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The Best Horror of the Year Volume 1 [Paperback]

Ellen Datlow
2.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

6 Oct 2009 Best Horror of the Year (Book 1)
Legendary editor Ellen Datlow, winner of multiple Hugo, Bram Stoker, and World Fantasy awards, joins Night Shade Books in presenting the Best Horror of the Year.

Product details

  • Paperback: 350 pages
  • Publisher: Night Shade Books (6 Oct 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1597801615
  • ISBN-13: 978-1597801614
  • Product Dimensions: 2.8 x 15.2 x 23.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 935,850 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Lord Help Us 31 May 2010
By M. King
In my younger years the likes of the Pan Books of Horror just seemed to reek of blood and dismemberment. Totally unsubtle but to a youngster quite exciting.

Then we had a move to more psychological and satisfying horror. One of my favourites in this area being Ramsay Campbell.

However I have to say that I feel we have strayed too far and this book exemplifies how, in getting into more psychological (and subtle) horror we seem to have lost an element of the visceral much needed in horror. Half the stories at least in this book are a complete yawn and this isn't the first time I've experienced this recently with anthologies.

The folk who edit these things may be being a bit too clever and artsy for their own good, or perhaps there aren't that many decent stories out there.

One things for certain ...things aint what they used to be.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.2 out of 5 stars  16 reviews
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Horror Goes Solo 30 Oct 2009
By Aaron Polson - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is the third year I've picked up Ellen Datlow's Best of the Year--the first year in which the book is solely dedicated to dark fiction (and soley edited by Datlow--previous incarnations split 50/50 fantasy and horror). As with any anthology, some pieces didn't work for me. I didn't finish "If Angels Fight" by Richard Bowes. Not my style, a little slow. But there is variety in this collection, truly a "year's best" with no outright clunkers.

Some of my favorites include:

"Beach Head" by Daniel LeMoal--the first piece since god-knows-when that inspired a physical fear response from page one. The set up: three smugglers with hands tied are buried to their neck on a sandy beach. It only goes creepier from there. While the prose isn't always razor sharp, the effect is. I felt like I was suffocating while I read.

"The Hodag" by Trent Hergenrader affected me in a different, more nostalgic way. It is a tale that spans decades, and the narrator's chilling realization in the final paragraphs is more frightening than the Hodag itself. "The Hodag" is the kind of story I would write if I could write better. It's a goal.

"The Lagerstatte" by Laird, I hope to write 1/10th as well as Mr. Barron some day. The premise of "The Lagerstatte" is a little familiar, but his skill with language paints said premise with a deftness rivaling any short fiction author today.

As a reader, this is the type of horror literature I like to see: high quality, thoughtful prose, solid character development, and dark without leaning on schlock and gore. As a fledgling author, the stories in this book provide a model, a goal for my own work. "Here's how you do it." Best Horror of the Year is smart writing, regardless of genre.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fine and varied collection that is, of course, not for everyone 16 Mar 2010
By Brendan Moody - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
It's important to start with what this volume is not. It's not a collection of a particular type of horror story; Datlow's taste, while tending toward the subtle over the blatant, is wide-ranging, and includes stories traditional and modern (to the extent that these labels are useful), long and short, serious and comic. Some are closer to dark fantasy than "horror" as some readers narrowly define it. This book is also not necessarily cued to your specific tastes. Datlow has not magically reached into your head and selected nineteen stories and two poems that you are guaranteed to love. Cover copy notwithstanding, Ellen Datlow does not know what scares you personally. To say that a book is "not for everyone" is often a form of back-handed criticism, but here it's just a fact.

With that out of the way, I can say what this book is: a collection of fine stories displaying the scope of the modern horror story. I can't say that I unreservedly admired all of the stories here, but I respected each one's craft. A new anthology edited by Datlow is a guaranteed purchase for me, and the reason I keep coming back is that I never find a story whose appeal utterly baffles me. Sometimes I don't find them as successful as they might be, but I never think "What the heck was ~that~ doing in this book?"

I'll highlight a few stories I particularly admired. Margaret Ronald's "When the Gentlemen Go By" is a brief, chilling story about a small town and the price it pays for its happiness. Again, traditional-sounding stuff, but the story's structure allows it to build to maximum effect, and there are a number of chilling moments along the way. It's also an interesting contrast with "The Hodag," a very different but equally effective small-town horror story elsewhere in the volume. "The Rising River," by Daniel Kaysen, is a sharply-styled, twisty little story about a girl who can talk to ghosts, or can she? Graham Edwards' "Girl in Pieces" is a mystery/science fiction/fantasy/horror hybrid. It's also a comedy. It sounds too busy to work, but in fact the noir-derived prose style makes it all fit together nicely.

In addition to the stories and poems, the volume also includes Datlow's summation of the year in horror publishing, an eminently useful list of novels, collections, anthologies, magazines, and other outlets for horror prose. With a genre that's so dependent on small presses, this essay is a much-needed annual resource for finding works you may have missed.

This is the kind of book you might want to look over before buying if you're not familiar with the editor's taste. Horror is (and should be) a broad church, so it's worth looking at some of the stories, and the editor's recommendations of other books in the summation, to get a sense of whether it's right for you. If it is, you're in for some excellent tales.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Best Horror of the Year Volume One 26 July 2011
By jonathan briggs - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Indie outfit Night Shade Books swooped to the rescue after bigger publisher St. Martin's scuttled Ellen Datlow's long-running annual anthology of the best horror fiction. Although it's good to have the venerable editor still at work culling the good stuff, the inaugural volume of this series reboot is wobbly on its newborn feet. It's not that the stories are particularly objectionable. But for the most part, they're not exceptional either. What makes them the "best" horror of 2008? They're not scary or unsettling. They're not thought-provoking. They don't push boundaries. They don't even go for the easy grossout. I suppose "Adequate Horror of the Year" wouldn't sell very well, but it would be a more accurate title.

Datlow starts the book with her traditional summary of the previous year. Kudos to her for doing it with far less whining and far fewer typos than her fellow editor Gardner Dozois in his science fiction "best of" annuals.

The Table of Contents features a list of mostly unfamiliar names. The most prominent participant is probably Joe Lansdale who turns in a two-page scrap, a piffle, likely one of his "popcorn dreams" (Lansdale transcribes the nightmares he always has after eating popcorn). Even among that goofy company, "It Washed Up" is lightweight, and I suspect it was included more for marquee value than merit.

Among the rest of the crew: Richard Bowes writes his standard dreary story of how gay and haunted he is. Steve Duffy's "The Clay Party" adds a few twists to that wheezy cliche of the predator stalking the helpless woman only to find out in the shocking twist ending that she's really a vampire/werewolf/insert theme-anthology monster here. And guess what? It's still a wheezy cliche.

William Browning Spencer's "Penguins of the Apocalypse," about an alcoholic wrestling with literal demons, is one of the two stories that could legitimately lay claim to the title "best of the year." I wish Browning was as prolific as his fellow Texas raconteur Lansdale. His stories are frequently funny but carry a poisonous sting in the tail. He writes sentences like Tom Waits writes lyrics: "This wasn't a Saturday-night kind of bar. This was more the sort of bar you went to because you had gone to it the day before."

E. Michael Lewis, Trent Hergenrader and Adam Golaski turn in the kind of solid B-horror that Leisure should be publishing more of instead of printing glorified fan fiction.

Glen Hirshberg is one of the overrated new voices in the genre. He's written some good stories (and some better than good), but he has a stylistic quirk that absolutely bugs the hell out of me, and I'm surprised no editor has called him on this: the weeping. His characters bust out weeping at the slightest provocation. They weep and they weep and they weep and they weep. "Weep" must be Hirshberg's favorite word in the dictionary. "But Will, it seems, just wants to weep some more." Well, of course he does: He's a character in a Glen Hirshberg story. I swear, the pages were soggy.

Ever since I stumbled across Laird Barron's "Hallucigenia" a few years back, I've been on the lookout for more work by this amazingly assured newcomer. That novella accomplished two incredibly difficult feats: It did something new with well-used Lovecraftian tropes, and it gave me a serious case of the willies. Barron's entry here "The Lagerstatte," about grief and ghosts, isn't as effective as "Hallucigenia," but it showcases the author's potential to become one of the most important new talents in horror and suspense since the Dell Abyss days introduced Kathe Koja and Brian Hodge.

Daniel LeMoal shows promise, Margo Lanagan gives good gore, and Graham Edwards' "Girl in Pieces" is memorable for all the WRONG reasons.

So that's a total of two outstanding stories rising to the top of a sea of so-so. I won't make any silly declarations about horror being dead as a genre coz these things go in cycles (I hope), but 2008 apparently was not the year for it to shamble out of the crypt where it's been snoozing. And what's the deal with the naked zombie on the book cover, waving his tweeter at you? Nobody likes to see that.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Assorted Nightmares 29 Jan 2010
By Marc Laidlaw - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I admit, I was someone who picked through Datlow's long-running Year's Best Fantasy & Horror and tried to single out the horror stories, so this collection, with its bias toward pure horror, was made for me. This is an excellent collection, full of fine stories by a surprisingly unconventional list of authors--in fact some of my favorites were by authors new to me. Don't let the lack of familiar names stop you for a minute. There's a strong streak of surreal stories that are nightmares from start to finish, but they are balanced by stories completely grounded in the quotidian, where the horror comes as an eruption or an infestation overtaking normalcy. In short, it is a well balanced anthology, and the cumulative effect is powerful. I'm looking forward to volume 2.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing 23 Jan 2012
By Jonathan Stover - Published on
The Best Horror of the Year Volume One (2008), edited by Ellen Datlow (2009) containing:

Cargo by E. Michael Lewis
If Angels Fight by Richard Bowes
The Clay Party by Steve Duffy
*Penguins of the Apocalypse by William Browning Spencer
*Esmeralda: The First Book Depository Story by Glen Hirshberg
The Hodag by Trent Hergenrader
Very Low-Flying Aircraft by Nicholas Royle
When the Gentlemen Go By by Margaret Ronald
*The Lagerstätte by Laird Barron
Harry and the Monkey by Euan Harvey
Dress Circle by Miranda Siemienowicz
The Rising River by Daniel Kaysen
Sweeney Among the Straight Razors by JoSelle Vanderhooft
Loup-garou by R. B. Russell
Girl in Pieces by Graham Edwards
It Washed Up by Joe R. Lansdale
The Thirteenth Hell by Mike Allen
The Goosle by Margo Lanagan
Beach Head by Daniel LeMoal
The Man from the Peak by Adam Golaski
The Narrows by Simon Bestwick

Being the most subjective of genres, horror lends itself to argument when 'best of' selections are made. What scares one person may make another person chortle. Based on my encounters with multiple-award-winner Ellen Datlow's horror and dark-fantasy editing, the two of us don't have particularly complementary tastes. The first volume of this 'Year's Best Horror' anthology series from Night Shade Books seems to me to be an awfully scattershot assortment of stories, with only three stories I'd pick myself for such an anthology (I've starred them, if you're interested).

On the bright side, the technical side of horror writing seems in good shape -- there's nothing badly written here. Some of the stories are dark fantasy stories that aren't particularly horrific; others use tired tropes to unnoteworthy effect; a few offer nothing in the way of endings or even adequate set-up, instead falling into the nouveau-tired school of artsy fragments possessed of a few startling images but nothing in the way of character, plot, or cumulative horrific effect. These last examples remind me of Henry James's 100+ years-old-advice to ghost-story writers: "Write a dream, lose a reader."

The inclusion of two poems doesn't really help things either, while "Beach Head" gets the Ramsey Campbell "In the Bag" award for mislabelling a horrific story with a jokey title. I note this while also noting that Campbell himself flagged himself for the "In the Bag" mistake in the introduction of one of his short-story collections.

One story -- "The Narrows" by Simon Bestwick -- is especially frustrating because it's basically two good stories smashed together to make one frustrating one, as Lovecraftian shenanigans and nuclear holocaust work together in a way that never coheres. The standout here is William Browning Spencer's "The Penguins of the Apocalypse", which uses an old (and unlikely) monster to startling, quirky effect. Spencer's horror novels and short stories generally show a mind attuned to absurdity as well as horror -- he's the closest thing the genre currently has to Philip K. Dick, and God bless him for it. Not recommended.
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