The God-Machine Anthology — A Review

Full disclosure. I have never played any of White Wolf’s tabletop RPGs. I’ve read a few of the source books in the old and new World of Darkness settings. I’ve also played the PC game, Vampire: the Masquerade – Bloodlines. That is really extent of my exposure to White Wolf.

I love the new World of Darkness setting (I think they call it the Chronicles of Darkness now). It’s creepy in all the right ways. The God-Machine Anthology features short stories set in the World of Darkness, and when I saw how cheap it was, I couldn’t resist.

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The World of Darkness is much like our own, just darker and scarier. Oh, and supernatural creatures are all real. Furthermore, with the God-Machine Chronicle, there is some weird cosmic machine out there that is… well god-like.

Generally, the stories are well-written and interesting with a couple of exceptions. In addition, the stories are short enough that reading a crappy one doesn’t feel like a huge waste of time.

Personally, my biggest problem with the stories are the lack of explanation. Now, I don’t mind mystery in my horror. I also don’t mind when the ending is left a tad mysterious in order to fuel your imagination. What I don’t like is when things are barely explained at all. There are a number of stories that feel like they end too soon without any sort of explanation. Too many stories end this way and make it a far bigger problem than it should be.

Another problem is the glaring errors. The book is about only about 230 pages and, yet, there are way too many typos and grammatical errors. A few errors here and there don’t bother me, but this was way beyond my threshold. They were just a bunch of stupid mistakes that should have been caught by a decent editor.

Because these sorts of anthologies feature stories of various quality, I decided to give a short blurb for each story below and then a final grade for the anthology as a whole.

(1) Voice of the Angel: 3.5/5

I have nothing to really say about this story, other than I found it enjoyable. The story reads like a religious sermon. To that end, there really isn’t a plot with characters in the normal sense. As I said, this feels like a religious sermon where the preacher discusses our mythological history and then ties it to modern events. There is a generous dose of cosmic horror throughout but I feel weird calling this a story. there is no climax, no real characters and the plot doesn’t feel like a plot. It feels more like a history lesson. Albeit a very interesting one.

(2) The King is Dead 3/5

I will say that this story was well-written. The 1st person narration sounds as like a real person telling you a story. Apparently the main character’s father died and that was the only thing holding him back from leaving the small town he grew up in. And yet, he can’t really leave for some reason. The story starts out interesting but the ending is a tad of a let down if we consider the build up. I was expecting a little more. In addition, the ending teases far more than really explains anything.

(3) Chicago Politics: 3/5

This story is far too short. Just as it gets going, it ends. It introduces quite a few characters and nothing to really differentiate them. I found myself constantly going back in order to figure out which character was which. There is nothing really “horror” about it, just a bunch of politicking during an election in Chicago. We get a bit of horror at the end but again, the pay off is disappointing. The story isn’t bad, just a few more pages fleshing some things out would have greatly benefited it.

(4) The Observer Effect: 3.5/5

A woman down on her luck decides to visit her sister in order to have a place to crash for a couple of days. The sister reluctantly agrees. However, everything is not as it seems. This story starts out very interesting and slowly discovering that not everything is as it seems makes for a very compelling read. I really enjoyed this story, but again, hardly anything is explained. Just a page or two giving better hints at what exactly happened would have helped. Right now the story is just maddening. I really wish there was a little bit more to go off of.

(5) Road Gospel: 2/5

While well-written, the story itself leaves a lot to be desired. The story starts out normal enough, but then takes a turn into bizarro land. There is really nothing scary or “horror” about this story, just bizarre. Once that turn is taken, things stop making any kind of sense. I had no idea what exactly was happening. As such, I found it unfulfilling.

(6) Prodigal: 4.5/5

I really enjoyed this story. A lapsed Catholic comes to a priest for confession. His confession makes up most of the story. I don’t want to say more in order that I don’t spoil it. I will say that the story gave me a few chills. It was scary but in a more conspiratorial way. You’ll see what I mean if you read it. This story also finally finds that sweet spot between leaving things mysterious without making the reader feel lost in the dark.

(7) Quality of Life: 1.5/5

This story was crap. No other way to put it. A woman with her husband move into a seemingly picture perfect suburb straight out of the fifties. That alone should tell you that this is nothing more than a cheap Stepford Wives knock-off. The author does absolutely nothing new with this beyond connecting it to some kind of cosmic machine. It’s boring, it’s trite, and it’s completely unoriginal. The story is well-written, but if it’s a crappy one, then does the writing really matter?

(8) Residents: 3/5

Like most of the stories in this collection, Residents was well-written. A janitor meets a professor. Some weird occult symbols are involved and uh… stuff happens. Now, the story isn’t necessarily bad… it just… well, I’m not really sure what happened. Up to a point, things move along steadily, and then the ending just sort of pops up without any explanation. I have no idea what happened. Other than that, I have no other complaints.

(9) Pilgrim: 3/5

The idea here is actually pretty interesting. An event planner is looking to plan a crazy party out on some ruin in Cagliari, Italy. Apparently the ruin has a storied history and the main character just contracted some weird disease. The biggest problem here is that the author tried to cram too much into a 8-9 page story. There is the disease, the ruin, an infamous event in the past, and some other things I’m forgetting. By cramming all this into such a short story, there really is no suspense as the author has to move quickly to cover all the bases. While I’m all for moving things quickly, jamming all these subplots into such a short story really kills the suspense. As such, the story was decent but the lack any meaningful suspense held it back.

(10) Stories Uncle Don Told Me: 3.5/5

A young man’s uncle has just died and he recounts some of the weird stories the uncle told him. The mini stories themselves read like tiny creepy pastas. These tiny creepy pastas are actually chilling and I commend the author for that. The young man and dead uncle becomes the frame tale that glues everything together. This frame tale, while intriguing, ends up not making a whole lot of sense to me. I really do wonder if I’m missing something because the ending just comes out of nowhere. The manner in which the stories end up tying together just isn’t explained very well, if at all. With a little bit of an explanation, this story could have been perfect.

(11) Ouroboros: 3/5

A young woman with some issues and/or baggage attempts a ritual to save the world… or something like that. Don’t have too much to save about this one. The story is interesting enough to keep you reading without too much complaint, but the ending fizzles out into mediocrity. It’s not bad, mind you, just unremarkable.

(12) M.R.E: 3/5

The biggest problem with this story is that it feels like a prologue to a much longer work. A bunch of ex-soldiers meet up for some kind of gig; the supernatural is involved. The writing itself is quite good and the characters are drawn as well as they can be in such a short story. However, the story itself is unremarkable. Nothing surprised me and nothing really stands out either. As the set up to a longer work, this definitely has potential; on its own though, the story is just meh.

(13) Eggs: 4/5

I really enjoyed this story. We start off right in the middle of things and the story never really slows down. A man gets hired to work for a huge company and his first assignment for the company is… well, a little weird. The story has a mysterious vibe to it that kept me reading. The ending is decent, just suffers from the chronic not-really-sure-what-happened syndrome that seems to plague the rest of the novel. Luckily it’s not as enigmatic as some of the other stories so it gets a higher score.

(14) Delivery Boy in Blue: 5/5

This is possibly my favorite story in the collection. A police officer in the middle of a routine arrest is ordered to bring his detainee to a different station, not the usual one. And thus, a nightmare begins. This story is just plain fun. Horror stories with intrigue and mystery tend to be my favorite, and this story brings it out in spades. I don’t want to spoil too much, other than to say that the story alludes to things much bigger than the protagonist in a very interesting way. Altogether, it’s a fantastic story with a decent ending that leaves things mysterious, yet decipherable.

(15) Concessions: 3.5/5

A rookie detective begins to experience weird things on the job… weird things involving her own department. The author clearly put some effort in her writing and the characters are written decently. The story is interesting enough to make you want to keep reading. The biggest problem is that the climax felt a bit too anti-climatic.  I was waiting for a bigger payoff that never really came. The ending itself teases more than it delivers, but it didn’t leave me scratching my head. A decent, interesting story that doesn’t quite deliver on its full potential.

(16) Diamonds: 3.5/5

I really wanted to love this story. It’s got great writing and a great depiction of the drudgery of office work. The story concerns a psychotherapist clearly fed up with his job at an asylum. He begins to talk to one of the patients whose madness seems to have rubbed off on him. I won’t say more because it’s a fun story to read. The only reason why the story doesn’t score any higher is the ending. The ending is just maddening. There really aren’t any revelations beyond something weird on the top floor of the building. Even that isn’t really much of a revelation. Therefore, you never really understand what is going on. Like I said, maddening. I really wanted to like this story but the cryptic ending held it back.

(17) Just a Bite: 4.5/5

This story got me hooked from the very beginning. That is a huge plus in my book. In this story, we have a student who has just returned from an archaeological trip to Thailand; this student begins to act very weird. The author plays with lovecraftian themes and that is never a bad thing in my book. I love Lovecraft. The ending works and doesn’t feel like it’s missing something. I just wish the story was a tad longer.

(18) Go Back: 4/5

Like the “Diamonds” story, this one could have scored much higher yet doesn’t due to a frustratingly opaque ending. Here, a woman goes back to the town where she and her late wife had their honeymoon and things are a tad different than what she remembers… or maybe too similar to what she remembers. The story is extremely intriguing and the author has serious skill at slowly revealing that things aren’t quite right. But once again, the ending is a huge disappointment. It is so frustratingly ambiguous, and I have absolutely no idea what happened. There is a revelation, of sorts, but it doesn’t really explain anything. I have no idea how things are tied together or what the revelation even means. If the author worked a little bit more at tying things together, then this would likely have been the best story in the anthology.

(19) The Upstairs Tenant: 3.5/5

A man in the final stages of a life spiraling down the drain starts hearing weird noises coming from the hot tenant upstairs. The story is decent enough with decent writing that, like the other stories, could have benefited from a bit more explanation. Just past the half-way point, the story starts getting really weird. The payoff is… well not as exciting as I thought it would be. Not bad, but not the best either. Other than that, I have no real complaints.

(20) Grind: 2/5

This story kind of sucked. Two totally cliche, southern-white-hick caricatures get jealous of a rich black man and decide to fuck shit up, so to speak. They are treated to a nasty surprise. The ending is, well, comical because it is so ridiculous. The stories in the anthology take themselves seriously enough, but this story just makes me laugh. The ending is lame, the characters are walking stereotypes and the story just isn’t very interesting. In short, the story is fairly disappointing ending to an decent anthology of horror stories.

Overall, I’d have to say that the story are decent enough with a few standouts. However, due to a lack of explanation, many of the stories were not as good as they could have been. The writing was generally excellent with generally interesting characters. I really wish that some of the stories lived up to their potential.

3.5 stars out of 5

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