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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Best Horror of the Year, Volume Eight

Once again Ellen Datlow has presented us a ghoulishly fun compendium of horror stories with her eighth volume of The Best Horror of the Year. One of the most valuable parts is her introduction (based on her Facebook page postings, it's not her favorite thing to do) which gives me ideas for reading throughout the year. Then it's on to the stories, which vary from the simply creepy, like Tom Johnstone's "Slaughtered Lamb," which only suggests carnage, to Ray Cluley's "Indian Giver," which describes it in detail.

Horror has a pretty broad definition. Not all of these stories have anything to do with the supernatural. A very disturbing story called "Lord of the Sand" is about what a man can do with an animal called the camel spider (it's a real animal, and pretty awful looking, but after checking on Wikipedia its largely harmless to humans), and our old friend the plague. Two of the best stories here may be about plague, but we're not really sure. "Snow," by Dale Bailey, has some folks in the Rocky Mountains hearing about an apocalypse of some kind and hoping to ride it out in the mountains, until one of them breaks a leg. In "Wilderness," by Letitia Trent, something weird is going on while passengers are delayed in the airport in New Haven. I mean, beyond what normally goes on in New Haven.

But the supernatural is fairly represented. "Fabulous Beasts," by Priya Sharma, has something to do with snake-people (if that's the correct term--homo serpentis?) and "We Are All Monsters Here," by Kelley Armstrong, is a vampire tale. When you're not sure if it's supernatural or not makes things really interesting, like Stephen Graham Jones' "Universal Horror," which involves some friends playing a drinking game on Halloween when a certain child dressed as a mummy keeps showing up. Or "My Boy Builds Coffins," by Gary McMahon, which is exactly as the title describes it. These kind of stories, that don't spell everything out, can be frustrating for someone anal, but work well at suggesting the horror rather than ruining it with a half-assed conclusion.

The best two stories of the collection both spell everything out, to satisfy my more mundane instincts. "Black Dog," by Neil Gaiman, features his character from American Gods, Shadow Moon, walking across the English countryside (didn't we learn that no good can come of this from An American Werewolf in London?). This story, which will involve the Egyptian god Bast, is sort about whether you're a cat or a dog person, and kissing and feeling up a ghost. But Brian Hodge's "The Stagnant Breath of Change" is a real dilly. It's about a town that has made a deal with something called The Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young so that nothing changes. Of course, this has repercussions unforeseen by the town fathers who struck the deal. It's a real chiller, and is a perfect way to end the book.

There were a few stories that didn't grab me. "Hippocampus" by Adam Nevill left me perplexed--I guess it's the aftermath of something terrible happening on a ship, and I have no idea what was going on in Stephanie M. Wytovich's "The 21st Century Shadow."

But I'd give a thumbs up to at least 15 of the 20 stories, a pretty good batting average. I highly recommend all of the books in this series.

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