Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Book Review: A Dark Phantastique edited by Jason V. Brock

A Dark Phantastique edited by Jason V. Brock

Hardcover, First Trade HC, 730 pages

Published October 1st 2014 by Cycatrix Press

There is notion with publishers that anthologies don't sell. That if you release one into the world that it is most likely going to be ignored and lost in the mix. Part of the problem is the sheer number of them. Forget for a moment the "Years best" books, those are a different breed coming with a certain swagger. Even editors who do a good job can some times release hundreds like Martin Greenberg did in the 80's. Ellen Datlow has made a name for herself with her yearly best of becoming probably the most important judge of short horror fiction the genre has. When comes to anthology awards Datlow has become a Meryl Streep of horror almost automatically walking home with a Stoker for her collections. They are very, very good after all. They are quality so forget her books for moment. We face a yearly output of 30 or so titles with Cthulu's name attached to sex, hardboiled crime or historical for example. The sheer number of Vampire and paranormal romance is daunting too.

That said through the years there are anthologies that have stood out as important documents in the evolution of the genre. Dark Forces edited by Kirby Mccauley Meta-Horror by Dennis Etchinson or Millennium (Revelations) edited by Doug Winter are all fantastic examples. In his third attempt at editing (first without Bill Nolan) it is clear Jason Brock was influenced by those books.

His first two "The Bleeding Edge" and "The Devil's Coattails" are shorter and concise. I mean Lets be real for a second this is a 700 plus page antho featuring mostly stories but poems, art and a screenplay as well. Brock is a very picky selector of stories, and for that alone his anthologies are worthy of the time and money you'll put into them if you choose to buy/read them. They deserve to be in every library in the country that takes dark literature seriously. This book is not cheap, but it is a serious book laid out with interesting design Like pages that feel like reptile skin, it cracks along the binding as you open it. This is a serious BOOK, in bold and all caps.

The only weakness is layout and design of the book. Brock did a great job making his magazine and digest designs for Dark Discoveries and Nameless digest over the years. Here it seems a bit much. Just give me the stories!

The stories are great. Some of my favorites include Squatters by Nicole Cushing, Lizard Man Dispatches by Ray Garton and Dust made into Words by Cody Goodfellow. (Note I think my love for Cody's story was in part because of the fantastic reading he did of it at World Horror in 2014). What unites this collection is less of outright horror but deft use of the surreal and what felt like a dark shading over each story.

Jason Brock and I have had public disagreements, normally that would not be the topic in a book review but we have at times gotten nasty with each other. Yet it didn't stop Jason from buying one of my stories for Nameless digest. I only bring this up because of a long introduction at beginning is in part about this topic. How do we as a community treat each other? Jason and I buried our hatchets, and enjoyed each other's company at the last con we were at together.

He has alot of important points to make but that is not why you should invest in this book. You should invest in this book because of the high quality of the fiction. This is an anthology that stands above.

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