Humans have been blessed and cursed with their ability to see patterns. Whether it’s a sequence of numbers or a ripple of feathers in between the branches of a tree, as a species we’re truly excellent at creating order out of chaos.
This ability to discover a method in the madness becomes especially interesting when reading an non-themed anthology. Editor Mark Morris and his team have created just such an fascinating anomaly with Beyond the Veil, a themeless collection of short horror stories from Flame Tree Press (Oct. 19, 2021). The book contains twenty original works of fiction from top authors in the genre, from Christopher Golden to Lisa Tuttle.
The stories here range wildly in sub genre and style, but while the publisher claims the works were gathered without a specific prompt, an initial read of Beyond the Veil reveals some interesting, if unintended, connections.
After finishing just a few stories, readers may find that the major through-line of Beyond the Veil is its commitment to ambiguity. While some stories, like the aforementioned Christopher Golden’s “The God Bag,” finish with a satisfying button, the large majority of the tales told here leave things open-ended. Lisa L. Hannett’s “If, Then” treats readers to a rich fantasy/horror world filled with lush greenery and abundant mystery, and Josh Malerman’s “Provenance Pond” introduces us to the muted world of pastoral hauntings, but few of these talented wordsmiths have chosen to deliver their audience with any finality.
Horror readers are not unfamiliar with the need for personal interpretation. An anthology that challenges its consumers to come to their own conclusions will be right up the alley for many. But the accidentally enigmatic theme is so strong with this collection, it’s well worth highlighting if for nothing but the novelty alone.
There are several standouts in Beyond the Veil, and each bring a unique and delectable flavor to the table. Stephen Gallagher’s “A Mystery For Julie Chu” sings with a fresh take on a familiar trope shown through the eyes of one of the collection’s most likeable characters. “Away Day,” by the legendary Lisa Tuttle, is a masterclass in short story writing. The ten-minute fable will wind readers ever closer to the page as Tuttle lays out her mystical mystery in tight, effective prose.
But the not-to-be-missed superstar here is Peter Harness’s “Polaroid and Seaweed.” Easily the most magnetic story of the bunch, Harness’s narrative style reads like an inviting after-school storytime, even as the content of his yarn becomes increasingly painful and fascinating. As the pages turn, Harness leads you closer to the center of his main character’s broken psyche. The warning signs are all there, but Harness never allows the focus to stray long enough for readers to get ahead of him. It’s expert stuff.
There is no end to the talent Mark Morris has brought together here. Fans of the genre will be pleased to see new work from such favorites as Nathan Ballingrud and Gemma Files, among others. So if you’re ready for a long fall night, pick up a copy of this massive anthology and fall into the mysterious worlds Beyond the Veil.
Beyond the Veil publishes October 19, 2021 from Flame Tree Press.
Looking for more modern horror? Check out Stephen Graham Jones’s My Heart is a Chainsaw.