S.E. rating: 5 of 5 stars
Doctors in Hell is the 18th in the long running Heroes in Hell series, each installment being a different theme. “Doctors” has 14 short stories plus an excerpt (a sequel of sorts to one entry, and a prelude to a novel). First-time hell readers can feel comfortable jumping into Doctors, since it works as a stand-alone book as well a series entry. Beware, hell is a seductive force and the book a gateway (this was my first full adventure but now I have committed myself to more since I have now bought five previous installments). Here are basic expectations of the series from my fresh perspective:
(1) Human Behavior persists: The dead do not need sustenance nor drink, and all the food tastes bad (i.e. like vomit), but inhabitants habitually eat/drink anyway despite the displeasure. “Real people” copy their initial lives in hell.
(2) Our gods and hell exist: Various gods from history battle to maintain some ideal flux/condition of souls; in “Doctors” the Akkadian plague god has descended from heaven to ensure hell is sufficiently undesirable, casting additional illnesses upon the dead … and messing with Satan’s control of hell.
Part of hell’s nature ensured that it metamorphosed to suit those it incarcerated. All societies created the hell they deserved, if left to their own devices. And the devil moderated the creation of the New Dead’s societies, so that no one group took power, intent on preserving the balance that made the underverse an equally uneasy resting place for history’s manifold modern damned. – from THE WAGER by J. Morris and C. Morris
(3) Unbounded Time: Time is nonlinear and infinite, so individuals from various centuries are often paired or pitted against one another. Where else can Attila the Hun and Napoleon Bonaparte join forces against armies of rats and Vietcong?
(4) Resurrections: If one dies again in hell, then an entity called the Undertaker will resurrect the individual and “reassign” it to another life – so “death” is not a way out, and the process is painful.
“He’s still there. What’s wrong with Reassignments? He should have disappeared by now.” “Maybe they’re overwhelmed,” Wellington offered. “So many deaths. Even the Undertaker must be up to his malformed eyebrows in bodies.” –from MEMORY by N. Asire(5) Titular theme: Each book has a theme as per the title that focuses each anthology and makes them stand alone; however story arcs and characters do carry from volume to volume, so the more one reads the more one enjoys.
“I do not understand. These men are dead! They should be on the Undertaker’s slab waiting for recycling,” from HELL NOON by P.Freeman
(6) Varied content: Each author demonstrates freedom to explore the titular theme, with their own style and genre. This collection has classic myths, western shoot outs, zombie apocalypse, comedy, a military sortie, and police drama… and somehow all the mix feels very consistent.
Highlights: I enjoyed the whole set, but in particular five resonated with me, seemed more stand alone or tailored to a new-HIH reader, demonstrated hell’s operation explicitly, and fully embraced the “doctors” theme.
The Wager by Janet E. Morris and Christopher Morris (heroic myth): The initial story sets the stage for the book, economically capturing the tone of previous stories, the purpose of this tome, and the delivering an entertaining tale of Satan and the angel Altos. The Morris’s have a knack for writing heroic fantasy, and true to form, they deliver again. This made me feel guilty about being an armchair, video-game general.
What Price Oblivion by Rob Hinkle (horror) : Con-man Charles Braggs (known as Doc in life since he had a skill of ‘skinning suckers’ was as sharp as any surgeon’s) gets his murderous due. Without spoiling, I’ll highlight a line that I cannot get out of my head: “Why do you keep doing this to me?” This story showed the Undertaker’s role vividly.
Pavlovian Slip by Bill Snider (comedy): Utterly hilarious depiction of psychologists Ivan Pavlov and Sigmund Freud, struggling to reason why humans have habitual behavior and the consequences for that in hell. The philosophical undertones strengthen the commentary greatly. Saturated with dark humor.
Hell on a technicality by Joe Bonadonna (comedy): Ah, another hilarious blend: this time a death panel (inducing Aristotle and Da Vinci) convenes to discuss the nature of the soul and body in the preposterous case of Doctor Victor Frankenstein, who has had his brain switched with his creature Adam’s. So now Victor’s mind finds itself in his creation’s body… and vice versa. How else better to discuss the nature of a soul in hell then to work out this mess. The death panel erupts into an outrageous furor.
Convalescence by Michael H. Hanson (zombie horror) : This reads as a homage to Edgar Allen Poe’s Masque of the Red Death, one of my favorites. Here we have Calamity Jane as a nurse in one of hell’s retirement homes. A zombie horde surrounds the home while a “Strawberry Ball” masquerade event is held. The colored rooms, impending doom, and costumes are very Red Death-like; of course, Poe’s Mask of the Red Death involved a cureless plague and the inevitability of death to good measure, so echoing in “Doctors” is perfect.
Other Grim Stories: The other stories are all worthy in their own right, some catering to readers of previous books like Poets in Hell and Lawyers in Hell (Memory, In The Shadowlands, The Cure & Writer’s Block, and Let Us Kill The Spirit of Gravity), there are two western motifs (The Right Man for the Job, and Hell Noon), and a 1920’s pairing of Elliot Ness versus lobotomist Walter Jackson Freeman II (The Judas Book). Last of note, there is Grim who’s character is a genuine reaper allowed to leave hell on a sortie to retrieve an escapee early in the collection; the last entry A Moment of Clarity is an excerpt from the forthcoming Heroes in Hell novel called “Hell Bound” – this excerpt extends the initial story and prepares the reader for more in a dedicated novel.
Highly recommended for readers of dark, historic, or heroic fantasy.
THE WAGER - Janet E. Morris and Christopher Morris
THE CURE - Christopher Morris
GRIM - Andrew P Weston
THE RIGHT MAN FOR THE JOB - Deborah Koren
MEMORY - Nancy Asire
WHAT PRICE OBLIVION? Rob Hinkle
IN THE SHADOWLANDS - Richard Groller
LET US KILL THE SPIRIT OF GRAVITY - Matthew Kirshenblatt
PAVLOVIAN SLIP - Bill Snider
HELL ON A TECHNICALITY - Joe Bonadonna
CONVALESCENCE - Michael H. Hanson
HELL NOON - Paul Freeman
THE JUDAS BOOK -Jack William Finley
WRITER’S BLOCK - Janet E. Morris and Christopher Morris
A MOMENT OF CLARITY Excerpt - Andrew P Weston
View all my reviews