Today is a special day. Why's that you ask? I'll tell you why, the Fabulous Jasper Bark has kindly written a review of the British Fantasy Society's members exclusive anthology The Burning Circus. This anthology is only available to members of the Society, if you are wondering why it's being reviewed, it is to show you the readers one of the benefits of joining this long standing genre community.
So click on read more for Jasper's splendid review.
THE BURNING CIRCUS
There are many good reasons to join the British Fantasy Society and this anthology, which is free to members, is is just one more. It’s edited by Johnny Mains, who is fast becoming to this generation of British Horror anthologists what Peter Haining, Michel Parry and Herbert Van Thal were to previous generations. For this anthology he’s brought together a first rate slate of authors with tales loosely based around the theme of belonging to societies or clubs.
Ramsey Campbell gives his blessing to the anthology with a witty and erudite introduction that serves to build our anticipation for the stories within, without giving too much away. Things get off to a fabulous start with Adam Nevill’s genuinely terrifying Doll Hands. It’s set in a post apocalyptic future that has suffered some unspecified environmental catastrophe and has a monstrously deformed narrator. The horror doesn’t arise from either the setting or the central protagonist however, but rather the depths to which humans will sink in the face of hopeless situations. Nevill displays consummate writing skills as he builds the world and the advances the story one tiny detail at a time, never giving us quite enough information to shake off the sense of disorientation and unease. It’s to Nevill’s credit that the ambiguity of the ending only serves to heighten the sense of terror that will stay with you long after you’ve put this story down.
Thana Niveau follows this with Death Walks en Pointe an homage to the giallo. A second tier ballet company with a tyrannical choreographer is staging a crowd pleasing version of ‘Coppélia’, but their rehearsal schedule hits a small snag when someone starts killing and maiming the members of their troupe. This is a wonderfully written celebration of the cinematic genre, as well as an obvious tip of the hat to the work of directors like Argento, Bava and Fulci there is also a nod to Vincent Price’s Theatre of Blood and, as she’s married to John Llewellyn Probert, I couldn’t help detecting a touch of The Nine Deaths of Dr Valentine in there too.
Angela Slatter provides the anthology with its title in The Burning Circus, her tale of a club that is little understood - circus folk. Slatter looks at the seedier side of circus life in a tale of long planned and bitter revenge. Where is Uncle Philip by Alex Hamilton reads like a strange cross between G. K. Chesterton and Robert Aickman and is a whimsical tale of a ghostly graveyard encounter that raises more questions than it answers.
The Queen in the Yellow Wallpaper by Linda E. Rucker cross references the work of Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Robert W Chambers as well as gothic novelists like Horace Walpole. Rucker brings the gothic trope of the independent woman trapped in an old dark house and prey to an unseen menace bang up to date and builds a slowly growing claustrophobia that closes alarmingly in on the reader with the final sentence.
Stephen Volk’s The Peter Lorre Fan Club is at once a paean to the liberating power of cinema and a condemnation of political extremism. It’s also a heartfelt tribute to Peter Lorre’s unique and prodigious talent. It starts off fairly innocently with two former friends sharing a cup of coffee and reminiscing about their schoolboy fascination with movies and their early obsession with Peter Lorre. However, the story gradually takes on a more sinister tone and builds up to an ending that is as dark and brutal as the atrocities it depicts. It is a deeply layered tale and evokes a spectrum of emotions in the reader, leaving you highly moved, deeply traumatised and a little in awe of Peter Lorre’s film work.
In The Garscube Creative Writing Group Muriel Gray takes a chilling look at the narcissism and self delusion that’s never far from literary endeavour, especially when a person’s ambitions far outstrip their talent. This initially appears to be a story of fledgling romance and the bitchy politics that plague that most fraught of all clubs - the writing group. Gray excels in replicating the over written prose, the under thought premises and the writer’s-manual-speak that are so much a part of the writer’s group experience. She also excels in adding dimensions to her work that are far darker than we originally realised.
Robert Shearman rounds off the anthology with The Sixteenth Step. Set in a seaside boarding house with a staircase that has a mysterious sixteenth step which only appears in the pitch dark, this is a story about parental responsibility, the gradual disillusion in which many relationships end and the unlikely people with whom we build family units. Like all the best ghost stories this tale gradually builds to one inexplicable event whose ramifications reach further than anyone realises.
This is a wonderful snap shot of where British horror is at the moment and I would heartily recommend it to anyone.
To become a member of the British Fantasy Society please follow this link
Jasper Bark finds writing author biographies and talking about himself in the third person faintly embarrassing. Telling you that he's an award winning author of four cult novels including the highly acclaimed 'Way of the Barefoot Zombie', just sounds like boasting. Then he has to mention that he's written 12 children's books and hundreds of comics and graphic novels and he wants to just curl up. He cringes when he has to reveal that his work has been translated into nine different languages and is used in schools throughout the UK to help improve literacy, or that he was awarded the This Is Horror Award for his recent anthology 'Dead Air'. Maybe he's too British, or maybe he just needs a good enema, but he's glad this bio is now over.
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