In SNAFU: Dead or Alive, Cohesion Press’ latest in the line of brilliant SNAFU military horror anthologies (some of the stories from which you may have seen in Love, Death, and Robots on Netflix), frontier horror takes the fore, with six-gun shooting, cow wrangling, adventure taking on every horror 16 authors could think up. SNAFU: Dead or Alive is a wild, action packed ride.
With authors like Reynolds, Moore, Baxter, and Erdelac, and being from Australian anthologists Geoff Brown and Amanda Spedding, I knew I had to have this book. The authors nailed the theme, with plenty of frontier grit, gritty characters, and a wild assortment of horrors to pitch them against. There’s plenty of shootouts, setups that western fans will love, and that SNAFU flavour of desperation, floods of blood and gore, balls-to-the-wall action, and some societal commentary (as all good fiction has).
As with all anthologies, there were some stories that knocked my expectations out of the park, some I’m happy I read, and some that didn’t land for me. Some of the stand-outs were Hidebehind by Josh Reynolds which had an amazing voice and was brilliantly paced and written, Where Thunder Dwells by Edward M. Erdelac which had a few really engaging POVs (and I think will be a favourite of grimdark fans), and The Battle for Halloway Pass by Richard Beauchamp which is exactly the kind of story SNAFU fans just keep coming back for.
SNAFU: Dead or Alive delivers exactly what SNAFU fans want, with all the horror action you could imagine under a new theme that the authors clearly just embraced. Grab yourself a copy using the links below, and / or keep reading below to see my thoughts on each story.
Read SNAFU: Dead or Alive
Notes on the individual stories
Below were my running thoughts on each story. The scoring system was based on feel-in-the-moment for each short story, and should be taken with a grain of salt, versus a more formal score that would normally be appointed a long-form novel.
Ain’t no Grave by Justin Coates: On the Colorado frontier, Creed and his newly deputised posse chase a band of werewolves into the wilderness, their mission to bring down the Hangman. A pretty decent opener to the book. Wall-to-wall action encased in horror and big guns. Exactly what I picked this book up for. 3/5
Hidebehind by Josh Reynolds: Kemper leads a posse of rough necks into the Appalachian mountains to take down a trouble maker. One last gig for the agency and he’d leave this life of violence and violent men behind. Great voice. Wonderfully paced and written. Once this gets rolling it is completely un-put-downable. 5/5
Patchwork Reaper by Pamela Jeffs: The protagonist is ranging in a non-descript western area, looking for longhorns and men. Finds his boss dead and then runs into an ancient horror. Cool take on the theme, but no real twist or surprise for me. 3/5
Pendulum of Ash by John Coming: Arthur is looking for the tapes, a kind of artefact, when he runs into the most infamous killer in the known world. This story is big on scene setting, massive on history, and winds that beautifully through the story, investing you in the world. Then, it just ends and I can’t help but feel that there was so much more to be said on these pages. A morose ending, that I wish could have been more. 3/5
The shadow under sad hill by Robert Lassen: The Henderson brothers are coming to town. The bells are ringing in alarm and Sherriff Stanton, all six foot, head-to-toe bandaged of him is there to stand in the way. But the Henderson brothers aren’t the only thing the town needs to be afraid of, because beneath Sad Hill lies a shadow far more terrifying. Another excellent story that SNAFU fans are going to love. Action, horror, a great tale by the author. Loved it. 4/5
The Fall of Denfanas Manor by KC Grifant: Melinda is in a stolen stagecoach fleeing from a cursed family. She’s stolen their prize / plaything, a young woman from a local town. With a mercenary crew, hired by the girl’s mum, she’s trying to get the girl home. The action scene /stagecoach chase which made up the opening of this story I just couldn’t get into. The writing style is not for me, and that made the action feel stunted and forced and not fun, for me. 1/5
Parson’s grange by David Benton and WD Galiani: The Bosses’ kid has interrupted Carter and Smokey’s card game to get them to go check on the cattle. In the bloody chaos that follows a Marshall and a local posse must enter a dark forest where something monstrous awaits. Not my favourite style of storytelling from a writing perspective—plenty of telling—and a pretty unconvincing twist means this one wasn’t for me. 2/5
The Fiends of Turner’s Creek by Alan Baxter: Clyde and his son have heard there’s good prospecting in a frontier town. The discovery of a dismembered body in the surrounding bushes doesn’t quite blunt their enthusiasm, but soon something will. A fun, old school action romp from start to finish. Smartly planned out and delivered. A definite page turner. 4/5
Where Thunder Dwells by Edward M. Erdelac: Haayashi’s pleasant customer interaction with the cavalryman is spoiled by Snaker and his Pista gang as they burst into her store. Out of town, Ves sees fire on the horizon and joins a posse to take down the Pista Gang. One of the really interesting things about this western is that the two POVs aren’t of European descent—only everyone in between is. An absolute magic story of multiple POVs. Plenty of horror. Plenty of action. Plenty to like for a grimdark fan. 4.5/5
Mercy by John W. Salvage: Barrett Tanner of the Brotherhood investigates the supernatural. One of his brotherhood brethren has been killed, and he’s riding into the town of Mercy to find out why. This story had a super strong start that I really enjoyed, but petered out towards the end. 3.5/5
Snake Men on a Train by James A. Moore and Charles R. Rutledge: Ben Logan sits on a train with a fellow guard, heading into the fog when the train comes to a halt. Outside, rocks and boulders lay over the tracks ahead, and a body torn to shreds lays on the wayside. Cool idea, but just didn’t carry me through the story. Felt like a lot of telling, and that’s just not my jam. 2/5
Unfinished Business by Benjamin Spada: Woods has been contracted to kill a man. For the second time. A dip into a near future western frontier. Fun, different and differentiated from the other stories. 3.5/5
Hot blood and iron by Sharon Gray: Alice’s town has been destroyed, the people rounded up and some killed. Amongst them is her best friend—murdered by demons shaped as men. A nice take on the very standard western tale of bad guys come to town, provide ultimatum, and a big fight ensues. No real twist in the ending to get my teeth into, though. 3/5
The Goodnight Trail by John Paul Fitch: Jacob and his brother Isaac are part of a wagon train driving a couple thousand head of cattle up the Goodnight Trail. They stop for the night at an abandoned fort. It’s pretty peaceful. A scream in the night changes all that. The horror aspect of this is really well done, the last stand approach as well. There were some moments throughout—important moments—I don’t think landed very well in their intended emotional intensity. 2.5/5
The Battle for Halloway Pass by Richard Beauchamp: Otis is opening the mine cap on the last part of Bear Horn Mountain, where three generations of miners have avoided due to fear of the whispers coming from within. A wonderful story to read and exactly the kind of thing you read the SNAFU anthologies for. 4.5/5
Six Guns and Sorcery by Nathan E. Meyer: In a frontier town 20 years after the US civil war, Quill and Six Kills are on a mission to save Quill from an unavoidable, slow, and relatively horrible death. A decent story that felt a bit too long for the actual meat in it. 3.5/5