I received a preview copy of "Stone Work" in order to complete this review.
Mirror Matter Press' "Stone Work" is a collection of three novellas written by Dominic Stabile, all concerning the travails of a disfigured assassin/bad-ass named Stone. The world Stone inhabits is one part Blade Runner and one part Mad Max with a helping of Steven King for good measure. For aficionados of pulp horror thrills this anthology brings the goods. Stabile writes in a hyperbolic and pop-literate style that emulates the splashier elements of a Frank Miller graphic novel while giving nods to horror, science fiction, and noir classics from the last century.
The final and longest story, "Godless City," is my favorite of the collection. It has the most interesting set-up; a man hires Stone as a bodyguard as he tries to bring a sacrilegious documentary to light. I dig world-building and this story explores in detail an intriguing element of Stabile's world. In the nightmare future of Stone, the only source of hope and optimism of the citizens of his noir city are the various fictional worlds left behind after the end of the world. Whether Sam Spade or Star Trek, believers treat these entertainments as literal truths.
I found this an interesting take on dystopias because it seems to be a self-aware gesture of the writer to his own highly referential creation. In the same way Stephen King mines the pulp horror comics and B-grade movies for his inspiration, Stabile employs the cross-genre pollination of the 90s. Stone's world is one soaked in media and self-reference; the movies, graphic novels, and stories it names don't ground the world in a particular time or place so much as they create a sense of dislocation and rampant entropy.
The other stories in the collection are worth a read as well, especially if you find yourself hooked on Stabile's fusion of hyper-aware noir and Lovecraftian mayhem.
In the first story, "'Roid Rage" a minor criminal boss hires Stone to protect his incompetent drug-dealing son. Considering the drug in question comes with some extreme side-effects, it's probably not surprising the whole job goes south quickly. Of the three stories, this was my least favorite even though I think it represents the best introduction to the rest of collection. While the inventiveness of the mutants streaming in after the hero was entertaining, the thin set-up didn't quite support the mayhem that followed.
Plumb, Inc was much better, much more inventive. Here Stone infiltrates a company involved in scores of disappearances only to discover his biggest threat might be the motivations of his employer. Readers learn a bit more about Stone, his hard-luck past as a soldier and his prickly relationship with his hacker friend Megan. Having read a few other stories by Stabile, I know that he can handle deftly the messy subtleties of human relationships. Between the noisy sections of gunplay and tentacle beasts, the quieter moments peek out.
My overall impression of this work is of an author with obvious gifts in the kind of the literature I enjoy, making rapid strides forward in skill and craft. I would read another volume of Stone's adventures and I look forward to see what else Stabile's feverish imagination will summon forth.