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Chilling Tales Anthology Review

Posted on August 12, 2011 by Billzilla

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    Chilling Tales: Evil Did I Dwell; Lewd Did I Live
    Edited by Michael Kelly
    218 pages
    Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing

    Horror is a subjective state; what one finds horrifying another might find merely gruesome or grotesque. It is within this ambiguity I find myself regarding Chilling Tales: Evil DId I Dwell; Lewd Did I Live. There was horror within to be sure; also within was loneliness, isolation, despair, and a lot of really good writing.

    The 18 “Spine tingling Tales” contained in this volume represent work of some of Canada’s brightest writers. This is pointed out carefully in the editor’s introduction as a rarity, and while I had heard of several authors in the contents page, I was largely unfamiliar with all of them. In that respect I am grateful to Mr. Kelly for assembling this slate of authors into whose work I now wish to delve further. Mr. Kelly goes on to mention two other all-Canadian anthologies, including Tesseracts Thirteen, edited by David Morrell and Nancy Kilpatrick, and Evolve, a collection of vampire tales edited by Nancy Kilpatrick. Both volumes are also published by Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy.

    Standout stories for me in this collection included “Tom Chesnutt’s Midnight Blues” by Robert J. Wiersema and “404” by Barbara Roden. Both are among the first three tales and get the anthology off to a great start. “Tom Chesnutt’s” is about a philandering folk singer who inadvertently causes his wife’s death. She haunts him now, not actively rattling chains and moaning but rather showing up at his gigs – a phantom only he can see – as a reminder of his misdeeds. “404” is a distressingly familiar tale about office workers who discover their comrades simply disappear one day. As their numbers dwindle and their isolation increases, they each find themselves coming under the watchful eye of their supervisor.

    “King Him” by Richard Gavin is told almost in a fairy-tale manner, about a brother and sister living alone in a small community. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that sanity is a fragile creature, and there are things than can enter this world that can cause sanity to crumble, bit by bit. Leah Bobet’s “Stay” emphasizes the isolation or northern Canadian winter, as a produce truck goes off the road near the tiny town of Sunrise. Since the produce will spoil before a replacement truck can get through to take it away, the townsfolk hold a feast, finding the fresh, exotic fruits and vegetables most welcome. The truck’s driver proves to be more than he appears – or perhaps less – and the townspeople must decide what to do about him.

    “The Deafening Sound of Slumber” is Simon Strantzas’ busy tale of a man overly sensitive to noise who’s best option is working nights in a sleep research facility. This was a chilling tale indeed with a clever, intriguing concept, but I felt its effectiveness somewhat lost by the distracting foibles of the narrator. It could easily have been every bit as good by minimizing or leaving those bits of character development completely out of the story altogether; I found the man more aggravating than anything and it broke my sympathy for the character. Ultimately I was relieved at his demise, which I’m not certain was the author’s intent.

    Likewise in Nancy Kilpatrick’s “Sympathy for the Devil” I found it difficult to sympathize – or even identify with – the main character because he’s such a turd of a man. In the end, he has a change of heart and feels contrition over what he’s done, but it doesn’t save him. His epiphany feels too forced, too (literally) last-minute to work, and his end is a fitting one. In “My Body” by Ian Rogers on the other hand, I found the mystery of the story intriguing, and was in the dark about the reveal until nearly the end.

    I found myself perplexed at the inclusion of a number of these stories, particularly Suzanne Church’s “The Needle’s Eye”. While an excellent story, there is nothing particularly horrifying about it, unless one has a phobia about eye injuries. It is a bittersweet tale about medical personnel fighting against a new, lethal plague in Africa, and frankly I found the ending happy and hopeful despite the disability the protagonist has to contend with for the rest of his life – which seems to me the antithesis of the anthology’s theme. Still, it’s difficult to find too much fault with “The Needle’s Eye” itself; it is a great story well told.

    The sense of isolation and despair is a strong, unifying undercurrent in this book, and that state of mind can be horrifying of itself, but mostly these stories convey the heavy oppression of loneliness and isolation. They were very effective stories – well-written, pacing and character development were good – but I found it difficult to call them all horror, or even dark fantasy, though some were closer than others. Being clearly labelled as a “Horror and Dark Fantasy Anthology” (it even says so on the back cover) I couldn’t help but feel a tiny bit cheated, though in truth, the term “Dark Fantasy” is a pretty broad and vaguely-defined category. Certainly nearly all were enjoyable stories and I found them entertaining at the very least, but not chilling or spine tingling as billed. Possibly this is a case of personal taste; I urge you to read the anthology for yourself and decide whether or not I’m right. The high level of quality of the tales in this collection is well worth the effort in any case.

    Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

    Review by Bill Bodden

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