Alexis Neal's Reviews > A Fabulous, Formless Darkness

A Fabulous, Formless Darkness by David G. Hartwell
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Jan 03, 2012

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bookshelves: sci-fi-fantasy, short-stories, breakfast-club, 100-books, horror

A largely lackluster collection of stories--by far, the weakest entry in the series. This time around, Hartwell has selected stories where the perceived threat is never fully defined. There is no readily idenitifiable 'bad guy', and often the victims themselves have no idea what they are facing--or even if they are facing anything at all. Hence the title: A Fabulous, Formless Darkness. However, vaguely-creepy-for-undefinable-reasons is a tough genre to pull off. If you do it wrong, you end up with a story where nothing happens at all and the end result is just kind of pointless. If you do it right, the reader will be creeped out but unable to pinpoint the source of his or her unease--an unease which is prolonged by the seeming lack of resolution to the story.

Sadly, many of the stories here fall into the first category. The attempt to sustain an eerie tone devolved into a meandering story that dragged on much longer than it needed to, and more than once I found myself thinking at the close of a story, 'Nothing happened!' Still, the stories (though long) were decent enough, and some--'The Hospice' and 'Afterward' in particular--were quite good indeed. 'The Hospice' was an especially effective example of a story where nothing much really happened, but it was pretty much terrifying from start to finish. 'Afterward' had the tidy feel that goes with so much early twentieth century literature, but it managed to still hold my attention from start to finish.

Stephen King's contribution--'Crouch End,' an extension of Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos--was interesting (though it made me wonder why Lovecraft was not directly represented in this collection, as he is the master of the 'indescribable'), and the almost empirical tone of 'What Was It?' provided a nice contrast to the 'spooky' interminability of stories like Algernon Blackwood's 'The Willows' or Disch's 'The Asian Shore.' 'Clara Militch' and 'The Beckoning Fair One' are effective reminders that love (or some twisted shadow of love) can be just as scary as hate. Dickens shows his horror chops with the mercifully short 'The Signalman', and Shirley Jackson's equally brief 'The Beautiful Stranger' was somehow both warm and creepy.

I find that the most effective short stories are, well, short--they plant an unsettling idea in the mind and just as it sinks in, the story ends. Unfortunately, most of these stories clock in at upwards of 30 pages, and 4 are longer than 50 pages. It's tough to really sell a short story that long, especially if it's full of vague weirdness and no real resolution or explanation. Most of these stories would have benefited by more active editing--had each of the longer stories been about 20% shorter, the collection would have packed a much bigger punch.
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Reading Progress

January 3, 2012 – Started Reading
January 3, 2012 – Shelved
January 3, 2012 –
page 18
2.96%
January 11, 2012 –
page 41
6.74%
January 11, 2012 –
page 63
10.36%
January 14, 2012 – Shelved as: sci-fi-fantasy
January 14, 2012 – Shelved as: short-stories
January 14, 2012 – Shelved as: breakfast-club
January 14, 2012 – Finished Reading
January 18, 2012 – Shelved as: 100-books
December 19, 2012 – Shelved as: horror

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