Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Horror Without Victims

Horror Without Victims is the latest original anthology from D. F. Lewis, whose previous titles The Horror Anthology of Horror Anthologies and The First Book of Classical Horror Stories I've also reviewed. This new volume, like its predecessors, is an uneven but rewarding read, in which great, polished stories sit alongside work that needed a bit more editorial intervention before seeing the light of day. There are, however, no absolute failures; the lowest points are muddled and stylistically awkward but not embarrassing. And the high points, if lower than in previous volumes, are comparable to what you'd get in big-name volumes.

As with Lewis' previous anthologies, the theme is in the title. "Horror without victims" is more abstract than "horror with horror athologies" or "horror with classical music," and as such the stories are more varied, though certain forms recur: horror that has no victims because its targets are depressive enough to welcome desolation, horror that has no victims because some things are disturbing despite the absence of harm, horror that has no victims because people invite what happens to them. Sometimes it's a little hard to tell how the stories fit the theme. Author's notes would have helped here, but there are none, nor is there an introduction or a list of contributor biographies; I wish Lewis would move toward including these things in his anthologies. They're non-essential, yes, but they contribute to the sense of polish.

I don't feel like being harsh at the moment, so I'm going to pass over discussing the stories I didn't like and focus on those I did. (If you really want negativity, leave a comment and I'll tear into something.) The anthology starts strongly with John Howard's "Embrace the Fall of Night," which like so much of his work is elegant philosophical horror, a monologue about the cosmic, the cold, and the inevitability of entropy. Patricia Russo's "For Ages and Ever" is perhaps the best of several "welcoming-to-horror" stories, a stylish second-person meditation on rules and freedom, with a surrealist edge. "Like Nothing Else" by Christopher Morris is an effective variation on a familiar theme of transgressive science fiction. In "Scree," Caleb Wilson takes us to a strange place where nightmare logic defies the attempt to find normality. Wilson has a particular gift for unexpected narrative turns that aren't superficially scary, but re unsettling on a deeper level.

Several fine short pieces near the end of the volume mean that it leaves us on a high note. Michael Sidman's "The Yellow See-Through Baby" is a quirkily funny yet poignant story about a childhood milestone, while Tony Lovell's "The Callers" is a subdued but surprisingly effective psychological piece about loneliness, decline, and uncertainty. "Still Life" by Nick Jackson is more a prose poem than a story, but a fine one, and in "You in Your Small Corner, and I in Mine," Bob Lock offers a twist on horror without victims that, though in retrospect it's obvious, I didn't see coming. Looking back at the anthology, which I read over a long period due to various demands on my time, I'm surprised anew at how varied it is, and how many of its stories I liked at least a little. There are really only a couple whose removal would actually improve the anthology, which isn't a bad ratio at all. Whatever their skill level, the writers Lewis selects for his anthologies almost always have worthwhile ideas, which is more than I can say for a lot of technically competent but hopelessly derivative professionals. Horror without Victims is an unusual anthology that makes up for its deficits with a range of enjoyable stories.

The editor supplied a review copy of this book.