Ellen Datlow (ed.)
Tachyon Publications, 2021
Reviewed by Mario Guslandi

With about one hundred books under her belt, Ellen Datlow is arguably the most prolific and famous editor of horror and dark fantasy anthologies.

They say that often as one gets older, one gets nicer. I’m not (and I’m the same age as Ellen) and she’s not either, at least as an editor. In fact, the present anthology, devoted to address the subject of “body horror,” is certainly one of the nastiest she’s ever edited.

I guess body horror, by definition, can hardly be subtle, because the flesh doesn’t speak but shouts, and makes itself heard and felt in any possible way. Some of the featured stories are so vivid and intense as to result as a slap in the reader’s face.

The list of contributors includes Nathan Ballingrud, Genevieve Valentine, Lucy Taylor, Kij Johnson, Cody Goodfellow, Simon Bestwick, Richard Kadrey, Angela Slatter, Livia Llewellyn, Cassandra Khaw, Tananarive Due, Richard Christian Matheson, Seanan McGuire, Lisa L. Hannett, Caítlin R Kiernan, Gemma Files, Brian Evensong, Tom Johnstone, Priya Sharma, and Michael Blumlein. But let me mention the tales which especially impressed me.

“A Positive” by Kaaron Warren is an unusual story about blood,its power, and the need for it, the very reason of the existence of a young guy born to provide strength to his own father, while the nightmarish “It Was the Heat” by Pat Cadigan depicts a businesswoman attending a convention in New Orleans, where the unbearable heat deforms feelings and reality.

Edward Bryant’s “The Transfer” has a deceivingly quiet beginning, where horror creeps in gradually before the final explosion when evil meets evil, and Christopher Fowler’s “The Look” provides a ruthless view of the unmerciful and sometimes dangerous world of fashion models.

In the offbeat “Toother” by Terry Dowling, a very determined criminal keeps chasing and killing  women in order to remove their dentures. Very much in keeping with the anthology’s theme, “Natural Skin” by Alyssa Wong is a wonderfully bizarre piece about sisterly hate, bad plastic surgery, and sheer cruelty. By contrast, “The Old Women Who Were Skinned” by Carmen Maria Machado is a delightful, but very dark fairy tale, featuring two old sisters trying to get their looks back.

To me the two highlights of the volume are the outstanding “ The Travellers Stay” by Ray Cluley, an astonishing horror story taking place in a rundown motel where unexpected things happen to the occasional guests, and the unforgettable “Painlessness” by Kirstin McDermott, one of the most violent yet mesmerizing tales I’ve read in years, about physical damage without pain.

Enjoy, if you dare.

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