Some clarification for the uninitiated: This is the best of the Horror Society - not necessarily the Years Best Horror (although I think the anthology would be in the running for such a title.) The Years Best Horror was a legendary series of short story collections issued by DAW and edited, if memory serves, by the great Karl Edward Wagner. "The Horror Society" is a new organization that has reached a remarkable level of distinction in a short period of time. As Scott Gorsiak, the president of the organization claims in his forward, it is "a think tank" for those who contribute to the field of Horror, not limited to one particular discipline, such as writers, but including musicians, directors, make up artists, etc., where artists can network for connections and exchange ideas. This isn't the Horror Writer's Association of America, the H.P. Lovecraft Appreciation Society, the Stephen King Wannabe Club, Clive Barker Uber Alles or any other darned group.
There are some very good writers here. Along with the legenary William F. Nolan, the only living writer I know of who can be included along with the likes of Robert Bloch, Richard Matheson and Ray Bradbury. Included too are rising stars Richard Thomas, Weldon Burge, Joe McKInney, Aaron Warwick Dries, Robert S. Wilson, Scott Gorsiak (grin) and editor Carson Buckingham. Twenty-Five Tales of short and not-so-short, high quality and mostly unfamiliar shivers. Authors are included I've never heard of, but I chalk that up to personal ignorance on my part. One Hell of a lot of good horror writers have shambled their way into print and eprint over the last few years. It's enough to make you throw your typewriter against the wall and try writing Harlequin Romances.
This is an excellent collection and terrific way to find out what's happening on the current, horror scene. Unlike a lot of anthologies, the stories aren't limited to a particular theme, although they aren't necessarily original to this collection. You may have encountered a couple of these before. (The William F. Nolan is from 1985 - culled, in fact and appropriately enough, from "The World's Best Horror" Collection of 1985.)
“Ceremony” by William F. Nolan, although the oldest story in the book, predates the 'noir/horror' fusion fad currently rising in public awareness by almost thirty years. Noir/Horror isn't all that new of a trend. There's something we find just, basically satisfying about low life mobsters and the like getting their comeuppance. Nolan's story delivers the goods. It’s a great start for the current anthology - but nobody gets a free ride on my bus. Horror aficionados will probably spot the very strong influence of Shirley Jackson here – but I won’t tell you how.
I like "Tendrils Never Lie" by Kevin A Ranson. It successfully incorporates some classical horror concepts into a very well observed and executed modern setting.
The Mask by Lisamarie Lamb is obviously written for the intelligesia. Set in the famous “Carnival in Venice,” it assumes you know who Petrouchka, Scaramouche and Pedrolino are, It’s atmospheric, metaphoric, uncompromisingly intelligent - a little arty in the Victorian ghost story sense, perhaps, but still good. Worth reading.
Lemminaid by Carson Buckingham
Okay, I was wondering how good this would be. The editor has to throw her own story into the mix, right?. The first two paragraphs, the introduction, were shockingly inept. Cliché followed cliché - like I was listening to some poor loser in a bar try to tell a story, using which ever cliché popped into mind: . "heaved a contented sigh,” “dearly loved these quaint... slices of antiquity,” “ripe old age of...”, “ mind as clear and sharp” (as the Atlantic in February - well, THAT'S better, anyway,) “body sound and healthy,” “ one fly in his personal ointment..”
I was ready to skip this sucker entirely -- but I kept reading. I advise the same for you, too. I don't know how the opening got so far off track, but the story itself, once it gets started, is one of the best of the collection, building slowly as it does from the most innocuous of summer diversions, a lemon aid stand. I loved it. I think the story will eventually be a classic - but man, those opening paragraphs. We're all human, I guess, and even first-rate editors like Carson Buckingham screw up. Give the story a chance. It’s a winner.
If Lemminaid's terrors are decidedly "Old School" - and I don't have a problem with that, "The Central Coast" by Jason V. Brock sucks us right back into the modern, Clive Barker influenced horror. It is the aftermath of the ultimate wine tasting party gone bad. “The Central Coast” is an unrepentantly, joyously nasty ride. Hold on..
White Hell, Wisconsin by Weldon Burge
Convincing Rural Horror exploring the depths of human depravity. It’s exciting, tense and the denouement is completely unexpected. Very good. I sense the influence of Richard Matheson here, but that is not a bad thing. At all.
Victimized - Richard Thomas
This one reads a little more like Speculative Fiction - anybody remember that term? - than a conventional horror story, although it's bloody enough. It's about government sanctioned, fights to the death among prison inmates - a way to handle the surplus population and turn a few bucks. "Victimized" is also written in what I call the fashionable first person, present tense - a technique that in lesser hands can make you think that you're locked in a coffee house with some deranged bad beat poet/journalist who just won’t shut up..
The story is much better than that. In fact, it's very, very good. After awhile I didn't mind the present tense at all - and for me, that's saying something. “Victimized” has great characters; superb descriptions; an excellent story and is well worth the read.
“Normal is Relative” by Dan Dillard
A descent into human evil and degeneracy with an ending that was a little too slick for my tastes but effective enough. (You can pick at a story and still admire the quality - and this is first rate.) Bon Appetite.
Igor Award Winner: The Procedure by Doug Lamoreux.
Maybe I’m just perverse, but I didn't like it. The story is effectively written enough, although I disliked labeling the main character as "Pigeon." It gave away for the ending with the character’s initial appearance. In particular, I didn't like the triumph of evil and the “weak deserve what's coming to them” message of the piece. Maybe it comes from reading Raymond Chandler recently. Like Marlowe, I rather like life's oddballs, the losers, the less than over-achievers. But you know, this is the award winner, which means someone liked it – a lot. Give it a shot and see what YOU think.
Little Church of the Safe Crossing by Joe McKinney
In this one, Joe McKinney presses the boundaries, finding an original source and mythology for his monster. It is, set among illegal immigrants and some of the social/religious baggage some may be bringing with them. As a chilling horror story it works well enough, although you could argue that the subtext of the story leans a bit to the right. Also, the ending was almost comically simple, almost like the punch line of a joke you'd hear in a red state, blue collar bar - but enough of the story was enjoyable to merit it a guarded thumbs up -- denouement excluded.
Madeleine by Julianne Snow presents an interesting take on the haunted/evil dolly theme. The 6 year old girl suffers from the worst possible night terror and recurring nightmares until she is given a very special doll, someone who can help her combat the forces in those dark dreams. This one grows on you. The more you think about it, the nastier and more ambiguous it seems. Great story.
It has Teeth by Christian Larsen is home improvement horror about an evil and powerful splotch of mold that just will not be eradicated. Pretty good.
Masquerade by Dave Jeffery
I’m not a religious person and usually avoid horror and fantasy stories that proceed from a Christian concept or Christian Theology. It's not that I mind a writer having religious views or Christian beliefs, but there's something about using that viewpoint fictiously that seems to cheapen those beliefs. Does that make any sense? After all, the writer is offering just one view, one interpretation of Christianity. So, when dealing with known demons and angels, the way the angle Michael was vilified in the Prophecy series of movies, for example, I bristle.
Masquerade doesn't come out and call itself a deal with the devil story, but it's clear enough just who the Paymaster is. The weird thing is that this story is really very good - quite original and absolutely scary. So, in spite of my prejudices, my preconceptions – and who doesn’t have a few, really? -- I have to rate this as a fine and satisfyingly nasty story. Excellent
Blackbird by Rose Blackthorn is a horror story about a young woman stalked by an evil black bird. It’s good even though I am particularly fond of Ravens. Once upon a time they were considered great pets. No matter. The story was written to entertain and it does that quite well. Thumbs up.
Adjoining Rooms Scott Gorsiak
So: the editor, Carson Buckingham, has acquitted herself with aplomb in this collection. What about the host? He says he's only been a writer for a bout five years now. Is he coasting to glory on more stellar names, riding into the limelight on more famous coat tails?
I guess not. Adjoining Rooms is a very effective piece of Horror that builds nicely to the final pay off. The style threw me a little. It seemed anchored in the first person narrative of H.P. Lovecraft and other slightly stilted, slightly pompous writers of the late 1800s, but the story is set in modern times. The thing works. That's what s important. If anything, the slightly stilted narrative at the beginning throws the graphic horror elements into starker relief. You may groan a little at the “message,” the final revelation, but a story is more than the sum of its parts. Scott misleads and misdirects like a master and knows how to build his effects. All considered: "This," as Boris Karloff used to say, "is a Thriller."
The Clown by Henry Snider ain't for kids. It’s an example of modern, cutting edge horror based in human sexuality, a little carnival of souls surrealism and an unexpected change up. Not for the squeamish, totally disturbing and an effective horror tale.
Inspiration and Horror of George and Hugh by Nicholas Grabowsky
This one gets my “Bite the Hand that Feeds You Award.” It’s one of those "In Cold Blood" style journeys into the mind of sociopath serial killers that seem so popular right now. I guess the message is: don't watch too many horror movies. Whatever. It's still a well-written, well told example of it's type.
Moving Day by Mark Onspaugh
Nicely told little gem with a lot of twists for such a short story. You think it's going to be another variation of "The Bad Seed" - but then it gets much more, uh, complicated. Can't tell you much more without ruining the ending - but I'll wager you won't see it coming. Great job of misdirection with a lovely, horrific pay off at the end.
Soft Like Her by Charles Colyott
Some stories you can't discuss at all without ruining the impact. Not for the squeamish, my friend.
Black Mary by Merced M. Yardley
One of my favorites. “Black Mary” is about unwilling, child sex-slaves fighting for their freedom and sanity. Grim, grim, grim - but with a lot of heart, humanity and an ending that works well. Kudos to the author for trying something different. Again, this is ADULT material – which is not to say pornographic. Recommended, strongly, for mature readers.
Ellen Lee Pletzers
Hand it to author Lee Pletzers: he's not afraid to examine the outermost regions of human depravity and still make the story literate and involving enough not to be exploitive. Recommended – but again, with caution: This is horror cooked rare with the blood dripping from the plate.. If you're a drinker, you may want to pour yourself a stiff one before plunging in.
Luminous Veil by Ian Rogers is an excursion into the totally cynical wherein the character successfully counters every argument given her for staying alive by a teen help/suicide prevention hot line. It's well told, original and well written, but my own social/literary taboos prevent me from recommending it. It's easy to mock people who try to help and let the societal chips fall where they will. Different strokes for different folks, I reckon.
Daddy by Aaron Warwick Dries offers a good story - an original take on the demonic doll tale with a dollop of child/elderly abuse subtext added. The confection works. It could be interpreted as a sophisticated exploration of the horror that arises from self-discovery, of realizing that you aren't quite the person you always thought you were and hoped you would be. Aaron is mostly a novelist, and so runs on a little -- but it’s worth the read. Well done.
Beer and worms by T.E. Grau.
Here’s another one I can’t discuss without ruining. It’s a clever variation on a familiar theme and you probably won’t see the payoff coming. .
Boy in the Elevator - Robert S. Wilson
Great. This one can serve as a textbook example illustrating the art of misdirection. Robert S. Wilson, along with many others in this anthology, also shows us that an effective horror story can be placed just about anywhere: an old abandoned house, the "bad place" at the edge of town or dead center in the middle of the city on a crowded elevator.
Weird by Dean M. Drinkel
I have to admit I didn't like this one. It seemed to be inspired more by the Matrix than any phenomena observed in the real world and then slightly exaggerated as the best horror is - to my mind anyway. IN fact, the work seemed to be a throwback to a certain VERY familiar type of story from the slush piles of science fiction yesteryear. Maybe the old rules don't apply anymore.
Well, just because I didn't like it doesn't mean that you won't, and so I won’t give it away - and you have to give author Dean M. Drinkel credit for his carefully polished prose. At least he puts a new spin on an old, OLD concept.
Venus by L.L. Soares
Interesting take on "Pygmalion” set in a carnival side show. Thumbs up.
And finally, “Hotties” by Mort Castle is a virtuoso display of technique from someone who has mastered the narrative style of several different epochs and eras. There seems to be a little bit of everything here as the story bounces to several different times and locations: 1837 Oklahoma, 1696 London England, and the contemporary Internet. The story is all about hot headed teenagers and...
Sorry folks. It’s been a long review.
To my mind the story seemed heavier on style than substance and the ending strained a little to make it all hang together. There’s no denying the writing chops at work here, though. Very impressive.
In sum: The Best of the Horror Society 2013 is an extraordinarily strong showing by a LOT of talented people, beautifully edited, neatly packed and ready to ship to an unsuspecting world. Watch the skies!