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book reviews by Althea

Review: Nightmares: A New Decade of Modern Horror

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Nightmares: A New Decade of Modern Horror
Nightmares: A New Decade of Modern Horror by Ellen Datlow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

** “Shallaballah” by Mark Samuels
Starts off really strong, outlining the scenario: a well-known celebrity is in the strangely dingy offices of a surgeon-to-the-stars who’s rumored to be a provider of not-quite-legal services. But his results are legendary. Still, something seems off about the whole thing… As a matter of fact, the whole place is downright creepy-as-hell.
The ending didn’t really do it for me though – it suddenly gets a lot more vague and abstract, with implications that I thought needed more development.

**** “Sob in the Silence” by Gene Wolfe
Gene Wolfe is always a good writer, and this is a good story, even though it’s not the genre he’s most known for. As a matter of fact, this is more reminiscent of Stephen King than most of Wolfe’s other work. A horror writer has invited an old friend’s family for a country weekend at his old (and rather dilapidated) manor house. Not all will go well.
Crime fiction meets ghost story…

**** “Our Turn Too Will One Day Come” by Brian Hodge
Previously read in ‘The Monstrous.’
A brother is called to his sister’s side in a moment of crisis. Family has to stick together, even when it might go against the law. But he learns that there are things about his family that have been kept from him his whole life… things that go back generations.
Great idea, but it gets a tiny bit ‘tell-y’ with the explication in the latter half.

*** “Dead Sea Fruit” by Kaaron Warren (Aurealis Awards nominee)
Weird. A dentist whose job includes seeing to the needs of patients in the anorexia ward dismisses the girls’ odd prattling about the kisses of an “Ash-Mouth Man” as part of their mental dysfunction. But then, she starts dating a man who refuses to kiss her, and their words come back to haunt her.

*** “Closet Dreams” by Lisa Tuttle
A girl tries to explain how she escaped her horrible situation: caught in an Elizabeth-Smart-like scenario; she was kidnapped and held in a closet by a vicious sexual predator. While her captor was at work, she had nothing to do but fantasize about ways to get away. But something about her story doesn’t add up.
Chilling, but I saw the twist coming.

*** “Spectral Evidence” by Gemma Files
A small collection of strange snapshots has been found in the files of an agency specializing in supernatural investigations. Through a set of notes and descriptions, a story begins to emerge, involving wrongdoing at the agency: con artists & predators who may have gotten in too deep while toying with the occult.
I liked this, but it felt like ancillary content to a larger novel.

*** “Hushabye” by Simon Bestwick
Crime story with a supernatural element. As any brave person would, a man leaps to try to apprehend a child predator when he has the chance. But he may have gotten into more than he bargained for.

*** “Very Low-Flying Aircraft” by Nicholas Royle
Literary vignette with a psychological emphasis. Well-written, but it’s more tragedy than horror.
(Trying to impress girls with stupid stunts – a bad idea since time immemorial.)

**** “The Goosle” by Margo Lanagan
Really creepy, disturbing ‘sequel’ to ‘Hansel and Gretel.’ Some time ago, in this post-apocalyptic, plague-ridden world, Hansel escaped from the witch’s cottage – but fell into the hands of another abuser. His sister Kirtle is no longer with him. Now, the con-man and thief who uses his body has taken him back to the witch’s mud hut. Explicit, upsetting – and very, very good.

*** “The Clay Party” by Steve Duffy
‘The Clay Party’ ends up much like ‘The Donner Party’ – but there’s a supernatural twist.
Told in the form of a ‘found journal’ we first hear about the group of settlers expected in California being disturbingly late – and then we find out about what happened after their leader insisted on taking that ill-advised short cut.

**** “Strappado” by Laird Barron
My favorite one in the collection so far. Would appeal to fans of Kathe Koja, I believe.
A bunch of ex-pats and foreign businessmen go on an outing to what’s been billed as a secret, one-night-only exhibition by a legendary, anonymous artist known for pushing the envelope. But what they get is more than they bargained for.
Pay attention to all the details!
The tale is properly horrifying; the only thing keeping it from 5 stars is that I wished it had a bit more depth; that the actions had wider implications. But it’s definitely memorable.

**** “Lonegan’s Luck” by Stephen Graham Jones
Throughout the scattered, isolated towns of the Old West, folk know not to trust a travelling ‘snake oil’ salesman too far – but what they’re in for when one certain individual rides his limping, bleeding horse into town goes beyond their expectations – or their ken.
Pulls no punches.

*** “Mr Pigsny” by Reggie Oliver
Tweedy college professor attends the funeral of a mobster inlaw – and encounters the peculiar and decidedly shady Pigsny. What’s his angle?

**** “At Night, When the Demons Come” by Ray Cluley
In a ruined, post-apocalyptic America, demons ravage the land and threaten the survivors. But. as this genre often points out, humans can be just as bad as any monster. Strong story; recommended for those who liked Marcel Theroux’s ‘Far North,’ and/or Alden Bell’s ‘The Reapers are the Angels.’

**** “Was She Wicked? Was She Good?” By M. Rickert
I’d imagine that, as a parent, it must be very disturbing to realize that your young child has a tendency toward cruelty – say, tearing the wings from flies. At first, we think that might be what the little girl here is doing. But no, it’s worse – and much stranger. The story leaves us with a lot of unanswered questions, but they simply contribute to the atmosphere. Really liked it.

*** “The Shallows” by John Langan
A man, alone, tries to survive in his home, surrounded by the bizarre and dangerous manifestations of the alien phenomenon that has destroyed the world. As he tends his garden in this precarious oasis, he muses on the loss of his wife and son, and relates an anecdote about taking in a stray dog. Mundane incidents are weighted with ominous freight. Weird, and well-written.

*** “Little Pig” by Anna Taborska
Another selection that’s more tragedy than horror. The theme: how a generation who’s grown up in comfort and safety may not understand the trials and sacrifices that their forebears from the Old World may have endured.

**** “Omphalos” by Livia Llewellyn
A family where more than one thing is not quite right goes on a road trip vacation where things get strange. They are following a road map which seems to appear different to each person. But considering the situation, can it lead to anything except disaster? Explicit – ominous – disturbing – and very effective.

*** “How We Escaped Our Certain Fate” by Dan Chaon
After the zombie apocalypse, a single father tries to raise his teenage son right; and succumbs to a dangerous amount of sentimentality.

*** “That Tiny Flutter of the Heart I Used to Call Love” by Robert Shearman
Weird story of a girl, the dolls her distant father gives her, and what her jealous brother makes her do to those dolls. Let’s just say it doesn’t all bode well for her future husband.

**** “Interstate Love Song (Murder Ballad No. 8)” by Caitlín R. Kiernan
I feel like I maybe read this before, but I’m not sure. Either way, it’s worth a read – and a re-read.
Beautifully written. The story creates a shattering tension by creating empathy in the reader for a person who absolutely, unquestionably deserves none at all. The slow reveal is poetic and expertly done, elegiac and lovely details balanced against the carnally grotesque.
Oh, and it’s pretty incest twins on a serial-killing roadtrip spree.

**** “Shay Corsham Worsted” by Garth Nix (Shirley Jackson Award nominee)
Previously read in ‘Fearful Symmetries.’ (It always seems like ‘cheating’ to me when one editor includes the same story in multiple anthologies – but it’s a good story.)
Garth Nix is always excellent; and this tale closes the collection on a strong note. A retired secret service agent has been watching a certain house for thirty years. But when the threat that’s been feared for all these decades erupts, the weapon has been forgotten, and bureaucracy gets in the way.

**** “The Atlas of Hell” by Nathan Ballingrud
Re-read – previously read in “Fearful Symmetries.” Paranormal mystery meets Clive Barker-style horror.
A mafia boss sends his minions out into the bayou in search of a man who’s been holding out on him; selling occult artifacts. But even experts in the arcane may get more than they bargained for.

**** “Ambitious Boys Like You” by Richard Kadrey
Re-read – previously read in “The Doll Collection.”
A pure horror tale; would make a great start to a late-night movie. Two lowlifes decide to burglarize the home of an old man whose eerie, doll-festooned, dilapidated house was always rumored to be haunted. The house looks like it was upper-class, once upon a time, and they suspect he’s got something good stashed away. However, the ‘something’ in the house is more than they bargained for.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Tachyon publications for the opportunity to read. As always, my opinions are unaffected by the source of the book.

View all my reviews

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