Friday, 14 October 2016

Nightmares: A New Decade of Modern Horror compiled by Ellen Datlow

Book Review

Nightmares: A Decade of Modern Horror compiled by Ellen Datlow

Nice spooky ghost stories for Halloween, that's what I thought about Nightmares: A New Decade of Modern Horror (Tachyon Publications) when I first saw it. But that's not exactly what I got.

Nightmares is an anthology of short horror stories, compiled by "editor extraordinaire" Ellen Datlow. This is the followup to Darkness: Two Decades of Modern Horror and covers the decade 2005 to 2015. It includes 24 stories from some of the most iconic horror authors, including Garth Nix, Gene Wolfe, Richard Kadrey and many more.

Now the word modern in the title should have alerted me to the fact that this probably wasn't going to be my cup of tea. I am a big fan of horror fiction, but I tend to prefer a good old fashioned ghost story with bleeding walls and someone carrying around their own head.

I'm not as big a fan of the gory, slasher type stories and modern, zombies taking over the world sort of thing.

Nightmares falls somewhere between the two but, being modern, verges towards the latter. While there were a few, what I would call  ghost stories, a lot of the stories lacked ghosts and instead drew on the horror that humans do to others, mixed in with a good dose of end of the world, zombie type stuff.

Also, when did incest suddenly become the new popular taboo? It used to be child abuse, now it's gone one step further and if authors are really looking to shock their readers they add a big dollop of incest into their stories, quite often mixed in with child abuse, just to make it even more sickening. I'm not saying I only want to read light fluffy books where nothing bad ever happens, abuse etc are unfortunately things that happen in the world, but often it seems that these subjects are thrown in to shock rather than progress a story, such as the story The Goosle by Margo Lanagan with a retelling of Hansel and Gretel with a spadeful of child rape thrown in.

A number of the stories in Nightmares were based around incest, especially Omphalos by Livia Llewellyn, which tells the story of a family that is rather too close taking a holiday together. The subject of incest was important to the story, yet it was not the pinnacle, and it seemed Llewellyn kept pressing the matter until I had to put the book down and take a breath because I felt sick.

Then again, I suppose that's what horror is supposed to do; think about all the people throwing up and fainting when they watched The Exorcist.

However, while there were some stories I didn't enjoy there were more that I liked, or maybe liked isn't the right word. I was intrigued by them. Among them was Sob in the Silence by Gene Wolfe, which begins with the line:

"This," the horror writer told the family visiting him, "is beyond any question the least haunted house in the Midwest. No ghost, none at all, will come within miles of the place. So I am assured."

It seems with these fateful words Wolfe is setting you up for a classic haunted house story, but it takes a different turn.

I also enjoyed Dead Sea Fruit by Kaaron Warren, which tells the story of The Ash Mouth Man whose kiss helps girls on their way to being anorexics, and Hushabye by Simon Bestwick which I felt had a bit of a Stephen King feel with its tale of a mysterious creature stealing children's souls.

It's hard to review a collection by several different authors as you almost have to review each story individually, which I won't do as that would take forever. I will say that, shocking subject matter or not, the standard of writing is very high and Ellen Datlow has clearly selected well, picking from some of the best horror writers of the last few years.
I also marvel at good short story writers who are able to encapsulate a whole plot and world in a limited amount of words. All these stories are very good at building and holding tension and delivering a scare in a small space of time.

If you're a horror lover and want a smorgasbord to sample, then Nightmares is the book for you. You can dip in and out and choose the best.

If, however, you want to get settled in to a good old fashioned ghost story then this may be one to miss.

My Rating: 3 Stars

I'm giving Nightmares three stars; there's no doubt that the writing level is high, but for me I feel there could have been more subtlety and I would have preferred a few more ghosts rattling their chains. I recognise this is personal preference though and I believe lovers of modern horror would enjoy this collection.

Nightmares, A New Decade of Modern Horror will be on sale on October 31st, Halloween of course.

I received this book on a read to review basis from NetGalley, my thanks to the publisher and authors.

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