Book Review: Nightmares: A New Decade of Modern Horror, edited by Ellen Datlow

 “A nightmare for every horror fan.”

As indicated in Ellen Datlow’s introduction, you could consider this a sequel to Darkness: Two Decades of Modern Horror, which included greats like Clive Barker, Stephen King, Peter Straub, Neil Gaiman and George R. R. Martin. Nightmares: A New Decade of Modern Horror is a celebration of the art of writing short stories. These tales are a gathering of those that left a lasting impression on her. It did on us, and certainly will on you.

We begin with ‘Shallaballah’ by Mark Samuels, a television star gets into a life altering car accident, and finds himself in the clinic of Mr. Punch. In Hollywood when your face is your career, how far would a man go to reclaim his fame? And at what cost? The next offering is ‘Sob in Silence’ by Gene Wolfe, when an old friend and horror writer invites you to his rumored-to-be incredibly haunted house, would you go? And would you take your children? How many nightmares can you conjure just thinking about the ramifications of accepting such an invitation? A very creepy tale of just deserts. The opening of ‘Our Turn Too Will One Day Come’ by Brian Hodge is epic, it sets the hook from the beginning. It’s a story entrenched in the ancient lore of the Scots and begs the question, what would you do for family?

In ‘Dead Sea Fruit’ by Kaaron Warren, the reader gets a glimpse of a woman working in a clinic for anorexic women. She gets told stories of the ash mouth man. His kiss literally causes girls to waste away to nothing. When she falls for a handsome stranger everything seems just right, until he won’t kiss her. ‘Closet Dreams’ by Lisa Tuttle is truly like a terrible nightmare. One day a little girl is just gone. The child is held captive by a man who puts her through the worst kinds of abuse. She is locked away in a closet and dreams of escaping only to find that dreams can sometimes be more painful than reality. ‘Spectral Evidence’ by Gemma Files is told through a series of notes on the back of photographs displaying paranormal phenomenon and the death of psychic investigators that took them, but there is much, much more. A very unique and chilling way to portray a story, the reader will be engaged until the very end.

Vengeance is sought for the victims of a child predator in ‘Hushabye’ by Simon Bestwick. Our hero with a checkered past comes across the fiend in action and rescues a child. After hearing the condition of the victim and the mysterious death of a friend he decides to take matters into his own hands. The perpetrator turns out to be far worse than he could ever imagine. In the air force, the young recruits get hazed, it also happens in ‘Very Low-Flying Aircraft’ by Nicholas Royle. A young recruit, Flynn, is made to bite the head off of a chicken and is stricken by wondering how long it could live and see without a head … and if a man were decapitated would it be the same.

‘The Goosle’ by Margo Lanagan is a haunting take on the tale of Hansel and Gretel. It is beautifully written and satisfyingly bloody. In ‘The Clay Party’ by Steve Duffy, a group of travelers set out for California following a foolhardy man that leads them to disaster and torment. Reminiscent of the Donner party but with a surprising ending. ‘Strappado’ by Laird Barron takes us into the world of wealthy businessmen seeking more excitement than what the discos can offer. They discover the secret exhibitions of Van Iblis. They make the journey to this forbidden show and are given the choice of seeing what’s beyond a red door and a blue door. With Laird Barron wielding the pen, you can guess that neither choice will lead to good things.

‘Lonegan’s Luck’ by Stephen Graham Jones takes us into the shady existence of a snake oil salesmen that offers an assortment of remedies as he rambles from town to town, leaving death in his wake. Gultree is his next destination to fill his wagon with the spoils of the dead, and if he’s lucky a slice of cake. ‘Mr. Pigsny’ by Reggie Oliver, a story of a gangster by the name of Reg McCall that never wants to die. The mysterious Mr. Pigsny has the power to oblige him, but there are worse things than dying.

Our next story, by Ray Cluley ‘At Night, When the Demons Come by’, is set in a post apocalyptic world filled with demons, a place where no one is safe, especially women. Mary Rickert introduces us to, Sheila, she is your typical darling little girl but she has a bad habit of torturing and killing fairies. Her father goes to dangerous lengths to teach her not to in ‘Was She Wicked? Was She Good?’ In ‘The Shallows’ by John Langan, a man shares memories with his only companion as the world becomes a terrible, lovecraftian frontier just beyond his front lawn.

In ‘Little Pig’ by Anna Taborska, a man awaits the arrival of his soon-to-be wife’s grandmother, upon dropping her glasses she utters something he doesn’t really understand. The phrase seems harmless until the reader is revealed the chilling story behind it. ‘Omphalos’ by Livia Llewellyn, takes us on a family vacation that seems ordinary until you discover the dirty secrets about this family. The daughter wants to escape, begs to be released and is taken straight into the void.

‘How We Escaped Our Certain Fate’ by Dan Chaon, is an interesting take on zombies. In this story they are seen more as pests. When the narrator begins to believe a certain member of the undead is visiting his garden by night he sits up and waits for her. In ‘That Tiny Flutter of the Heart I Used to Call Love’ by Robert Shearman, sibling rivalry and a creepy ritual of doll execution. Need we say more?

‘Interstate Love Song (Murder Ballad No. 8)’ by Caitlin R Kiernan, the writing is as deadly as the story in this tale of highway marauding and murder. If you haven’t familiarized yourself with Kiernan, get that fixed right away. Next we have Sir David who attempts to disarm an elderly man hiding a deadly secret. He’s not as he appears to be and won’t stop unless Sir David can remember the correct codes to stop him in ‘Shay Corsham Worsted’ by Garth Nix.

Thieves are sent to steal a book of great importance to a mob boss but find it’s more than just a book in ‘The Atlas of Hell’ by Nathan Ballingrud. The anthology rounds out with a story by Richard Kadrey entitled ‘Ambitious Boys Like You’ about a pair looking to rob an old man of his suspected riches inside of his rickety old house. The front yard is littered with hundreds of dolls and the house is booby trapped, that should have been a clue to stay away but ambitious boys don’t back down.

An excellent collection over all, featuring some of the best voices in horror. It has something to suit a wide variety of tastes, blending stories about real life trauma and bloodshed, to stories that pass into the realms of cosmic terror, horror in the old west and even those with a grim fairytale-like feel. In these pages you will find a nightmare for every horror fan.

                                                                                                              MICHELLE GARZA

Publisher: Tachyon Publications L.L.C.
Paperback: (291pp)
Release Date: 31 October 2016

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