Anthologies tend to reflect their editors’ whims and leanings. Their content may be broad or narrow in scope, quirky or far-reaching.

In “Pop Fic Review,” editors Hannah Strom-Martin and Erin Underwood readily admit that their big-tent approach welcomed entries that aren’t technically even fiction. As a result, the book’s title only hints at the range of material inside: short stories and essays, poetry, even a short play.

Yet the “pop” part of the equation is undeniable. These stories include vampires and zombies; drifters, grifters and ex-cons; ghosts, sirens, celebs and a host of otherwise colorful characters.

What truly binds this collection, though, is the common thread among its contributors: All have ties to the esteemed Stonecoast MFA program in Creative Writing at the University of Southern Maine.

Of the 21 authors, nearly all are alumni or faculty, such as best-selling horror novelist Nancy Holder, acclaimed poet Patricia Smith and Hugo Award-winning sci-fi writer James Patrick Kelly.

Some of the strongest material in this slim volume, though, comes from writers who are less celebrated. Linda K. Sienkiewicz, for instance, isn’t exactly a household name. Yet her short story, “Family Secrets,” is a gem of comic action and pacing, with a handful of characters, one shadier than the next.


“I’m certain Sylvester is only after what (or who) my beer-barrel-gut stepdad cemented under the new patio a month before he was gunned down in a supposed carjacking,” Sienkiewicz writes. “I say supposed because the crooks left the car behind.”

As the title suggests, this gritty story deals with concealment, not to mention surprise.

Or consider the darkly modern “Orbs” by Jeff Kass about the addictive and illusory nature of video games. The story’s protagonist, Edward, is a programmer trapped in the mindset of the gaming world.

“Edward lets his game-clients believe there’s an ultimate rush out there — an orb of undrainable force that will let them command their every desire. Yet no such orb exists,” Kass writes. “The quest is eternally fruitless and, therefore, never-ending. It’s a bait-and-switch deal, sure, but so what? It’s the journey that matters.”

Other notable works include Helen Peppe’s winsome ghost story “Where’s Margaret?” and Scott Wolven’s “Jockamo,” a taut and brooding post-Katrina tale of troubled strangers on a collision course. Sprinkled throughout the book is an assortment of poems that are like line drawings in an art show. Their leanness and brevity serve as counterpoints to the book’s mainstays.

For readers, the rewards of a collection like this come from the discovery of new authors or new pieces by writers whose work we already admire. Although the book is, at times, uneven, its sheer variety saves the day.

As with any smorgasbord, some entries are more flavorful than others. In that sense, this anthology works best as a tasting menu. 

Joan Silverman is a Kennebunk freelance writer.


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