By Datlow, Ellen
Tor Books Copyright © 2009 Datlow, Ellen
All right reserved. ISBN: 9780765315595
I love the horror short story and novella. To me, they're the most powerful and important forms in the field. For at least two hundred years the short form has proven to be enormously fertile ground for dark literature that plumbs the depths of fear and the evil that may reside in the human soul.
Undeniably, the novels of Stephen King and such other dark novels as The Monk by Matthew Gregory Lewis, Dracula by Bram Stoker, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, as well as those by H. P. Lovecraft, have been enormously popular. Nonetheless, throughout the history of British and American horror, the short story has been the most celebrated form of the genre. Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, M. R. James, Robert Bloch, Robert Aickman, Ray Bradbury, Shirley Jackson, Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson, Ramsey Campbell, and Dennis Etchison, to name but a small number of great practitioners of the genre, are some of the authors who come to mind when we think of those who have crafted many of our favorite horror and terror tales.
I think that fiction of the supernatural works better in the shorter forms for the simple reason that the short form lends itself with great ease and flexibility to an enormous variety of narrative styles and strategies. Novels, while they can be quite chillinglyeffective, are an entirely different matter. Very few longer works truly carry the power to force the reader to sustain the suspension of disbelief necessary for the kind of stunning, chilling, or .at-out terrifying effect of a great short work.
Over the course of my career as an editor thus far, I have edited a number of anthologies that focus on stories with a common theme, the subjects ranging from sexual horror to cat horror stories; from stories of vengeance and revenge to ghost stories. I've enjoyed editing them all, but have always wanted to edit an all-original, non-themed horror anthology—to showcase the range of subjects imagined by a number of my favorite writers inside and outside the horror field.
The non-themed horror anthology is a rich part of the horror tradition: Series such as The Pan Book of Horror (taken over for several years by Gollancz and retitled Dark Terrors), edited by Stephen Jones and David Sutton; Shadows, edited by the late Charles L. Grant; Masques, edited by the late J. N. Williamson; and Borderlands, edited by Thomas F. Monteleone are all fine examples of series that have published outstanding original short fiction.
There have also been major one-shots of reprinted material such as The Playboy Book of Horror (an anthology that strongly influenced me as a reader and editor); The Arbor House Treasury of Horror and the Supernatural, edited by Bill Pronzini; Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural, edited by Phyllis Wagner and Herbert Wise; The Dodd, Mead Gallery of Horror, edited by Charles L. Grant; Modern Masters of Horror, edited by Frank Coffey; The Dark Descent, edited by David G. Hartwell; and The Mammoth Book of Terror, edited by Stephen Jones. And the past thirty years have witnessed the publication of one-shot anthologies of original material. I think especially of the enormously successful Dark Forces, edited by Kirby McCauley; and others like The Cutting Edge and Metahorror, edited by Dennis Etchison; Prime Evil and Revelations, edited by Douglas E. Winter; and 999, edited by Al Sarrantonio.
When I've edited non-themed reprint anthologies (two OMNI series and twenty volumes of the horror half of The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror), I've usually been surprised to discover that certain ideas or, if you will, themes recur anyway, and it's not until the contents are chosen and I look at the stories as a group that the stories' commonality reveals itself to me. However, the themes that I discover in those anthologies are the product of the work of authors writing for other editors, in a wide variety of venues ranging from slick magazines to semiprofessional 'zines, from single-author story collections to themed anthologies edited by any number of different editors.
In the present volume, though, I present for the first time stories all of which I've chosen and edited. And all of them had to succeed on my terms: to provide the reader with a frisson of shock, or a moment of dread so powerful it might cause the reader outright physical discomfort; or a sensation of fear so palpable that the reader feels impelled to turn up the lights very bright and play music or seek the company of others to dispel the fear; or to linger in the reader's consciousness for a long, long time after the final word is read. Such stories are my passion. For fear is a part of life, and horrific or frightening stories have always been the surest way humanity has found to deal with the very tangible terrors of the real world. It's been that way since people first sat around a .re, surrounded by the darkness and dangers of the wild beyond their circle of light. Listening to stories of the terrifying beasts and other natural threats, our ancestors used narratives to help conquer their fears, by putting them into tales that they themselves wrought, stories in which they dealt with fears by naming them, thus rendering them known, less powerful for being told, the stories handed down from generation to generation, a tool that has never lost its power and usefulness.
My editor at Tor Books, Jim Frenkel, told me, when we first discussed Inferno, that he still remembers with utter clarity the sensation of being terrified by a story he read when he was twelve years old. The details had blurred for him over the decades, but the actual feelings—of fear, of disquietude, of dread—remain vivid for him to this day. So vivid, in fact, that merely bringing up the subject caused him to experience immediately a flood of sensations which brought him a shiver that he couldn't suppress. I have memories like this as well as do, I know, many other people who enjoy horror.
But there are those who don't read horror, short form or long, and there's no arguing with personal tastes in reading, or anything else. Such people don't seem to understand that being scared by the act of reading a work of fiction is not necessarily a trivial pursuit; at its best, it can be an act of catharsis. A cheap one, perhaps, but nonetheless quite real. When we are taken from the real world to a place only available through a story, we are free to be as frightened, as helpless as we can bear.
When the story is over and we emerge back in the real world, we've survived a test of courage, or of endurance, or whatever other tests the skilled author has posed to challenge us—or our imaginary avatar, as created within the narrative. And back in the real world, we are once again whole—and often, as readers have experienced in the most effective tales, we are more whole than before. A gifted storyteller's craft can uplift, transform, and challenge us in ways that are either unlikely or downright impossible in the real world.
Vicarious adventures in terror are a lot easier to survive than some of the terrors we face in life. Violence, violation, loss, revulsion; mental, emotional, or physical suffering . . . all are trials that in life may bow us and break our spirit. In fiction, though, we survive them and are strengthened by our survival.
And that is the beauty of short horror. In its shorter lengths, horror fiction, as evidenced in an enormous number of effective, memorable works, continues to be a literary form that speaks to us powerfully. If one needs confirmation of this assertion, one needs look no further than .lm and television, which have been mining short fiction for almost a century. Television series such as The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and others, as well as films too numerous to mention, have successfully adapted short horror fiction to the shivery delight of generations of viewers.
So here are twenty stories I hope you'll enjoy. After editing as many books and magazines as I have, I'm not so naïve as to believe you'll agree with every single story I've chosen. But if even one of these tales does for you what they have all done for me, perhaps you will have one of those great memories that will stay with you always, a memory of something dark, dangerous, and brooding. One that will bring you a momentary thrill when you recall it.
So . . . what have I discovered in putting together Inferno? Although there are no demonic children, there are missing children, abused and/or orphaned children who have experienced unspeakable horrors; angry adult children, children who inadvertently cause pain to their loved ones. The relationship between parent and child is primal and powerful, and its influence is lifelong.
In addition, you'll find psychological and supernatural stories of madmen and -women; of the powerless and of those with too much power; tales of revenge and vengeance and loss.
To my mild surprise, I noticed there are no war stories here. Perhaps authors have realized that there is enough horror in the real wars we've been fighting for years. Nor are there zombies, vampires, witches (well, maybe one, if you stretch it), evil children, or werewolves. Their absence is not intentional, but I don't think readers will be disappointed by the absence of these staples of horror fiction. There are plenty of other monsters within these pages.
I hope you'll enjoy encountering them as I've enjoyed presenting them.
Excerpted from INFERNO by Ellen Datlow
Copyright © 2007 by Ellen Datlow
Published in April 2009 by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC
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Excerpted from Inferno by Datlow, Ellen Copyright © 2009 by Datlow, Ellen. Excerpted by permission.
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