Friday, March 23, 2012

An update, and a new review: Ellen Datlow's Best Horror of the Year, Volume 3

No, surprisingly enough, I haven't forgotten about this blog. I'd love to say that I've been busy doing important things at work, but the sad truth is that my time has been far too occupied with Skyrim lately. At any rate, I've written a new review for today! Enjoy!

Datlow has returned with her annual collection, and as usual, those who share similar tastes will be pleased. I personally don't feel this volume was as strong as the two previous, but there are several very strong tales here that literary horror fans shouldn't miss. There's quite a bit of overlap with Stephen Jones's Mammoth book this year, which is unfortunate. I've omitted duplicate reviews. I'll do a brief rundown of each story herein:

"At the Riding School" by Cody Goodfellow: I felt this was a weak beginning to the collection, with a rather predictable plot involving an exclusive school for girls. However, the characterization was strong.

"Mr. Pigsny" by Reggie Oliver: Much more to my taste than the previous, "Mr. Pigsny" is a classical weird tale after the style of M.R. James or Robert Aickman, but with gangsters (!). This should come as no surprise to readers of Oliver's posthumous collaboration with James, "The Game of Bear." Recommended.

 "--30--" by Laird Barron: The absolute high point of the collection. Barron's voice has only grown stronger as time passes, and this story is possibly his most accomplished work to date. A tale of a broken relationship, isolation, and possible supernatural occurrences in the high desert. This is a marvel, and every dark fiction reader owes it to themselves to witness it firsthand.

 "Was She Wicked? Was She Good?" by M. Rickert: An unusual and disturbing story about the stress of parenting, childhood cruelty (or possibly something deeper, and darker) and the Fair Folk. Fantastically evocative prose, with one of the best opening lines I've read in years.

"The Fear" by Richard Harland: A group of film fans investigates a famed director-turned-hermit's lost work from the 60s. Goes off the rails a bit at the end, but the subject matter of lost, strange cinema is fascinating.

"Till the Morning Comes" by Stephen Graham Jones: This rather nostalgic and sentimental tale manages to be both bleak and life-affirming. It sounds contradictory, but somehow, it works.

"Shomer" by Glen Hirshberg: I've always found Hirshberg to be underwhelming, and this story is no exception. However, it did introduce me to the Jewish custom of Shomer, which I found to be very interesting, so it wasn't a total loss.

 "The Obscure Bird" by Nicholas Royle: Royle delivers another cryptic tale of obsession and familial discord, this time focusing on owls. Yes, owls. The final passage is extraordinarily tense and frightening.

"Transfiguration" by Richard Christian Matheson: This is and unusual work for Matheson, in that it's more than two pages long. It's the sad tale of a psychopathic truck driver with a keen religious obsession, and the landscape he moves within. The northern Alaska setting is one not often explored in horror, and the landscape conveys a sense of isolation and bleak despair. A powerful work.

"The Days of Flaming Motorcycles" by Catherynne Valente: Another zombie story (Can this fad end now? Please?), although this one is saved by Valente's lovely prose and the unusual portrayal of the "zombies."

"The Folding Man" by Joe R. Lansdale: Lansdale always delivers, and this story of extremely creepy and unsettling nuns, and the pseudo-mechanical horror they unleash on a carload of pranksters, is a high point of this book. There is some truly gruesome and disturbing imagery found within this work.

"Just Another Desert Night With Blood" by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr: Prose poem about a maniac, or some such. Not to my taste at all.

"Black and White Sky" by Tanith Lee: A mysterious story about a plague of magpies that blankets Britain, and how people eventually come to live with it. Lee's work is always a joy to read, and while this is not my favorite of her stories, it is a pleasure.

"At Night, When the Demons Come" by Ray Cluley: Another tale of a demonic apocalypse, although this one is distinguished from "Lesser Demons" by its unrelentingly grim tone and horrifyingly nihilistic conclusion. It's less about the external horrors that cause the end of civilization than it is about the profound darkness dwelling in the depths of every human heart.

"The Revel" by John Langan: It's rare for the same author to get two stories in the same Best-Of, but Langan was certainly deserving. As good as "City of the Dog" is, "The Revel" is better. While dealing with similar premises, the two stories differ in their approach. "The Revel" is nearly meta-fiction, with its cinematic language (even going so far as to describe camera angles) and direct implication of the reader as a willing accomplice in horror. Fantastic work here. If he keeps up with work of this quality, I really feel that Langan may be mention in the same breath as giants like King and Barker someday.

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