Evil Evil Secret: I rarely finish anthologies start to finish. I don’t know many people that do. We usually sip a story, and if it’s to our taste, we continue. If it ain’t, we give it back to the barkeep and get the next one. I think my average for a lot of anthos is about 50/50, especially YEAR’S BEST stuff. It’s a little higher if there’s a unifying theme or style or something. I suppose this is the reason many publishers think they don’t sell, despite the number of BEST OF books that come out each year, for each genre, as well many themed anthos (mostly reprints). Lack of consistent thrills?
Still, I enjoy anthologies because they’re a great way to introduce you to stories and authors you might not have caught online or all the weird mags that print cool stuff, and I like to support the short story field. I first read Jeffrey Ford, Margo Lanagan, Steve Tem and Elizabeth Hand in anthos, and I consider myself enriched because of it.
So, it came as a hell of shock when I almost (almost!) finished every single story in Joe R. Lansdale’s exceptional reprint collection CRUCIFIED DREAMS. It’s a who’s who of awesome and gritty voices, from anthology favorites like Harlan Ellison and Lansdale himself (though I don’t dig it when editors put their own work in the antho, even if it was one of my favorite Lansdale stories, “The Pit.”), to other masters, young and veteran, like Tom Piccirilli, Charlie Huston, Lewis Shiner, Octavia Butler, Jeffrey Ford, Karen Jane Fowler, Neal Barret, Jr. and more.
I knew most of the writers and had read a handful of these stories (Ellison, Lansdale, Stephen King, David Morrell) but most of the tales were new to me. And the championship belt for best story has to be shared by two killer tales that I could not put down once I’d picked up: Norm Partridge’s “Mojave Two-Step” and Lucius Shepard’s “The Beast of the Heartland.” Both were just terrific, hard nosed and well executed tales of noir fantastic. Though I must throw a shout out to Tom Piccirilli’s “Loss” and David Morrell’s “Front Man.” Loved ’em both, and loved most all of the other fine tales inside the covers.
While reading the anthology, I’ realized I’d forgotten how much I loved gritty horror or fantasy with a rough edge. It speaks to a part of my love of story that I really explored in lots of short fiction, and am now channeling with the new novel in an aggressive and enthusiastic fashion. As I read the antho, it was like getting a dose of the good stuff, the stuff that made me want to write stuff on the dark side of the tracks in the first place. When it was done, I felt ripped because there wasn’t another great story to jump into. And that’s why it’s the BEST ANTHOLOGY EVER!
Oh, and the one story I couldn’t finish? Guess! I dare ya!