Reviewed by Jess Landry
With nearly thirty years’ experience, over fifty anthologies under her belt and more awards than you can shake a bloody stick at, it’s no wonder readers have come to expect nothing less than spectacular when Ellen Datlow’s name is attached to a project. Her most current undertaking, Fearful Symmetries, not only goes beyond expectations, it raises the bar high above into the horror heavens.
Bankrolled through the crowd-funding site Kickstarter, the non-themed anthology is best summed up by Datlow herself in the book’s introduction:
“There are monsters–human and non-human. There are children–those who victimize, and those who are victims. There are supernatural horrors, psychological terrors, noirish dark fantasies, and downright weird fictions.”
Weird may be a bit of an understatement.
Ghosts, witches, angels, pool cleaning machines, shadow creatures, a flying pig, demons and a t-rex make up some of the twenty insanely inventive, hauntingly atmospheric and flat out coo coo for Cocoa Puffs stories that dwell in the pages of Fearful Symmetries.
The compilation features genre heavy-hitters Caitlín R. Kiernan, Laird Barron, Garth Nix, and Pat Cadigan (among others), and mixes a healthy portion of seasoned pros with a small group of up-and-coming storytellers to create a melting pot of distinct voices and styles that leave you wanting more. You may find yourself picking this up for one or two authors that you enjoy and by the end of it, you’ll have a couple more names added to your must-read list.
Picking the stand-outs in a group of exceptional tales is a bit of a daunting task, as nearly all twenty fables left a favourable impression. If (gun to my head, stake to my heart) I had to select the titles that resonated a little more than the others, I would have to say Gemma Files’s A Wish From a Bone, Jeffrey Ford’s Mount Chary Galore, Nathan Ballingrud’s The Atlas of Hell, Catherine Macleod’s The Attic, Laird Barron’s the worms crawl in, (aside from being an outstanding piece, it also got The Hearse Song stuck in my head – you know the tune: the worms crawl in, the worms crawl out, the worms play pinochle on your snout… – and now it’s stuck in your head. You’re welcome.), Robert Shearman’s Suffer Little Children, and Pat Cadigan’s Will The Real Psycho In This Story Please Stand Up? (which also gets the award for best title).
I simply cannot say enough good things about the exceptional talent and overall quality that comes to life within the pages of Fearful Symmetries – you might as well pick up a copy and see for yourself.