Instructions for Use
A. Flip back a few pages or look at the cover. Note the words in the title: The
- Please be aware that a year’s best or best of the year or best new or some other variation on this phrase anthology (anthology, in this case, meaning: “a collection of selected literary pieces” published within a calendar year)
cannot be taken to mean exactly what it says. It really means the book contains “some of the best of this type of short(ish) fiction as (a) found and read by, (b) within the personal definition of (insert type of fiction covered), (c) in consideration of certain factors of content as determined by, and (d) obtainable for reprint by the individual identified as the editor (not entirely without variables imposed by the publisher including, but not exclusively, how many pages) of said volume.” More or less.
- The editors I know—and, I am fairly certain, those I don’t—who undertake these gigs take the responsibility very seriously. They strive to (a) give recognition to writers who have produced outstanding fiction and (b) offer readers some guidance, as well as (c) good value for their investment (in both time and money). Said editors work very hard to live up to the not exactly lofty honor (and seldom very remunerative) of being arbiters of excellence.
- You may not always agree with their choices. That is your prerogative. Consider, debate, have your own opinion, but do not (a) condemn them for their definitions or their tastes, or (b) assume they believe their choices to be the only “bests.”
B. Now, consider the words: dark fantasy and horror.
- Note: Both are highly debatable and constantly changing literary terms. So are labels like “science fiction,” speculative fiction,” “magic realism,” “surrealism,” “suspense thriller,” “mystery,” et cetera. Outside of the realm of the written word, the meaning of both are further confused, diluted, and twisted as they also are used to describe other media that convey stories to audiences.
- Aforementioned “literary” and/or “genre” terms have been used/are used both correctly and incorrectly as marketing labels for various types of fiction and other media. Business is business. One cannot be a purest.
- A dark fantasy or horror story might be only a bit unsettling or perhaps somewhat eerie. It might be revelatory or baffling. You might be “scared” or simply unsettled—or not. It can also simply be a small glimpse of life seen “through a glass, darkly.”
- Darkness itself can be many things: nebulous, shadowy, tenebrous, mysterious, paradoxical (and thus illuminating)…and more.
- Fantasy takes us out of our mundane world of consensual reality and gives us a glimpse or a larger revelation of the possibilities of the “impossible.”
- Fantasy is sometimes, but far from always, rooted in myth and legend. (But then myths were once believed to be part of accepted reality. If one believes in the supernatural or the magical, is it still fantasy?) It also creates new mythologies for modern culture and this can affect us, become a part of who and what we are.
- Horror is an affect. It is something we feel, an emotion. What we react to, respond to emotionally differs from individual to individual. In fact, to paraphrase those figures of legend, Sir Paul and Saint Lennon, we can’t tell you what we see when we turn out the light, but we know it is ours.
- Horror is also about finding, even seeking, that which we do not know. When we encounter the unknowable we react with emotion. And the unknowable, the unthinkable need not be supernatural. We constantly confront it in real life.
In consideration of the above, I offer no definitions. I do offer you a diverse selection of dark fiction that I would call dark fantasy and/or horror all published within the calendar year 2012.
Elements of “the dark” and horror are increasingly found in modern stories that do not conform to established tropes. What was once mainstream or
“literary” fiction frequently treads paths that once were reserved for “genre.” Stories of mystery and detection mixed with the supernatural are more popular today than ever and although they may also be amusing and adventurous, or have upbeat endings, that doesn’t mean such stories have not also taken the reader into stygian abysses along the why. Horror is also interwoven—essentially—into many science fiction themes. What post-apocalyptic fiction can be nothing but lightness and cheer? Ultimately, the reader may come away with a hopeful attitude, but not until after having to confront some very scary scenarios and face some very basic fears. Darkness seeps naturally into weird and surreal fiction too. The strange may be mixed with whimsy, but the fanciful does not negate the shadowy.
The stories selected for this year often take twists and turns into the unexpected. Disquietude, disintegration, and loss (of many things, including one’s mind, memories, or love) evoke fear in some. Human treachery can be terrifying than anything supernatural, or so strong it calls the unnatural into being. A deviant murderer’s monstrosity can go beyond the mere takingof a life, what is thought to be monstrous may not be at all, or monsters can wear the face of injustice. And, of course, we are often the monsters ourselves (or they live just next door.) The dead can be vengeful and terrifying, but they also find peace or help the living. A child’s world can be a frightening place, but then children can be quite frightening themselves.
These stories take us back to the past (be it historical, altered, or completely imagined), into a few futures, keep us in the present, and sometimes take us outside of time altogether. You’ll visit, among other places, China, Mexico, Russia, Japan, India, Scotland, an English country estate or two, and places that are not places at all.
Along the way, remember when we journey through the darkness, sometimes we emerge better for the journey—more alive, more knowing than when we embarked.
C. Read, turn pages, consume.
11 May 2013
National Twilight Zone Day