From the mid-nineties to the early 2000s, Dark Terrors: The Gollancz Book of Horror was Britain’s premier non-themed anthology of horror fiction. Each volume gathered top-selling horror authors and literary newcomers together to deliver a seemingly never ending litany of thrills. Unfortunately, horror fans are all too familiar with the boom and bust nature of the genre, and by 2002 the award-winning anthology’s reign of terror had come to an end.
Now, twenty of the series’ most memorable stories have been collected into a new volume, The Best of Dark Terrors (Subterranean Press, Oct. 31, 2021), with an introduction and afterward from original publisher Jo Fletcher and editors Stephen Jones and David A. Sutton.
Like the editions that came before it, The Best of Dark Terrors presents its stories devoid of a central theme. This decision was one the editors felt strongly about from the very beginning, as they explain in the book’s Afterward:
“We didn’t want a thematic ‘hook’ which the reader could comfortably latch on to. We wanted to fling our readers into the wild, into the screaming pitch of horror, into the psychological, graphic, off-the-wall, or just plain weird.”
Some readers may feel untethered by The Best of Dark Terrors’ lack of theme, but the high quality of storytelling within each tale is bound to please even the most discerning of weird fiction fans.
“More Tomorrow” by Michael Marshall Smith starts off the collection with an unsettling first-person narrative set at the dawn of the internet age. Modern readers will likely be amused with the unreliable narrator’s careful explanations of cutting-edge computer technology and budding message boards only to feel the ground shift underneath them at the deliciously devastating conclusion.
Harlan Eliison and Lisa Tuttle deliver masterful horror tales with their stories “The Museum on Cyclops Avenue” and “My Pathology”; while Neil Gaiman and Tanith Lee provide the chilly side of terror in “The Wedding Present” and “The Abortionist’s Horse (A Nightmare).”
The standout stories in this collection can be found placed back-to-back. Legend Ray Bradbury lures readers into a simple world filled with secret horrors in “Free Dirt.” Bradbury’s free and joyful style secretly envelopes readers into the journey of a man who has come to inquire about the free graveyard dirt he’s seen advertised by the side of the road. Poppy Z. Brite’s “Self-Made Man” gives a nod to Bradbury by placing a copy of Dandelion Wine in their main character’s dangerously capable hands. Both stories employ a steady-drip-of-information approach that encourages readers to race to put the pieces together before their terrible ends. Brite’s story in particular should be lauded for the delightful third act reveal that changes the course of the story in an unpredictable and satisfying way.
And yet the lack of theme in The Best of Dark Terrors isn’t without its drawbacks. While it’s clear that the editors deliberated on the sequencing of their collection, the sudden changes between narrative styles, sub genres, and tones can begin to feel like flipping cable channels on a Sunday afternoon. The stories are—as the book’s title suggests—some of the best horror has to offer, but placed together they begin to lose some of what makes them so special. Even so, lovers of short horror fiction should be sure to pick up a copy, as any of these dark terrors are bound to entertain during the long, cold nights ahead.
The Best of Dark Terrors publishes October 31, 2021 from Subterranean Press.
Looking for more short horror anthologies? Check out Beyond the Veil.