The Stains by Robert Aickman; City Fishing by Steve Rasnic Tem; Yare by Manly Wade Wellman; A Room With a Vie by Tanith Lee; Tissue by Marc Laidlaw; Without Rhyme or Reason by Peter Valentine Timlett; Love Me Tender by Bob Shaw; Kevin Malone by Gene Wolfe; Chicken Soup by Kit Reed; The Pursuer by James Wade; The Spot by Dennis Etchison and Mark Johnson; The Gingerbread House by Cherry Wilder; .220 Swift by Karl Edward Wagner; The Fit by Ramsey Campbell; and Big Wheels: A Tale of the Laundry Game by Stephen King.
American paperback cutdown of Campbell’s massive British anthology of new horror stories. Pocket Books seemed to be keeping one eye on the bottom line, so the limited page count in this and the subsequent volume caused several novelettes from the British anthology to be left out of the two American volumes. So it goes.
The stories are mostly excellent. The late, great Robert Aickman’s novelette dominates the anthology — it’s weird and unnerving and inexplicable in that peculiar Aickman way that seems to be some odd combination of Franz Kafka and M.R. James. Gene Wolfe, Campbell himself and Karl Edward Wagner all contribute solid, disparate stories. Wolfe’s echoes Shirley Jackson and Edith Wharton. Wagner’s novelette feels like a novel that’s collapsed into itself — it needs more length to avoid the sudden narrative shifts and jumps that threaten to completely undo suspension of disbelief, but it ultimately holds together.
Dennis Etchison supplies a story that could be held up as an exemplar of Etchison’s dry, allusive work about the assorted weirdnesses of Los Angeles life. Tanith Lee supplies a less dire, funnier story than I’m used to from her, about a very oddly haunted hotel room.
And there’s Stephen King’s surreal little gem “Big Wheels: A Tale of the Laundry Game,” which Campbell cites as King’s strangest story circa 1980 and which remains so circa 2011. All in all, a fine anthology (or at least part of one), and a testament to Campbell’s underrated excellence as an anthologist. Highly recommended.