There are 19 good reasons to read Suspended in Dusk, including contributions from new and veteran writers such as Ramsey Campbell, Karen Runge and Angela Slatter. But if you could only read one story in this collection, I’d direct you to Chris Limb’s “Ministry of Outrage.”
The best horror goes beyond the surface scare to uncover the darkness that lurks beneath. It’s refreshing when an author reveals something new or offers a unique perspective on something known. In “Ministry of Outrage,” Limb captures the spirit of troll-driven message boards, cyber-witch hunts and divisive political rhetoric.
Limb’s premise is startlingly simple: What if the horrific news stories we see online are fake? We’ve all wished for that to be true at some point, when confronting an atrocity so deplorable that you tell yourself it can’t be real. The ever-churning news cycle helps. Bad news disappears as quickly as it emerges. Remember the story of the stomped Pomeranian? We don’t want it to be real, and once it’s gone from the headlines, it’s easy to imagine that it never happened.
We move on to the next atrocity.
Except that sour burn in our gut remains. The venom percolates, though the snakebite is forgotten. What happens to that unresolved rage? It carries over to the next horror-show, compounding until we’re not even sure where it came from.
And when we find a deserving victim, we attack with all that self-righteous rage.
Maxwell is the narrator of Limb’s tale, and it’s his job to generate this negativity. He creates propaganda films disguised as headline news designed to enrage, and thereby control, the masses.
One such video shows protesters at the trial of an alleged child-killer. He describes the appearance of the angry mob.
“A woman’s face, contorted in anger, the light of hell burning in her eyes. The eyes. Beneath the fury there was something almost happy about them. A joy at being permitted such anger.”
That is Maxwell’s terrifying revelation. The people are already angry. It’s his job to invent a safe target at which they can direct it. Hate is not reactionary, but is rather an effect seeking a cause to justify it.
Want proof? Peruse the Facebook postings of your most partisan friends, whichever side they may support. You’ll find commentary ostensibly responding to the news of the day. But look closer. You’ll read yesterday’s anger spilling into a new vessel.
Hey, I’m no better. We’re all guilty. It’s part of being human. And that’s what makes “Ministry of Outrage” so chilling. As Maxwell’s boss explains, “Not far beneath the veneer of civilization lurk these barely human monsters.”
Spree killings. Rampage violence. Donald Trump. These are not the products of isolated events. These are not proportionate responses to reality. These are the results of aimless rage for which we seek a straw man to blame and punish.
Sartre taught us that existence precedes essence, and so it is with vindictive anger. Rage precedes reason. The time-bomb was set before its target was identified. This is as horrifying as it gets.
And this is horror fiction at its best.
I don’t mean to give short shrift to the other contributions in this anthology, such as Alan Baxter’s “Shadows of the Lonely Dead” and Anna Reith’s “Taming the Stars.” These are fabulous stories worthy of equal discussion, and you’ll find your own favorites within the pages of Suspended in Dusk.
But you may want to follow that up with some Pema Chodron.