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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2015

This years's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror was quite a feast. At almost six-hundred pages, and with 28 stories, some of considerable length, by the time I finished I had almost forgot some of the stories early in the book. Paula Guran, the series editor, much have hard a time winnowing this group down, but I would recommend a slimmer volume in the future.

That being said, some of the long stories are the best. The last story, which is freshest in my mind, is "Kur-a-Len," by Lavie Tidhar. It is reminiscent of Stephen King's The Dark Tower series, with a combo of fantasy/noir/western, and parts of it made me confused, but I enjoyed the effort. There are a lot of great noirish lines, such as: "Gorel of Goliris had been asked to perform many strange deeds. Never, though, had he been given the task of obtaining a pair of living blue eyes for a nameless, dead, and quite possibly deranged god. He had to admit it made a change."

I also enjoyed "Screams of Dragons," by Kelley Armstrong, about a boy with some very special powers, "Dreamer," about wraith-like spirits who play a tag-like game that is deadly to humans, and "Running Shoes," by Ken Liu, which is about a person who is transformed into a running shoe.

In the ancient dug-up demons category, we have John Langan's "Children of the Fang," and Gemma Files' "Wish from a Bone." Both stories are set in the Middle East and involve things should that should be left alone.

"The End of the End of Everything," by Dale Bailey, has one of the book's several great opening lines: "The last time Ben and Lois Devine saw Veronica Glass, the noted mutilation artist, was at a suicide party in Cerulean Cliffs, an artists colony far beyond their means." Other first-line winners are Steve Rasnic Tem for "The Still, Cold Air": "Russell took possession of his parents' old house on a cold Monday morning. The air was like a slap across his cheeks. The frost coating the bare dirt yard cracked so loudly under his boots he looked around to see if something else had made the sound." That's a great set-up, but unfortunately the pay-off is not nearly as good.

In shorter great first lines, there's Alice Sola Kim's "Mothers, Lock Up Your Daughters Because They Are Terrifying," which goes: "At midnight we parked by a Staples and tried some seriously dark fucking magic." Again, the story does not live up to the that opening.

A few stories I found to be duds, mostly because they were incomprehensible. I read "Combustion Hour," it's in English, but I have no idea what Yoon Ha Lee's story is about. Perhaps because there is a bad opening line: "This story is about the eschatology of shadow puppets." I was similarly puzzled by Laird Barron's "(Little Miss) Queen of Darkness." "Madam Damnable's Sewing Circle," by Elizabeth Bear, is a well-written story set in a brothel in Seattle, 1899, but I didn't get the horror or dark fantasy and it seemed to end in the middle.

Three stories I consider the best in the collection: "The Female Factory," by Lisa L. Hannett and Angela Slatter, set in a women's prison in Australia; S.L. Gilbow's "Mr. Hill's Death," which has a Twilight Zone vibe to it, about a teacher who may just be seeing a You Tube clip of his own death; and, as she did in The Best Horror of the Year, Volume Seven, Caitlin R. Kiernan's "The Cats of River Street (1925)," a simple but elegant Lovecraft pastiche about household pets who hold off invading hordes.

All in all, it's a fair collection, but some trimming was in order.

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