Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Best Horror of the Year, by Ellen Datlow

Night Shade Books, 2009
321 pp
(read in February)

To be perfectly blunt, if this was a selection of the best horror of the year 2008, either I must have missed something or horror writing was at an ebb that year.  Out of 21 stories, there were three that were relatively creepy, and out of those, I'd already read one.   To be sure, I know that anthologies are pretty iffy, but in the world of hit or miss, this book takes the prize for most misses.  I hate being so negative, but jeez -- there's just no other way to say it.

There are, as mentioned above, 21 stories that make up this anthology (* indicates the ones I actually liked):

Cargo by E. Michael Lewis
If Angels Fight by Richard Bowes
The Clay Party by Steve Duffy
Penguins of the Apocalypse by William Browning Spencer
Esmeralda: The First Book Depository Story by Glen Hirshberg
*The Hodag by Trent Hergenrader
Very Low-Flying Aircraft by Nicholas Royle
When the Gentlemen Go By by Margaret Ronald
*The Lagerstätte by Laird Barron
Harry and the Monkey by Euan Harvey
Dress Circle by Miranda Siemienowicz
The Rising River by Daniel Kaysen
Sweeney Among the Straight Razors by JoSelle Vanderhooft
*Loup-garou by R. B. Russell
Girl in Pieces by Graham Edwards
It Washed Up by Joe R. Lansdale
The Thirteenth Hell by Mike Allen
The Goosle by Margo Lanagan
Beach Head by Daniel LeMoal
The Man from the Peak by Adam Golaski
The Narrows by Simon Bestwick

The tale I liked the best was "The Lagerstätte," by Laird Barron, which I read a couple of months back  in his most exquisite horror collection Occultation.   Moving on to number two is "The Hodag" by Trent Hergenrader, a creepy little story set in the woods of northern Wisconsin.

a hodag

The third entry is "Loup-garou," by R.B. Russell, about a man whose world changes after viewing a film called Loup-garou.  It's not so much a story of hair-raising terror, but it was unsettling enough at the end that I had to read it twice.

I'd also like to mention "Beach Head," by Daniel Le Moal.  There is a line at which horror becomes no  longer fun for me -- and this story crossed it.  In the strictest sense of the word, I was indeed horrified, but this one went well beyond my comfort zone and actually kept me awake all night.  Three smugglers wake up one day to find themselves buried up to their heads in sand on a beach somewhere.  After thinking over their situation and how they must have ended up there, things proceed to go from very bad to the worst possible scenario ever.  I give much credit to the writer: the images his writing conjured were extremely vivid, but downright depressing and I hope to god I never see another story like this one again.  I won't deny that the story was very well written, but there are just some things I don't want to see in my head.

I've got Best Horror of the Year volumes 2 (2009)  and 3 (2010) sitting here, so I hope the quality of writing picked up after 2008.  There is a bonus in Volume 1 that I haven't yet mentioned: the editor has put together a 33-page "Summation" of the horror writing of the year, including "Notable Novels," "Anthologies," "Mixed-Genre Anthologies," etc., offering the reader a wide selection of stories and books for further perusal.  This is probably my least favorite anthology of my reading experience, but I suppose horror, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

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