Wednesday 21 February 2024

ProleSCARYet: Tales of Horror and Class Warfare edited by Ian Bain, Anthony Engebretson, J.R. Handfield, Eric Raglin, and Marcus Woodman (Rad Flesh Press) | review by Douglas J. Ogurek

Overlords in saviours’ clothing: anthology takes a shot at capitalism with mixed results.

Despite its silly title, this horror anthology sympathises with those fed up with monied capitalists trying to take control of their lives, mostly in office and retail environments. It’s full of low earners (pizza deliverers, landscapers, gas station attendants, baristas) trying to make ends meet while suffering at the hands of the wealthy. In some stories, members of the upper class get their way, while, in others, the “rich fucks”, as one author puts it, pay their dues.

The worst entries are cryptic diatribes saturated in melodramatic language. These authors make the mistake of thinking readers will invest time in their philosophical ramblings without the backbone of a solid story.

Nevertheless, the collection offers enough strong pieces to make it worth the read. Several stories feature a bad guy or organisation, often an embodiment of corporate America, attempting to lure young, inexperienced people into what amounts to indentured servitude.

“Salen’s Found” by Corey Farrenkoph, for instance, introduces a young man working two menial jobs. He and his college student girlfriend struggle with whether they should join a commune, the walls of which they can see from their apartment. As the couple’s pressures mount, the cult’s vague brochures filled with smiling faces and promises of security (not so different from a corporate website) start showing up everywhere… even in the most private of places.

Another theme pervading this anthology involves the lack of appreciation and downright contempt among the privileged for those in the service industry. Stories such as “Empty”, arguably the strongest in the compilation, spotlight the unrealistic demands that the wealthy impose on others. When a demanding customer’s bratty children discover that a shop is out of Birthday Cake frozen yogurt, Leah and her co-workers must venture into a monster-infested storage area to get more. Risking their lives for their customers is something their corporate masters believe they should be willing to do. Author Noah Lemelson’s first-person narrator Leah doesn’t mince words or go into any kind of philosophical meanderings – the message is conveyed through the highly original story.

Dustin Walker’s “Return Policy” explores how the idle rich treat the less fortunate as a means to an end. The protagonist works for the returns department of ReGen, which takes advantage of grieving parents by transferring their dead children’s essences into beings that doesn’t live up to the original. He’s trying to help people get away from the company so they can grieve and accept the loss of their children.

Another strong entry is Tim Kane’s “Sweet Meats: A Grisly Tale of Hansel and Gretel”, which condemns corporate environmental exploitation with a retelling of the classic fairy tale. In this variation, the witch protagonist switches between raven and human, and she uses something very different to candy to decorate her house.

The authors within ProleSCARYet are likely to elicit one of two reactions among readers: “Shut up” or “Tell me more.” Douglas J. Ogurek ***

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