Edited by Jonathan Green
In light of the announcement by editor and author Jonathan Green that Sharkpunk 2 will soon be heading to Kickstarter for a crowdfunding campaign, I thought it would be timely to post a review of its predecessor anthology – the original Sharkpunk. I’ve been a fan of Mr Green for some time, first discovering him in the novels that he wrote for Black Library (including some of the best stories in the sadly-defunct Necromunda series), and then again when I picked up his Pax Britannica series published by Abaddon Books. As such, the announcement in 2014 of an anthology based around sharks piqued my interest, as did the fact that Mr Green had gathered together stories from some of the best British science-fiction and fantasy writers currently writing – including Toby Frost (Space Captain Smith), Den Patrick (The Boy with the Porcelain Blade) and even Josh Reynolds (Royal Occultist series, and a future entry in this blog’s Authors You Need To Read series).
A top pick of writers, then, and an interesting theme for an anthology – one which was inspired by films such as Jaws and the Sharknado series, but also by the myths surrounding sharks, both modern and ancient, as well as by the more recent rise of Steampunk culture. The result is a high-quality, well-written anthology that brings together some brilliant, imaginative and occasionally downright disturbing stories related in some way to the apex ocean predator. It’s been my experience that when I pick up an anthology, I often find myself in the mindset that it will contain a handful of ‘great’ stories, a few non-starters, and the rest being perhaps above-average at best. If I do finish an anthology and go to read it again, I’ll usually skip to the ‘better’ stories and rarely, if ever, re-read the other ones. However, I was delighted to discover that with Sharkpunk, there aren’t any above-average or non-starter stories; each one is incredibly good, which in turns means that the entire anthology is a great read – and when I come back to it, which is quite often, I’ll pull it off the bookshelf and re-read the entire book cover to cover.
But even in such a great anthology, there are a few stories that manage to stand out for me, as a reader. The first was Deep Red Bells by Josh Reynolds, and it’s an entry in Mr Reynolds on-going Royal Occultist series, which follows the adventures of Charles St. Cyprian, the current Royal Occultist – the man employed by the Crown to fight off things that go bump in the night. It’s a simple story of an English upper-class dandy interfering in Things That Should Be Left Alone, the ghost of a shark (or Lovecraftian Thing Like A Shark) that inhabits said dandy after a bit of psychic research goes wrong, and the Royal Occultist (and long-suffering assistant) who have to banish it from this mortal plane. As with all of Mr Reynold’s stories, it’s well-written, fast-paced and engaging, and even manages to give a little bit more background to the wider world of the Royal Occultist universe by revealing details of some of the occult research societies St. Cyprian is aware of.
Another story that really shines is the one that follows Deep Red Bells in the anthology – Sharkcop 2: Feeding Frenzy by Alec Worley. Sharkcop 2 is pure cheese from start to finish, and it is utterly amazing – it’s an 80s buddy-cop film in prose format, mixed with healthy doses of Troma Entertainment and The Last Action Hero. It starts with a shoot-out at a dock that results in one cop turning into a shark in the process, and ends with a fight with were-dolphins in a sushi restaurant led by a killer whale crime-boss. If that previous sentence doesn’t even remotely interest you, it’s possible you are clinically dead, and I have no more to say to you.
In conclusion: Buy this anthology, read it cover to cover, and await the arrival of Sharkpunk 2 as eagerly as I am.