(ROC, £14.95, 336 pages, trade paperback October 2005, ISBN 0-451-46044-8.)
the bulk (and the best) of dark fiction is confined within the small
world of the independent press. The mass market publishing companies,
with a very few exceptions, seldom venture to host genre novels, let
alone short story collections and anthologies in the horror and supernatural
To discuss the reasons for this phenomenon is beyond the scope of the
present article, so let's stick to the fact that the appearance of an
anthology of speculative fiction from a publisher such as ROC is always
a remarkable event. The chosen topic, "outsiders", i.e. misfits, aliens,
weirdos, freaks and so on, sounds particularly suitable and the authors
involved -- either by invitation or by selection -- are apt to impress
the potential buyer.
I understand that the volume has been widely distributed among the
attendees at the recent World Fantasy Con. I wasn't there and you'll
appreciate that mine is not a complimentary review copy of the book,
but that I've purchased it from my own pocket, lured by the promise
of 22 tales "from the edge" by the likes of Neil Gaiman, Steve Rasnic
Tem, David J Schow, Bentley Little, Jack Ketchum, Tanith Lee, etc.
So I got this anthology full of expectations, although seeing the book
printed on cheap (recycled?) paper somehow sounded as a warning sign
that things might not be as bright as I was hoping.
Let me tell it straight: this is one of the most disappointing genre
anthologies I have read in years.
First-class artists I've learned to think highly of, seem to have suddenly
turned into second-rate craftsmen providing dull, ordinary material
lacking heart and inspiration. Most of the stories are totally forgotten
once you turn the last page, having triggered no emotion whatsoever
(fear, disquiet, even a little bit of interest) in the reader. Occasionally,
I even wondered if some of the contributors simply sent in unsold stock,
rejected by other editors and lying in their bottom drawers.
If this is the quality of dark fiction which is being offered to the
general public, no wonder the genre is a commercial failure and the
big publishing companies look at it suspiciously.
In this depressing scenario, praise to the few authors who have contributed
good stuff to this anthology. By far the best story is Elizabeth Massie's
'Pit Boy', a chilling, horrific tale where boys fighting for their own
life become a pitiful, cruel show. Other excellent pieces are 'The Shadows,
Kith and Kin', by Joe R Lansdale, a detached but fully effective description
of a man's descent in a downward spiral of darkness and despair, and
Kathe Koja's 'Ruby Tuesday', the poignant portrait of a young movie
fan coming to terms with the reality of a dying mother.
Good stories come from Caitlin R Kiernan ('Faces in Revolving Souls'
about a girl's struggle to become a mutant), Melanie Tem ('The Country
of the Blind' where blindness becomes a way of living and loving) and
Brett Alexander Savory ('Running Beneath the Skin', depicting a deadly
game featuring mutants able to heal from lethal wounds).
There's also a cute mainstream story by Poppy Z Brite ('The Working's
Slob Prayer') set in the world of a New Orleans restaurant, entertaining
but completely out of place in this volume.
Thus the good reading stuff covers about one third of this anthology
(seven stories out of twenty-two!). Frankly, too little to recommend
the book to anyone except the compulsive genre collectors.