When it comes to the annual 'Best of' anthologies, Jonathan Strahan may be the editorial King (especially in recent years) of sci-fi and fantasy, but Ellen Datlow is the undisputed (and long-reigning) Queen of horror.
That brings us to The Best Horror of the Year, Volume Six, which is scheduled to hit the shelves early next month. The anthology begins with her usual summation on selection, awards, and notable novels, magazines, stories, anthologies, collections, and more. If you ever wondered just what an editor has to go through to put together an anthology like this, or wondered just how much reading they might have to do, then gaze in awe and wonder at the wealth of material she had to read to get to this point. It's staggering.
With 24 pieces from different authors clocking in at anywhere from 1,100 to 15,800 words, there's a lot to read here. My approach to these kinds of anthologies tends to be layered, with a first pass at stories by authors I recognize, a second at the titles that intrigue me the most, and a final pass as the rest of the collection. It's an approach that I find interesting because it allows me consider the individual merits of the stories, as opposed to how they compare to the bigger names in the collection.
As for those recognized names I hit on my first pass, Simon Clark's The Tin House is a different sort of haunted house tale, one populated by memories (particularly the guilty) ones of those who passed in cruelty, while Steve Rasnic Tem's The Monster Makers takes an awkward, uncomfortable look at the cruelty of children - children who are neither as innocent nor as blameless as we might like to think. Kim Newman's The Only Ending We Have was my second-favorite of the collection, a Hitchcock tribute about a young woman on-set for Psycho that I had to read twice - once for the story, and a second time to catch all the references. Down to a Sunless Sea by Neil Gaiman will likely garner a lot of attention, but as much as I liked its surreal sort of dreamy quality, I was left wanting something more. The final story in the anthology, Brian Hodge's The Same Deep Waters as You was the one story to beat out Newman for my favorite entry, with a fantastic tale of Lovecraftian monsters versus Homeland Security.
Of those I encountered on my subsequent passes, Stephen Bacon's Apports was a great tale of a vengeful poltergeist; Steve Toase's Call Out involved a twisted sort of human sacrifice that I quite enjoyed; and Lynda E. Rucker's The House on Cobb Street was an amazingly constructed story that I can't find a way to describe without spoiling the tale. The Fox by Conrad Williams was a great campfire horror story (literally) that does a nice job of building the suspense to a never feverish intensity, while Tim Casson's The Withering was a solid period piece about a young woman who can hear the voices of the dead, and who is called upon to determine a question of guilt.
Overall, a solid collection of atmospheric, subtle sort of horror stories that unnerve and creep rather than outright horrify. With a focus more on emotion than gore, Datlow has taken what seems a very 'classic' sort of approach to The Best Horror of the Year, Volume Six, and I suspect that will really appeal to many readers. Check it out, even if just for Newman & Hodge - they're worth the price of admission alone.
Paperback, 448 pages
Expected publication: June 3rd 2014 by Night Shade Books