Editor Ellen Datlow presents 29 tales of body horror from the very best of today’s writers, incorporating a diverse range of voices and styles, originally published over the last 40 years. This was an anthology that I didn’t think would particularly appeal to me, given its theme, and my preference for other sub-categories in the horror genre. I thought – erroneously as it turned out – that the theme was a rather narrow one, and I suspected the stories might be mildly repetitive. However I needn’t have worried because – as you might expect from an award-winning editor in the field of speculative fiction – Ellen Datlow has gathered together a superb array of talent, showcasing the vast extremities of the theme.
All of the stories have all been previously published – the earliest, Michael Blumlein’s, from Interzone in 1984, the most recent from 2020 by Brian Evenson in an online webzine – but several of them are quite obscure and there’s a nice balance to the contents. In fact, such is the variety of the stories, that you could be forgiven for forgetting the actual theme of the book. Whilst it’s true that some of the tales are more subtle than others, none of them are anything less than powerful, and it’s a credit to Datlow that she manages to balance a range of styles and variations, which means the anthology never becomes predictable. Reading these stories as 2021 is closing out and the world is starting to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic, we as a species have never felt more mortal; these tales touch a nerve, reminding us how fragile we are as humans, how our bodies are susceptible to external forces. This adds an extra element to the fear of body horror.
There isn’t one poor story in this anthology, but personal favourites include Nathan Ballingrud’s You Go Where It Takes You, Welcome to Mengele’s by Simon Bestwick, Tananarive Due’s The Lake, It Was the Heat by Pat Cadigan, The Travellers Stay by Ray Cluley, Spores by Seanan McGuire, Christopher Fowler’s The Look, Lisa Hannett’s Sweet Subtleties, Elegy for a Suicide by Caitlin R Kiernan, Tom Johnstone’s What I Found in the Shed, and Fabulous Beasts by Priya Sharma. Even the stories I found less engaging were nevertheless extremely well-written, eschewing the usual tropes and stereotypes, and act as a great example of why horror is such a richly diverse genre. If you like dark fiction I think you’d really enjoy this excellent anthology.