The Horror of 1986

DAW Year’s Best Horror Stories Series XV (1986) edited by Karl Edward Wagner (1987):

Contents:

Introduction: What’s in a Name? • essay by Karl Edward Wagner
The Yougoslaves by Robert Bloch
Tight Little Stitches in a Dead Man’s Back by Joe R. Lansdale
Apples by Ramsey Campbell
Dead White Women by William F. Wu
Crystal by Charles L. Grant
Retirement by Ron Leming
The Man Who Did Tricks With Glass by Ron Wolfe
Bird in a Wrought Iron Cage by John Alfred Taylor
The Olympic Runner by Dennis Etchison
Take the “A” Train by Wayne Allen Sallee
The Foggy, Foggy Dew by Joel Lane
The Godmother by Tina Rath
“Pale Trembling Youth” by W. H. Pugmire and Jessica Amanda Salmonson
Red Light by David J. Schow
In the Hour Before Dawn by Brad Strickland
Necros by Brian Lumley
Tattoos by Jack Dann
Acquiring a Family by R. Chetwynd-Hayes

Another year (1986, that is), another great Year’s Best Horror anthology edited by Karl Edward Wagner. Horrible things happen in biker bars, country estates, tourist towns, travelling carnivals, Hallowe’en parties and haunted houses. There’s a lot more indeterminate, atmospheric horror here than in other Wagner Year’s Best anthologies, epitomized in an emblematically Etchisonesque Dennis Etchison story (“The Olympic Runner”) which disturbs even as it leaves one unsure of what, exactly, has happened (it also contains a terrifically handled shift in third-person narrative POV, for those who enjoy that sort of thing).

Horror grandmaster Robert Bloch contributes one of his last, great stories; Ramsey Campbell contributes one in a long line of odd, ruthless stories about childhood horrors. Joe R. Lansdale wrings some gruesomeness from the end of the world and what happens after, with some of the most unlikely predators ever arising from the irradiated remains of North America to finish off the survivors of WWIII.

For an anthology in the heart of the rise of splatterpunk, there’s a surprisingly lack of graphic violence (fine by me, BTW), though what there is seems justified by the narratives in which it’s contained. The R. Chetwynd-Hayes story pretty much embodies a sort of British drollness in horror, a blackly comic vision of a pitiful person undone by a ruthless evil from an unexpected source. Highly recommended.

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