Monday, December 4, 2023

Review: Out There Screaming

A clever take on the greatest horror of all: reality

As coldness creeps into the air and night arrives earlier, the days are perfect for ghost stories, monsters, and things out of the ordinary. Out There Screaming, An Anthology of New Black Horror is a collection of short stories edited by Jordan Peele and John Joseph Adams. The nineteen tales are penned by a selection of talented storytellers, including Hugo Award winning and popular favorites N.K. Jemisin, Nnedi Okorafor, and Nalo Hopkinson. Each of the stories offers a clever take on the greatest horror of all: reality.

Out There Screaming opens with an introduction from Jordan Peele discussing a medieval torture device designed to make people feel forgotten and degraded. Centuries later, the real horror is the way society still does this to us. As expected from a story collection associated with Jordan Peele, the tales in Out There Screaming have abundant and clever social commentary, as well as thoughtful insights into the human condition in general.

As several of the narratives remind us, reality can be particularly horrific when you are a person of color—even without the fantastical elements. This is a recurring theme in many of the stories, but not in the way we are used to seeing such narratives play out in our media. From a Reconstruction era Black town to a modern-day motorist police stop, we see real-life horror entangled with supernatural forces. But the anthology also includes stories dealing, in a twisted way, with other topics such as grief, jealousy, addiction, self-identity, and belonging. In every adventure, it is clear that we have crossed over into an existence where things are more than they seem, with storytelling in the style of The Twilight Zone, Black Mirror, and, of course, Get Out.

This is an anthology where every story delivers—some better than others, but all are memorable and powerful. A standout story in the collection is Eye & Tooth, about a pair of brother and sister monster hunters who meet their match during a job in Texas. The story hits many appealing elements, including sibling bonding, dramatic fight scenes, and even a bit of found family. A poignant entry is The Aesthete, a science fiction story that follows a day in the life of an artificially created young man who is constantly scrutinized on social media as a condition of his existence. It is a timely allegory for the constant pressure that young people face, in particular young Black men, and it is a story readers will think about long after finishing the collection. The book ends with a discussion in the form of a play that uses the script format to come full circle on the themes that started the collection.

Out There Screaming benefits from both the provocative style of storytelling and the fact that most of the tales have a very satisfying ending. Although some of the endings are also poignant, sad, or fully tragic, they all avoid traditional tropes of the martyred Black person or racism winning. The stories are primarily mind-bending and insightful rather than overtly slash and gore, although there is some slashing and gore, especially in The Norwood Trouble and A Grief of the Dead.

The anthology includes the following tales:

Reckless Eyeballing by N. K. Jemisin – A racist cop sees car headlights as eyes watching him.

Eye & Tooth by Rebecca Roanhorse – Monster-hunting brother and sister meet their match.

Wandering Devil by Cadwell Turnbull – A man with abandonment issues tries to avoid commitment.

Invasion of the Baby Snatchers by Lesley Nneka Arimah – A government agent fights against shapeshifting aliens who use humans to breed destructive creatures.

The Other One by Violet Allen – Things take a macabre turn after a couple breaks up.

Lasirèn by Erin E. Adams – The hunt for her lost sister leads a girl to a confrontation with a water creature.

The Rider by Tananarive Due – In the 1960s, a pair of confident female freedom riders cross paths with a different kind of monster on their bus.

The Aesthete by Justin C. Key – An artificial human tries to find peace in a world of constant online observation and prejudice.

Pressure by Ezra Claytan Daniels – A man deals with the pressure of returning home to his family as another kind of pressure grows around them.

Dark Home by Nnedi Okorafor – After burying her father in his home country of Nigeria, a grieving daughter brings back more than she expects to her quiet New Mexico neighborhood.

Flicker by L. D. Lewis – A young woman watching the world collapse around her has a startling revelation.

The Most Strongest Obeah Woman in the World by Nalo Hopkinson – A Jamaican girl’s encounter with a monster leaves her changed.

The Norwood Trouble by Maurice Broaddus – When a peaceful thriving Black town is attacked by violent racists, the town leaders come up with a solution.

A Grief of the Dead by Rion Amilcar Scott – A man struggles with grief after the death of his twin brother.

A Bird Sings by the Etching Tree by Nicole D. Sconiers – Two dead young women from different decades haunt a dangerous stretch of highway.

An American Fable by Chesya Burke – A Black WWII soldier returning to his racist hometown encounters a strange little girl on the train.

Your Happy Place by Terence Taylor – A prison worker investigates the disappearances of inmates who are part of a special reprogramming project.

Hide & Seek by P. Djèlí Clark – Two brothers in a family of magic wielders try to survive the backlash of their mother’s erratic behavior.

Origin Story by Tochi Onyebuchi – A play about children understanding the role of race unfolds through the characters’ voices.

Despite the description of Out There Screaming as A New Anthology of Black Horror, the stories will appeal to non-horror fans who want twisty, clever analyses of our bizarre existence as humans in the current era. It is sometimes said that art will save the world. These stories might not save the world, but they might help you see it through a new lens, and hopefully feel more empowered.

Nerd Coefficient: 8/10.


· Clever social commentary

· Memorable stories

· Moderate, but present, horror violence

POSTED BY: Ann Michelle Harris – Multitasking, fiction writing Trekkie currently dreaming of her next beach vacation.