Dark Continents Publishing is not your average publisher, though it’s indicative of a growing trend to self publish fuelled by the rise and rise of ebooks and easy to use internet publishing sites like Smashwords. As a result the normal channels of publishing have been thrown wide open. The ‘gate keepers’ – that is, mainstream publishing – are no longer even nominally in charge of what you the reader can sample in the massive ebook trade.
Of course with greater volume of published works, and easier means to get your work to the reading public, this will inevitably lead to a huge rise in the amount of substandard, poorly written material that you might shell out $2 or $3 US for. Now more than ever it’s a case of ‘caveat emptor’.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. There are collectives such as the group behind Dark Continents who actually possess a goodly number of good writers, and the tales in The Spectrum Collection are on the whole readable, in many respects enjoyable, and – as with any anthology – there are some gems among the stories on offer in particular NZ author John Irvine’s alternately light-hearted and nasty tale of goat revenge in ‘Goat Curry’ and Tracie McBride’s chilling take on a future Remembrance Sunday that is far more visceral than the polite marches we experience today. Other standouts are Simon Kurt Unsworth’s ‘The Elms, Morecombe’ which is a nicely balanced evocative piece about a personal haunting that still gives me chills just thinking about it, John Irvine appears again with ‘My Sister Doesn’t Live Here Anymore’, another kind of haunting, and poetically told, and the anthology ends with a John Prescott piece, ‘The End of Leonard Bangston’ which more than compensates for the price of admission: a visceral, gory, heart-rending but ultimately transformative end of the world story, I kid you not.
Some of the story choices reveal that this is the product of a writers collective rather than a more traditionally edited anthology. For example the similarities between the ‘haunted kid’ type story in both ‘Lemminaid’ and ‘Lost’ probably would mitigate against them both appearing in a non-collective anthology and certainly not one after the other in the table of contents. But that’s a minor point. The Dark Continents group are a talented bunch and their gaze is broad enough to cover a variety of story types and flavours.