Tropes make the world go ’round, or at least, they make genre fiction go ’round. Horror, science fiction, fantasy, mysteries, even westerns, they all use tropes as a sort of sturdy scaffolding on which to build their stories.
In the wrong hands, tropes can be painfully obvious and derivative, used as lazy shorthand in place of original ideas. In the right hands, however, in the hands of talented writers like those collected in It Was All a Dream, tropes can be deployed like literary fire power. They can be spun, subverted, turned on their heads and inside out, used with surgical precision or with all the subtlety of a dime store rubber chicken. The point is, done right, tropes make genre fiction better.
The short stories in It Was All a Dream most definitely use tropes done right, as the subtitle promises. Editor Brandon Applegate clearly has a keen eye and great taste—there’s not a dud in the bunch. There are many authors here I wasn’t familiar with, but their work fits right in with that of the ones I’m familiar with. This is a strong collection.
Rather than run down all the stories here, I thought I’d call out some of my favorites:
Fuck This Shit Manor by Laurel Hightower—The haunted house trope, but now how you’re expecting.
A Maiden Will I Die by LC von Hessen—An elegant, brutal, and surprising take on my all-time favorite trope, the final girl. This might be my favorite story in the collection.
Jumbies! by Lyndon Nicholas—Zombies, from a non-western perspective. This story moves through time and place, packing a lot of uncomfortable truth into its few pages.
Searching for Uberwald by Alex Woodroe—A story steeped in Romanian folklore, lyrical and haunting.
Advent of the Clown King by Tom Coombe—Clowns…so many clowns. Bug-fuck crazy in the best way.
The Thickest Soup You’ve Got by Nikki R Leigh—A cabin in the woods and a time loop, two tropes twisted together in to something wholly original.
Hail, Mary, Full of Rage by J. V. Gachs—Really, you just need to read this one. Also in the running for my favorite story here.
Tattered Fairy, Hungry Fairy by Belicia Rhea—Creepy kids, yes, but with a spin you won’t see coming.
Gone In a Flash by Gabino Iglesias—The alien abduction trope, but since this is by the always fiercely original Iglesias, you’re in for a wild ride. The man never fails to fuck with you.
I Unlock the Cage by Erin Brown—The werewolf trope, stirred into a stew with dangerous co-dependency and toxic love.
Hollywood Werewolf Conspiracy by Hailey Piper—Okay, maybe this is my favorite story in the anthology. If you’ve read anything by Piper at all, you know to expect the unexpected. She’s quickly become one of the best horror writers working today.
Those are the stories that lingered for me, but make no mistake, every one here is worth reading, and your favorites may be completely different from mine. Really, you can’t go wrong with It Was All a Dream.
Shoutout to Evangeline Gallagher for the cover art, and Christopher Castillo Diaz for the interior illustrations. Both artists do a superlative job, nailing that pulp magazine/E.C. Comics sweet spot.
2 thoughts on “BOOK REVIEW: IT WAS ALL A DREAM: AN ANTHOLOGY OF BAD HORROR TROPES DONE RIGHT, EDITED BY BRANDON APPLEGATE”
WOW!! These sound terrific!! 👏❤️👏
It’s an excellent anthology!