The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 15 (2003) edited by Stephen Jones: The Mammoth series of annual ‘Best of’ horror anthologies has been a godsend for over two decades now, and even more of a godsend ever since the DAW ‘Best of Horror’ annual series ended with the sad and early death of its long-time editor Karl Edward Wagner. That the Mammoth series has at least twice the page count of the Wagner series, along with lengthy Necrology and ‘Year in Horror’ sections, makes it even more essential, if that’s possible.
Stephen Jones is a voluminous and gifted anthologist, and the yearly Best New Horror has become one of the things I look forward to each year, like the Super Bowl or Fox TV’s annual purge of all its best shows.
This anthology of stories from 2003 is the usual solid job, with good stories by perennials that include Ramsey Campbell, Glen Hirshberg, Caitlin Kiernan and Neil Gaiman, along with offerings from lesser-known and new writers. The great Gene Wolfe does one of his reality-bending bits with “Hunter Lake”; Hirshberg offers a melancholy new take on the Golem and the Holocaust in “Dancing Men”; Campbell expertly mines childhood fears in “Fear the Dead”; Toronto’s Gemma Files comes up with a really awful innovation in the realm of puppetry with “Kissing Carrion” (also set in T.O.); Simon Clark and Tim Lebbon work wonders with a story about the great fantasist Arthur Machen’s WWI story-turned-urban-legend “The Archers of Mons”; Joyce Carol Oates comes up with an atypically typical (for her) bit of nu-Gothic in “The Haunting.” There’s even a story set on an island in Lake Erie (“Lucy, In Her Splendour” by Charles Coleman Finley) and a creepy, M.R. James by way of H.P. Lovecraft story by Mark Samuels, “The White Hands.” One of the pleasures of the Mammoth series is catching up with old friends; another lies in discovering “new” writers whose names you’ll have to look out for, such as Samuels.
All in all, this is another fine addition to the Best New Horror series, and a useful reference book for the year in question. Jones is extremely catholic in his horror selection, with stories running the gamut from gruesome but natural horror to mind-bending examinations of the supernatural Sublime. Long may he run. Highly recommended.