No literary subgenre evokes a more visceral reaction than body horror. Some people crave the bloody carnage at the center of these stories; while others instinctually shrink away from such distressing depictions. It’s easy to understand why so many readers skip over tales of physical peril. Unlike other types of thrills, body horror deals with something so universally relatable that a version of the genre’s terror is guaranteed to appear in your own life. From bum knees to sore gums, even the healthiest among us have some physical concern to contend with. And yet, horror readers’ appetite to experience corporeal destruction has remained strong no matter the fears writers send our way. If you count yourself among those lovers of carnal dismay, then Tachyon Publications’ new collection, Body Shocks (October 19, 2021), will be just what the doctor ordered.
Edited by the acclaimed Ellen Datlow, Body Shocks collects nearly thirty short stories from some of horror’s most celebrated practitioners. Accounts of disfigured super models, skin-shedding transients, human monsters, and ecological havoc all pool together here like so much gleaming viscera down a demented doctor’s drain. But be forewarned, this collection is not for the faint of heart. Lauded in its subtitle as an anthology of “Extreme Tales of Body Horror,” Body Shocks aims to challenge its readers, and there’s not a story among these pages that doesn’t fit the bill.
Highlights among the anthology’s impressive line-up include Nathan Ballingtraud’s “You Go Where it Takes You,” whose somber tone is pitch perfect for the startling revelation hidden at the center of this chance-encounter-turned-transformation story. Pat Cardigan’s “It Was the Heat” is equally impactful in its story of a suburban woman bewitched by the weird underbelly of New Orleans. Not since Dan Simmons’s The Terror has the temperature of a story been so empathetic. There aren’t enough platitudes to heap on Tananarive Due’s “The Lake,” which highlights Due’s impressive ability to craft a story that is effortlessly readable while still feeling dangerous.
Body Shocks’ standout story comes from the legendary Splatterpunk fabulist Cody Goodfellow. “Atwater” tells the tale of a man who takes the wrong exit off the highway into a forbidding world of confounding contradictions. Goodfellow’s literary style is so visually precise it’s nearly cinematic. Readers will be swept away by his visions of honeycombed extremities and shrouded henchmen. But it’s not just the imagery that will set imaginations on fire; this story is so fresh it’s still alive. It’s almost a guarantee that some readers will start rereading “Atwater” the moment they finish.
Paperbacks from Hell fans will be pleased to see that Datlow has included a short story from the late Michael Blumlein (X,Y, The Movement of Mountains). Of all the terrors included Blumlein’s “Tissue Ablation and Variant Regeneration: A Case Report” may be the most grisly, printed here for the first time in an American anthology.
While it’s undeniable body horror is an acquired taste, Body Shocks is sure to delight horror fans from every walk of life. From the decidedly adult “Welcome to Mengele’s” by Simon Bestwick to the superbly twisted “Fabulous Beasts” by Priya Sharma, this is a collection that will challenge the senses with delightful pains and punishing pleasures.
Body Shocks publishes October 19, 2021 from Tachyon Publications.
Looking for more anthologies of horror? Check out When Things Get Dark.