Customer Reviews: The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 22
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on October 30, 2011
... of zombies and vampires and werewolves and ghosts - but with a twist of lemon:

Last year specialist imprint PS Publishing released SCOTT EDELMAN's collected zombie stories, `What Will Come After'. All but the title story were reprints; it is this understated and poignant title story which opens this year's volume. Having said all he thought he had to say about zombies, here Edelman approaches the zombie tale from the only point of view left; that of a character telling of their own mutation into a zombie. The telling is heartbreakingly tied up with thoughts of the protagonist's wife. A subtle but lingering tale.

A few volumes back I enthused that Glen Hirshberg was my favourite short story writer, with seven consecutive appearances (#13 through #19) in Best New Horror, and indeed I eagerly await his forthcoming third collection, `The Janus Tree and Other Stories'. True, he hasn't appeared in Best New Horror for three volumes now, although recent stories have been chosen by Ellen Datlow for all three volumes of Night Shade Books' `The Best Horror of the Year'. However, the current crown for master of the short story goes to MICHAEL MARSHALL SMITH. Last year's award-winning "What Happens When You Wake Up in the Night" was easily that volume's best story and this year's "Substitutions" (from the much lauded `Black Wings: New Tales of Lovecraftian Horror' anthology) marks his 15th appearance in Best New Horror, his debut being 20 years ago in volume 2. What I admire most about Smith is his ability to change his `voice' from story to story. Here we meet a couple who order their groceries online, and when the husband goes through the bags of unfamiliar but enticing offers he soon discovers he's been given someone else's shopping... and just as the supermarket sometimes substitutes one item for another this, too, becomes a question the protagonist must wrestle with - although it is no mere food produce that is at stake.

MARK VALENTINE's "A Revelation of Cormorants" features one William Utter, a scholar with delusions of grandeur who finds himself trapped whilst researching the bird life on a grey and windy Galloway. It should be as much a search for himself but, in the end - when faced with doom - he still feels compelled to scribble his pretentious notes. Like Reggie Oliver, Valentine has a supreme gift for the `old' language of horror, of channelling the ghosts of Machen, James, Aickman, Blackwood and Bierce. His voice is measured, but never dry. His words have the rich refined taste of a premium ale, or a single malt. Like his tale from last year, "The Axholme Toll", this year's is very atmospheric. Alas, for blue collar workers like myself, the reprint pages of `best of' anthologies are about the only places we'll get to read this man's fiction: his short story collections are issued by such über-expensive small press publishers as Ex Occidente and aimed at affluent collectors. Ordinary readers will have to content themselves with the odd enticing tale or two; it's for this reason that we should be thankful to such people as Jones, Datlow and Guran.

GARRY KILWORTH's style can be seen as workmanship, as there is no sleight-of-hand window dressing here - just bare story. His tale of strange goings on at a village cottage, "Out Back", is here reprinted from last year's FantasyCon Souvenir Programme, where he was guest of honour.

ALBERT E. COWDREY feels as if he's appeared in Best New Horror any number of times now, but in fact "Fort Clay, Louisiana: a Tragical History" is only his second since volume 20's "The Overseer". Perhaps it was the richness of detail of that novella that gives the reader the impression that they've read more of him than they actually have. This time it's a novelette - and the writing is no less rich. Again we have a scholar, but the story is told from the point of view of the photographer who accompanies him around the ruins of an old fort. The young lady photographer believes she can use this opportunity to produce a coffee table art book, embellished with the grisly tale of the fort's history which the scholar divulges. And she does, gloating with pride a year later when she presents the finished book to the scholar. But the scholar has a final `gift' of his own...

Here's one for those who think there's no longer any original horror stories: BRIAN HODGE's "Just Outside Our Windows, Deep Inside Our Walls" is a superlative example of `dark fantasy'; a masterclass in `magic realism'. About a boy and a girl and their upstairs world. Nextdoor neighhours, their room windows face across a gulf of 12 feet. About how he transports her from her world to his... using just pen and paper. Then, ultimately, hides her from the adults of the downstairs world when they come looking for her. As with last year's triple-anthologized story by Michael Marshall Smith, part of the story's success is in the naturalism of the dialogue, the ease with which it's told. No suspension of disbelief is necessary: you simple believe.

"Fallen Boys" by MARK MORRIS is a tale of comeuppance, of history repeating itself. A school trip to a coal mine museum turns out to be more of an education that anyone suspected.

"The Lemon in the Pool" is SIMON KURT UNSWORTH's 3rd appearance in Best New Horror over the past four years. The title might sound whimsical and slight - but don't be fooled. To be sure, it starts off playfully enough, with various items of fruit inexplicably turning up in the protagonist's pool. Helen's retired, thinking she's escaped the drudgery of England for her sunny villa in Spain. But soon innocuous items of fruit are replaced by other things, and unease is replaced by disquiet. Disquiet by dread...

Selections from editor Charles Black's `The Black Book of Horror' series are starting to become regular features of `best of' collections, and justly so. Yes, they can be uneven anthologies, but even that is in keeping with `The Pan Book of Horror Stories' to which they pay homage. Reading the good and the bad in the context of each given volume, they strike a nice balance, making for joyful, eclectic reading; one really never does know what to expect next. And the joy of "The Pier" by THANA NIVEAU is the layers in which it is built up. To begin with the language is plain, the events ordinary. Gradually both begin to deepen, the words taut as the protagonist descends into the reality of what the pier is. A finely accomplished tale; a writer to watch.

A sequel to his 2001 tale "The Lost District", JOEL LANE's "Black Country" see us returning to the bleak and rundown town of Clayheath which, through council re-zoning, ceased to `exist' years ago. A bleak and enigmatic tale of child crime and the lost of one's self, of identity, the villain is the district itself and the black country which it has caused to grow in the protagonist's soul.

Very few reading this will have heard of ANGELA SLATTER - and I envy you that; envy you the delight you're going to experience when you immerse yourself in `The Girl with No Hands & Other Tales' (2010) a remarkable collection of reimagined fairy tales, myths and legends, all prismed through the author's own quirky and eloquent interpretation. This present tale is from her other collection of last year, `Sourdough and Other Stories'. Although told in a more modern style compared to those in `The Girl with...', it nevertheless has that heightened magic realism of Brian Hodge's story. Here we have the tale of a strong mother, a lenient father, a precocious daughter... and a brother who should no longer be. Full of layers and nuanced observations ("... I find my father, his face dark with an anger he so seldom experiences he doesn't seem to know how to wear it"). Yet another terrific writer, along with Margo Lanagan, to emerge from Australia.

One of the things I admire about a Jones anthology is that he knows how to balance the contents. Therefore, as he has pointed out in early editions of Best New Horror, it isn't necessarily the `best of the best' but moreover - and perhaps more importantly - a representation of what horror is doing that particular year. In other words Jones isn't afraid to include a story that, technically, isn't really the best, but does nicely balance out next to the stories on either side of it. So make no mistake (and expect no apology) "Christmas with the Dead" by JOE R. LANSDALE is a bit of knock-about tomfoolery. A lark. There are no deep insights into the human condition here. (In this way Jones's selections are far more eclectic than other `best of' annuals, and certainly far less po-faced and pretentious.) Lansdale - firing on all cylinders - just, well... just let's it all hang out! Sit back and simply let the Terror from Texas take you on a wild zombie ride.

KIRSTYN McDERMOTT is not a writer I've come across before, but certainly one which I'll now be keeping an eye out for; it's what I believe is one of the main pleasures of a `best of' anthology - the thrill of discovering a new writer. Here we have a wonderfully constructed and effecting tale of tragedy. Of Holly trying to help her friend Emma let go of the past... the tragedy being that Emma never knew she had to let go. Keenly written and observed, the story's tone is perfectly balanced. Essential, as the plot could so easily have been rendered trite, even by the most experienced of hands.

CHRISTOPHER FOWLER has a delightful devil-may-care style, like he's simply eaves-dropping on his characters: hey, don't blame me for the outrageous things they say and do, he seems to be saying, I'm simply writing down what happens. "Oh I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside" finds him in fine kinetic form.

"Losenef Express" has echoes of MARK SAMUELS's own earlier tales "The Cannibal King of Horror" and "Destination Nihil by Edmond Bertrand" and features a writer modelled on the great Karl Edward Wagner. Here a writer loses himself on a train journey and ultimately... well, there's a reason why the title sounds like Lose Yourself Express. (Incidentally, this year's 22nd volume of Best New horror now puts the series on a par with the current record-holder for the longest running best-of-horror anthology, DAW Books' `The Year's Best Horror Stories' which ceased publication in 1994 with the tragically young death of its much renowned editor Karl Edward Wagner.)

Last year's tale by Michael Marshall Smith held the distinction of being the only story reprinted in all three `best of' horror anthologies (Datlow, Guran and Jones). Personally, I would like to have seen that honour go to Brian Hodge's wonderful tale this year. Instead it goes to the equally worthy, but completely different, "Lesser Demons" by NORMAN PARTRIDGE (this, too, being a reprint from the earlier mentioned `Black Wings' anthology). This is a visceral tale, following a sheriff and his deputy's run ins with several lesser Lovecraftian demons. Almost hard-boiled in its telling, don't expect much in the way of melancholy here: Sheriff Barnes's existence is a bleak one, the world he lives in rapidly going to south and hell.

"Telling" by Best New Horror regular STEVE RASNIC TEM sees an artist, a painter of houses and the lives of the people that are imbued in those houses.

"Red as Red" by CAITLIN R. KIERNAN tells of a young scholarly woman investigating the myths and legends of New England. And there's another young woman, and her smile, which she frequently sees. Ms Howard's mind spirals into a world her library readings have barely touched on. And of course, that smile hides secrets... This is Kiernan's 10th appearance in Best New Horror and as one would expect from the author of "The Ape's Wife" (#19) and "In the Water Works (Birmingham, Alabama 1888)" (#12) the language is supple, the telling vivid.

"Autumn Chills" by RICHARD L. TIERNEY is a prose poem (only the second poem to ever be included in this series) and, like the Lansdale tale, its tongue is firmly planted in its cheek. The ending is a groaner, eliciting a wry shake of the head. But - like many of the best tales here - it's the voice that really sells it and seals the deal. Indeed, I urge you to do a web search and you'll be able to hear an audio recording of this very poem, terrifically read by William Hart.

Next JOHN LANGAN gives us "City of the Dog" which, like the Partridge story, sees another kind of demon, in a tale of love, betrayal and sacrifice.

And with the closing tale Jones once again demonstrates just how good he is at sequencing the running order of his anthologies, for "When the Zombies Win" by KARINA SUMNER-SMITH is a brilliant counter point to the book's opening story by Scott Edelman. Jones knows his zombies (in fact, the mosaic novel he created and edited last year, `Zombie Apocalypse', is one of the best in its sub-genre). Smith's tale is short and its message is simple: exactly what would happen if the zombies did win? A sombre and thoughtful note to end on to a great anthology.

Also included are tales by RAMSEY CAMPBELL and ROBERT SHEARMAN reprinted from Jones's wonderful anthology `Visitants: Stories of Fallen Angels & Heavenly Hosts', and my review of it can be found here on Amazon.

[NOTE: this review comes from the UK edition which was released on October 20]
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on February 11, 2012
The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 22 (2010), edited by Stephen Jones (2011), containing the following stories:

*What Will Come After by Scott Edelman
Substitutions by Michael Marshall Smith
A Revelation of Cormorants by Mark Valentine
*Out Back by Garry Kilworth
*Fort Clay, Louisiana: A Tragical History by Albert E. Cowdrey
Just Outside Our Windows, Deep Inside Our Walls by Brian Hodge
*Fallen Boys by Mark Morris
The Lemon in the Pool by Simon Kurt Unsworth
The Pier by Thana Niveau
*Featherweight by Robert Shearman
Black Country by Joel Lane
*Lavender and Lychgates by Angela Slatter
*Christmas with the Dead by Joe R. Lansdale
*Losenef Express by Mark Samuels
Oh I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside by Christopher Fowler
*We All Fall Down by Kirstyn McDermott
*Lesser Demons by Norman Partridge
*Telling by Steve Rasnic Tem
*As Red as Red by Caitlin R. Kiernan
*With the Angels by Ramsey Campbell
Autumn Chill by Richard L. Tierney
City of the Dog by John Langan
*When the Zombies Win by Karina Sumner-Smith

Series editor Stephen Jones gives us 23 stories this year, along with the lengthy annual 'Year in Horror' and encyclopedic 'Necrology' (the latter consisting of obituaries of writers, actors and others with some affiliation to horror, written by British horror expert Kim Newman).

I've starred the stories I think are really exceptional. The writing level is, as always for this series, high. Stories range from nouveau-Cthulhu by way of hardboiled Jim Thompson (Norman Partidge's "Lesser Demons") to the surreal ("Featherweight"), from zombies (three stories) through Lovecraftian ghouls ("City of the Dog") to unwanted, menacing fruits and vegetables ("The Lemon in the Pool"). Ramsey Campbell supplies a story about old family grievances and wounds that may or may not involve the supernatural. Caitlin Kiernan and Albert E. Cowdrey give us fine examples of closely observed historical horror -- or maybe historical-research horror would be a better moniker, as the protagonists dig deeply, too deeply, into the undead past.

Angela Slatter delivers a story that reminds me favourably of some of Tanith Lee's best work. Scott Edelman and Karina Sumner-Smith both deliver elegaic farewells to, well, zombies; Joe Lansdale gives us zombies and Christmas; Mark Samuels delivers a disturbing tale focused upon a character based on deceased horror writing and editing great Karl Edward Wagner. All in all, another good year.
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on November 2, 2012
I have been reading the Mammoth book of best new horror series since i was in high school, i remember buying a copy of volume 8 from a bookstore in the city when i was about 16 or so. The best thing about this series is that you get a collection of great stories and you are exposed to diffirent writers some of whom you've never heard of before. It has often been the case with these collections that i read a story and love it so much that i then go and track down everything i can find by that author.
My only complaint about this volume is that they have put too much fluff in it, there is a lengthy review of all the happenings in the horror/specfic world over the previous year which is kind of pointless in my view. Then there is an orbituary section for various people who have contributed to the genre which is even more pointless, i don't follow the career of every actress who has starred in B-grade slasher films over the years so why tell me they died?
The section at the back of various small publishers and associations involved in horror and specfic was mildly useful but still not really neccesary. Why not just use those pages to put another story or two in? That is after all why anyone reads these collections.
So all in all a great collection of stories and well worth your time but the editors need to do away with the useless fluff and put more stories in instead.
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on March 11, 2012
There are a few things you can count on when you read one of the Mammoth Books of Best New Horror. The first is some very solid writing; after all, the title of the book does promise it to you. The second is a nice summary of the year's events in horror; movie releases, new books, and anything else related to the genre. And the final is a necrology of people related to the genre who have passed that year; a fitting way to end the book. Volume 22, a summary for 2010, is no exception. Unlike previous years, I actually read it relatively recent to the summary year as opposed to four or more years afterwards. This made no difference to the stories but it made the year's summary a bit more relevant to me.

Anyway, on to the stories. I had an unusually large selection of favorites but that is also kind of normal for these collections. Most of them were poignant and had some depth to them with only an occasional light hearted romp. And as opposed to some public perception, the whole collection was not only zombies. My favorites are below.

"What Will Come After" by Scott Edelman - A zombie love story that strikes the heart and leaves one sad.

"Just Outside Our Windows, Deep Inside Our Walls" by Brian Hodge - Across the yard and through their bedroom windows, two children make their worlds better and escape the hardness of reality.

"Featherweight" by Robert Shearman - A husband must deal with his wife and angels after a car accident.

"Christmas with the Dead" by Joe R. Lansdale - A man celebrates Christmas with some zombies.

"We All Fall Down" by Kirstyn McDermott - A couple must learn to let go. This one stuck with me for a while.

"As Red as Red" by Caitlin R. Kiernan - A woman hunts the libraries and folklore for vampires.

"City of the Dog" by John Langan - A man learns more about his girlfriend through betrayal and sacrifice. The story is also set in the Albany area where I have relatives and thus felt extra connected to the story.
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on December 6, 2011
A more apt title for this volume might be "The Average Length Book of Horror, with Bonus Materials". I have been a loyal fan of this series for over 20 years, although I have a pet peeve with the format. Each volume is usually about 500 pages long. But there are only 300 pages of stories and 200 pages of reporting. The 200 pages of reporting consist of an introductory section chronicling the year's accomplishments in the horror genre, and a concluding necrology section detailing the year's deceased. Sandwiched in between are the year's best horror stories, as selected by editor Jones.

I have learned to skip over the year's accomplishments and death list, and focus on the horror fiction. I do realize that some people may value the year in review. Personally I would prefer 500 pages of short stories, the 300 currently provided by Jones, augmented by 200 pages that narrowly missed the cut. Contrast the paucity of stories in this volume with the 562 page "The Mammoth Book of Extreme Fantasy" edited by Mike Ashley, all stories and no news.
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on May 13, 2013
Great assortment of short and long stories that are so well written, it makes the book hard to put down. Some of the authors are easy to recognize and I as delighted with new tales from them. Some of the authors I hadn't known about, but soon added their names to my "must read" list. I have gotten other books in the Mammoth Book of Best New Horror series and will be going through Amazon's lists to get more of these fine books.
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on April 19, 2016
As with all anthologies it is a mixed bag. Some stories better than others. I own every book from the beginning and I re-read them from time to time.
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on March 27, 2015
Really Great
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on July 11, 2014
As always, some good some awful stories
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on November 25, 2012
just nice basic horror. some much better than others of course but a few really good ones. needed a little more variety.
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