Stephen King anthologies are always cornucopias of random stories, curios and mind messing novella and in his latest wild ride, The Bazaar Of Bad Dreams, he manages to capture your imagination, and a little bit of your soul, all over again. While there’s less in the way of genuinely horrifying stories as such, there are a lot of fun reads to chew your way through. There are occasional tough bits to naw through and maybe one or two bones to crunch, but overall, pound-for-pound it’s a very satisfying mastication of delights.
It also goes a long way to reaffirm King’s ability to hook you in fast, following the slow plod of Revival and with an opening story featuring a very brutal and insatiable pickup truck and a micro kid’s adventure with hyper-speed similarities to the coming-of-age brilliance of It. It’s a brilliant piece of short fiction that has zero fat, an allergy for filler and a penchant for fantastical frights as a random mix of humanity rail upon the rocks of disbelief, before discovering that there really are strange and scary things in this world.
It’s not the only work of unadulterated fun in the collection and, in fact, the opening six stories are worth the read alone, taking in everything from sad death, premonitions and inspired interventions to a git of a demonic kid and an underlying undercurrent of addiction. The latter ties in well with Stephen King’s intros to each of the stories, which makes for a brilliant insight into what makes the author tick as a writer of such high impact short fiction, fantasy, thriller and horror.
It’s no wonder the book has been given the title The Bazaar Of Bad Dreams, because that’s exactly what it it, like a twisted flea market or carnival where you never know what you’re going to find, but you’re pretty sure that it will be in the realms of a reverse engineered Zoltar Machine or a knife throwing parasite. In and among the beautifully weird flotsam and jetsam are questions of perverse morality, sinister mistaken identity, freaky future tech, disturbing dead bodies, strange obituary powers and a morbid case of mistaken identity.
It’s not entirely all a scintillating dream though, but it’s not a million miles away from perfection. Ur has vague hints of selling out a bit too much, despite being a strong story overall; The Little Green God Of Agony doesn’t quite turn the freak out dial as hard as it could; and Drunken Fireworks fizzles out with complicity. However, the final story in the anthology was the biggest led down for us, as it’s just too short to do the end of the world the justice it deserves. It’s got a well-crafted situation and environment, but doesn’t give you long enough with the characters to drag you in.
Minor niggles aside, Stephen King’s The Bazaar Of Bad Dreams is an excellent collection of short stories and novella. There’s bound to be many tales to delight and entertain in their twisted, messed-up kind of way and though a number of the stories have been published elsewhere only the most die-hard of fans will have a sense of déjà vu when reading the book. The addition of a few previously unpublished stories should be enough to keep them happy too.
Stephen King, The Bazaar Of Bad Dreams review: 4/5