Book Review: The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2014

Book Review: The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2014 edited by Paula Guran

Even the fastest, most dedicated readers can’t read everything that’s published each year.  Not even in relatively limited genres like fantasy or horror.  That’s where “Year’s Best” collections come in handy.  Someone or several someones has gone through the enormous pile of short literature produced in the previous year, and winnowed it down to a manageable size of good stories for you.

The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2014

Admittedly, these collections also come down to a matter of personal taste.  In this case, Ms. Guran has chosen not to pick just straight up horror stories (which do not necessarily include fantastic elements) but fantasy stories with “dark” elements.   She mentions in the introduction that at least some good stories were excluded because they weren’t brought to her attention–small internet publishers might not even know such a collection exists to submit to.

This thick volume contains thirty-two stories, beginning with “Wheatfield with Crows” by Steve Rasnic Tem.  Years ago, a man’s sister vanished in a wheatfield.  Now, he and his mother have returned to the site as darkness falls.  Will history repeat?

The final story is “Iseul’s Lexicon” by Yoon Ha Lee.   A spy discovers that the army occupying half her country is being aided by not-quite-human wizards everyone thought were wiped out centuries before.   They are compiling a lexicon of every human language for nefarious purposes, and it is up to Iseul to find a way to stop them.  In the end, she learns that there are innocent casualties in war no matter how  targeted the weapon.

Some stories I particularly liked:

“The Legend of Troop 13” by Kit Reed, about Girl Scouts gone feral, and the foolish men who think to possess them.  This one has a logical stinger in its tail, and very dark humor.

“Phosphorous” by Veronica  Schanoes is about the women who made phosphorous matches, and their fight for better working conditions.  The viewpoint character is a woman dying of “phossy jaw” caused by the poison she’s been exposed to.   She is determined to see the strike through, and her grandmother knows a way–but the cost is high indeed.

“Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell” by Brandon Sanderson concerns a bounty hunter who must track her prey in the forest that has Three Simple Rules.  Don’t start fires, don’t shed blood…and don’t run at night.   So simple.  But there are other bounty hunters in the forest tonight, and treachery.  Some rules will be broken, and the shades will descend.

One story I didn’t care much for was “The Prayer of Ninety Cats” by Caitlin R. Kiernan, which is a description of a horror movie based on the legend of Elizabeth Bathory, the Blood Countess.  There are some good scenes, but the presentation muffles the effect, taking me out of the story.  There’s also use of “Gypsy” stereotypes within the film.

Most of the other stories are good to decent, and there are big names like Tanith Lee and Neil Gaiman represented.  If this is the sort of genre fiction you like, it would be worthwhile to check the book out at your library–and then buy it if enough of the stories please you.

Comic Strip Review: O Human Star Volume One

Comic Strip Review: O Human Star Volume One by Blue Delliquanti

Roboticist Alastair Sterling wakes from a dream of dying to find out it was true.  His mind is now in a synthetic being (“robot” if you will) body that looks exactly like his human body did sixteen years ago.  Two other synthetic beings, who look like designs he came up with years ago, drive Al to the home of his old partner, Brendan Pinsky, whose money they claim was used to create Al’s new body.

O Human Star Volume One

Except that Brendan claims he did no such thing, which brings up the question of just who did–and why does Brendan’s teenage daughter Sulla look so much like Al?   These mysteries must be looked into while Al attempts to reconnect with the people he left behind.

This science-fiction romance story has been running at http://ohumanstar.com/chapter-1-title-page/ since 2012.  The title comes from Karel Capek’s play R.U.R. which is referenced in several ways in the strip.  It’s won a couple of awards for Ms. Delliquanti, and a bound volume of the first three chapters is now available for those of us who like paper.

This is a slowly developing story; these first three chapters cover a bit more than 24 hours in the current day, with frequent flashbacks.  Those flashbacks are tinted in reddish tones, while the 2021 parts are in bluish tones, which makes it easy to tell which is which.  We see how Al and Brendan’s relationship began, and the small beginnings of what will become full-fledged synthetic beings.  (Who have rights!)  We also see the strains on their relationship–Al is closeted, and even after his death Brendan kept the fact that they were lovers a secret even from Sulla.

In the present day, the mystery of Sulla takes precedence as she gets to know her father’s friend (and sort of also her father), and makes outside friends her own age for the first time.  She’s very bright, but also sheltered due to her unique upbringing.

Meanwhile, Brendan is on an emotional rollercoaster.  The man he thought was dead forever is now alive…sort of, and Brendan wants to welcome him back, but can’t help worrying that there’s a darker motive behind this gift.

The art is good by webcomic standards, with all the characters being easy to tell apart (and Sulla’s family resemblance to Al being obvious) and the setting being recognizable as Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The cast is quite diverse, especially given its small size so far, in terms of sexuality, ethnicity and obviousness of synthetic parts.  I also like that the two people whose love story it is are middle-aged.

The book is rated as “Mature Readers” and there is some partial male nudity in a sexual context.  However, I think there’s nothing here that would be shocking to a fairly mature high-schooler–conservative parents might be more concerned.

There are some sketchbook pages in the back as an incentive to buy the collected volume.  While these chapters are largely set-up, the availability of future volumes will depend on sales of this one, so please consider it.

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