If I may quote Forrest Gump for a moment, I'd like to say that The Dark Descent is like a box of chocolates. Not so much because you "never know whatIf I may quote Forrest Gump for a moment, I'd like to say that The Dark Descent is like a box of chocolates. Not so much because you "never know what you're gonna get" - because these stories are almost uniformly well written - but because the best way to consume it is a few pieces (stories) at a time, so they don't get overwhelming and start tasting all the same (or make you sick).
The editor, David Hartwell, has divided the story collection into what he calls three "streams": 1) moral allegorical, or stories that are "about the intrusion of horror into reality...[and:] the colorful special effects of evil." 2)psychological metaphor, or stories that "have a monster at the center" whether supernatural or psychological, and 3)fantastic, or stories that generate horror through their "ambiguity as to the nature of reality". He admits himself that these are not hard and fast descriptions, in fact many stories cross boundaries, but it is an interesting way of looking at the history of short horror fiction.
It's also interesting to see which types of stories appeal to you the most. I found myself most interested in the "third stream", the fantastic stories, although I had already read almost all of them. Of the other sections, I found I had read only four of the "second stream" stories and three of the "first stream". Whichever type of story appeals to you the most, David Hartwell has done an excellent job in choosing examples from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including some from several writers whose names do not spring to mind when the subject of horror writing is being discussed. ...more
"Perhaps Beagle is incapable of genuinely dark fantasy, but...."
Although Booklist goes on to give the book (The Line Between) a good review, this sentence nagged at me while I was reading "We Never Talk". The impression it left was that Booklist believes that dark fantasy=good fantasy and the darker it is, the better. This annoyed me and really made me stop and think. Yes, most of my favorite fantasy has at least a tiny dark shadow (even The Wizard of Oz has the Wicked Witch), but I certainly don't equate darkness with quality. One of my favorite Neil Gaiman stories is "Chivalry" and it is full of light. In any case, annoyance aside, Peter S. Beagle is capable of writing dark fantasy, but his stories are usually about personal darkness, as opposed to the darkness of a dystopian fantasy, or a world overrun with vampires and other nasty creatures. I imagine Beagle's stories as dark around the edges, like slightly burned cookies.
Now that I've got that off my chest, on to the book itself. The book contains 10 short stories, most published previously and the majority between 2007-2009. Like most short story collections, some stories appealed to me more than others. I think that is almost unavoidable when the writer is good and can create a range of different characters and situations. Beagle is not a "one note" writer: each story is different and most people will like some more than others.
My personal favorite is the title story, which made the book a worthwhile read all by itself. Whichever is your favorite, I don't think you'll be disappointed in the book as a whole....more
The Happiest Dead Boy in the World by Tad Williams: 3 stars. Williams does a good job reducing the complex plot of the Otherland series into somethingThe Happiest Dead Boy in the World by Tad Williams: 3 stars. Williams does a good job reducing the complex plot of the Otherland series into something a new reader could sort-of understand, but the short story is also full of spoilers and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who hasn't already read the books. As a stand alone piece, it's interesting and well written but I didn't think it added much to the overall storyline. It did make me want to go back and re-read the original series, however.
Homecoming by Robin Hobb: 4 stars. This story was my introduction to Robin Hobb and I was very impressed. When I started it I was afraid it was going to be a predictable take on the "noble woman realizes that commoners are people too" theme, but this story is anything but predictable. Hallucinatory, yes. Fascinating, yes. Predictable, no. I will certainly look for more by Robin Hobb.
Lord John and the Succubus by Diana Gabaldon: 2 stars. If you like Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series, I'm sure you'd like this story, too. Not being a big fan myself, I gave it two stars.
The Yazoo Queen by Orson Scott Card: 4 stars. A fun story with cameo appearances by famous historical figures in new roles. Nice use of an alternate universe; it made me want to look for more stories set in the same world.
The Monarch of the Glen by Neil Gaiman: 4 stars. This story follows the adventures of Shadow after the events in American Gods, as he wanders around the world after leaving America. I think the story would work as a stand alone for someone who hadn't read American Gods, although there are mild spoilers. It's well written and interesting, like most of Neil Gaiman's work.
The Warrior by Jim Butcher: 2 stars. I've read some of Butcher's "Dresden Files" series and found them enjoyable, but this story just didn't catch myThe Warrior by Jim Butcher: 2 stars. I've read some of Butcher's "Dresden Files" series and found them enjoyable, but this story just didn't catch my interest at all. The plot was an (overly) familiar one: a "Bad" Guy tries to blackmail the Good Guy by threatening a friend and the friend's family, with a predictable showdown between the two. There was nothing to distinguish this story from all the other stories using the same plot line, and nothing to distinguish Harry from all the other Good Guys in those stories. I also found the story to be rather preachy and with too much emphasis on the Christian church and its belief system. If this were my introduction to the Dresden series I would assume that Butcher was a mediocre writer of Christian fiction.
The Difference a Day Makes by Simon R. Green: 4 stars. Although this story has a pretty straight forward plot, a trip to the Nightside with John Taylor is almost always fun and this short story is no exception. As an audiobook listener, I was surprised that a story set in an alternate London was read by a narrator with an American accent, but that's a minor quibble.
The Third Death of the Little Clay Dog by Kat Richardson: 2 stars. How I feel about a book (or story) usually has to take into account the mood I'm in when I read it, as well as the writing itself. For an audiobook I have to add the narrator's abilities into the mix. On all three levels this story was just average to me. I may have enjoyed it more in traditional format, without the narrator's distracting "Mexican" accents.
Noah's Orphans by Thomas E. Sniegoski: 2 stars. A decent story with some interesting ideas (I enjoyed the conversations that Remy has with his dog, as well as the idea that Noah felt guilty about the "orphans" he couldn't save in the ark), but after The Warrior I wasn't interested in another story based on the Christian religion....more
As in most anthologies, the selection of stories in this one is uneven. A few stories stood out as excellent work, the majority were mediocre and therAs in most anthologies, the selection of stories in this one is uneven. A few stories stood out as excellent work, the majority were mediocre and there were two that I didn't bother to finish. Overall I think the collection averages three stars: not bad, but less than I was hoping for when I started reading it....more