February 28, 2012

Rabid Reads: "Darkness: Two Decades of Modern Horror" by Ellen Datlow

Darkness: Two Decades of Modern Horror
edited by Ellen Datlow
Tachyon Publications (2010)
424 pages
ISBN 1892391953

If you aren't well-versed in the best of short fiction within the horror genre, Ellen Datlow to the rescue. With Darkness, Ellen takes a look back on the last twenty-five years of horror, more specifically the years between 1980 and 2005, and compiles twenty-five stories from some of the most notorious names in the genre.

I had blogged about this book back in Wish List Wednesday #43, mainly for the "greatest hits" feel of the anthology, and the list of contributing authors was incredible. But, when I actually had a gander at the table of contents earlier this year and realized it contained a short story I've been wanting to read for years, I actually put an effort to track down a copy of the book. That story?

George R. R. Martin's "The Pear-Shaped Man." That short story, first published in 1987, was practically urban legend for me, as multiple people have cited it as a must read and one of the best short stories in horror. A face value, a story about a creepy neighbor might not sound like much, but Mr. Game of Thrones really amped up the creepy factor in this one and by the end of it my skin was crawling. Definitely a gem and reason enough to hunt down this anthology.

But wait ... there's more!

Peter Straub's "The Juniper Tree" (1988) is another haunting story, but this one takes a more subdued albeit just as disturbing tale of lost innocence. Dan Simmons had a fun one called "Two Minutes Forty-Five Seconds" (1988) about a businessman's fated trip on board a jet. A couple others I thought were exceptional among the exceptional were Joe Lansdale's "The Phone Woman" (1990), Denis Etchison's "The Dog Park" (1993), and Joyce Carol Oates' " " (1995).

The book was a great time capsule, and nearly every read was new to me. The only three I recall reading before are Clive Barker's "Jacqueline Ess" (1984), Stephen King's "Chattery Teeth" (1992), and Joe Hill's "My Father's Mask" (2005). Everything else, including some great stories from Kelly Link, Gary Wolfe, and Kathe Koja were almost like finding buried treasure. It may not be a book that's ideal for those who have already devoured the works of these notable authors, but for anyone looking to get a diverse sampling of what the last few decades have to offer, this is a book you shouldn't miss.


  1. Just looked at the table of contents and found I've only read a small handful of these stories: Barker, Ligotti, Brite, and Straub. Oh well, those *are* some of the very finest tales by those writers. Good selection of authors though.

  2. I need to not only remember this book, but I actually need to get off my ass and go and find it. Thanks for the review.

  3. Will - Ellen seems to know how to pick 'em.

    Ryan - You're welcome. I doubt you'll be disappointed.

  4. Oh man, now I have to read it for the Martin story!
    Damn you, I'm so broke, yet must have best of horror collections!
    The phone woman is a creepy story, read that one before.

  5. Well, as a fellow broke man, I recommend the library, which is where I got my copy. It was an inter-library loan though, since horror is not the most widely available genre in my local library.