A review of The Monstrous (edited by Ellen Datlow)

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The Monstrous (edited by Ellen Datlow) will be published by Tachyon Publications in October 2015.

Information about Ellen Datlow:

Ten-time World Fantasy Award-winner Ellen Datlow is one of horror's most acclaimed editors. She was the fiction editor of OMNI for nearly twenty years and also edited the magazines Event Horizon and Sci Fiction. Her many bestselling anthologies include the Year's Best Fantasy and Horror series; Snow White, Blood Red; Lovecraft's Monsters; Naked City, and Darkness. Datlow has won multiple Hugo, Locus, and Shirley Jackson awards. She has received several lifetime achievement awards, including the Bram Stoker and World Fantasy Awards. Datlow lives in New York City.

Click here to visit the editor's official website.

Information about The Monstrous:

From the best horror editor in the business comes a landmark horror anthology. Take a terrifying journey with literary masters of suspense, visiting a place where the other is somehow one of us. These electrifying tales redefine monsters from mere things that go bump in the night to inexplicable, deadly reflections of our day-to-day lives. Whether it's a seemingly devoted teacher, an obsessive devotee of swans, or a diner full of evil creatures simply seeking oblivion, the monstrous is always there - and much closer than it appears.


I'm glad I had an opportunity to read and review The Monstrous, because it's an excellent horror anthology. It will be of interest to readers who enjoy reading dark fantasy and horror stories. The stories range fascinatingly from dark fantasy flavoured horror fiction to explicit horror fiction, and from psychologically challenging horror fiction to disquieting and deeply disturbing horror fiction.

One of the best things about The Monstrous is that it contains versatile stories. It gives a good overview of what contemporary horror fiction has to offer for readers, because it has something for everybody. No matter what your taste in horror fiction is, you'll find much to enjoy in this anthology. (In my opinion, Ellen Datlow has done her best to select interesting and as versatile stories about monsters as possible to this anthology. It was fascinating to read about the different kind of monsters.)

This anthology reveals that monstrous beings and happenings can be found anywhere. They're much closer to you than you think. This is the beauty of this anthology, because it reveals that terrifying monsters can reside near you and you don't necessarily know anything about them and their existence. Some of these stories are stunningly unsettling, because they feature people who act in unpleasant ways and do hideous deeds.

The Monstrous contains the following stories:

- “A Natural History of Autumn” by Jeffrey Ford
- “Ashputtle” by Peter Straub
- “Giants in the Earth” by Dale Bailey
- “The Beginning of the Year Without Summer” by Caitlín R. Kiernan
- “A Wish From a Bone” by Gemma Files
- “The Last, Clean, Bright Summer” by Livia Llewellyn
- “The Totals” by Adam-Troy Castro
- “The Chill Clutch of the Unseen” by Kim Newman
- “Down Among the Dead Men” by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois
- “Catching Flies” by Carole Johnstone
- “Our Turn Too Will One Day Come” by Brian Hodge
- “Grindstone” by Stephen Graham Jones
- “Doll Hands” by Adam L. G. Nevill
- “How I Met the Ghoul” by Sofia Samatar
- “Jenny Come to Play” by Terry Dowling
- “Miss Ill-Kept Runt” by Glen Hirshberg
- “Chasing Sunset” by A.C. Wise
- “The Monster Makers” by Steve Rasnic Tem
- “Piano Man” by Christopher Fowler
- “Corpsemouth” by John Langan

Here's a bit more information about the stories and my thoughts about them:

“A Natural History of Autumn” by Jeffrey Ford:
- This story is excellent tale of a Japanese couple, Riku and Michi, who are on their way to a remote onsen. Because Michi is writing a book and studies a season, autumn, Riku suggests that they make a field trip to the onsen to research autumn.
- A strong and interesting story with a good ending.

“Ashputtle” by Peter Straub:
- This is a brilliant and unsettling glimpse into the mind of a kindergarten teacher.
- The author explores the mind of the teacher in an intriguing way.

“Giants in the Earth” by Dale Bailey:
- This is a story about what can happen when people open up new veins of coal and explosions reveal something strange.
- An excellent and well written story.

“The Beginning of the Year Without Summer” by Caitlín R. Kiernan:
- This is interesting and unsettling story that begins with a discussion about swans, but then becomes something else.
- A fine piece of beautifully written horror fiction.

“A Wish From a Bone” by Gemma Files:
- A well written story about a TV crew that enters an ancient Middle Eastern temple and gets much more than they wanted.
- I've always enjoyed reading stories about people who enter tombs etc, so I find this story interesting.

“The Last, Clean, Bright Summer” by Livia Llewellyn:
- In this story, a girl named Hailie is going to attend a family reunion and witnesses strange happenings.
- An excellent and subtly dark story with an unsettling atmosphere.

“The Totals” by Adam-Troy Castro:
- A story about a killer who has an awkward shape and a monstrous bulk.
- An interesting story with a good ending.

“The Chill Clutch of the Unseen” by Kim Newman:
- In this story, an old man protects the town against monsters.
- An excellent story with a good atmosphere.

“Down Among the Dead Men” by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois:
- An intriguing story about survival and a vampire in the concentration camp during World War II.
- This story is one of my favourites in this anthology.

“Catching Flies” by Carole Johnstone:
- In this story, a girl is rescued from her home, but the girl's rescuers won't talk about her mother.
- An excellent and effective story.

“Our Turn Too Will One Day Come” by Brian Hodge:
- An intriguing story about a man who goes to help his sister and finds out things about his family.
- I liked this story very much.

“Grindstone” by Stephen Graham Jones:
- A brilliantly unpleasant story about Derle who does nasty things to animals and girls.
- This is one of the most memorable and unsettling stories in this anthology.
- In my opinion, this story is just as good and impressive as any of the stories in the author's magnificent short story collection, After the People Lights Have Gone Off.

“Doll Hands” by Adam L. G. Nevill:
- An unforgettable depiction of disturbing and monstrous behaviour.
- This story is an excellent example of the author's dark imagination and his writing skills.

“How I Met the Ghoul” by Sofia Samatar:
- An interesting short story about an interview with a ghoul.
- This story is something a bit different.

“Jenny Come to Play” by Terry Dowling:
- A story about Julie who is in the mental hospital, because she wants to hide from her sister.
- An interesting and well written story with a good and memorable ending.

“Miss Ill-Kept Runt” by Glen Hirshberg:
- A well written story about Chloe whose family is moving and who thinks that something is wrong.
- This story has a good atmosphere and a wonderful sense of dread.

“Chasing Sunset” by A.C. Wise:
- This is a Lovecraft-inspired story about a man who is not a very nice person.
- This story falls into the category of "something different".

“The Monster Makers” by Steve Rasnic Tem:
- An intriguing story about a family with a curse that seems to turn people around them into monsters.
- This is one of my favourite stories in this anthology.

“Piano Man” by Christopher Fowler:
- A New Orleans-set story about a haunted piano.
- A well written story.

“Corpsemouth” by John Langan:
- A story about a young man who, after his father's death, travels to Scotland to meet his family.
- An excellent and beautifully written story.

Dale Bailey's “Giants in the Earth” is a good and claustrophobic story about coal miners who set up explosions to reveal new veins of coal. The explosions reveal a space where the miners find something strange and unexpected. The author has created quite an intriguing story that differs from other stories.

Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois' “Down Among the Dead Men” is an excellent story about survival and a vampire in a World War II concentration camp. The authors deal with difficult material - evil, horrors of war and vampires - in a bold and unsettling way that impresses me.

Livia Llewellyn's “The Last, Clean, Bright Summer” is a brilliant story about Hailie who is on her way to a family reunion with her family. The author gives Hailie an intringuing voice, because it feels like you're reading a young adult story that has been written for adults (her young voice gives the story an especially effective atmosphere). Hailie's descriptions of the happenings and the family union are fascinating and at times grotesque and macabre. It's great that this story has a strong Lovecraftian undertone.

John Langan's “Corpsemouth” is a memorable story. The author writes well about a young man who travels to Scotland to meet his family. He effectively adds ancient mythological elements to the story to make it deeper and more intriguing. In my opinion, this story is a good example of how a horror story must be written, because it gradually builds into a mesmerising story and totally hooks the reader.

This may be a personal preference of mine due to the fact that I'm a big fan of the weirder side of speculative fiction and I love beautifully written fiction, so you're free to disagree with me on this, but I honestly think that Livia Llewellyn's “The Last, Clean, Bright Summer” and John Langan's “Corpsemouth” are the best and most memorable stories in this anthology. I consider both of them to be masterpieces of contemporary horror and weird fiction, because they rise above the other stories on so many levels that they must be mentioned separately to give them the recognition they deserve. They're well-constructed and intriguing horror stories. These two stories alone are reason enough for horror readers to buy this anthology.

By the way, if you're wondering whether The Monstrous is worth reading or not, I can say that it's definitely worth reading. If you're fascinated by monsters, this anthology is essential reading material for you, because you'll have an opportunity to read about many different kind of monsters, some of which are the kind of beings that you'd never want to meet in real life.

The cover image, "Her Will (The Other Side)", by Reiko Murakami looks beautifully unsettling. It's a perfect cover image to this anthology.

The Monstrous will chill and darken your day in a terrifyingly sweet way. When you begin to read it, you'll most likely have problems putting it down, because all of the stories are intriguing and they may cause a few moments of unease and distress to readers.

Highly recommended!