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The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 21 by…
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The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 21 (2010)

by Stephen Jones (Editor)

Other authors: Chris Bell (Contributor), Ramsey Campbell (Contributor), Terry Dowling (Contributor), John Gaskin (Contributor), Joe Hill (Contributor)18 more, M. R. James (Contributor), Stephen Jones (Introduction), Michael Kelly (Contributor), Michael Kelly (Contributor), Stephen King (Contributor), Brian Lumley (Contributor), Richard Christian Matheson (Contributor), Kim Newman (Contributor), Reggie Oliver (Contributor), Rosalie Parker (Contributor), Barbara Roden (Contributor), Nicholas Royle (Contributor), Robert Shearman (Contributor), Michael Marshall Smith (Contributor), Simon Strantzas (Contributor), Simon Kurt Unsworth (Contributor), Mark Valentine (Contributor), Stephen Volk (Contributor)

Series: Best New Horror (21)

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This is the first Best New Horror collection I have read, and having picked it up directly after reading Darkness: Two Decades of Modern Horror (edited by Ellen Datlow), I was rather disappointed. I’ve been on a horror short story kick, and while I attempted to judge The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror solely on its own merits, it was difficult not to compare the two volumes. While there are some shining moments in this anthology, overall Stephen Jones’ picks lack the variety of both style and content that Datlow’s selections bring to her collection. A focus on British authors- several telling ghost stories- saps the book of energy and, frankly, horror. Had Jones’ approach to the book been to highlight only British horror, I would have probably enjoyed the overview. Yet this way, his selections establish a narrative in which British authors are dominating the horror genre as a whole, which left me wanting more.

But these criticisms are unrelated to the point of the anthology: the stories themselves. Most were disappointingly unremarkable to this reader, but I will walk through my thoughts on each. I’ve primarily grouped them according to content rather than chronologically.

I’ll begin with what I consider the best of the bunch: “Granny’s Grinning”, by Robert Shearman. The author describes the story as an exploration of lost childhood and innocence, and that’s something with which I think all readers will agree. However, I read it from a much more narrow perspective- erasing the identity of women, and superseding it with that of men. Probably not at all what the author considered, but this story of Christmas presents, both wanted and unwanted, and the cruelty of those we love, truly disturbed me. Stephen Volk’s “After the Ape”, concerning the woman “rescued” from King Kong’s clutches, follows in a similar vein. The worship of the American mythos and the role of Hollywood within that resonates throughout the ultimately tragic story.

Canadian author Michael Kelly both opens and closes this collection, and neither of his stories are particularly noteworthy. “The Woods” is a mostly boring conversation that hints at a monster waiting inside us all. “Princess of the Night” is a concise “gotcha” kind of story (what Jones describes as a “nice short, sharp jolt in the EC comics tradition”), and indeed, it reminded me of a condensed Tales from the Crypt story. Yet that wasn’t enough to make it deserving of the final place in the book.

I probably won’t be able to discuss “Throttle” objectively, as I have previously read and loved it. Having grown up reading both Richard Matheson and Stephen King, and recently fallen in love with Joe Hill, the combination of authors and influence is perfect for me. A play on Matheson’s “Duel”, this story is a cheap, violent piece that satisfies my primal desire for revenge; nothing ground-breaking or really original, just fast and dirty horror.

The bulk of this anthology is a series of stories which play on the haunting trope to varying degrees of success. The first of these, Barbara Roden’s “Out and Back”, is one of my favorite pieces here. Her abandoned amusement park setting is both eerie and somehow original, while her dialogue captures a relationship on the edge of destruction. Coupling these with a supernatural element, Roden creates an unsettling story of middle America. “Respects”, by Ramsey Campbell, offers a twist on a haunting with a bit of dystopian future thrown in. Another haunting story, Reggie Oliver finishes M.R. James’ “The Game of Bear” with predictable and lackluster results. An obvious mysterious woman, children’s nursery rhymes, and stilted 19th century prose turns what could have been a classic horror tale into a boring thought experiment. The mystery woman archetype appears again in “Shem-el-Nessim: An Inspiration in Perfume” by Chris Bell. This is slightly more intriguing than the previous story, but with a stale plot and written in language as flowery as the titular scent. Another man sees a woman who may or may not be alive anymore in John Gaskin’s “Party Talk”, rounding off the trilogy of trite ghost encounters. A unique setting elevates “The Axholme Toll” by Mark Valentine, but a confusing and poorly conceived ending ruins any tension built up.

Many of the stories follow a pattern of psychological horror. “What Happens When You Wake Up in the Night” by Michael Marshall Smith combines a child’s perspective with the lurking fear of the dark. The helplessness of the adults adds to the terror of this one. Although Nicholas Royle’s “The Reunion” borrows heavily from Poe, it is one of the more original pieces in the collection. Who can resist a strange hotel, and the feeling that you’ve done all this before? Having said that, “The Nonesuch”, by Brian Lumley, also involves a strange hotel (two, in fact), but I resisted it just fine, thank you very much. I’ve never read Lumley, and so perhaps this was the wrong place to begin, but this story simply bored me. It’s the longest tale in the book, and while the monster of the story is quite original, it’s also…well, rather stupid. Any interest generated is utterly destroyed by the end. Finally, Richard Christian Matheson’s “Venturi” balances the very real terror (for those of us living in Southern California) of wildfires with an increasingly paranoid character.

There are several stories that place white male protagonists in situations or places where they feel as though they don’t belong…and I won’t be reading any of them a second time. Simon Strantzas’ “Cold to the Touch” starts strong, with an isolated Artic setting, cryptic monoliths, and religious overtones. There’s a hint of Robert E. Howard’s “The Black Stone” in the main character’s interactions with the strange rocks and desolate tundra, but it feels as though the author didn’t know where to go with the story beyond that. Unfortunately, Simon Kurt Unsworth’s weaving of a Zambian folktale with a British protagonist in “Mami Wata” reads less as horror and more as a one-dimensional look at Zambian culture, and the overall connection of Africa to the West. “Two Steps Along the Road” by Terry Dowling is slightly better, with its allusions to the Vietnam War, but it too suffers from the succubus syndrome. Yes, there is yet another possibly supernatural woman seducing the men in this piece. Don’t these ghosts have anything better to do?
“In the Garden” by Rosalie Parker is a short but disturbingly satisfying account of the narrator’s attachment to her garden…and the things she grows within it.

These kinds of anthologies often open with a survey of the year’s achievements in speculative literature, movies, TV, etc…and The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror is no exception. In fact, Jones opens with 100 pages of one sentence descriptions of anything that one could possibly consider in any way connected with those genres. I’m not sure how many people read these surveys, but I can’t imagine many of them think the inclusion of the movies 17 Again or Malibu Shark Attack are necessary to a complete introduction. But, I suppose when I edit a volume of short horror fiction, I can choose what to mention in mine. It does feel excessive and unwieldy when reading however; much like the extensive necrology rounding off the collection (seriously, it’s 76 pages). That ending list suffers the same irrelevance as the introduction…do the deaths of Walter Cronkite or Mary Travers have a place in such a book? I would argue no, but I would also argue that a necrology in itself is pointless.

Frankly, very few of these stories are must-reads, and you’d be better off seeking them in their previously published formats, rather than couched between Stephen Jones’ other picks. ( )
  porcupineracetrack | Jun 6, 2015 |
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jones, StephenEditorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bell, ChrisContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Campbell, RamseyContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dowling, TerryContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gaskin, JohnContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hill, JoeContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
James, M. R.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Jones, StephenIntroductionsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Kelly, MichaelContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Kelly, MichaelContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
King, StephenContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lumley, BrianContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Matheson, Richard ChristianContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Newman, KimContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Oliver, ReggieContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Parker, RosalieContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Roden, BarbaraContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Royle, NicholasContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Shearman, RobertContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Smith, Michael MarshallContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Strantzas, SimonContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Unsworth, Simon KurtContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Valentine, MarkContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Volk, StephenContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0762439971, Paperback)

This is the world’s premier annual showcase of horror and dark fantasy fiction, representing the most outstanding new short stories and novellas. It remains the world’s leading anthology dedicated solely to presenting the best in contemporary horror fiction.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:52 -0400)

This is the world’s premier annual showcase of horror and dark fantasy fiction, representing the most outstanding new short stories and novellas. It remains the world’s leading anthology dedicated solely to presenting the best in contemporary horror fiction.… (more)

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