Lost Signals - A tome of horror fiction featuring radio waves, numbers stations, rogue transmissions, and other unimaginable sounds you only wish were fiction
Lost Signals, Ed. by Max Booth III & Lori Michelle. Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, 2016.
What's that sound? Do you feel it? The signals are already inside you. You never even had a chance. A tome of horror fiction featuring radio waves, numbers stations, rogue transmissions, and other unimaginable sounds you only wish were fiction. Forget about what's hiding in the shadows, and start worrying about what's hiding in the dead air. With stories by Matthew M. Bartlett, T.E. Grau, Joseph Bouthiette Jr., Josh Malerman, David James Keaton, Tony Burgess, Michael Paul Gonzalez, George Cotronis, Betty Rocksteady, Christopher Slatsky, Amanda Hard, Gabino Iglesias, Dyer Wilk, Ashlee Scheuerman, Matt Andrew, H.F. Arnold, John C. Foster, Vince Darcangelo, Regina Solomond, Joshua Chaplinsky, Damien Angelica Walters, Paul Michael Anderson, and James Newman. Also includes an introduction from World Fantasy-award-winning author, Scott Nicolay.
"This book will probably make you paranoid, if you weren't already. And if you were already, well, I have it on good authority that tinfoil only amplifies the signals." - Christine Morgan
"The voices gathered here are as diverse and disturbing as sussurating whispers between radio stations or a signal from a dead man's hand. Lost Signals is one of the most haunting and engaging anthologies I've read in a long time, filled with equal measures of darkness and brilliance. If you're looking to be terrified and entertained, read on but do exercise some caution." - Shane Douglas Keene
"Lost Signals is a superb anthology. [ . . . ] Creepy and weird." - Adrian Shotbolt
"One of the most genuinely disturbing anthologies in recent memory." - Brian O'Connell
This eclectic mix of superb horror fiction delves into the what-ifs of radio technology and what might lie in its impenetrable static. The stories all unsettle the reader. In Matthew M. Bartlett’s eerie “Where Night Cowers,” a young boy finds a radio with mysterious powers. A man wrestles with the lamentations of those he has wronged in Betty Rocksteady’s “The Desert of Wounded Frequencies.” In Josh Malerman’s “The Givens Sensor Board,” the titular piece of equipment has unspeakable capabilities. Some stories are as creative as they are disturbing, including T.E. Grau’s “Transmission,” in which a lonely man confronts a transmission that mentions supernatural forces. The authors play with the unnameable and unmentionable; there are no cheap scares or easy answers. The complex setups lead to satisfying payoffs that leave readers intrigued and shaken, as good horror is meant to do. This satisfying collection is a welcome addition to the genre. - Publishers Weekly
There are signals all around us, flowing through us. Most are undetected, though occasionally, we are on the receiving end of a transmission that alters our very lives. These lost signals often carry a heavy price on those of us on the receiving end. What we hear, what we feel, are transmissions that have the power to bring insanity and despair, even death. Some seek out the signal, while others do everything they can to escape it. The one constant is that the signals are ever present, if only for a few seconds, and if we catch the transmission, it has the power to change our lives forever.
Max Booth III and Lori Michelle of Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing have assembled writers across time and space here for an anthology based around a theme that’s long overdue … Lost Signals: Horror Transmissions.Scott Nicolay, host of The Outer Dark, writes in his intro: “By our very presence we interfere with transmissions to which we are oblivious. Our bodies block and distort, but they also receive.” Obviously, when the good folks at PMMP put out the submission call, they had a certain signal in mind, and were receptive to the stories they chose.
The anthology starts off with ‘If He Summons His Herd’ by Matthew M. Bartlett. Relatively new to the scene, Bartlett still writes like a seasoned pro, as he conjures transmissions that are rarely seen in most fiction as he combines the occult with technology with a flair for the dramatic and the demonic. ‘Transmission’ by T.E. Grau tells of a man on the road, escaping his past, and losing himself at the radio stations at the far end of the dial, tuning in to the new path his life is about to take, while ‘From: Item L5161ORDE, ‘The Dangsturm Interruption’’ by Joseph Bouthiette Jr. showcases a powerful new writer pummeling us with his ‘words with a series of audio snippets and case file notes that build a subtle paranoia into an unsettling crescendo.
Josh Malerman’s ‘The Givens Sensor Board’ completely switches gears, this time using a stream of conscious style to drive the tension to dizzying heights, quickly establishing character and dread with an ever quickening pace with a nice twist on the signal theme; a mechanism that allows those buried alive to signal they are trapped in the grave. ‘Sharks with Thumbs’ by David James Keaton is exactly what one would expect from him; combining an odd-ball concept with his fluid and intense style to deliver a tale that lingers long after you finish it. Told in tight vignettes, the story quickly narrows down to a whip-smart conclusion. Next up is ‘Bad Lieutenant’ by Tony Burgess, a rather sad tale with some disturbing imagery, which while somewhat muddled by disconnected footnotes, become perhaps more subjective, especially after a second reading, while ‘How the Light Gets In’ by Michael Paul Gonzalez follows young lovers traveling near the Salton Sea who hear a strange tale and investigate the alleged vicinity with recording equipment, discovering a weird ripple in time and space, somewhat sentient, and quite possibly dangerous.
Radio operators near war-torn Kabul flirt with paranoia within the signals from the radio in ‘Darkhorse Actual’ by George Cotronis, providing yet again another steady buildup of dread and deadly obsession, while ‘The Desert of Wounded Frequencies’ by Betty Rocksteady adds another road trip tale to this anthology, this time with a broken radio that works only when it wants to, channeling those weird basement stations—FM reverends preaching damnation through the static, and ‘Eternity Lie in its Radius’ by Christopher Slatsky deals with radio signals influencing a death metal band, disrupting the band members and leading to violence and death.
Returning to the anthology with his second story, Matthew M. Bartlett shifts this time into a delightful body-horror nightmare with yet another blend of the occult and technology that tells the tale of a talking box that transmits signals of demonic destruction in ‘Where Night Cowers’. while ‘Rosabelle, Believe’ by Amanda Hard features a young boy trying to break a code on a short-wave radio, and the horror his father feels when he recognizes the voice at the other end, reciting the code into the dead air. ‘The Last Scream’ by Gabino Iglesias goes to school with a story about a student presentation with a ghostly recording. The recording summons an evil beyond the grave that turns the class into a bloodbath in the goriest story of the whole anthology.
‘The Man in Room 603’ by Dyer Wilk, an awesome cover artist working with the best in the business, reminds us that yes, he can write, and write very well, with a creepy story about the sole patient in a hospital who is actually a signal of death incarnate, while telephone calls from long lost loved ones set the stage for ‘The Sound of Yesterday’ by Ashlee Scheuerman, in which the familiar voices on the other end, while at first soothing, finally exhibit a calculated control and begin a chain-reaction of murderous rage, and ‘Children of a German Autumn’ by Matt Andrew uses the real-life setting of the 1977 German Autumn for a story of disturbing codes broadcast over short-wave radio, and a young mother’s desperate search for son that lasts decades, plunging her into a hidden world of the undead.
First published in Weird Tales in 1926, ‘The Night Wire’ by H.F. Arnold shows us that the concept of intercepting lost signals is not entirely new. This Weird Fiction pulp classic is the perfect example of a lost signal story, with a mysterious unheard of town enveloped in a sinister fog. ‘Armageddon Baby’ by John C. Foster continues to exhibit his ability to combine noir with horror, a combination often called the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of genre mash-ups. His narrative it tight and punchy and smacks a hard hit at the end, while ‘The Small Hours’ by Vince Darcangelo recounts those first few hours after midnight, as an obsessed man loses his mind via webcam voyeurism, and a serial prank caller seeks the pregnant silence for solace, and finds it, if only for a little while, in ‘Hush’ by Regina Solomon.
‘Feedback Loop’ by Joshua Chaplinsky deals with short-wave radios and human antennae, crushed by intense feedback, folding time in unimaginable ways, while a wicked baby monitor in ‘Little Girl Blue, Come Cry Your Way Home’ by Damien Angelica Walters proves why she is one of the best horror writers working with a tale that cuts to the bone. ‘All That You Leave Behind’ by Paul Michael Anderson deals with the painful aftermath of a miscarriage. Deleted files reappearing on a computer and an alternate reality leaves the reader wondering what is real and what is hallucination, packing a solid gut punch at the conclusion, and finally, ‘SOMETHINGINTHECODE’ by James Newman combines podcast episode transcripts, newspaper clipping, transport receipts, and classified documents to bring the book to a satisfying conclusion with a transmission that doesn’t end until the very last page.
Though many of the stories here use the same kind of devices for transmissions of the signals—short-wave receivers, FM tuners, even old car radios—each author applies their own spin on the theme, with compelling characters and interesting plots. Each story is personal, and in most cases, the theme is not just some backdrop shoe-horned into the story, but is an integral part of the setting that provides the catalyst for powerful, emotional stories that hit the reader in all the right places—each writer taking the premise and hitting the ground running as they deliver their own tales without compromise to make their stories emotional and very personal. The end result is a themed anthology that consistently tunes the frequency to the fear channel, and then cranks the volume up to eleven.
It’s very rare for a themed anthology to consistently fire on all cylinders, but that’s exactly what happens here, and with cover art and design by Matthew Revert and interior illustrations by Luke Spooner for every story, this is one anthology we can’t recommend enough. - BOB PASTORELLA
...I am pleased to report that Lost Signals does not suck, and that there was very little "skipping ahead to the next one" in my read through. This is a great collection, one I'd recommend to anyone with a taste for the macabre, the weird, the horrific, or even just good ol' fashioned fringe-element conspiracy theories.
The collection kicks off with "If He Summons His Herd", by Matthew M. Bartlett, and it's one hell of an opener. Bartlett's story is set in the fictional town of Leeds, where a number of children have gone missing... and where, as you might have guessed, nothing is as it seems. It's a hallucinatory, oddly feverish little story, and was so effective that it left me scrambling to find out what else Bartlett's written.
This, by the way, is the other great thing about short story collections: you're almost always guaranteed to come across one new author you can fall in love with.
Bartlett's story sets a high bar, and many of the stories that follow live up to it. To one degree or another, all of them revolve around strange radio signals - freaky radio waves, transmissions and the like - and it's interesting to see how much variety these two dozen authors (a diverse group, at that, including Betty Rocksteady, David James Keaton, Tony Burgess, Vince Darcangelo, Michael Paul Gonzalez, Regina Solomond, John C. Foster, and Joshua Chaplinsky, who also wrote the beloved-by-me Kanye West: Re-Animator) are able to wring from that basic set of guidelines.
There's stories here about time travel and numbers stations; about the terrors of new parenthood and weird shit happening out in the desert or up in the snowblasted landscape of Alaska; there's radio signals driving people mad, top-secret transmissions from who-knows-where being investigated by the government, nods to Lovecraft and King...sure, many of the stories are similar thanks to the overall concept of this collection, but it's fun seeing what all these writers have done with the same basic setup.
Like any anthology, there were tales that worked like gangbusters for me (Bartell's, Rocksteady's, Foster's and Chaplinsky's were probably my favorites) and a handful that did not, but again: that's part of the charm of any anthology, particularly one where you're largely unfamiliar with the contributing authors. I wouldn't dream of pointing out the tales that didn't blow my skirt up (I would also like to add that I was never bored), but I will happily tell you that, overall, I had a helluva time working my through this collection, and I think the Birth.Movies.Death. readership would be particularly responsive to its brand of Twilight Zone-esque weirdness.
If, like me, you've found yourself pressed for time, in dire need of a solid new collection, and have a taste for the macabre, you should pick up Lost Signals with confidence. You'll almost certainly enjoy yourself, and there's a very good chance you'll discover a favorite new writer in the process. Isn't that the best experience any anthology can hope to provide? - Scott Wampler
When it comes to short fiction, themed anthologies are fairly common in horror. Nearly all of Grey Matter Press' anthologies are that way, as are those of legendary editor Ellen Datlow. But those are shining examples in a field of largely uninspired entries, and it's often difficult to find unique, high quality books with subject matter that hasn't been handled or mishandled a million times. There are two elements that have to come together perfectly to take such a volume from the mediocre to the extraordinary, and it's a rare and delightful experience when they do. Those elements, in order of priority, are a strong, original motif and an exceptional response on the part of the authors. Lost Signals, from Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing (PMMP), meets those criteria in spades.
When editors Lori Michelle and Max Booth III put out the call for Lost Signals, they were looking for "...horror fiction about radiotelegraphy. We want to be disturbed. Stories should somehow involve radios, radio stations, radars, cell phones, military broadcasts, distress signals, walkie talkies, podcasts, or anything similar." So, right out of the starting gate, we have that first element covered. They have a unique and intriguing theme that is of interest to the authors involved in the project, and entertaining for readers of the finished product. In addition, it's a concept that's open to many different interpretations, affording the authors the freedom to think and create outside the box, in some cases, such as David James Keaton's "Sharks With Thumbs," way outside the box.
Lost Signals gathers together twenty-four authors as diverse and unique as the content presented here, each one responding to the theme with superbly creative vision and style. The stories are often heavily experimental as in the aforementioned David James Keaton work, "Sharks With Thumbs," a tale told in darkly humorous vignettes that seem at first to be disjointed, but eventually come together as a coherent-and brilliant-whole. Experimentation was one of the things Booth and Michelle expressed interest in when they made the original call, and Keaton wasn't the only author to take that to heart. The third story in the book, Joseph Bouthiette Jr's "From: Item L5161ORDE, 'The Dangsturm Interruption'" is the first piece to make you really realize what a different sort of reading experience you've entered into as it's told in a series of surreal snippets or events:
[EVENT BETA]Lost Signals brings together a cornucopia of the strange and horrific, ranging from the weird cosmic horrors of T.E. Grau's "Transmission," to the slow creeping horror of "The Givens Sensor," Josh Malerman's tale of how a young cemetery caretaker deals with a macabre situation involving the recently dead. In addition, there's "The Desert of Wounded Frequencies" by Betty Rocksteady. It's the story of a man racing across a desert in a car with a seemingly haunted radio. While it's a very short little story, it has a huge emotional impact and isn't something you'll forget anytime soon, nor are you likely to forget Matthew M. Bartlett's "Where Night Cowers," a strange piece that reads like a cross between a dark fairy tale and a work of cosmic horror.
/SAMPLE: Audio L5161ORDE-04. 00:10:47.
[...] but he never spoke of the pulsars, not directly. He'd rather postulate on the existence of the jackalope, or question why restaurants didn't bake an entire meatloaf each time a customer ordered a meatloaf dinner entree. He watched football, and only ever cheered for his one team, never giving any other a second thought. He raised an eye to conversations of gay men, but never missed a chance to jump into one on lipstick lesbians. But the pulsars weighed on everything he did, everything he said. They were his tic.
While it's true that this anthology brings together a whole collection of shining stars with not a bad story in the book, there are a few major standouts to mention here, including Gabino Iglesias' entry, "The Last Scream," a gut-punch of a horrorfest in which a group of students give an audio presentation to their college class. With blood and terror aplenty, it's a brilliantly imagined premise that could only come from the mind of Iglesias. Then you have Damien Angelica Walters' utterly human "Little Girl Blue, Come Cry Your Way Home," a tale of a young couple dealing with a newborn infant that cries almost incessantly and a baby monitor with chilling properties. Walters has a way of terrifying her readers while simultaneously tugging on the heartstrings and that ability is well showcased here. And finally, you have John Foster's "Armageddon Baby," the story of a private eye on a terrifying quest to a radio station at the top of the world. It's the kind of mashup of horror, noir, and thriller that has become John Foster's stock in trade. It's also one of the creepiest stories in the book and, like most of Foster's short work, it would segue quite comfortably into a full length novel.
It's difficult to stop talking about the high points of Lost Signals because, in truth, every single story in the book is a high point and everyone's favorites will differ. There is so much to love about this anthology and nothing to dislike, with a selection of outstanding original fiction by some of the best authors in the business and a brilliantly creative experimental finale by James Newman, a story whose placement in the print version of the book is also somewhat experimental and creative on the part of the editors. It's been a banner year for short fiction, with extraordinary single author collections and anthologies popping up all over the place, and Lost Signals is a phenomenal addition to the field. Max Booth III and Lori Michelle both have a keen eye for great fiction and it's readily evident in this sublime gathering of talent and creativity that will have you thinking twice the next time you reach for the TV remote or the dial on the radio. - Shane D. Keene