Mammoth Book of New Horror is . . . Mammoth
My feelings on this year’s “Mammoth” entry might be a matter of taste over substance. The stories are rich and well-written, but there was a lingering feel of dust on the pages—not befitting to the proclamation of “new” on the cover.
You can’t go wrong with “Throttle,” a collaboration by Joe Hill and Stephen King, based on the story “Duel,” by Richard Matheson. That’s a hefty trifecta, and some excellent reading. The biker gang twist was clever, and the deft attention paid to characters and their motivations adds dimension to the twisted trucker looking to wreak havoc in his growling semi.
“Venturi” and “What Happens When You Wake Up in the Night,” by Richard Christian Matheson and Michael Marshall Smith, respectively, were the other two highlights for me. “Venturi” is a slick exercise in paranoia, intimately told with such fervor that the book almost heats up in your hands. “Night” is primal fear seen through the simple narrative of a young girl, and the focus is on the fear, not the rational reasons for what she is experiencing, racking up some serious points on the “I’ll remember this one for a while” horror Richter scale.
Stephen Volk’s “After the Ape” crossed me up. Beautiful and almost lyrical, it tells the story of Ann Darrow dealing with the death of her “lover,” King Kong. Yet I asked myself why this was in a horror anthology. The story can best be described as having “emotional dread,” as she follows her grief to the interminable end, and its inclusion made me consider the blurring boundaries of genre. If someone opens up yet another discussion on the differences between “literary” and “horror” fiction, I might be compelled to use this as evidence that there’s plenty room for both on a piece of paper.
For the rest of the stories as a whole, whether it’s through settings (1920’s Cairo, old hotels, derelict amusement parks) or language (big-voice / third-person narration and word choice), it felt like a very antique collection. “The Reunion” would be at home next to a Poe story, and “The Game of Bear” is an M. R. James story finished up by Reggie Oliver. Good stories? Yes. But if I told you some of these stories were fifty or a hundred years old, you would believe me. Not an excellent barometer for what’s new and exciting in horror fiction.
The antho is worth your money. You get the excellent “Year in Horror” and “Necrology” sections, as well as some handy addresses and resources for the aspiring writer or ardent horror fan. You get about 300 pages of solid horror stories, not a dud in the bunch. You may very well like it, as I did, but what kept me from loving it was how the tales seemed like fresh pieces of wood, beaten with chains to look older than they really were. I was ready for something new and exciting, and instead I got tried and true.
Solid collection. But not spectacular.