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WesternSFA
House of Fear
Edited by Jonathan Oliver
Solaris, $7.99, 476pp
Release Date: September 27, 2011

With affection and awe, Oliver has brought together 19 stories that explore many dimensions of homes and houses, what they can mean to us, how they can trap us, what they can hold. Some of these are ghost stories, but not all, and not all of them are horrific; there is some comic relief, and even a tale or two of redemption. Oliver writes lovely introductions for each story, and there are bio blurbs at the end, so when you particularly like a story, you can find out a bit about the life around the mind that made it.

This is one of the best thematic anthologies to come along in years. All the writers are top flight, being some of England ’s finest, with representatives from Ireland , Scotland , and Wales as well, and even a few well-traveled citizens of the USA .

“Widow’s Weeds” is by Christopher Priest, a clever spiral tale with sex, magic, money, and French phrases. Weston Ochse contributes “Driving the Milky Way” in which the ordinary, random, ugly cruelties that besiege life are transcended by a few adventuresome boys. Eric Brown draws us irresistibly into “The House” by appealing to our curiosity, as hints and partial revelations lure the reader deeper into the protagonist’s labyrinth of guilt and loss and responsibility. Fortunately, a problematic Ariadne holds a golden thread to guide him out.

Adam D. Nevill ratchets up the sense of horror for 20 pages, lulls you into that treacherous sense of security, then in nine words demolishes it utterly. It has a great first paragraph set up, like a fine, smooth wooden handle to that ratchet. Warning: if you have no inner Delete button, be VERY CAREFUL with “Florrie.” Readers with eidetic imaginations and weak constitutions have no business reading this one. None whatsoever.

“The Room Upstairs”, by Sarah Pinborough, is set ten years after World War Two, but it can resonate with readers who have more recent experiences of war-borne loss. It is exquisitely written. I love how the anti-hero, a trickster thief named Jack Hastings, uncovers and resolves the tragedy that haunts the widowed Mrs. Argyle.

 “Villanova,” by Paul Meloy, is the story that makes me want to move to an island, climb a tree, and never live in a house again. But then there’d be global warming, intensified hurricanes, and rising sea levels to contend with. Maybe I’ll just call a safety inspector to look into the things that go over-looked.

Lisa Tuttle wrote “Objects in Dreams may be Closer than they Appear”, which would make a cool episode of The Twilight Zone; “Pied-a-Terre”, which juxtaposes the grim realities of violence with courage, is by Stephen Volk; Terry Lamsley’s “In the Absence of Murdock” reminded me of Shirley Jackson at her best; Rebecca Levene’s “The Windmill” is one example of how very slow and small the mills of the Lord can grind. “Moretta”, by Garry Kilworth, with its reeeeally creepy locus/artifact, is a funny/scary warning of the dangers of messing around with dark energies. “Hortus Conclusus”, by Chaz Brenchley, revolves around the notion that “the dead don’t go away” – and sometimes they resent the living. Robert Shearman, who has written episodes for Dr. Who, indulges his love for the fantastic with the allusion-laced “The Dark Space in the House in the Garden at the Centre of the World”.

Jonathan Green’s “The Doll’s House” is one more reason why The Twilight Zone should be renewed, because it would translate so effortlessly; “Inside/Out”, by Nicholas Royle, is an eerie tribute to Hitchcock with a bit of Run, Lola, Run for good measure; the haunting, reflective “Trick of the Light” is by Tim Lebbon; and “What Happened to Me,” with its artfully self-deprecating presentation and double-twist, is by Joe R. Lansdale.

Occasionally a word jarred when an author over-used vulgarity, either for ‘realism’ or misgauged shock value; but that is the only quibble I have. Other sentences are like gems that I return to, admiring how they catch the light and make colors in my mind. Without doubt, you will find treasures here hidden amongst the terrors. ~~ Chris R. Paige

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