Reviews

On this page you’ll find other people’s thoughts on my work.  For balance and fairness, I’ve included the negative as well as the positive.  I believe it makes for a more interesting and honest reflection of my work.  Reviews are in chronological order (where possible) beneath the title of each story.

  • THE BROKEN AND THE UNMADE
    Published in Black Static #39, March 2014

“Saul Aaronson survived Birkenau only to end up living with his hate-filled, abusive son. He is haunted not only by his memories but the silent ghost of a boy he met on the train to the camp.
I am too afraid to turn around, to discover how many others have joined me inside the wagon. And it is the wagon. The walls may move, the walls may vanish, but they’ve been here inside me for seventy years and they’re not going anywhere.
We go through several points of view here, as the evil of events corrupts down the generations. Even the worst characters here are in their own way victims of it, inflicting pain on others for the pain they suffered themselves, vengeance by proxy. But alongside them is also the ghost of kindness and gratitude. Saul’s grandson Joshua, whom we barely see through the first half the story, becomes the focal point at the end. It’s hard to consider this a hopeful or positive story – too much happens that’s irretrievably bad – but it does point the way to positive choices.”
–  review by Lois Tilton, Locus Online, 16.03.2014

“ ‘I mean, how can ghosts exist? And how can anyone kill sixty million people? Without a nuclear bomb, that is. It’s impossible.’ / ‘I think it was six million,’ Thomas says.
The Broken and the Unmade, those skewered by what I described earlier as a carousel pole and those dismembered and now gassed, the tellingly told and untold; the deadpan ghosts so far seem to live and breathe within this magazine’s set of
fiction rather than simply haunt it. Here, with the Dines trademark peppering by equally haunting and memorably quotable phrases, we have the criss-crossing of points-of-view of three generations interfacing and ghostly-overlapping with the Holocaust (cf that earlier storm-visit of a vision) – and the time-spreading single flashpoint of an impulse that cannot be denied. Dulled yet intensely acute. The survival guilt we all feel till a transcendence from becoming ghosts, too? Life’s funfair of evil versus good.
–  review by D.F. Lewis, D.F. Lewis’s Gestalt Real-Time Reviews or RTRcausals, 20.03.2014

“The viewpoints of this story shift and things only become apparent at the end. We get the story of Saul Aaronson, a concentration camp survivor, who is haunted by the ghost of a boy he met in the camp. We get the story of Saul’s grandson, Joshua, who has ghosts of his own. It would seem silly to call this ghost story “haunting”, but that’s what it is. It’s the kind of story that stays with you a long time. Excellent.”
–  review by Sam Tomaino, SFRevu, 28.03.2014

“…centres around a Holocaust survivor. Now, usually I find that the subject has been mined a bit dry by the horror genre in particular. But Dines’ story is one part ghost story, one part about the burden of survivorship — not just those who survive the event itself, but those who survive the damage passed down generations. And it works. The emotional core is powerful, the tragedy in the most part alluded to, and the loss real. I found I had to sip, rather than drink this down in one, and it bears more than a little musing on to tease out deeper meanings.”
–  review by Matthew S. Dent, A Mad Man With a Blog, 11.04.2014

“Also soaring high in the quality stakes this issue is Steven J. Dines’ ‘The Broken and the Unmade’, another ghostly tale of interaction between the living and the dead… Taking root in the Nazi atrocities of World War II, Dines’ story starts from the viewpoint of an elderly concentration camp survivor who appears to be deeply haunted by not only his past experiences, but also the ghost of a young boy whose identity he can’t quite recall. As history unfolds with Dines’ narrative jumping back and forth between the contemporary and the past, the full picture begins to emerge – but not before the tortured gentleman unleashes an act of desperate violence against his own family and himself. Then, we’re forced to move along once again to the gentleman’s grandson, Joshua, now living with a foster family but also constantly accompanied by the ghostly boy, whom he refers to as Thomas.
For fear of diminishing impact garnered by a read of Dines’ story, further plot details cannot be divulged, though it should suffice to say that ‘The Broken and the Unmade’ is wonderful stuff. The constantly switching narrative is excellently employed as a device to keep readers on their toes, never quite sure for the first few moments of a new section just whose internal dialogue is now being followed, and in what timeline. The initial tragedy that befalls Joshua and his family is shocking, cinematic and highly intriguing, but in the end Dines leads us to consider that not all lost spirits are malevolent or in search of retribution; sometimes, it’s our inner demons that pose the greatest threat. And so what begins as slightly tense and unnerving blossoms to a soulful finish filled with sweetness, hope and genuinely moving humanity.”
review by Gareth Jones, Dread Central, 14.06.2014

A very strong issue, with my favourite being The Broken and the Unmade…”
–  Ray Cluley, author.

“One story in [the issue] has blown all of the competition away. Stunning.”
–  Johnny Mains, author, editor.

  • A TRICK OF THE NIGHT
    Published in Fireside Magazine #9, January 2014

“This one is kind of painful to read in a Stephen King’s The Shining sort of way. The twist isn’t even the point. It’s the lead-up.”
–  Four Moons Press (Eric Zawadzki)

  • THE SPACE THAT RUNS AWAY WITH YOU
    Published in Crimewave 12: Hurts, November 2013

“…a story about a very similar kind of unwillingness to act, in this case rooted in the absence of children, and the fear of knowing whether those vanished are living or dead. Because any action you take becomes a confirmation, and there is still hope in the not knowing. The story, too, is about responsibility, imagined and actual, and guilt and how it tears at both personal and familial structure. The slow build is most effective here, focused as it is on passing on guilt, and assuming it from others, while relationships strain and those left behind are ultimately in the thrall of those who might, or might not be dead. And, again, the story’s leading us up to a moment of potential answers and then shying away from delivering on the final revelation is a function of the protagonist’s living in a world where not knowing is the only real comfort in the face of tragedy. And so here that technique is as effective as it was in Rhodes’s [previous story] piece.”
–  review by Michael Matheson, ChiZine, date unknown

“…the latest issue of the Cambridgeshire-based anthology series, proves once again that short stories can deliver heart-stopping twists which would lose their impact in the more unwieldy form of the novel. There’s just such a gasp-provoking moment towards the end of Steven J Dines’ story The Space That Runs Away With You.
It derives its power in part from the way this skilful writer has hidden the clues which make the twist inevitable inside an impressively credible exploration of the frightening communication gap that exists between small children and their parents.”
–  review by Mat Coward, Morning Star, 10.12.2013

Instead, she nods her head and looks at me, her eyes glass, wet with the tears of the rain.”
I must have had some sense of premonition when this review earlier mentioned a different house but with the same ‘tank’. Here in this Dines sensitively anguished, agoraphobic/ claustrophobic treatment of a missing child Michael and those left to seek him, the father who is the narrator, his egg-beating wife and his other younger son Max – and a dog called M.R. James belonging to the 19 year old girl who works in the same bookshop as the narrator. Here this whole book’s ‘tank’ is now not under the floors but up above in the loft itself, one that creates its own multiple spaces, I guess, in different dimensions of reality or dream, some explored, others not, astonishingly for us to discover at the end that it has its own ‘big tank’. It is almost as if this story were written by the other stories conspiring that it should do so, but I kind of know in my heart it is all sheer dark serendipity. A wonderful Dines story that also stands discretely in its own space.
“People are energy. They don’t die; they just take on different forms.”
–  review by D.F. Lewis, D.F. Lewis’s Gestalt Real-Time Reviews or RTRcausals, 03.01.2014 

“This one ends on a real shocker.”
–  review by Sam Tomaino, Gumshoe Review, 11.12.2014

  • THE SOUND OF CONSTANT THUNDER
    Published in Black Static #37, November 2013

“A former litter picker remains in the abandoned and irradiated remains of an unnamed southern English city, being tormented by the memory of his father. It’s a strange wasteland of cannibals, dead children, and half-mad wanderers; a brutal, stark and depressing tale, which in another issue it might shock on that front. But it is a good story. Well written and meaningful, with a great deal of emotional weight behind it. I do wish the titular Wi-Fi induced ‘thunder’ had been more explored a bit more, but it does serve perfectly as the isolation factor of a character more at ease in the wasteland than civilisation.”
–  review by Matthew S. Dent, A Mad Man With a Blog, 03.12.2013

“All of these stories are excellent, however my personal favourites are… [note:  mine is one of three singled out by the reviewer] Steven J. Dines’ The Sound Of Constant Thunder is more along the length of a novelette rather than a short story, and Dines does not squander the longer length.  This is a blunt and bleak post apocalyptic tale full of dead babies, hungry psychotic cannibals and a protagonist trying to deal with the torment of his dead father.  Dines paints a rich and detailed landscape on which he pins this deeply depressing and shocking story of isolation and desperation.”
–  review by Jim McLeod, Ginger Nuts of Horror, 04.12.2013 

“Saving the best until last, the issue’s fiction rounds off with Steven J. Dines’ post-apocalyptic The Sound of Constant Thunder. Narrator Alan is a lone man eking out a life underneath a bridge, just outside the city in which he used to work – before the nuclear bombs hit, that is. Dedicating himself to protecting the local rabbit warrens and keeping the river and general area clear of debris and corpses, Alan has found a kind of peace in this new world owing to his previously debilitating Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity. Now that the Wifi signals have stopped, he is no longer plagued by crippling headaches and gets by just fine by keeping himself out of the way and out of conflict. One day he comes across Charlotte and her baby, who join him at his camp for a while. Soon, the relationship between Alan and Charlotte begins to grow, but so too do the attentions of a regular observer of Alan’s abode– an observer who just happens to be a cannibal with a predilection for a certain kind of meat.
There is, of course, much more to Alan’s story than one would wish to expound for fear of spoiling, but suffice to say that Dines’ tale is a fantastically grim little gem that expertly approaches themes of isolation, grief, survival and the constant barrage of intrusion – for better or worse – into the modern life. Comparisons of tone and setting are easily (and correctly) drawn with Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, but rest assured that Dines’ creation deserves much more than simply a nod alongside. Extended, the experiences of Alan in his new world could make for an excellent novel, and The [Sound of Constant Thunder] itself could easily have been sold on its own, to great success, in the chapbook format. While this issue of Black Static is most certainly a game of two halves when it comes to the fiction, Dines proves this round’s MVP, elevating it to yet another must-have.”
–  review by Pestilence, Dread Central, 23.12.2013

“Alan is a man of limited intelligence in a post-nuclear war Britain. He used to work picking up litter for the town in which he lived and became convinced that the headaches he got were due to WiFi. Now, there is no power or WiFi but he still works picking up litter from a field for the rabbits that he cares about, even though he hasn’t seen them in a while. He avoids the eaters (cannibals) and keeps potential food from them. A woman named Charlotte enters his world with her daughter, Ella, and we get a further look into the horrors of his time. Quite good. Nicely atmospheric.”
–  review by Sam Tomaino, SFRevu, 23.12.2013

“’Why do people say that?’ she asked. / ‘Say what?’ / ‘That you’re on your own with a baby. It’s contradictory. You’re never alone with a baby. You have the baby.’”
This is an incredible novelette, both on its own and in its clinching gestalt with the other stories, the dystopic SF and the throughput of RRM, Mauro, etc umbilical connection, here with my willow tree as, I sense, become the previous ‘mule’ (where syringe becomes tank-siphon (cf my recent review of the same publisher’s Crimewave Twelve)), symbiotic leitmotifs in this set of fiction which I could never have predicted. A litter-picker man protagonist as self-confessed gollum-troll, doggedly, stoically still following his job after some unclear nuclear urban-strafe, but it is not merely a post-holocaust scenario, it’s something much bigger, much more striking, with an Agra Askan (in my book) sexual sensibility between him and the met woman suckling what we can see of her baby and needing to reach the coast… With telling dark-Churchillian phrases peppered throughout the throughput like ‘it is  only when we are nothing we become the same’ and  ‘Never had so many with so little to say been quite so desperate, it seemed, to carve out the opportunity to say it’ and ‘Love is listening to someone else’s madness and not listening to your own’ and ‘Maybe it was time for the world to be grey and the people to shine rather than the other way round’ and many more such telling wisdoms. The rabbits and rats that remind me of the Knippling pigs, the eaters and the smells and Wi-Fi noiselessness or noise and the river threading through as a riparian-law audit trail of a throughput all lend themselves to this vast vision, and much more.
“The world suddenly filled with hope when it reached its most hopeless.”
–  review by D.F. Lewis, D.F. Lewis’s Gestalt Real-Time Reviews or RTRcausals, 06.01.2014

  • MEN PLAYING GHOSTS, PLAYING GOD
    Published in Black Static #35, July 2013

“But the tunnel does not forget the train; it embraces its fading echoes and in infinitesimal ways quietly shapes itself around them.”
In contrast to the young students in the previous work and somehow benefiting as a separate story from that stark contrast, this poignant ‘old people’ tale has, as its main protagonist, a bereaved, but still love-seeking widower. He and his cronies trap the earlier fiction’s dark dimension-now-by-another-name and lock it up in the boiler room that is in the old age institution to which they have been consigned by their families.
“In the early days after Mary, I refused to shave and took to roaming the house wearing her bathrobe, until the scent of her faded and the stench of me took over.”
This Dines story starts as a classic ghost story which should appeal to readers who love classic ghost stories and it could have been written by May Sinclair or Elizabeth Bowen, but then, slowly, amid many really stunning sentences with crafted conceits, it becomes something else, but still ghostly, still haunting, but more ironic and absurdist. But this absurdism, as I see it, miraculously does not diminish the ghostliness. This story is on the brink of becoming a story that will appeal as a classic to many different readers with different tastes in the horror and supernatural genre. On the brink of outlasting itself, if that is not one conceit too far.
“…and I breathed again, not an ocean from my lungs but mist on the windowpane.”
–  review by D.F. Lewis, D.F. Lewis’s Gestalt Real-Time Reviews or RTRcausals, 23.07.2013 

“…the story is well-written enough that it brings something new to an oft-told story.”
–  review by Sam Tomaino, SFRevu, 23.08.2013

“This is a top class tale, alive with character in both the setting and the individuals populating it, with [Dines’s] skill on full display in his handling of a narrator whose actions, on the face of it, are rather despicable yet lent a voice of reason and hope such that the reader remains drawn to him until the startlingly pitch black ending.”
–  review by Pestilence, Dread Central, 29.09.2013

  • THE MACHINEHOUSE WORKER’S SONG
    Published in Interzone #246, May 2013

“This futuristic version of Jacob’s Ladder is set in a giant factory where nobody sees the bosses and nobody knows what is being built.  But replacements stop appearing for those who die until just Jacob and Samuels are left.  Jacob starts to build a scaffold to escape. Workplace optimism versus defeatism are mixed well with mystery.  Gripping.”
–  review by Steve Rogerson, 28.05.2013

” ‘…black and red swirled together to reach an agreement of colour.’
When I was young in the 1950s, I sometimes listened to ‘Workers’ Playtime’ on the BBC Light Programme – where variety acts visited factory canteens to entertain the workers at lunchtime. Why I was reminded of that when reading this cerebral story – part Pinter, part Beckett, part Pete and Dud or the Arthur Haynes Show – I am not sure, but its poignancy of dialogue seemed to convey nostalgia for such events … while reaching up through some corrugated underlay of Heaven above which I imagine my own Mother Moon passing as the Machinehouse business churns on, producing what for whom? …until, in this distant future I once envisaged but that has finally arrived, I can hopefully reap some mysterious ‘tontine’.
‘My long shadow covered him, surrounded him, like a coffin.’ “
–  review by D.F. Lewis, D.F. Lewis’s Gestalt Real-Time Reviews or RTRcausals, 29.05.2013 

“Jacob and Samuels are the only two workers left in the machinehouse.  They work on an assembly line, each doing his part.  The other workers have all died, seemingly by suicide, because they have not heard from the outside world for fourteen months.  Jacobs, our narrator, wonders what is going on in the outside world.  Samuels, the company man, just keeps working until old age catches up with him.  Jacobs builds scaffolding to reach the only exit in the roof, a corrugated window that allows him to see the moon.  The moon, for some reason, reminds him of his mother whom he was taken from when he was “ten to twenty”.  What will he find when he gets out?  A well-written and engrossing story and a good way to start the issue.”
–  review by Sam Tomaino, SFRevu, 30.05.2013.

“The last two workers in a huge sealed-off factory wonder why no more people are arriving, and one of them decides to try to escape in order to find out.  Rather eerie.”
–  review by Anthony G. Williams, SFF blog, 08.06.2013.

“The machinehouse used to be a sweatshop where workers toiled body-to-body, but now there are only two men left:  Jacob and old Samuels, who has entirely interiorized the workhouse mentality with his catchphrase:  plennytado, as in, “There’s always . . .”  But now Jacob is starting to ask questions.
“If we are to die,” I said slowly, “and they have not shown us the courtesy of providing our replacements, then the work dies with us, right? Then what has it all been for? Answer me that.”
A strong dystopian vision.  Bad enough to imagine a factory prison where work is a life sentence tied to the machines, but even worse when the workers come to feel nostalgic for the place when it was in its functioning prime.”
–  review by Lois Tilton, Locus Online, 08.06.2013.

“…a tale of a dystopian workhouse for the poor or possibly criminal.  Out of a cast of hundreds, only two workers now remain, and there are no contact with the outside world.  Dines sketches the story out in pieces, filtered through the skewed viewpoints of its two characters, and the pay off in the end is more about isolation and institutionalisation than the mystery of the backdrop.”
–  review by Matthew S. Dent, A Mad Man With a Blog, 24.06.2013.

“I have to say that I didn’t particularly like the story and not because it’s an apocalyptic tale – for the workforce if no-one else but I don’t enjoy tales with this level of disconnect from the surrounds.”
–  review by John, John’s Reading, 15.07.2013

“…revolves around the Victorian style workhouse for the poor set in the dystopian future. Thousands have perished and we view things through the eyes of the only two remaining workers, the narrator and Samuels. I loved this sad, elegiac tale quite a bit.”
–  review by Upcoming4.me, 17.08.2013

–  foreign language review at Ulmeseosed, 06.01.2014

  • THE THINGS THAT GET YOU THROUGH
    Published in Black Static #31, Nov 2012.

“This tale was eerie, and it delved into the character’s madness quite well – occasionally to the story’s detriment. Sometimes the prose was as convoluted as the narrator’s mind, and I found I had to read several passages more than once to make sense of them.”
–  review by Stevie McMichael, Tangent, 24.11.2012

“…about James Graves, whose wife dies in a crash immediately after telling him she’s leaving him for another man.  Emotionally distraught, he starts doing various tasks to deal with his grief, finding a mannequin in the basement that becomes central to his moving on.  While well-written, the story goes on far too long documenting the little things James does to go through the process of grief, with a payoff that didn’t make the wait worth it.”
–  review by Chuck Rothman, Tangent, 24.11.2012

“…another odd one. I spent most of the time reading it thinking that it was much too long, and that whilst the writing was sound it was dragging like an insufficiently supported canvas.  However, once I reached the end I changed my mind completely. This is another grief-themed piece, using the five stages of grief as a mechanism to drive the story. The slow pace drives perfectly the process-like nature of bereavement, and sets up for a fantastic final conclusion. A really excellent story and piece of horror.” 
–  review by Matthew S. Dent, A Mad Man with a Blog, 08.12.2012.

“…all in all, a good melancholy piece, nicely done with a real stinger at the end.” 
–  review by Sam Tomaino, SFRevu, 27.12.2012.

“Steven J. Dines gives us our next fill with The Things That Get You Through. A longer tale, broken into chapters entitled with the progressive stages of grief, The Things…is another chillingly emotional addition to this issue.  This slow-burn story follows bereaved protagonist James who, following the death of his wife, finds his mental dependence on a mannequin in his now-empty home proving a problem when he meets a potential new partner.  It’s necessary to be vague with this one, but rest assured that the measured, skin-crawling nature of Dines’ prose builds to a shudder-inducing finale effective in both a metaphorical and literal sense.”
–  review by Pestilence, Dread Central, 15.01.2013.

  • UNZIPPED
    Published in Greatest Uncommon Denominator (GUD) #1, Autumn 2007.

“I also grimaced when, at the end of Steve Dines’ Unzipped the Iraq War Vet loses his shit completely and smashes a mirror into the face of his well-meaning, stand-by-your-man girlfriend.  I got the gritty sarcasm and post traumatic stress disordered telling of Humpty Dumpty dismantled and tortured which he read to his five year old.  Again, though, it’s just the violence so exquisitely and bloodlessly drawn that kind of shakes me up these days.  I appreciated the long interior monologue which the avenging vet had leading up to his final moments in a park going pervert on a kid as his woman lay in a hospital bed all scarred up.  That’s the War.  And that is, I’m sure, no exaggeration in some cases.  It’s haunting and reflective of how military violence really does warp a soldier’s psyche.”
–  review by Lo Gallucio, Ibbetson Street Press, Jul 2007.

Unzipped is not another Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder story.  For one, if I had noticed that was what it was about, I would have chucked the story across the room.  I’m sick of stereotypes of Vietnam vets hitting the deck every time someone breaks a glass.  Most cases of PTSD last less than 3-4 months.  What’s more, most people who live through a traumatic event don’t develop PTSD.
Thankfully, the opening paragraphs are so cleverly worded that by the time I found out about that detail I was in love and couldn’t stop reading.  Steven J. Dines takes the theme into new, medically inaccurate places (I’m not complaining, this is fiction and I don’t think it was the author’s intent to portray the condition precisely), where guilt, madness and literary flair merge nicely.  Dark.  That’s the way I like it.”
–  review by Sara Genge, Artemisin, 14.08.2007.

“…the powerful and subtle tale of a soldier returned from Iraq and trying to deal with the death of a child that he witnessed out there and feels he should have prevented.  I didn’t realise what Dines meant by the ‘ball’ that wasn’t a ball until I turned the page – and it knocked me for six when I did.  A top-notch character study.”
–  review appeared on Whispers of Wickedness (now defunct), date unknown – approx. Aug-Oct 2007.

“This story does a good job on delivering the inner experience of post-traumatic stress although the way it elects to achieve this makes the protagonist distant and very hard to empathize with. Anticipating that this story behavior was intentional this becomes a bit of non-consensual masochistic massage – as a reader you keep reading not because you are enjoying the story but because you are hoping the story doesn’t dirty itself on the page.  This is well written and a story I would have tossed back.”
–  review by F.R.R. Mallory, blog review, date unknown – approx. Aug-Oct 2007.

Unzipped by Steven J. Dines is another story which potentially has great aspirations for pathos. However, I found the message too heavy-handed—even if it is necessary and urgent for our times. An Iraqi war veteran finds it impossible to reintegrate into civilian life, but the ending is much too tidy. Can salvation from a pivotal moment in life really be found within a second pivotal moment? I don’t think so.”
–  review by Andrew Hook, The Fix (now defunct), date unknown – approx. Aug-Oct 2007.

Unzipped is a terrifying story.  It is about a veteran of the war in [Iraq] who is clearly consumed by psychological problems but is constantly attempting to keep his head above water.  The story begins with his visiting a hooker for a bit of S&M, continues with his beating up his wife and ends with his thinking about flashing a bunch of teenaged boys in the hope that the police would drag him off and then beat the shit out of him in prison.  It would be easy to write a story such as this and make it seem crass or sensationalist but Dines does an excellent job of getting across how conflicted and desperate for some kind of relief his protagonist is.  This is memorable, powerful stuff.”
–  review by Jonathan McCalmont, SF Diplomat (now defunct), date unknown – approx. Nov-Dec 2007.

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