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Darkness, both literal and psychological, holds its own unique fascination. Despite our fears, or perhaps because of them, readers have always been drawn to tales of death, terror, madness, and the supernatural, and no more so than today when a wildly imaginative new generation of dark dreamers is carrying on in the tradition of Poe and Lovecraft and King, crafting exquisi Darkness, both literal and psychological, holds its own unique fascination. Despite our fears, or perhaps because of them, readers have always been drawn to tales of death, terror, madness, and the supernatural, and no more so than today when a wildly imaginative new generation of dark dreamers is carrying on in the tradition of Poe and Lovecraft and King, crafting exquisitely disturbing literary nightmares that gaze without flinching into the abyss—and linger in the mind long after. Multiple award-winning editor Ellen Datlow knows the darkest corners of fiction and poetry better than most. Once again, she has braved the haunted landscape of modern horror to seek out the most chilling new works by both legendary masters of the genre and fresh young talents. Here are twisted hungers and obsessions, human and otherwise, along with an unsettling variety of spine-tingling fears and fantasies. The cutting edge of horror has never cut deeper than in this comprehensive showcase of the very best the field has to offer. Enter at your own risk. Skyhorse Publishing, under our Night Shade and Talos imprints, is proud to publish a broad range of titles for readers interested in science fiction (space opera, time travel, hard SF, alien invasion, near-future dystopia), fantasy (grimdark, sword and sorcery, contemporary urban fantasy, steampunk, alternative history), and horror (zombies, vampires, and the occult and supernatural), and much more. While not every title we publish becomes a New York Times bestseller, a national bestseller, or a Hugo or Nebula award-winner, we are committed to publishing quality books from a diverse group of authors.


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Darkness, both literal and psychological, holds its own unique fascination. Despite our fears, or perhaps because of them, readers have always been drawn to tales of death, terror, madness, and the supernatural, and no more so than today when a wildly imaginative new generation of dark dreamers is carrying on in the tradition of Poe and Lovecraft and King, crafting exquisi Darkness, both literal and psychological, holds its own unique fascination. Despite our fears, or perhaps because of them, readers have always been drawn to tales of death, terror, madness, and the supernatural, and no more so than today when a wildly imaginative new generation of dark dreamers is carrying on in the tradition of Poe and Lovecraft and King, crafting exquisitely disturbing literary nightmares that gaze without flinching into the abyss—and linger in the mind long after. Multiple award-winning editor Ellen Datlow knows the darkest corners of fiction and poetry better than most. Once again, she has braved the haunted landscape of modern horror to seek out the most chilling new works by both legendary masters of the genre and fresh young talents. Here are twisted hungers and obsessions, human and otherwise, along with an unsettling variety of spine-tingling fears and fantasies. The cutting edge of horror has never cut deeper than in this comprehensive showcase of the very best the field has to offer. Enter at your own risk. Skyhorse Publishing, under our Night Shade and Talos imprints, is proud to publish a broad range of titles for readers interested in science fiction (space opera, time travel, hard SF, alien invasion, near-future dystopia), fantasy (grimdark, sword and sorcery, contemporary urban fantasy, steampunk, alternative history), and horror (zombies, vampires, and the occult and supernatural), and much more. While not every title we publish becomes a New York Times bestseller, a national bestseller, or a Hugo or Nebula award-winner, we are committed to publishing quality books from a diverse group of authors.

30 review for The Best Horror of the Year Volume Five

  1. 5 out of 5

    David

    It took me a while to finish this book, reading one story every night or so. Note that since I reviewed every single story, I ran out of space below, so some of the stories are reviewed in the comments. Overall: 4 stars for the collection as a whole. Not every story was perfect (or what I'd necessarily agree was "Best Horror of the Year" material) but there were no stinkers. Everything was worth reading, and Ms. Datlow has introduced me to a number of new authors whose work I will be looking out It took me a while to finish this book, reading one story every night or so. Note that since I reviewed every single story, I ran out of space below, so some of the stories are reviewed in the comments. Overall: 4 stars for the collection as a whole. Not every story was perfect (or what I'd necessarily agree was "Best Horror of the Year" material) but there were no stinkers. Everything was worth reading, and Ms. Datlow has introduced me to a number of new authors whose work I will be looking out for. The ratings below are my tongue-in-cheek evaluation of their fright potential, but not necessarily their quality as stories. So my favorites from this book were: A Natural History of Autumn, Mariners' Round, The Magicians's Apprentice, Bajazzle, The Crying Child, Some Pictures in an Album, Wild Acre, Pig Thing, Magdala Amygdala, and Frontier Death Song. I don't read a lot of big horror/SF/fantasy anthologies, but this one was good value for my money. Nothing truly squicked or terrified me, alas, but there were nice grotesqueries and gothic craftsmanship. I noticed a common theme of "Avoid loose women and shady real estate deals," the usual childhood haunts coming back to terrify, and the lingering shadow of zombie apocalypses still cast over the genre. I have not read previous volumes in the "Best Horror of the Year" series, but I'd say the quality of the selections and editor Ellen Datlow's encyclopedic coverage of the year in horror short fiction (everything published, not just in this collection), including honorable mentions, makes this a definite buy for any serious horror fan. Let's rate each of these on the creepy-meter: 1. Oatmeal is scarier 2. Might scare a kid 3. Had a few creepy moments 4. Genuinely creepy 5. FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK! Note that 5 is really, really hard to achieve for me, in writing — I just don't scare easily. When I was a kid, horror stories would give me nightmares, but not a lot makes me want to turn the lights up nowadays. So a 4 is pretty creepy in my estimation. Nikishi by Lucy Taylor: No real surprises, but still gruesome and written like Lovecraft if Lovecraft had style. A diamond thief, Africa, hyenas. Sex and disembowelment. Creepiness: 4 The hyena slinking toward him, though, was no trickery of vision. A sloping, muscular beast with furrowed lips and seething, tarry eyes, it angled languidly down the duneface, its brown and black fur hackled high, its hot gaze raw and lurid. o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O Little America by Dan Chaon: Skeeery feral children in a post-apocalyptic world. A good demonstration of the short story form: there is obviously a whole back story here about how the world went to hell and children turned into monsters, and about Mr. Breeze and Peter on their doomed road trip, but almost none of it gets explained. Yet the reader can use his imagination to fill in the blanks. Creepiness: 3 o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O A Natural History of Autumn, by Jeffrey Ford: Another tale in the same vein as Nikishi. This time it's a Japanese hitman taking a girl he met to an onsen (hot spring resort), tended by a creepy old woman and an even creepier dog. It gets even creepier. A violent little Japanese ghost story. Japanese fairy tales, like Western ones, come in the modern Disneyfied versions, and the original "weird and scary and people die" versions. Creepiness: 4.5 Note: This story was a 2013 World Fantasy Award nominee. o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O Mantis Wives by Kij Johnson. Brr. I've only read a few of Kij Johnson's stories, but she sure brings the creepy. This was a sort of prose-poetry series of essays about, erm, marital relations between mantises. Creepiness: 4 o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O Tender as Teeth, by Stephanie Crawford and Duane Swierczynsk. An intriguing idea that was kind of hinted at in Mira Grant's Newsflesh series: what if you could cure zombies? This is the story about one of the virally-infected who is cured and brought back to her senses, and then has to live with what she did while she was one of the walking dead. Not really very scary, but still a decent story. Creepiness: 2 “You want to know what it was like, to have your worst moment broadcast to the world?” Justine asked. “Buddy, you’re about to find out.” She smiled, and reached back to hold his shaking hand. “But at least we have each other, right?” o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O The Callers, by Ramsey Campbell. Ooh, now we are hitting Stephen King/Ray Bradbury territory. One of those stories that would make a great Twilight Zone episode. A thirteen-year-old boy, stuck with his grandparents, goes walking around town at night, crosses some other teens who want to beat him up, so he takes refuge in the bingo hall where his grandmother is playing bingo with a bunch of other old ladies. Poor lad is naturally creeped out by the sea of moldering perfume and saggy tits, but it gets worse. Creepiness: 4 o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O Two Poems for Hill House, by Kevin McCall. Second one was a little bit twisted at the end. First one was just... huh? But I am not big on poetry, so maybe I just didn't get it. Creepiness: 1.5 o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O Mariners' Round, by Terry Dowling. Three childhood friends are reunited twenty-five years after an eventful night. They find out one of them is a manipulative, vengeful bastard, and is obsessed with a carousel. The carousel is the "magic" part of the story, and there is something spooky about the carousel lore and the Coleridge references (is anything creepier than The Rime of the Ancient Mariner?). The ending is just abrupt, though. Creepiness: 2.5 He moved towards the carousel. As if on cue, three proximity floods switched on, ghost-lighting the whole macabre display. Now glass eyes glittered in the time-struck faces, teeth gnashed, flashed off-white and worn silver, tongues lolled, mouths silently screamed. Old mirrors gave the barest glints and gleams, ancient brightwork showed in swatches, snatches, hints of fraught primary colours that had not been visible before. Davey didn’t dare stop. The great squid impaled on its brass pole rolled a baleful eye, watched him approach, move past. Three mermaids offered scarred breasts, mouths flecked with old enamel. Mount us! Mount us! Ride! o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O Nanny Grey, by Gemma Files. A properly creepy very proper old English monster, and the "haunted house" was atmospheric. I'm kind of detecting a theme here, though — that's three stories in this collection so far that are basically about an amoral bastard who hooks up with a hot chick, tries to betray her, and gets eaten. Not that this is a new theme in horror. "Sex = death" has been mined to exhaustion in all those slasher flicks. I guess one might say that Kij Johnson's Mantis Wives, above, also fits the theme in this volume, since so far it's the men who always die after getting laid... Notwithstanding the familiar plot, it wasn't bad. Creepiness: 3 Nanny Grey eddied forward with one long white hand on her breast, head bent down submissively. And when she looked up, eyes pleasantly crinkled, she smiled so wide that Bill could see how her teeth were packed together far too numerously for most human beings, bright as little red eyes in the wet darkness of her mouth. While her eyes, on the other hand, were white—white as real teeth, as salt, as a blank page upon which some unlucky person’s name had yet to be inscribed. o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O The Magician's Apprentice, by Tamsyn Muir. This starts out as more of a contemporary fantasy short story than a horror story. A pre-teen girl named Charlene ("Cherry") is taken on as an apprentice by Mr. Hollis, who can do real magic. Although it seems the story may be heading into Lolita territory (Cherry, as she develops into adolescence, makes the predictable teen-girl play for an older man, and Mr. Hollis actually gives her Lolita to read) it seems mostly innocent. There are hints, though, that this magic, though it's just moving things around and suspending matter and small transformations, is darker than it seems. And then the ending. Aaah! Creepiness: 4. o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O Kill All Monsters, by Gary McMahon. I was hoping from the title that this would be a Godzilla story, but that wouldn't really be appropriate for a true horror anthology, would it? Nope, it's about a serial killer, in an obvious allegorical tale about living with violence and codependence. Not a bad story, but nothing really shocking and obvious point was obvious. Creepiness: 2 o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O The House on Ashley Avenue, by Ian Rogers. This is a haunted house story. A couple of paranormal investigators with psychic powers, working for a secret paranormal-investigators-with-psychic-powers agency, goes into an evil house that kills people. Not very original, but fair execution. Creepiness: 3 o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O Dead Song, by Jay Wilburn. A voice-over artist sits in a dark room narrating a historical retrospective of the musical trends and famous musicians who arose during the zombie apocalypse. There was a bit of dark and spooky in the tale, but mostly it read like an infodump for "Hastur Sings the Blues," minus the actual story. Creepiness: 2.5 o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O Sleeping, I Was Beauty, by Sandi Leibowitz. The dark side of the "Sleeping Beauty" tale has been explored often enough before, but this was pretty decent dark poetry. Creepiness: 3 The prince’s eyes devour me, in damask shawls and dancing shoes or morning’s rumpled flannel. When my stocking tears, he bends to buss fresh bud of ankle flowering through the rip. o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O Bajazzle, by Margo Lanagan. Gaaaah! Okay, this one spiked the creepy-meter! Lanagan can write and while the story was surreal and gave just tantalizing hints of worldbuilding that made you want to know more, she drew me in with this really effed-up story. Yes, that's right, effed up. Basically it's just another lascivious schmuck with a lack of genre awareness (if you ever suspect you are a character in a horror story, Do not have sex! With anyone!), but Lanagan afflicts us with living Sheela na gigs. Didn't quite hit nightmare-fuel territory, but I'm sure it will for some. Do not read it if you are planning to have sex in the near future. Creepiness: 4.5 o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O The Pike, by Conrad Williams. I have to admit, I... kind of didn't get this one. It's about a guy with a nasty skin cancer who decides he doesn't want surgery, so he's reflecting on his working class childhood, learning to fish, trying to catch a dangerous pike, and there is also reminiscing about how he saw a man fall into the blades in a beef rendering plant. It was well-written and had suitably grotesque and violent imagery without being gory for the sake of being gory, but the story just did not hold together for me; I don't know what the author was trying to say. Still the prose was lovely and elemental. Conrad Williams seems to be a writer who can write, but maybe this story was too literary for this collection. Creepiness: 3 “Jack’ll take your fingers,” his grandad told him, while his dad went off to take a piss. “If you don’t show him some respect. Almost killed my father.” The mere lay before them like a trembling brown skin. Lostock was shocked into silence, by the suddenness of Grandad’s utterance, and the way his voice sounded. It was really quite lovely: rich and liquid and touched by inflections that didn’t sound like anybody he knew in his home town. Grandad had been on a boat as a child with his father, Tom, fishing for pike, when the pike rammed them. His father and he both fell into the water. Grandad almost drowned. The pike rammed Tom in the face, scarfing down an eye. Grandad managed to pull himself back into the boat and splashed at the water with the paddle until he was sure the fish was gone. He didn’t know who was screaming the most, him or Tom. Other fishermen on the bank had been roused by the commotion and waded out to them. o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O The Crying Child, by Bruce McAllister. A spooky village in pre-World War II Italy inhabited by weird, alien peasants who have no interaction with their neighbors and who nobody has ever spoken to. An American boy gets told a tale by his Italian friends about a crying baby that can be heard in the village, and the supposed "magic" the other boys have experienced. First they walk through the village, and get a mild fright but nothing really definitive. Then of course events conspire to bring the American boy back by himself, and things go full-Lovecraft. This was definitely pure horror and creepiness, with the sinister sepia-toned imagery of a classic ghost/monster story. Creepiness: 4.5 o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O This Circus the World, by Amber Sparks. A short-short story that was really more of blank verse poem. I am pretty sure there was a story here, but damned if I can figure out what it was. Creepiness: 3 The way they would finally say I love you and I love you too and the way alarms would shriek and the way the men in suits would invade an army of red ties and bulletproof vests. The way the room would shrink and blacken the way the room would dim the way the blood would pool and churn in the bath the way their names their real names would finally echo soft but true in tune like nothing else in this cruel circus called the world when they finally shut off the lights. o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O Some Pictures in an Album, by Gary McMahon. This is another back-to-basics very short story, very reminiscent of Lovecraft's Pickman's Model. It starts with the narrator finding an album of old photographs his father had taken of him as a child. He describes each one in turn: they get progressively creepier as a story slowly unfolds. Ends with one of those "Oh no, you are not going through that door!" moments. Creepiness: 4.5 o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O Wild Acre, by Nathan Ballingrud. At first encounter, this would seem to be just a werewolf story with an opening like any Hollywood monster movie: a bunch of Joe Six-packs are hanging out at a construction site looking to bust some heads, and run into something a heck of a lot meaner than them. It's the aftermath that makes this story worth reading. The survivor has to deal with survivor's guilt, the subsequent failure of his business, the foreclosures and hardships that befall the families of the men who died, and his own nightmares and inability to come to grips with a truth he can't even share with his wife. The monster is just the catalyst and it's really a character story. Not particularly scary, but very well-written. Creepiness: 3 o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O Final Exam, by Megan Arkenberg. This is an example of a story trying to impress with a clever structure rather than an original idea, and writing tricks like this are very hit or miss. In this case, let's say the author winged it. Written as a series of "multiple choice questions" addressing the simultaneous demise of the "examinee's" marriage and the apocalyptic rise of the Deep Ones in a wry manner that leads one to suspect perhaps most of the horror elements are products of a fragmented, delusional mind, it does end up delivering a semi-satisfying dollop of humorous horror. Not scary, not brilliant, but entertaining. Creepiness: 2 2. At what point did you know—and I mean really know, in your gut, in the tautness of your heartstrings—that things had gone horribly wrong? (a) When you ran the faucet in the motel bathroom to wash the salty tear-tracks from your face, and the water came out cold and red, staining the sink. (b) When the equipment at work started breaking down, first the conveyor belts on the registers, then the adding machine in the office, then the registers themselves. IT had the same advice over and over again: unplug it, turn it off, and plug it in again. Of course it never worked. (c) When Donald looked up from the papers he was correcting at the kitchen counter and said Baby girl, what do you think about couples’ therapy? and you were so startled that you dropped the whole carton of orange juice. (d) When the pink-suited reporter interrupted the inspirational drama on the television in the marriage counselor’s waiting room, her hair frizzled with electricity and her left eyebrow bloodied from a shallow cut to the forehead. Tell us what you’re seeing, somebody said, and she said, God … (e) When you asked him to pass you a butter knife from the drawer, and he must have heard you, but he was marking something in the margin of his book and you had to ask a second time. He slammed the book shut and pulled the drawer so hard that it came off the slides. Here, he said, flinging the knife across the counter. It landed with its tongue-like blade pointed at your breast. o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O None So Blind, by Stephen Bacon. This was a rather dark story, but it wasn't quite horror despite the violent tone. A man meets a blind woman in a cafe, and as they talk, she learns that he lost his fingers in a very brutal manner, to her husband, who also happens to be responsible for her blindness. Her husband was not a nice man. There is an implied twist, but the horror is all off-screen and in the past. A decent short story but not a very substantive one. Creepiness: 3 o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O The Ballad of Boomtown, by Priya Sharma. A woman who had an affair with a married man contemplates the figurative wreckage of her life amidst the literal wreckage of the unfinished houses he was building. The author could not quite decide if she was going for a horrific tone or a literary one. Once again, we learn that McMansions are evil and bad things happen when you have sex. But this also was not really a horror story, except of a rather existential sort. Creepiness: 2 o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O o..O Well dang, I have hit the character limit for reviews. Looks like I went overboard with quoting excerpts. Reviews of the last few stories will be continued in comments. Review continued in comments...

  2. 5 out of 5

    Shawn

    This is my first Datlow "Best Of", so I'm interested in seeing if I can dope out similarities and differences between her and Stephen Jones. More on this at the end. The "Summation 2012" that starts the volume is the analog of Jones' "Year In Horror" entry that starts his collections. I found it as thorough and about as useful, in both the positive and negative readings of that statement. So, given all that, here we go - weakest to strongest: The only story I actively disliked was "The Word-Made F This is my first Datlow "Best Of", so I'm interested in seeing if I can dope out similarities and differences between her and Stephen Jones. More on this at the end. The "Summation 2012" that starts the volume is the analog of Jones' "Year In Horror" entry that starts his collections. I found it as thorough and about as useful, in both the positive and negative readings of that statement. So, given all that, here we go - weakest to strongest: The only story I actively disliked was "The Word-Made Flesh" by Richard Gavin, which struck me as overblown and overwritten and too much like a special effects movie written on page - it's about a man who, thanks to his cousin, stumbles upon the ability to remake the world with language... or something like that. Didn't click for me. Also not clicking for me was "The House On Ashley Avenue" by Ian Rogers - an extended riff on the time-honored trope "team of psychic investigators in a notorious haunted house" - in all honesty, it seemed more interested in taking potshots at "non-professional psychics" (not even "fake psychics"!) while setting up two series characters for stories I'll probably never read and not really worrying too much about pacing, atmosphere or scares except in the hasty ending. A surprisingly weak inclusion for this anthology. "Sleeping, I was Beauty" is a poem by Sandi Leibowitz, giving us a dark-fantasy take on a fairy-tale - fine for those who like that kinda thing, I guess. Just "okay" stories were: "A Natural History Of Autumn" by Jeffrey Ford in which a couple stay overnight at a hot-spring/hotel in Japan and run afoul of some supernatural creatures. It's a well-written and very pulpy monster story and while some of the spooky imagery is surprisingly striking I didn't appreciate how blithely the existence of supernatural monsters was treated and the story also throws away its atmosphere for a fairly familiar plot in which all of its grace notes end up as gilding for the usual twist/double twist. Not bad but kind of pedestrian. Terry Dowling's "Mariner's Round" has a fine opening with three delinquent Liverpudlian friends roaring through a night at the carnival, and I was rooting for the story as the three friends reunite as adults, featuring some wonderfully canny dialogue... but the dark fantasy elements (a mystery involving an occult carousel designer and a lost adornment) seems to come out of nowhere and is ill-explained (a common problem with "magickal"-based mysteries in genre fiction) and the ending is just the usual comeuppance. It almost seems like something that would work better as a longer piece (with a stronger ending) or a shorter piece (with the extraneous details stripped out). I actually thought "The Pike" - a story of a man with skin cancer exploring old buildings and fishing in a canal that runs through a desolate urban landscape - was well-written by Conrad Williams and very interesting if kind of depressing (but I'm personally okay with depressing). Now, unless I'm wrong or missed something (which is always possible) I failed to see what element of this qualified it as "horror". Anyone? Similarly, "This Circus The World" by Amber Sparks reads like an extremely abstract, near textual-Cubist work with snatches of image moments laid over and next to each other. As a fan of the Gysin/Burroughs cut-ups I found it intriguing but without a hook I again fail to see how it qualifies as "horror". "Bajazzle" by Margo Lanagan starts with a women's movement of 'Sheelas' who chant drones in public while exposing their decorated vaginas and then moves on to (married?) couple in trouble because the husband/boyfriend doesn't find his partner attractive anymore - which means he's ripe to be seduced by an erotically charged stranger. Hard to really see what the greater point of this was, aside from the obvious "punishment for straying" trope. I also thought the decision to provide information on the Sheela-Na-Gig (luckily, I was an Anthropology major once upon a time and knew about them already) through a clunky block of text at the story's climax to just be lazy and inelegant. Yeah, it would have been hard to work it into the story - that's why writing is a job. Next up are the "good but somewhat weak" stories: "Mantis Wives" is another abstract, experimental piece, abandoning the story structure entirely for more of a late-period J.G. Ballard approach, describing the varied poetic ways female mantises dispose of their husbands. These methods are at times anthropomorphized - the point of Kij Johnson's piece is somewhat abstruse. Not for everyone. I wrestled mightily with "Tender As Teeth" by Stephanie Crawford & Duane Swierczynski, a post-apocalyptic zombie story (a "cure" has been invented so essentially this is about the shame, grief and animosity experienced by the previously "undead"). Yes, I'm tired of zombie stories (being a horror short fiction editor, possibly even more tired than *you* are). Yes, the idea of "curable" zombies is problematic. But I'm always willing to read a good story, vetted for me by a good editor or a trustworthy slush reader (shout out to the poor souls who slush for Pseudopod). It's a good story, no doubt. I'm on the fence about a number of details - it seems rather judgmental in portraying the actions of a paparazzi-equivalent photojournalist (in a situation where I'm sure most would consider the events unique and very newsworthy) as a reason for scorn after the fact when a completely unlikely cure (for being "dead", remember) is invented. I enjoyed the read but its literary trick of moving the main narrative to the aftereffects of the horror (which we'll encounter again in this anthology) makes me consider it more dark fantasy/lit than horror qua horror. A boy visiting his grandparents escapes some young toughs by ducking into a sinister bingo hall, much to his dismay, in Ramsey Campbell's "The Callers". As usual with Campbell, the writing is top-notch but I have to admit I found the central conceit of this piece more goofy than threatening - extra points though for the subtle May Day details, the typically lame mainstream movie the boy intends to see (that bit actually made me laugh out loud) and the disturbing intimations of granny-sex (if not sacrifice). "Two Poems For Hill House" are poems (duh) and thus I'm a little hesitant to comment, but I found them cute and interesting. Shirley Jackson's source work is such a monument one would expect such subsequent filigree (no Theodora fan-fic after-the-fact, Jacksonites?) so that's all fine. "Wild Acre" had a similar problem for me as "Tender As Teeth". I really wanted to like Nathan Ballingrud's story from the opening, which has a very strong, Richard Matheson-like set-up of a building contractor and his pals staking out at an isolated job site overnight to catch vandals. Things go badly and only the contractor survives. Now, here's the thing, this is an excellent story about survivor guilt and how making it through acts of terrible violence can destroy the individual's life slowly (here exacerbated by encroaching poverty and the recurrence of anger). Great stuff, expertly drawn Raymond Carver-esque, prosaic sketches of a life going south. But... this is also obviously a story attempting to be "modern" Lit Horror and for me the problem is that the fantastic element absents itself almost immediately from the narrative and never returns. Oh, you can tease out a hint here or there of the vague conceit that this is an abstracted exploration of the "Werewolf Curse" trope, I guess, but the story never commits to a recurrence of that fantastic element at all. Now that's very "adult" and "genre-busting" and what-have-you but it seriously made me question the story as "horror". I'm not a genre Nazi, I have pretty nuanced and subtle definitions of genres and sub-genres and how they interact but this is a good example of some of the potential flaws I see in the Lit Horror approach - as a story it just seems to want to tell a straight Lit story and uses the fantastic element as a prompt towards that end, and to add a little extra cachet, when it could just have easily been a story that started with a bear attack, been just as good if not better, and never have been included here. As I said, a very good story, but I have problems with it as an example of a valid approach to the genre. As a variant of that same problem, there's "Final Exam" which features a heavier horror element (mass appearance of "things from the sea" coinciding with a woman's disintegrating marriage) but here the author decides to tell the story in the form of a multiple choice quiz (including the answers). Clever - and that's both a positive comment and the problem for me - I give Megan Arkenberg credit for actually trying to generate some fear with the creatures in amongst all the relationship detailing but the over-considered, nearly cutesy "hey-look-at-me" framing choice of the quiz makes everything too distanced and reminded me of similar problems I have with Kelly Link's calculated tweeness. Good writing, it should be said - I don't know, is it that hard to just write/enjoy a straight narrative nowadays or are we that bored that we need novelty/frippery like this, even if it undermines the overall effort? Well, another example is "Dead Song", set after the zombie apocalypse as we listen to a voice-over artist record his narration for a documentary about musical movements during and post Z-Apoc. The central concept, while inventive, is "too clever for its own good" in my book, and the setting is just an excuse for not giving us a story, just the idea wrapped in exposition - you might think, "how do they make that into a horror story?" and, well, Jay Wilburn kinda tries at the end, thanks to some ill-defined zombie black magic death-cult... or something. Anyway, po-mo horror like this really brings me down.... An interesting flip side to this is Laird Barron's "Frontier Death Song". I've been aware of Barron as a name for a bit of time but haven't had the opportunity to read anything by him and so this is his first work I've sampled (well, technically I heard the audio version of it first at TALES TO TERRIFY, which can be downloaded or listened to here). Anyway, Barron seems the complete antithesis of the calculated Lit Horror approach - instead he's a full-blooded modern pulp author, Robert E. Howard to the currently more fashionable H.P. Lovecraft pulp fiction model. It's manly man prose and a yard wide, generally well-considered and adventurous. Sure, occasionally the language gets just a bit overripe but then that's pulp in a nutshell and I like the old Decadent writers who engaged similar tactics so how can I complain? Barron does a good job lacing enough horror into the dark fantasy (even with all the burly, proactive characters) that this effectively walks the razor line between the two genres pretty deftly. Being pulp-derived, you also have to expect to swallow two shots of willing suspension of disbelief for every one generally prescribed for genre fiction (here, it's not enough that we get The Wild Hunt and random occult scholars, but the friend's island retreat just happens to have been founded by a warlock - 'cause just 'cause). It's all big screen panoramic effects, very visual and it's interesting to me to contrast this with my dislike of the same approach in the earlier mentioned "The Word-Made Flesh" - certainly, the overall tone of the prose has something to do with it. Anyway, not my usual fare but just fine as an occasional rich cheesecake for dessert. Next up are all the stories I found unconditionally "good": Another pulpy tale here is "Nikishi" by Lucy Taylor which has a diamond thief washed ashore on the African Coast and details his attempts to connive his way out of the desperate situation while being stumped by the local demons. A fun read. Dan Chaon's "Little America" is pretty close to a zombie apocalypse story (kids turned into predatory monsters - close enough) told from the POV of one of these young creatures as he travels cross country with his captor/savior. Interesting. Gemma Files undoes so many of the problems I mentioned earlier as having with Kelly Link's work by managing a level of control of tone and detail in her fiction. Here, in "Nanny Grey", we have the classic "hunter is the hunted" trope, as a ruffie-dosing sleaze-thief takes the wrong mark back home, with some effective filigree of history, background and speech patterns. Nicely done. "Some Pictures In An Album" by Gary McMahon is a creepy story that assembles ominous images to conjure awful thoughts. Perhaps a bit too willing, in the climax, to put concrete explanatory words to the pictures, but still, a good read. A bracing piece of neo-noir crime fiction is presented here with "None So Blind" by Stephen Bacon. Grim, understated, it takes a similar tactic to "Wild Acres" but is so wholly non-fantastic (the repercussions of a vicious acid attack on a young woman) that it felt like something from Akashic's NOIR CITY anthologies. Maybe a little too understated for a horror anthology, but... The recent financial sacrifice of the Celtic Tiger on the altar of international commerce (all of the benefits, none of the risks when you've bought whole nations - now fuck you, peasant, and bring me more champagne while I purchase your democracy) underlays Priya Sharma's "Ballad Of Boomtown" - where a woman waits in her "new home" in an abandoned rural housing development (left to weed and ruin when the economy went belly-up), waits for the retribution she knows is coming from the old magic in the hills, a retribution deserved for personal and symbolic failings. Effectively creepy, heartfelt and honest. "Pig Thing" by Adam L.G. Nevill opens with a tense scene of three sibling children hiding from an awful monster that may have already killed their parents. Then, the aftermath. In a sense, nothing new here but a well-handled monster story and extra points for sustaining such a tense opening for so long (small demerits for a familiar payoff with little invention). "Into The Penny Arcade" by Claire Massey is a very interesting story of a schoolgirl and a kind of creepy man in a van. Not what you're expecting. It's got an ambiguous ending fitting with the modern urban setting and I found it nicely unsettling. I liked Lucy A. Snyder's "Magdala Amygdala" - which starts as a seemingly overly-technical zombie story before progressing into dark and mythic grandeur - I repeat I liked it so much that I bought it for PSEUDOPOD and the episode can be downloaded here. "Kill All Monsters" by Gary McMahon features a very angry man, a frightened wife and a seemingly oblivious daughter as they stop at a roadside diner to grab a meal... and check for monsters. Nicely understated, this had that Matheson-vibe I like so much, a real-world scenario briefly sketched. I found two stories in this collection absolutely excellent. "The Magician's Apprentice" by Tamsyn Muir is ostensibly a month by month record of a modern girl's training in the art of real sorcery. The writing is sharp and flowing and the details are all wonderful - very observant modern fantasy writing until the end is reached and the truth of what fuels magic is revealed. I'd like to buy this for PSEUDOPOD in the future. Equally good, and just as likely to get an acquisition query from me was Bruce McAllister's "The Crying Child" about a young boy, his missing dog, and a harrowing night spent in a isolated village in Northern Italy. Entrancing storytelling. So, in the end, I believe I can see similarities and differences in Jones and Datlow's approaches. Jones likes reliable structures and always has time for a quiet ghost story while Datlow seems to have a penchant for experimentation and the poetic - thus, Datlow can be less stuffy but more prone to featuring stories that get stuck out on their own limbs, while Jones can keep delivering the same familiar goods, for good or ill. Both seem to have a higher tolerance for dark fantasy than I do (again, as I've said many times before, not that I hate dark fantasy at all I just think that it dilutes the strength of horror anthology when too much of it appears). More to come, I'm sure...

  3. 5 out of 5

    Nancy Oakes

    Each time I read one of these Best Horror of the Year anthologies put together by Ellen Datlow,I realize that horror is indeed in the eye of the Beholder. After reading #5, I'm going to roll with that observation. For me, horror is something that sends that little shiver or frisson of fear up my spine as I'm reading, and out of the 28 stories that made up this book, that happened with eight. That's not to say that this book was bad -- au contraire -- there were some incredibly well-written stori Each time I read one of these Best Horror of the Year anthologies put together by Ellen Datlow,I realize that horror is indeed in the eye of the Beholder. After reading #5, I'm going to roll with that observation. For me, horror is something that sends that little shiver or frisson of fear up my spine as I'm reading, and out of the 28 stories that made up this book, that happened with eight. That's not to say that this book was bad -- au contraire -- there were some incredibly well-written stories that fell nicely into the weird zone, even if they didn't scare. There were five of those that I liked. Then there were two that started out quite freaky and fizzled due to endings that were just kind of not worthy of the rest of the story. The leftovers, all 13 of them, either weren't to my taste or just didn't scare, period. In a nutshell (or, you can click here to see a very long review delineating each and every story in the book and my reactions) here are the best of the bunch: out of 28 stories,eight I'd consider creepy horror: "A Natural History of Autumn," by Jeffrey Ford "The Callers," by Ramsey Campbell "The House on Ashley Avenue," by Ian Rogers "The Crying Child," by Bruce McAllister “Some Pictures in An Album” by Gary McMahon " Pig Thing” by Adam Nevill "The Word Made Flesh," by Richard Gavin " Into the Penny Arcade," by Claire Massey then five that weren't terribly scary, but they were very well written. They were also incredibly weird (on the good side): " Kill All Monsters” by Gary McMahon "Dead Song," by Jay Wilburn "The Pike," by Conrad Williams "Wild Acre," by Nathan Ballingrud "None So Blind," by Stephen Bacon and finally, even though the endings fizzled (for me), kudos for weirdness to Terry Dowling, for "Mariners' Round" and Laird Barron for "Frontier Death Song" I will say that for the most part, I had a lot of fun with this collection, and that the very nature of anthologies is taking the good along with the not so hot. I read them to discover new authors, and in that sense, this book is a success. This installment # 5 of Datlow's Best Horror of the Year is one you have to judge for yourself in terms of what you consider horror or not.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Tarl

    I purchased this anthology because I had heard that Ellen Datlow was one of the best editors for horror anthologies. I had previously read Lovecraft Unbound and Supernatural Noir so I already knew that she could throw together a good anthology. But I did wonder if she could do the same with general horror stories. The answer is yes, yes she can. This collection contains a number of haunting stories that both haunted me as well as made me question the reality around me. A vast majority of the tale I purchased this anthology because I had heard that Ellen Datlow was one of the best editors for horror anthologies. I had previously read Lovecraft Unbound and Supernatural Noir so I already knew that she could throw together a good anthology. But I did wonder if she could do the same with general horror stories. The answer is yes, yes she can. This collection contains a number of haunting stories that both haunted me as well as made me question the reality around me. A vast majority of the tales contained within were above average, making this anthology a pleasure to read, one I found myself coming back to again and again each bus ride home and each dark shrouded night in bed. As with all anthologies, there were stories that stuck out more than others, be they good or bad, and it will be those that I look at here. “Little America” by Dan Chaon was an interesting story, presenting both a unique situation as well as a large number of haunting visuals. There is a certain relationship between Peter and Mr. Breeze that is as creepy as it is heart warming. I wasn't a fan of the ending, I thought it was a bit too abrupt for the build up of the rest of the story. Still, a wonderful tale that was handled well. “Tender as Teeth” by Stephanie Crawford and Duane Swierczynski was mind blowing in its execution and storytelling. This story will stick with me for a very long time, the premise was solid, as was the ending. This duo of writers handled Carson and Justine perfectly, and they played off each other well. All in all a beautiful story that kept me glued to the pages and lit my imagination. “Mariner’s Round” by Terry Dowling had some interesting premises, and the history to back them up. Dowling managed to blend his story around enough historic pointers as to give his story the taste of realism, however it wasn't enough for me and I found myself quickly losing interest in this tale. “Nanny Grey” by Gemma Files was deliciously creepy, containing a wonderful amount of mystery and horror blended perfectly. I really enjoyed this story a lot. One of the creepier stories in this anthology and well worth the read. “The Magician’s Apprentice” by Tamsyn Muir is worth reading just for the ending. The relationship between the characters is both realistic and beautiful in its own way. Muir's handling of magick contained the right amount of cost=effect balance and the change of Cherry's personality through the years was handled perfectly. This was a wonderful story to read and I will likely read it again in the future. “Dead Song” by Jay Wilburn had one of the most interesting presentation in this anthology. Worth reading just for how Wilburn handled the story. Very well done, and very enjoyable. “Wild Acre” by Nathan Ballingrud was an interesting story, though if there was a horror element in it, it was lost to me. Most of the horror factor was the degrading of the main character's life due to a wolf-like creature. The ending was nicely fatalistic, but all in all this story just didn't contain the power or horror payoffs that the rest of this anthology had. “Final Exam” by Megan Arkenberg is easily the most original format out of any story I have read in the last ten years. Arkenberg gets a pat on the back and a high five for coming up with this unique presentation for a story, one that continued to go on after I thought it would end. The horror elements are wonderfully done and extremely captivating. If you were to read one story out of this entire collection, this would be the one I would recommend. “Into the Penny Arcade” by Claire Massey was an interesting story, but I found the horror element to be lacking when compared to other stories in this anthology. Nothing in this tale went the way it felt it should go, and the ending I found to be flat. Massey created a nice creepy atmosphere, unfortunately she doesn't seem to do anything with it, or it's so subtle I missed it. “Magdala Amygdala” by Lucy Snyder was a story that evolved into something I didn't expect but was pleasant and enjoyable. The relationship between the main character and Betty was one that was both beautifully disturbing and full of sexual tension that had nothing to do with sex and everything to do with need. A very good read and one I will read again. “Frontier Death Song” by Laird Barron is along the lines of Barron's other works. Stunning and beautiful language, haunting and visceral imagery, and absolutely amazing storytelling. The only complaint I have about this story is the predictability of the ending. As I was going through the above stories, I found myself wanting to write good things about each and every one of the stories. I had to restrict myself only to the stories that really touched me and even then it was hard to choose. This is an anthology filled with tales that will stick with you and I highly recommend it to anyone who loves horror or is interested in reading horror stories. Get it, you won't be disappointed!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Beth Roberts

    What surprises me is how consistent Datlow's anthologies are. Even with a few more clunkers than average in this set, it still averages out to a 4.0. That's solid for a short story anthology. Interestingly, some of the highest rated pieces from this group were zombie tales and poetry. Not a fan of either. Also, as much as I don't care for Lovecraftian stories, Laird Barron continues to rank high with me due to the quality of his style, although the entry here is more folk horror rather than Love What surprises me is how consistent Datlow's anthologies are. Even with a few more clunkers than average in this set, it still averages out to a 4.0. That's solid for a short story anthology. Interestingly, some of the highest rated pieces from this group were zombie tales and poetry. Not a fan of either. Also, as much as I don't care for Lovecraftian stories, Laird Barron continues to rank high with me due to the quality of his style, although the entry here is more folk horror rather than Lovecraftian. Very good, whatever you call it. As always, breakdown is as follows: Taylor, Lucy Nikishi 3 Chaon, Dan Little America 3 Ford, Jeffrey A Natural History of Autumn 4 Johnson, Kij Mantis Wives 1 Crawford, Stephanie and Duane Swierczynski Tender as Teeth 5 Campbell, Ramsey The Callers 3 McCann, Kevin Two Poems for Hill House 4 Dowling, Terry Mariner's Round 5 Files, Gemma Nanny Grey 4 Muir, Tamsyn The Magician's Apprentice 4.5 McMahon, Gary Kill All Monsters 3 Rogers, Ian The House on Ashley Avenue 5 Wilburn, Jay Dead Song 5 Leibowitz, Sandi Sleeping, I was Beauty 5 Lanagan, Margo Bajazzle 5 Williams, Conrad The Pie 4 McAllister, Bruce The Crying Child 4.5 Sparks, Amber This Circus the World 2 McMahon, Gary Some Pictures in an Album1 Balingrud, Nathan Wild Acre 2.5 Arkenberg, Megan Final Exam 5 Bacon, Stephen None So Blind 5 Sharma, Priya The Ballad of Boomtown 5 Nevill, Adam L. G. Pig Thing 3 Gavin, Richard The Word Made Flesh 4.5 Massey, Claire Into the Penny Arcade 2 Snyder, Lucy A. Magdala Amygdala 3 Barron, Laird Frontier Death Song 5

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan Briggs

    Whew! For a while there, this book didn't look like it was going to happen. Night Shade Books finally sank under the weight of long-running problems afflicting the publisher. But like Big Auto and the banks, Night Shade got a bailout deal that ensured the publication of Ellen Datlow's indispensable anthology. I'll forgo the standard finger-pointing where Night Shade's management is concerned. The important thing is that the books got out, and hopefully, the right people got their paychecks. Volu Whew! For a while there, this book didn't look like it was going to happen. Night Shade Books finally sank under the weight of long-running problems afflicting the publisher. But like Big Auto and the banks, Night Shade got a bailout deal that ensured the publication of Ellen Datlow's indispensable anthology. I'll forgo the standard finger-pointing where Night Shade's management is concerned. The important thing is that the books got out, and hopefully, the right people got their paychecks. Volume 5 of "The Best Horror of the Year" was a couple of months late, but perhaps that's for the best. Readers might be more receptive to horror stories closer to Halloween. So how has Datlow complemented my favorite season this year? The lead-off story in an anthology is an important spot. I'd think an editor would want to reserve the space for a particularly strong entry to immediately snag the reader. There's nothing especially wrong with Lucy Taylor's "Nikishi" as cheezy horror goes, but despite an exotic twist in locale and terminology, it's wolfman boilerplate with a shock ending that's shocking only in that I was surprised there are writers still trying to get away with such a tired-out twist. "'See me as I am,' shrilled the nikishi." Oy. Not a promising start to a collection of the best stories of 2012. Dan Chaon's "Little America" might have been a better kickoff story. Reading his terrific first novel, "You Remind Me of Me," I pegged Chaon as a horror fan. It was something about the way he described the barren, ghostly places of the Badlands. In "Little America," Chaon hits the road again, putting us in a Cadillac alongside an armed madman with "cheerful children's-program eyes" and his young captive, which "used to be a real boy." Chaon is a welcome visitor from the mainstream side of the fence who comes not as a clueless carpetbagger or a smug city cousin lording it over his backward hayseed relatives but as a storytelling pro applying all his considerable skills in the service of a genre he knows and respects despite its somewhat shady critical reputation. Another author with serious literary chops is Jeffrey Ford, a master fantasist who has done much of the heavy lifting in dragging that genre out of the Middle (Earth) Ages. He's guaranteed to pull a fast one on any reader expecting the conventional. In "A Natural History of Autumn," a couple embark on a field trip to a farmhouse in search of the true spirit of autumn. They find the wicked core of their pastoral adventure in an amorous dog(?) and a grateful granny. The story's not so much horrific as deeply strange. A hustler in London out for a quick shag, a cheap doss and any stray valuables worth stealing meets a strange little girl and her "Nanny Grey" in Gemma Files' return to these pages. Files writes in a punky, decadent style similar to Poppy Brite's, but Files is much less inclined to repeat herself by writing the same gay twist on Tim Burton over and over. "Nanny Grey" feels like part of a larger mythology that's not included here, and it's not entirely successful as a standalone. The one-night stand goes horribly awry, the predator becomes prey. This version of the oft-told story is much more skillful than Taylor's "Nikishi," but at its core, it's not that different. Paranormal investigators take on "the great white shark of haunted houses" in Ian Rogers' "The House on Ashley Avenue," which reads like the opening adventure of a supernatural detective series, complete with cutesy banter between the partnered protagonists that spoils any sense of unease Rogers might have been aiming for. And all the house can offer up as a threat is a creature that would be easily dispatched by any 12-year-old disobeying his mother by playing ball too close to the house. Conrad Williams makes an overdue first appearance in this series. Although Williams has yet to crawl out from under a slavish fixation on M. John Harrison, his writing is of a consistent high quality. In "The Pike," territorial fishermen, "hunched over their gear like poker players protecting a good hand," guard their favorite spots along a stinking, refuse-choked post-industrial canal. One fisherman is quietly obsessed with family history, an eyeball-eating pike and his own cancerous decay. "The Pike" is typical of Williams' (and Harrison's) fiction, emotionally blunted and monochromatically bleak. Nathan Ballingrud came highly recommended from a trusted source, and I'd been waiting to sample his scares. "...hickory and maple hoarding darkness" is the kind of creepily offhand remark Shirley Jackson used to write as a signal to readers that all was not right. All is not right at Ballingrud's "Wild Acre" either. Three redneck construction workers spend the night at an unfinished housing development, on the lookout for environmentalist vandals to "catch them in the act and beat them into the dirt." After two of the men are gutted in an attack from out of the woods, the coroner rules wolf. The lone survivor knows better, though "he could not call it by its name." That's OK. We know its name. We've been here before. But we might be surprised if we think we know where Ballingrud is going with this. It's a tale of survivor's guilt as much as lycanthropic carnage. "Wild Acre" is liable to outrage many of its readers awaiting a resolution, but I kind of liked its literary aspirations. Datlow may have flubbed the kickoff with "Nikishi," but she nails the dismount (to mix my sports metaphors) with Laird Barron's "Frontier Death Song," the last story in the anthology. A broken and battered traveler and his pit bull roam the snow-blasted roads of the Badlands in anticipation of "the ultimate showdown," a repeat confrontation with the Hunt. "To witness the Hunt, to interfere with the Hunt, was to become prey." The narrator, a retired dog sled racer, first encountered that primal pagan parade of legend during an Iditarod in Alaska. The experience left him shattered, physically and emotionally. It left his racing rival/colleague Graham in even worse shape, guts strewn across the ice. Yet now, here Graham is again, greeting our hero at a late-nite truck stop. "Death agreed with some people." "Frontier Death Song" isn't the sweaty nerve-jangler that past Barron "Best Horror" entries have been, but as the title suggests, it's a furry-chested action romp with plenty of guns and gore. As if Jack London had climbed from his grave and started cranking out somewhat silly splatter pulp. Although there are a couple of four-star stories included, Volume 5 is largely a disappointment after the progressive improvement of previous volumes. Did the bad feelings stirred up by Night Shade's collapse muddy Datlow's pond of authors willing to participate? Many of the names in the Table of Contents are unfamiliar. Sadly, I can't say the same about the contents themselves. Overfamiliarity haunts this volume, its dull fangs insidiously penetrating the pulse of its stories, leeching the life out of the book with each round of been there done that. I don't object to the reappearance of well-used genre tropes. They've been proved effective. That's why they're well-used. I'd rather see a familiar monster than an overly strained attempt to create menace where none exists -- for instance, the evil bingo players in "The Callers" by Ramsey Campbell, who I suspect was trying to be funny. But if you're going to reach into the toybox for the item everybody else has already played with, you have to approach the game in a way that's fresh and exciting. The game in 2012 feels pretty played out. There are a few experimental pieces in the book, but they come off as literary noodling, sterile exercises in style, not fully realized stories. I read "Best Horror" at what should have been the perfect time of year: the weeks leading up to Halloween. What's more conducive to horror than that? Yet I wasn't feeling the stories of Volume 5, and it doesn't seem like the writers were feeling them either. I detect none of the hunger of a young author determined to slash his/her bloody mark across the genre. No. 5 is superior to its companion volumes in one way: The copy editing has greatly improved. Typos and grammatical errors have flitted through this series like gremlins infesting an engine block, but this year, the goofs have largely been excised. Among the persistent, nagging exceptions is one of my particular pet peeves: "try and." You don't "try and" do something. You "try TO" do something. Let's hope all involved in this book will try TO generate a better crop of scary stories in 2013.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Cameron Trost

    Even now and then, I read an anthology with "best of" in the title because I want to know whether there is one out there that lives up to the claim. But, yet again, I was disappointed. I have read numerous great horror stories that were first published in 2012, but none of them appear in this volume. The prose was of a generally commendable quality but the tales themselves were lacking in narrative, direction, and originality. There were only two that I particularly liked; "Nanny Grey" and "None Even now and then, I read an anthology with "best of" in the title because I want to know whether there is one out there that lives up to the claim. But, yet again, I was disappointed. I have read numerous great horror stories that were first published in 2012, but none of them appear in this volume. The prose was of a generally commendable quality but the tales themselves were lacking in narrative, direction, and originality. There were only two that I particularly liked; "Nanny Grey" and "None So Blind". Gary McMahon's two contributions weren't bad either. Some others could have been good stories. For example, "A Natural History of Autumn" and "The Callers" started beautifully and had potential but just faded towards the end. If anybody has read a "best of" anthology that actually contains the best tales of a particular year, please tell me.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Paul Roberts

    Standouts: "Wild Acre" by Nathan Ballingrud "The Word-Made Flesh" by Richard Gavin "Frontier Death Song" by Laird Barron

  9. 4 out of 5

    Mauoijenn

    This has to be the best of The Best Horror of the Year. These stories are just fantastic. Excellent reading material for around Halloween.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Deborah

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. 4.5 stars Overall, this was a very good collection of horror stories, with a nice variety of both supernatural and psychological monsters. It's worth reading just for the stories by Laird Barron, with whom I was already familiar, and Gary McMahon, who is now on my "authors to watch" list. My rating and review of each story appear below. Nikishi, by Lucy Taylor: 2.5 stars. An utterly predictable tale of a bad guy finding out that there are worse monsters in the world than he is. Little America, by D 4.5 stars Overall, this was a very good collection of horror stories, with a nice variety of both supernatural and psychological monsters. It's worth reading just for the stories by Laird Barron, with whom I was already familiar, and Gary McMahon, who is now on my "authors to watch" list. My rating and review of each story appear below. Nikishi, by Lucy Taylor: 2.5 stars. An utterly predictable tale of a bad guy finding out that there are worse monsters in the world than he is. Little America, by Dan Chaon: 4 stars. A post-apocalyptic tale, involving mutated children similar to werewolves. I liked the way Chaon brought his post-apocalyptic world down to the human level, where one old man is trying to save one child, while that one child is trying to hold onto his humanity. A Natural History of Autumn, by Jeffrey Ford: 3.5 stars. Introduces a supernatural entity with which I was not familiar, the Japanese Jinmenkin. There is an interesting twist at the end regarding that entity's motivation for its action. Mantis Wives, by Kij Johnson: 1 star. Seemed to be using yoga positions or martial arts kata as metaphors for male/female relationships, but ultimately, I just didn't get it. Tender as Teeth, by Stephanie Crawford and Duane Swierczynski: 4 stars. An apparently sympathetic portrayal of a former zombie. I would have given this story 4.5 stars; however, the sympathy the authors seemed to intend that the reader feel for Justine was destroyed in the last few paragraphs, leaving me feeling betrayed. The Callers, by Ramsey Campbell: 4.5 stars. A story of strange and indistinct rituals which manages to build dread through the unlikely device of bingo rhymes. I spent the entire story trying to interpret what those rhymes meant for Mark, and although the ending didn't resolve that question for me, the juxtaposition of the bingo game and the menace of the women's behavior was nevertheless satisfying. Two Poems for Hill House, by Kevin McCann: 1 star. Simply didn't get them, although I have to admit that poetry has never been particularly attractive to me. Mariners' Round, by Terry Dowling: 5 stars. I am always amazed by stories which recognize the hidden creepiness of carousels. I liked the way in which the theme of circles appeared throughout the story. Nanny Grey, by Gemma Files: 3 stars. An average story of a bad guy getting his comeuppance from a girl who wasn't exactly what she seemed to be. The Magician's Apprentice, by Tamsyn Muir: 3 stars. An average story in which human sacrifice is used to power magic. Kill All Monsters, by Gary McMahon: 5 stars. An excellent exploration from the wife's point of view of her husband's response to monsters, real or imagined. The House on Ashley Avenue, by Ian Rogers: 5 stars. A wonderful haunted house story involving a paranormal investigation group known as the Merefield Group. I would enjoy reading more stories involving the adventures of Merefield Group agents. Dead Song, by Jay Wilburn: 4.5 stars. Intriguing exploration of the power of music in post-zombie America. I really liked the documentary-style discussion of the different music types which emerged after the apocalypse. I would have liked more fleshing out of the theme of Appalachia as a secretive, backward area with its own traditions. Sleeping, I Was Beauty, by Sandi Leibowitz: 4.5 stars. A variation on the tale of Sleeping Beauty, with an erotic tone reminiscent of A.N. Roquelaure's Sleeping Beauty trilogy and a hint of the necrophilia in Neil Gaiman's "Snow, Glass, Apples." Although I generally don't like poetry, Leibowitz offers some beautiful images: "fresh bud of ankle/flowering through the rip"; "unsnarling the skein of words/one hundred years of sleep have knotted up." Bajazzle, by Margo Lanagan: 2.5 stars. The most memorable line for me was Don's opinion of Kindle owners: "To Don's mind, there was no way to read off one of those things without looking smug. Ooh, look at me. I've got all of Jane Austen in here, and everything Charles Dickens wrote, no bigger than a couple of CDs. I just love it!" I was confused by the author's note on Sheela-na-gigs, which seemed to contradict their portrayal in the story. The Pike, by Conrad Williams: 3 stars. An OK story, although I would not describe it as horror. The Crying Child, by Bruce McAllister: 5 stars. A fine take on the remote village with an ancient secret to hide. This Circus the World, by Amber Sparks: 2.5 stars. The repetition of the phrase "the way" gave a nice rhythm to the story, but there was little substance. Some Pictures in an Album, by Gary McMahon: 5 stars. The simple, almost clinical description of each picture leads to a creeping sense of dread as the reader tries to understand the story behind the pictures. Wild Acre, by Nathan Ballingrud: 3.5 stars. Although this story of a werewolf killing is nothing special, it is elevated by the description of the effects on the survivor's self-image and marriage. Final Exam, by Megan Arkenberg: 5 stars. A very interesting approach, in which the author guides the reader into piecing together the story from the options offered in the answers to multiple-choice questions. I liked the answer key, which let the reader in on what really happened. I also liked the comparison of the end of a marriage with the end of the world. None So Blind, by Stephen Bacon: 3 stars. If the author intended this story to be suspenseful, he failed, as it was apparent almost from the beginning what Alex had done. Still, I enjoyed seeing the horrific incident from the point of view of the (somewhat sympathetic) villain. The Ballad of Boomtown, by Priya Sharma: 3 stars. A clichéd story of adultery leading to tragedy, in which the Three Sisters legend is poorly integrated. Pig Thing, by Adam L.G. Nevill: 4 stars. A better-than-usual version of the "parents protecting their monster child" tale. The Word-Made Flesh, by Richard Gavin: 4 stars. Similar in plot to Stephen King's Pet Sematary, but with more pathos. Into the Penny Arcade, by Claire Massey: 4 stars. Another reminder that a girl should not get into a strange man's vehicle, but with the added twist of her lucky escape and the poetic justice meted out to the ultimate victims. Magdala Amygdala, by Lucy A. Snyder: 5 stars. A wonderful synthesis of the vampire and werewolf mythoi, in which the reader gradually understands that both have resulted from a common virus and have a symbiotic relationship forced upon them by the persecution of the uninfected population. Frontier Dead Song, by Laird Barron: 5 stars. A new approach to the legend of the Wild Hunt, and the best entry in this anthology. I received this book for free through Goodreads First Reads.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Bill

    This installment of Ellen Datlow's Best Horror series was pretty run-of-the-mill compared to previous volumes. Most of the stories follow a straightforward narrative structure and there are few daring experiments in this volume. I remember previous volumes in this series as having several stories that kept the reader off balance from the first sentence with narratives that seemed irreal and imparted a sense of terror and strangeness. This volume sticks mostly to the tried and true. It's not bad, This installment of Ellen Datlow's Best Horror series was pretty run-of-the-mill compared to previous volumes. Most of the stories follow a straightforward narrative structure and there are few daring experiments in this volume. I remember previous volumes in this series as having several stories that kept the reader off balance from the first sentence with narratives that seemed irreal and imparted a sense of terror and strangeness. This volume sticks mostly to the tried and true. It's not bad, but it's not as good as earlier editions. Overall, it has a feel of the Shadows series edited by Charles Grant in the 80's. My favorite story was Megan Ackenberg's "Final Exam," which was written for Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine. It was a little experimental (written as if it were a multiple-choice exam with an answer key) and had some existential horror to it, but the monsters (space aliens, actually) in the story were unnecessary. The story would have been better without them. "Kill All Monsters" by Gary McMahon was another good tale that conveyed a sense of helplessness and terror. I thought "The Circus the World" by Amber Sparks to be the only stinker, but at two pages, this doesn't significantly mar the content of the book.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Joseph Rodgers

    I certainly enjoyed this book. I am a hound for anthologies, most of the work in here had a very "British horror" sensibility to it, which while enjoyable is a little more softcore than what I prefer. There are two or three real gems in here that appealed to my taste for exploitation, taboo, and violence. However I have to say that the rest of the book is certainly compiled from a great amount of high quality stories, written by competent authors. Certainly more competent than I as you can infer I certainly enjoyed this book. I am a hound for anthologies, most of the work in here had a very "British horror" sensibility to it, which while enjoyable is a little more softcore than what I prefer. There are two or three real gems in here that appealed to my taste for exploitation, taboo, and violence. However I have to say that the rest of the book is certainly compiled from a great amount of high quality stories, written by competent authors. Certainly more competent than I as you can infer from my punctuation. Happy reading!

  13. 4 out of 5

    David Marshall

    Yet another excellent anthology with some genuinely exciting stories. http://opionator.wordpress.com/2013/1... Yet another excellent anthology with some genuinely exciting stories. http://opionator.wordpress.com/2013/1...

  14. 5 out of 5

    Ow1goddess

    The best volume from this series so far. I enjoyed all of the stories- some more than others- but no duds. "Final Exam" was my favorite, but I also loved "The Ballad of Boomtown" and "Dead Song".

  15. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    Some of the best and worst horror I've encountered, and I loved it even more for that. There were only a few stories I didn't finish and far more that I outright loved. Standouts were Gary McMahon, Conrad Williams, Priya Sharma, and the incomparable "Final Exam" from Megan Arkenberg.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Lucille Bransfield

    I only got this book to read Dead Song by Jay Wilburn. He has made this into a 12 book series and I wanted to start from the beginning. I'm glad I did. Now to get to book 1 of Dead Song Legend Dodecology.

  17. 4 out of 5

    RosaneC

    Not scary, just boring.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jen Karner

    A solid collection of creepy stories that run the gamut from body horror to cosmic horror and everything in between.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Brett Minor

    Not every story was a winner, but there is a lot of great stuff in here. I have also picked up several authors who are new to me and I will be following from now on.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Eileen Nichols

    Love these collections.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Michael Adams

    Another excellent assortment of dark and strange stories

  22. 4 out of 5

    Kattie

    This is one of the better short story complications I have read. Usually I have over half of the stories that I like and the other half I hate but this one was a good 2 thirds of good stories

  23. 5 out of 5

    Fatman

    Here are the stories I liked the most: "Wild Acre" by Nathan Ballingrud "The Word-Made Flesh" by Richard Gavin "Frontier Death Song" by Laird Barron

  24. 5 out of 5

    Sierra

    La Datlow is a consummate master of her art, and it's a pretty good bet that anything she's edited will be varied in all the good ways. Volume five of her Best Horror of the Year doesn't disappoint; while of course I did not love all the stories, I very much enjoyed most of them. If you and I sat down and had a conversation about which selections we liked and which we meh-ed, I'm guessing they would differ, and that would be good. Engaging a variety of sensibilities is one mark of a well-wrought La Datlow is a consummate master of her art, and it's a pretty good bet that anything she's edited will be varied in all the good ways. Volume five of her Best Horror of the Year doesn't disappoint; while of course I did not love all the stories, I very much enjoyed most of them. If you and I sat down and had a conversation about which selections we liked and which we meh-ed, I'm guessing they would differ, and that would be good. Engaging a variety of sensibilities is one mark of a well-wrought anthology. Showcasing stories that do surprising things with common tropes is another. I generally really dislike zombie stories; my partner will talk your head off about zombies being the perfect metaphor for modern capitalistic citizenry, but I can't get past the ooginess and the way zombie fiction encourages us to fear not only the dead, but also each other. I think there's quite enough of that floating around as it is, and would like genre narratives to complicate revulsion and paranoia and alienation instead of playing into dominant narratives about them. The three zombie stories in this anthology do just that- I'm still thinking about them, and am so glad I read them. Also, Dan Chaon. His horror stories are incredibly well-written and scary; I haven't read any of his non-anthologized work, but intend to rectify that shortly. This is essential reading for anyone interested in the varied and wonderful work being done currently in the horror field.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Mark McLemore

    I'm glad I purchased this for my Kindle when Ellen advertised it on sale via Facebook. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed this volume, and there's no better way to end it than with Laird Barron's Frontier Death Song, but I found a lot of the stories really weren't horrific. In fact, some were pleasant in a dark way, sad even. Also, I enjoy the weird, and over these past few years it seems it's coming out of its subgenre cocoon, tearing through the horror membrane that encompasses it, spreading its win I'm glad I purchased this for my Kindle when Ellen advertised it on sale via Facebook. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed this volume, and there's no better way to end it than with Laird Barron's Frontier Death Song, but I found a lot of the stories really weren't horrific. In fact, some were pleasant in a dark way, sad even. Also, I enjoy the weird, and over these past few years it seems it's coming out of its subgenre cocoon, tearing through the horror membrane that encompasses it, spreading its wings as it transforms into its own genre... ...But, some of the "weird" stories in this volume really didn't have that horror feeling to assume "best of" form, stories that left me with too many questions, and an unwillingness to go back and reread for answers. Overall, I did enjoy it, and believe others will enjoy the variety and depth of most of the stories. Great names in here, and some authors I've never heard of that I look forward to reading more works by. My first antho and my first review of the year 2016.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Eva

    Many of the stories in year's best horror volume 5 are of an outstanding calibre and quality that few anthologies can match, and Ellen Datlow has picked an eclectic mix of different cultures, incorporating a good balance between featuring male and female authors while letting the stories speak for themselves and win readers over, and it doesn't get much better than the year's best. Rather than discuss each story individually, I'll say that as with all anthologies, some stories will knock it out Many of the stories in year's best horror volume 5 are of an outstanding calibre and quality that few anthologies can match, and Ellen Datlow has picked an eclectic mix of different cultures, incorporating a good balance between featuring male and female authors while letting the stories speak for themselves and win readers over, and it doesn't get much better than the year's best. Rather than discuss each story individually, I'll say that as with all anthologies, some stories will knock it out of the park from the first page. Others, while still tremendously well-written, will not appeal to everyone. Different things appeal to different people and all that. But the proportion of intelligent, well thought out, prose--more "literary" horror that isn't based on gore and doesn't go to extremes to disturb the reader--is very high indeed in this meticulously crafted and well put together anthology.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Darlington30

    Nothing particularly outstanding in this collection. Some "okay" stories depending on your taste, but not enough to recommend overall. Collection also illustrates the confounding nature of the horror genre: its lack of definement. For what is horror? Is it a ghost story? A zombie tale? A grisly hack and slash? They're all in here to satisfy everyone's palate. And that is my personal problem. I really really like "some" horror, but not "all" horror. It's the nature of the genre, I suppose. Regard Nothing particularly outstanding in this collection. Some "okay" stories depending on your taste, but not enough to recommend overall. Collection also illustrates the confounding nature of the horror genre: its lack of definement. For what is horror? Is it a ghost story? A zombie tale? A grisly hack and slash? They're all in here to satisfy everyone's palate. And that is my personal problem. I really really like "some" horror, but not "all" horror. It's the nature of the genre, I suppose. Regardless, one cannot help but be impressed when considering that all these stories were published in a single year. The state of the horror genre is strong in the minds of authors today. Shout out to the first (and best) story of the collection: Nikishi by Lucy Taylor. A South African take on the ghost hitchhiker tale set evocatively on the Skeleton Coast of Namibia.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Sarah W.

    * I received this book as a Goodreads first reads giveaway. * I was really excited when I won this books, but I barely got through it. There were a few that I really liked, but some I didn't even finish. I don't know if it's just my impression of horror, but some of these just weren't scary or creepy at all (I'm not even that hard to scare). Some I just have no words for. The House on Ashley Avenue, The Crying Child, and Some Pictures in an Album were my favorites.

  29. 5 out of 5

    SmarterLilac

    Some odd selections in here. I would actually classify most of these stories as not scary, more like thrillers with supernatural content. Bruce MacAllister's "The Crying Child" is the one stand out to me, definitely weird/horror fiction of the first order (great prose, too.) I actually got the most of the summation portion of this book, and especially love that it mentions my favorite new magazine, Goblin Fruit as the best publisher of dark poetry out there (so true.)

  30. 4 out of 5

    Vickie

    I wanted to like this book as I had read something else by Ellen Datlow that had very much impressed me. Unfortunately this book was pretty boring. I even skipped a few stories that didn't interest me and it still took me months to get through the rest of the book. Spare yourself and don't bother reading this. The handful of decent stories are far outnumbered by the boring ones.

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