From Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year 6

Why did nobody tell me that Ellen Datlow said the following in Year’s Best Horror 6?


In case that image doesn’t display for you, the text says:

The Grimscribe’s Puppets, edited by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr. (Miskatonic River Press), is a tribute to weird fiction writer Thomas Ligotti with twenty-two stories, all but one published for the first time. Most of the contributors do an admirable job using Ligotti’s dense, visionary, strange work to create their own weird fictions. There were notable stories by Livia Llewellyn, John Langan, Gemma Files, Jeffrey Thomas, Paul G. Tremblay, Nicole Cushing, Richard Gavin, Michael Griffin, Michael Kelly, Joel Lane and Kaaron Warren.

Most years, I buy the Best Horror of the Year right away. For some reason this year I hadn’t purchased one yet, but the moment I saw this, I had to grab it.

Yeah! Thanks, Ellen!



Blood and Other Cravings, Edited by Ellen Datlow

There are all kinds of reasons I might read a short fiction anthology. Maybe it’s the only place to find new work by some of my favorite writers. Some anthologies serve to introduce readers to unfamiliar writers, either total unknowns, or familiar names I’ve somehow not yet gotten around to reading. Many readers are motivated by an anthology’s theme — “Oh, I love zombies, and here’s another zombie anthology so of course I’ll buy it” — but I usually don’t. I didn’t buy this because it had to do with vampirism. In fact, I imagine any reader who purchased this hoping for a bunch of straightforward vampire stories would be disappointed. There’s not so much “blood” here as there are “other cravings.”

I’ve given some consideration to the overall shape of multi-author anthologies, a subject which interests me to the extent it’s similar to the way I’ve put together various-artists CD collections in the past. Generally it seems editors load the best stories end up at the beginning and the end, and this is no exception. Among the middle stories, the only one I found noteworthy was Melanie Tem’s very odd “Keeping Corky,” about an enigmatic female character, notable for her mental abnormalities including both strengths and deficiencies, misses the child she was forced to give up for adoption.

Of the early stories, Kaaron Warren’s lead-off “All You Can Do is Breathe” is wonderfully creepy and understated. Elizabeth Bear’s “Needles” is not so much a story as a well-drawn and entertaining “day in the (undead) life,” vividly written but maybe in need of fleshing-out. And Reggie Oliver’s amusing yet dark story of a theatrical hotel overrun by very small tenants convinced me to check out more of this writer’s work.

The best of this collection comes later. “First Breath” by a new-ish writer, Nicole J. LeBoeuf, is an interesting exploration of a sort of transference of life through breath. And I always love Kathe Koja and Carol Emshwiller, whose contributions here (Emshwiller’s is one of only two reprints) are good.

The final four stories alone justify the price of the anthology.

Michael Cisco’s “Bread and Water” tells of a captive vampire trying to cope with his appetites, as well as an incapacity to consume what he desires. The creature’s gradual transformation, told in Cisco’s uniquely intense prose, evokes in the reader an effect like delirium. More than anything else in the book, “Bread and Water” inspired me to seek out more by this writer. That’s not to say it was the best story overall, but the best by an author I’ve previously overlooked.

Margo Lanagan’s “The Mulberry Boys” is told like a fable or second-world fantasy more than a horror story, but what’s actually happening here has quite a nasty edge. Through some bizarre process of surgery and altered diet, humans or human-like creatures are transformed into passive silk factories. I love the way this story is told. Very effective.

“The Third Always Beside You” by John Langan reminds me a little of Peter Straub’s recent novel A Dark Matter in its exploration of a male character trying to piece together disturbing past events. Here a brother and sister discuss their long-held perception that their father might have been unfaithful to their mother, and whether any truth might lie behind this. The fantastic elements along the way are of the subtle “thought I heard a sound, and looked, but nobody was there” variety, yet the story conveys a mysterious and even dreadful sense of secrecy. I own two of Langan’s books which I haven’t read yet, but this story convinced me to nudge these upward in my “must read soon” list.

The last contribution is by Laird Barron, recently the most consistently excellent writer of horror and dark fantasy novellas and novelettes. “The Siphon” includes elements which may seem familiar to readers of Barron’s earlier stories, but this comes across not as repetition, but a fleshing-out of a fictional world which increasingly cross-connects between one story and another. None of the characters, so far as I can determine, appear in prior Barron tales, yet the template of bored, wealthy decadents tantalized by forbidden or occult knowledge is reminiscent of such stories as “Strappado” and “The Forest.” Such is Barron’s skill that even when he’s not trying something entirely new for him (as I believe he did in “The Men From Porlock” and “Blackwood’s Baby” which appear in other recent anthologies), the work nonetheless functions at such a high level as to stand clearly apart.

By the end of a relatively mixed collection, it’s tempting to think mostly of the more satisfying later stories, but the quality dropped off enough in places that I’d give the collection four rather than five stars. At the same time, I’d recommend the book as worthy of purchase for the better stories at the beginning and especially the end.

Do You Read Novel Excerpts?

I’m almost finished with the 2009 Nebula Awards Showcase collection, edited by Ellen Datlow. It’s an anthology sampling, as you might guess, stories nominated for Nebula awards (one of the big two annual Science Fiction awards). The stories were first published not during 2009, or during 2008 (when the awards were actually given), but during 2007. That’s not a problem, and it sort of makes sense that 2007 stories might be nominated for awards given in 2008, and it takes a while for the book to be assembled and published so they can call it the 2009 showcase. That’s fine, because I didn’t buy this book thinking these stories were brand new, but if you want to read a collection of stories from 2009 nominated for Nebula awards, those awards will happen in 2010 and the book will come out in 2011.

Nebula Awards Showcase 2009

I’ll write a more complete summary of what I found worthwhile and not so great in this space as soon as I finish up the last story or two, but as I contemplate whether or not to read each and every item in here, I realized: I hate reading “excerpts.” This collection includes a tidbit from Michael Chabon’s well-received novel, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, a book I’d consider reading, but I don’t want to give it a try. If I want to read the book, I’ll read it. I don’t want to give the excerpt a try and get all excited about the story, only to find myself stuck at page twelve.

Likewise, I hate serialized stories (you know, appearing in installments in a periodical), and I hate watching TV shows week-by-week with a wait in-between. My favorite way to watch TV, really just about the only way I’ll bother, is to discover the show on DVD after it’s been out for 3-5 years already, so once I start I can run just about straight through without any delay.

I also just finished a book by a favorite writer of mine, a little surprised to come to the end with such a thick chunk of pages remaining in the book. I thought maybe there’s some kind of essay or glossary or maps or something, but it was just a first chapter from the guy’s next book. I skipped it, because if I really loved it and wanted to read it, I couldn’t yet. The book isn’t available. Stop teasing me!

I’ll follow up with a post on the Nebula collection soon, but for now I’m just venting about those excerpts. I consider them a sort of tease without payoff, rather than a pleasant, enticing little sampler. I’ll have none, thanks.