Book Review: Fresh Fear edited by William Cook
Horror anthologies are like a box of chocolates. One story might be crunchy frog, another spring surprise, while a more disappointing one is just maple cream. (Seriously, maple cream?) This is because horror tends to be a balancing act between what the writer finds scary and what the reader does. Two different readers looking at the same story may fiercely debate whether it’s terrifying or just kind of gross.
This particular anthology is listed as “contemporary horror” which seems to mean mostly recent stories, set close to the present day. Other than that, there’s no real overarching theme or subgenre requirements. After an introduction that talks a bit about why people read horror stories (among other things, to feel horrified), the opening story is “God of the Winds” by Scathe meic Beorh, a hallucinatory piece that is at least partially about the tendency of white people to appropriate Native American mysticism in stupid ways. The final story is “Out of the Light” by Anna Taborska, a Lovecraftian-feeling story about a man who gets too heavily invested in reading a horror anthology. Hmm.
I was a bit disappointed that the piece by big-name author Ramsey Campbell (“Britain’s most respected living horror writer”) was a reprint from 1988. Which is not to say that “Welcomeland” itself wasn’t a fine story. It concerns a man returning to his home town which has been partially rebuilt into a failed amusement park. Or has it succeeded at its true purpose? It doesn’t feel dated.
Also outstanding is Christine Morgan’s “Nails of the Dead” which looks at Norse mythology from the point of view of a very minor character with a small but important job. Of local interest to me is “Just Another Ex” by Roy C. Booth and Axel Kohagen. A man is sent to find another man who may be unfaithful to his loved one. His reward is non-standard.
There were some typos, most clustered in “Spencer Weaver Gets Rebooted” by Thomas A. Erb, about a bullied high schooler who gets pushed too far. Because of this, and the rather immature feel of the plot points, it felt more like something a high school student would write than something for a professional anthology. (“Did I mention the head bully has a small penis? Well he does.”)
This is an “18+” book, which has sex, rape, foul language, torture and in some cases excessive focus on body fluids. Happy endings are few. But with twenty-eight widely varying stories, there’s something for almost every horror fan. Recommended for the horror buff who wants to try some new authors.