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Book Review: Searchers After Horror Edited by ST Joshi

“Excellent new anthology of consistently superb modern weird tales!”

9781878252265_largeIt’s always a pleasure to see a new anthology of weird fiction from Fedogan and Bremer, and doubly so when it has been put together by S T Joshi, an editor with an unparalleled track record within the genre. Searchers After Horror contains twenty one strange tales, each offering us a different take on the volume’s theme of ‘the weird place’, and written by some of the most accomplished genre practitioners writing today (and one who isn’t – more about him in a moment).

The volume kicks of with Melanie Tem’s ‘Ice’. Poor Kelly is trapped in her house, but is it the worsening weather conditions that are keeping her there or her practically non-existent sense of self-worth? ‘Ice’ is a well-written, neat little piece to start the book with and reminds us that sometimes our very worst enemy is ourself.

John Shirley is next with ‘At Home with Azathoth’, which gives us a William Gibson-style version of the blind idiot god of Lovecraft’s writings as the centrepiece of a tale of cyberpunk revenge. It’s followed by Michael Aronovitz’s ‘The Girl Between the Slats’, in which a writing class is not all that it seems.

The anthology really gets underway with Richard Gavin’s ‘The Patter of Tiny Feet’, a superbly scary tale of a movie location scout coming across an old house in the middle of nowhere that harbours something quite ghastly. Gavin slowly turns the screw tighter as the house is explored, until we reach the satisfying payoff.

The always-reliable Ramsey Campbell is next with the equally delicious ‘At Lorn Hall’. Randolph, a typical Campbellian ‘hero’ decides to take in an impromptu tour of what turns out to be one of the scariest stately homes every committed to paper. Is Lord Crowcross talking to him from the audio guide, from the portraits present in every room, or is his voice coming from somewhere far more unpleasant?

Caitlin R Kiernan’s ‘Blind Fish’ offers us underwater horrors. In the year 2031 a palaeontologist struggles to come to terms with something overwhelming that he has witnessed during an exploration into the murky depths, and not even his marine hybrid girlfriend can help him. Gary Fry’s ‘The Reeds’ takes us into Machen territory with one of the finest ‘little people’ stories to have seen print in recent years, and then we have a tale by Steve Rasnic Tem who, in ‘Crawldaddies’ gives us several good reasons to stay away from crawdads (crayfish, or fresh water langoustines to UK readers).

Jonathan Thomas’ Dunsanian ‘Three Dreams of Ys’ is a story that grows on you, much like the spores from the decaying dream city visited by its sleeping narrator during his visit to a rotting Brittany hotel. The narrative style take a bit of getting used to here, with frequent, and intermittent, dropping of articles and pronouns, but stick with it because the end result is ultimately rewarding.

Lois Gresh mixes steampunk with cosmic horror in ‘Willie the Protector’. Willie is the latest in a long line of protectors of a weird machine that may help to sustain society. When the device starts to malfunction and we learn of the series of codes needed to access it the story becomes increasingly fascinating, with an ending that is as satisfying as it is cosmically terrifying.

Hannes Bok (real name Wayne Francis Woodard) was an American artist who died in 1964. As well as painting nearly 150 covers for a variety of science fiction and fantasy magazines, and book covers for Arkham House and Fantasy Press, he wrote a substantial amount of weird fiction. Rescued from obscurity for this volume is ‘Miranda’s Tree’, a gentle tale of a woman’s unrequited love and the solace she gains from a magical oak tree. Simon Strantzas continues the theme of gentle weirdness with ‘The Beautiful Fog Ascending’, a literally beautiful tale of a man coming to terms with the end of his life.

Nick Mamatas gets the horror back on track with ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop’, an abrasive tale of a very weird tourist attraction that costs a fortune to experience. Darrell Schweitzer’s ‘Going to Ground’ is a brief tale of the horrors encountered by a university lecturer after a major life event that he only remembers at the end of the tale. Ann Schwader’s ‘Dark Equinox’ is the story of artist Leonie Gerard and one woman’s attempt to study and understand her bizarre and terrifying paintings. Brian Stableford’s ‘Et in Arcadia Ego’ combines pagan religion with ancient Greek history with a superbly resonant punchline it would be a crime to reveal here.

In a volume of consistently excellent stories, Jason V Brock’s ‘The Shadow of Heaven’ is a standout, managing to reference everything from pulp adventure to Gabriel Garcia Marquez to John Carpenter’s The Thing while being a properly terrifying tale in its own right as we follow the USS Higgins and its attempts to recover a missing research ship in Antarctica.

Nancy Kilpatrick’s ‘Flesh and Bones’ gives us a couple with an endearingly morbid pair of hobbies and an ending that reads like the literary equivalent of an EC comics horror tale. In ‘The Sculptures in the House’, John D Haefele includes references to both Clark Ashton Smith and Tsathoggua, cleverly using them almost as distractions in a story that has a killer of an ending.

The volume concludes with Donald Tyson’s ‘Ice Fishing’. Two Canadians make the mistake of moving their ice-fishing shack to a frozen lake the Mi’kmaq Indians tell horror stories about, and by the time the tale is over, the Mi’kmaq have another one.

Searchers After Horror is a triumph, and easily a candidate for the best horror anthology published this year. It both showcases the current state of the genre and sets a benchmark that is going to be difficult to beat. Fedogan and Bremer are bringing this out in a limited edition so grab a copy while you can.

JOHN LLEWELLYN PROBERT

Publisher: Fedogan and Bremer
Hardback (352pp)
Release Date: 1 June 2014

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2 comments

  1. Jason V Brock

    Many thanks for the kind words.

  2. Jonathan Sprague

    Thanks for this excellent review. I’ve started but not finished reading this stellar anthology. I agree, however, that the Campbell and Kiernan stories are standouts. And based on the enticing summary of Brock’s “The Shadow of Heaven” I’ll read that gem tonight. I love haunted expedition horror.

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