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Book Review: Inferno, edited by Ellen Datlow

Note: I met Ellen last year, very briefly, at Capclave. I believe the extent of our conversation was something to the effect of:
Emily: "I really enjoyed that question and answer you just did with Jeffrey Ford. It was fun!"
Ellen: "Thanks!"

Since then, we've become LiveJournal friends, as Ellen is lovely and always posts interesting things. Every now and then Ellen gives away 5 or so of her books, on the condition that the recipients blog their opinions of the books, whether those opinions be good, bad, or indifferent. That's how I received the book I'm about to review. I should note that I would have mentioned it even if she hadn't specifically asked me to, though, because it's great.

P.S. I've tried not to include any spoilers below.


Inferno: New Tales of Terror and the Supernatural
A non-themed horror anthology of twenty new stories.
Edited by ellen_datlow


Review

When I started reading Inferno, I discovered that it didn't contain the sort of horror stories that I was expecting - and I mean that in the best way possible. While I love classic horror stories like the works of Edgar Allan Poe, they do tend to lack an element of realism - I mean, no one really expects some guy to brick another guy up in a cellar over an old feud, and certainly The Fall of the House of Usher, while one of my all-time favorites, is not something you'd expect to happen every day.

The stories in Inferno, on the other hand, are for the most part grounded in modern day-to-day life, and build their suspense on the kind of secret fears that we do worry will manifest themselves on any given day. Losing a family member, losing control of ourselves, losing another's love; being violently attacked, being lonely, being shunned by the world - these are fears that many of us secretly carry around, and these are the themes behind many of the stories in this volume. The key, of course, is that the stories also contain the feeling of building terror or horror that you get from someone like Poe. These are not stories I'd read right before bedtime. They are, however, stories that make you think; and sometimes make you want to re-read, which, to me, is one sign great writing.

Every story in the anthology is well written and interesting. Every one creates a complex microcosm of character and scene within which the horror begins to unfold. While there were one or two stories that didn't grab my attention as much, almost all of them grabbed it, held it, and wouldn't let it go until I reached the end of the story. Not only were most of the stories quite enjoyable (and scary), but several were so well-written or chilling as to be, in my opinion, perfect little jewels of stories. Since the anthology is well-stocked with twenty stories, I'll just mention a few of my favorites.

...

Misadventure, by Stephen Gallagher

Although this story *may* contain ghosts, this is not your usual ghost tale. It's haunting, but also "real," giving a rational explanation for the occurrences in the story that almost make me wonder why we don't all see things like the narrator. As much as being a story built around a frightening idea, it's a story of human nature with a quietly reflective tone. It's a perfectly crafted and satisfying short story, and it would be worth the price of admission (so to speak) just to get to read it.

The Monsters of Heaven, by Nathan Ballingrud

This story has an excellent, intense, and very personal style. Ballingrud drew me in with his vibrant, fast-paced realistic language and well-developed, flawed characters. The story from beginning to end contains an element of nameless dread and a feeling of impending violence and mystery that builds throughout the text. The themes are grotesque, rising from grief and guilt, and yet he writes the story so well that the reader will empathize with the actions of the characters.

The Uninvited, by Christopher Fowler

The Uninvited is creepy and fascinating, and has a Neil Gaiman-esque tone to it. The intimate, conversational voice of the main character makes you worry along with him as he tries to piece together several events that have jarred that little voice in the back of the head that says, "something's not right." The culmination of the story is surprising and chilling.

Lives, by John Grant

Grant twists one of our greatest fears and turns it on its head. The narrator actually begins to wish for the thing he's been fearing to happen, because what occurs when the event fails to happen is worse than what would be if it did. The writing is compelling, and evokes that sense of breathlessness you get when you know whatever happens next, even if it seems innocuous, will turn out to be bad. There's also a nice stylistic and thematic twist that you pick up on part-way through.

The Keeper, by P.D. Cacek

The most chilling horror story is one that actually happened, and Cacek uses a combination of real-world events and fantastical horror to make you shudder. She also builds a believable story-world using specific language and characterization.

Hushabye, by Simon Bestwick

Hushabye is great for three reasons. 1) It contains an element of extremely real, not-remotely fantasy horror; 2) it combines that horror with an added element of fantastical horror; and 3) the protagonist is actually able to have some control over the horrible events. It's well-written, engaging, and satisfying.

The Suits at Auderlene, by Terry Dowling

This is another jewel of a story. The narrator is an investigator of sorts, which immediately causes the reader to identify with him as together, they make several discoveries. However, everything is not as it appears, and there's an added twist of horror that makes the events even more creepy. The story easily develops depth, bit-by-bit, until we finally see the true extent of the horror. This is a great story with excellent dialogue and characterization, and a satisfying conclusion.

...

As I said, I enjoyed all the stories, and almost all were fantastic. Although I picked out my favorites above, I'd guess that if you are a fan of horror stories, or even if you're not, you'd enjoy any one of the tales in this anthology.
Tags: books, ellen datlow, literature, reviews, the internet iz serius biznes, writers
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