Monday, July 25, 2011

The Dark Descent, Volume 1: The Color of Evil, by David Hartwell (ed.)


I confess, I approached this collection with a skeptical eye. In my mind, the horror genre is composed of slashers and gore and torture porn--disgusting descriptions that repulse the discriminating reader while scintillating the low-brow Philistine who wants nothing more than to leer eagerly at ever more graphic tales of death and dismemberment. It seems I may have been mistaken. Certainly, every genre has its slums--after all, libraries are full of terrible science fiction, lurid overwrought romances, trite fantasy, and stultifying mysteries. However, it turns out that horror, at its best, is not all that far removed from more "respectable" genres. Indeed, many of the stories in this volume could easily be classified as science fiction or fantasy--and many science fiction stories are sufficiently spine-tingling to warrant inclusion in a horror anthology.

The editor argues that horror is a genre best expressed in short stories. I am no expert, and I've read few if any full length horror novels, but I will agree that these short stories are, by and large, quite good. As with any anthology, there are weaker entries--to my mind, "Mr. Justice Harbottle," "John Charrington's Wedding," and "Larger Than Oneself" were rather underwhelming--but the majority are quite solid, and several are excellent (most notably "The New Mother," "There's a Long, Long Trail A-Winding," "The Call of Cthulhu," "The Summer People," and "The Autopsy").

This was also my first foray into the world of Lovecraft, and I was not disappointed. I look forward to many Lovecraftian reading adventures in the future.

Though I still lack the stomach, or the enjoyment of raw terror, to be a true horror fan, I confess I am eager to read the rest of the collection. And I may be a little slower to turn my nose up at "lesser" genres in the future.

[NOTE:  The separate volumes of The Dark Descent are difficult to track down, but the complete set is available from Amazon at the link above.]

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