March 26th, 2006


Set Your VCRs

Be sure to set your VCRs (or TiVos, or whatever) to tape "One Life to Live" on Monday, 2PM-3PM Eastern Time on ABC. The role of Pete Braust, a retired Atlantic City cop, will be played by none other than bestselling author and subject of my current reading marathon, Peter Straub!

Corpse Blossoms

It's a widely accepted rule of thumb that anthologies tend to be mixed bags in terms of content quality, and Corpse Blossoms, the first publication from Creeping Hemlock Press, edited by Julia and R.J. Sevin, is no exception. The book itself is beautiful, a well put together limited edition hardcover with some nice bells and whistles, such as a foil stamp on the cover, quality paper that neither tears easily nor bleeds its ink all over your fingers, and small interior illustrations that add a touch of class.

Maybe it's just the kind of mood I've been in recently -- I'm beginning to get fed up with a lot of horror's same old same old -- but once I cracked that gorgeous book open, I found an anthology not much different from every other small press horror anthology I've ever read. The ratio of stories that thrilled me to stories that made me go ehhhh wasn't a favorable one. It's all personal opinion, of course, and it goes without saying that your mileage may vary, but for one of the year's most eagerly awaited horror anthologies, Corpse Blossoms let me down. I have faith that the Sevins can do much better, and I suspect that with the benefit of feedback from reviewers and readers they'll wind up blowing us all away with the proposed second volume.

I thought about doing a story-by-story breakdown, but that would take forever. Instead, I'm just going to mention the ones I thought were standouts, stories that should be highlighted in case you're one of those people who likes to skip around in anthologies instead of reading straight through.

"Wednesday" by Michael Canfield - a brilliant bit of surreality about a man who's the only one who's noticed that all the women have disappeared.

"Running Rain" by Brian Freeman - what at first appears to be yet another story about an angry father whose life has been touched by a child-murderer smacks you over the head with a final twist that even this jaded reader didn't see coming.

"Hexenrei" by Darren Speegle - without a doubt one of the best horror stories I have ever read. Speegle should be our generation's Poe or Lovecraft by now, but too few people have heard of him.

"Mysteries of the Colon" by Steve Rasnic Tem - I've loved everything I've ever read by Tem. He was doing modern surreal fantasy before it became known as interstitial or slipstream or whatever. This one's not his best (I think that would be In These Final Days of Sales), but it's still a compelling read.

"Feed Them" by Patricia Russo - a monster story where the monsters don't actually matter. Loved it.

"Need" by Gary Braunbeck - a sneaky puzzle of a story where all the clues are withheld from the reader and we're forced to use character reactions to piece together what happened. Horror is a genre that can really benefit from playing with structure, as evidenced here, and I'd like to see more of that.

"Finding Father" by Bentley Little - every short story I've read by Little has been awesome (I've yet to try his novels), and this one's right up there. I do wish he could have given us a little more of a hint as to what the main character's father's motivation or purpose was, but the whole situation is so otherworldly that I'm almost okay with that.

"All That's Left After the Big One Drops" by Nick Mamatas - Nick continues to excel in his own peculiar brand of dark science fiction, and this story of a cockroach-eating boy hustled into a bunker by his military father as nuclear war begins is among the most compelling he's done. It's also one of the few times he's given us a happy ending. Well, happy-ish.

"A Ragnarok Without Gods" by Michail Velichansky - I tend not to like vignettes as much as I do complete stories with a beginning, middle and end, but Velichansky's snapshot of the end of the world is so filled with desperation and desire that I couldn't help getting swept up in it.

So that's 9 stories I really enjoyed out of a total of 24. Not an unusual ratio for horror anthologies, really, but I was expecting more from Corpse Blossoms. The Sevins are just starting out, though, and based on production quality alone they're miles ahead of their small press competition. Now they just have to work on finding a more original, unique voice for the series.

Next up I was going to get back to the Straubathon, but then spimby sent me a copy of Damned Nation, the anthology he and dtwilbanks edited. I'm going to read that one next instead, and then it'll be back to the Straubathon.