Story Collection Review: Come Join Us By The Fire

So Tor Books, the fantasy literature titan, launched Nightfire, a horror imprint a little over a year ago. Tor is the one with the minimalist mountain peak logo that if it wasn’t imprinted onto you at a young age, rightly looks like the logo of a sporting goods company. Because publishing is slow even without a pandemic Nightfire won’t release its first print books until September 2021 but their marketing strategy has included putting out two volumes of an  audio only anthology of short horror fiction, Come Join Us by the Fire. This collection had come to my attention during Stoker Con two weeks ago and it didn’t take long for me to que it up after my current book in after looking over the list of contributors. I was thrilled to see a huge list of names that were familiar to me mixed with plenty who weren’t. Quite a few of them were familiar because they’re books had wound up in my to-read list on Goodreads over the last year. Writers like Paul Tremblay, Gwendolyn Kiste, and Simon Strantzas. 

For the small fee of zero dollars this might be the best entry point for someone who wants to get a survey of contemporary horror. It’s right there on your phone on a number of apps and in the Google Play store each story has an individual listing and its own cover art. Twice while reading it I sent a specific story to friends using that Google Play store listing. I really loved this feature and I would like to see other audio anthologies do the same. The audio production on the whole project is of the highest quality you could ask for. Saskia Maarleveld and Ramon de Ocampo perform the entire collection between the two of them with one story featuring Gerald Doyle. Doyle’s one story caps the first season with China Mieville’s The Design, clocking in at 75 minutes. I didn’t love all the stories in this collection, but all of them were masterfully performed. I’m going to keep an eye out for these narrators. There is a fair amount of spooky sound effects and sting music, much more than the zero you would normally get with an audiobook, but not enough to make me think I was listening to an audio original podcast. This is a good sweet spot for this collection to be in, given that these are all audio adaptations of existing short stories. They didn’t have a huge array of music and effects and had they been overused it would have worn out its welcome quickly.

The intent with this collection was to showcase a very wide slice of contemporary horror, if you like horror there will be something for you to love in here and probably something you won’t. I’d say that I really enjoyed a little over half of the 35 stories in the first season, and only two or three that I simply didn’t like. The rest were various shades of “okay”. With that sort of intentional curation by Theresa DeLucci listeners should adjust their expectations, appreciate the opportunity to explore a lot of new and unfamiliar territory within horror and come out with a handful of new authors to follow up on. I really enjoyed this anthology for that reason alone. I am now very eager to read more from Gwendolyn Kiste, Simon Strantzas, Livia Llewelyn, Priya Sharma, Kat Howard, Michael Wehunt, and China Mieville. I’ve listed out here what would be my “While Album” version of this collection with only the stories that really stuck with me. 

“No Matter Which Way We Turned” – Brian Evenson

“Daddy” – Victor LaValle

“The Girls From the Horror Movie” – Gwendolyn Kiste

“It Washed Up” – Joe R. Lansdale

“Stemming the Tide” – Simon Strantzas

“Midnight Caller” – Stephen Graham Jones

“The Anatomist’s Mnemonic” – Priya Sharma

“Rabbit Heart” – Alyssa Wong

“Cold, Silent, and Dark” – Kary English

“Ponies” – Kij Johnson

“Black Neurology” – Richard Kadrey

“Wasp & Snake” – Livia Llewellyn

“Greener Pastures” – Michael Wehunt

“El Charro” – John Langan

“Dream Home” – Kat Howard

“Spawning Season” – Nicholas Kaufmann

“In Sheep’s Clothing” – Molly Tanzer

“57 Reasons for the Slate Quarry Suicides” – Sam J. Miller

“That Which Does Not Kill You” – Lucy A. Snyder

“The Design” – China Miéville