- Series: The Best Horror of the Year
- Paperback: 416 pages
- Publisher: Night Shade Books (August 18, 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1597808296
- ISBN-13: 978-1597808293
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.5 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 34 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #800,905 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Best Horror of the Year Volume Seven Paperback – August 18, 2015
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Praise for Ellen Datlow and The Best Horror of the Year Series:
“Award-winning editor Ellen Datlow has assembled a tasty collection of twenty one terrifying and unsettling treats. In addition to providing excellent fiction to read, this is the perfect book for discovering new authors and enriching your life through short fiction.”―Kirkus Reviews
“For more than three decades, Ellen Datlow has been at the center of horror. Bringing you the most frightening and terrifying stories, Datlow always has her finger on the pulse of what horror fans crave. . . . and the anthologies just keep getting better and better. She's an icon in the industry.”―Signal Horizon
“Datlow’s The Best Horror of the Year series is one of the best investments you can make in short fiction. The current volume is no exception."―Adventures Fantastic
“As usual, Datlow delivers what she promises, ‘the best horror of the year,’ whether it’s written by the famous (Neil Gaiman) or the should-be famous (Laird Barron and many others).”
“You just can’t have a list of recommended speculative anthologies without including an Ellen Datlow anthology. It’s. Not. Possible. The line-up in The Best Horror of the Year Volume Eight is absolutely stupendous, featuring the most frighteningly talented authors in horror fiction.”―Tor.com
"Once again, [Ellen Datlow supplies] an invaluable book, featuring excellent short fiction and, in addition, providing as always precious information about what happened in the horror field last year.”―Mario Guslandi, British Fantasy Society
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Not entirely. You couldn't ask for a much better lead-in paragraph than what Nathan Ballingrud provides in this annual's opening story, "The Atlas of Hell." It's too long to repeat in this review, but there's no way to stop reading after that intro. (Well, I had to stop reading coz my train arrived, but as soon as I boarded, I started reading again.) Ballingrud starts in tough guy territory, like Dennis Lehane with a satanic spin. Jack, a bookseller with unseverable ties to organized crime, has a backroom sideline in grimoires. Jack is ordered into the beast-infested bayous outside New Orleans to fetch one such tome from a swamp rat grifter who sells diabolical souvenirs from an afterlife of everlasting torment. Jack works in the tradition of the occult detective, a chubby schlubby version of John Constantine or Harry D'Amour. I don't know if Ballingrud intends "Atlas" as the initial adventure of a series. The field of franchise detectives, supernatural or otherwise, is so crowded, it's a hard gig to pull off well. But whether this is a standalone or an opening salvo, Ballingrud has made his bones (yah yah, pun intended).
And then ... a vampire story. Angela Slatter's generic "Winter Children" is readable as generic vampire stories go, but the heroic Shih Tzu is a bit much to ask of readers. Like Ballingrud, Slatter writes an open ending suggesting this, too, could become an ongoing series. However, the prospect of further vampire adventures crowding Sookie Stackhouse, Anita Blake and the rest of the housewife horror on the sci fi/fantasy shelves is far less appealing. I don't read nearly as much genre fiction as Ellen Datlow does, yet I've read this story many more times than I would have wished. Given how many boots have trampled this snowy ground, I have to wonder: How did this story merit inclusion? Maybe Datlow has a soft spot for dogs, which would also account for the presence of Alison Littlewood's "The Dog's Home," another saw-it-coming-from-way-off retread.
Genevieve Valentine's "A Dweller in Amenty" plays more like a sin eater's mopey career day lecture at community college than a fully (atrophied) fleshed story. Valentine lays out the premise, then leaves it lying there as inert as a corpse in the parlor. Elizabeth Massie got a whole novel out of this folklore. Valentine should have at least managed an entire short story.
In "Outside Heavenly," rural authorities investigate a fire of unknown origin involving the gruesome death of a hated and feared community member, "a fiercely wicked man who crushed all that could be loved." How wicked, they'll learn over the course of this sweltering Southern Gothic that winds up in a settlement that might appear in Ballingrud's atlas. Rio Youers is a new one on me. I was surprised to read in his author's bio that he's Canadian. I had him pegged as a William Gay disciple pecking at a typewriter in a tarpaper shack far south of Ontario. Some of his extended dialog is too self-conscious in its attempts to sound literary, but I'd like to see Youers make another appearance in "Best Horror."
Why has it taken seven years for Caitlin Kiernan to get a story within these pages? Despite being one of the leading voices in the genre since debuting with "Silk" in 1998, Kiernan has been known to get persnickety when referred to as a horror author, so that might have something to do with the delay. One could wish for a slightly less traveled route than the muggy midnight ride of the killer couple in "Interstate Love Song (Murder Ballad No. 8)," which comes off like the product of a few too many viewings of "Natural Born Killers." Cool '70s car. Tunes on tape. Speed in the glove box. Victim in the trunk. Etc. The incestuous twin-sister twist doesn't do enough to set this road trip apart from the myriad other young psychos in love plying their trade by twos among the badlands, but Kiernan's craftsmanship and style of bloody brushstrokes make the journey, clichéd as it is, interesting enough to keep me from nodding off in the passenger seat.
Fear of the unknown is an important element of horror fiction. It's debatable whether Brian Evenson's "Past Reno" is an exercise in that fear or an overly abstract extended metaphor (perhaps for Evenson's own relationship with Mormonism). I lean toward the latter interpretation, but as a story about sinister beef jerky, it could have been much worse.
Who holds the record for most appearances in Datlow's annual roundups? I'm sure Laird Barron is high on the list, and deservedly so. In "the worms crawl in," a cuckold goes camping with his wife's lover -- a sonnet-writing rival, no less. "Everybody hates those guys," the narrator points out, and this outdoors jaunt presents a prime opportunity for payback. The setup is straight "Tales from the Crypt," but Barron takes us in a darker direction when his characters almost stumble into an open grave gouged out of the wilderness clay, a passage leading back millennia to a period when "dinosaurs have not been invented, but the devil is everywhere." The mind-torquing gulfs of deep time, deranged deities and hyper-masculine antiheroes have become staples of Barron's oeuvre, and he deploys them deftly, but he might want to consider taking his writing in some new directions and climbing out of his cosmic horror (dis)comfort zone. This is not one of Barron's better stories (it has a much scarier elder brother named "Blackwood's Baby"), but Barron gives such good carnage that "worms" is one of the better stories in this volume. And, hey, I learned Alaska has swamps.
Orrin Grey's "Persistence of Vision" illustrates a mini-trend in this volume and a potentially unhealthy development in horror fiction as a whole: stories too explicit about expressing their debt to cinematic forebears. The literary side of the genre should be leading the way, not chasing the empty flash out of Hollywood (that goes double for remakes). "Persistence of Vision" reads less like a short story than an aspiring film treatment. Granted, the movie it's pitching does sound pretty cool, but if there was a ghost apocalypse, it's unlikely that even the most fervently maladjusted movie geek would take time out to reminisce about his favorite horror movie moments. All the references neuter the horrific elements and turn "PoV" (another movie term) into a toothless exercise in academic meta.
In last year's summation, Datlow linked Nathan Ballingrud, Laird Barron and John Langan in a kind of terror triumvirate. I don't know if they're drinking buddies in their personal lives, but they've been working ceaselessly in some kind of conspiracy to ensure that at least one of them places a story in every new anthology. They're unavoidable, and they're largely responsible for whatever forward momentum has been recently achieved in a genre that too often prefers to settle into a static, staid status quo.
In "Ymir," Langan emulates the kind of weird fiction Barron has been in the process of mastering. Marissa, a former security contractor struggling with PTSD from the Iraq War, takes a job guarding a rich adventurer who drives great distances for donuts. "He's walked into some pretty dodgy places." Including Marissa's current gig down a depleted diamond mine punched deep into the icy Canadian earth. Marissa is shadowed by a ghost from "the sand," and at the bottom of the frozen pit lurks ... a hotel lobby from Barron's Mythos. I agree with Datlow that it's too early in Barron's career for such tributes. I disagree with her that "Ymir" is a strong enough story regardless to rank as one of the year's best. "Ymir" is overstuffed, all over the place and leaves the unfulfilling aftertaste of an in-joke between two author cronies. Langan is a fine writer, but he's generally a step behind his companions in the trailblazing trio. Perhaps he'd be better served developing and strengthening his own quite valid voice (he especially needs to work on making his dialog sound more believably natural and less like writing) instead of borrowing Barron's.
(Oh, and just a side note: Langan should be told that driving from Olympia, Wash., to Portland, Ore., for a donut isn't such a big deal. Twice I've traveled from the OTHER Washington, the D. of C., to Portland for the bacon maple bar and Memphis Mafia at Voodoo Doughnut. They're worth the trip.)
This year's "Best Horror" never gets better than Ballingrud's kickoff story. Long stretches of the book -- populated by the aforementioned vampires, zombies, a small army of psychos and the spirit of Lovecraft receiving homage -- make Volume Seven seem like a placeholder, sluggish and somnambulant. "Best" becomes "Eh, good enough." There's nothing really bad among 2014's batch of tales, but there's not much to get excited about either. Over most of the contents hangs a sense of habitual autopilot repetition, like a thrice-weekly treadmill run. It's good to keep the muscles oiled and working, but we don't seem to be charting any new territory. Several stories are near-misses. Some are mildly clever. A few are rote to the point of raggedy obsolescence. And a couple are as flat as that half-bottle of Pepsi left over from last month's Halloween party. Speaking of Halloween, it's telling that this year, when I went looking for horror fiction that was fresh and original to augment the autumn revel, I most often found it by cracking anthologies (some even edited by Datlow) or collections from the early 1990s. As I was finishing the final pages of the best 2014 had to offer, I started to get that discouraged feeling again.
Is this the Best Horror of the Year? I'm not sure; I think that there are other works that probably merit entry. But it is a solid collection and worth the price of admission.
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