The Years Best Horror Stories 10 - Ed. by Karl Edward Wagner (DAW 1982)
‘Through the Walls’ – Ramsey Campbell ‘Touring’ – Gardner Dozois, Jack Dann & Michael Swanwick ‘Every Time I Say I Love You’ – Charles L. Grant ‘Wyntours’ – David G. Rowlands ‘The Dark Country’ – Dennis Etchison ‘Homecoming’ – Howard Goldsmith ‘Old Hobby Horse’ – A.F. Kidd ‘Firstborn’ – David Campton ‘Luna’ – G.W. Perriwills ‘Mind’ – Les Freeman ‘Competition’ – David Clayton Carrad ‘Engaro’ – M. John Harrison ‘On 202’ – Jeff Hecht ‘The Trick’ – Ramsey Campbell ‘Broken Glass’ – Harlan Ellison
‘Through the Walls’ – Ramsey Campbell. Sometimes one does not so much enjoy a tale by Mr Campbell as endure it. I don't mean this in a bad way, rather that I have come to realise that Mr Campbell's tales of slowly developing madness, of which he is quite possibly the finest writer I have ever come across, and of which this is one, are probably best sampled in the anthology format. Too many of them in one go (well, two to be honest) and you are likely to be sent reeling down the rubbery corridors of insanity never to return. Here we have Hugh Pears, wife of Nurse Chris and father of two, who also happens to be slowly going completely mental. Are his hallucinations and, most disturbingly, his feelings towards his ten year old daughter the fault of drugs his wife may have pinched from the hospital, some ghastly experiment by the chemist who lives next door, or just good old insanity rearing its shiny grinning head? There's an explanation at the end that feels a bit tacked on but this still gets full marks as the YBH X opener, not least because it features in "Fritz" one of the bestest, ugliest, scariest dolls I've read about in a long time who also gets to have a splendidly horrible, deliciously described end.
‘Touring’ – Gardner Dozois, Jack Dann & Michael Swanwick. Another volume of YBH, another Elvis story, with appearances by Buddy Holly and Janis Joplin as well. They've all been snatched at the moment of their deaths to perform at a very special concert. With that setup and three (!) authors involved in this you'd be prepared for something out of this world but anyone expecting a big payoff / punchline / twist / reason for any of this happening is going to be disappointed.
‘Every Time I Say I Love You’ – Charles L. Grant. As all vaulters know, I am not that enamoured of the sub-genre known as 'quiet' horror, being far more of an enthusiast of the 'getting hit over the head with a big stick repeatedly' kind of fiction that has made this genre of ours loved by some and despised by others. Charles L Grant is famed for his 'quiet' approach to genre fiction and having read a few of his tales previously I had no expectations as far as this was concerned. Which is why this is a salutory lesson that just because you don't like some stories by an author doesn't mean you won't be blown away by at least one of them. This is absolutely cracking - a short piece about a chap whose wife has died and his efforts to bring her back, with an ending that is so horrible, so unexpected and just so brilliant I'd like to take this opportunity to point everyone in its general direction. Now I'm going to have to read everything else he's ever written just out of respect for this one.
‘Wyntours’ – David G. Rowlands. It's model railway ghost story time! I have to admit I've not come across a Jamesian style ghost story before where the 'ghost' in question is a giant crayfish. It felt a bit ordinary after the last story but it's still worth a look by those of an Aztec God Curses Plunderers of His Tomb To Be Haunted By Great Big Wriggly Thing disposition. And model railway enthusiasts. And those keen to see how the two might be combined.
‘The Dark Country’ – Dennis Etchison. Wagner's blurb to introduce this story says that the "elusive, introspective, ultimately negativistic nature of his writing, which is too subtle for some readers and too downbeat for others" is the reason it has taken Etchison so long to gain recognition. I'm not always good with subtle and 'negativistic' usually has me running in the opposite direction so I'm probably not the best to summarise this story which appears to be about a bunch of slackers and holiday makers South of the border who beat a local boy to death who's been stealing their things. There's bound to be more to it than this but it will take greater readers than I to comment upon it.
‘Homecoming’ – Howard Goldsmith. Any author who's self-penned introduction to a story starts off with "A theme to which I'm often drawn is the interpenetration of co-active strata of consciousness and time-streams" is asking less to have his story read and more to be hit over the head repeatedly with a hardback copy of the book it's in if you want my opinion. The story which follows is surprising, then, in that it's really rather ordinary - man inherits his stepfather's home where the ghost of his brother - 7 feet tall and with an IQ less than his age - may or may not be on the rampage in the surrounding swamps. There's an attempt at surrealism at the end that's a good idea but the writing wasn't really up to it. God I'm horrible about some of these stories aren't I?
‘Old Hobby Horse’ – A.F. Kidd. I've got Chico Kidd's Ash-Tree collection and it's not bad at all - who would have thought you could write so many ghost stories about bellringing? This one's about Morris dancing and the perils one can get into if one 'takes a tumble' with another Morris dancer's wife. Good to see good old Somerset traditions getting a look in in a US horror anthology.
‘Firstborn’ – David Campton. Good Lordy! Just the kind of story I wasn't expecting at this point. In the remote Highlands of Scotland Harry's mad Uncle has been experimenting with giant man-eating vines that have flowers shaped like huge willies (oh yes). Add in Harry's impotence and his sex-symbol wife Elaine's (she was more symbol than sex to Harry) desperation and we have a When Plants Attack tale here of stratospherically messed up proportions. Add in that this entire story is being related by Harry to his best friend as they wait for the midwife to finish work next door and...David Campton where are you now?
'Luna’ – G.W. Perriwills. Edward Kossum keeps having strange dreams of an alien planet. He’s just come back from the moon and he may have encountered something there that’s trying to take it’s revenge on him. That, or he’s just mad. Either way his psychiatrist’s advice to ‘embrace his dreams’ proves to be his undoing.
‘Mind’ – Les Freeman. I thought I recognised this one. It’s from Hugh Lamb’s New Tales of Terror – a man gets caught in a repeating nightmare that may have been transferred to him from a lady at the local asylum, the one whose family were killed in a car accident. Now he’s doomed to relive her saying goodbye to them.
‘Competition’ – David Clayton Carrad. A ‘running’ horror story. I can’t think of many others, the best being Clive Barker’s Hell’s Event. This one’s pretty good, though, and with a great twist. An early morning run along the beach becomes a life or death competition with a big black van in a case of mistaken identity and an old town tradition.
‘Egnaro’ – M. John Harrison. . Here's a famous story I've never come across before. Wagner’s introductions are almost as valuable as some of the stories he’s seen fit to reproduce. “Like fellow British writer Ramsey Campbell (Wagner writes) MJH demonstrates a morbid fascination with urban seediness, drawing upon the numbing ugliness and grimy squalor of industrial slums as background to his fiction.” Which probably explains why I don’t really get along with it. Anyone who remembers Egnaro flavoured Hubba Bubba bubble gum will probably have the same trouble I did wondering what all the fuss is about orange spelt backwards. I will admit though that this is a very well written story and very weird indeed. For me, although I kept thinking that the characters really just needed to pull themselves together and stop imagining things, Harrison does manage to maintain the illusion of ‘Egnaro’ as being this thing you only get fleeting glimpses of or overhear snatched fragments of conversation regarding almost up to the end, just about managing to distract me from remembering a daft advert for bubble gum
God I'm horrible about some of these stories aren't I?
i wouldn't say that, lord p. i don't see any reason for a body to revere a story they don't get anything much from, no matter how 'great' its reputation. it's odd with the KEW edited 'Years Best Horrors.' one volume and i'd love just about everything in there, the next, and my eyes would shoot toward the ceiling wondering what was wrong with me that i couldn't see what those in the know found so groundbreaking and - god help me - "dangerous" about it all. i guess it was the wondering which version of YBH would show up kept me snagging the damn things wherever i found 'em. the one constant throughout the series - Karl's editorials. i always read them first and figured him as a truly magnificent commentator on the changing trends in horror. it was like having an elder brother who was even cooler than me. anyhow; most of Vol. X being a blank to me now, i'm guessing this was one that had me screaming 'death to brainy horror!' at my loudest, although those few i can remember - Firstborn, Wyntours, Footsteps, Mind - are easily worth the paltry entry fee. kind of weird i don't recall the Charles L. Grant story as for me, he was among the very best of the quiet horror peddlers ('shadowpunks' as KEW mischievously - and brilliantly - hailed them), especially when he set out to break your heart (try Penny Daye or Eyes). i always liked that he was a closet Guy N. Smith fan and, in common with KEW, he was keen to see Ronald Chetwynd-Hayes' work do well in the US. some of A. F. Kidd's work is a little too Jamesian for me, but i am a huge fan of her the Bellfounder's Wife and who could not love an illustrator prepared to tackle vault legend M. P. Dare's Unholy Relics?
A. F. Kidd Back cover of (Saints & Relics, Haunted library, 1983.
From the first, I set myself against "literature"; the story was the thing, and no amount of style could persuade me to select a story that lacked genuine, unadulterated horror. For those who wanted something high-brow there was plenty.
‘On 202’ – Jeff Hecht. A brief 'road' story. Wayne & Sandy are on route 202 and it looks as if they're never going to leave it.
‘The Trick’ – Ramsey Campbell. It's Halloween and the nasty old lady who lives down the street has a very nasty surprise in store for two little girls. I've always thought of Ramsey Campbell as the Hitchcock equivalent of horror writers because he displays his style so openly, and there are plenty of typically Campbellian descriptions here. We open with 'a face like a wrinkled monkey's, whose jaw drooped as if melting' that comes back to haunt the protagonists at the climax, but not before they've got to explore the Tunnel of Scary Ghastliness of this particular story (tunnels are a bit of a recurrent theme in his stories. In fact there could probably be a collection of tunnel-themed Campbell material) where once again everyday objects are rendered exceedingly unpleasant.
‘Broken Glass’ – Harlan Ellison. And here's Harlan to round everything off with a cracking little perverted fantasy about a Peeping Tom of the imagination and how Dana, our heroine, stitches him up for good.
Cracking volume Mr KEW! No. 11's up for review next!