First published back in March of 2015, Alex Davis’ anthology ‘Reality Bites’ collected together six short stories of horror and dark fiction, all inspired by the modern-day phenomena of Reality TV.

Tribe Test – Simon Clark – 20 pages
Using the latest developments in time travel technology, a new twelve-part TV entertainment series named ‘Tribe Test’ had commenced its live filming.  It was a reality show where two celebrity contestants accompanied by a team of experts, were transported back four thousand years to the land of Amorites, an area that is now part of Syria.  Popular singer Cassandra had taken up the challenge, and was now acting as a goddess to the community they dubbed Dog Village.  However, after the initial few broadcasts, Tribe Test had started losing its viewing numbers.  Apparently healing the needy and sick using modern medicine wasn’t entertaining enough for their viewers.  The show needed spicing up.  And the production team had an idea of how to do just that…

What an excellent short story to kick start the ‘Reality TV’ anthology off with.  Simon Clark offers up a story bursting with originality and packed with quirky sci-fi twists.  With tongue firmly wedged in his cheek, Clark ventures back four thousand years, slapping a thick wedge of modern social commentary into the time-travelling sci-fi mix.  And it’s 100% entertainment from start to finish.  With this one short story, the bar is well-and-truly set for the rest of the Reality TV shorts.

Dead Right – Janet Edwards – 16 pages
At first Mark Wade didn’t believe a word of what Arthur Banks was telling him.  A scanner that showed images of real life ghosts – or ‘echoes’ as the seemingly desperate inventor preferred to call them.  But even if Mark didn’t believe that the scanner itself was real, that’s not to say it wouldn’t go down well on their TV series about haunted houses and ghost hunting.  And so they signed Arthur and his scanner up for a slot in the next show.  However, as Wade was soon to find out, the problem was that the scanner really did work.  And it was uncovering secrets that had been dead for many years…

This is a light-hearted little tale with enough intrigue and jovial momentum in it to keep the story bouncing along at a suitably entertaining rate.  Author Janet Edwards focuses all of her efforts on just the one character – that of the tale’s narrator Mark Wade – who (considering the short length of the story), is fleshed-out really quite nicely.  Other than this, expect a plot that gradually unravels piece-by-piece until it finally reaches an altogether ‘Scooby Doo’ style of ending.  A little wacky and clearly not to be taken too seriously, but nevertheless pretty darn entertaining.

End Transmission – Gav Thorpe – 23 pages
The only reason Anna Nolan had taken the mission on was for the money.  She had big credit card debts that she needed to pay off.  And doing the mission would hopefully clear them all down once and for all.  Especially if they received a successful win bonus.  Although they’d already lost a couple of good men along the way.  Some would say that was par of the course with being a mercenary.  But then intelligence comes in that the area of jungle which they were currently moving through would soon be under Indonesian high-def scan.  Not good news at all.  But they could still make their target.  And they were assured they’d receive plenty of reward for their efforts should they be successful.  It was a tough mission – but the risks were probably worth taking…

This anthology is throwing the reader here, there, and frigging everywhere!  From the Bronze Age, to Ghost Hunting in our current time, and now into the future with a jungle warfare backdrop.  One thing’s for sure with this collection, no two stories are even remotely alike.  Anyway, challenge number one with a military-esque short story set in the future is trying to cram in all your clever little technological advancements into the short page count - and all without overloading the tale with such intricacies.  However, to be fair, author Gav Thorpe balances this perfectly.  There are more futuristic advancements on display than you can shake a high-impact laser-sighted rifle at.  But at no point do these crafty sci-fi predications encroach upon the plot.  Indeed, the story rips along at a mile-a-minute until it comes crashing into the sudden (but not altogether unexpected considering the anthology’s remit) twist-ending.  This is a well-executed short with more than enough energy, imagination, and action rammed into it to keep absolutely anyone entertained.  A superb contribution.

Wormwood – Chris Amies – 14 pages
Diogenes McCann had an idea for a show that he was almost certain would bring in the viewers.  He’d bring together a litany of washed-up Z-list celebrities and stick them in an old abandoned mental asylum with plenty of food and booze to keep their attention-hungry spirits up.  Mouldering away in the northern part of the borough, surrounded by open grassland gone wild, Wormwood Hospital was the ideal setting for such a venture.  With little to no other offers coming their way, each and every one of the forgotten celebrities that were contacted came flocking to the old asylum, eager to see their names in the TV listings once again.  But McCann has much more in store for these celebrities than just a night of drunken debauchery for the sake of the camera.  Much much more…

I have to admit that I’m not entirely sure what to make of Chris Amies’ grim little offering.  On the face of it what we have is a short story that appears quite closely akin to that of Richard Matheson’s ‘Hell House’ (1971).  It’s got that same sort of ‘haunted house’ vibe going on, with a bunch of hapless characters converging on a suitably evocative premises for the night.  However, there’s very little build-up or any degree of momentum within the tale to get the reader geared-up for a properly gripping horror tale.  Instead you can’t help but feel that you’re just plodding along with Amies’ story just unfolding before you.  It’s a real shame, as Aimes does bring some pretty weird and disturbingly odd aspects into the short’s last few pages; however ultimately these leave no effect on the reader due to the paper-thin paving slabs that led the story to this final twist-ending.

Day 34 – Simon Kurt Unsworth – 13 pages
It was Anders’ job to review the images on the many television screens in the control room, and decide which went to the live feed, and to mark anything that might be useful for that evening’s highlights show.  The nightshift had been dragging on, with little happening between the housemates.  As Director and Assistant Producer to the reality show, Anders was beginning to get bored with the whole concept.  Nevertheless, it seemed to bring in the viewers; with over a million people apparently streaming the live feed as the housemates slept.  And then Anders glimpses something in the gloom of the main bedroom.  He could have sworn he saw a disproportionately tall and painfully thin figure entering the room and stooping down over the sleeping form of one of the housemates.  Rewinding the footage, the screens show no such figure entering the room.  But then Anders notices elsewhere there’s more movement.  More skulking figures in the gloom.  More forms that shouldn’t be there moving about the house.  What the hell is going on?...

With an anthology set around reality TV shows you just knew there was going to be one utilising the whole ‘Big Brother’ setting.  And sure enough Unsworth’s the one to take up the challenge of messing with the show that was one of the instigators to the whole reality TV concept.  The setting itself is textbook ‘Big Brother’.  You can instantly envision the rooms and the various camera angles.  Little effort needs to be put into painting this picture, and Unsworth knows this – instead choosing to focus upon sporadic images of the eerie presences that are suddenly cropping up all over the place.  Unsworth goes for a particularly visual assault for this – delivering short, sharp glimpses of altogether terrifying figures.  However, very possibly due to the ‘Big Brother’ setting, the story feels like it would work far better as a short film rather than that of a short story.  Everything seems purposefully visual.  Particularly geared towards seeing rather than experiencing.  Don’t get me wrong, this all works in the tale’s favour.  However, as the story come to a gripping close, you can’t help but feel you’ve been reading a screenplay rather than a short piece of horror fiction.

I, Ross, Take Thee, Rachel – Philip Palmer – 13 pages
Billy Wilson was a twenty-one-year-old virgin with little charm, little in the way of charisma, and not a hell of a lot going for him.  In fact his life was pretty dull.  Nevertheless, he had his own channel.  People could watch him as he went about his miserable life, they could subscribe to his feed, and witness a life that perhaps suggested something a little more real than the millions of other feeds bombarding cyberspace.  However, today he hoped for higher viewing figures than he’d previously achieved.  After all, today was his birthday.  And at some point in the course of the day, he planned to kill himself for all to see…

This is an interesting one.  Author Philip Palmer has penned an incredibly downbeat and sombre story depicting a miserable life which exists purely for internet viewing figures.  It’s a sad but altogether poignant story, which takes a relevant message and magnifies its ugliness to truly grim proportions in order to really hammer home the falseness of an internet statistic-seeking existence.  Out of all the contributions in the anthology, Palmer’s is probably the most unsettling and unnerving.  It’s a cancerous glut of gloom and sadness that doesn’t let up through almost the entirety of the tale.  The inclusion of excerpts from TV shows that we all know well only furthers the relevance of the message.  And through the almost-voyeuristic first-person-perspective, Palmer has pulled-off a pitiful inner-examination to near perfection.  Can’t say I loved it.  The short’s too miserable for that.  But it’s definitely a tale that’s worth investing some of your life’s precious time in.

The anthology runs for a total of 109 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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