Sunday, April 26, 2015

Unspeakable Cults

Shudder Again (1993): edited by Michele Slung, containing the following stories:

Aphra (1993) by Nancy A. Collins
Eye of the Lynx (1983) by Thomas Ligotti
Heavy-Set (1964) by Ray Bradbury
Mr. Wrong (1975) by Elizabeth Jane Howard
The Runaway Lovers (1967) by Ray Russell
The First Time (1993) by David Kuehls
The Ceremony (1897) by Arthur Machen
The Nature of the Evidence (1923) by May Sinclair
The Face of Helene Bournouw (1960) by Harlan Ellison
A Host of Furious Fancies (1980) by J. G. Ballard
When the Red Storm Comes: Or, The History of a Young Lady's Awakening to Her Nature (1993) by Sarah Smith
Ravissante (1968) by Robert Aickman
A Birthday (1987) by Lisa Tuttle
The Crooked Man (1955) by Charles Beaumont
On the Lake of Last Wishes (1993) by Claudia O'Keefe
Again (1981) by Ramsey Campbell
Kin to Love (1937) by T. H. White
Same Time, Same Place (1963) by Mervyn Peake
The Model (1975) by Robert Bloch
Silver Circus (1927) by A. E. Coppard
Honeymoon (1931) by Clement Wood
The Parasite (1894) by Arthur Conan Doyle.

Solid, enjoyable mix of original and reprinted short fiction in a sequel to Michele Slung's earlier anthology entitled I Shudder At Your Touch. The anthologies focus on horror stories with some element of sexual or romantic horror. The sexual elements tend to be subtle and understated in most of the stories, at least when it comes to graphic sex scenes. That doesn't mean that the stories can't be disturbing.

Among the reprints, we get both supernatural and non-supernatural horror, along with one mostly non-horrific ghost story, "The Nature of the Evidence" by May Sinclair. Slung does a really nice job finding suitable but under-reprinted stories for the anthology. She also supplies lengthy introductions that contextualize the stories without giving away plot points.

One of the highlights is Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Parasite," written by the creator of Sherlock Holmes before he'd become a public believer in the paranormal. It trades gratifyingly on the Holmesian -- its narrator is a solid rationalist forced to believe in psychic phenomena by being mentally attacked by the human 'parasite' of the title. Like much good horror, the story operates on parallel tracks of the figurative and the literal. Our narrator is under psychic attack, but he's also a stand-in for anyone who has in some way lost control of his own mind, through no fault of his own. 

The stories original to this volume are a bit more uneven. David Kuehls' "The First Time" is an interesting case. Its horrific yet jokey punchline requires an elaborate science-fictional set-up. And the content of that punchline is disturbing enough that the whole story seems too slight for the horror it ends with, an EC shock-short that turns something truly malign into a cause for hilarity. On the other hand, Nancy Collins' "Aphra," in which a man falls into a very physical relationship with a human skeleton he buys at a yard sale, manages to strike the right tone of obsession and Poe-esque necrophiliac lunacy.

In all, this is a pretty good anthology. Readers looking for a weird wankbook will be disappointed, though. I hope. Recommended.

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