Monday, October 17, 2011

Review: "The Horror Anthology of Horror Anthologies"

 The Horror Anthology of Horror Anthologies
edited by D.F. Lewis. Megazanthus Press, 2011.

D.F. Lewis deserves credit for, among other things, devising an original theme for his latest collection: every story features a collection of horror stories as an element of the plot. In the world of horror anthologies, this is the age of the theme. Aside from Year's Best collections, most multi-author collections depend for their coherence on one theme or another (involving, as likely as not, vampires, zombies, the creations of H.P. Lovecraft, or some combination thereof.) Lewis, a seasoned author, anthologist, and reviewer, loves to play with ideas and question common assumptions. But he also knows his audience. Delivering on expectations is, by definition, a primary consideration of genre fiction, but even here success demands originality enough to stimulate even the most saturated sensibilities. So credit Lewis with putting together a themed collection that plays with expectations while at the same time delivering solid, satisfying horror fiction from newcomers and from some of the best in the field.

There are weak stories here, but it's almost in the nature of the form to tolerate or even welcome a few (hopefully interesting) failures in the mix. Stealback's "The Writer" is technically weak and conceptually muddled, and could have been omitted; on the other hand, A.J. Kirby's contribution is well-written enough for a mainstream horror venue, but I found it overlong and unoriginal. The biggest problem I had with the book, however, was that several of the less successful tales appear merely to graft the horror anthology device onto a preexisting story. S.D. Tullis' "Horror Planet" is silly, with many cringe-inducing lines, but at least the concept is audacious and its use of the horror anthology element is central to the story's conception.

In the best pieces the device of the horror anthology is integral to the story. Joel Lane's beautiful meditation "Midnight Flight" treats its themes - the elusive fictional anthology at its center, urban alienation, aging, regret - with deceptive delicacy and control. Some of these elements, especially the urban grayness and decay seen through the eyes of an outsider narrator, have been worn thin by the heavy tread of decades of urban horrorists, but Lane folds his story inward to its conclusion with a convincing feel for the workings of fate and, in the process, strikes unsettling notes that carry after the last page is turned. The other standout story here, nearly worth the price of admission, is Reggie Oliver's "Flowers of the Sea." It shares with Lane's story a mysterious quality of the best horror fiction - a command of pace, incident, and climax which, in the hands of a master, is even more persuasive and nerve-wracking than that other prized attribute, the convincing evocation of atmosphere. We are drawn in by a true and skillfully depicted human tragedy, hypnotized by visionary weird elements, then stunned with the horror of a climax which shockingly melds the tale's ideas and emotions with a vivid physical presence.

Adam's bookshelf: read

A Pallid Wave on Shores of Night
Cinnabar's Gnosis
Regions of the Great Heresy: Bruno Schulz, A Biographical Portrait
The Man Who Collected Machen and Other Stories
Dark Gods
The Last Oblivion: Best Fantastic Poetry of Clark Ashton Smith
The End Of The Story: The Collected Fantasies Of Clark Ashton Smith Volume 1
The Door To Saturn: The Collected Fantasies Of Clark Ashton Smith Volume 2
More Nightmares
The Romantic Dogs
The Dying Earth
The Eyes of the Overworld
The Monk
Why Not You and I
Dark Crusade
Beyond the Fields We Know

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