The Game edited by Sean Ellis (2011, Seven Realms Publishing)
“The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell is one of those short stories everyone has either heard about or read. First published in 1924, the story is about Sanger Rainsford, a big game hunter who finds himself marooned on an island off the coast of South America. He finds a large palatial estate on the island inhabited by a former tsarist general, Zaroff, and his deaf-mute servant Ivan. Rainsford discovers Zaroff has been hunting shipwrecked sailors as game on his estate ever since he became bored of animal hunting. Zaroff turns the hunter into the hunted in his next game, but Rainsford is able to elude the general with his superior skills. It’s implied Rainsford triumphs in the end.
The story has been collected and adapted many times. I first encountered it in Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbinders In Suspense. It was first adapted for the screen in 1932, staring Faye Wray (in a character that didn’t appear in the story). It was also the basis for the 1982 Australian movie, Turkey Shoot, about a bunch of prisoners in a futuristic prison being hunted by the warden and friends. More recently, someone produced a video called Bambi Hunt where people paid money to shoot paintballs at naked Vegas showgirls. This last one sparked a huge outrage until it was revealed the “hunt” was staged just to sell a DVD.
In 2011, editor Sean Ellis asked 10 authors to contribute their take on the story for a new collection. He also contributed his own story. The result is The Game.
Most of the stories are quite good. He picked established writers, so the stories flow quickly and are professional. If I have one complaint with the collection, it is the inclusion of “paranormal fantasy” as the theme of many stories. Seven of the 10 either use paranormal reality as the plot device or let it slip in at some point. Another one is set in outer space, but that does add some flavor. “The Most Dangerous Game” concept works best when it’s one human against another, using only their wits and abilities.
“The Most Dangerous Reality” by Rick Chesler uses a “reality” TV show as the theme. A man who has racked up thousands of dollars in student loans getting both a legal and medical degree signs up for a TMDG theme TV show on an isolated island. He’s supposed to be paid big money if he survives, but what he doesn’t know is that the event is all a fake. The TV producers have decided to give the “hunter” a blank gun and broadcast the entire event to see how far people in financial straits will go. However, the prey doesn’t know it’s all fake and is playing for keeps. Tragedy results.
“Freakshow” by J. Kent Holloway fits into his Enigma series. Dr. Obidiah Jackson, a cryptozoologist, finds himself trapped in a derelict amusement park. It’s run a hidden figure only known as “Freakshow”. Freakshow is giving Dr. Jackson a 30-minute start in the park before he releases his pet monsters. Should Dr. Jackson survive the ordeal (no one has yet), he will be released. And one other little bit of seasoning: there’s a mother of three tied up somewhere in the park, not too far away, who will be eaten if Jackson doesn’t release her. Jackson manages to bring all his knowledge of mysterious monsters to play against the game master.
“Code Duello” has Nicholas Boving’s spymaster Maxim Gunn in a cat-and-mouse game in the Scottish Highlands. Years earlier, Gunn had thought he’s killed mercenary Devlin in a jungle fortress. But his adversary has survived and is hunting Gunn in an estate near the Scottish coast. A raging thunderstorm adds to the tension of the story.
“The Andromeda Solution” by novelist Rick Nichols takes place in outer space. The sole survivor of an alien attack on a remote outpost finds himself pursued by attack ships in an asteroid belt. Although he lacks weapons, the pilot is able to put the tools on his little pod to good use. What he finds when he enters one of the alien ships was a shocker.
“Running Wild from the Hunt” by Alan Baxter is one of the many paranormal themed stories in the collection. Young Tom Jamieson has nightmares about being pursued by a wild hunt in his dreams. The hunt is more than a bad dream because the dark faerie folk have decided to take Tom out as he represents a potential threat to them. Fortunately, Tom has Isiah, an older man, a supernatural guardian, to defend him.
“Dark Entry” by David Wood comes close to being the best story in the book. Treasure hunters Dave Maddock and “Bones” Bonebreak travel to a park in Virginia looking for a missing American Indian heirloom. But the park is also the home of a bunch of rednecks who like to prey on humans for sport. Since both Maddock and Bones are former Navy SEALs, they readily beat the hunters at their own game.
“A Most Dangerous Ruse” by R. J. Fanucchi is the strangest tale in this collection. It’s told from the viewpoint of General Zaroff, who finds himself entertaining several guests who have heard about The Game and want to play. They’ve also brought along their own victim, whose face is covered by a mask. The general reluctantly agrees, on his terms. However, he can’t seem to remember what happened after he was defeated by Rainsford.
“The Shiva Objective” by David Sakmyster is the best story in The Game. Nina Osseni, a woman gifted with the psychic ability to “remote view” is sent by her employer at The Morpheus Initiative to check out a potential client in Agra, India. Nevertheless, she’s shanghaied by a rich Indian to take part a TMDG. Professional and amateur killers from around the world have paid big bucks to take out the quarry. Dumped in the middle of an alley, she has to reach a statue of Shiva in an underground labyrinth beneath the Taj Mahal to win. But she may never reach the building at all since there are snipers and assassins everywhere trying to kill her. Sakmyster plays fair and never lets his protagonist use ESP as a Deus Ex Machina. Osseni is a trained killer and quite the match for her opponents. I’ll be looking for more works of fiction with Osseni in the future.
R. P. Steeves’ “Misty Johnson and the Monsters of the Caribbean” features immortal investigator Misty Johnson recounting her tale of surviving a TMDG on an island. Whisked away by a magical creature known only as “The Author”, Misty finds herself fighting for survival with a group of supernatural characters. They’re up against; zombies, werewolves, and other things that go bump in the night. The story moves at a rapid pace and never fails to entertain.
“The Toughest Mile” by William Meikle takes us to Robert E Howard country. A pit fighter known only as Garn is promised his freedom if he can survive a 10-mile passage. But he has to escape the Witch-Queen’s bodyguards, ten savage women who will be released after giving him a head start. This is a gruesome story, which plays on the physical prowess needed to survive such an ordeal.
The final tale, “The Unbreakable Law” by editor Sean Ellis, serves as a sequel of sorts to the original TMDG. Rainsford did manage to defeat Zaroff and now rules on the island in the general’s place. Several of his big game hunting friends have traveled to the island for a visit. They’ve learned The Game continues and are eager to get in on the action. Rainsford agrees, but there is a price to be paid.
The Game is one of the better theme anthologies to be published in electronic format this year. All the writers are seasoned veterans and bring their skills in to play. I could’ve used less paranormal themes, but such is my own preference.
(Originally published in a slightly different form 12/14/11)