Best Horror of the Year: When the Zombies Win and –30–

Best Horror of the Year Volume 3 edited by Ellen Datlow
Best Horror of the Year Volume 3 edited by Ellen Datlow

-At the Riding School by Cody Goodfellow

-Mr. Pigsny by Reggie Oliver

City of the Dog by John Langan

-Just Outside Our Windows, Deep Inside Our Doors by Brian Hodge

-Lesser Demons by Norman Partridge

When the Zombies Win by Karina Summer-Smith

I’m only going to spare this story the barest of space.  It isn’t scary in the least.  It is certainly fun and amusing but there is a tongue-in-cheek cuteness that makes me question its placement in this anthology.  A weird choice that is thankfully short.  It reminded me of the story about Santa Claus from Neil Gaiman’s Smoke and Mirrors.

–30– by Laird Barron

I’ve had experience with Laird Barron’s work and am particularly fond of his Old Virginia from The Imago Sequence and Other Stories.  –30– is a lengthy story that combines a lot of interesting elements that work well together just about as often as they don’t work together at all.  The story takes place at an isolated research post in the middle of a former farm community now reclaimed by the wilderness.  What they are researching involves the area’s coyotes but hints of the area’s dark past and the ominous information gleaned about the group funding the  outpost call the true designs of the station into question.  There is a bit of a Lord of the Flies element here as well and the isolation and monotony of the two researchers begins to eat away at their sanity.  Or does it?  –30– manages to walk that fine line between outright supernatural presence and more mundane explanations.  Barron combines strong elements of psychological and emotional tension with classic horror tropes (something knocking on the door in the night, brief glimpse of something on a recorded video, etc) to heighten the tension.  The story sort of disintegrates at the end, I expect deliberately, and while there are certainly lingering questions when all is said and done the story is still satisfying.

Best Horror of the Year: Lesser Demons by Norman Partridge

Best Horror of the Year Volume 3 edited by Ellen Datlow
Best Horror of the Year Volume 3 edited by Ellen Datlow

-At the Riding School by Cody Goodfellow

-Mr. Pigsny by Reggie Oliver

City of the Dog by John Langan

-Just Outside Our Windows, Deep Inside Our Doors by Brian Hodge

Lesser Demons by Norman Partridge

Norman Partirdge’s Lesser Demons is sort of an action/horror hybrid wherein a small-town sheriff fights a lonely battle against demon hordes at the end of the world.  It is an undeniably cool setup even if it isn’t the most original of ideas.  Whether it was Matheson’s I Am Legend or the opening of The Walking Dead the notion of one man versus the monstrous hordes is something that has been seen before.

The story focuses not on fixing the problem but rather on surviving the situation as it stands.  Our hero is willing to sacrifice much of himself and his humanity to keep on living.  Partridge does an excellent job of setting an atmosphere of lonely isolation.  The scene where the Sheriff, sitting alone at the end of the dock eating a can of beans as the sun sets because he isn’t ready to face the blood of his deputy still on the walls of the cabin is incredibly evocative and rife with a mingled sadness that belies the Sheriff previously evidenced grim determination.

Truth be told I think that Lesser Demons is the first story in this collection suffer because of its length.  It is an encapsulation of a lengthy event that never really manages to completely sell its premise.  Events happen quickly and while the deputy and his slow slide into madness plays an important role of the plot there isn’t enough to time to establish a relationship between the Sheriff and his co-worker.  Without that emotional bond between the two character readily apparent the whole story comes off with a rather disturbing detached feeling.  I suppose that could be what Partridge is going for but it doesn’t quite work for me as a reader.  I really love the twisted menagerie of monsters that pepper the story and would love to see more of the apocalypse that unfolded in the story.  A solid entry that comes a bit close to being a disappointment but the inventiveness of the story and solidly constructed setting manage to keep this one above the mark.