This is one of the most significant multi-author anthologies of recent years. A wonderful, concentrated batch of intoxicating goodness, sure to please readers of weird fiction and horror.
Every anthology includes pieces that don’t work for all readers. All too often, the reader must be satisfied with just a few strong stories in the mix. In this case, the intelligent and provocative bullseyes greatly outnumber the few misses. Some of the highlights come from reliable writers such as Laird Barron and John Langan, who lately seem never to miss the mark. Both use the “King in Yellow” theme as an excuse to try something a little different, to veer off the path of their usual focuses and themes. Barron does something that feels much like veiled biography, in which a Carcosan entity visits an author who seems clearly inspired by Karl Edward Wagner. Langan’s tale has the feel of nightmare, and follows an actress as she stumbles through an extraordinary soundstage during the filming of a project seemingly attuned to a world other than our own.
The greatest anthologies are important because they do more than just parade one famous author after another; they bring to the reader’s attention work by less familiar names. I’d never read anything by Gary McMahon before, but his Bukowski-inflected noir, “it sees me when I’m not looking,” was a wonderful surprise. Edward Morris comes up with a surreal and disturbing tour de force, “The Theater and its Double.” This complex and ambitious piece blends poetry, screenplay, and stream of consciousness.
Favorites here include Allyson Byrd’s “The Beat Hotel,” an atmospheric, art-flavored 60s-in-Paris wonder that hit this reader’s sweet spot, and Cody Goodfellow’s extravaganza of mental illness, drugs, dark ritual and mind control, all with a children’s television backdrop, “Golden Class.” Other standouts included stories by Daniel Mills, Pulver, Strantzas, Richard Lupoff and Joel Lane. As often happens in tribute anthologies, the most successful stories went beyond mere emulation and instead used an author or story’s themes to do something in the writer’s own style.
Themed short fiction anthologies roll out into the marketplace too quickly for any reader to keep up. In any given year, there are a few standouts worth every genre reader’s time. A Season in Carcosa is one of those special few deserving of wider attention.