BOOK REVIEW: Flight or Fright edited by Stephen King & Bev Vincent

Flight or Fright brings together 17 turbulent tales which will strike terror into those who especially have a fear of flying but will quite frankly scare the pants off of anyone who has ever been on a plane…these stories will get that grey matter ticking, whirling it into overdrive so it resembles a greying custard in your skull by the time you have finished.

Trust me you will never board a plane again without thinking about one of these stories.

But more importantly than all of this, the tales collected here are both terrifyingly brilliant and showcase some of the best writers both past and present – many of these stories have been published previously, but there are quite a few I’ve never come across before and I delighted in discovering some of these classics for the first time…and if all of that isn’t floating your boat, there are also two new short stories from Stephen King and Joe Hill to devour. If you are brave enough to buy the ticket and take the ride, then lets get started – oh, and don’t forget the sick bag…you may need it.

Some of the highs and lows of the collection

Cargo by E. Michael Lewis kicks off the collection and what a way to start: this is a tale of ghosts in a plane…not snakes on a plane – Ghosts. It’s a deftly constructed layered tale that follows the aftermath of Jonestown (1978) where the followers of the cult led by Jim Jones died after drinking poisoned Kool Aid. We follow a soldier who is charged with bringing back the American’s who had died. Adults and children, coffins pilled high and strapped in a cargo aircraft, small children packed two or three or four into adult sized coffins. The story is by far one of the best in the anthology and the fact that this kicks off Flight or Fright gets the reader ready for what is yet to come. The haunting undertones of this story are sublimely executed by E. Michael Lewis and cause the reader to really feel the tension and the slow burning terror that is unfolding. Masterfully written and my personal favourite.

Nightmare at 20,000 Feet by Richard Matheson is a story I have read before, it’s a story that when reading again really sets the nerves on edge. We witness first hand the anxiety of flying, the terror that awaits those who fear not being in control and the dread that stews in their head as the huge metal beast they are travelling in hurtles down the runway. This monolithic tube shouldn’t get off the ground but it does, wheels leave the runway and this chunk of metal chugs its way to a cruising altitude only for it to start falling gracefully back down to earth. Our main protagonist combats his fear of flying by taking some drugs whilst on the flight to help with his fear – it’s a masterstroke by Matheson as the reader is left in limbo as to whether the things he is seeing are real, figments of his drug infused mind or the ramblings of a crazy man. There is one bit in particular that has stayed with me, caused me many unnerving moments since rediscovering this story, that is the moment when our protagonist lifts up the blind to his window seat and there is a crazed face glaring at him through the window, a horrid vision on the wing staring in at him – it’s a brilliant piece of writing and has left me fearing locking my house in the evenings, when pulling back the curtains to check our back doors are locked. I kid you not, every time I have done this since reading this story my heart skips a small beat as my brain flashes up the image imprinted on my mind from reading this – it’s superbly depicted by Matheson and ensures that this story is one that lives long in the memory.

Whether you’re in a plane or on the ground the horror is etched firmly into your brain.

Two Minutes Forty-Five Seconds by Dan Simmons is a beast of a short story, it follows our main protagonist who discovers a watch that can reset time by two minutes and forty-five seconds. It’s a science fiction horror which grips the reader straight off the bat. I thoroughly enjoyed it, the mischief that ensues is fun to read, the situations are enjoyable to see unfold and the conclusion of the story is devastatingly brilliant. The best part of this story is the ending…fear not I will not ruin this for you now; because I believe you need to discover this story for yourselves.

You Are Released by Joe Hill is a superbly crafted short story. We follow the increasing tension of passengers on a plane as World War Three starts – they have to strap themselves in for the ride and see the chaos pan out around them. It’s a fabulous concept that Hill executes with all the skill we have grown to love about his writing and had me craving more short stories from this gifted author. The best part of this story is not the impending chaos brought on by tyrants getting itchy trigger fingers and blowing the world apart – it is the humanity of the piece. Of course on any flight there is an ethnically diverse bunch of people; Hill masterfully uses this to his strengths and pulls in a societal, ethical element to his writing whilst also carries undertones of racial tensions, bigotry and the state of the world (including their leaders). It’s a well paced story of something that could quite easily happen, given the circumstances we find ourselves in – and that makes this story hard hitting and relevant, leaving the reader thinking what if?

The Turbulence Expert by Stephen King is a good story, it’s not a great story which pains me to say as I am a huge fan of his work. I was rather excited when I heard about a new short story from Stephen King. Knowing that he is petrified of flying, I was expecting something quite crazy, something that would capture his fear and project it onto the reader. Instead, we got a simple story that really didn’t move me at all – there are so many other stories in this collection that grab you by the neck and squeeze the life out of you. Stories that leave their mark long after reading, stories that after reading them have made me think twice about getting on a plane. The Turbulence Expert was not one of those. It was a good story don’t get me wrong but I felt a little let down – knowing that the King of Horror who has written countless fabulous short stories, was writing a story about one of his greatest fears…I think I may have been expected too much and was left unsatisfied – I guess he is a victim of his own success, any story that he writes that doesn’t quite hit the mark just looks mediocre when compared to his other stellar work.

The collection as a whole works really well, it reads like a who’s who in literature – Flight or Fright has something for everyone, it’s not all out horror which is good, it’s a subtle blend of horror over various genres – and this I would say is its big selling point. The anthology will impact the reader in many different ways and that’s what makes a good anthology, a great anthology; being able to offer a variety of readers from all walks of life a collection of stories that we thrill, scare and cause panic in equal measure.

If you didn’t fear flying before, after reading Flight or Fright you might just start having palpitations and coming out in a cold sweat the next time you find yourself at an airport awaiting to board your next flight.

With the writers Stephen King and Bev Vincent have been able to include here, trust me, you will be travelling first class all the way.

Table of contents – Introduction by Stephen King, Cargo by E. Michael Lewis, The Horror of the Heights by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet by Richard Matheson, The Flying Machine by Ambrose Bierce, Lucifer! by E.C. Tubb, The Fifth Category by Tom Bissell, Two Minutes Forty-Five Seconds by Dan Simmons, Diablitos by Cody Goodfellow, Air Raid by John Varley, You Are Released by Joe Hill, Warbirds by David J. Schow, The Flying Machine by Ray Bradbury, Zombies on a Plane by Bev Vincent, They Shall Not Grow Old by Roald Dahl, Murder in the Air by Peter Tremayne, The Turbulence Expert by Stephen King, Falling by James L. Dickey & Afterword by Bev Vincent.

Flight or Fright is published by Hodder & Stoughton and is available here.

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Stephen King

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STEPHEN KING is the author of more than fifty books, all of them worldwide bestsellers His recent work includes Sleeping Beauties (co- written with his son Owen King), the short story collection The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, the Bill Hodges trilogy End of WatchFinders Keepers, and Mr. Mercedes (an Edgar Award winner). Many of his books have been adapted into major films, TV series or streamed events including The Shawshank Redemption and IT.. He is the recipient of the 2014 National Medal of Arts and the 2003 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. He lives in Bangor, Maine, with his wife, novelist Tabitha King.

Bev Vincent

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BEV VINCENT is the author of The Dark Tower CompanionThe Road to the Dark Tower, nominated for a Bram Stoker Award, and The Stephen King Illustrated Companion, which was nominated for a 2010 Edgar® Award and a 2009 Bram Stoker Award.
His short fiction has appeared in places like Ellery Queen’s Mystery MagazineAlfred Hitchcock’s Mystery MagazineBorderlands 5Ice Cold, and The Blue Religion
He is a contributing editor with Cemetery Dance magazine.

Reviewed by Ross Jeffery

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