Book Review: Fearful Symmetries, edited by Ellen Datlow, ChiZine Publications
May 28, 2014 | 2:25 pm
Ellen Datlow, doyenne of American horror publishing, has tried something deliberately different with her latest project, Fearful Symmetries: An Anthology of Horror. As she explains, she reached out via Kickstarter to crowdfund this particular anthology, as a test case, and to fund something that might have had a much harder time coming into being through the traditional commissioning route, even with her backing.
The business of publishing is rapidly changing. It’s always been hard to sell non-themed anthologies, but in today’s publishing climate, it’s especially difficult. This project is close to my heart, which is why I’ve decided to appeal to the public through Kickstarter in order to fund it. This is an experiment. Although I’ve donated to Kickstarter projects, I’ve never been involved with one before.
Datlow and her Canadian publishing partner ChiZine Publications (chosen for “their production values and commitment to good-looking books,” as well as “excellent distribution”), targeted $25,000 via Kickstarter, to fund professional rates for the contributors, as well as production costs and her own rates: in the event, they raised $28,426.
The resulting collection groups 21 stories by mostly well-known authors, including Laird Barron, John Langan, Jeffrey Ford, Caitlín R. Kiernan and Michael Marshall Smith, but those names should not lead readers to assume that they know what’s coming. If there’s one unifying thread tying these tales together, it’s one of novelty and surprise. Some of the stories are close to specific sub-genres or classic horror tropes, although many others absolutely are not. There are quite a few complete enigmas here, and even the more overtly Lovecraftian, Southern Gothic, demonic, cosmic-horrific, etc. tales are definitely different.
A meh of indifference ought probably to be what a horror writer or anthologist fears most: Fearful Symmetries had an almost zero meh count on my reading. This is one of the consistently strongest new horror, weird, and dark fiction anthologies I have read in quite a while, including others by Datlow. In most collections, some stories, horrific or not, are instantly forgettable: the stories in Fearful Symmetries overwhelmingly linger in the mind. Personal favorites might include Nathan Ballingrud’s stew of N’awlins swamp gumbo in “The Atlas of Hell,” or Robert Shearman’s country-house terror in “Suffer Little Children,” or even Garth Nix’s concluding tale of something in an English village entitled “Shay Corsham Worsted.” But almost immediately, there are others jostling them for the limelight. Datlow has vindicated the Kickstarter model and a whole lot else with this collection. Outstanding.