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Shadows & Tall Trees 2014 began life as a dark and fantastic fiction journal which rapidly developed a reputation for very high quality work from writers who were already leading names or soon moved on to become so, and later graduated into a regular anthology published by Undertow Publications. As the introductory Editor’s Note says, “we’ve moved away from our journal format to a yearly trade paperback and eBook anthology. We’ve doubled our size, bringing you twice the amount of fiction.” Imprint owner and editor Michael Kelly is also Series Editor for the Year’s Best Weird Fiction, and a regular award winner and nominee.

Freed from the limitations of a thematic anthology, or a year’s best attempt to summarize the highspots and prevailing trends of a particular 12 months, Kelly is able to concentrate purely on quality – and it shows. He’s also freed to select from the many very able writers who now target Shadows and Tall Trees as their venue of choice. Shadows and Tall Trees originates out of Toronto, but you wouldn’t detect that in the choice of stories or subjects.

If anything, there’s a strong British presence in this edition, though purely on the basis of quality. “It Flows From the Mouth,” by Robert Shearman, updates the best qualities of Robert Aickman in the kind of gradual disintegration of normality that British writers do so well. “Apple Pie and Sulphur” by Christopher Harman similarly evokes not just the walking tour from hell, but also quite possibly the walking tour to Hell. I’m not sure if this is a response to the hard times we live in, but this edition also includes some significant tributes to ordinary people struggling under extraordinary (as well as outlandish) pressures, as in Conrad Williams’s “Shaddertown.” UK dark fiction writer and publisher Ray Russell, whose own work at Tartarus Press has featured often in TeleRead, also appears with the enigmatic story “Night Porter.”

But this isn’t anything like a pervasive bias. David Surface’s “Writings Found in a Red Notebook,” for instance, presents one of the best and bleakest cul-de-sac narratives of the American Badlands that I know of, while Ralph Robert Moore & Ray Cluley’s “The Space Between” recasts the same focus on post-Global Financial Crisis disappointments into distinctly North American terms, and Robert Levy’s “The Vault of the Sky, The Face of the Deep” takes things as far as Chernobyl.

And I could go on – and would, given the space. But rather than wasting time reading this, just go and read the book. “Anthologies are a hard sell,” Kelly complains. Not on the strength of this collection. This is one more demonstration of why so many critics are talking about a renaissance of English-language dark and fantastic fiction. Thoroughly recommended.

TeleRead Rating: 4 e-readers out of 5

 
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