Saluting the Masters
Contemporary dark fiction owes a lot to literary icons of the past such as Edgar Allan Poe and other classical masters. The idea behind Gary Fry’s latest anthology, Poe’s Progeny, is to ask a bunch of today’s genre writers to contribute a story paying tribute either to one of the old masters or to a standard subject such as the vampire, the werewolf, the haunted house etc. As a matter of fact in most of the tales included in this hefty volume the link between the current piece of fiction and the original model is very thin and the reference to the archetype must be intended in a very loose way. But what really matters is the quality of the stories and editor Gary Fry has managed to select, out of more than 400 submissions, a fair amount of good reading for the genre aficionados.
Obviously, to comment upon thirty stories by thirty different writers is an impossible task for the poor reviewer so, after mentioning that the book features the likes of Ramsey Campbell, Simon Clark, Mark Morris, Rhys Hughes, Gary McMahon, Allen Ashley, Steve Savile, I’ll skip the ordinary and stick to the stories that I’ve found more accomplished and praiseworthy.
Mike O’Driscoll’s "The Hurting House" is a cryptic but effective tale about two friends in love with the same woman and their deep suffering after her mysterious disappearance, while Mel Cartagena’s "Bottom Feeders" is a nice modern retelling of the theme of psychic vampirism.
Joel Lane provides an excellent, cruel tale of violence and madness ("A Night On Fire"), and Conrad Williams contributes a dreamy piece of fiction revolving around a crime scene photographer and his difficult relationship with reality ("Once Seen").
The time-honoured subject of the haunted house is revisited quite efficaciously in Nicholas Royle’s compelling "Sitting Tenant", while Richard Gavin’s intriguing and atmospheric "The Pale Lover" pays tribute to Maupassant’s disquieting journeys into the depths of evil.
Kate Sedia triggers cold shivers with the horrific report of the physical transformations carried out by a peculiar doctor ("Making Ivy"). Stephen Volk’s "A God Unknown" is a delightfully ambiguous tale of life and death on a movie set, while John L. Probert’s entertaining "The Volkendorf Exhibition" is a bizarre tale with a nasty ending in the tradition of the comte cruel and Andrew Hook’s "The Pregnant Sky" an inspired Kafkaesque piece of fiction.
Editor Gary Fry’s own "The Strange Case of Jack Myride and Company" provides a fresh look at the concept of multiplicity and displays Fry’s excellent talent as a writer.
Finally in "Papa Loaty", an American Gothic novella set in New Mexico, Donald R. Burleson skilfully recreates ancient horrors by means of great characterization and gripping storytelling.
All in all Fry's ambitious literary project must be considered fulfilled and successful, even though, admittedly, some of the distinguished contributors did not seem at their best.
The present anthology also represents the very promising debut of the new small imprint Gray Friar Press, which has already announced a number of extremely attractive new titles. If you're a horror fan, this is definitely an imprint to watch closely.