Dead Neon
Tales of Near-Future Las Vegas
Todd James Pierce
Jarret Keene, Editors

(University of Nevada)
Dead Neon is notable for the fact that the "Preface" and the "Acknowledgments" pages turn out to be more interesting than the body of the stories. For instance, in "Acknowledgments," the editors give thanks to Sutured Esophagus, Righteous Pigs, Curl Up and Die, Drainage X, Dreaming of Lions and Mother McKenzie among others. (Pancho Villa appears in this list, although it seems unlikely that he contributed all that much to the anthology, at least if he is the Pancho Villa I recall from yore.)

There are fourteen stories, most of them way beyond this observer --- but I found two of them are over the top, worth the price of the whole collection.

Jaq Greenspon's "Mirrors and Infinity" tells of Steve who has been taken in by two men named Sarge. Steve is, apparently, from another planet, and thus is garbed and masked so that he won't scare the bejesus out of normal humans.

Sarge I and II, obviously working for a secret government agency, take him to Las Vegas, and when they are killed in an accident, Steve has to work his way out of the hotel and into the unearthly world of Las Vegas.

Think of that: you arrive from outer space on a mission of peace ... and they set you down in Circus-Circus. How long would you or I survive in such a predicament, much less be able to convince the information lady at the airport that you were not here to destroy (or to terrorize) them: especially, as you speak, your face is drooling down your chest.

Since Steve doesn't know how to get back to his hotel room, and as he is melting in the sun, the reader comes to feel an eerie empathy. It would be like, for instance, you are talking to someone important ... someone who could change your life; and later, when you look in the mirror, you smile, see a huge gob of spinach splayed over one of your front teeth.

§     §     §

Then there is the lead story, Chris Niles's "Sin's Last Stand." Melissa reveals that the forgods are taking over the United States. "To be good it's necessary to have a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ," is their motto. They avail themselves of plastic surgery for those "who wanted to look like their favorite biblical character."

The last of the nongods end up in Las Vegas, but "the third repeal of the Clean Air, Water, and Mind Act" makes it legal "for a forgod to kill a nongod if they thought their faith was being threatened." Melissa's mother, a dedicated free spirit nongod is shot down there in the Bellagio.

Melissa was to be shunted off to "the Suffer the Children Home for the Ungodly," but she ends up in a fancy house where Judy and Brian live (his father is the supreme forgod leader Pastor John). She is to be inseminated by Brian, then murdered. The only other person in the fancy house the house servant Iglesias, "who was very sweet,"

    but because the homosexual aversion electrotherapy had been experimental, he was not very good with words.

§     §     §

One of the best stories in the book is called "Preface." It's at the very beginning of the book, presumably from the pen of the two editors. They acknowledge that Las Vegas is a very noisy city, but "if you listen closely, there is another sound in the mix: the quiet hum of technology, electricity whispering through circuits, and the murmur of neon illuminating the night."

They recall the Atomic Age, where "guests could enjoy drinks on their hotel balconies and watch as a mushroom cloud billowed just beyond the valley."

    Even though science and futurism are no longer part of the overt public-relations message of the city, hints of the apocalypse remain a part of the city's existence, like a bad memory or a bloodstain that simply won't go away.

--- R. W. McKinsey
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