“Unmasked”: An appropriate short fiction collection for a pandemic era.

Unmasked: Stories of Risk and Revelation

This pandemic has changed a lot of things for everyone, including what we wear and how we interact with others. Who hasn’t walked away from an encounter with someone, who we know, but didn’t recognize under their mask? Who hasn’t struggled to understand a situation properly due to the fact that we are unable to read someone’s facial expressions beneath their mask? (I have often wondered over the past year how the deaf have adapted since they cannot see any lips to read.) The necessity of wearing masks has made simple social interactions more difficult in many ways, and added an element of mystery to everyday interactions, when we are fortunate enough to be able to interact under government restrictions.

Masks may hide a lot of things, but they can also be revealing in some ways, as you’ll see if you read the new WordFire Press short fiction anthology, appropriately titled Unmasked: Stories of Risk and Revelation. Edited by Kevin J. Anderson, this collection of short stories offers many different ways to look at masks and some surprising revelations about what may be hidden beneath the mask. There are many reasons to wear masks. Sometimes they are the key to awakening super powers that we never knew we had, as in the first story by Seanan Maguire, “Pygmalion”, or perhaps the mask grants the ability to hide in plain sight, as is the case in “I Have No Name”, by Andi Christopher, or perhaps a mask holds a savior in disguise, as in “The Green Gas”, by Liam Hogan or “The Fog of War”, by Edward J. Knight. In “The Faces of Death”, by Ed Burkley, masks hold the past, or perhaps predict the future.

Masks are a form of disguise, camoflauge for what truly lies beneath, an illusion which covers what is real, as in “Framing Marta”, James Romag or “Death by Misadventure” by John M. Olsen. A mask may take the form of the shadow of a soul searcher, as in “The Quota”, by Tom Howard, or that of a self-aware sex-bot, as in “Qualia”, by Russell Davis, or a shadow creature, as in “Shot in the Dark”, Brennen Hankins. Masks can hide the true identity, as in “Pagliacci’s Joke”, by Travis Heerman, or perhaps enhance the strengths of the persona underneath, as in “La Marionnette, by Alicia Cay or “A New Purpose”, by Rebecca M. Senese. The parallel post-pandemic world of “Speakeasy”, by Keltie Zubko, hits close to home and removing the mask may not be worth the risk after all.

My favorite story from this collection has to be “Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast”, by Eugie Foster. A tale which takes place in a world where masks are the norm, with individual personas that are imprinted on the wearer so that they may live a different life each day.

In Unmasked: Tales of Risk and Revelation, each story stays true to theme and they are filled with surprises. I found this anthology quite entertaining and enjoyable. I give it five quills.

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Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.