Whenever something says “The Best of…” or “The Greatest Hits of…” it’s a bit of a crapshoot as to the…balance of quality, I guess you could say? For example, you might be a casual fan of Aerosmith and know “Cryin'” and–although you kinda throw up in your mouth a little to even think of it–“I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”, but Aerosmith’s Greatest Hits disc probably wouldn’t be a smart purchase for you, since it only covered their hits in the 1970s.
What–no “Love in an Elevator”? Fuck that.
In literature, it gets even stickier, I think; while most anthologies, anymore, cover all new material, anthologies prior to the late-1960s were strictly reprints, pulling the subjective “best” material from previous anthologies (which themselves culled the old pulps; a ouroboros you’ve never dreamed of). The idea of packaging these reprints as “the best of” is fairly recent, usually sticking to smaller presses and pulling from their own projects (Post Mortem Press, my former publisher, has done it, and I know Grey Matter Press is asking its readers to choose the so-called setlist) Still, even with a new trend–or a new packaging of an old trick–the old problem still remains: how well-balanced is the quality?
For those not in the know, Horror Library, published by Cutting Block Press and edited by RJ Cavender, began publishing in 2006 and, as the title suggests, has put out five volumes, each chock full of stories, either picked through the incredibly-tight submissions window (Cavender has said previously that every single author ever published in HL had been previously rejected at least once, including well-known authors), or by, I would assume, invitation (Bentley Little comes to mind, if only because the man is known to absolutely hate the Internet with a vehemence that not even Harlan Ellison can muster; Ellison at least has a website he occasionally visits).
While the editorial team and the guidelines have remained consistent, there is a variation in material, if only because I would doubt that interests can stay so uniform for almost ten years; hell, my own editorial interests have changed since I edited Jamais Vu, and the last issue only came out a year ago.
Because of this, there is a smorgasbord when it comes to the types of stories; there are psychological pieces, grue pieces (Shane MacKenzie’s “Open Mind Night at the Ritz” comes immediately to mind), ghost stories. There are stories of trauma and adaptation and giving up. There are sex toys. There’s mountain climbing.
But, the people ask, is it any good?
Anymore, I love stories of people dealing with trauma, of the horror passing and the survivors coming to grips with it. For that reason, Kealan Patrick Burkes’ “After” and Kurt Dinan’s “Into the After” are where my heart goes; ignore the fact that the titles are similar–one deals with the trauma of bullying and school shootings, the other discusses the survivors of 9/11.
There’s weird here, too–Cameron Pierce’s “I Am Meat, I Am in Daycare” is so weird, but it comes off as a trifle. However, in spite of that–or because it’s delivered in such a ho-hum tone–it lingers. Ray Garton’s “The Happiness Toy” is just bizarre, feeling like the result of a round-robin joke: “What if magical vibrators could change you?” In spite of the hysterical premise, the punchline, and the matter-of-fact delivery of sex (too often, horror fiction deals with sex the way teenager boys do–with a lot of greasy fingers and labored breathing), keeps you turning.
Because the Cutting Block team pulled from so many pieces, and present so many different types of stories, not every story is going to pull in every reader. I skipped three, personally, because the openings didn’t grab me (and, no, I’m not going to tell you which; what bored me might prove riveting to you). Still, for aspiring writers hoping to crack a Cavender project, or readers looking for those short quick bites while waiting somewhere, there’s plenty here to hold your attention.
You can purchase the anthology here.