The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror, volume 10 edited by Stephen Jones, includes review of the year 1998, necrology for 1998, and list of contacts (Robinson Publishing, £6.99, 489 pages, paperback; published November 1999; ISBN 1-84119-064-0)
Now in its tenth year, the annual Best New Horror series is almost as certain as death and taxes. Only darker.
This tenth anniversary edition boasts some big names: Harlan Ellison, Ramsey Campbell, Peter Straub, Neil Gaiman, and some fine stories. In fact three of the tales here are so good, and so diverse in approach, I was at first stunned, then jealous, then eagerly flicking back to read certain parts again.
The first of these, in chronological order, is "A Victorian Ghost Story" by Kim Newman. Unlike much of Kim's other output, "A Victorian Ghost Story" is not a pastiche or alternative history, not in the usual sense at least. As is obvious, the story is set in the Victorian era, the values of the day evoked beautifully by the main character's obsession with oak panelling. Away from the comfort of his sturdy Victorian abode, the narrator encounters ghosts lurking in the deeply foggy London streets, ghosts who will "sometimes grip the skirts of my coat as I pass." The ghosts are the poor and hungry who live and beg on the street, ignored by the more affluent, and the story is a striking comment on how society's morals have evolved, or perhaps not evolved as much as we would like to believe, in the last hundred years.
The second story to move me was "The Dead Boy at Your Window" by Bruce Holland Rogers. A simple and relatively short narrative that tells the fate of a boy who shifts between the world of the living and the world of the dead, delivering messages between the two, "The Dead Boy at Your Window" is dark fantasy tinged with magical realism, and like the best magical realism it has, to paraphrase Armistead Maupin, "the biblical ring of truth". Easily a story for children of all ages, 5 to 95.
Maintaining the supernatural edge, I defy anyone not to be scared half to death by Tanith Lee's "Yellow and Red". Owing much to MR James, particularly his terrifying short story "The Mezzotint", "Yellow and Red" charts the narrator's stay in an old house and his accident involving photographs, whiskey and demons. The atmosphere builds throughout, and the final paragraph contains one of the most unsettling images I have ever encountered.
The other stories here are equally impressive, including Christopher Fowler's last ever traditional horror story, "Learning to Let Go", the ending of which I thought incredibly clever (not to mention brave) though I could see it possibly upsetting the more rigid horror fan. And Peter Straub's quirky, hilarious and telling novella Mr Clubb and Mr Cuff, the high literary quality of which is proof that some of the greatest contemporary writing is emerging within and on the edge of genre.
With this being a tenth anniversary edition of Best New Horror, quotes and well-wishes have been sent in from various writers and editors. I smiled so much when I read what Kim Newman wrote, I'd like to finish on it here:
"Stephen Jones is the 'Wichita Lineman' of horror, out there alone 'searchin' for another 'overload', making sure only the good messages get through and cutting out the interference buzz of rubbish. Be thankful that he's 'still on the road'".
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© Jason Gould 18 December 1999