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Author: Mario Guslandi

Datlow’s Scary Monsters: SCREAMS FROM THE DARK

Datlow’s Scary Monsters: SCREAMS FROM THE DARK

Screams from the Dark (Tor Nightfire, June 7, 2022)

Monsters are among the most common, classic characters in horror, so it’s not surprising that the latest from famed horror anthologist Ellen Datlow is devoted to them. Datlow’s call for contributions generated a massive response from some of today’s most acclaimed horror writers, and the result is a mega-anthology with twenty-nine original stories.

The average quality is obviously high although, due to the theme, there is a certain, inevitable tendency to repetitiveness. With such a huge anthology it is quite impossible to comment upon each story (see table of contents, below). However, taking advantage of a reviewer’s privileges, I will simply focus on my “Magnificent Seven” among the contributions.

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Exploring the Darkness That Surrounds Us: Lies of Tenderness by Stephen Volk

Exploring the Darkness That Surrounds Us: Lies of Tenderness by Stephen Volk

Lies of Tenderness (PS Publishing, May 2022). Cover by Pedro Marques

Lies of Tenderness
Stephen Volk
PS Publishing (482 pages, £25.00 in hardcover, May 1, 2022)
Cover art by Pedro Marques

Horror fiction comes in many shades. There’s graphic horror; splatterpunk (or whatever it’s called nowadays) full of gore, blood and other amenities; and there is a type of quiet horror, of higher literary quality, exploring with a more elegant touch the darkness that surrounds us.

Charles L. Grant, Robert Aickman, and more recently Reggie Oliver and Steve Duffy are just a few examples of that latter sub-genre. And Stephen Volk. Author of a couple of collections, playwright and TV author, Volk returns with a new collection featuring seventeen pieces, both stories and novellas, some previously unpublished, some reprinted from anthologies or magazines.

The atmospheres here are dark and sinister, but the narrative style is consistently elegant, sensitive and totally captivating, so much so than even readers exclusively devoted to mainstream fiction would fully enjoy Lies of Tenderness.

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A Master of Strange Short Fiction- Robert Aickman: An Attempted Biography by RB Russell

A Master of Strange Short Fiction- Robert Aickman: An Attempted Biography by RB Russell


Robert Aickman: An Attempted Biography (Tartarus Press, February 3, 2022)

Robert Aickman (1914-1981) was an iconic British writer especially known for his strange, uncanny stories, reprinted in several collections.  He also penned a couple of  minor novels, but he’s mostly remembered for his ambiguous but riveting short fiction.

In addition, he was also a very active, influential member of the Inland Waterways Association (IWA) and was instrumental in saving and promoting the restoration of the network of British canals. Those two activities have been the subject of two autobiographical books, The Attempted Rescue and The River Runs Uphill, respectively. 

Aickman was also the editor of several volumes of the cult series of anthologies The Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories.

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Forty Years of Horror: After Dark: The Best Horror Fiction of Tony Richards

Forty Years of Horror: After Dark: The Best Horror Fiction of Tony Richards


After Dark: The Best Horror Fiction of Tony Richards (Weird House Press, November 17, 2021). Cover by K.L. Turner

Tony Richards is a British horror writer, author of eight collections of short stories and several novels of dark fiction. Although for some reason he may be unfairly less celebrated than some of his countrymen, he’s certainly one of the very best producing horror fiction today.

Praise to small American imprint Weird House Press for assembling twenty-five tales and a novella covering forty years of Richards’ career in After Dark: The Best Horror Fiction of Tony Richards, released in paperback and digital formats this past November.

Although I’m familiar with some of Richards’ previous (and excellent) collections, regretfully I had missed a few, and this one offered me the chance to savor some of his stories for the very first time.

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The Fantastic Side of An Irish Queen of Fiction: A Vanished Hand and Others by Clotilde Graves, 2021

The Fantastic Side of An Irish Queen of Fiction: A Vanished Hand and Others by Clotilde Graves, 2021


A Vanished Hand and Others (Swan River Press, October 2021). Cover by Brian Coldrick

Clotilde Graves (1863-1932) was an eccentric, prolific and eclectic Irish writer whose historical novels were published under the pen name Richard Dehan. As Clo Graves she also published a number of fantastic stories, most of which are now reprinted and collected in a volume from Swan River Press, edited and introduced by Melissa Edmunson.

The book assembles thirteen tales showing Graves’ contribution to what we call now speculative fiction, ranging from the ghostly to the horrific, from the paranormal to the downright supernatural.

Although occasionally a bit convoluted to the eyes of today’s readers, her writing style is always effective and  extremely captivating.

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Guran strikes again! The Year’s Best of Dark Fantasy & Horror, Volume 2

Guran strikes again! The Year’s Best of Dark Fantasy & Horror, Volume 2

The Year’s Best of Dark Fantasy & Horror, Volume 2 (Pyr, October 2021)

Widely known, well respected, prolific editor of dark fiction Paula Guran returns with a new volume of her Year’s Best of Dark Fantasy & Horror. This new, huge anthology collects thirty short stories that previously appeared in 2020 in various books and magazines.

Clearly it would be impossible (and tedious) to comment upon each one, hence I will only mention those which especially impressed me. In other words my personal “best” among Guran’s best.

“Recognition” by Victor Lavalle is a disquieting story set in a New York apartment building where flats are vacated little by little during the first COVID outbreak, while “ Odette” by Zen Cho is the neat description of the difficult relationship between a young orphan, her stern uncle, and the house where they live.

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Ghosts of the Past, Ghosts of the Present: December Tales, edited by J.D. Horn

Ghosts of the Past, Ghosts of the Present: December Tales, edited by J.D. Horn

 

December Tales: A Collection of New and Classic Ghost Stories
Edited by J.D. Horn; Foreword by Colin Dickey
Curious Blue Press (468 pages, $19.95 paperback/$5.95 digital formats, September 28, 2021)

The title of the present anthology refers to the tradition of telling ghost stories at Christmas time, a tradition enforced by Charles Dickens, who not only wrote the famous “A Christmas Carol” but also edited Victorian era magazines regularly featuring ghost stories in their Christmas issues.

Truth be told, ghost stories are now available throughout the year and, fortunately, modern writers are still devoted to the genre.

Editor J.D. Horn has developed the brilliant idea of assembling in one volume both classical ghostly tales from various parts of the world and brand new stories by contemporary authors.

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Meeting a Great Australian Fabulist, Angela Slatter: The Tallow-Wife and Other Tales, Tartarus Press and All the Murmuring Bones, Titan Books

Meeting a Great Australian Fabulist, Angela Slatter: The Tallow-Wife and Other Tales, Tartarus Press and All the Murmuring Bones, Titan Books

The Tallow-Wife and Other Stories (Tartarus Press, February 24, 2021) and All the Murmuring Bones
(Titan Books, March 9, 2021). Covers by Kathleen Jennings, and unknown

Any new book by Angela Slatter is a reason to rejoice for any lover of good dark fantasy.

Slatter is a very talented Australian writer, a born storyteller or, to be precise, a great fabulist, an author of modern, complex fairy tales for grownups. The Tallow-Wife is a collection of stories and novellas the core of which is the long title story, a dark comedy portraying the downfall of a family hiding some unspeakable secrets. But, in turn, that narrative and the rest of the volume are strictly connected to the characters and events described in two previous books, also published by Tartarus Press, Sourdough and Other Stories and The Bitterwood Bibles and Other Recountings.

Thus, although each tale can be read as a stand alone story, the task may be a bit difficult — although always quite enjoyable thanks to Slatter’s exceptional storytelling ability — if you’re not already familiar with the characters and their previous predicaments and adventures. In fact all the stories are interconnected to form a complex mosaic.

Indeed in her Afterword the author admits,

My brain was trying to write The Tallow-Wife as a novel — to connect everything. But the fractured structure, the untidy threads are the whole point. In hindsight perhaps I should have just written a novel… I wanted to finish off some arcs that I’d left in the previous books.

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Ghost Lovers with Educated Minds: Ghosts of the Chit-Chat, edited by Robert Lloyd Parry

Ghost Lovers with Educated Minds: Ghosts of the Chit-Chat, edited by Robert Lloyd Parry

Ghosts of the Chit-Chat (Swan River Press, December 2020).
Cover by John Coulthart

Ghosts of the Chit-Chat
Edited by Robert Lloyd Parry
Swan River Press (255 pages, December 2020)
Cover by John Coulthart

There are books and BOOKS. And this one is of the latter. Not simply an anthology of supernatural  and ghost stories, but also the faithful, fascinating description of a Society (or Club) flourishing at Cambridge University, the Chit-Chat, members of which included famous authors of dark fiction such as Montague Rhodes James, the three Benson brothers and others.

The volume includes profiles of the more distinguished members, their activity at Cambridge and their consequent literary achievements. For each of these writers,  examples of their fictional output are featured. 

MR James’ work is represented here by the two “ghost” stories he read at the Chit-Chat meeting on October 28, 1893 ( “The Scrap-book of Canon Alberic” and “Lost Hearts”) in slightly different versions from those included in his subsequent collections. The stories are too well known to require any specific comment in the present review.

EF Benson’s contribution is “ The Other Bed,” a classic ghostly tale conveying a strong sense of dread, set in a hotel room where a suicide had taken place.

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Riding the Horror Rollercoaster: Children of the Fang and Other Genealogies by John Langan

Riding the Horror Rollercoaster: Children of the Fang and Other Genealogies by John Langan

Children of the Fang and Other Genealogies-back-small Children of the Fang and Other Genealogies-small

Cover by Matthew Jaffe

Children of the Fang and Other Genealogies
By John Langan
Word Horde (390 pages, $19.99 in trade paperback and $9.99 in digital formats, August 18, 2020)
Cover by Matthew Jaffe

Word Horde, Ross E. Lockhart’s small press, has produced some of the most interesting horror books of the past few years.

This is the fourth short story collection by horror writer John Langan (following Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters, The Wide, Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies, and Sefira and Other Betrayals). He’s also authored two successful novels, House of Windows and The Fisherman.

If you’re already familiar with Langan’s work, you know what to expect from his latest: a medley  of themes, locations, narrative styles, atmospheres, sometimes overwhelming and totally compelling, sometimes downright weird and not always quite satisfactory. Whatever he writes, however, Langan is never banal. You may love the story he’s telling or you may hate it, but it will never leave you indifferent. 

Thus, predictably, some of the featured tales left me spellbound and others just ill-humored. I will point the stories in the former group, and leave the latter to your judgement.

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