DarkEcho Horror
deccoclock by Rick Berry
Book Review

Gathering the Bones
Edited by Ramsey Campbell, Jack Dann and Dennis Etchison
Tor /448 p / $15.95 US
ISBN: 0776530179

Remember the super-anthology 999 that came out four years ago? The only thing its editor, Al Sarrantonio, did wrong was over-hype it. And, considering the money the publisher invested in it, you can't even blame him for inviting comparison to Harlan Ellison's Dangerous Visions and Kirby McCauley's Dark Forces. Hype is just part of the job.

I don't even think it is possible now to compile an anthology "with the same scope and dynamism of Harlan Ellison's Dangerous Visions, but in the supernatural horror field" as Kirby MacCauley did with Dark Forces in 1980. But ever since 999, I've wished someone would at least try.

Yes, Stephen Jones and David Sutton's Dark Terrors series exceeds most superlatives I have at my disposal, especially its sixth volume (2002). The problem is: I'm not sure the average reader (at least American reader) "connects" with Dark Terrors. That's the average reader's loss, of course, and does not diminish DT in any way. Dennis Etchison, Ramsey Campbell, and Jack Dann, however, manage to connect and to keep the quality high with Gathering the Bones.

The premise: the triumvirate of editors each solicited a third of the stories from writers in their respective countries -- Australia (Dann, who lives there, but who is a native New Yorker), the United Kingdom (Campbell), and the United States (Etchison). The goal was to show horror as "a field whose boundaries are no longer rigidly defined and where literary values coexist with the leading edge of popular culture."

It shouldn't have worked, but it did. About a third of the thirty-three stories (packed into 418 pages) are excellent, another third are highly readable and well-written. The remaining third are also well-written, if not as effective. Chances are we would debate which is which depending on your taste.

Cover Take note: that darling deviant Robert Devereaux hits the heights of sick with his satire of beauty pageants (and more) in "Li'l Miss Ultrasound." There's not a single bit of gore here, not a drop of blood, just perfect craft and some aspects of our culture taken past all previously established limits. Only a lobotomy will get this one out of your head.

Kim Newman's "The Intervention" is another dark satire. The protagonist is stripped of his life and entered by those who care about him into a program designed to help him confront his "problem." Except he doesn't have a problem. If you weren't paranoid to start with, you will be by the end of "The Intervention."

"The Wind Sall Blow For Ever Mair" by Stephen Dedman is a haunting little tale in which justice is done. It's opening and closing images will stay with you even if the rest eventually falls away.

Among several stories with the horror of aging as the theme, Steve Rasnic Tem's "Out Late in the Park" is, by far, the most successful. Where others would see inevitability as the horror, Tem sees uncertainty. Part of his genius lies in an ability to zero in on our deepest fears, turn them inside out, and offer them back to us in a surreal and very effective way.

There are also several stories with various aspects of childhood. Here, two of the few "masters of horror" who are collected here, do the best work. Gahan Wilson nails both the cruelty and the purity of childhood with an unflinching, but bemused eye in "The Big Green Grin." With his ever-immaculate prose, George Clayton Johnson produces one of those "gotcha" stories with "The Obedient Child."

Steve Nagy's "The Hanged Man of Oz" is based on an all-too-well-known urban legend. It's one of those stories that "connects" well with readers and, despite the fact it doesn't click for me, doesn't mean it's any less well-done or that I don't appreciate its impact.

Scott Emerson Bull's "Mr. Sly Stops for a Cup of Joe" balances between the very real and the slightly absurd with an intriguing anti-hero. Mr. Sly is a character akin to Hannibal Lector -- a likeable monster.

Terry Dowling builds the sort of dread one delights in -- the type you deny is there until the story's turn-about ending -- with "The Bone Ship."

The masterful Graham Joyce's antho-ending "Tiger Moth" is absolutely luminous. It's a prime candidate for those who like to define things as "not horror." If they can't see that this is a ghost story about a strange encounter and a man more haunted than any gothic manse, then they can go read science fiction stories and insist they include finned phallus-like spaceships.

The subtitle "Original Stories from the World's Masters of Horror" is as inappropriate as999's claim -- most of horror's masters (including Etchison and Campbell) don't make appearances - but this is still an anthology that goes a long way toward fulfilling the editors' intent. This is certainly not all horror has to offer these days, but it's probably the best original group portrait to come along for 2003 and, perhaps, a few other years. -- From Cemetery Dance #47

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