Dark Terrors 4 Edited by Stephen Jones and David Sutton (Orion Millennium, £6.99, 349 pages, paperback; published 28 October 1999). 1997.
In the introduction to this, the fourth and rumoured to be final volume in the Dark Terrors series, and winner of the 1999 British Fantasy Award for Best Anthology, the editors discuss the problem of selecting stories that will appeal to as wide a range of readers as possible. As with much art, one person's meat can be another person's poison.
And this desire to produce an eclectic book spread evenly across style and taste is evident as one leafs from story to story:
The serial killer in Christopher Fowler's excellent 'Normal Life', for example, a kind of cultural maverick pitched against the vacuity of late 20th century life, would be perfectly out of place strolling knife in hand through Joel Lane's 'Country of Glass', a surrealistically eerie and poetically rendered piece - "Worse, sometimes he'd look along a tree-lined avenue or sunlit canal and see images from his own past clotted with dust and dead leaves..." - in which alcoholics (like the lunatics of Clive Barker's Cabal) possess hidden knowledge concerning a metaphysical kingdom concealed frustratingly just out of reach. Similarly, the blending of alchemy and the mysteries of the human body in the blatantly odd 'My Pathology' from Lisa Tuttle, stems from a fairly traditional slant when compared to Conrad William's elegant yet simultaneously visceral - not to say highly filmable - 'The Suicide Pit', a tale where the London Underground employee responsible for dealing with corpses on the track slips page by page, paragraph by paragraph, even sentence by sentence, into a dark and decidedly twisted reality.
Perhaps the two writers who probably make for the strangest bedfellows here are Poppy Z. Brite and Neil Gaiman. Brite's sexually explicit and finely written, if a touch obvious 'Entertaining Mr. Orton', in which the ghost of Joe Orton is resurrected through an act of homosexuality, sits in startling contrast to Gaiman's wonderful, almost fablesque 'The Wedding Present'. The happy couple in the latter are given on their wedding day the present of a short story which has as its main characters the newlyweds themselves. Throughout the ensuing years, the story, forgotten and gathering dust, evolves with a life of its own and details all the bad things that the man and wife are successfully avoiding. The near fairy tale manner in which 'The Wedding Present' is narrated lends it a resounding ring of truth, and deserves to be remembered as a triumph of magical realism.
I'm not going to touch on the stories that didn't work for me, because as Jones and Sutton suggest, my home-made apple pie is likely to be your Genetically Modified Food.
Instead, I suggest you pick up a copy of Dark Terrors 4. As you would expect with a good horror collection, it's shivers and blood in equal measure, and has to it a kind of: shudder, shudder, shudder, splash...
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© Jason Gould 13 November 1999