The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 16, ed. Stephen Jones (2005) E

Date read: 8.3.09
Read from: Personal collection
Reviewer: Emera

I picked this and #15 up at a used book sale, partly out of a fit of pique that I couldn’t find anything else to my taste – even though I didn’t know anything about the actual quality of the anthology series. Luckily, every story in this was well written and solidly above average, which is more than can be said for most of the anthologies I’ve read in my life.

To begin with the best, my absolute favorites, in no particular order:

  • Kelly Link’s feverish, extremely unnerving “Stone Animals” (come on, even the title is creepy). Young couple with poor communication and two small children, including a sleepwalking daughter, moves into a new house where all is not quite well – classic set-up for horror, and Link plays it gleefully. I imagined her whooping maniacally while writing the story, truth be told.
  • Lisa Tuttle’s “My Death,” the story of a recently widowed writer who travels in search of new inspiration, and becomes strangely entangled in the legacy of an early 20th-century painter and his muse. This builds slowly, but goes places that are increasingly strange and tap into very primitive, raw forces. The ending was completely unpredictable and bewildering in the best way possible. Masterfully executed, all in all.
  • Michael Marshall Smith’s supremely atmospheric and ever-so-delicately frightening “This Is Now.” Describing it would ruin it, so I won’t. This gave me the most chills-down-the-spine read, yet the fear is so deliciously subtle and evanescent.

Close runners-up:

  • Glen Hirshberg’s “Safety Clowns.” Another describing-it-ruins-it, but I think the title is sufficiently tantalizingly weird to carry it without a summary. Interesting play on questions of personal culpability when it comes to guilt by inaction.
  • Tanith Lee’s “Israbel,” which is par for the queen of the Gothic – dark, glittering, and strange in concept and imagery. Stylistically, this rather belongs in her Secret Books of Paradys series.
  • Neil Gaiman’s infamously savage riff on Narnia,“The Problem of Susan.”
  • Neil Gaiman’s very silly but very clever “Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Nameless House of the Night of Dread Desire,” which pits the concepts of “genre” and “literature” against each other in the best way possible.

I would say that the main flaw that I noticed among the stories is that while they were, for the most part, excellently written and strong in concept, the majority of them seemed to simply go on for too long, stretching into novella-ish length when the concept could have been addressed much more punchily in a short story. This was true of, for example, Jay Russell’s offbeat urban detective story, “Apocalypse Now, Voyager” (like a far better-written Harry Dresden, for fans of the Dresden Files); Kim Newman’s also-detective story of strange occurrences in London’s red-light district, “Soho Golem;” and Michael Shea’s “The Growlimb,” which is very eerie and slightly mad and reminds me in tone of Clive Barker’s works. I also had very high hopes for Tim Lebbon’s “Remnants,” a tale of a city of forgotten things. It begins with some superbly memorable and beautifully described concepts, and was inspired, like several of the other stories, by the work of classic authors of horror like Algernon Blackwood*, but alas, my attention fizzled.

There were also some stories that, while very elegantly written, simply lacked dazzle when lumped into the company of so many other stories, such as Tina Rath’s vampire tale “A Trick of the Dark” and Poppy Z. Brite’s “The Devil of Delery Street.” Both pieces center on adolescent, quietly repressed girls for whom the supernatural is inextricably linked with burgeoning sexuality, and while the theme was handled thoughtfully, it’s not exactly a new one, either. (However, since I’ve only read Brite’s notoriously Gawth and splatterpunk first works, it was refreshing and pleasing to experience her mature voice.)

It’s also worth noting that editor Stephen Jones does a damn admirable job of making this into something beyond a simple anthology – he includes enormous indices of publications and releases in the horror genre within the same year; a brief listing of relevant publications and their addresses; and “Necrology,” a sort of mass obituary for important horror and SFF figures, from authors to special effects artists to composers.

* Interesting how backward-looking much horror is, for this reason.

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Stephen Jones

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