimal ‘Going Green’ adopts a fragmented, modernist style to achieve its sinister effect. This excellent story demonstrates a true writer’s skill with words, something sadly absent from much genre fiction. ‘Going Green’ also acts as a satire in the style of Thomas Pynchon or Anthony Burgess in which the horror of the story serves to make astute and cutting social observations, and does so with great wit. ‘Dog Days’ by horror veteran Graham Masterton contrasts with ‘Going Green’ sharply by delivering us with a traditional horror tale that is narrated in a deceptively easy colloquial, chatty manner. ‘Dog Days’ is simultaneously horrifying, pitifully sad and shockingly funny.
Zippered Flesh 3 shows us what horror can be, and what potential it has for variety in style tone and subject matter. It also clearly evidences that horror – at its best – can deliver challenging and perceptive fiction that does far more than create a spook effect or shock its readers with grotesque scenarios, it can function as a literature that has much to say, and say it well.