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Dark Terrors 6: The Gollancz Book Of Horror
Editors: Stephen Jones and David Sutton
Gollancz paperback £7.99

review by Tom Matic

Gollancz's excellent Dark Terrors anthologies have become synonymous with the finest in horror fiction, like DAW's Year's Best Horror series presenting the state of the art in the genre, and this sixth volume is no exception. However, the latest edition benefits from what the Introduction reveals to be a conscious decision to promote newer, lesser-known writers. As the editors proclaim, "horror fiction is changing... the best-selling authors of the 1980s' horror boom are beginning to find themselves eclipsed by newer names who are carving out solid reputations for themselves through sheer hard work and perseverance." The collection reveals the genre's range not just in tone and subject matter, but also showcases every possible narrative form, from straightforward third person to faux recorded-interview.

The collection begins with three well-known British names: Ramsey Campbell, Christopher Fowler and John Burke. The Retrospective is classic Campbell, with town planner Trent facing a bleak homecoming in the small town he grew up in, where a mysterious marquee offers ghastly "Memories of Stoneby." As much as I admire Campbell's extensive oeuvre, he does tend to take us back time and time again to the same drab, urban landscape, but the macabre sideshow with which he concludes his tale glistens like paving slabs in the rain. Like many of Campbell's stories, it belongs in the category of 'tales of unease', which brings us to John Burke, who produced an anthology series of that title in the 1970s. Unfortunately, Burke's contribution seems to belong in that decade, and its delineation of petty suburban resentment is not nearly as effective as his Lucille Would Have Known. Christopher Fowler is an urban guerrilla of the genre, and We're Going Where The Sun Shines Brightly is to horror fiction what The Young Ones were to sitcom. There are echoes of that show's assault on Cliff Richard in the story, but in a visceral way that chillingly undercuts Fowler's own role as horror's new kid on the block.

However, many of the best stories in Dark Terrors 6 come from less established writers, some completely unknown to this reviewer, although they have received deserved recognition elsewhere. One of my favourites is Gemma Files' Job 37: like the author's internet research about crime scene clean-up experts, which provided the inspiration for the story, it leaves the reader "enlightened and grossed out in equal measure." If Ramsey Campbell thinks he's the unchallenged heir to the mantle of M.R. James, he faces stiff competition from this story alone. Where James used letters and mediaeval manuscripts to give his spooks an air of verisimilitude, Job 37 uses the more modern format of a videotaped interview with a hard-bitten cleaning operative. It is also one of several stories to use time travel instead of traditional supernatural horror as a device - to notably devastating effect in Moving History.

There's something of James' fusty antiquarianism in Don Tumasonis' diabolically well-crafted The Prospect Cards, a fragmentary quasi-travelogue that (literally) pokes grim fun at its hapless 19th century British explorers' stiff upper lip, taking graveyard humour well beyond the limits of taste and decency (that's a compliment, by the way). Altogether, the collection has more than enough blood and guts to satisfy the gore-hounds. However Lisa Morton's The Death Of Splatter takes a satirical side-swipe at the more exploitative side of the genre, and could almost serve as a witty riposte to ponderous slash operas like Tim Lebbon's Black in the same collection. Its protagonist is Lee Denny, writer of 'extreme' horror fiction, whose novels boast titles like Stumpfucker. Most of the stories in this collection avoid such crassness, not least The Death Of Splatter itself, with a twist that deftly overturns its own tension and swerves away from the grim denouement it seems to promise. David J. Schow's Plot Twist on the other hand, a self-proclaimed 'rumination' on that very narrative device so integral to the short horror fiction genre, ends as nastily, brutishly and shortly as any story in the collection.

By contrast to all these many explorations of sadism, with his quietly unnerving tale Hide And Seek, Nicholas Royle shows how it is possible to create a sense of mounting terror and panic without a drop of blood being spilled on the page. Others stories are more meditative in tone, while others, like Graham Masterson's The Burgers Of Calais and Kim Newman's novella A New Drug On The Market, ably demonstrate the lighter side of horror. The careful thought that has gone into structuring the collection is apparent from Campbell's strong opening story to Mick Garris' aptly titled A Hollywood Ending, which concludes the book.
Dark Terrors 6

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