Gathering the Bones [main] [about] [features] [reviews] [interviews] [link] [search]
Edited by Ramsey Campbell, Jack Dann and Dennis Etchison
Tor /448 p / $15.95 US
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
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.
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
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
Copyright © 2004 Paula Guran. All Rights