I’m reading the Ellen Datlow edited issue of Subterranean lately, and am having a really good time. The magazine could easily be the core of an awesome horror anthology, which is of course one of Ellen Datlow’s specialities, so it’s no surprise to find exciting, well-written and disturbing stories in this issue. Here’s the lowdown on the stories I’ve read so far.
“Vacancy” by Lucius Shepard
Shepard’s specialty is the novella, a form mainly found these days in speculative fiction. And he does deliver the horror – a Lovecraftian style with, in this story, Filipino variations. But his real strength, and this is especially true in “Vacancy”, is his naturalistic detail, his grasp in his stories set in this country of current American customs and dreams.
Cliff Coria, the central character, is a used car salesman on the Florida coast. The sunbaked world of motels, car lots and oceanside bars is as nicely evoked as in any realistic detective novel. Then as an added bonus of reading about Coria’s prior life as a Hollywood actor B movie division (well, really C or D movie before he’s through) and his fateful time in the Philippines working on a series of remarkably skuzzy horror films. It’s all interesting but in some ways the curse Coria finds himself under is less terrible than Shepard’s account of the American Dream on the rocks. It’s handled quite nicely.
“Holiday” by M. Rickert and “Pirates of the Somali Coast” by Terry Bisson
These two stories, in some ways, have the same theme, the same mix of innocence intertwined with depravity. M. Rickert works variations on themes of scandal and child abuse. The son of a man imprisoned for crimes against minors finds himself haunted and seduced by the ghosts of small girls when he should be writing a book about his father. Disturbingly enough this begins to make sense. Which is even more disturbing. One thing Rickert will always do in her stories is turn the screw until you think it can’t screw any tighter, and then she’ll screw it once more for good measure.
Bisson reminds us that childhood innocence is a legal concept – his pirate obsessed pre-adolescent male is capable of crime but not capable of understanding its reality, what it means. I thought of Treasure Island and Jim Hawkins and how at the end of that story we’re really not sure the pirate life is not the one for him.
“King of the Big Night Hours” by Richard Bowes
Rick Bowes has been writing stories from this central narrator’s point of view for the past year or so, a writer telling horrific stories set in New York City post 9/11 mostly. In this story he explores the rash of suicides that occurred at NYU’s library, and the effects it has on students, faculty and staff, as well as recalling the tale of a security guard known as the King of the Big Night Hours among university employees, a mysterious man from Jamaica who the narrator recalls in relationship to the dark events occurring recently. As usual, Bowes gives us a portrait of New York that few writers of place can match.
I’ll say little about Jeffrey Ford’s “At the Bottom of the Lake” except it’s a real writer’s writer’s nightmare. I thoroughly enjoyed this tale, a meditation on the imagination and its horrors.
This is as far as I’ve gotten, but I’m looking forward to reading Anna Tambour’s, Lisa Tuttle’s, and the cowritten story by Joel Lane and John Pelan. The price of the magazine, though, has already been satisfied by the stories I’ve read thus far. Check it out.