Monday, January 9, 2012

Review: Arcane, Edited by Nate Shumate

Arcane, edited by Nathan Shumate, can be bought here. Kindle versions also available.

Short Version (for those who hate to read, but still want to buy a sizable anthology):

Good solid mix of dark, unsettling stories, with more light and funny stories thrown in than I expected. Some prose-pretty and interesting format pieces, some faster paced and action oriented ones. There's going to be something here you like, especially if you like the undead.

Disclaimer:

In the interest of full disclosure, Jonathan S. Pembrook, whose story "A Capella" is the second in the book, is a good friend. As such, I feel it's incumbent on me to tell you fine internet folks that you may as well just hand him the Hugo and Shirley Jackson Awards now, and not bother with the formalities of voting. In all seriousness though, he does get first mention because he's my buddy, but this is a story that made me wince. Physically. In the good way and more than once. And that's coming from somebody who accidentally writes cannibalism stories. It's a story about disassociation and making art, and it lives up to that promise with startling acts of casual cruelty. The format is classic style soft sci-fi, the detail is close-up horror. It's a nice mix, which is actually a pretty good microcosm for the rest of the anthology.

My Favorites:

CORPORAUTOLYSIS by Christopher Slatsky

I love language and atmosphere, and this story layers on ambiance like a fine and desolate parfait. It's about grief and losing touch. It's also about mushrooms. And it's awesome.

IT’S NOT THE BOYS IN THIS FAMILY THAT HAVE TO WORRY by Brady Golden

It's really something when a story can take a setting that is in and of itself a little horrific (an isolated, controlling, cultish family compound), and take it to a place that's infinitely more horrible. The fact that you see the end coming is, I think, part of the appeal. The story itself is about inevitability.

INCIDENT AT THE GEOMETRIC CHURCH by David McGillveray

There's a theory that what you don't show is always scarier than what you do, and I think that makes the oblique found-object structure of this Lovecraft-esque avant garde band story such fun. There are some more traditional and straightforward stories in this book, but this one does the best at coming at things sideways.

THE BEST AND BITT’REST KISS by S.K. Gilman

A story about poetry, love, habit, and the mortuary arts. The character of the mortician in this particularly shines.

KISS OF DEATH by Jeremy Zimmerman

This is one of the light ones. Actually I was delighted by every single funny story in this anthology ("The Truth About Mother" and "All Coated in Bonemeal" are also straight up hilarious, which you don't always get in horror). Of the three of them, this is my favorite, because it speaks to the part of me that has played Dungeons and Dragons since I was a kid. It's also a very special sort of relationship drama.

I could go on. "We Belong to Her" is a great opener with a pitch-perfect feel of being in the historical moment. "Reyes Rides the Deville" is delightful post-apocalysim. "Mallecho" has a very Shirley Jackson vibe to it, and I mean that in the best way. "Beneath the Arch of Knives" is whimsical and playfully cruel. "God of the Kiln" plays off its two narrators nicely to tell a story that feels very classic, even Kipling-esque in its presentation. "In One There Is Many" features a zombie feeling tenderly paternal toward his maggots. "Black Bush" has a beautiful, poetic, trashy, intensely southern voice that's just as welcome at the end as it was in the beginning. I actually feel kind of guilty not mentioning every story, but it's a very big book.

The Less Shiny Spots:

I think no matter what you like within the realm of dark stuff, there's going to be something here for you. The flipside to that is that there will be a few that are there for somebody else. I couldn't get into "The Delivery," for example, but I bet if you're a fan of Grant Morrison you'll enjoy it quite a bit. It's got that manic surrealness to it that feels like his work.

There were also a couple of places where I wondered why stories were positioned as they were. A third of the way through the book seemed like an exceptionally masculine anthology (not an inherently bad thing, just something that stuck out). Not flatten-a-beer-can-against-your-head macho; the stories were about fatherhood and obligation and being master of your own house/world/workplace or not. Enjoyable but definitely enough to make me notice. Then suddenly it shifted and the ratio went in a different direction. There was also a place or two like "The Best and Bitt'rest Kiss" running right before "Visiting Hours" where I feel like the subject matter being so close worked against one of the stories. On the other hand, it's an anthology, and you're really free to skip around as much as you like.

In Summary:

This is a very solid collection. You might not like everything because it's very varied, but that's to its strength. It showcases a broad range of talent and stories that bring in a myriad of subgenres. Did I mention how big this book is? Even if you're a very fast reader, it's days of entertainment.

Actually I feel like I've already said everything I need to. Go pick it up. Support dark fiction authors and expose yourself to a few surprises. There's no way you're anticipating everything in this book, and the best part of the genre is the things that jump up behind you and go "boo".

Table of Contents:

5 INTRODUCTION: YOU GOTTA HAVE A GIMMICK Nathan Shumate
7 WE BELONG TO HER Joe Mirabello
27 THE TRUTH ABOUT MOTHER Van Aaron Hughes
41 THE WEB OF LEGENDS Damien Walters Grintalis
45 REYES RIDES THE DEVILLE Dan Cavallari
57 THE HEART OF THE MATTER Paul L. Bates
67 EL DIABLO DE PASEO GRANDE Milo James Fowler
83 THE DELIVERY A.A. Garrison
97 CORPORAUTOLYSIS Christopher Slatsky
107 MALLECHO Stephen Willcott
111 GOD OF THE KILN Eric Francis
123 TIED D.T. Kastn
137 LADY OF THE CROSSROADS Christine Lucas
149 BENEATH THE ARCH OF KNIVES James Lecky
159 ALL COATED IN BONEMEAL Bartholomew Klick
165 POSSESSED OF TALENT Thomas Allein
173 SWEET HEAVEN IN MY VIEW Frank Stascik
179 IT’S NOT THE BOYS IN THIS FAMILY THAT HAVE TO WORRY by Brady Golden
191 KISS OF DEATH Jeremy Zimmerman
205 LEGACY S.M. Williams
221 AN UNQUIET SLUMBER Rhiannon Rasmussen-Silverstein
233 A FRIEND, THE SPIDER Caitlin Hoffman
239 DESTINATION UNKNOWN Anthony J. Rapino
245 IN ONE THERE IS MANY Max Vile
257 INCIDENT AT THE GEOMETRIC CHURCH David McGillveray
265 BLACK BUSH Gemma Files
289 THE BEST AND BITT’REST KISS S.K. Gilman
305 VISITING HOURS Josh Strnad
309 SWEET DREAMS Fran Walker
321 THE BUSINESS OF HERMAN LACZKO Mark Beech
333 CONTRIBUTORS

(If you're one of the authors and I was not able to find your personal webpage, or have linked to an incorrect or outdated page, just let me know and I'll fix it)

3 comments:

  1. Ah... He sold that one? I loved that story.

    Actually I think it was quite Lesliesque. :)

    ReplyDelete