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Monday, October 24, 2016




Review by Gary Fry


The thing about “best of” collections is that, although they’re commonly chosen by only one editor, readers are not going to love everything selected. These books are often varied, celebrating the wide range of fiction published each year in a specific field. That is why, as I review this book, I’m going to pull out the pieces which spoke particularly to me (although I can’t say I disliked any story here).


Let’s zero in immediately on the book’s big coup, a previously unpublished story by Robert Aickman. ‘The Strangers’ is as good as I could have hoped, one of the author’s queasy explorations of male sexuality. I’ve no idea why Aickman never included it in one of his collections, but wonder whether he felt it was too similar to certain of his other masterpieces. Whatever the truth is, this is a wonderfully suggestive and typically perverse story involving all the usual Aickman tricks: high culture, low morals, vampish femmes, and callow young men. It also contains a new candidate for his most M R Jamesian line (the existing champ being one about rags in a treetop at the end of ‘The Fetch’). This one involves bones in a suit. But I’ll say no more than that. Other than it chills deep down. Wonderful tale.


Almost up there with the Aickman is Robert Shearman’s ‘Blood’, a near-repulsive elucidation of a sordid trip to Paris taken by a teacher and his underage pupil. The suggestiveness is Aickmanesque, with a scene in a manky restaurant involving a hideous dining experience, and then a conclusion as enigmatically weird as anything Shearman has done previously. A really unpleasant tale. By which I mean, superb, of course.


In Ramsey Campbell’s ‘Fetched’, a man undergoes some kind of Kafka-esque transformation in an offbeat location full of blackly comic character-clashes and spatially impossible imagery. In Reggie Oliver’s ‘The Rooms are High’, an amiable narrator gets caught up in a seedy sequence of events as he visits a peculiar hotel in the place where he grew up. Full marks for one of the most loathsome characters I’ve read in years. Both stories are archly surreal and highly effective.


I really enjoyed Nadia Bulkin’s reworking of Lovecraft’s ‘The Colour out of Space’. In ‘Violet is the Color of your Energy’, Bulkin reinterprets the classic tale from the mother’s point of view (or maybe, a mother’s), focusing on the violating cosmic force through the dynamics of her male family. It’s a striking and intertextually impressive piece. In D P Watt’s ‘Honey Moon’, a recently married couple – he initially eager, she prudish – undergo a modification of sexual roles, as a landscape and its history tease out the limbic forces in both, drawing them inexorably into animalistic passion. The tale’s deceptively simple, cleanly written surface only enhances the power of its truly wild conclusion.


I consider Lynda Rucker’s ‘The Seventh Wave’ one of the most effective ghost stories I’ve read in a long time, the frisson achieved through a combination of modern narrative techniques and traditional nautical legend. Tim Lebbon’s ‘Strange Currents’ is similarly haunting, with an adventure-style main section leading to a genuinely creepy closing image. Sometimes straightforward storytelling is the most potent, and that’s rarely more true than here. 


‘Julie’ by L S Johnson is a compellingly written piece of alternative literary history, with feral transformations standing in lieu of shameful human behaviour. I’ve always considered Rousseau rather overrated anyway, so it was nice to see him getting a good hatchet job here. Johnson’s prose is a delight and the story memorable. As for Sadie Bruce’s dark fable about the generationally inescapable adoption of exhibitionist female desires, well, it’s dark and grotesque, as it should be. ‘Little Girls in a Bone Museum’ is required reading for all.


These were the tales I enjoyed most in the book, though I should add how impressed I was by Matthew Bartlett’s juicy, rhythmic prose. Marion Womack’s ‘Orange Dogs’ was filled with evocative passages, and Christopher Slatsky’s tale finished with a killer last line. I’ve reviewed the Brian Evenson story elsewhere, and consider it a fine one.


All in all, then, I greatly enjoyed this broad-ranging collection of the best new weird of 2015. Strantzas has read widely, choosing his tales with an eye for variation and style. I did wonder why two tales involving the sea – the Rucker and Lebbon – were placed side by side, but that’s a relatively minor matter when both were among my favourites here. I was also struck by the large number of female authors represented – heartening stuff.


The genre’s in rude health, it would appear – both in terms of the authors writing such great new gear, and the editors sitting up to take notice. I very much look forward to next year’s entry. 

1 comment:

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