Review: The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2011

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(Originally posted on Blogger site.)

Title: The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2011

Author/Editor: Paula Guran

I’m not going to lie to you: the first thing that grabbed me about this book was that cover. Look at it over there…so very well-designed. I knew — from the moment it first uploaded to my ereader and I spied that slick pairing of slate grey with nausea green, and that mid-caw raven — that I was going to be reading this book before long. And, sure enough…

Anyway, that said, I found the anthology, overall, to be a mixed bag. It ranged from the utterly-arresting-from-the-first-sentence to the instantly-forgettable. (I had to go back and look through the table of contents to remind myself that I’d actually read this latter category of story. Sometimes, even seeing the title again didn’t help and more extensive page-flipping was required.)

The gems in this collection were five in number. Norman Partridge‘s “Lesser Demons” was incredibly well-done and the perfect example of a story that, from the opening sentence, reached forward, grabbed hold of either side of my head, and basically wouldn’t let go till I finished the story. While uncommon, it does sometimes happen that a story will grip onto your head, though you’ve only just met. It was a smart decision by the editor to open the collection with this one. What I love about the story is how it gives you bits of information, yet never directly explains itself. Like life, it requires you to piece things together yourself if you want understanding. For as blunt and bleak as it was, it also contained a lot of subtlety.

Caitlin R. Kiernan‘s “As Red as Red” was another highlight of the collection. The story creates a really unique atmosphere, and stays permeated with brooding dread throughout. Again, though utterly comprehensible and coherently plotted, it also maintains an aloofness when it comes to overt explanations. I tend to find this aloofness almost a necessary quality in fiction for me to consider something a great piece of writing. Any moment in the story where a predictable turn could have occurred, Kiernan quietly steered things onto a divergent path. It possesses a quiet understatement that made for an extremely effective conclusion.

M. K. Hobson‘s “Oaks Park” was the third story that completely amazed me. It was quiet, and the horror was so unexpected and personalized that it was truly surprising. It had a very unique take on the idea of a ghost, and, on top of that, was just very tightly and expertly written.

Steve Berman‘s “Thimbleriggery and Fledglings” was a very entertaining story. I loved the way that he blended birds and sorcery together in this piece, making the magic of this story very unique and idiosyncratic. It has the simple feel of an old fairy tale, without And, honestly, any story that works in a ziz reference is already off to a spectacular start.

Peter Watts‘ “The Things” was an innovative take on John Carpenter’s venerated movie, The Thing (as well as, I suppose, John W. Campbell’s classic tale, “Who Goes There?”). In it, Watts presents us with the perspective of the alien, and does an incredibly effective job of maintaining consistency within that perspective. My only issue with the story is a debatable one: the final sentence. (I’ll be sharing some more thoughts on first and last sentences soon, in another post. </foreshadowing>) On one level, I admit it’s punchy, concise, and makes use of the narrator’s new understanding of a particular English word. And part of me wants to say that it was effective and perfect. But I can’t. I’m sorry, Peter. It was, for me, too much; such a hard-hitting term, but perhaps too hard-hitting. Still, the fact that I am focusing so much on it just might be indicating that the line was pretty effective. And yet… (The eternal battle continues.)

While a good number of the other stories were OK, they did tend to blur with the remainder, which were exceptionally forgettable overall. On the whole, the collection was similar to how I find a lot of anthologies: decent enough, entertaining overall, with a few stellar pieces that stood out.

Final Rating: 5 out of 10.


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