Nightmares: A New Decade of Modern Horror edited by Ellen Datlow
Tachyon Publications, 2016
Available: Paperback, Kindle edition
Nightmares is a collection of stories chosen by Ellen Datlow as the best stories of 2005-2015. It is a companion volume to Darkness, a previously published anthology of stories chosen by her as the best stories written between 1985 and 2005. Not being as widely read in contemporary short horror fiction as Datlow is, I can’t say whether I agree with her choices or not, but I can say that the stories she chose do live up to the book’s title: in one way or another, they are all nightmares.
Datlow chose stories that take a variety of approaches to instilling horror, from the understated to over-the-top: you’ll find weird fiction, cosmic horror, twisted fairy tales, disturbing family secrets, ghosts and hauntings, Gothic horrors, body horror, incestuous relationships, and more than enough blood and gore. As a reader who prefers creepy and atmospheric writing to graphic descriptions, I found this book to be emotionally, mentally, and even physically exhausting. I received it as an ebook from NetGalley and am not sure how long it actually was, but it required several days for me to read it through. However, as a sampler of well-done short fiction in the horror genre, I think it is successful. Certainly, I have found that several stories have stuck with me even though a few weeks have passed since I finished it.
Standout stories include “Shallaballah” by Mark Samuels, a surreal tale that takes a disoriented plastic surgery patient through a disturbing Punch-and-Judy inspired hospital experience; “Dead Sea Fruit” by Kaaron Warren, about a dentist with a taste for revenge who destroys a man whose kiss drives girls to starve themselves to death; “Closet Dreams” by Lisa Tuttle, the story of a girl who was trapped in a closet by her kidnapper; “The Goosle” by Margo Lanagan, a horrific take on the Hansel and Gretel story requiring the reader to have an iron stomach; “The Shallows” by John Langan, a tale of a gardener trying to keep going after his wife has died, his son has left, and tentacled aliens have begun their invasion; and “Interstate Love Song (Murder Ballad No. 8)” by Caitlin Kiernan, a bloody tale of a road trip of serial murders by vicious, incestuous, necrophiliac sisters that you won’t soon forget.
For those horror readers who enjoy variety in their short fiction, Nightmares is an excellent way to discover authors they may not have tried out before. With her choices for this collection of short fiction from the past decade, despite her disclaimer, Ellen Datlow continues to show not just her enthusiasm as a fan of the horror genre, but her excellence as an anthologist. Recommended.
Contains: graphic gore and torture, cannibalism, incest, necrophilia, violent murders, disturbing sexual situations, body horror, rape