Saturday, November 6, 2010

Girl on Book Action: Haunted Legends edited by Ellen Datlow and Nick Mamatas

Haunted Legends edited by Ellen Datlow and Nick Mamatas
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2301-9


You know what we’re talking about.  Wherever you’re from, there are stories – about a ghost, or a strange, unexplained phenomenon, or some thing that people don’t even want to talk about for fear of summoning it.

You could call them urban legends or folktales…or you can deny that they exist.  But they do.  And they’re in this sublimely chilling collection of original tales.  The authors, including award winners Richard Bowes, Gary A. Braunbeck, Pat Cadigan, Ramsey Campbell, Jeffrey Ford, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Joe R. Lansdale, Kit Reed, Catherynne M. Valente, and Kaaron Warren, have written stories set in the places they know well – East to West, North and South, in big cities and small towns.  Other stories explore dark legends from places as far-flung as England, Spain, Russia, Southeast Asia, India, Fiji, and Australia.

All these tales – from the utterly creepy Texas terror of Lansdale’s “The Folding Man” to the small-town avian horror of Carrie Laben’s “Face like a Monkey;” from the modern legends of Campbell’s “Chucky Comes to Liverpool” and Ekaterina Sedia’s “Tin Cans” to the centuries-old hauntings of Bowes’s “Knickerbocker Holiday” and Reed’s “Ackbar;” and the other spine-chilling stories brought to life in this collection – share the power to evoke to evoke the primal fears that still resonate within each of us, proving that these Haunted Legends are alive today.


My Thoughts:

I have a confession to make, dear readers.  Up until the last couple of years, I didn’t really read a whole lot of short fiction.  In fact, I almost loathed anthologies and aside from the obligatory anthologies purchased for school, I owned only one (Poppy Z. Brite’s Wormwood: A Collection of Short Stories, in case you were wondering).  I’ve given it some thought and I think the reason I stayed away from short stories is that I preferred the full-immersion of the novel to the much less long-lived short story.  Alas, we must all grow and I have come to embrace anthologies and the works they contain.  I have since learned that they are a wonderful gateway drug into the works of new authors and all of my previous squeamishness has abated.  All of which is a roundabout way of getting to my point, which is that reviewing a collection of tales is a bit of a challenge in comparison to reviewing a novel.  Which stories do I discuss?  Do I list them all and give you my 2 cents?  Do I pick the best and the worst, leaving you to surmise that any I don’t touch on are middle of the road?  Choices, choices.  So why don’t you keep reading to see what I decide to tell you?

If you read through the back-cover blurb I’m sure you noticed two key names that will invariably lead me to want to purchase and read a book: Caitlin R. Kiernan and Catherynne M. Valente.  So let me begin with their respective tales.

“As Red as Red” is Caitlin R. Kiernan’s contribution to the anthology and it deals with the supposed vampires of New England with a touch of werewolf myths as well.  It has all the things I love about Kiernan’s work: water imagery, drownings, the interweaving of dream and reality and a lingering sense of unease when you get to the end.  On another level, I connected with this particular tale because of my own research – while I’m not a folklorist digging up real stories about vampires, I have read quite a bit about the superstitions surrounding supposed real vampires (albeit in Europe).  Interested yet?  You should be, and if you need a little more convincing, read my review of The Red Tree - a book I love more than is seemly.

Moving right along, Catherynne M. Valente’s story is utterly different from Kiernan’s, but not any less charming or haunting.  Set in Japan, “Fifteen Panels Depicting the Sadness of the Baku and the Jotai” has the same linguistic sensuality I loved in Palimpsest.  Really, the only word that comes to mind is “beautiful,” in every sense: the language, the imagery, the characters, the story.  It was wistful, melancholy and haunting.  Really, I think the anthology is worth having for just these two.

Let me give you a very brief overview of the other stories I thought were excellent.  Kaaron Warren’s “That Girl” left me feeling sad and at the same time intrigued with the old woman’s ability.  “Akbar” by Kit Reed transported me to the too-hot subcontinent of India; Steven Pirie’s “The Spring Heel” introduced me to the legend of Spring-Heel Jack, which I knew nothing about before and want to know more about now; “Tin Cans” by Ekaterina Sedia was creepy and talked about one of my favourite historical topics – Soviet Russia.  I really can’t stop this list without mentioning Lily Hoang’s “The Foxes,” and Joe R. Lansdale’s “The Folding Man,” two very different tales that left a lasting impression on my mind.  As you can probably tell by the length of this list I’ve made – there are a lot of good stories in this collection.  While they aren’t all spooky ghost tales, they stick with you, adding a bit of lore to your inventory, making you want to seek out more information about different stories you might not have heard about before.

Honestly, I could have listed the majority of the collection above.  The only stories that really didn’t work for me were Pat Cadigan’s “Between Heaven and Hull” which made me feel like I had missed something very important because I just didn’t get it – and who knows, maybe I did miss something; and the other was Ramsey Campbell’s “Chucky comes to Liverpool,” which I didn’t care for at all.  Chucky is perhaps the most dull horror monster in movies and puts me to sleep (with the exception of the riotously bad Bride of Chucky).  I actually contemplated not reading the story, because I have zero interest in the premise of Chucky, but I'm a completionist so I stuck it out.

If you’re a fan of urban legends, or any of the authors who contributed to this anthology I say it’s well worth your money.  And if you're like me, you're likely to find a new drug of choice among these authors, or perhaps a new creepy-crawly to add to the list of things that go bump in your night.  I for one am looking out for Spring-Heeled Jack...

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