Short-story collections give fantasy and horror writers an opportunity to indulge imaginative premises. In his first collection, Ian Rogers displays his original vision via characters such as a professor who discovers a forest of perpetual autumn, a drifter who travels around his home province by magically riding its waterways, and a peculiar predatory spider that dwells in a TV.
The main problem with these stories is the follow-through: Rogers offers intriguing ideas, but they often lack the satisfying climax that would make them truly memorable. Despite this, the author’s facility with character and atmosphere makes for some provocative journeys into the dark and the frankly weird.
The title of this collection misleadingly positions it in the horror genre. While the stories in Every House Is Haunted feature horror, fantasy, and even occasional dips into sci-fi, Rogers seems most interested in cultivating a sense of wonder, not dread. His best stories resemble the work of Joss Whedon: contemporary fantasy in which quirky characters confront the uncanny with deadpan aplomb and an appealing degree of competence. This includes Wendy, an academic researcher who cheerfully investigates arcane tomes in “The Dark and the Young,” and Toby, the sibling of a teenage witch in the stand-out story “Aces.”
Unfortunately, Whedon’s influence is also felt in narrators who reflect on things too self-consciously. In “Deleted Scenes,” for instance, would-be actor Joe fears he has wandered into “some kind of urban myth.” Rather than drawing us in, this kind of rumination breaks the spell for the reader. Other stories, such as “Cabin D,” rely too heavily on exposition.
This intriguing collection is perhaps a promise of things to come. I would be very curious to read a full-length novel from Rogers that provides a fantastic premise and proceeds to fully explore its consequences.