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Don't Turn Out the Light: the third volume of the new Not at Night series

edited by Stephen Jones

(PS Publishing, £35.00, 279 pages, signed, numbered, limited edition hardback; also available as signed, numbered, limited edition deluxe hardback priced £60.00; published April 2005.)

Review by Mario Guslandi

The first two volumes of the new "Not at night" series edited by Stephen Jones were reprint anthologies where a group of selected writers had the opportunity to retrieve from oblivion a tale they felt had been overlooked or unjustly cover scanforgotten. This interesting idea has been partially abandoned in the current volume, which, in addition to a number of reprints includes various brand new stories. The change doesn't seem to have made any improvement to this literary project which, in terms of quality , appears to be undergoing a substantial setback. But, surprisingly, the weaker stories in this volume are the reprints chosen by the invited contributors, which proves once again that writers are often the worst judges of what they have written. Legendary authors such as Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson, for instance, have decided to unearth some questionable material and if Bradbury's "Fever dream" is no more than a cute, unpretentious vignette about the weird consequences of a bad fever affecting a young boy, Matheson's "Dance of the dead" is positively awful. On the other hand Charles Grant's tale about a nasty baby-sitter ("Are you afraid of the dark?") and Peter Atkins' SF piece "King of outer space" are just ordinary, while Jay Russell's idea of revising an unpublished splatterpunk story that had been lying for 15 years (and rightly so) in the bottom drawer is simply embarrassing.

Hugh B Cave's "The cult of the white ape" -- which, incidentally has been chosen by the editor and not by the late writer -- is a much better selection, a typically strong Cave story masterly blending exotic places, ancient, forbidden cults and supernatural powers ready to take revenge on corrupt foreigners. By contrast Richard Christian Matheson's "City of dreams" is another dull reprint describing so unemotionally a ghostly encounter that the only reaction it elicits in the reader is that of mild curiosity. The only standout among the previously published stories is Lisa Tuttle's "Flies by night" a gently disquieting, accomplished piece of fantastic fiction about women whose true nature is that of flies willing to freely take wing across the world.

In general the new stories provide a better reading, but not all of them. "The bite of Tawse" by John Burke very predictably deals with the old cliché of a secret society in a small community and its unholy initiation rites. "Shirley's ghost" by John Glasby is another ordinary and unsurprising ghostly tale, unfortunately devoid of any ability to provoke fear or uneasiness.

David Schow's "Expanding your capabilities..." is a technological horror story on the unforeseen properties of a DVD player, entertaining albeit not fully convincing. Mark Samuels' contribution "Shallaballah", a puzzling tale about a famous actor whose face is reconstructed after an accident, remains for the most part irritatingly obscure.

By contrast "Inheritance" by Paul McAuley is a standing example of how a conventional, quite ordinary plot (a man returns from the USA to visit his ancestors' land and is plagued by vengeful ghosts) can be transformed into an excellent story by the writing ability of a gifted author.

The same applies to Basil Copper's "Queen bee" where the feeling of dread induced by the trivial event of a bee persistently pestering a house is greatly enhanced by the writer's skill as a storyteller.

"Phoenix man" by Garry Kilworth is a solid, old-fashioned yarn with a touch of SF and a bitter aftertaste about a man who, literally, likes to set himself on fire.

In Roberta Lannes' excellent "The other family", an unsettling, kafkaesque tale set between dream and reality, two kids and their parents meet their own doppelgangers from a different age and a different dimension.

"Sickhouse" is one of the very first fruits of the long-awaited return of Terry Lamsley to fiction writing. The story has the distinct quality of a nightmare taking place in a weird hospital where, instead of healing the sick, doctors make healthy people fall ill. Although not entirely plausible as far as the plot is concerned the tale confirms the outstanding writing abilities of this extraordinary author.

When all is said and done, however, this anthology offers too little to satisfy the average reader of dark fiction. Sadly the series seems to have suddenly come to a standstill and a fourth volume appears to be rather improbable.

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