Monday, October 17, 2011
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.
The other two reasons you should own this book are the contributions from Colin Insole and Tony Lovell. Insole's tale "The Apoplexy of Beelzebub" consists of many macabre or tragic digressions, miniature myths and fables all woven together with, and at times dominating, the main strand of his narrative to create a grotesque, pullulating effect. The prose is clear and the ideas sober. Lovell's story "The Follower" more closely resembles a piece of psychological realism. Lovell uses a beautiful, involving style to detail several isolated moments in the long life of a book-haunted character. The anthology element is at its most subtle, and contributes unobtrusively to a portrait that inextricably weaves horror and haunting with more familiar emotions - loss, regret, fear for one's children and oneself - to create an example of that delicate beauty to which the best of horror fiction has unique access.
The contributions of Mark Valentine, D.P. Watt, Rachel Kendall and Rhys Hughes are also very strong, and push this collection decisively into the "strongly recommended" column.
The presentation of the book is straightforward and utilitarian but not too unattractive. The front and back covers are adorned with eerie photos created by the aforementioned Tony Lovell. There is no introduction and no notes, but few typos.
Lewis has announced another new horror anthology for 2012, this time tied together with a classical music theme. The overall artistic success of The Horror Anthology of Horror Anthologies should make adventurous horror readers take notice of this forthcoming book, and of this hopefully long and fruitful new phase of D.F. Lewis' interesting career.
Posted by absorbing man at 1:29 PM