"New Fears" Book Review
Written by Shane D. Keene
Published by Titan Books
Edited by Mark Morris
2017, 400 pages, Fiction
Released on September 19, 2017
Since the recent announcement of the closure of Great Jones Street, I’ve seen it bandied about on social mayhem sites that the short story as a viable form for speculative fiction is in its death throes. Well, I’m here to tell you that it just isn’t true. 2017 saw some of the best collections and anthologies of this generation produced by some of the greatest authors and editors in the business; some young, some grizzled veterans, all hugely talented and working at the top of their game, particularly in horror fiction. One such editor is Mark Morris, curator of the stories in this book I’m talking about today.
New Fears is an anthology that hearkens back to the old days, taking something that was the norm back in the ‘70s and ‘80s and making it seem almost new by comparison to the typical themed volumes that are being produced en masse today. This book, in the vein of such greats as Douglas E. Winter’s Prime Evil and Dennis Etchison’s Cutting Edge—not to mention everything Kirby McCauley ever touched—is un-themed because Morris wanted to create something that would demonstrate the varied and seemingly limitless possibilities of our chosen genre. So, he limited his contributors to just one simple and very important requirement: write a damn good story. And I can tell you that the authors within responded in fucking spades.
From the very first paragraphs of Alison Littlewood’s “The Boggle Hole,” you know you’re in for something special. This tale of a young boy staying with his grandfather did several things. It enraptured me, sure. But I was also deeply and earnestly saddened. Littlewood injects real human emotion into her tale and then bleeds it slowly and painfully into your mind until you’re left with inexplicably watery eyes and an aching heart. It served to inform me that she’s an author I should be reading and also to propel me into what turns out to be a thrill ride of emotional peaks and lows, with intense moments of suspense, terror, and surprise in stories like the great Brian (cool name) Keene’s “Shelter In Place” and Christopher Golden’s “The Abduction Door,” which tells of a father’s loss of his daughter and the horrific lengths he’ll have to go to in getting her back.
But the authors who take the cake and really shine in this collection are the ladies. The lion’s share of standout stories were penned by female authors such as the aforementioned Littlewood, whose entry stands out as one of my top two, and including incredible works like the brilliant Sarah Lotz’s “The Embarrassment of Dead Grandmothers,” a raucously hilarious tale of a young man’s trip to the theater with his gran, and Muriel Gray’s quick pinprick of quiet terror, “The Roundabout.” There are also stellar pieces by Angela Slatter, Nina Allan, and Kathryn Ptacek, making Morris’ anthology a prime example of why the inclusion of more women and other minority groups is utterly vital to our genre.
And, in spite of the incredible readability and staying power of those aforementioned authors, the men manage to make a huge impression too, with notable entries like Ramsey Campbell’s “Still Speaking,” an amazing tale that weaves modern technology and the darkness of the grave into a single terrifying tapestry, and Stephen Laws incredible, phantasmagorical anchor story, “The Swan Dive,” having a huge impact on my psyche and sticking with me long after the last page was turned. And then, and THEN, I say …as if that all wasn’t enough, the single, most moving and terrifying tale in the book, the one that had me kicked-in-the-nuts-and-doubled-over breathless at the end of it is Josh Malerman’s “The House of the Head.” One of the best haunted house imaginings I’ve ever read, it reminds me in a way of M.R. James’ “The Haunted Doll’s House,” but only insomuch as it has a haunted doll’s house in it. This story takes a uniquely Malerman twist that makes it entirely his own, a thing that could only have been created in one of the most inventively twisted minds of our time.
I mentioned toward the beginning of this review that Editor Mark Morris wanted to take the old and make it new, to turn a lack of direction into a destination yearning back to the golden age of horror fiction anthologies, and he achieved that goal with the eye of a brilliant master curator, one that we should hope to hear more from in the coming years. And there’s some hope of that. In his introduction, he says he’d like to see this book become just the first installment in an annual series of such works and I’m here to ask, “Can I get a fucking Amen?” The stories I’ve already mentioned are more than enough to make New Fears worth the price of admission and, in addition to those, you’ll also find outstanding entries by Carole Johnstone, Adam L.G. Neville, and Conrad Williams, just to name a few. What you won’t find is a single bad story. This book is a gathering of glimmering gems by some of the finest minds in the business today and if you don’t already have it on your shelf, you should unfuck that stat.