Shadows Over the Anthology

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Stephen Jones’ Shadows Over Innsmouth series of anthologies takes an approach to compiling themed Mythos anthologies which represents a similar but different approach to Price’s ”Cycle” books – whereas Price’s Cycles take in stories which influenced or dealt with particular entities or concepts in Lovecraft’s fiction, Shadows Over Innsmouth compiles stories written in response to one specific Lovecraft story – namely, The Shadow Over Innsmouth. This is a concept which unfortunately gets tired out before the first anthology, Shadows Over Innsmouth, is even done – let alone when you get to the followup anthologies.

Jones starts the first collection out with the obvious-yet-redundant choice of Lovecraft’s own The Shadow Over Innsmouth – it’s obvious because it’s the story that inspired the collection, but redundant because there’s no fucking way anyone who went out of their way to buy this thing doesn’t already own it. Our first dose of original material is Basil Copper’s Beyond the Reef, which sets the tone for the rest of the book by being an amateurish pastiche. Copper makes a token attempt at a Lovecraftian prose style, but it’s inconsistently applied and rather poor and wooden. Mere imitation cannot reproduce the long effort Lovecraft put into finding his voice, and slipping into and out of that voice over the course of the story just exposes Copper’s poor grip on it. In addition, he commits the basic error of having a framing story which establishes the main narrative as being a particular character’s witness statement, but has them talking about themselves in the third person and recounting conversations in detail despite the fact that they weren’t actually present. I couldn’t finish it.

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An Anthology Series So Good Even Stephen Jones Can’t Ruin It

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

The Reading Canary: A Reminder

Series of novels – especially in fantasy and SF fiction, but distressingly frequently on other genres as well – have a nasty tendency to turn sour partway through. The Reading Canary is your guide to precisely how far into a particular sequence you should read, and which side-passages you should explore, before the noxious gases become too much and you should turn back.

The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror: Wait, There’s Good New Horror?

Almost since the birth of Ferretbrain I have walked its nighttime corridors like a phantom, rattling my chains and bewailing the damnation of the horror genre. How, I asked myself, is anyone supposed to find the jewels from the dross any more, in the absence of a “Horror Masterworks” series?

Well, perhaps I have been looking in the wrong places. Surely one of the major annual horror anthology series will be able to point me in the right direction? I mean, it’s edited by Stephen Jones, who I dislike chiefly for his poor handling of several Fantasy Masterworks compilations, but can it succeed despite him? I certainly hope so. Having found the two latest volumes in Oxfam, at a price I couldn’t well refuse, I snatched them up eagerly. Maybe this will be the roadmap I am looking for!

Continue reading “An Anthology Series So Good Even Stephen Jones Can’t Ruin It”

Forgotten Queen of Mars

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I think Gollancz’s Fantasy Masterworks series is a brilliant guide to the genre for confused outsiders, and plays an important role in resurrecting long-time out of print classics for a new generation. But I begin to wonder whether it hasn’t begun to get just a little sloppy. A while back I purchased a second-hand copy of their epic 800 page anthology of Rudyard Kipling’s fantasy and horror stories for grown-ups. It’s a pretty decent collection – racist and pro-imperialist in places, of course, but that’s because Kipling’s Indian fiction concerns itself primarily wih the British colonial authorities in India as opposed to the locals, and funnily enough the administrators of imperial colonies tend to a) be kind of pro-colonial and pro-imperialism in their views and b) have little-to-know understanding of the culture they are dealing with, and as a result tend to be a little afraid of it.

No, the big problem with The Mark of the Beast isn’t that Kipling’s political views were sometimes unpleasant – as Neil Gaiman points out in the introduction, if we refused to read books by people we didn’t agree with we’d be poorer people – it’s that the editing stinks. Stephen Jones, who appears to have become the curator of Fantasy Masterworks, really isn’t very good at it. A frankly ridiculous number of glaring typos have been allowed to slip through (I don’t think there was a single story which didn’t have a few), and his maddening tendency to append uninsightful biographical essays (which tend to contain little that can’t be found out from a quick glance at wikipedia) to the end of the anthologies he edits is allowed full reign in the Kipling volume; why waste pages which could be used to fit in one more story? These faults – the typos in particular – make The Mark of the Beast seem less like a definitive collection of Kipling’s supernatural fiction and more like a cheap knock-off, like the bootlegs that circulated in Kipling’s day.

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