Thursday, 4 August 2011

Day Terrors

DAY TERRORS
Edited with an introduction by Dru Pagliasotti
pp257; The Harrow Press 2011; ISBN-13 9780615406404 www.theharrowpress.com

When I receive an unsolicited horror anthology, my heart does not sink. Nor, however, does it leap from my bosom in unrestrained joy and gambol round the living room – dear me, no. Firstly, ST is not a horror magazine, and secondly a lot of modern horror leaves me cold. Not disgusted, not morally outraged, just unmoved by variations on the same old themes and ideas. Recycling is fine for saving the planet, but it can doom a genre. Some horror writers do little more than describe a series of derivative schlocky movies  playing in their heads, and I just can't sit down with my popcorn and sit through the whole feature.

That said, Day Terrors has a fair number of stories that rise above genre cliché and cardboard characters. Of these, a decent number are supernatural. And, though Harrow Press is a California outfit, I was pleased to find that some of the best supernatural tales here came from British writers. Perhaps the most traditional of all, Jack Bowdren's 'No Sin Remains a Secret', is an excellent reworking of that old standard, 'vicar finds something nasty in church cellar'. In this case it's a rather surprising something, and the author deserves credit for genuinely surprising this reader with the direction he chose to take.

Another Brit, E(mma) C. Seaman, rounds off the book with her ghostly 'Sands of Time'. In the author notes she apologises for the low-key nature of the tale, but it is in fact an interesting example of the kind of ghost story that used to be called science fantasy, which – if well done, as it is here – needs no apology.

Lawrence Conquest also offers fantasy of a sort in 'A Day at the Beach'. Here a traditional idea, the discovery of a fabulous being, is ground by a gritty plot, making it a tale of disillusion. As the young girl in the story discovers, growing up often means failing to preserve that which is beautiful and unique.

Meanwhile, in Canada, something more unusual manifests itself in 'The Heat Has Fangs' by Trent Roman. As the title more than hints, in the hands of a skilful writer a supposedly natural phenomenon can be made to seem more sinister than any overtly monstrous entity. Ray Bradbury's classic 'The Wind' is the best example, but the idea of evil elements is under-used. Roman's story is a welcome edition to the sub-genre of 'meteorological horror'.

A goodly number of the authors here have produced what I think of as standard issue horror. But of those who go beyond the 'realistic' or psychological approach, a goodly number achieve interesting results. Harper Hull's 'Daddy Longlegs' is an excellent variation on the theme of childhood suffering embodied in a monstrous intruder. Hull's craftsmanship is first rate, and the same can be said of Adam Walter, whose story 'The Infatuate' is subtle, poetic and eludes simple explanation. This evocation of loneliness in modern urban society would have been spoiled by the intrusion of a monster, human or otherwise.

Overall, this is a pretty good anthology; I enjoyed it more than I expected, and it's always pleasing to come across new names who can really write. It should appeal to more broadminded ST readers; those of us who don't mind dipping our toes into the murky, roiling waters of the modern horror scene to see what comes up for a nibble.

3 comments:

Adam wxyz said...

Glad to hear you liked "The Infatuate," David. I notice you didn't mention "And the Crowd Goes Wild," my favorite story in the collection (thought it's closer to scifi than horror). "The Wish Man and the Worm" is another really good, unusual story.

valdemar said...

Well, each to his own! There are a lot of good stories here, and I think it's a value-for-money anthology.

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