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Best New Horror #26

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CONTENTS Introduction: Horror in 2014 Secondhand Magic — HELEN MARSHALL The Culvert — DALE BAILEY The Patter of Tiny Feet —RICHARD GAVIN The Four Strengths of Shadow — RON WEIGHILL The Night Run — SIMON KURT UNSWORTH Home and Hearth — ANGELA SLATTER Dust — REBECCA LLOYD Suffer Little Children — ROBERT SHEARMAN The Night Doctor — STEVE RASNIC TEM The Desecrator — DEREK JOHN The Walk CONTENTS Introduction: Horror in 2014 Secondhand Magic — HELEN MARSHALL The Culvert — DALE BAILEY The Patter of Tiny Feet —RICHARD GAVIN The Four Strengths of Shadow — RON WEIGHILL The Night Run — SIMON KURT UNSWORTH Home and Hearth — ANGELA SLATTER Dust — REBECCA LLOYD Suffer Little Children — ROBERT SHEARMAN The Night Doctor — STEVE RASNIC TEM The Desecrator — DEREK JOHN The Walk — DENNIS ETCHISON Dirt on Vicky — CLINT SMITH Skullpocket — NATHAN BALLINGRUD Testimony of Samuel Frobisher Regarding Events Upon His Majesty’s Ship Confidence, 14-22 June 1818, with Diagrams — IAN TREGILLIS At Lorn Hall — RAMSEY CAMPBELL Selfies — LAVIE TIDHAR Matilda of the Night — STEPHEN VOLK The Collected Short Stories of Freddie Prothero Introduction by Torless Magnussen, Ph.D. — PETER STRAUB Burnt Black Swans — SIMON STRANTZAS Necrology: 2014 — STEPHEN JONES & KIM NEWMAN


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CONTENTS Introduction: Horror in 2014 Secondhand Magic — HELEN MARSHALL The Culvert — DALE BAILEY The Patter of Tiny Feet —RICHARD GAVIN The Four Strengths of Shadow — RON WEIGHILL The Night Run — SIMON KURT UNSWORTH Home and Hearth — ANGELA SLATTER Dust — REBECCA LLOYD Suffer Little Children — ROBERT SHEARMAN The Night Doctor — STEVE RASNIC TEM The Desecrator — DEREK JOHN The Walk CONTENTS Introduction: Horror in 2014 Secondhand Magic — HELEN MARSHALL The Culvert — DALE BAILEY The Patter of Tiny Feet —RICHARD GAVIN The Four Strengths of Shadow — RON WEIGHILL The Night Run — SIMON KURT UNSWORTH Home and Hearth — ANGELA SLATTER Dust — REBECCA LLOYD Suffer Little Children — ROBERT SHEARMAN The Night Doctor — STEVE RASNIC TEM The Desecrator — DEREK JOHN The Walk — DENNIS ETCHISON Dirt on Vicky — CLINT SMITH Skullpocket — NATHAN BALLINGRUD Testimony of Samuel Frobisher Regarding Events Upon His Majesty’s Ship Confidence, 14-22 June 1818, with Diagrams — IAN TREGILLIS At Lorn Hall — RAMSEY CAMPBELL Selfies — LAVIE TIDHAR Matilda of the Night — STEPHEN VOLK The Collected Short Stories of Freddie Prothero Introduction by Torless Magnussen, Ph.D. — PETER STRAUB Burnt Black Swans — SIMON STRANTZAS Necrology: 2014 — STEPHEN JONES & KIM NEWMAN

45 review for Best New Horror #26

  1. 4 out of 5

    Shawn

    FIRST TIER - the usual assorted selection from Jones, his sensibility's likes and loves, perhaps with slightly less hits this time around for me than average. But the good stuff, noted in the Third Tier below, is good! As usual, you pays your money, you takes your chances. SECOND TIER - As noted, a bit weaker assortment than usual, but that's a purely subjective assessment. Plusses include nice production values - BNH having moved to a new publisher with this volume - including stiff covers with FIRST TIER - the usual assorted selection from Jones, his sensibility's likes and loves, perhaps with slightly less hits this time around for me than average. But the good stuff, noted in the Third Tier below, is good! As usual, you pays your money, you takes your chances. SECOND TIER - As noted, a bit weaker assortment than usual, but that's a purely subjective assessment. Plusses include nice production values - BNH having moved to a new publisher with this volume - including stiff covers with colorful images derived from old, pre-code comic books (so Jone's griping about covers seems to be a thing of the past). The stories themselves will all be dealt with in long form below, so that just leaves the usual suspects - The Necrology (a handy if depressing resource for those who read obituaries), "HORROR IN 2014" with its depressing welter of material (most of which sounds half-baked, and sadly my favorite part - the audio/radio rundown - seems missing or lackluster this time) and Campbell's "soapbox" moment - here focused on the death of publishers, the death of publishing, etc. (fitting, given the shift in publishers as well). THIRD TIER - Weakest to strongest, with a lot of weak and semi-weak stuff up front, so here we go! The only thing I did not read here was "Skullpocket" by Nathan Ballingrud, which he admits to being an attempt at horror "whimsy" (think Edward Gorey without as much ennui, nastiness and desolation, or a more morbid Lemony Snicket, or Tim Burton in text), which means that it was very unlikely that I would enjoy it. I gave it a try (I *could* imagine such a thing working, possibly, in a Mervyn Peake way...) but the approach was all wrong for me, all foregrounded skull-headed ghouls who are populart around town and brain-in-a-jar butlers - I quit after 2 pages. Just not my thing (dark fantasy), in this way, at all... In the "just okay" column: "Secondhand Magic" by Helen Marshall starts a little too meta ("this story is going to end badly") and reminded me a bit of some story I can't put my finger on (it was in one of Alberto Manguel's BLACKWATER collections, iirc). Petty neighborhood politics intrude on a child's backyard magic show, but there's more witchery here than meets the eye. Leading the collection with a piece of dark fantasy, no matter how well-written, may have indicated some weakness of the collection overall. "Suffer Little Children" by Robert Shearman (whose work I generally like) has a disgraced governess hired by an isolated priory school, where she finds her past catching up with her. I liked the set-up better than the resolution on this one: the effective sketching of an interesting character and setting is somewhat undone by a sort of rushed cosmic-horrorish climax that seems to arise from almost nowhere. Not bad but I wanted more. Steve Rasnic Tem's "The Night Doctor" has an aging, anxious man begin to perceive the recurrence of a threatening figure from his childhood, which seems to symbolize his own (and others') mortality. This kinda felt like Tem doing Ramsey Campbell to me - not bad but, again, not my thing. I'm always happy to take a crack at a difficult new Dennis Etchison piece, but this story of a Hollywood screenwriter and director at odds, "The Walk", is a bit too obliquely told (an Etchison staple) for my tastes. Meanwhile, "The Collected Short Stories Of Freddie Prothero, Introduction By Torless Magnussen, Ph.D." - in which we are presented the full oeuvre of an 8-year-old "literary giant" written before his untimely death - is one of those high concept conceits that may be clever and inventive but from which I still demand an effective story, in whatever form, to justify the high-mindedness. Here, the conceit (overenthusiastic modernist lit critique applied to the clumsy, amateur writing of a child) ends up hitting its target (desperate academics) while mostly overwhelming the "horror" in the "story" (teasing out the insidious details from the grammatically crude presentation). More of a good idea than a successful piece. Finally, the book finishes off with Simon Strantzas' novella-length "Burnt Black Suns". A man travels to a remote area in Mexico with his pregnant girlfriend in pursuit of a vague lead on his missing wife, who has vanished with his son and seemingly joined some nihilistic, Aztec death cult. Actually, this wasn't half bad but lost some points (and momentum) due to the length, which extends and makes repetitious the scenario of frustration, negation and barely suppressed anger in boiling heat. Strantzas does succeed in capturing the sweaty, sun-baked and poverty-stricken milieu quite well, but the story's beats felt a bit lacking. On the "good but maybe a little flawed" tip: "The Culvert" by Dale Bailey tells of the disappearance of a man's brother when they were kids, swallowed up in an ever-changing (and seemingly infinite) series of inexplicable tunnels. It's told in short, fractured, staccato bursts of text. Richard Gavin's "The Patter Of Tiny Feet" has a good set-up (Hollywood location manager for some cheap horror film treks out to an abandoned house he can see from the highway...which is not *that* abandoned) is slightly undone by some clunky exposition and by the author not trusting his audience to pick up the themes he's laying down. "The Night Run" by Simon Kurt Unsworth is a creepy, if a bit thin, tale of the operator of a private ambulance service hired to transport a body to a remote funeral home late at night. But he keeps hearing a banging from the back during the trip. An effective *incident*, if not exactly a *story*. Lavie Tidhar's "Selfies" is the old "modern technology updates old horrors" gambit, inventively told through a series of images snapped on a cursed cell-phone. Not bad. Finally, "Matilda of the Night" has a professor discover a living, oral source (an old woman dying in a rest home) for stories about the Gwrach-y-Rhibyn, a folkloric Welsh death omen figure. This is an okay and emotionally moving piece - perhaps a bit longer than it needs to be, and one can't help but feel that given the conceit of its conception (oral legend recordings by folklorists), a stripped down transcript and not an effusive, background heavy text piece might have proved a better choice. And now we come to the solid "good" stories, of which there are six. "The Four Strengths Of Shadow" by Ron Weighell has an academic, given access to an old, private library in Venice, uncover the truth behind Classical architect Mortensa's famous rejection (and the subsequent disappearance) of his protégé Gorsini, but the knowledge comes at a higher cost than he bargained for. This is a very well done, antiquarian ghost story in the M.R. James style (if dealing with a somewhat more passionate time period and area of interest than James), with a fabulous (and marvelously evoked) setting and well-researched detail (one really feels that Weighell knows his stuff), with some effectively creepy scenes and a build to a nightmarishly visionary climax. Meanwhile, from a completely different angle, Angela Slatter's "Home And Hearth" has a mother desperately trying to contend with the guilt she feels over her son's hideous, sociopathic actions and her own complicity in helping him to escape justice. Solid and well done, a good Pseudopod contender. Another good contender is "Dust" by Rebecca Lloyd which has two sisters living in solitude in an isolated country manor after suffering under the care of two clashing, emotionally unstable parents, with one sister convinced that the unquiet, abusive spirits of her mother and father still walk. A brooding, Gothic rumination on how mental illness is passed down through generations. Also on the M.R. James tip (written, in fact, for a collection in which the authors are asked to continue or expand on original James pieces) is "The Desecrator" by Derek John. Honestly, I was a little wary of this story given its origins (pastiches and continuations of successful stories never seem to turn out well) but John's jumping off point (James' "The Uncommon Prayer Book") was not so impressed on my memory as to serve for a stumbling block. The story, in which the last living heir of an old, titled family inherits the family estate (or at least a small apartment on the National Trust managed grounds) and finds himself inexplicably drawn into an old family dispute (including a curse!) with a neighbor that dates back to the English Civil War, is quite a nasty little piece, well-told. Kudos! Meanwhile, Clint Smith's "Dirt On Vicky", in which a single father capitulates to his son's request to visit their town's fabled haunted house one autumn night, which also houses some conflicted memories of his own youth and the boy's mother, is nicely done and successful "quiet" horror. Different again would be "Testimony Of Samuel Frobisher Regarding Events Upon His Majesty's Ship Confidence, 14-22 June 1818, With Diagrams" a full-blooded weird/pulpy nautical horror yarn which has a sailor, temporarily deafened in an accident, as the only one on a ship's crew who can perceive that the damsel in distress the ship rescues is actually a tentacled monstrosity from the depths who keeps the entire crew in her thrall with her hypnotic voice. Not often you read such an exciting siren story! You can hear this one for free on our sister podcast, Podcastle. Which leaves only the single "Excellent" tale here: "At Lorn Hall" by Ramsey Campbell (which can be read, and a reading of which can be downloaded here as presented by NIGHTMARE MAGAZINE, although I've got the itch to take a crack at it for Pseudopod as well). A man visits a decaying manor home in the countryside, presumably some kind of National Trust site, and is guided through the abandoned structure by a recorded "audio tour" narrated by the Lord of the place himself. But the tour grows increasingly strange and ominous as the details accrue... A really excellent story, resonant with Campbell's own "Again" (which can be heard here) in its structure of a slow, methodical tour through an increasingly "bad" place which accentuates the rising tension of the narrative. In truth, I feel like this would, even better than a podcast, be a great candidate for some modern, BBC TV adaptation in the style of those 70s M.R. James telefilms. Also of note, despite my earlier guess in a different review, the story does NOT (given Campbell's introduction) seem to have any intended connection to H.R. Wakefield's 1929 story "Blind Man's Bluff" which also takes place "at Lorn Hall" but presumably not THIS Lorn Hall! That's all, folks!

  2. 5 out of 5

    Sue

    Another great entry in this long-running series. I have so much respect for Stephen Jones' ability to winnow out the very best, most innovative, most unusual horror stories. He has an unfailing ability to spotlight new authors who become favorites, and to present work by established authors that may have appeared in publications I would not have found on my own. In addition, I LOVE his "year in summation" at the beginning of each volume. Can't tell you how much money he's cost me as I go hunting Another great entry in this long-running series. I have so much respect for Stephen Jones' ability to winnow out the very best, most innovative, most unusual horror stories. He has an unfailing ability to spotlight new authors who become favorites, and to present work by established authors that may have appeared in publications I would not have found on my own. In addition, I LOVE his "year in summation" at the beginning of each volume. Can't tell you how much money he's cost me as I go hunting for books and other things I would never have heard of otherwise! With the exception of Datlow and Windling's Year's Best Fantasy series, this is by far the best yearly anthology out there.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Hugo

    A nicely designed edition, the first from PS Publishing, though the publisher's choice to retain the editor's lengthy Introduction and Necrology from previous editions means that 170 pages, over a quarter of the book, remain unread. The best and most memorable stories in this volume were Simon Kurt Unsworth's abruptly horrific The Night Run, Rebecca Lloyd's cleverly considered Dust, Clint Smith's subtly haunting Dirt On Vicky, Nathan Ballingrud's gruesome Burton-esque Skullpocket, and Simon Stran A nicely designed edition, the first from PS Publishing, though the publisher's choice to retain the editor's lengthy Introduction and Necrology from previous editions means that 170 pages, over a quarter of the book, remain unread. The best and most memorable stories in this volume were Simon Kurt Unsworth's abruptly horrific The Night Run, Rebecca Lloyd's cleverly considered Dust, Clint Smith's subtly haunting Dirt On Vicky, Nathan Ballingrud's gruesome Burton-esque Skullpocket, and Simon Stranza's atmospheric and beautifully escalated novella Burnt Black Suns. Two stories remain unfinished: because I can no longer read his tortured prose style, Ramsey Campbell's At Lorn Hall, and Ron Weighell's The Four Strengths of Shadow, so jammed full of research I lost interest in any story.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Dennis Cooper

    Enjoyable I always enjoy this series. I've been there since number one. Another good solid set of stories from the field of horror. As always I enjoyed some stories more than others as is way with any analogy. Looking forward to the next one.

  5. 4 out of 5

    jennet wheatstonelllsl Proc

  6. 4 out of 5

    Maggie Davis

  7. 4 out of 5

    Hazel

  8. 5 out of 5

    Cyber

  9. 4 out of 5

    Emma

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jenny

  11. 4 out of 5

    Sirensongs

  12. 5 out of 5

    MJ VARA

  13. 5 out of 5

    Mark

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kat

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jenny Barber

  16. 5 out of 5

    Thrown With Great Force

  17. 4 out of 5

    Clint

  18. 4 out of 5

    Kylie Day

  19. 5 out of 5

    José Rafael

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen

  21. 5 out of 5

    Benoît

  22. 5 out of 5

    Andyhat

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Freed

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jeannie Sloan

  25. 4 out of 5

    Karl

  26. 4 out of 5

    Still

  27. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

  28. 5 out of 5

    Martha

  29. 4 out of 5

    Elaine Lamkin

  30. 4 out of 5

    Raven

  31. 5 out of 5

    Guido

  32. 4 out of 5

    Gwen McGinty

  33. 5 out of 5

    Belinda

  34. 5 out of 5

    John

  35. 5 out of 5

    Simon Strantzas

  36. 4 out of 5

    Paul

  37. 4 out of 5

    loisa beiza

  38. 5 out of 5

    dawn creech

  39. 4 out of 5

    Jess

  40. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Lawson

  41. 4 out of 5

    Sean

  42. 5 out of 5

    Zombiekittiez

  43. 5 out of 5

    Trish

  44. 5 out of 5

    Patrick Kiernan

  45. 5 out of 5

    Bree Strange

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