Hindsight’s 2020, ed. Tyrolin Puxty

Front cover of Hindsight's 2020Flavoured with but not tainted by the uncertainty and constraint of the Covid-19 pandemic, this anthology provides a series of engaging escapes from reality.

This anthology collect nine stories inspired by the theme of “regret”, spanning a range of genres and styles.

  • ‘I Should Have Known’ by Samantha Bryant. A young woman reminisces on why she was forced to kill her closest friend. Bryant expands the classic vampire trope of a beautiful young woman infected by evil, focusing on what it might be like to kill someone you loved. Replacing the usual male saviour with a competent female protagonist without sacrificing the defined gender roles and aesthetic that pervade both the period and seminal films, this story will appeal both to gothic horror fans and those seeking women who are more than seducer or seduced.

  • ‘Light Without Darkness, Day Without Night’ by Stephen L. Antczak. When the elders reject a hunter’s plan to exterminate the last of the monsters that prey on the village, he conceives a plan to have his apprentices attack anyway. Drawing on existing fantasy tropes but adding nuances of his own, Antczak paints an image of a complex tribal society preyed on by a clever and brutal enemy without sacrificing depth. The characters are similarly accessible yet fresh, echoing the central dilemma of obedience to tradition and authority vs. innovation and competence without introducing an individualism alien to tribal societies.

  • ‘Haunting in Fettig’ by Jordan Elizabeth. After Covid-19 restrictions turn a brief visit to her grandmother’s farm into an extended stay, a teenager suffers a series of inexplicable events. As the title suggests, this is a ghost story in the lineage of M.R. James or Susan Hill. Elizabeth skillfully balances the slowly building tension and uncertainty of the form with the faster-paced perspective of a Twenty-First Century US teenager, demonstrating that—for all that modern technology can provide answers at our fingertips—the inexplicable is still closer than we imagine.

  • ‘The Library of Abraham’ by Matt Weber. An author wakes up to discover he has been resurrected to be a witness in the trial of a crime that happened many years after he died. Rather than focus purely on culture shock of returning to life in the future, Weber adds the issue—especially relevant to authors and other creatives—of responsibility for how one’s work is used by others after one’s death. This results in a more intimate connection between protagonist and plot than the usual narratives of sparking revolt or shedding flawed perspectives.

  • ‘HINDSIGHT’S 2020’ by Tyrolin Puxty. When blending human and animal DNA to provide replacement organs results in too much intelligence, the scientists try to terminate the failed product; however, some chimera not only escape but resolve to end the human threat forever. Puxty weaves ideas of slavery, prejudice, revenge, and learnt self-image without straying into polemic. Told from the perspective of the chimera, the characters and situations are nuanced, ultimately leaving it to the reader to decide whether becoming the dominant species is the only way to be free.

  • ‘Made Man’ by Merethe Walther. A man fakes his own death, only to discover that sailing off into the sunset isn’t as easy as movies make it seem when you get seasick and don’t get on with the owner of the boat. Walther skilfully balances the claustrophobia of a small boat with the opportunity of new ports, creating a tale of deviousness and paranoia that evokes the best of noir. The protagonist’s choices are very plausible given the situation, but are also petty and arrogant; depending on readers individual preference for gritty thrillers, this will either detract from their sympathy or amplify the ambience of the piece.

  • ‘II TIMOTHY’ by William T. Boyd. A boy undergoing experimental treatment for psychological issues starts behaving oddly; his doctor claims it is a temporary effect of his mind settling into a new pattern, but his mother fears there is something sinister behind the claims of propitiatory methods. Boyd’s characterisation is strong, swiftly creating a picture of how the boy used act that allows the reader to see there are changes while not having a definite answer on whether they are permanent or negative; this makes the mother’s reaction feel both plausible and sympathetic without weakening the tension over whether or not things are more than they seem.

  • ‘The Tower’ by Matthew S. Cox. Suffering from vivid images that seem to be moments from his day but don’t always fit together, a businessman struggles to make an important appointment. While his protagonist remains confused for much of the story, readers are likely to work things out much sooner. However, Cox is not relying on the twist; instead this is a story about how a person who demands the world accommodate his wishes reacts to a world that subtly defies even logic.

  • ‘Methodical Madness’ by Wilbert Stanton. A young woman reconnects with an old friend when he asks her to help him escape a hospital to perform one last task. Stanton evokes the almost fanatical union of childhood friendship and the mix of guilt and acceptance that come when they weaken or even slip away in adulthood, making the protagonist’s commitment to an increasingly crazy scheme seem plausible and sympathetic, then mixes in just enough possibility of the world being larger than it seems to make the reader wonder whether the scheme is as crazy as they thought.

While the anthology is centred around the theme of regret, the concept also grew from each of the authors having been published by the same—now defunct—publisher. Therefore, unlike many themed anthologies, the selection of stories is not based on the editor’s opinion on whether they fit a coherent vision of the theme; thus, the stories range over a wide area from the overtly supernatural to the utterly rational, from the “could be today” to the distinctly different future. Depending on each reader’s preferences, this could either result in a pleasant sense of diversity or a sense of a decidedly mixed bag.

Unfortunately, the table of contents did not function and a few odd layout issues appeared on my device. While these are minor issues that did not affect the intelligibility of the stories, they might jar readers who expect a seamless experience.

Overall, I enjoyed this anthology. I recommend it to readers seeking short stories that combine interesting characters with skilled evocation of the setting.

I received a free copy from one of the contributors with a request for a fair review.

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