September 2, 2010

Rabid Reads: "The Best Horror of the Year Volume Two" by Ellen Datlow (editor)

Title: The Best Horror of the Year Volume Two
Editor: Ellen Datlow
Published: Night Shade Books (2010)
Pages: 308
Category/Genre: Horror; Anthology
ISBN 978-1-59780-173-7

Seventeen short stories make up a book that Ellen Datlow, editor extraordinaire, ensures make up some of the best horror stories from 2009. Who am I to dispute such a claim? I'll simply say that while a few of the stories didn't exactly lift my skirt, the overall compilation and a few real gems in this book lead me to believe that Datlow knows a great story when she reads one.

The foreword is a summation of some of the award winning novels, short stories, anthologies, and collections in the horror genre. As well, Datlow offers a few recommendations of her own. Then, at the end of the book, she gives a listing of her "honorable mentions" that is a who's who list of fine writers and their works. Sufficed to say, my own wish list became a fair bit longer after reading these parts of the book.

As for the stories, they are a diverse bunch of tales. End of the world scenarios, woodland spirits, old west grifters, vampire dogs, and a whole lot more offer a three-ring circus of the strange. The writing styles of each contributing author reflect an even more diverse collection of works. The most jarring and unique comes from Gemma Files and Stephen Barringer with a story called "each thing i show you is a piece of my death," that reads like a patched together assembling of transcripts and correspondence that deal with very strange phenomena.

The standouts for me include Suzy Kee Charnas' "Lowland Sea," about a horrific plague sweeping the world and an African woman trying to survive with her millionaire employer/"liberator" and his entourage of hangers-on. "In the Porches of My Ears" by Norman Prentiss, which tells about a husband and wife and an unsettling encounter at a movie theater. Stephen Graham Jones' "Lonegun's Luck," is a great piece of western fiction about a snake-oil salesman and his unique method of milking a town dry of all it's worth. And, Laird Barron's "Strappado" and Nina Allen's "The Lammas Worm" finish up the book as two very strong stories.

All things considered, this is definitely worth checking out if you like your horror fiction in short form. And if you've not bothered with short stories in the past, there are worse places to dip your toes. After reading this and the fairy tale anthology Troll's Eye View, I can see why Ellen Datlow is so revered as an editor.

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