Nightmares: A New Decade of Modern Horror

Nightmares: A New Decade of Modern Horror edited by Ellen DatlowNightmares: A New Decade of Modern Horror edited by Ellen Datlow

Nightmares: A New Decade of Modern Horror edited by Ellen DatlowThis anthology comes after a similarly titled anthology, also edited by Ellen Datlow, called Darkness: Two Decades of Modern Horror which came out in March 2010. Datlow also edits an annual anthology of horror fiction (collaborating with other editors on those). It seems then that Nightmares: A New Decade of Modern Horror (which came out in October 2016) is informed by a great deal of knowledge in the field of speculative horror literature. I am not generally a horror reader, but I still thoroughly enjoyed many tales in this anthology for their engaging storytelling and terrifying themes. What follows is a brief review of each of the 25 tales, in the order which they appear.

“Shallaballah” by Mark Samuels is a story about the lengths to which people will go to maintain beauty. A famous actor goes to an unlicensed but infamous plastic surgeon and gets more than he bargained for. I found this tale engaging right up to the last third, where things suddenly became more abstract and harder to follow. After a couple re-reads I believe I got the gist of it, but I wished it could have been a stronger realization on the first pass.

“Sob in the Silence” by Gene Wolfe has a very satisfying ending. It begins with a writer living in a secluded rural mansion. He invites an old school friend and his family to come and stay in his country home. Things gets sinister quickly, and some horrifying truths come to light for the reader, if not for the characters. This horror story ends in a grim moment, one that I found quite satisfying.

“Our Turn Too Will One Day Come” by Brian Hodge is a story about a peculiar family. The shadow of one horrifying act looms large over the entire story, but the main character’s fascination with the eventual fallout becomes the main crux of the story. I thought the main idea was interesting, but beyond that the story didn’t have enough meat to it for me. I wanted more to dig into than the one main — if very interesting — idea.

“Dead Sea Fruit” by Kaaron Warren. This story follows a nurse as she unravels the mystery of some of her female patients with eating disorders who all claim they aren’t obsessed with their weight, but have lost the ability to taste food. I wanted to love this story. The element of mystery kept me going to the end, but I found the payoff to be less engaging than the set-up.

“Closet Dreams” by Lisa Tuttle is the first story in this anthology so far that I can’t seem to forget. There are layers to the horror of this kidnapping tale. The main character, once trapped, sees a therapist to work through the trauma of being abused by her kidnapper. It’s a horrifying story from beginning to the bitter end.

“Spectral Evidence” by Gemma Files is a story told in a series of field notes and footnotes. I really enjoyed the premise, and to some degree even the puzzle of putting together what actually happened in this story. However, this narrative isn’t particularly easy to follow. If I hadn’t been fully engaged with the tale, I feel like I would have missed multiple key ideas. Even so, it took some retracing and rereading to get the full picture. Overall I liked the idea of the premise more than the application, but still liked the story being told as well.

“Hushabye” by Simon Bestwick is a crime thriller format with a supernatural edge. It follows a determined detective who seeks to get to the bottom of a string of attacks perpetrated against children. I enjoyed the mystery of this story — catching the attacker and finding out how they caused young children to feel like they were extremely old. Though “Hushabye” has a resolution, it’s not full. I wanted to know more about the supernatural nature of the killer beyond what is presented in the story. So, although I enjoyed it as a whole, I thought “Hushabye” was just short of something really interesting at the end.

“Very Low-Flying Aircraft” by Nicholas Royle is a story about bravado, daring stunts, and being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I didn’t find this story very engaging, nor scary. It is perhaps one of the few stories that could have happened, but that aspect didn’t build the kind of tension it could have. Overall, it’s the most lackluster story in this anthology.

“The Goosle” by Margo Lanagan is a loose Hansel and Gretel retelling/continuation, where Hansel grows up to be in a different kind of captivity. This story is full of grotesque ideas and images and many of those images revolve around overtly sexual themes. The depths of the gross-out factors made me wonder how it all could end. As gross as some of the events were, I was engaged with the story all the way through. This story could have gone either way for me, but in the end, it was both horrifying and interesting.

“The Clay Party” by Steve Duffy got under my skin as it tells the story of an ill-fated wagon train trekking across a new United States of America at the entirely wrong time of year. As things fell apart I was deeply engrossed by the almost indistinguishably bad choices the characters had. The inevitable end, though on some levels predictable, was still satisfyingly creepy.

“Strappado” by Laird Barron is about a group of businessmen who get invited to an experimental art installation. From the premise, I thought I would love this story. It alternates between clear, straightforward narration and abstract impressions of the goings on. I came out of this story feeling more befuddled than affected by the content. However, I think there is something interesting and engaging here that another reader could enjoy thoroughly.

“Lonegan’s Luck” by Stephen Graham Jones is a story about a quintessential snake oil salesman with some darker twists. I thoroughly enjoyed how this story unfolded. I liked how as the events of the present story unfolded, more and more of the salesman’s past became clear. It’s a deeply unsettling tale with a truly horrible villain.

“Mr Pigsny” by Reggie Oliver is a mystery story where the protagonist tries to uncover something about the death of a mob boss who happened to be his in-law. I liked this story — it flowed well for me and the discoveries the main character was making were a good mix of interesting and creepy. Overall, I didn’t find it particularly memorable among some of the other stories. I didn’t set out to compare, but in this case, I felt like it was somewhat overshadowed in the context of the anthology.

“At Night, When the Demons Come” by Ray Cluley is a post-apocalyptic story where human-like, leather-skinned, flying beasts are slowly destroying the last survivors of the human race. This story was the most horrifying one for me. I cannot forget the horror and revulsion, and the themes haven’t let me go yet. Through flying monsters and grotesque cults Cluley has shown the worst of humanity stripped bare. The strength and impact of the ending put this story beyond feelings of horror into a deep and utter despair. “At Night, When the Demons Come” is an incredible story.

“Was She Wicked? Was She Good?” by M. Rickert is a story where the title takes on many meanings throughout. In it, a young girl perpetrates senseless violence against the smallest creatures around her. Was she taking the wings off of grasshoppers? Or were they always the fairies that now seek vengeance?

“The Shallows” by John Langan is a meditative story about being a lone survivor. It is told between flashbacks to the time when the main character and his family adopted a stray dog and the present when strange occurrences are affecting his garden. “The Shallows” is a weird tale that is quite a bit slower than most of the others in this anthology. I enjoyed this different pacing as it added a different frame to the horror of the story.

“Little Pig” by Anna Taborska is a story about family and sacrifice in one of the most horrifying ways possible. It is told as a story in the past from the matriarch who hasn’t told the story before. The horror in this one particularly affected me because the choices the characters make are ones no one should have to, and then it made me think, “Well, what would I do?” The context of the story makes the acts almost understandable — which makes the whole all the more chilling.

“Omphalo” by Livia Llewellyn takes a few grotesque ideas (incestuous sexual relationships, isolation, and other abuses) and unflinchingly focuses on the horror of that reality. I found it difficult to rate this story because on one hand, it was truly and deeply horrifying. It made me feel disgust and revulsion in equal measure. That it could elicit those reactions made me think it was a well put together story. On the other hand, the subject matter is so deeply troubling that it was extremely difficult to get through. Can a story be too horrifying? This one made me ask that over and over again.

“How We Escaped Our Certain Fate” by Dan Chaon is a zombie post-apocalypse story with a heartbreaking twist. Perhaps not the most original tale, but haunting despite the tropes utilized.

“That Tiny Flutter of the Heart I Used to Call Love” by Robert Shearman is a story about obsession and perfection. The weird fixations of the main characters slowly but surely are revealed to be something more sinister. I thought there was a strong concept here with some particular passages solidifying the 4-star rating.

“Interstate Love Song (Murder Ballad No. 8)” by Caitlín R. Kiernan follows a pair of murder-lovers as they acquire their next target. This story went in a couple directions I didn’t expect, and I liked it for those surprises. I came out of this story wishing there were just a little more to it. Much like the characters, it was engaging in a grab-you-by-the-throat, all-or-nothing kind of way.

“Shay Corsham Worsted” by Garth Nix pits a retired secret service agent in the UK against what he claims is a machine with the capability to destroy all of humanity — itself masquerading as an elderly man. This horror-science fiction story made me feel the frustration of the main character as things get more and more dire. The ending feels like the beginning of a much larger story with, if we are to believe the protagonist, a foregone conclusion for humanity.

“The Atlas of Hell” by Nathan Ballingrud is an adventure story in search of the titular tome. Full of criminals, mobsters, and a reluctant thief, the horror element comes as no surprise but in surprising ways. “The Atlas of Hell” kept me wondering what would happen next and finished with a satisfying ending as well. I would read a longer story that engaged more with the lore of the world.

“Ambitious Boys Like You” by Richard Kadrey finishes the anthology with a grisly tale about two teens burgling the home of an old, apparently harmless man. Of course, nothing is as it appears and neither the man nor the house he resides in is in any way harmless. “Creepy as hell” in a Saw movie-franchise kind of way, “Ambitious Boys Like You” is a fitting end to Nightmares: A New Decade of Modern Horror.

Published in October 2016. Unlucky thieves invade a house where Home Alone seems like a playground romp. An antique bookseller and a mob enforcer join forces to retrieve the Atlas of Hell. Postapocalyptic survivors cannot decide which is worse: demon women haunting the skies or maddened extremists patrolling the earth. In this chilling twenty-first-century companion to the cult classic Darkness: Two Decades of Modern Horror, Ellen Datlow again proves herself the most masterful editor of the genre. She has mined the breadth and depth of ten years of terror, collecting superlative works of established masters and scene-stealing newcomers alike.

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SKYE WALKER, who has been on FanLit’s staff since September 2014 (after a brief time on staff as a YA reviewer in 2007-2008), is from Canada. Their HBA in Anthropology and Communications allowed them to write an Honours paper on podcasting as the modern oral tradition of storytelling: something they will talk about at any and all opportunities. Skye is a communications professional in the non-profit sector. These days their favourite authors include Ursula K Le Guin, Bo Bolander, and Chris Wooding. They can be found on social media @cskyewalker.

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One comment

  1. Some of these stories sound horrifying — I’ll have to see if I can track down a copy! Thanks, Skye!

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