Do I need to mention, to start with, that I'm not a very enthusiastic short story reader? I've been trying to mend this for years now, because there are so many awesome authors writing really awesome things in short form. I've read some that I genuinely liked, so I know I have it in me. Still, I find it so much harder for short stories to stick to me, you know? Time/immersion is one of my issues. The other one is that quite a lot of short stories are of the "window"-variety, you know, they aren't actually stories, just glimpses of something going on somewhere that might have been interesting if you spent more time there. I'm frustrated by that kind of thing. I always want story.
But, hey. I read this anthology, The year's best dark fantasy & horror, 2014 edition. A lot of it was enjoyable, too! I don't really know anything about the editor, Paula Guran, but I did know a lot of the names on the list of authors, which was what compelled me to read this thing in the first place. The nice thing about a huge collection like this, of course, is the opportunity to discover new names to add to the mm, interesting-list.
Some of the stories were, inevitably, uninteresting to me. In a collection this size, that's no shocker. Easy to forgive and forget, though, when there are highlights like these:
Phosphorus by Veronica Schanoes
I recently read about radiation poisoned factory girls in The Poisoner's Handbook (which is a great piece of non-fic for anyone with any curiosity about poisonous things and how lucky we are to inhabit a decade in which there are some sort of regulations) - so maybe I had some special interest in this short story about an Irish immigrant girl in London, poisoned like so many of her colleagues. Told in a haunting second person voice, the necrosis is detailed as much as old Nan's dreams of Eire. Oh, yes, Old Nan. She knows a thing or two about, uh, a thing or two. The story is brimming with atmosphere and some classic ghostliness around the edges.
(I thought I remembered the name Schanoes, and I did, because a while ago I read the short and similarly themed novella Burning girls, which can be had for free from Tor, because Tor is awesome like that. Schanoes is a name to remember if you have a penchant for hopeful/miserable immigration era spookiness.)
Shadows for Silence in the forests of Hell by Brandon Sanderson
Lengthy dark scariest-of-scary-forests story, in which some female characters kick ass, and man is generally worse than even a bunch of creepy zombie-ghosts. It might sound like a spoiler, but it can't be, because just reading my sentence about it isn't going to convey any of what Sanderson makes you feel. He takes the time to allow you to invest in the characters, feel the darkness, scramble for your silver trinkets, and the length allows some real narrative structure, so this made me very happy. And somewhat haunted, even a week after reading. Silence and her family will be difficult to forget.
(I know, I know. More Sanderson is on the to-read list. It's not a list. It's the cloud of titles sliding in and out of my most immediate awareness zone. Sanderson will slip inside it once I get some other epic fantasy things out of the way.)
The Plague by Ken Liu
Ultra-short, but a huge favourite to this reader, who has a throbbing heart for evolutionary/post-human ethical debacles. Or, well, horrors. It's often horrors. These few pages pack a heavy punch, though the "the tables have sure turned!"-thing isn't exactly unexpected or shocking. It's just harrowing. And neat. I love it even though I wish it was a novel, or even three novels.
Moonstruck by Karin Tidbeck
Last December I visited Prague, and went to stare at the Copernicus clock at the turn of the hour, while munching some roasted chestnuts from a hot paper cone. I've had a special interest in the history of astronomy, because nerd, and this made it very easy to provide the visuals for Tidbeck's story, in which a strange and distant professor with an Eastern-ish European name sits by her telescope, while the moon is up to no good. The writing is stark and stylish, and I'm glad I have the author's collection Jagannath somewhere on my kindle, shuffling closer to being paid attention to.
It takes me some time to read a thing like this. An anthology, I mean. It becomes something I take a bite out of between chapters of other books. I think I just get fatigued if I slip into too many different worlds/settings/moods in quick succession. But being able to give it enough time helps to improve the experience of each of the stories; there were others, aside from the ones mentioned above, that I'll remember for a while. Some of them just do the horror thing where they manage to find a direct line of communication to my nerves, because of some weirdly specific theme or even just a sentence that strikes the right chord, but it doesn't necessarily mean the story is exceptional. The most haunting horror-thing I've ever read was actually another short story, Stephen King's Survivor type- if you've read it, you'll know it's not exactly intellectually stimulating stuff, it's just... it just freaked me out, and still does, though I cannot really explain why. That's how some of the stories in this anthology work, too. Others, of course, fall flat, but for all I know they'll smack others in the face just like that Stephen King story did to me.
Anthologies are nice tasting menus for narrow sub-genres, I realise, and I should consider, um, considering them where I usually just go "Ok, point me at a novel that'll show me the features of this sub". It is nice to have alternatives, and when offering recs to other readers, a short story is much less of a time investment than a novel. For good and bad.