Blood and Other Cravings
edited by Ellen Datlow
Tor Books (2011)
When I was a kid, I would faint at the sight of blood, or at least get woozy. Odd that I would grow to become a fan of horror fiction, yes, but the written word is far easier on my frailties than gashing my leg open on broken glass (that was not a fun day). This anthology of short fiction isn't a prurient bloodbath though, and it would silly to expect such from Ellen Datlow. This collection focuses rather on the other word in the title: cravings.
Blood and Other Cravings isn't strictly a vampire anthology, though there are some stories that fit the bill. Instead this is a look at obsessions, addictions, parasitic relationships, and deviant appetites. And the table of contents for this book is impressive in the number of acclaimed authors Ellen Datlow has brought together. From Kaaron Warren, who kicks off the anthology, all the way to the final story by Laird Barron, there's a great grouping of longstanding authors to those just breaking into the writing world on a big stage.
As mentioned, things are kicked off by Kaaron Warren's "All You Can Do Is Breath," about a coal miner trapped for days in the wake of a cave-in and sees a creature crawling between the rocks to prey on a fellow miner behind a wall of coal. Then, after he's rescued and tries to carry on with his life, he sees the creature again. The story had a great, lingering vibe running up its backbone and effectively showed that this anthology was not strictly about vampires.
Right after that one came a story that turned out to be one of my favorites from the book, Elizabeth Bear's "Needles." This one was a hard-bitten, bleak vampire story that explored a very deep, very primordial craving for a vampire with a fairly macabre maternal instinct. This is one to bookmark should you decide to get this anthology.
Reggie Oliver's "Baskerville's Midgets" was a fun, frightful tale about a stage performer's encounters in a old boarding house's weird tenants and sorrowful owner. One of the sadder stories comes in the form of Melanie Tem's "Keeping Corky," which starts off inside the unsettling mindset of a woman who has lost her son.
Another of my favorites was called "First Breath" by Nicole J. LeBoeuf, which is the first time I've ever enjoyed a story involving someone named LeBoeuf (anyone who has had the misfortune of sitting through a Shia LeBoeuf film knows what I'm talking about). "First Breath" had a bit more ghostly appeal to it than most other stories, and had a great balance between scary and sad. The ending really brought it all home, too. Incidentally, this story was Nicole's first professional sale as an author, so I'll be interested to see if I stumble across her work in the near future, as this was a very good showing.
All in all, there is nothing the least bit critical I can say about this anthology. Ellen Datlow's Supernatural Noir was my favorite anthology of 2011, but Blood and Other Cravings was published last year as well, and had I read it last year I'm inclined to think I may have ranked it just a hair's breadth higher on my faves list. No matter, as it stands as my favorite anthology of 2012 so far, and further cements my adoration for Ellen's keen eye for short fiction.