Please allow me to introduce Sympathy for the Devil, a fine new anthology filled entirely with short stories about the devil… who is, as we all know, a man of style and taste. However, you won’t just find the smooth-talking stealer of souls here. In addition to that famous version of His Grand Infernal Majesty, you’ll also find funny devils, monstrous devils, abstract devils and strangely realistic ones. Devils scary and not-so-scary, devils who are after children’s souls and others going after old men. Devils with a surprising amount of business acumen, and devils who try to get what they want, no matter the cost. There’s even one who engages in a competitive eating contest — the prize is, of course, someone’s soul.
Sympathy for the Devil, edited by Tim Pratt, offers up 35 very diverse short stories (and one piece of poetry) which all, without exception, deal with the devil in some form. If that sounds a bit one-tone for an anthology, well — it is. If ever there were an anthology to nibble at intermittently, reading a story here and there instead of reading the whole book cover to cover, this is definitely it. In that sense, it’s almost perfect as a nightstand book — the only problem being that some of the stories are positively terrifying, and if you happen to have a significant other sharing your bedroom, you might get funny looks when he or she spots your collection of devil stories by the bed.
As Sympathy for the Devil presents an impressive 35 stories, I won’t bore you by listing and reviewing all of them individually. Instead, here are a few of my favorites:
- Neil Gaiman is the only author with two stories in the collection. While the first one (“The Price”) is nothing special, the second one (“We Can Get Them for You Wholesale”) has an excellent build-up that leads to a terrifying finish.
- Elizabeth M. Glover’s “MetaPhysics” presents an effective and hilarious way for atheists to refute the Horned One.
- Kelly Link’s “Lull” was, for me, the biggest revelation in this anthology. It’s a gorgeously weird story that I couldn’t stop thinking about for days, and have reread several times since. I plan to read much more by Link very soon.
- Michael Chabon’s “The God of Dark Laughter” will have you looking at clowns in an entirely new way.
- China Mieville’s “Details” is one of those stories that will insinuate itself into your consciousness. It’s hard to forget it after you’ve read it.
- Jay Lake’s “The Goat Cutter” was the single creepiest story in the collection, until I got to…
- Theodore Sturgeon’s positively terrifying “The Professor’s Teddy Bear”.
- Another classic closes out the collection on a strong note: John Collier’s “Thus I Refute Beelzy” contrasts enlightened parenting with a decidedly dark finish.
While those are my favorites, there are many other great stories here, including some by well known authors such as Elizabeth Bear, Holly Black, Charles de Lint, Stephen King, Charles Stross and Scott Westerfeld, just to mention a few of the names listed on the cover (also featuring a great illustration by David Palumbo). On the other hand, I would have probably left out at least a handful of stories that bring down the anthology’s batting average a bit, but luckily there are enough good and great stories to balance things out.
Tim Pratt has done an excellent job bringing variety to the anthology’s dark subject, because Sympathy for the Devil contains something for everyone: horror, fantasy, weird fiction, classics, and even a surprising dose of humor. While not all the stories are equally strong, there’s easily enough good material here to justify the cover price.