The Penny Dreadnought Omnibus is a collection of speculative fiction.
That's a fancy literary term which basically translates into "weird shit is going to happen in these stories."
And Everington, Ryker, Polson and Rowan deliver on that expectation. Among these digital pages, some weird shit certainly does happen.
And I loved it.
First let me take a moment to say that I really appreciate the clever title of this magazine and it indeed is very apropos. These stories are like a battleship; they assault the senses with barrage after barrage from their vast arsenal of literary firepower. The effects are dizzying. And the allusion to the 19th-century British pulps is also a very appropriate comparison. I wonder which of the authors will be the first to offer us a Spring-heeled Jack tale?
I discovered Penny Dreadnought because I was already familiar with the name James Everington, having read his fantastic collection of short stories, The Other Room. I was not familiar with the other writers, but my interest in Everington's writing lead me to purchase this for my kindle.
And Everigton's work is profoundly strong. Despite the fact that I had first read it in The Other Room, I find my mind still lingering on the meaning of "First Time Buyers", which holds up to a second reading. On its surface this is a story of strange monsters lurking in empty homes, their presence distressing to the young couple who lives among them in the largely vacant new housing complex they inhabit. But this story has so many layers, so much depth. The allegory works on multiple levels. It's a story which one needs to ruminate upon, allowing the various nuances to penetrate the mind over time. It is a fascinating and extremely relevant story.
James Everington's writing is consistently superior, although I do find that it on occasion goes on just a bit longer than needed. I would have liked to see "He" tightened up just a touch, perhaps reduced in length somewhat to keep the narrative moving at a stronger pace. And I will add that I find his addiction to parenthetical statements to be a bit distracting at times. Don't let these minor details dissuade you, though. This is excellent writing. "Falling Down" was another piece by Mr. Everington which I thoroughly enjoyed. I was confident I would enjoy more of Everigton's work and my expectations were fully realized.
But my surprise pleasure in reading the Omnibus was the discovery of the writing of Alan Ryker. Taking nothing away from the quality of the work of the other contributors, Mr. Ryker's work simply appealed to my taste in a very impactful way. Chief among my favorite stories in this collection were "Invasion of the Shark-Men" which utilized the highly inventive narrative technique of progressing the story through a series of video clips being watched by a pair of supporting characters. As the story unfolds we too piece together the strange and fascinating events which have transpired along with them. Also "A Face to Meet the Faces That You Meet", which is simply in a word brilliant. An intriguing, disturbing, thoughtful tale. And "The Aerialist", an invitation into the psyche of the last practitioner of the craft of high-altitude thievery. Each of these tales were written by Ryker. And although again I found Mr. Ryker's other contribution "The New Words" to meander just a bit longer than I would have liked, I will be reading more from this talented writer very soon.
Another strong piece was "Lilies", a poignant story about war, loss and longing from Iain Rowan. An innovative take on the zombie cliché, this is a subtle and thoughtful work. Rowan brings something new and unique into this mythos which is currently populated by simple rehashings of the same tired plot devices and over-utilized elements. Rowan gives us a fresh take, a difficult task in this popular sub-genre. A great story.
Not every tale was a homerun for me; there were a couple of swings and misses. But overall, the merit of this collection cannot be overstated. The vast majority of the stories were each worth a read as stand-alone pieces. And together, the reader is offered an incredible value.
With the Omnibus, the reader gets four complete issues of Penny Dreadnought, each containing four full stories- one from each of the contributors. That's a tremendous bargain at $2.99. Frankly, the Abominable Gentlemen, as the four refer to themselves collectively, are underpricing their work. Take advantage of this fact before the inevitable praise for this collection pours in and the writers come to the same conclusion.
Each issue presents a different theme, such as the end of the world or a loss of one's grip on reality, and it is a real pleasure to see each author present a tale in their own unique voice on the subject. If you are a fan of crime stories, for example, you are presented with four diverse takes on the topic. I thoroughly enjoyed the invitation into the twisted mind of each of the Abominable Gentlemen. I hope they extend it again in the future; I will enthusiastically accept with each new edition of Penny Dreadnought.
I also enjoyed the clever cover artwork and the additional bonus gallery of considered, but not initially utilized covers. A nice perk.
I'm rating the Penny Dreadnought Omnibus at Five Stars, not because it without flaw, but because where it succeeds it does so very powerfully and exceedingly entertainingly. These are stories that will remain with me for some time. And writers I will excitedly look forward to reading more from. Highly recommended.