August 8, 2012

Why I Love A Good Anthology: a guest post by James Everington

Here's another great guest post on anthologies, this time from author, James Everington. Enjoy!
Why I Love a Good Anthology
by James Everington

One of the things I've always loved about short stories, and horror short stories in particular, is finding a good anthology. There's something immensely satisfying about opening a book to its contents page and seeing a dozen or so different authors, a dozen or so evocative titles. It's like looking at a restaurant menu and thinking you can try everything.

Anthologies are a great way to discover new authors: I first read stories by writers such as Michael Marshal Smith, Angela Slatter, and Dennis Etchison in anthologies. Anthologies are also a great way to reread stories with which you're familiar in a new context.

Here are three of the best, in my opinion. If someone wanted to learn more about quality horror fiction, this is the route I'd send them down. I've tried to pick three with as little repetition of individual stories as possible.

The Dark Descent - Ed. David G. Hartwell

This was published in 1987 and contains 56 stories arranged thematically in three sections. I'll be honest, the exact split between the three themes is not exactly clear to me, but who cares when the stories themselves are so good?

The Dark Descent contains many stories by authors labeled horror authors - Clive Barker, Robert Aickman, Shirley Jackson - but alongside these are stories by authors more commonly known as literary or science fiction writers. The editor states in his introduction that his aim was to "clear the air and broaden future considerations of horror" and it's great to read people like DH Lawrence, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Philip K Dick in a horror anthology.

Mammoth release a Best New Horror anthology every year; this book was released when the series had reached its twentieth year, and contains a story from the first twenty volumes. As such it's a great overview of contemporary horror and it's movers and shakers since The Dark Descent was published. Many of the stories in this volume are classics and I'm sure will be anthologized many times in the future (as long as we still have editors like Stephen Jones and David Hartwell, that is).

I couldn't say any of these stories are weak - they all deserve their place in the Best Of The Best. Special mention must go to two authors who were new to me at the time I read it though: "Emptiness Spoke Eloquent" by CaitlĂ­n R Kiernan and the frankly terrifying "White" by Tim Lebbon.

A Book Of Horrors - Ed. Stephen Jones

And so we come up to date - an anthology of 14 brand new stories published last year. Stephen King's "The Little Green God Of Agony" will be the draw for many people here, and it's a fine story but certainly not the best. That honour would have to go either to "Tell Me I'll See You Again" by Dennis Etchison or John Ajvide Lindqvist's novella, The Music of Bengt Karlsson, Murderer. The former is a masterpiece of quiet, nostalgic ambiguity; the latter a stunning horror tale that goes from creepiness to outright dread.

But really there's not a bad story here, and the book makes a strong argument for how good, how vibrant and original, the horror short story scene is at the moment.

So there you have it: 90 stories by authors going back to Dickens and (almost) up to the present day. And if you finish these there's more: Ellen Datlow's year's Best Of anthologies are as strong as the Mammoth ones; Black Water is a stunning anthology along the lines of The Dark Descent, where literary and fantasy authors mingle with horror ones - out of print but well worth seeking out. And a special mention must go to The Weird a huge (and I do mean huge - over 100 stories) anthology which must rank as one of the most comprehensive horror anthologies ever, both in terms of chronology and collecting translated horror tales from other cultures alongside more familiar tales from English speaking countries. I haven't finished it yet, hence me not including it above, but two thirds in it already feels like a new standard has been set.

About James Everington: I'm is a writer from Nottingham, England - most of what I write is dark, supernatural fiction, although not necessarily 'horror' in the blood and guts sense. I think a lot of the best such fiction has been done in the short story form (although that's not to say I won't be trying a novel at some point...)

My first collection, The Other Room, is available from Amazon UK, Amazon US, and Smashwords.

Along with some other great horror authors, I am one of the Abominable Gentleman. You can also catch up with me at my blog Scattershot Writing.

I drink Guinness, if anyone's offering.


  1. Could be a typo, but DARK DESCENT was originally published in 1987.

    BLACK WATER believe it or not doesn't include any Lovecraft!!!

  2. Oh - yes you're right, typo. Darn it!

  3. Ah. Good lookin' out, Will. I'll fix that today.