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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Refreshing and memorable, November 21, 2010
This review is from: Visitants: Stories of Fallen Angels and Heavenly Hosts (Paperback)
Typical: you wait all summer for a Stephen Jones anthology and then three come along at once (`Best New Horror 21' and `Zombie Apocalypse!' were published just last month. NOTE: the latter will be published early next month in the US). This is the editor's 112th book - and his eleventh this year! (Although admittedly three of those were slim volumes of poetry by H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith - that said, most of the rest were around 500 pages.) This time last year `Best New Horror 20' marked the editor's 100th book. Interestingly, I don't know what his 50th was: the editor's online numbered bibliography curiously omits it for some reason.

I found `Visitants' a very refreshing and thoughtful anthology; the theme not being overtly horrific, the editor has assembled a fine balance of humorous, poignant and - yes - terrifying stories.

27 stories in all, five of which are original vignettes by Jay Lake sprinkled throughout the book. Of the remaining 22 a further 8 are brand new tales, with the reprints ranging from Arthur Machen's classic "The Bowmen", now almost 100 years old, and which resulted in an instant urban legend springing up at the time of its publication, to Ian R. MacLeod's stunning interpretation of the three wise men in "Second Journey of the Magus", which was published just this year in the web-exclusive `Subterranean Magazine'. And of the 14 reprints, 4 have been revised for their appearance here.

Editor Stephen Jones is noted for his horror anthologies and, yes, within the pages of `Visitants' you'll find Ramsey Campbell, Graham Masterton and Sarah Pinborough, but you'll also find science fiction legend Robert Silverberg and the king and queen of the modern fantasy fable Neil Gaiman and Jane Yolen. And then there are the mutli-genre authors who have done everything from award-winning horror to bestselling crime thrillers: Christopher Fowler, Conrad Williams and Michael Marshall Smith. A selection of authors as brilliant and eclectic as the editor's line-up in `Best New Horror 18' (2007).

There are horror stories, such as the demon angel trapped within the walls of an ancient building turned into a modern day tourist attraction in Yvonne Navarro's "Plague Angel" and "Nephilim" by Mark Samuels, a welcome reprint from his slim and obscurely published 2003 collection `Black Altars', featuring a man slowly coming to the realisation of what he is. The writing is exact and creepy.

Humour, too, you will find here, from Michael Bishop's one-act play "Sariela" where a female angel discusses in a bar her frustration at being unable to indulge in the carnal delights of human lovemaking, to the computer nerd who programs and catalogues angels - fallen and otherwise - in Robert Silverberg's "Basileus" and the wry "Being Right" by Michael Marshall Smith, a delightful example of being careful what you wish for. A tale so fine Jones had earlier used it in his 2007 anthology `Summer Chills'.

Then there are several incredibly moving tales: the cancer-ridden children exploring in the snow outside the nursing staffed residence where they wait to die in Sarah Pinborough's gorgeous "Snow Angels", a tale every bit as remarkable as her award-winning novella "The Language of Dying" (2009). And a dead father revisits his son is Peter Crowther's beautifully understated "Things I Didn't Know My Father Knew".

Thoughtful tales also, like the original "Featherweight" from rising star and multi-award winning Robert Shearman. Here a couple crash in the snow enshrouded highlands of Scotland, and the husband keeps his promise to always be by his wife's side... no matter what. And the brief and sweet "Okay, Mary" by Hugh B. Cave where one of the pilots of an Alaskan flight crew discovers that his sweetheart-back-home is not the only guardian angel of their plane.

Then, too, there are remarkable tales of people who only think they are angels, with devastating results: Richard Christian Matheson remarkable "Tranfiguration" about a lone long-haul truck driver travelling a frozen wasteland and "The Spinning Wheel Compleat" by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro about a group of young girls brain-washed into religious fanaticism.

Steve Rasnic Tem gives a delicate and nuanced portrait of a painter in "S.D. Watkins, Painter of Portraits", a sceptical girl finds "Evidence of Angels" in Graham Masterton's finely structured tale, "Old Mr. Boudreaux" sees a young girl inherit her mother's old home in a superbly characterised story from the extremely talented Lisa Tuttle and the exquisite prose of Christopher Fowler's "The Beautiful Men" sees a vapid and vain womaniser being chosen by the angels as the recipient of devastating news concerning the fate of humanity.

There are unclassifiable tales, like Conrad Williams's thoughtful but horrifying "The Fold", Ramsey Campbell's equally moving but unsettling "With the Angels" and Brian Stableford's wry but poignant "Molly and the Angel."

And, finally, there are the classics: Jane Yolen's utterly stunning fable "An Infestation of Angels" where the `angels' are no better than vultures preying on the peasants below and Neil Gaiman's meticulously thought-out angelic crime story "Murder Mysteries."

As the heading of this review says, this is a refreshing and memorable collection. If it hadn't been edited by Stephen Jones - or even Ellen Datlow - would I have picked it up? Probably not... but I'm glad I did, especially as it makes a change from Stephen Jones's more obvious horror-themed anthologies.

This is Jones's second book with the publisher Ulysses Press, last year's zombie anthology "The Dead That Walk" being the first. Both are attractive trade paperbacks, with great internal layout and design. A recent interview with the editor in the UK horror magazine `Black Static' states that he is at work on a third book for Ulysses Press. I very much look forward to it. In the meantime `Visitants' is highly recommended, as is "The Dead That Walk."
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