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The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror…

The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2014 Edition

by Paula Guran (Editor)

Other authors: Peter Atkins (Contributor), Dale Bailey (Contributor), Nathan Ballingrud (Contributor), Laird Barron (Contributor), Elizabeth Bear (Contributor)27 more, Steve Duffy (Contributor), Brian Evenson (Contributor), Neil Gaiman (Contributor), Glen Hirshberg (Contributor), Brian Hodge (Contributor), K.J. Kabza (Contributor), Caitlin R. Kiernan (Contributor), Greg Kurzawa (Contributor), Joe R. Lansdale (Contributor), Tanith Lee (Contributor), Yoon Ha Lee (Contributor), Ken Liu (Contributor), Helen Marshall (Contributor), Sarah Monette (Contributor), Sunny Moraine (Contributor), Kit Reed (Contributor), Brandon Sanderson (Contributor), Veronica Schanoes (Contributor), David J. Schow (Contributor), Priya Sharma (Contributor), Sarah Singleton (Contributor), Angela Slatter (Contributor), Steve Rasnic Tem (Contributor), Karin Tidbeck (Contributor), Lisa Tuttle (Contributor), Carrie Vaughn (Contributor), Kaaron Warren (Contributor)

Series: The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror (2014)

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A nice big chunky collection of recent stories. As with any anthology, I liked some selections more than others, but there are more than enough gems here to make the chaff worth sifting. 3.51 average rounds up to 4...

**** “Wheatfield with Crows,” Steve Rasnic Tem
Steve Rasnic Tem is a master of horror, and demonstrates it here. Seemingly simple things are imbued with an ominous aura - and things that are less simple are even spookier. A young man, accompanied by his mother, returns to the scene of his sister's disappearance. Rural fields are a traditional horror setting - but this one's particularly eerie.

*** “Blue Amber,” David J. Schow
Previously read in 'Impossible Monsters.' A pretty good take on the alien-pod-people theme, set on a rural ranch. A couple of cops come to investigate, and get far more than they bargained for. Firmly in the horror genre, with a 'zombie' feel to it...

** “The Legend of Troop 13,” Kit Reed (Asimov’s Science Fiction, Jan 2013 / The Story Until Now: A Great Big Book of Stories, Wesleyan)
There are a few humorous moments in this tall tale of a girl scout troop run wild in the woods surrounding an observatory - but they don't make up for the overwhelming misandry of the piece. In addition, I found the ending to be very unsatisfying, especially from a feminist perspective. The 'wild' girl is like, "I don't care if he thinks I'm ugly, but he called me OLD! Oh Noes! Weird stuff going on here, and I just didn't particularly like it.

*** “The Good Husband,” Nathan Ballingrud (North American Lake Monsters, Small Beer Press)
Captures the claustrophobic, desperate feeling of being trapped in a relationship with someone with severe, suicidal depression very, very well. The husband here has been pushed past his limits. He's no longer sure what is love and what, obligation. And he's got a really bad case of denial. There are 'supernatural' occurrences here - but they work perfectly as a metaphor for real life events.

*** “The Soul in the Bell Jar,” K. J. Kabza (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Nov/Dec 2013)
Steampunk-influenced horror. A young girl is sent to stay with her scientist great-uncle, at his decaying Victorian estate - and discovers all kinds of horrific experiments. I liked the writing; thought the setting and ideas would be very suited to a longer novel. The conclusion here felt a little muddled, though.

** “The Creature Recants,” Dale Bailey (Clarkesworld, Issue 85, October 2013)
What if the Creature From The Black Lagoon were captured in a swamp and brought to Hollywood. Ennui might set in...

** “Termination Dust,” Laird Barron (Tales of Jack the Ripper, ed. Ross Lockhart, Word Horde)
A serial killer is on the loose in a tiny, claustrophobic Alaskan town. The story's written in an odd, disjointed way, in order to throw doubt and suspicion upon every single character. The jumpiness of the narrative didn't really work for me.

*** “Postcards from Abroad,” Peter Atkins (Rolling Darkness Revue 2013, Earthling Publications)
Paranormal investigation genre fiction? Yes, this is. But the touching and unexpected ending really put this piece a notch above most of the current fiction of the type.

**** “Phosphorous,” Veronica Schanoes, (Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells: An Anthology of Gaslamp Fantasy, eds. Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling, Tor)
Well, that was rough. It's worse because it's all pretty much true, with the exception of a few fictional details thrown in. The actually didn't like the narrative voice (addressing the readers as 'you' throughout), but the story was still disturbing and powerful. It's based on the historical events related here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/legacies/work/england/london/article_1.shtml

***** “A Lunar Labyrinth,” Neil Gaiman (Shadows of the New Sun: Stories in Honor of Gene Wolfe, eds. J. E. Mooney & Bill Fawcett, Tor)
I didn't catch a specific Gene Wolfe reference here (which isn't to claim there isn't one), but this story is a superb example of the genre of: 'strange and eerie rituals persisting in remote towns and rural areas, discovered by an outsider.'

** “The Prayer of Ninety Cats,” Caitlín R. Kiernan (Subterranean Online, Spring 2013)
Generally, I like Kiernan's writing, but this overlong mash-up of nostalgia about The Cinema and a classsic-horror-style screenplay didn't work for me. I liked the story, about a fictionalized version of Elizabeth Bathory, quite a lot, and would have preferred it if it had just been written 'straight,' as a story in and of itself, without the commentary.

**** “Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell,” Brandon Sanderson (Dangerous Women, eds. George R. R. Martin & Gardner Dozois, Tor)
Ever realize you've been missing out on something? I just did. I have read zero books by Sanderson, and his Wheel of Time takeover discouraged me from trying any. (Not a Jordan fan.) However, this is a great story. An innkeeper in a dangerous, shade-haunted forest is secretly a notorious bounty hunter. No one knows the lengths she goes to to keep herself and her children alive in a hostile world.

**** “The Plague” Ken Liu (Nature, 16 May 2013)
A nice commentary on the human urge to 'take responsibility and help' - and what the reaction to a misguided effort might very well often be.
Honestly, I thought it could've been a bit more even-handed, but in such a short piece there isn't room for a full exploration of all ramifications of a complex situation. And the ending will hit you like a smack upside the head...

**** “The Gruesome Affair of the Electric Blue Lightning,” Joe R. Lansdale (Beyond Rue Morgue: Further Tales of Edgar Allan Poe’s First Detective, ed. Paul Kane & Charles Prepole, Titan)
A humorous mash-up of Arthur Conan Doyle, Mary Shelley and HP Lovecraft. On the face of it, that doesn't sound like something that'd be up my alley - but it was a fun read.

** “Let My Smile Be Your Umbrella,” Brian Hodge (Psycho-Mania!, ed. Stephen Jones, Robinson)
I find a narration style that addresses the reader(or, as it may be, another character), directly, as "You" to be annoying. Earlier in this anthology, Veronica Schanoes pulled it off. Hodge, I felt, does not. The murderous narrator calls out an attention-seeking mopey girl for her annoying ways. But who is the narrator, and what are his own issues?

**** “Air, Water and the Grove,” Kaaron Warren (The Lowest Heaven, eds Anne C. Perry & Jared Shurin, Jurassic London)
A weird and original post-apocalyptic science fiction story. At first, I thought it was going to be something like 'The Purge.' But then, it got stranger. Bleak and dark - but I liked it quite a lot.

***** “A Little of the Night,” Tanith Lee (Clockwork Phoenix 4, ed. Mike Allen, Mythic Delirium)
Among the things that make me happy in life is the fact that Tanith Lee is still kicking it and writing stories like this one.
Years ago, a soldier, pushed to the limit, fled his troop and encountered strange events in a gothic castle. Now, junior military men wonder about the secrets the legendary commandant holds - but his story may remain an enigma.
This is an elegant, lovely story that works on several levels.

*** “A Collapse of Horses,” Brian Evenson (The American Reader, Feb/Mar 2013)
A well-crafted psychological horror piece. A husband returns to his family after an accident has affected his brain. His trouble keeping track of reality is both touching and chilling.

**** “Our Lady of Ruins”, Sarah Singleton (The Dark 2, Dec 2013)
This story would make an excellent surrealist art film.
After a breakdown at the side of the road, a man follows a girl, glimpsed running away, and finds a strange wheeled church in the forest... When he is finally 'found' he has amnesia, and his life is falling apart. What then, but to try to find what he has lost... Or is it to embrace that he is lost? Eerie imagery suffuses this piece...

*** “The Marginals,” Steve Duffy (The Moment of Panic, PSPublishing)
Would possibly work better as part of a longer novel... I liked this paranormal incident, and was intrigued by the characters - but I also felt they all needed more background. Who are our duo, who are they working for, and why? What is their relationship to each other? What are the parameters of this world, and the magic they encounter?

**** “Dark Gardens,” Greg Kurzawa (Interzone # 248)
Starts out as if it's going to be one of those magician-and-haunted-ventriloquist's-dummy stories. But then the road takes a dip, and it gets much darker. This has some genuinely creepy moments.

*****“Rag and Bone,” Priya Sharma (Tor.com, 10 April 2013)
A re-read - and just as good the second time through. (previously read in: The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume 8 - Jonathan Strahan)Oh, this one is creepy. Think: Ishiguro's 'Never Let Me Go' meets Thompson's 'Divided Kingdom' in a Dickensian alternate England. A bit of a steampunk feel to it (think George Mann's 'Affinity Bridge') - minus the steam.
But it's also a wonderful story in which humanity and compassion come to the fore, even in the face of complete and utter callousness. It illustrates both the best and the worst that people are capable of. I hope to read more from Sharma in the future.

**** “The Slipway Gray,” Helen Marshall (Chilling Tales 2, ed. Michael Kelly, Edge Publications)
Not really fantasy, or horror - but a rather lovely musing on the tribulations (and rewards) of life, and the inevitability of death. A South African grandfather tells a child of the times in his life that he faced death, and of the things that made life worth living.

**** “To Die for Moonlight,” Sarah Monette (Apex Magazine, Issue #50)
A Kyle Murchison Booth story. Monette fans will be delighted to be granted another encounter with her archivist. Here, when called upon to catalog a rather disappointing collection of 19th-century literature, Booth has an uncomfortable (and unexpected) encounter with family curses and the paranormal.

*** “Cuckoo,” Angela Slatter (A Killer Among Demons, ed. Craig Bezant, Dark Prints Press)
A demon (Lucifer?) encounters evil here on earth that stumps even his wiles... very dark.

**** “Fishwife,” Carrie Vaughn (Nightmare, Jun 2013)
Nice piece, with the feeling of a timeless legend and a Lovecraftian ending. An impoverished fishing village makes a devil's bargain...

*** “The Dream Detective,” Lisa Tuttle (Lightspeed, Mar 2013)
At a dinner party, a young man meets a woman who calls herself a 'dream detective.' Is it coincidence that soon afterward, he finds images of the woman haunting his dreams? Guilt and violence blend with the psychological and the paranormal...

*** “Event Horizon,” Sunny Moraine (Strange Horizons, 21 Oct 2013)
Technically, the house in this story isn't 'haunted' - but I'd still put this in the 'haunted house' genre. A couple of outcast teens put up with the bullies at their schools - but an impending personal crisis leads to more drastic measures.

**** “Moonstruck,” Karin Tidbeck (Shadows and Tall Trees, Vol. 5, ed. Mike Kelly, Undertow)
Riffing on the connections between the moon and a woman's cycle, Tidbeck creates a surreal, pre-apocalyptic tale. Beautiful writing...

**** “The Ghost Makers,” Elizabeth Bear (Fearsome Journeys, ed. Jonathan Strahan, Solaris)
Not so much dark fantasy as classic fantasy. Sure, it has a dark edge... A masked cyborg, former servant of a wizard, teams up with a masterless swordsman in order to track down a soul-stealing, serial killing wizard. Really well done. The story creates a fascinating world that I'd like to spend more time discovering.

***** “Iseul’s Lexicon,” Yoon Ha Lee (Conservation of Shadows, Prime Books)
A spy from a conquered nation seeks to defend against the oppressors - but uncovers a plot that threatens not just her people, but all of humanity. The threat is from beings who were long thought defeated and destroyed. Borrowed magic may be of some help - but magic is decaying... This novella contains a remarkably well-realized world, and a fascinating and original system of lexical magic. The plot is full of political and personal complexity, with a heartbreaking conclusion. Wonderful.
(Although, again, more classic fantasy/sci-fi than 'dark' or 'horror.')

Advance reading copy provided by NetGalley - much appreciation for the opportunity to read. As always, my opinions are solely my own.

( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
This year's dark fantasy and horror collection includes some big names—Laird Barron, the Stephen King of the Pacific Northwest; Neil Gaiman; Elizabeth Bear; George R. R. Martin). But there are plenty of authors included that fall into the “who?” category.

Barron’s story is a tale of psycho spree-killing in Alaska—which is enough of a depressing place without people being gutted right and left—that seems to have a supernatural evil involved. Gaiman goes for the Twilight Zone-style morality play in “A Lunar Labyrinth,” while Ken Liu’s “The Plague” (originally published in the journal Nature) suggests that morality is relative—though the case could be made for this story being science fiction.

Well, the boundaries get a little blurry when the stories are this good.

But it’s Kit Reed’s amazing “The Legend of Troop 13” that offers what can only be described as definitive dark fantasy. No supernatural elements, but it’s plenty dark: A lost Girl Scout troop that becomes a pack of almost-wild girls—except, of course, that they have the Scout rules and training, and they don’t stay girls.

And for straight-up horror, it’s hard to beat David J. Schow’s “Blue Amber”—which also might qualify as science fiction—in which a pair of Border Patrol Agents run across something truly alien to them.

Reviewed on Lit/Rant: www.litrant.tumblr.com ( )
  KelMunger | Dec 22, 2014 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Guran, PaulaEditorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Atkins, PeterContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bailey, DaleContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ballingrud, NathanContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Barron, LairdContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bear, ElizabethContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Duffy, SteveContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Evenson, BrianContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gaiman, NeilContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hirshberg, GlenContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hodge, BrianContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Kabza, K.J.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Kiernan, Caitlin R.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Kurzawa, GregContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lansdale, Joe R.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lee, TanithContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lee, Yoon HaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Liu, KenContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Marshall, HelenContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Monette, SarahContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Moraine, SunnyContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Reed, KitContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Sanderson, BrandonContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Schanoes, VeronicaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Schow, David J.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Sharma, PriyaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Singleton, SarahContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Slatter, AngelaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Tem, Steve RasnicContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Tidbeck, KarinContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Tuttle, LisaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Vaughn, CarrieContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Warren, KaaronContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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No matter your expectations, the dark is full of the unknown: grim futures, distorted pasts, invasions of the uncanny, paranormal fancies, weird dreams, unnerving nightmares, baffling enigmas, revelatory excursions, desperate adventures, spectral journeys, mundane terrors, and supernatural visions. You may stumble into obsession - or find redemption. Often disturbing, occasionally delightful, let The Year's Best Dark Fantasy and Horror be your annual guide through the mysteries and wonders of dark fiction.… (more)

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