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"Write out of love, write out of instinct, write out of reason. But always for money."
Louis Untermeyer


White House Horrors

Edited by Martin Greenberg
DAW Books, 316 pp, 1996

I'm going to review this anthology differently than I have past ones. Usually, I comment on a few stories, good and bad, and leave it at that.

But this time I'm going to say a word about each story, without going into too much detail, and we'll see how that goes (warning: there are some spoilers). I'll list the title and author and ask two questions: Does the story work, and why or why not? By work, I mean, do I like it? The good news: Most of them work, showing that Greenberg is the master of the anthology and there's a whole lot of talented horror writers.

So here we go, in the order the stories appeared in the book.

Healing the Body Politic by Brian Hodge
Does it work? No
Why not?
The plot is too far-fetched. It demonizes conservative Christians (one of my pet peeves) while confirming the fears of the most extreme and disreputable of them, that there's a liberal, secular cabal out to defeat Christianity and rule the world. Nice twist at the end almost saves it, but not quite.

Homesick by Richard T. Chizmar
Does it work? No
Why not?
The story tries too hard to shock, and like the previous story, is too unbelievable. A 12-year-old boy poisons his parents because he's mad at them for moving to the White House? Please. Where does he get the poison? How does he get past the Secret Service?

The Ghost and Mr. Truman by Bill Crider
Does it work? Yes
Why?
Very cool ghost story. A thief and looter is trapped in the White House when it is burned by the British in 1814. That's the ghost. The story is also makes an anti-nuclear political statement, subtle at first but obvious at the end.

Assassination Days by Billie Sue Mosiman
Does it work? No
Why not?
The mechanical idea isn't bad, but how can a robotic mind be programmed like this? Seems too unbelievable. Also the premise is too far-fetched.

But Somewhere I Shall Wake by Gary Braunbeck
Does it work? Yes
Why?
The story is plausible, the images are vivid, the characters are real and personal, and the political point is effectively and subtly made. Wonderfully weird and touching. Best story of the book.

Scandal by Jill M. Morgan
Does it work? Yes
Why?
Gritty and just believable enough. Endearing characters with a grim and paranoid ending, matching the tone of the story.

Night of the Vegetables by Edward Lee
Does it work? Yes
Why?
Because it's fricking hilarious and just plausible enough. Had me laughing out loud.

The President's Mind by Robert J. Randisi
Does it work? Yes
Why?
I've always like voodoo stories. The idea of controlling the president's mind as a zombie is pretty cool. The characters are real and likeable, and Lincoln comes across as very strong, which I believe he was. Great story.

Future's Empty Pages by Stewart von Allmen
Does it work? Yes
Why?
Because of the unique nature of the haunt and ambiguous ending. Also excellent dialog. The story is pretty much all talk but never gets boring.

Creature Congress by Terry Beatty and Wendi Lee
Does it work? Yes
Why?
Because it's obviously not serious and uses a funny method to make a statement about the human condition. Humans are the real monsters.

The Cabinet of William Henry Harrison by Barbara Collins and Max Allan Collins
Does it work? Yes
Why?
Original and interesting, funny at times, the perfect president to cast in this role. Sarah is a great character who resists the meddling urge and helps put the ghosts to rest.

Hildekin and the Big Diehl by J.N. Williamson
Does it work? Yes
Why?
Very creepy, kind of a Grim Repear meets the President type of story. Doesn't spell everything out and leaves some mystery. Good ending.

Release by Kevin Stein and Robert Weinberg
Does it work? No
Why not?
Just not dramatic enough and too predictable. Late 19th century president has the same pre-assassination dream as Lincoln did, which is conveniently confirmed by Lincoln's son. Then a convenient assassin pops up. Ho-hum.

Broken 'Neath the Weight of Wraiths by Tom Piccirilli
Does it work? No
Why not?
Great action but the action is too obscure - it's hard to tell what's going on. Is everything real or is the character hallucinating? Is the White House burning or not? What's up with the character's wife and kids? This story does win first place for best title, though.

A Worse Place Than Hell by Peter Crowther
Does it work? No
Why not?
Too far-fetched. Lincoln and Walt Whitman are brought back to life in the present day by DNA found in ancient hair follicles. Lincoln escapes from the hospital and wanders New York City. Whitman tells the feds where to find him, and the people who brought him back to life kill him and Whitman. What's the point?

Jack Be Quick by Graham Masterton
Does it work? Yes
Why?
Just a good, fun story with a crazy theory that probably pissed off the Kennedy family. Anything that pisses off the Kennedys is usually good in my book.

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