Sunday, July 6, 2008

British Invasion edited by Christopher Golden, Tim Lebbon, and James A. Moore

This review originally appeared in somewhat different form on The Green Man Review. Copyright 2008. Reprinted with permission.

Oh, the things people get themselves into over drinks. To hear the British Invasion trio of editors Christopher Golden, Tim Lebbon, and James A. Moore tell it (in their foreword): "No one had properly chronicled [the] extraordinary number of British writers [impacting] the American horror and fantasy scene." Ten minutes later, they had sold this alcohol-inspired idea to Cemetery Dance Publications. (This quick sale actually makes a lot of sense since an anthology with this loose of a theme seems like its audience is built-in.)

In an anthology that set no restrictions on its contributors other than they be British and write horror, James Lovegrove sets himself one in the writing of "At One," the story of one man's individual hell. The restriction is unnoticeable until Lovegrove reveals it, but it gives "At One" a great deal of punch that sets it apart. (Interestingly enough, "At One" is a reprint from 2002 in an anthology that Cemetery Dance advertises as having "all new dark fiction.")

Sarah Pinborough recalls a previous British invasion (the one that changed modern music) with "The Nowhere Man," a dark fantasy (or is it?) about a boy's search for his disappeared sister. With an ending that deliberately leaves out information, Pinborough cements the unsettling effects of what preceded it. "Beth's Law" by Joel Lane is a haunting tale of how the disappearance of another young girl turns into a vendetta against outsiders.

Allen Ashley's "The Spaces in Our Lives" isn't even a horror story — unless you consider the mundanity of daily life horrific. If you do, you'll love Gary Fry's "Black Dogs," which delves deeply into a family's psychology. With "The Crazy Helmets," Paul Finch presents a "rise from the grave for revenge" story, then pulls a completely unexpected twist that changes the perception of everything involved.

Phillip Nutman's "The Misadventure of Fat Man and Little Boy, or How I Made a Monster" is by far the best. The story involves low-budget filmmakers, a naive screenwriter, a succubus, and an accidental murder. With chapters named after Warren Zevon songs, it is based on real events (Nutman is himself a low-budget filmmaker). It goes from reality to fantasy and from horror to pathos in the span of a paragraph, and contains enough actual story for a novella, making it seem deeper and wider than its mere 24 pages.

The centerpiece of British Invasion is a piece called "British Horror Weekend" by the ever-prolific Anonymous, an extraordinarily funny story of mass murder at a genre convention. It seems someone wants to kill off all the British horror writers (several contributors to this anthology make cameo appearances) and so devised to gather them all in one place. Cross-pond politics of course play a role, as does a certain amount of Anglophobia when the killer is revealed to be an "Amrk'n" tired of "imagination" in horror and eager for more "close-up detail." One imagines this to be the work of two or more of the editors, since the tone is British and the voice of the "Amrk'n" is frighteningly authentic.

Peter Crowther, whose short-story collection The Spaces Between the Lines so impressed me, does it again with "Leaves." Crowther has a fascinating ability to make the mundane terrifying (what is less frightening than a leaf?), and "Leaves" brings real chills, especially during the supposed "slow" scenes when Crowther is just setting up the situation and we're waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Late in the anthology, Mark Morris impresses with "Puppies for Sale," where a man's life is destroyed by a different kind of vampire that only operates via long-distance. And speaking of "blood-suckers," Adam L.G. Nevill knows there are few things worse than an uninvited flatmate who won't bathe — or leave! — and he expresses it with textured sensation in "Yellow Teeth."

Of the 21 stories in British Invasion, only the few above rated mention, but none of them were really turkeys; they simply were not as effective as their brethren. I'm not sure how to take the fact that the under-the-radars seemed to do a better job at scribing scares than their more famous colleagues, but it's good to know that fans of British horror have a lot to look forward to.
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