There are a handful of must-buy anthologies, which includes the annual Best New Horror edited by the ever reliable Stephen Jones. This book is also a handful in the physical sense – a hefty 530 pages. BNH27 begins with an overview of horror fiction in 2015 (sadly, this volume didn’t appear in 2016; I hope that BNH28, which selects work from 2016, appears later this year). This essay stretches for nearly 90 pages and is a comprehensive rundown of the novels, anthologies, collections and magazines of the year in question. Perhaps the only things missing are cover reproductions – but that would mean Jones’ introduction would be four times longer, with fewer pages remaining for the fiction. Or even a bigger Best New Horror.
Jones ends his essay with a personal comment on our favourite genre. His mother Violet passed away in 2015, which lead the editor to reminisce about growing up in the fantasy, horror and SF field, about the people he met through his publishing ventures, some also no longer with us. Jones concludes with a simple message: he asks that the horror community stops pulling itself apart, to be less intolerant of one another.
The other essay in this book is the Necrology, compiled by Jones and Kim Newman. This is a list of all those linked to the field who died in 2015. It’s a depressing read, about 80 pages long – 80 pages too many. The final section in BNH27 is a useful checklist of addresses of organisations, magazines and publishers. Very useful.
Between the two essays you’ll find 17 stories culled from a wide range of sources from around the world. Jones has always been an editor who reads broadly and chooses the best regardless of original appearance. The first story, “The Coffin House”, is a new tale from Robert Aickman – “new” in the sense that, although he died in 1981, it first appeared in a Tartarus book in 2015. A pretty impressive way with which to begin the fiction component, I’d say.
Other contributions come from Helen Marshall, Nicholas Royle, Lynda E Rucker, Conrad Williams, Neil Gaiman, Storm Constantine, Ron Weighell, Steve Rasnic Tem and many others. I’ll mention just a few of my favourites.
“Exposure” by Helen Marshall features a trip to a Greek island, one with an almighty secret, with links to the Carcosa of Robert Chambers. A trip that ends in horror. Lynda E Rucker’s “The Seventh Wave” is a poignant love story, of love lost and found, of love’s cruelty. Storm Constantine’s “In the Earth” is a fine warning-like story, a warning of the things one may or may not believe in, of respect and disrespect. It reminded me, somewhat, of the olde worlde tales found in The Pan Book of Horror Stories. “The Offing” by Conrad Williams tells of abandonment. A seaside town is abandoned by the sea, by the tourists, and a young girl is abandoned by her father and, indirectly, by her mother.
In Neil Gaiman’s “Black Dog” we have a novella featuring Shadow (from American Gods fame) on a world trip, here reaching a small British community. Outside it is raining cats and dogs; inside the pub, every customer has his own dog, lurchers – poachers’ dogs. Shadow lodges with Moira and Oliver and soon becomes embroiled in their lives and their own black dog. “Black Dog” was republished by Headline last year in a gorgeous hardcover edition, beautifully embellished with weird illustrations by Daniel Egneus.
To reiterate, Best New Horror 27 is an essential read. It is an anthology that helps the horror reader keep abreast of the stories found in a veritable ocean of short fiction that’s published every year. Stephen Jones is a maestro of the horror genre and you can be sure that his annuals include some of the best scary fiction out there. Short stories are the back bone of the fantasy field (and I mean all shades of fantasy) and it is vital that best-of annuals continue to appear; so support this and similar books.