Review of Emily Deibler, “Hell With Friends”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 33-48 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)
Content note: Suicide and contemplation of suicide.
Scout has sold her soul to Satan and is now dead in the ninth circle of hell. There’s certain plusses about being in hell — no more grad school, the chance to hang out with Satan’s three spouses, Naamah, Lilith, and Judas — but hell is also a place that magnifies everything that was wrong with you in life, Scout finds. She’s just as angry, just as sardonic, just as scared in hell as she was on earth, and “she needed every friend she could get” (p. 39). But “Hell with friends was still Hell” (p. 39). Perhaps the worst, though, is that Scout still doesn’t know what she is meant to be, to do, with her “life”, even now that she is dead.
This story, like the preceding one, is much more fantasy than science fiction. I found myself wanting more from it than I got. With a fantasy story, one expects either grand worldbuilding or characters full of depth. Here, I learned almost nothing about the nature of hell, or how Scout was able to make her bargain with Satan. Little details were given, but I never got a sense of the overall place. But the characters felt rather flat, though, with stilted, unnatural dialogue. I wonder what the author could have made of the story with the help of a ruthless editor, because there was definitely a kernal of something interesting in there.