SCREAMS FROM THE DARK Edited by Ellen Datlow

Screams from the Dark:
29 Tales of Monsters and the Monstrous
Edited by Ellen Datlow
Tor Nightfire — June 2022
ISBN: 9781250797063
— Hardcover — 496 pp.


Amid a period of lots of horrible news, the 2021 debut of the Tor Nightfire imprint has provided a lot of literary relief as a major new outlet for horror fiction. The deeply respected editor and anthologist Ellen Datlow has long acquired short fiction for the Tor.com site, and its more fantastic news that she’s expanding that role into the Nightfire realm.

With Screams from the Dark: 29 Tales of Monsters and the Monstrous, Datlow compiles an impressively diverse array of dark fantasy and horror stories from an all-star lineup of authors. Indeed, reading this collection feels like the literary equivalent of watching an all-star sports team under the management of a venerated Hall of Famer. Screams from the Dark is a celebration of achievement in dark fiction. It takes a simple theme, gathers a broad panel of award-winning artists under Datlow, and lets them all do their thing. Like in a sports all-star game, some play as seriously as they normally would, some show off a bit, and some just have fun.

For casual fans, or people looking for a specific brand of the game of horror, the results might vary. But, there will surely be something to enjoy. For devoted fans of the genre whose tastes enjoy sampling across the range of the genre, there is unlikely to be a more successful anthology than Datlow and the authors provide in Screams from the Dark.

The theme of this collection, Monsters, is not a new one for Datlow. In 2015 she published The Monstrous, an original anthology for Tachyon Publications that I reviewed here back then. Screams from the Dark serves thus as a thematic sequel, bringing some authors back, but also bringing in new voices that give this a more modern vibe consistent with the latest in dark short fiction. Additionally, whereas that older collection mostly fell within the horror genre, Screams from the Dark, I would argue, draws equally from dark fantasy as horror. For me that is no problem at all. But some may wish for chills – or screams – from the horror side. The only criticism I have of the collection is actually its title. I feel it’s too generic for the specific monster theme, and a bit distant from the style and effects of the stories within.

29 Tales of Monsters and the Monstrous makes a better lead title, even if less evocative. But that number in there, 29, does reflect the hefty amount of text that this anthology gifts to its readers. Few of the stories here are very short, and also few are super long. Most fit into that perfect short story length to exert their spell. And for discerning readers with diverse stylistic or genre tastes, all 29 of these stories should captivate.

I started the anthology with plans to simply review/mention only my favorite stories. Though I did have favorites, I soon found that would be too difficult, or would shortchange a lot of stories/authors still deserving note. All the contributors in Screams from the Dark offer high quality tales that show off their talent and speculative, dark vision.

So, to the individual stories:

“You Have What I Need” by Ian Rogers – A perfect start to things, an entertaining story of the attack on a hospital ER by viral-infected vampires. The characters and setting, with pandemic relevance, play with the idea of exactly what a ‘monster’ is.

“The Midway” by Fran Wilde – The question of who and what are monstrous develops even more in this story of having to work a real lousy summer job at an amusement park where the electrical power and crowd draw come from sacrifices to an eldritch sea creature. Loved the combining vibes of nostalgia with something just a bit off.

“Wet Red Grin” by Gemma Files – A truly horrific tale set in a nursing home. Vividly written and grim, it delves into family and magic through the threat of a parasitic essence within a dying old woman. One of my favorites for emotional depth, language, and imagery.

“The Virgin Jimmy Peck” by Daryl Gregory – Should be among the favorites for anyone who likes humor with their horror. A cult has implanted a monstrous creation within the eponymous protagonist. The horrific set-up is played lightly, though still darkly, with character silliness and fun nods to horror classics.

“The Ghost of a Flea” by Priya Sharma – Fascinating and well composed historical dark fiction inspired by Robert Hooke’s early micrographs and William Blake’s painting that gives this tale its name. As a microbiologist I was excited to see something alluding to Hooke. Though I’m unfamiliar with Blake, the story here of a couple investigating strange, supernatural killings works even without the historical references as a dark fantasy/crime mash-up.

“The Atrocity Exhibitionists” by Brian Hodge – Another story with connection to the pandemic, this shows even more timeliness in its treatment of self-harm and the allure of the fleeting nature of fame. Such an intense and dark story, that will truly haunt readers.

“”The Father of Modern Gynecology”: J. Marion Syms, M.D. (1813 – 1883)” by Joyce Carol Oates – Here, Oates goes the route of dark details from history to reflect on the fears and terror of today. You can look up the real J. Marion Sims, but the fictionalized autobiographical story here shows the monster just as well, with clear parallels to contemporary politics.

“Here Comes Your Man” by Indrapramit Das – Here is a perfect example of how to build tension and make that suspense pay off in a short story. Wit the tale of a young couple who leave their rural home for a festival in the city, Das makes the reader feel the discomforts of culture shock and displacement among things that still have the air of familiarity and safety. Exceptionally well-rendered characters and brutal story telling.

“Siolaigh” by Siobhan Carroll – Set among the Outer Hebrides off the coast of Scotland, this story grabs the reader with “A man’s severed arm lay in the surf” and doesn’t let go. Is it a legendary sea serpent that is the monster responsible? The local color of setting and the customs of lore give this tale an eerie, briny atmosphere as it considers what a monster may be.

“What is Love But the Quiet Moments After Dinner?” by Richard Kadrey – A date between Caleb and Patti seems to be going along swimmingly, heading for the bedroom, until they each reveal surprising secrets. Kadrey takes an absurd moment that could be played for humor, but twists it into a splendidly macabre romance of the monstrous.

“The Island” by Norman Partridge – The action of the story opens with a vampire aboard a ship, forced to flee hunters in his homeland, in dire and gruesome battle with the sailors. The vampire Count washes onto island that is not an island, shores that seem to gather monsters. The story has a vintage tone that ties to its allusions to the cast of the classic Universal monster films of old Hollywood.

“Flaming Teeth” by Garry Kilworth – Another story with a hidden island to follow the previous, this harkens back to old Hollywood adventures in exotic lands where monsters abound, in this case a corner of the southern Pacific where a giant creature known by a local name that translates into “Flaming Teeth”. It’s an entertaining look at natural predation and what we consider (hypocritically?) ‘monstrous’ from our point of view in the food chain.

“Strandling” by Caitlín R. Kiernan – This story paints a picture of a bleak future sadly too believable, saturated with the “hydrocarbon debris of a thoughtless world.” A lonely, exhausted desolation where mutant monstrosities are born from our monstrosity, and two women cling to one another against seeming inevitability. A beautiful, if dark, tale that features some lovely nuggets on the parasitic – mutalistic continuum of symbiosis that stands at the center of life and the the themes here.

“The Special One” by Chịkọdịlị Emelụmadụ – “They named her Joy, an ordinary name for a child who became extraordinary, at least in childhood.” Filled with luscious text, this story presents itself as a fable on expectations and the pressures one bears to meet them. On the dark side of fantasy, it turns into horror with an unsettling ending that masterfully closes things.

“Devil” by Glen Hirshberg – A second modern-day tale that plays upon classic stories of exotic exploration. Here, the devil refers to the Tasmanian devil, a creature some tourists seek sight of in the wilds of the island, in a place where only train tracks remain from the colonizers who attempted to conquer the wilderness. Predator-prey dynamics and the ghosts of history haunt the unsuspected interlopers.

“Crick Crack Rattle Tap” by A. C. Wise – One of the most impactful stories of the collection, troubling and brutal, yet compassionate all at the same time. A young mother grapples with post-partum emotions, her desires conflicting between nourishing and exasperated. Shamed as flashes of tendernesses give way to resentment, her mind nonetheless turns in horror to a fairy tale rhyme, to rid her aching of its burden. Hardly an easy read in its emotion, this is just a brilliant fable of darkness and melancholy.

“Children of the Night” by Stephen Graham Jones – Light fare from Jones that embraces silliness and humor to have fun with the monster theme. The title evokes the classic line from Tod Browning’s Dracula (or was it even in Bram Stoker’s novel?) However, this one is actually about Bigfoot, and plays fancifully with the typical explanation of sightings of the cryptid as people in ape costumes.

“The Smell of Waiting” by Kaaron Warren – Such a touching and bittersweet story of a girl who discovers she has the power to resurrect life after the death of her puppy, and later, a vicious attack/murder of her mother. While she has this extraordinary power that others might view as ‘monstrous’, Warren forces readers to confront what such abilities might be like when able to provide relief to others, but never oneself.

“Now Voyager” by Livia Llewellyn – Wow, ummm, what? This was my first reaction to this genre-bending offering by Llewellyn. Then I reread it and loved it even more. The story is a science fiction dark fantasy that imagines a far-future Earth where a Princess, member of a deformed royal family looks out over a caldera considering the approaching death of the human Camera of the Gods and the selection of a replacement from among potential novitiates. This gem does so much, and so subtly, with exquisite prose. Are the monsters the alien Gods, or the Princess and her family who look the part and knowingly sacrifice others to a form of slavery? The richness of the story allows interpretations and new discoveries with rereads. An unconventional horror amid the rest of the collection, but superbly uncanny.

“The Last Drop” by Carole Johnstone – A tale that echoes the earlier offering from Oates, this is a fictionalized retelling of historical events and (at least some) characters. Set in the mid/late 19th century, it involves a woman put on trial for murder. In it, Johnstone includes details from actual court transcripts. The modern reader’s uncertainty of the woman’s guilt of the monstrous crime becomes accentuated by appreciations of societal blindness and atipathy toward women.

“Three Mothers Mountain” by Nathan Ballingrud – I have adored everything I’ve read by Ballingrud I think, and this was no exception. I still haven’t read his recent (now maybe old?) collection and really need to. Anyway, this story about witches, repercussions of magic, and the painful choices/sacrifices people make for family has familiar tones and themes for any dark fantasy fan. Yet, somehow Ballingrud manages to make it all seem fresh and evocative.

“Widow-Light” by Margo Lanagan – Fans of modern feminist recasting of fairy tales should adore this short fantasy from Langan. It stands unique among the other offerings of the collection in having perhaps the most hopeful, happy of endings. This is not to say it doesn’t touch upon darkness or horror in getting there, with themes of relevance to today’s reality as much as a fantasy world. I particularly appreciated how this is an original story in the fairy tale style, rather than something based off any particular fable or trope.

“Sweet Potato” by Joe R. Lansdale – The neighbor of an old woman who likes to set out bird seed, sit on her porch, and then shoot the birds who come each day, decides to take up gardening. When he discovers the perverted old lady dead and decomposing in her yard, he considers whether her body might be put to better use. This reads like a fairly standard contemporary short horror, but Lansdale’s talent keeps it engaging and fun.

“Knock, Knock” by Brian Evenson – A man kills his uncle, but soon a knocking comes on the door, revealing the murder may not have quite taken. This plays well both as a literal horror and as a psychological one of a man being tormented by his monstrous actions. In either case it is another familiar horror theme, but again one handled in just the way, with just the right atmosphere and structure, to make it enjoyable.

“What is Meat with No God” by Cassandra Khaw – I believe this is the shortest story within the collection, but Khaw does a lot within its fitting length. Heavy on hypnotic atmosphere, with an equally dazzling title, the story is a simple one of a monstrous soldier who cannot be killed, whose path of bloody carnage has no deviation until complete. The short length leaves a great deal of ambiguity to the background of the story and its interpretations, leaving a lot of room for the reader to draw conclusions.

“Bitten Himself” by Laird Barron – This one is a follow-up to one of Barron’s most known stories, “The Procession of the Black Soth.” I haven’t actually read that one, to my memory, so can’t comment on connections beyond the reappearance here of the title entity. In this, the protagonist is a deprived criminal/murderer who encounters his doppelgänger, and then cosmic-horror-vibed Black Sloth, to face his eternal punishment. Fans of Barron’s horror won’t be disappointed.

“Burial” by Kristi DeMeester – Something about DeMeester’s writing tends to hit the right notes with me. They are windows into the dark and pain that women have faced, and continue to face in life, tales of finding power and agency in that. Even so distant from my own experiences, the passion of her writing still resonates with me. No different here, a tale of a girl trying to save her sister and herself from a selfish, abusive mother, and her creation of a new mother from that agonizing desperation.

“Beautiful Dreamer” by Jeffrey Ford – In a time of increased partisanship, mistrust, and rancor between those on opposite ends of the US political expression, it is nice to see this short monster story of a horror that might help bridge the divide. Despite its themes, the story is a simple, unadorned one of people protecting themselves/hunting a dangerous mutant creature. Not very dark in tone, it is gory and splatter filled, an entertaining story that creature feature horror fans should enjoy.

“Blodsuger” by John Langan – Datlow saves the longest story for last, a practice that seems common to collections and anthologies. But, it’s one that I don’t really care for much, I’d rather a shorter sip to end things. The title of this one is an Anglicization of ‘bloedzuiger‘, the Dutch word for ‘leech’. (Advanced copies of the anthology used the Dutch spelling for the title from what I can tell.) A horror author tells a tale about an ice fishing experience with his grandfather where he lands a monster from Danish lore, that proceeds to unleash terror. Though I personally found the text too long, Langan certainly does a great job balancing an atmosphere of dread/horror with the nostalgia/mundane of family life.

Screams from the Dark is an anthology I could see easily returning to. Many of the tales bear rereading, and I am sure that personal favorites (or ones that resonate most strongly with me) might vary with time and age.

Datlow concludes her introduction to the anthology with these words, which I find just as fitting here:

What’s most interesting to me as a reader is the range of monstrousness that exists within ourselves and that we impose on the creatures unlike us that we name monsters. Monsters are our mirrors: in them, we see who we hope we are not, in order to understand who we war.

This is why the diverse range of authors, styles, and sub-genre are so integral to the success of Screams from the Dark. Monsters are deeply personal beasts, and the monstrous will change over one’s life experiences, through the political and social upheaval that surround us. Not every story here will likely resonate with you. But, which do, may change. And even at this moment of now, they all offer an empathic glimpse into what others see lurking in their mirrors, darkly.


A Charity Anthology from Raw Dog Screaming Press, with Proceeds to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society

From Raw Dog Screaming Press and Editor Heidi Ruby Miller

Like Sunshine After Rain:

A Charity Anthology to Benefit the
Leukemia and Lymphoma Society

I’ve just pre-ordered a copy of this anthology to support this charity, the publisher, and its contributors. Check out the information below from Raw Dog Screaming Press and consider supporting as well:

“Raw Dog Screaming Press and international award-winning editor Heidi Ruby Miller are taking pre-orders for the charity anthology LIKE SUNSHINE AFTER RAIN. Proceeds benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. The beautiful cover is by Brad Sharp. Interior illustrations by Sharon A. Ruby.

This limited edition anthology is available in lettered hardcover and numbered paperback editions. It hosts short stories, poems, and essays from 82 authors.”

Including:

  • New York Times bestsellers Jonathan Maberry and Maria V. Snyder
  • USA Today bestseller Annette Dashofy
  • International bestseller Liz Coley
  • Amazon Charts bestsellers Cary Caffrey, Sasha Dawn, and Jennifer Foehner Wells
  • Drue Heinz Literature Prize winner Randall Silvis
  • Bram Stoker Award winners Lee Murray, Christina Sng, Lucy A. Snyder, Sara Tantlinger, and Tim Waggoner
  • International Horror Guild Award winners Michael A. Arnzen and Gary Braunbeck
  • Asimov’s Readers Award winner Timons Esaias
  • Arthur J. Rooney Award winner Jason Jack Miller
  • Pittsburgh City Paper Best Local Writer winner Brian Butko
  • American Library Association Notable Book Award winner Lynn Salsi
  • Eugene V. Debs Foundation Literature Prize winner Eric Leif Davin

FROM THE FOREWORD BY HEIDI RUBY MILLER:

“When someone I loved was diagnosed with stage 4 leukemia in the middle of the pandemic, I spiraled into an existential disquiet. Everything was going wrong everywhere, and I felt helpless. The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society was there for my family in so many ways, including guidance and emotional support. I wanted to help them and also give myself purpose. I did what I do best, I wrote…and I asked others for their writing with only two requests:

It must be upbeat.

It must be under 1500 words.

I heard the groans right through my email. That’s a pretty tight word limit. And, even those writers who weren’t part of the horror scene said they didn’t exactly go for upbeat in their projects. But they all agreed to try. And something unforeseen happened. My writing friends were experimenting with forms and genres, writing out of their comfort zones, sharing personal connections to cancer, to fear, to overcoming their sadness, and they thanked me for it.

Their willingness to search for the positive became an unexpected time capsule of perseverance and pushing onward when so many of us struggled to make it through one day at a time.”

To reserve your copy of LIKE SUNSHINE AFTER RAIN, visit  http://rawdogscreaming.com/books/like-sunshine-after-rain/.

LEUKEMIA AND LYMPHOMA SOCIETY MISSION:

“Cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and myeloma, and improve the quality of life of patients and their families.”

https://donate.lls.org/lls/donate

Tor Nightfire: First Season of Books from the New Horror Imprint

Tor Nightfire

Usually I’ll go more out of my way to support and spread the word about small independent presses that I adore. But, Tor has always been supportive of my reviews and their new upstarting Nightfire horror imprint is one that I’m especially excited about! Perhaps it is the pandemic, but for whatever reason I’ve been on a recent horror kick, enjoying ‘old’ favorite publishers like Raw Dog Screaming Press or the new Off Limits Press. Now the excitement builds for what looks to be a stellar lineup in the Tor Nightfire first season catalog. So here’s a brief news highlight for the upcoming books due out this fall from Tor Nightfire.

I’m due to receive some of the titles in advance for review, and probably will try to pick up as many as I can of the others when they’re released. So, look for reviews here to come and in the meantime check out the details on them all:

First up in their catalog for 7th September 2021 release is Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, an urban fantasy-noir with vampires:

“Welcome to Mexico City, an oasis in a sea of vampires. Domingo, a lonely garbage-collecting street kid, is just trying to survive its heavily policed streets when a jaded vampire on the run swoops into his life. Atl, the descendant of Aztec blood drinkers, is smart, beautiful, and dangerous. Domingo is mesmerized.

Atl needs to quickly escape the city, far from the rival narco-vampire clan relentlessly pursuing her. Her plan doesn’t include Domingo, but little by little, Atl finds herself warming up to the scrappy young man and his undeniable charm. As the trail of corpses stretches behind her, local cops and crime bosses both start closing in.

Vampires, humans, cops, and criminals collide in the dark streets of Mexico City. Do Atl and Domingo even stand a chance of making it out alive? Or will the city devour them all?”

The following week features the release of Slewfoot: A Tale of Bewitchery by Brom. I don’t know dark fantasist Brom, and I was at first off-put by his use of a singular name. But the description of this just sounds wonderful.

“Connecticut, 1666. An ancient spirit awakens in a dark wood. The wildfolk call him Father, slayer, protector.

The colonists call him Slewfoot, demon, devil.

To Abitha, a recently widowed outcast, alone and vulnerable in her pious village, he is the only one she can turn to for help.

Together, they ignite a battle between pagan and Puritan – one that threatens to destroy the entire village, leaving nothing but ashes and bloodshed in their wake.

“If it is a devil you seek, then it is a devil you shall have!”

This terrifying tale of bewitchery features more than two dozen of Brom’s haunting paintings, fully immersing readers in this wild and unforgiving world.”

Witches continue the theme with the next week in September and a reprint (I believe) of Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt, translated from the Dutch by Nancy Forest-Flier. I am seriously disappointed that translator’s name is not on the cover, and even more so that it’s not on the publication page/materials. A newly translated novel by Heuvelt, Echo, is due in 2022 from Nightfire as well.

Due out the final week in September is The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward. The cover reveal was just held for this psychological horror, and it is a beauty. I don’t think I had originally requested it, but now I’m hoping I might be able to find the time.

“In a boarded-up house on a dead-end street at the edge of the wild Washington woods lives a family of three.

A teenage girl who isn’t allowed outside, not after last time.
A man who drinks alone in front of his TV, trying to ignore the gaps in his memory.
And a house cat who loves napping and reading the Bible.

An unspeakable secret binds them together, but when a new neighbor moves in next door, what is buried out among the birch trees may come back to haunt them all.”

Speaking of awesome covers, Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw has a doozy. This novella featuring a haunted house had me sold without even reading the blurb and I feel both guilty and tremendously joyful I’ll be able to read it before its 19th October release. For others, just in time for Halloween!

“A Heian-era mansion stands abandoned, its foundations resting on the bones of a bride and its walls packed with the remains of the girls sacrificed to keep her company.

It’s the perfect venue for a group of thrill-seeking friends, brought back together to celebrate a wedding.

A night of food, drinks, and games quickly spirals into a nightmare as secrets get dragged out and relationships are tested.

But the house has secrets too. Lurking in the shadows is the ghost bride with a black smile and a hungry heart.

And she gets lonely down there in the dirt.

Effortlessly taking the classic haunted house story and turning it on its head, Nothing but Blackened Teeth is a sharp and devastating exploration of grief, the parasitic nature of relationships, and the consequences of our actions.”

I’m very happy to see that Tor Nightfire has an anthology of short fiction due out their first year as well, in November. Dark Stars: New Tales of Darkest Horror, edited by John F. D. Taff is apparently an homage to classic 1980s collection that I’ve sadly never encountered. Guess I will have to delve into both!

Dark Stars is a tribute to horror’s longstanding short fiction legacy, featuring 12 terrifying original stories from today’s most noteworthy authors, with an introduction by bestselling author Josh Malerman and an afterword by Ramsey Campbell.

Created as an homage to the 1980 classic horror anthology, Dark Forces, edited by Kirby McCauley, this collection features 12 original novelettes showcasing today’s top horror talent. Dark Stars features all-new terrifying stories from award-winning authors and up-and-coming voices like Stephen Graham Jones, Priya Sharma, Usman T. Malik, and Alma Katsu, with seasoned author John F. D. Taff at the helm. An afterword from original Dark Forces contributor Ramsey Campbell is a poignant finale to this bone-chilling collection.

Enter if you dare, dear reader, and discover what horrors await in Dark Stars…”

The only release due from their catalog that I’ve skipped over is a second one released on that debut day of 7th September: The Living Dead a new novel based on George A. Romero’s zombieverse, written by Daniel Kraus. It’s now the only on that I haven’t felt much anticipation for. But if I end up devouring all their other titles as I hope, the completist in me might need to check this out as well.

I certainly don’t plan to regularly feature the whole catalogs of big publishers, but I hope readers and followers appreciate learning about this new imprint if they haven’t already.

Upcoming Unsung Stories Fantasy/Horror Anthology to Raise Awareness of Mental Health Issues: OUT OF THE DARKNESS

From Unsung Stories and Together for Mental Wellbeing

Out of the Darkness:

An Anthology of Horror and Dark Fantasy

If you didn’t notice the news earlier this month, Unsung Stories is publishing Out of the Darkness, an anthology of dark fantasy and horror fiction raising awareness of mental health issues with Together for Mental Wellbeing. From their release:

“[They] have Kickstarter exclusives on offer, including the chance to have your name in the book as part of the amazing community that supports indie publishing, and an exclusive, numbered hardback edition that is strictly limited to 100 copies worldwide. There are also opportunities to have your work critiqued by the award-winning Unsung Stories team, and bundles of books by featured Unsung authors.

Out of the Darkness challenges some of the most exciting voices in horror and dark fantasy to bring their worst fears out into the light. From the black dog of depression to acute anxiety and schizophrenia, these stories prove what fans of horror fiction have long known – that we must understand our demons to overcome them.

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, what began as a mental health crisis has rapidly become an unprecedented tsunami. The Centre for Mental Health has estimated that 10 million people will need mental health support in the UK as a direct consequence of Covid-19, with a staggering 1.5 million of those being under eighteen.

Edited by Dan Coxon (This Dreaming Isle) and featuring exclusive stories by Alison Moore, Jenn Ashworth, Tim Major and Aliya Whiteley, this collection harnesses the power of fiction to explore and explain the darkest moments in our lives. 

Horror isn’t just about the chills – it’s also about the healing that comes after.”

Table of Contents 

  • Nocturia – Nicholas Royle 
  • The Note – Jenn Ashworth 
  • Lonely Souls in Quiet Houses – Laura Mauro 
  • Seabound – Alison Moore 
  • Goodbye, Jonathan Tumbledown – Tim Major 
  • The Chorus – Aliya Whiteley 
  • The Forlorn Hope – Verity Holloway 
  • Oblio – Richard V. Hirst 
  • Still She Visits – Eugen Bacon 
  • Bloodybones Jones – Sam Thompson 
  • The Lightness of their Hearts – Georgina Bruce 
  • The Residential – Gary Budden 
  • Replacement Bus Service – Ashley Stokes 
  • Temple – Anna Vaught 
  • The Hungry Dark – Simon Bestwick 

Additional stories by Malcolm Devlin and Gareth E. Rees are slated for stretch goals.

I’ve already backed this and I’d encourage others to do the same. Support the Kickstarter here!

Kickstarter for 2084: An Anthology of Eleven Science Fiction Short Stories

I’m pleased to help announce the start of a Kickstarter campaign for a new SF anthology inspired by Orwell from Unsung Stories titled 2084: An Anthology of Eleven Science Fiction Stories (Print ISBN: 978-1-907389-50-4; Ebook ISBN: 978-1-907389-53-5)

To my recollection I previously reviewed two of their publications,  The Arrival of Missives by Aliya Whiteley (which I really loved) and Déjà Vu by Ian Hocking (which I didn’t enjoy as much, though others did). I have a new novella by them on deck to review, and I’m really looking forward to this collection, which will feature a new story by Whiteley, as well as stories from many other notable SF authors.


From the publisher’s press release:

“Unsung Stories have gathered eleven leading science fiction writers who have looked ahead to 2084, as Orwell did in 1948, for a new anthology – writers such as David Hutchinson, Christopher Priest, Lavie Tidhar, James Smythe, Jeff Noon and Anne Charnock, who are already famous for their visions of the near future.

As the events of 2017 reveal an ever more complex relationship between people and their governments, classic dystopian literature is proving its relevance once again. But as readers turn to classics, like Nineteen Eighty-Four, writers are also looking to our future, and what may lie there.

Speaking about the anthology, George Sandison, Managing Editor at Unsung Stories, said, “We knew when we first started work on the anthology that the idea was timely, but the start of 2017 has really hammered home how important writing like this is.

“Dystopian fiction gives us a space in which to explore today’s fears, and the nightmares of society. For many people the events of the last eighteen months have brought those dark futures much closer, so it’s inevitable that we turn to literature to help us understand why.

“The ideas at work in 2084 range from the familiar to the fantastic, but all are bound by a current and relevant sense of what we could lose, what’s at stake. As with Orwell’s work, decades from now, we will be looking back to our stories, to better understand today.”

2084 will be published by Unsung Stories in July 2017.”

The full contributor list is:

  • Desirina Boskovich
  • Anne Charnock (author of Sleeping Embers of an Ordinary Mind and A Calculated Life)
  • Ian Hocking (author of Deja Vu)
  • Dave Hutchinson (author of The Fractured Europe Sequence)
  • Cassandra Khaw (author of Hammers on Bone and Rupert Wong: Cannibal Chef)
  • Oliver Langmead (author of Dark Star and Metronome)
  • Jeff Noon (author of Vurt, Automated Alice, Pollen, and more)
  • Christopher Priest (author of The Prestige, The Dream Archipelago, The Gradual, and many more)
  • James Smythe (author of The Australia Trilogy, The Echo, The Explorer, and more)
  • Lavie Tidhar (author of A Man Lies Dreaming, Osama and Central Station)
  • Aliya Whiteley (author of The Beauty and The Arrival Of Missives)

Head over to the Kickstarter  page now to help support this anthology and take advantage of backer rewards! Also be sure to share the news with your social networks.

THE MONSTROUS, Edited by Ellen Datlow

24998915

The Monstrous
Edited by Ellen Datlow
Tachyon Publications – October 2015
ASIN B010MCWEI6 – 384 Pages – eBook
Source: NetGalley


Contents:
“A Natural History of Autumn” by Jeffrey Ford
“Ashputtle” by Peter Straub
“Giants in the Earth” by Dale Bailey
“The Beginning of the Year without Summer” by Caitlín R. Kiernan
“A Wish from a Bone” by Gemma Files
“The Last, Clean, Bright Summer” by Livia Llewellyn
“The Totals” by Adam-Troy Castro
“The Chill Clutch of the Unseen” by Kim Newman
“Down Among the Dead Men” by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois
“Catching Flies” by Carole Johnstone
“Our Turn Too Will One Day Come” by Brian Hodge
“Grindstone” by Stephen Graham Jones
“Doll Hands” by Adam L.G. Nevill
“How I Met the Ghoul” by Sofia Samatar
“Jenny Come to Play” by Terry Dowling
“Miss Ill-Kept Runt” by Glen Hirshberg
“Chasing Sunset” by A.C. Wise
“The Monster Makers” by Steve Rasnic Tem
“Piano Man” by Christopher Fowler
“Corpsemouth” by John Langan

For anyone familiar with editor Datlow the short review for her recent horror anthology The Monstrous would be that it is everything you’ve come to expect from her superb taste and expert experience. If you’ve liked previous anthologies from her, you’ll love this. If you’re a decided non-fan, I wouldn’t expect this anthology to change your mind, tastes in horror just don’t match.
 –
For anyone wanting to give modern horror a try who hasn’t read a Datlow anthology, this is a fine place to start, if not her previous curated volumes. Awhile back I reviewed another Datlow anthology, Fearful Symmetries. Several of the authors featured in that collection reappear here offering new works, and a small number of stories are actually duplicated. In the case of Gemma File’s “A Wish from a Bone” I particularly didn’t mind the rerun. Her story, featuring a TV documentary crew entering an ancient Middle Eastern tomb, is just as entertaining the second time though. A few of the authors I had hoped would also pop up in this anthology were absent, such as Helen Marshall, but this at least gave me the chance for some new discoveries.
The selections in The Monstrous run the gamut of the horror genre, from the subtle to the creepy, the graphic, and the weird. The anthology’s theme also fits a broad interpretation of ‘monstrous’. The monsters are human and beastly, earthly and supernatural, literal and figurative. In many cases the monstrous is unexpected, as are the directions and tones the stories may take. “The Last, Clean, Bright Summer” by Livia Llewellyn is perhaps the best example of the latter. The title of this story and its start suggest family-friendly positivity, pleasant days and warmth. But Llewellyn quickly turns behind the façade of tradition and happiness toward the darkness at the heart of a family gathering. This story is Lovecraftian in inspiration, but not so heavily as to ruin my appreciation of its  well-played contrasts.
 –
Peter Straub, a name that should be recognized by anyone familiar with horror, includes “Ashputtle” here, a creepy and subtle story about a kindergarten teacher who appears increasingly a bit ‘off’. Other authors in the collection should be known from short fiction markets, such as Dale Bailey (“Giants in the Earth”) whose work is often in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, or Sofia Samatar (“How I Met the Ghoul”) whose work has appeared throughout the major ezines, such as Lightspeed, Clarkesworld, and Uncanny magazines. Bailey’s story of coal miners encountering something abnormal does a great job handling settling and the inherent uneasiness of dangerous professions. Samatar, a Somali American, offers an uncommon (in the West) version of the ghoul, which in  Middle Eastern myth is something more like a desert-based mermaid, a beautiful spirit luring men to their demise.
There were only a couple of stories that I didn’t particularly enjoy in this collection, and most fall into a range I would call ‘very good’. A couple really grabbed me though. “Down Among the Dead Men” is a collaboration between a name unknown to me (Jack Dann) and a well-known science fiction editor (Gardner Dozois). Featuring a vampire in a concentration camp this is the kind of story that obviously has huge symbolic and emotional weight. The combination would be very easy to botch up, but Dann and Dozois pull it off amazingly, creating riveting drama that combines the monstrous and the human. Some may think that the Holocaust has enough horror in it without needing a supernatural addition. Yet, this element of a fantastic monster alongside human atrocity allows development and clarity of profound themes.
The collection ends with “Corpsemouth” by John Langan, a stellar example of an ‘epic’ short story. Including emotional complexity with strong characters and plot this story merges the modern with the ancient. In part its style reminds me of classic gothic horror tales of Britain, but with modern language and present-day context. This marks one of multiple stories in this collection that feature horrors that reveal themselves in relation to family. Perhaps this frequency is because of their power, monstrous realities we are innocently born into and cannot easily escape. Ones we have a responsibility of blood to face and overcome. “Corpsemouth” is a top take on this theme, bringing The Monstrous to a satisfying conclusion that makes me greedily await Datlow’s next project.

Disclaimer: I received a free advanced electronic reading copy of this from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

THE BEST SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY OF THE YEAR, VOLUME 9


22609311The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year
(Volume 9)
Edited By Jonathan Strahan
Solaris – 12th May 2015
ISBN 9781781083093  – 624 Pages – Paperback
Source: NetGalley


CONTENTS:
“Slipping”, by Lauren Beukes (Twelve Tomorrows: MIT Technology Review SF Annual 2014)
“Moriabe’s Children”, by Paolo Bacigalupi (Monstrous Affections)
“The Vaporization Enthalpy of a Peculiar Pakistani Family”, by Usman T. Malik (Qualia Nous)
“The Lady and the Fox”, by Kelly Link (My True Love Gave to Me)
“Ten Rules for Being an Intergalactic Smuggler (The Successful Kind)”, by Holly Black (Monstrous Affections)
“The LONG HAUL, from the ANNALS OF TRANSPORTATION, The Pacific Monthly, May 2009”, by Ken Liu (Clarkesworld, Nov 2014)
“Tough Times All Over”, by Joe Abercrombie (Rogues)
“The Insects of Love”, by Genevieve Valentine (Tor.com, 28th May 2014)
“Cold Wind”, by Nicola Griffith (Tor.com, 16th Apr 2014)
“Interstate Love Song (Murder Ballad No. 8), by Caitlín R. Kiernan (Sirenia Digest #100, May 2014)
“Shadow Flock”, by Greg Egan (Coming Soon Enough)
“I Met a Man Who Wasn’t There”, by K.J. Parker (Subterranean Magazine, Winter 2014)
“Grand Jeté (The Great Leap)”, by Rachel Swirsky (Subterranean Magazine, Summer 2014)
“Mothers, Lock Up Your Daughters Because They are Terrifying”, by Alice Sola Kim (Tin House #61)
“Shay Corsham Worsted”, by Garth Nix (Fearful Symmetries)
“Kheldyu”, by Karl Schroeder (Reach for Infinity)
“Caligo Lane”, by Ellen Klages (Subterranean Magazine, Winter 2014)
“The Devil in America”, by Kai Ashanti Wilson (Tor.com 2nd Apr 2014)
“Tawny Petticoats”, by Michael Swanwick (Rogues)
“The Fifth Dragon”, by Ian McDonald (Reach for Infinity)
“The Truth About Owls”, by Amal El-Mohtar (Kaleidoscope)
“Four Days of Christmas”, by Tim Maughan (Terraform, Dec 2014)
“Covenant”, by Elizabeth Bear (Hieroglyph: Stories & Visions for a Better Future)
“Cimmeria: From the Journal of Imaginary Anthropology”, by Theodora Goss (Lightspeed, Jul 2014)
“Collateral”, by Peter Watts (Upgraded)
“The Scrivener”, by Eleanor Arnason (Subterranean Magazine, Winter 2014)
“Someday”, by James Patrick Kelly (Asimov’s Science Fiction, Apr/May 2014)
“Amicae Aeternum”, by Ellen Klages (Reach for Infinity)

Ninth in Strahan’s series of yearly collections, this is the first one I’ve read and it’s now a series I’ll be striving to fit into the reading list for years to come. It tends to favor the longer length of novella over shorter works, a factor that I’d a priori consider a major strike against. I’m not a huge fan of novellas, but there are certainly cases where they work exceptionally well for my taste. Most of the ones in this anthology do just that. As I write the paragraphs that follow I realize that a lot of the stories also tend towards the darker side, particularly the fantasy. I tend to like that style/ambience in stories, but obviously some readers may shy away from it.
The six stories that volume 9 begins with are all superb, representative of the quality and variety to come. I had already enjoyed both Ken Liu’s story and an earlier print (original?) of Holly Black’s fun space adventure with a compelling pair of characters (one human and one alien) and the interesting themes of monstrosity and the discoveries during coming-of-age. Kelly Link’s beautiful story is part urban fantasy and part fairy tale on family and friends set at Christmas. Similarly, Bacigalupi’s story is a fantasy hailing from the same original themed collection, but this one (unlike Link’s) is full of a darkness, a broken world, that I’d expect from him. Used to the SF stories I’ve normally seen from him though, this was a nice change done just as well. (I really need to read Monstrous Affections it seems). I’d already also read the latter story by Alice Sola Kim in Tin House that was reprint in Monstrous Affections too, and it is equally superb, though grounded in realism.
I have MITs Technology Review fiction issue on my shelf to read, and experiencing Beukes’ story from it in Strahan’s anthology makes me more eager to get to it. I’d only read Beukes’ The Shining Girls prior (which I found over-rated, but okay). The hard sci fi from her in this story is superb, featuring competitive sports and artificial enhancements taken to the next level. The tech is interesting here, but the humanity and depth of her protagonist is even more astounding.
Among those opening six, Usman T. Malik is yet another that blew me away with its effective treatment of terrorism and violence from a large scale focused down to the personal human level. This one just won a Stoker Award, and understandably, it is perhaps more horror than SF – and I recognize Malik mostly from appearances in Nightmare Magazine. Malik has another really powerful story in the themed collection Truth or Dare, that I’m reviewing next up. If you haven’t checked out his fiction yet, try either of these recent reprints. A latter story by Nix previously read in Fearful Symmetries also is truly horror in genre, though also a great story. I remember it vaguely from reading prior, but I think I enjoyed it this second time round even more.
The vague disbelief that I was so thoroughly enjoying these relatively long stories without growing restless or annoyed that I couldn’t finish in a bus ride finally broke with the seventh story, Abercrombie’s adventure from the Rogues collection. I have no idea if this is the case, but it felt as though I was supposed to already know these characters from somewhere, and I found it difficult to get into. Ultimately the story just kept going and I was long past caring. Swanwick’s story later from the same collection had the same effect. Egan’s also felt as though it was just a part of something larger, not a tale of its own.
Valentine and Griffith have a pair of stories that have a sort of ephemeral fantasies that have a beauty in the language but a strong tinge of darkness in their plots and ambience. Fitting in to this kind of story, Amal El-Mohtar’s “The Truth About Owls” is one of my favorites from this anthology. She does an absolutely beautiful job relating the life of her protagonist with interludes about the biology/behavior of owls, with mythology, and with language. I read this one right before going to sleep one night and it made a fantastic bed time story.
Lastly, there were a few cases that surprised me, both negatively and positively. (Abercrombie was kind of one too given that I loved the only other thing of his I’ve read: Half a King.) First, the story by Wilson is on an important and relevant theme of racial issues, explored partially through a fantastic lens. I expected to adore it and be moved. Instead I found the structure and length to be an impediment. Second, Ellen Klages is represented with two stories here, I found this surprising, inexplicable. One would have sufficed and given room for something else. I didn’t find either bad, but neither impressed me to understand why both were here. Third, I really enjoyed Schroeder’s SF adventure. I haven’t liked a lot of his stuff in the past in Analog, but this is probably because they were mostly serials. Here it felt just right, and his strength in telling a good story with hard SF elements and a bit of optimism fit perfectly amid the other types of stories in the collection.
Any serious fan of SF/Fantasy should find things of joy here, and readers who don’t normally read the genre may find the novella lengths that mostly make this up to be perfect for dipping into some of the best authors in the fields. They vary from the simple entertainment to the literary, from the fantastic to the realistic. Although I’d read a decent number of those included in this before, almost all that I had (if not all) were ones that initially had really impressed me. (The only ones not already mentioned above are “Someday” from Asimov’s and Theodora Goss’ story, which is a fantastic achievement in making a compelling story out of something that reads like a nonfiction, a history.) I appreciated reading all these stories a second time, affirming to me that anthologies are useful even if you’ve read the fields somewhat well.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this from Solaris via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

AFRICA39: NEW WRITING FROM AFRICA SOUTH OF THE SAHARA

20613772Africa39: New Writing from Africa South of the Sahara
Edited By Ellah Wakatama Allfrey
Bloomsbury USA – 28th October 2014
ISBN 1620407795  – 384 Pages – Paperback
Source: Goodreads


CONTENTS:
“The Shivering”, by Chimamanda Ngoszi Adichie
“The Banana Eater”, by Monica Arac de Nyeko
Excerpt from The Tiger of the Mangroves, by Rotimi Babatunde
“Two Fragments of Love”, by Eileen Almedia Barbosa
“Why Radio DJs are Superstars in Lagos”, by A. Igoni Barrett
Excerpt from Our Time of Sorrow, by Jackee Budesta Batanda
“‘Alu’”, by Recaredo Silebo Boturu
“Mama’s Future”, by Nana Edua Brew-Hammond
“The Occupant”, by Shadreck Chikoti
“The Professor”, by Edwige-Renee Dro
Excerpt from New Mom, by Tope Folarin
“No Kissing the Dolls Unless Jimi Hendrix is Playing”, by Clifton Gachagua
“Talking Money”, by Stanley Gazemba
“Day and Night”, by Mehul Gohil
Excerpt from The Score, by Hawa Jande Golakai
“The Pink Oysters”, by Shafinaaz Hassim
“Echoes of Mirth”, by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim
“The Old Man and the Pub”, by Stanley Onjezani Kenani
“Sometime Before Maulidi”, by Ndinda Kioko
Excerpt from All Our Names, by Dinaw Mengestu
“Number 9”, by Nadifa Mohamed
Excerpt from Rusty Bell, by Nthikeng Mohlele
“Cinema Demons”, by Linda Musita
Excerpt from Ebamba, Kinshasa-Makambo, by Richard Ali Mutu
“By the Tracks”, by Sifiso Mzobe
“My New Home”, by Glaydah Namukasa
“I’m Going to Make Changes to the Kitchen”, by Ondjaki
“Rag Doll”, by Okwiri Oduor
“The Is How I Remember It”, by Ukamaka Olisakwe
Excerpt from The Wayfarers, by Chibundu Onuzo
Excerpt from Ghana Must Go, by Taiye Selasi
“The Sack”, by Namwali Serpell
Excerpt from Harlot, by Lola Shoyenin
“Amoz Azucarado”, by Nii Ayikwei Parkes

Africa39 is a project celebrating “thirty-nine of the most promising writers under the age of forty with the potential and talent to define trends in the development of literature from Sub-Saharan Africa and the diaspora.” Born from the Hay Festival and the designation of Port Harcourt, Nigeria as the UNESCO World Book Capital of 2014, the anthology collects fiction from the invited authors in the forms of short stories and novel excerpts. Having read some stellar African fiction (mostly from Francophone countries) and having travelled to Botswana, I was really intrigued and interested in this collection, particularly to discover some potential new authors or works.
Because I largely looked at this as a diverse introduction to talented writers from Sub-Saharan Africa, I didn’t need each story or excerpt to stand on its own and delight, just merely impress enough of some skill in the author, and more so themes tackled that seemed interesting to me. The voices and points of view are varied, as are the settings and tones. Some are focused on a specific historical or political situation whereas some or more personal, focusing on shared human emotions that would be familiar to most any reader.
While the short stories universally worked well in the anthology, I found the novel excerpts to be more problematic. I personally dislike novel excerpts as a concept/practice. There is a reason why these words are in the context of a story that is novel length. They cannot be divorced from the larger context and remain the same. A few in this collection do stand on their own, but whether they are really expressions of the novel in microcosm is uncertain. But most seem dreadfully incomplete, or (in the case of one where I have already read the whole novel) fail to show the genius and beauty of the full work. I already read and reviewed All Our Names by Dinaw Mengestu. I adored the novel. But rereading the excerpt in this I didn’t feel much at all, it is too small a piece to have meaning.
I wish that the editor for this had only solicited or accepted actual short stories. The problem I know is that not ever talented fiction writer can do the short form. Some authors are great at novels, but not shorter works (or vice versa). But the excerpt doesn’t exactly do them justice either. Worse, some of the excerpts are from novels in the process of being written. So these may never be fully completed or see the light of day as currently envisioned.
Thus, this anthology really does serve best as a writing sampling, ideal for readers who are interested in Sub Saharan African literature and want to see simple samples from the current prospects and stars. While many of the stories in the collection do more, and would be on par with any other literary collection, they don’t necessarily make up the majority.

Disclaimer: I received a free advanced reading copy of this from Bloomsbury via Goodreads’ First-Reads Giveaway Program in exchange for an honest review.

The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy 2014, edited by Rich Horton

The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy 2014
Edited by Rich Horton
Publisher: Prime Books
ASIN: B00KRGW89I
660 pages, eBook
Published 3rd June 2014
Source: NetGalley

“Soulcatcher”, by James Patrick Kelly
“Trafalgar and Josefina”, by Angelica Gorodischer
“A Stranger from a Foreign Ship”, by Tom Purdom
“Blanchefleur”, by Theodora Goss
“Effigy Nights”, by Yoon Ha Lee
“Such & Such Said to So & So”, by Maria Dahvana Headley
“Grizzled Veterans of Many and Much”, by Robert Reed
“Rosary and Goldenstar”, by Geoff Ryman
“The Bees Her Heart, the Hive Her Belly”, by Benjanun Sriduangkaew
“The Dragons of Merebarton”, by K.J. Parker
“The Oracle”, by Lavie Tidhar
“Loss, With Chalk Diagrams”, by E. Lily Yu
“Martyr’s Gem”, by C. S. E. Cooney
“They Shall Salt the Earth With Seeds of Glass”, by Alaya Dawn Johnson
“A Window or a Small Box”, by Jedediah Berry
“Game of Chance”, by Carrie Vaughn
“Live Arcade”, by Erik Amundsen
“Social Services”, by Madeline Ashby
“Found”, by Alex Dally MacFarlane
“A Brief History of the Trans-Pacific Tunnel”, by Ken Liu
“Ilse, Who Saw Clearly”, by E. Lily Yu
“It’s The End of the World as We Know It, and We Feel Fine”, by Harry Turtledove
“Killing Curses, a Caught-Heart Quest”, by Krista Hoeppner Leahy
“Firebrand”, by Peter Watts
“The Memory Book”, by Maureen McHugh
“The Dead Sea-Bottom Scrolls”, by Howard Waldrop
“A Fine Show on the Abyssal Plain”, by Karin Tidbeck
“Out in the Dark”, by Linda Nagata
“On the Origin of Song”, by Naim Kabir
“Call Girl”, by Tang Fei
“Paranormal Romance”, by Christopher Barzak
“Town’s End”, by Yukimi Ogawa
“The Discovered Country”, by Ian R. MacLeod
“The Wildfires of Antarctica”, by Alan De Niro
“Kormak the Lucky”, by Eleanor Arnason

REVIEW PUBLISHED AT SKIFFY AND FANTY

Disclaimer: I received a free electronic reading copy of this from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Great Short Stories by Contemporary Native American Writers, Edited by Bob Blaisdell

Great Short Stories by Contemporary Native American Writers
Edited by Bob Blaisdell
Publisher: Dover Publications
ISBN: 0486490955
144 pages, paperback
Published 18th June 2014
Source: NetGalley

Contents:
“A Red Girl’s Reasoning”, by Pauline Johnson (1893)
“The Soft-Hearted Sioux”, by Zitkala-Sa (1901)
“The Singing Bird”, by John M. Oskison (1925)
“Train Time”, by D’Arcy McNickle (1936)
“The Man to Send Rain Clouds”, by Leslie Marmon Silko (1969)
“Turtle Meat”, by Joseph Bruchac III (1983)
“Only Approved Indians Can Play Made in USA”, by Jack D. Forbes (1983)
“Snatched Away”, by Mary TallMountain (1988)
“Crow’s Sun”, by Duane Niatum (1991)
“Borders”, by Thomas King (1993)
“The Dog Pit”, by Eli Funaro (1994)
“Beading Lesson”, by Beth H. Piatote (2004)
“War Dances”, by Sherman Alexie (2009)

 Coming across this superb collection I had only ever heard of Leslie Marmon Silko (for her well-known novel Ceremony) and Sherman Alexie (who is the only one here I’ve previously read. I am a fan of Alexie’s work, not because he is a Native American or because that is what he writes about, but simply because of his relevance, strong voice, and enjoyable stories. Yet, when ‘contemporary Native American writer’ comes to mind, it is him I think of. He, and his work, become defined in my mind as some kind of representative context.

When I saw this title available on NetGalley I immediately considered it a possibility to discover other Native American writers with viewpoints and voices distinct from Alexie’s. His “War Dances”, included here, I had previously read and enjoyed, and reading it again in the context of these companion stories was particularly enlightening.

The first stories included stretch the definition of ‘contemporary’ in terms of their date of composition. Reading them, however, shows that the themes addressed therein have remained relevant today. From the start the stories in this collection address the question of cultural and personal identity. “A Red Girl’s Reasoning” for instance addresses the difficulties inherent in cross-cultural marriage, a mixture here of physical race and of tradition, including those religious. Pauline Johnson’s poignant tale of a determined, proud woman is a fantastic start for the collection, showing that the issues raised through these stories regarding identity and societal classifications is not only inherent to Native Americans, but to those of other minority status or those trying to exist in mixed, sometimes clashing cultures. The thread of these issues continues throughout the stories (and time) here, bookended with Alexie’s “War Dances” where confusion over identity and shared characteristics between different minority groups is given voice in difficulty distinguishing Native American from Hispanic.

The voices and points of view vary throughout the collection – and even include the question of Native American identity through the eyes of a white narrator in McNickle’s “Train Time”. Forbes story stuck out to me as the most similar to Alexie’s voice with a mixture of depressing honesty and joyous laughter at the absurd. I’m reminded that I really need to read more of Silko’s work (Ceremony is also discussed in detail in a fascinating work on Race in Science Fiction that I’ve just read). And several of the authors here I’ll have to look up to try to find more from them if possible, particularly Piatote and Bruchac, whose stories stuck in my mind with their quiet power.

That idea of ‘quiet power’ is present throughout the collection, there is a rage and frustration building beneath the characters in the stories as they struggle to define their identity and place, to keep a part of themselves in a world that holds them either in disdain or disregard. “Borders”, describing the attempts of an elderly Native American woman to cross between the United States and Canada while still holding onto self-declaration as a citizen of a tribe and people rather than either of these modern nations, takes this issue and makes it literal.

In one aspect the collection was a surprise to me. I started it thinking that it would contain stories about Native American culture, that I would learn more about particular tribes and their traditions. Instead, the stories here are about Native American culture in existence within the European – in relation to something else, rather than the identity they have unto their own. I imagine that such are the struggles of being Native American and what is going to be present in any honest contemporary Native American writer’s work. I can never fully understand being Native American because that’s just not what I am. But I find it a horrible and lamentable reality that perhaps even Native Americans can’t really achieve it, for does that identity even still exist? It makes me feel a bit rage-filled, and perhaps that is the point and an indication of how effective and truly great these short stories are.

GREAT SHORT STORIES BY CONTEMPORARY NATIVE AMERICAN WRITERS is an outstanding collection, and at such an affordable price as this thrift edition offers, it is something that anyone interested in short fiction or in aspects of cultural identity should pick up.

Disclaimer: I received a free electronic reading copy of this from Dover Publications via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.