Here are more October chills—enough to fill all thirty-one days several times over.

Year's Best Horror Stories I
Year’s Best Horror Stories I

The Year’s Best Horror Stories was a twenty-two volume annual anthology series that ran from 1971 through 1994. Its creator, Richard Davis, edited the series from 1971-1973, with Christopher Lee himself writing the introduction to 1972’s Volume II. After a few years’ pause, Gerald W. Page revived the series in 1976 and edited it until 1979. Then, the inimitable Karl Edward Wagner took over, editing The Year’s Best Horror Stories from 1980 until his death in 1994. Since then, the series has been dormant.

The Year’s Best Horror Stories was an introduction to some of the most consistently dread-inducing authors I have ever encountered. Ramsey Campbell’s work appeared a remarkable 26 times in the 22 volumes, lending some support to my (and Mr. Wagner’s) opinion that he is one of the most frightening horror author working today. Other authors who appeared multiple times were Dennis Etchison (14 stories), Charles L. Grant (12 stories), Brian Lumley (11 stories), and Wayne Allen Sallee (10 stories). Other authors who appeared often in the series were David Drake, Harlan Ellison, Stephen King, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Tanith Lee, David J. Schow, Robert Bloch, T.E.D. Klein, Manly Wade Wellman, Kim Newman, and Lisa Tuttle.

While there is considerable overlap of authors, only one entry in The Year’s Best Horror Stories was adapted for the previously-mentioned TV series Tales from the Darkside. That was “Slippage” (1982), by Michael P. Kube-McDowell, from volume XI, about a man whose life is slowly being erased.

More than four hundred stories appeared in the series. I recall many of them, if not always clearly. But there are a few that still stand out vividly for me (and some I read over and over for fresh thrills):

The Year’s Best Horror Stories, 1971

“Prey” (1969), by Richard Matheson, which also ended up in his anthology movie Trilogy of Terror, concerns a woman hunted through her apartment by doll possessed by an ancient Zuni warrior’s spirit.

The Year’s Best Horror Stories II, 1972

“The Events at Poroth Farm” (1972), by T. E. D. Klein, an unsettling novella of love, possession, and death among the New Jersey Mennonites.

The Year’s Best Horror Stories III, 1973

“The Whimper of Whipped Dogs” (1973), by Harlan Ellison, based on the infamous murder of Kitty Genovese, makes a monster of the city and the demands of an urban life.

The Year’s Best Horror Stories IV, 1976

“Something Had to Be Done” (1975), by David Drake is absolutely one of my favorites. In it, a terminally ill Army sergeant pays a notification visit to the family of a soldier who “died in battle”, in order to tie up some loose ends. Short, sharp, and scathing.

Year's Best Horror Stories VI
Year’s Best Horror Stories VI

The Year’s Best Horror Stories VI, 1978

“At the Bottom of the Garden” (1975), by David Campton is a slightly loopy but ultimately tragic story of a woman, her daughter, and the creature that might make things right for them.

“Undertow” (1977), by Karl Edward Wagner is classic dark sword and sorcery featuring Wagner’s antihero, Kane, in a love story gone very, very wrong.

“The Horse Lord” (1977), by Lisa Tuttle, in which a family moves to a farmhouse in the country and an old, hungry god is resurrected by the children. The imagery was visceral. I refer to this story often as an example of staying power.

“Winter White” (1978), by Tanith Lee is a dark fantasy set in a barbarian kingdom. A warrior makes his own end with a magic pipe, a silent witch, and the invisible child he fathers on her.

“If Damon Comes” (1978), by Charles L. Grant, is one of his Oxrun Station stories. Grim, and, sad, and terrifying, a winter’s tale about a poor father haunted by his dead son.

“Within the Walls of Tyre” (1978), by Michael Bishop is an unconventional horror story about a woman’s private tragedy being commercially exploited by a man she thought she could trust. There are no monsters, only pain.

The Year’s Best Horror Stories IX, 1981

“Black Man with a Horn” (1980), by T.E.D. Klein, once more, is a Lovecraftian novella that takes the Cthulhu mythos very effectively to the modern day swamps of Florida.

The Year’s Best Horror Stories XI, 1983

“The Show Goes On” (1982), by Ramsey Campbell is set in an abandoned movie theater, and is superbly Campbell—disorienting, suggestive, decaying, and utterly frightening.

“Mrs. Halfbooger’s Basement” (1982), by Lawrence C. Connolly concerns an old woman, the living children who torment her, and the dead children who haunt her.

The Year’s Best Horror Stories XIII, 1985

“Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut” (1984), by Stephen King is possibly my favorite King story. Mrs. Todd discovers a shortcut that takes her out of this world into one she likes much better.

The Year’s Best Horror Stories XV, 1987

“The Yougoslaves” (1986), by Robert Bloch, in which a pack of young gypsies meet their maker in the Paris sewers.

The Year’s Best Horror Stories XVII, 1989

“Fruiting Bodies” (1988), by Brian Lumley details the end of a seaside town and its last inhabitant as they are slowly devoured by the sea on one side and dry rot from the other.

The Year’s Best Horror Stories XVIII1990

“Jerry’s Kids Meet Wormboy” (1989), by David J. Schow is a particularly vivid gore-fest about a survivor of the Zombie Apocalypse who eats the walking dead himself, and a small time televangelist whose faith is renewed by the zombies’ resurrection.

The tone of the anthologies changed over the years, as the style of horror itself became more graphic and early, traditional creepiness gave way to more explicit shocks. What remained consistent, though, was the ability of the selected stories to make you look behind you. I have pointed out the stories that still scare me, even after all this time. I’m sure there are plenty of unmentioned others in The Year’s Best Horror Stories that will have the same effect on you.

 

 

 

The Weird
The Weird

The Weird is a far-ranging 2012 anthology compiled by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, both of whom have stellar weird credentials—Ann was an editor at the legendary Weird Tales magazine before it fell into limbo, and Jeff is an established novelist of the New Weird known for his Southern Reach trilogy. Together, they have identified many stellar, foundational, and surprising examples of the genre. For this volume, the VanderMeers assembled one hundred and ten stories that fill more than a thousand pages and that demonstrate a spectrum from the most traditional of weird tales to the post-modern new weird.

As Michael Moorcock observes in his “forweird”, “There are no rules for the weird tale, which is at least part of the attraction if the story an author wants to tell can’t readily be told in an established form,” at a stroke releasing the idea of weird fiction from the usual genre constraints. And, he adds, “the best writers write the best weird stories”.

In this ambitious a collection, with stories ranging in time from the early years of the twentieth century to present day, there are of course many familiar authors we are used to considering ‘the best’. The VanderMeers do give us Lovecraft, Ligotti, and Clark Ashton Smith. But there are even more unexpected additions to the ever-widening gyre of weird lit such as Kafka, King, and William Gibson—all of whom are also in here. Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, the author of Rashōmon, appears with the inflected and disturbing “The Hell Screen”, and the remarkable but often overlooked Daphne du Maurier is well represented by the grotesque “Don’t Look Now”. And there are so many more surprises. Among my favorites are:

“The Willows” (1907) by Algernon Blackwood, which is what I would describe as classically weird. It is a slow, repetitious, corrosively told tale that keeps its true horrors almost entirely hidden. Its length seems at first excessive, but the undefined dread feeds off it.

“The Man Who Sold Rope to the Gnoles” (1951) by Margaret St. Clair is a story I first encountered as a child in an old Alfred Hitchcock Presents anthology. It is a short example of capitalism and avarice gone horribly wrong, as inspired by Dunsany.

“It Only Comes Out at Night” (1976) by Dennis Etchison, a story I first encountered in The Year’s Best Horror Stories series, is bleak and creepy and inexplicable as the best of the weird always is. This one always comes to mind on long car trips, and makes it clear why Etchison is a legend in the horror community.

“Angels In Love” (1991) by Kathe Koja is almost poetic in its descent, tracing the last days of an unimaginative party girl who wants something she can’t even conceive of. There is an odd, punky, Southern Gothic quality to the story that makes the sudden brief weirdness of the conclusion its only natural outgrowth.

“The People on the Island” (2005) by T.M. Wright is an unsettling surrealist vignette in which none of the characters understands why their world is changing or how to deal with it. Wright’s familiar themes of loss, loneliness, and alienation are all here in one mournful package.

Tentacles are always weird
Tentacles are always weird

Since The Weird is arranged chronologically, it is easy to see the progressive development of the weird tale. I found in many of the earlier stories the weird quality is not fully realized, existing as a blurry suggestion rather than a fully integral component. Some of the stories included do not have the sense of cosmic nihilism I usually associate with weird fiction, falling more into the purely horror or surreal category for me. A few are trapped by their author’s prejudices, such as the remarkably dated “Unseen-Unfeared” by Francis Stevens, which I think perhaps the weakest addition to the collection.

However, the sheer number and international scope of the selections forces one to reconsider dismissing any of these strories or putting them into an easier category.  Taken as a whole, the stories make a reader look at what qualities would bring them into the weird fiction fold. They force the question, ‘What is Weird?’ —a question that is re-examined in China Mieville’s artful “afterweird”. In it he demonstrates his expression of the weird as well as summarizes the subject both richly and well: “This collection is not (just) an act of cannon. It does not, nor could it, enshrine one set of texts. Without motion—of the crawling and wriggling kind—there is no Weird”.

And it is hard to argue with that.

E.A. Ruppert contributes book and media reviews for NerdGoblin.com.  Thanks for checking this out. To keep up with the latest NerdGoblin developments, please like us on Facebook , follow us on Twitter, and sign up for the NerdGoblin Newsletter.

And as always, please share your thoughts and opinions in the comments section!

Cthulhu 2000 Arkham House cover
Cthulhu 2000 Arkham House cover

Nothing like a new year for ringing in the Old Ones! Cthulhu 2000: A Lovecraftian Anthology is one of many fine Mythos-inspired collections that have been assembled over the years. Edited by Jim Turner, Cthulhu 2000 was initially published by the legendary Arkham House in 1995 and reprinted by Ballantine/Del Rey in 1999—just in time for the Millennium (or the impending apocalypse of Y2K, as it was known at the time).  Cthulhu 2000 contains eighteen stories, many by authors we have mentioned before, written over the span from 1964 to 1992—and although none of the stories is set at the millennium, they are all meant to be relatively current events. A handful were culled from other Lovecraft-themed anthologies Arkham House had put out previously, but most of the rest came from such esteemed magazines as Interzone, Asimov’s and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

It’s hard to argue with those kind of pedigrees. And so, on to my notes on the contents—while all are fine reading, I have starred the ones I think are essential:

“The Barrens” by F. Paul Wilson is a plainly-written novella that places Lovecraftian elements convincingly in the heart of the New Jersey Pine Barrens.

“Pickman’s Modem” by Lawrence Watt-Evans is a bit of joking Mythos whimsy, an unexpected approach to cosmic horror.

“Shaft Number 247” by Basil Copper is a tight, guarded, claustrophobic story set in an underground—possibly underwater– warren of tunnels and shafts. In tone it reminds me of John W. Campbells’ Who Goes There?

“His Mouth Will Taste of Wormwood” by Poppy Z. Brite is lush and filthy, and rotten with the Louisiana swamps. Overall the story is more vampiric than cosmic, but it approaches life and death as much less rigidly defined states, both desirable for different reasons.

“The Adder” by Fred Chappell introduces a new type of corruption wrought by the Necronomicon, one based on proximity rather than familiarity.

“Fat Face” by Michael Shea uses rich, visceral Lovecraftian language in this tale of a bubble-headed hooker’s encounter with a shoggoth in modern Los Angeles.

* “The Big Fish” by Kim Newman brings in Geneviève Dieudonnè from Anno Dracula to help a private detective who has run up against Dagon and the Deep Ones. Noirish, funny, and scathing, Newman incorporates studio Hollywood, wartime xenophobia, and organized crime into a lovely bit of Lovecraftiana.

“‘I Had Vacantly Crumpled It Into My Pocket…But by God, Eliot, It Was a Photograph from Life!'” by Joanna Russ is another story that is not overtly within the mythos, yet evokes the same sense of the beyond—gaping, hungry, and utterly inhuman.

Cthulhu sketch by Lovecraft
Cthulhu sketch by Lovecraft

“H.P.L.” by Gahan Wilson is typically, blackly funny, with a still-living Lovecraft, a resurrected Clark Ashton Smith, a Cthulhu Kids TV show, and some human sacrifice thrown in for good measure.

“The Unthinkable” by Bruce Sterling (normally known for his cyberpunk) brings Lovecraft into the Cold War, reframing the nuclear bomb as a weaponized Old One.

“Black Man with a Horn” by T. E. D. Klein—a novella I highlighted once before in my review of The Year’s Best Horror Stories, is a chilling interpretation of Lovecraft’s mythos made even more remarkable when set among other Lovecraftian tales. Insidious, dark, and haunting.

“Love’s Eldritch Ichor” by Esther M. Friesner is an unabashedly silly use of the Old Gods to help negotiate a contract with a predatory romance publisher, and a goofy break from all the cosmic despair. I don’t generally go in for funny spec, but Friesner is laugh out loud excellent.

“The Last Feast of Harlequin” by Thomas Ligotti is perhaps closest in style, vocabulary, and mood to Lovecraft’s originals—doomed and sullen and more subtle than you might at first think. This story uses clowns in their older sense, not as jokes but as warnings.

“The Shadow on the Doorstep” by James P. Blaylock is suggestive and moody, but without any particular plot or resolution is merely a dark vignette.

“Lord of the Land” by Gene Wolfe is as surreal and compelling as one could want, with an ancient Egyptian god lingering in the American heartland. The sweep between dreamland and real horror is classic Wolfe.

“The Faces at Pine Dunes” by Ramsey Campbell is suitably indistinct and creepy, with Campbell’s hallmark slippery language and barely described horrors.

“On the Slab” by Harlan Ellison retells the myth of Prometheus with his unmistakable scalpel wit and a peculiar and dismal conclusion.

“24 Views of Mt. Fuji, by Hokusai” by Roger Zelazny is the remarkable story that drew me back to this anthology. Gorgeous, dreamy, poetic, highly structured and literate and mannered and mythic—it is the story of a personal quest tied up in Japanese art, government agents, and cyberpunk elements.

In his introduction, also titled “Cthulhu 2000,” Jim Turner posits the question, “Why is it, one wonders, that a reclusive writer of weird-fantasy stories, who during his lifetime couldn’t even earn a decent living, now possesses the power to inspire, and even to affect the lives of, readers around the globe?” (xi). He goes on to answer himself with references to cosmic dread and a conception of evil that “conveyed no absolute meaning” (xiii), concluding that, for some authors who followed him, Lovecraft offered “a mythopoeic underpinning of appropriate magnificence and awe” (xvi). Those would be the intellectual answers. The more intuitive one is that Lovecraft inspires by the sheer possibility he opens with his various gods, monsters, and hangers-on. There are no limits. Anything can happen in this primordial atmosphere. And, as the stories above demonstrate, it frequently does.

E.A. Ruppert contributes book and media reviews for NerdGoblin.com.  Thanks for checking this out. To keep up with the latest NerdGoblin developments, please like us on Facebook , follow us on Twitter, and sign up for the NerdGoblin Newsletter.

And as always, please share your thoughts and opinions in the comments section!