By Alison J. McKenzie
Datlow, Ellen, ed. The Best Horror of the Year, Volume 6. Night Shade Books (June 3, 2014). Paperback: 448 pages. ISBN-13: 978-1597805032.
I have a love-hate relationship with anthologies. Going in, I can typically expect the following: a couple of outstanding stories, some pretty good ones, some “blah” ones, and one or two that make me want to chuck my Kindle at a wall. The gamble is really in the balance of quality versus dreck. That’s the cost of variety, though, and on a good day, the price is worth it. A good anthology is a treasure. And this particular book had promise – it’s one of Ellen Datlow’s “Best Horror” compilations.
For the most part, I wasn’t disappointed. There was definitely more quality than dreck here. I did, however, get exactly what I expected: the outstanding, the pretty good, the “blah,” and a single wall-chucker.
The best stories in this compilation certainly left their mark on me. There were times while reading this book that I thought such things as “Holy crap,” or “That’s messed up,” and moments after finishing a story where I had to pause and re-adjust to reality.
“The Good Husband’ by Nathan Ballingrud made me clench my teeth so hard in disgust that my jaw ached (This is a good thing). “Call Out” by Steve Toase was just plain fun in a people-getting-ripped-open-by-terrible-monsters sort of way. “Fine in the Fire” by Lee Thomas left me speechless and horribly depressed (again, a good thing). And “Jaws of Saturn” by Laird Barron – well, all I can say is that when the story was over, I felt like I was waking up from a dream.
Beyond this, the bulk of the book is good, solid horror. You have your fast-paced terror and your slow, creeping chills, your supernatural beasties and your very human monsters. In general, the book leaned a little more towards dark rather than scary, so if you’re looking for something that’ll give you nightmares, maybe don’t look here. Though it does have its moments.
Unfortunately, a few stories dragged a little. They lacked a pulse – no tension, no fear, only a dull curiosity that kept me thumbing through the pages, head cradled lazily in my hand, thinking to myself, “Huh. Okay. I wonder how many pages are left until I can get to the next story?” There were also the inevitable bits that started out strong and then fell flat.
The one wall-chucker, for me, was “The Tin House” by Simon Clark. From the start, I didn’t buy it; it felt as genuine as a three-dollar bill. As the plot progressed, my skepticism grew and I think I might have actually rolled my eyes when I got to the big reveal. I took notes on each story and my notes for this one included a few curse words.
The Best Horror of the Year, Volume Six is, overall, an excellent snapshot of the dark and scary stories of 2013. Horror fans will find what they’re looking for here, no matter their particular brand of horror. The gamble paid off, I’d say. Is it perfect? Maybe not. But it is good. And it is worth it. My recommendation: Pick it up, curl under a blanket, put some creepy mood music on your mp3 player of choice, and dig in.
Biography Alison J. McKenzie has dabbled in writing poetry, playwriting, short stories, and novels. She has had work published for the Pathfinder tabletop role playing game, and has had poetry and short stories published, as well. She is currently the Editorial Programming Manager for Xbox.com and was a video game writer at ArenaNet for two years, working on Guild Wars 2. In her free time, she writes primarily modern fantasy and science fiction, but she has a soft spot for horror. Her website is: www.alisonjmckenzie.com.