Friday, February 24, 2017

Horror List Book Review: Dark Forces

I'm reading through three lists of best horror with two friends (DeAnna Knippling and M.B. Partlow), posting reviews as we go. (For more information, including a list of the books, see this post.) To see the books I've reviewed so far, you can view the list at the end of this post where I rank them.

This week I'm review Dark Forces, an anthology edited by Kirby McCauly.

I haven't done a book review since December! I decided to give myself a break to try to get through the rest of my giant TBR list, because reading these every other book was really cutting into the rest of my reading.

This was a good collection of stories, even though, like most other anthologies of horror published before a certain time, it is heavy on male contributors and extremely light on female contributors (there are two women, and twenty-two men.) The authors in this anthology were Stephen King, Dennis Etchison, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Edward Bryant, Davis Grubb, Robert Aickman, Karl Edward Wagner, Joyce Carol Oates (the one woman I consistently see in these older collections), T. E. D. Klein, Gene Wolfe, Theodore Sturgeon, Ramsey Campbell, Clifford D. Simak, Russell Kirk, Lisa Tuttle, Robert Bloch, Edward Gorey, Ray Bradbury, Joe Haldeman, Charles L. Grant, Manly Wade Wellman, Richard Matheson, Richard Christian Matheson, and Gahan Wilson. A power house of folks, to be sure.

There were some patterns to this collection of stories. One of them was vengeful females. Another was a proliferation of crones. And women scorned. The number of stories centered around angry women was surprising. It actually made me wonder what books and/or movies came out that year, or what was in the news, that would cause these to be common recurring themes.

The first story in here was written by request. You might recognize it: The Mist, by Stephen King. The Mist is a good story, despite the fact that I was dismayed at the sexism inherent. Not Stephen King! Yes, Stephen King. The female characters in this story were all either attractive or old, and all were described by their looks and appeal to the main character. And the main character sleeps with a young girl while they're trapped in the store, even though he's worried about his wife, who remained behind at their house. Given, he's thinking about his wife while they have sex. I don't know if that makes it better or worse. 

Other than that, it's a solid horror story. He's rather good at writing the eccentric religious zealot, as well as the psycho bully (in this case, the same person). He manages to describe the dregs of humanity well in all his stories, to make you ache for something bad to happen to certain characters. But he also had some incredibly likable characters, from the grocer who stands with him to an elderly woman who takes no nonsense and doesn't appear to be afraid of anything. Even giant escaped creatures, that loom out of the mist to eat people and do terrible things to them.

The other stories included twisted late night clerks, a woman who gets delicious revenge, a Yiddish man mistreated on a cruise for no reason, a new take on the demon barber of Fleet Street, a frightened man who pays a steep price, a man who styles himself an antique dealer suffering for one of his oddities, a conceited jerk who wrongs a woman, sewer invaders, a dream detective, accidental revenge, killer crones, a mysterious well, a cosmopolitan gathering, killer stones, a deadly Christmas tree, a cartoon about a boy who wouldn't get out of bed, a time traveler, tourism gone wrong, doomed punishment, a grizzled man and an ancient monster, a confused man in a coffin, and an extermination gone wrong.

Dark Angel, by Edward Bryant, was my favorite story. A woman takes the ultimate revenge on a man who left her in a bad situation. This one might actually be more horrifying for men than anyone else, but it left me feeling a mix of satisfaction and horror. 

All in all, I don't think there was a story I disliked. There were a couple that fell flat for me, but I figure they would work for other folks. This was a solid collection of short dark fiction, with some fantastic writing from the contributors. I thought it was cool that an illustrated story was included, that Gahan Wilson told a story in words instead of pictures, and that Richard Matheson and his son did a story together.

Before I close this post out, I want to do a quick tribute to Ed Bryant, who died this past week in his sleep. He was a local horror author, a regular at various cons, and an all around wonderful guy. He had a voice like deep velvet and he was incredibly kind to everyone around him, especially newer writers. He had stories in almost every collection of dark fiction out there, and was prolific. I'm going to miss him at the next con.

My new rankings:

1. The Handmaid's Tale (Margaret Atwood)
2. The Bottoms (Joe R. Lansdale)
3. Coraline (Neil Gaiman)
4. A Choir of Ill Children (Tom Piccirilli)
6. The Year’s Best Fantasy: First Annual Collection (Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling)
7. Needful Things (Stephen King)
8. 1Q84 (Haruki Murakami)
9. Those Who Hunt the Night (Barbara Hambly)
12. Dark Forces (Kirby McCauly)
13. Dawn (Xenogenesis, Book 1) (Octavia E. Butler)
14. The Stranger (Albert Camus)
15. Dead in the Water (Nancy Holder)
16. The Witches (Roald Dahl)
17. Psycho (Robert Bloch)
18. The Damnation Game (Clive Barker)
19. The Wolf's Hour (Robert McCammon)
20. Berserk (Tim Lebbon)
21. Prime Evil (Douglas E. Winter)
22. Best New Horror, Volume 1 (edited by Stephen Jones and Ramsey Campbell)
23. Flowers in the Attic (V.C. Andrews)
24. The Tomb (F. Paul Wilson)
25. Shadowland (Peter Straub)
26. Blood Meridian (Cormac McCarthy)
27. The Imago Sequence (Laird Barron)
28. My Soul to Keep (Tananarive Due)
29. Penpal (Dathan Auerbach)
30. World War Z (Max Brooks)
31. From the Dust Returned (Ray Bradbury) 
32. The Red Tree (Caitlin R. Kiernan)
33. In Silent Graves (Gary A. Braunbeck)
34. The Cipher (Kathe Koja)
35. Drawing Blood (Poppy Z. Brite)
36. The Doll Who Ate His Mother (Ramsey Campbell) 
37. Hotel Transylvania (Chelsea Quinn Yarbro)
38. Naked Lunch (William S. Burroughs)

Next book? Not sure. But I will try to read it within the next two weeks to get back on schedule a bit.

What do you think of the writers in this collection? Any of them favorites? Have you read this anthology? Have you read The Mist (I'm pretty sure it also showed up in one of King's collections)? Seen the movie?

May you find your Muse.


  1. I loved reading The Mist. The ending was phenomenal. And while it's not horror, it's up there with The Stand and The Long Walk. (Of course my all time favorite is Dark Tower, but I digress).

    I love seeing World War Z on your list. Another great read. The movies are good but something about reading the books...there's nothing like it.

  2. This sounds like a solid anthology.

    Did you see King has a novel coming out in the Fall? Written with his son, Owen. Called Sleeping Beauties, I believe.

  3. Sorry to hear about Bryant. I'm not too familiar with many of those authors - King, obviously... I haven't read or seen The Mist, but it clearly had an effect on my wife, who still doesn't like driving through, well, mist. I like how you're making a lot of good recommendations with these posts.

  4. Good for you! I find that nothing reinvigorates my writing juices like a good reading spell:)

  5. I always like reading your take on horror. I read The Mist a long time ago and never noticed the things you mentioned. I also forgot all about him having sex with that girl while his wife was missing. I did recognize a lot of those authors.

  6. I've read the Mist. The interlude with the girl was not my favorite part. I assumed the Mist had something to do with it ;-)
    I recognized quite a few authors in the line-up. Your post has rekindled my desire to sneak into the 'other' world of book-reading ;-)

  7. Thanks for pointing out the misogyny in The Mist. In all my readings of it, I've never approached it with that important lens. I was too preoccupied sympathizing with the terrors of it, both human and inhuman. It's superb in many ways, but that does sound like a glaring flaw that will color it on my next reading.

  8. I haven't read The Mist. I'm not too pleased to hear that women are described by their looks. But knowing King's works, it's probably still a good read.

  9. What a great list! As a writer of dark fiction, I'd love to be on a list like that one day. If you and your friends would ever like to review a novel from a newer writer of horror, let me know. I'd be happy to send you some ebooks.