Written by: S.T. King
“Sometimes now, waking in the thin early light to the sound of his wife singing, he wonders if it was the silence that killed her.”
Excerpt from Why Do You Linger? by Sarah Monette (sub-rated 4/5).
To say a work is better is a conundrum in and of itself. To say its best — well, that’s a different ballpark. Today, hot off the printer, and leaking red ink all over your desk, I bring you an attempt to ensnare the best of a year of horror.
The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2012, edited by Paula Guran, is one of a few attempts to cast a wide and wretched net: to sail it out through a black lagoon and see what monstrosities get tangled in the ropes, and then drag them all back, kicking and screaming on your nightstand.
I’ve divided this article in a few sections, for you, as I feel good anthology is often hard to find these days. A good review of one can be harder, riddled and defiled by arbitrary tastes – so I’ve decided where I could, to let the words speak for themselves.
So, yeah, if you want to know what it’s like living with zombies, this is it, pretty much: they mess everything up.
Excerpt from Rocket Man by Stephen Graham Jones (sub-rated 4/5).
Rocket Man by Stephen Graham Jones, and Why Do You Linger? by Sarah Monette are examples of the exemplars in this collection. I’ve rated these among the highest, (and they share the spotlight with another handful) because together, they form the strongest foundation of the book.
These works were the most enjoyable because they often spun horror on its head: you saw the grisly happenings, yet you laughed or were overcome with sorrow or appreciation. There is depth to these tales, and they understand how to kill – and also, that there are things worse than death.
Here are some of the other works ranked the highest in the book:
After the Apocalypse, written by Maureen McHugh (sub-rated 4/5)
Time and Tide, written by Alan Peter Ryan (sub-rated 4/5)
The Lake, written by Tananarive Due (sub-rated 4/5)
The Ghost Woman glances at the plum-colored sky, cracks her arthritic knuckles. Crocus-purple veins twist across the backs of them, road maps to places she’s never been.
Excerpt from Still by Tia V. Travis (sub-rated 3/5).
Still, written by Tia V. Travis, is an example of the stragglers of this happy bunch. These tales were missing something: whether it be coherency or depth, but even so, they offer an adequate experience. These stories told you what happened, and they might have been witty or blunt. But in any case, you’ve walked this street already. You’ve seen the pale and thirsty vampires and the redemption of career killers. These tales are one dimensional, and make up the bulk of the books contents.
The others on the fence:
King Death, written by Paul Finch (sub-rated 3/5)
The Last Triangle, written by Jeffrey Ford (sub-rated 3/5)
Hair, written by Joan Aiken (sub-rated 3/5)
I can’t tell you how to pass through the first gate. More accurately, I could, but I won’t. We live by different laws in the underworld, we who live at all. Now you must respect those laws as well.
Excerpt from Conservation of Shadows by Yoon Ha Lee (sub-rated 2.5/5).
Only four of the whopping thirty three tales in this volume were works I’d say could have benefited from re-conceptualization. Conservation of Shadows, written by Yoon Ha Lee, is an example, in spite of its allure and unique mode of story-telling. The tales I’ve rated here, the crumbs in the cookie jar, are tasty morsels that could have been much more. But for some reason or another (awkward flow or missing elements) they just aren’t as delightful as the whole damn cookie.
The others, cluttered in dry yet flavorsome clumps:
Walls of Paper, Soft as Skin, written by Adam Callaway (sub-rated 2.5/5)
Tell Me I’ll See You Again, written by Dennis Etchison (sub-rated 2.5/5)
Josh, written by Gene Wolfe (sub-rated 2.5/5)
Paula Guran makes an ambitious statement choosing the tales that she’s chosen to occupy what otherwise would be empty and lonely pages. As an anthology, naturally, it’s comprised of a variety of dreadful things, and I mean that in a good way; at least a few of these tales will stay with you.
Most of these tales, I can say, will offer attractive characters and entrenching plots: flavorful twists that will make you chuckle on the last page. And only a few (thankfully) will leave you scratching your hair or taking a shot of brandy. This certainly isn’t the best volume, but it’s an admirable step in the right direction.
Final Rating: 3.5/5
About The Author: S.T. King is an aspiring novelist with a ravenous appetite for the dark, and an insatiable thirst for the ink of the fantastique. Currently he’s a mental health counselor, helping people purge the skeletons from their closets – though admittedly, he thinks it’s more fun putting them back in.