Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2013 – review by Mario Guslandi


Edited by Paula Guran
Prime Books

A review by Mario Guslandi

Editor Paula Guran has delivered her latest anthology devoted to the best short horror and fantasy fiction published in 2012.

Needless to say, that type of anthology is always based on the editor’s personal taste and the choice of the stories to be included is not always shared by reviewers and critics. Here an example can be represented by “No Ghosts in London” a tale appeared in the stunning debut collection by Helen Marshall “Hair Side, Flesh Side”. While I wholeheartedly agree with the decision to include a story from that outstanding book, I would have selected many other stories rather than that particular one.

But these are the rules of the game and I’m happy to say that I gladly subscribe to most of Guran’s selections for the anthology.

Peter Bell’s “Glamour of Madness”, a kind of sequel to MR James’ “A Vignette” is a very dark, accomplished mix between a crime story and a horror tale, while “Go Home Again” by Simon Strantzas is an extremely effective description of how the mold infesting an old house triggers painful memories and discloses dark secrets from the past.

Other excellent stories that I was glad to find again in Guran’s anthology are “Escena de un Asesinato” by Robert Hood, where a Zapatist ghost takes his revenge by means of a photograph and the creepy “Bedtime Stories for Yasmin” by Robert Shearman depicting the frightening power of fairy tales, able to leave indelible marks on the children’s souls.

In addition, I discovered some great stories that I had missed during the last year, such as Joe R Lansdale’s “The Tall Grass”, a terrifying piece about what happens in the tall grass surrounding a night train stuck in the middle of nowhere, Ellen Klages’ nasty “The Education of A Witch” and Maria Dahvana’s beautiful “Game” revolving around the endless battle between a tiger hunter and a man-eater, mirroring life’s cruelty and hardness.

If you want to know about the rest of the book you’d better hurry and secure a copy. I’m sure you’ll be grateful for my advice.

- review by Mario Guslandi


Win Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror, volumes 1 & 2

The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy & Horror volumes 1 and 2 are up for grabs in hardcover, via the publisher.

Edited by Liz Grzyb and Talie Helene, these two exquisitely handsome volumes collect 65 fantastic tales – the best from 2010 and 2011. There is simply no better primer on current local talent working in horror and fantasy genre in Australia.

Order any Ticonderoga Publications title at Indie Books Online this month, to go in the running to win the hardcover editions of both Year’s Best volumes.

All the details and links are over at Talie Helene’s blog here.


The Pleasures And Perils Of Compiling Horror

This op-ed is taken from one of many Australian SpecFic in Focus Snapshots that happened over the last two weeks leading up to the 51st Australian SF NatCon. The Snapshot tries to get mini-interviews from as many people involved in Australian Spec Fic as possible. This particular Snapshot was conducted by Jason Nahrung and the interviewee was writer, editor and musician, Talie Helene. Talie is co-editor of the Ticonderoga Publications series, Year’s Best Australian Fantasy And Horror. Talie was asked:

What are the pleasures and perils of compiling the horror component of the Ticonderoga Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror?

Her answer provides some fascinating insights not only into editing horror, but into the horror genre itself, and we’ve reposted her answer here. You can read the original, full Snapshot interview here and you can find Talie Helene online here:

What are the pleasures and perils of compiling the horror component of the Ticonderoga Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror?

One of the guiding principals I have is that the stories need to go to different emotional places, because horror is about hitting raw nerves. If you hit the same nerve too many times, you desensitise and the stories become emotionally monochrome. Horror is unique in that the genre is defined by emotion, rather than trope or context – you can have a completely supernatural story that is horror, and a totally realistic story that is also horror. So trying to keep the mix fresh and blow the readers away in different ways, keep the emotional impact – that is pure fun. Editing a Year’s Best is a bit like being a DJ. The works are already published and polished, so the job is to find that mix of hits and undiscovered gems and make the overall experience entertaining and powerful and surprising. It’s a kick!

Working with Liz and Russell at Ticonderoga is totally a pleasure. I was a dark horse choice for this editing job, and having them believe in my instincts is very humbling. They are also really understanding, and they’ve been very supportive throughout. Having a purpose that isn’t focused on my own headspace has probably been a saving grace for me. Just getting to associate with such fine writers is a buzz and an honour; meeting some of ‘my authors’ and having these instantly engaging conversations about narrative that I would never otherwise have is a delight.

The perils. Well, there should be perils in compiling horror, right?

I think probably the biggest peril is balancing literary horror and visceral horror; horror goes to places that connect with visceral responses, and it goes to places of deep trauma and danger and anger, and sex and death are so very tangled together. If the emotion overwhelms the form it can be incomprehensible, and if the form overwhelms the emotion you get cliche. The quality that lifts both aspects up is authenticity. I’m just one person, so I have to trust my own instincts as to which stories do which of those things excellently. Just entering that territory is perilous, because when people disagree they will disagree vehemently. Conversely, if I didn’t stick to my guns about my choices, I have no business editing horror.

I worship what I would call literary horror – writing that engages with top-shelf word craft and narrative constructs in the service of hitting those raw nerves. In the Capital L Literature world the idea of ‘literary horror’ is regarded as an oxymoron. The reality of any genre is you have to read through a truckload of mediocrity to find the amazing work. Go to a Capital L Literary spoken word night. You will have to endure an avalanche of bullshit to experience a few dazzling talents. But I think it’s harder for people to go the other way – from the literary world, to the horror world – because horror stories do contain exploded intestines! The bad ones have exploded intestines! The brilliant ones have exploded intestines! It takes a committed reader to learn to separate being repulsed by bad gory writing, and enthralled by brilliant gory writing – which is also repulsive! But repulsive in the service of some larger meaning.

Really great horror stories aren’t just about horror – there is always something else that makes you empathise. That’s the reason Stephen King writes so much about love and different kinds of relationships. If you write about death, you write about life. I think horror is the deepest genre because it speaks from that precipice of our mortality. But I’m not allowed to harpoon people who don’t share that view!

While I prize literary horror, I also feel very connected with visceral horror. There would be something really wrong if the horror selection in Year’s Best didn’t include some stories where things that are supposed to be inside people are splashed all over the page – maybe that is blood, or a terrible secret, or unbearable knowledge. I think there are people who read horror and appraise the shock value over the literary merit – that reader is going to roll their eyes at terror in sunlight stories or existential horror. For me, blood and the numinous are equally powerful. By making a broad selection, I’m demanding the reader be open to all of that.

Is that condescending? I don’t mean to be condescending to consider that a peril. My gut tells me horror writers feel that they put great demands on readers too, and that is one of the issues of commercialism (or lack of) for horror.

There is an amorphous danger zone of gender politics in the speculative fiction community in Australia, and in horror more than any other genre. It is in part due to a disparity in theorised feminism, because writers range from all walks of life – can I say thank fuck? That is something I can appreciate from both sides, because I’m not a theorised feminist myself. (I don’t have a degree, and while I do read feminist musicology with interest, I’m truant on Feminism 101.) I think the sticking point is that horror is often violent, and historically violence precedes from the patriarchy, so there has been confusion in separating confronting language from gendered language.

As horror editor of the Year’s Best, I’ve had to remain silent on feminist issues I might have otherwise been very vocal about, because I have conflict of interest – and I support people in their artistic practice who have completely contradictory views, including views that I don’t agree with. It doesn’t mean I’m not participating in the discourse, because I will recognise writers who are disrupting and interrogating those issues in their work, and that becomes an influence in my editorial process. I want the anthology to be a powder keg of awesome! My philosophy is stolen from an old 3RRR Radio Station ID: ‘Diversity in the face of adversity’.

A more personal peril is discovering if I don’t include a writer’s stories, I can hurt the feelings of a friend – and maybe give them the erroneous impression that they had ‘a bad year’. While the words ‘best’ and ‘horror’ are the stars by which I navigate in story selection, there are also other pressures on the selection process – and not every fine story on the shortlist makes it through. It does not always mean those stories aren’t as good – or that I am prejudiced against a certain flavour of horror and won’t ever include it. This is the arts. It is subjective. It has to be subjective. And the DJ part of the editorial process serves a mix, not just an evaluation.

The final peril is for me as an emerging writer. Donning the hat of gatekeeper threatens to crush my view of my own writing with 10,000 tonnes of neurosis. (And that’s what SuperNova [writing group] is for.)

You can find the Year’s Best Fantasy And Horror volumes through Ticonderoga Publications here.