The stories in F. Brett Cox's debut collection move through multiple genres and many times and places, from the monsters of the 19th century to the future fields of war, from New England to the South to the American West, from the strange house at the top of the hill to the bottom of your childhood swimming pool. But whatever the time and place, and whether utterly fantastic or all too real, all of these remarkable fictions pose the fundamental question: what's next? The End of All Our Exploring features 27 stories, and it also includes Cox's unique historical notes.
Veteran short story author and Shirley Jackson Award cofounder Cox (coeditor of Crossroads: Tales of the Southern Literary Fantastic) brings sly humor and a tone that's nostalgic, quintessentially American, and unfailingly uncanny to this haunting and excellent first collection of 25 reprints and two new stories. In "The Amnesia Helmet," an 11-year-old girl, inspired by Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, builds a device that more than exceeds her expectations. "The Deep End" is a horrifying tale of the unspeakable things lurking in a swimming pool's drain. "Mary of the New Dispensation" is a mind-bending, exceedingly strange look at the Victorian-era spirit craze. Other stories, such as "Up Above the Dead Line," "What They Did to My Father," and the original title story, explore horrors that are sobering and more ordinary but no less affecting. Cox is a master of subtle, understated chills that lurk just behind the familiar, and each story conveys a solid sense of history and place. Readers who enjoy literary speculative fiction (with shades of Flannery O'Conner and, of course, Shirley Jackson) will find much to love: there's not a disappointing tale in the bunch.