“I was one of the people who woke up on November 9, 2016…in what seemed to be an alternate reality.” Helen Marshall’s introduction to this year’s edition of Undertow Press’ now essential anthology of weird fiction argues that now, more than ever, we need weird fiction. “Time is out of joint,” she explains, “we are living in an apocalyptic moment and we have a duty to be witnesses.”
Helen Marshall is the guest editor for this year’s book. An award winning writer and creative writing lecturer, she comes at weird fiction from a very different angle to last year’s editor Simon Strantzas. This is no bad thing. The key to weird fiction is its malleability. Last year, Strantzas put together a very horror centric anthology, with weird fiction’s key players such as Robert Aickman, Rob Shearman (who will be guest editing volume five) and Ramsey Campbell at the forefront. Marshall instead has assembled a vastly different kind of anthology, which demonstrates the vastness of the genre. Yes, there are horror stories in here, most notably Usman T Malik’s ‘In the Ruins of Mohenjo-Daro’, but then there are also stories like Irenosen Okojie’s magnificent ‘Outtakes’, or Aki Schilz’s ‘Beating the Bounds’, both of which are highlights of a brilliant book.
If there are themes running through the book, they are found in stories about the passing of traditions, about mythology and stories trading hands. They are found in Sarah Tolmie’s ‘The Dancer on the Stairs’, Katie Knoll’s ‘Red’, and Gary Budden’s ‘Breakdown’. In these stories, characters find themselves at the mercy of past generations, or becoming them. “It’s funny how the memories of your family become your memories too,” Budden writes. In ‘The Dancer on the Stairs’ the main character takes advantage of her lack of history to stage an enormous choreographed dance which has the potential to change the political spectrum of a kingdom, but she is still beholden to an ancient language and the customs associated with it.
Then there are stories in which the new generation rise up. “I was a Teenage Werewolf’ by Dale Bailey is not only the funniest story in the collection by far, but by the end, an older generation has been decimated, eaten alive by the youth. “We would never let them tame us” Bailey writes.
This is an anthology about modern times. It’s about the election (both of them, really), it’s about Brexit, and it’s about the alternate reality we have found ourselves living in. It’s also just about the most essential book of the year.
Any Cop?: In what is probably going to be an annual tradition for me, the Year’s Best Weird Fiction volume four is the best anthology of the year, and one of the best books of the year period.