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The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror: volume twelve

edited by Stephen Jones

(Robinson, £6.99, 494 pages, paperback; published 25 October 2001.) cover scan

This anthology is Jones's selection of the best horror and dark fantasy short fiction that was originally published in 2000. In addition to the twenty-two stories (which go up to novella length), there is a long introduction and overview of the horror scene by Jones, a necrology (co-compiled by Kim Newman) and a list of useful addresses.

Those twenty-two stories are by twenty-one authors, as Kim Newman appears twice. He begins the book with "Castle in the Desert" and ends it with a long novella, "The Other Side of Midnight", both part of Newman's Anno Dracula sequence. I'm not sure I agree with this. Personal taste is undoubtedly a factor here: I admire Newman's film criticism greatly, but his fiction almost invariably sets my teeth on edge. (The major exception for me is "The Original Dr Shade", which is at least about something other than which films and TV programmes Newman has watched, though it's not devoid of in-jokey references and name-drops.) If when I mention that The Dude from The Big Lebowski and Dirk Diggler from Boogie Nights make appearances in "The Other Side..." you groan, then you're with me on this. If not, then ignore what I say... but I can't do better than Jim Steel's summing-up in Territories several years ago: "fiction for train-spotters". As Jones is emphatic that "if I think a story is worthwhile, then I will publish it", does that mean that one quarter of the worthwhile genre short fiction in 2000 was written by Newman? (That's how much space the two stories take up in this book.) I think not.

Jones's taste is commendably wide, and the next two stories act as the polar extremes of this anthology. Iain Sinclair's "The Keeper of the Rothenstein Tomb" is by far the most difficult story in the book, in the author's characteristic "psycho-geographic" style. On the other hand, Mick Garris's "Forever Gramma" is cheerfully gross and splattery. Christopher Fowler's "At Home in the Pubs of Old London" is another one of his stories structured around a series of descriptions of places. It's effective, but he's done this sort of thing before. Amongst the highlights for me were Ramsey Campbell's short and genuinely nightmarish "No Strings", Joel Lane's Clark Ashton Smith tribute "The Hunger of the Leaves" (a story where the setting becomes the villain) and Kathe Koja's quietly haunting "At Eventide". There isn't a real dud in this anthology, though there are stories which didn't really work for me: Terry Lamsley's overlong "Climbing Down from Heaven", for example, and Geoffrey Warburton's routine ghost story "Merry Roderick". Nicholas Royle's "Empty Stations" reads more like a fragment than a complete short story.

The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror series is by now so well established that it is beginning to have an air of familiarity to it. That isn't just because certain authors recur (all Year's Bests that I've seen have their favourite writers). Although stories like Sinclair's are hardly traditional -- I suspect many will wonder why it's here at all -- Jones tends towards that side of the genre in the main. Almost all the contributors are known as horror/dark fantasy writers and are published in genre venues. There are few disappointments -- it's a good solid collection by any standard -- but few surprises either.


Review by Gary Couzens.

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