Guys, I think I’m obsessed with horror. Again. The last time, though, I was a kid. Horror fiction was my gateway into science fiction, though the roots of my love for fantasy and sci fi were being planted simultaneously. The ten-year-old me loved mysteries—I read all the Nancy Drews and Hardy Boys I inherited from my mother—and most of all horror. I remember reading Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark out loud at girl scout camp with my best friend. I remember rows of R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike on my personal library shelves. Dear sweet geezus did I read a lot of R.L. Stine. To my credit (or really, to the credit of my dad, who loved the stuff and got me interested) I was also pretty into Edgar Allen Poe. Yet somewhere, in the 20-or-so years that followed, I stopped reading horror.
I’d like to formally blame Stephen King. The man is touted as the king of horror for adults and yet…he is a masterful storyteller, but I’ve always found his writing to be sloppy. Lacking in the tight, literary, head-explosion kind of prose and story-building that really gets under my skin. I didn’t much like Stephen King so I thought I must not like horror anymore.
Obviously, I just wasn’t reading the right authors because Nightmare’s Women Destroy Horror! issue is fucking fantastic. Thanks to Christie Yant, who had the idea for the original Women Destroy Science Fiction issue of Lightspeed Magazine that led to its creation and to Guest Editor Ellen Datlow who put together a fucking fantastic body of short horror fiction. It is feminist. It is horrifying. It is scary. It is all really well written. And it was all written by mother fucking women, take that dudebros who keep addressing the lack of gender parity in the genre with the words: “women just don’t write horror.”
This issue of Nightmare clocks in at 230-some pages—twice the magazine’s usual length—and the stories are complimented by artwork as well as author and artist interviews and spotlights at the end of the magazine (which, as I understand, is the magazine’s usual format). I’d heard John Joseph Adams talk about Nightmare on Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy, but it never so much as made me twitch. No interest. None. Now I think I might have to subscribe to the damn magazine, assuming that the other issues can stand up to this one.
It probably helped that I was (still am actually) on a horror reading-binge. I had just finished Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, and I was in the mood for dark and creepy and scary. Why not read that special issue of Nightmare, then, huh? I fell into it immediately, didn’t want to put it down, realizing with each story that maybe I was totally still into horror. It’s been a bit of a revelation.
Let’s get to the meat of the stories. Yes, meat, the bloody, dead-but-still-twitching, gruesome, groansome, excuse-me-while-I-whimper-in-the-corner wonderful meat of these five original stories, three reprints, and one novella excerpt.
The stories begin with “This Is Not for You” by Gemma Files with a gruesome violence that was almost too much for me, but which inverted stereotypes of women, included a variety of lady characters, and an openly trans character. As an opener it sets the tone for what this issue is all about: being inclusive, the fuck-yeah awesomeness of female horror writers and the fact that no, horror doesn’t have to be all about dudes doing violent shit to women.
Did you know that women basically invented the genre? Though horror writing has come to be associated with male authors, Datlow tells us in the introduction that “Ghost tales and the gothic were written by women for decades before the horror boom of the 1980s.” This issue of Nightmare is not only a source of great fiction, it is a source of all sorts of interesting information about the genre and the writers and their processes. Yifuckinghaw amiright?
“This Is Not for You” is followed by “Sideshow” by Catherine MacLoed, a deeply creepy and well-done minotaur story. Pat Cadigan’s “Unfair Exchange” was a bit slow for me—perhaps my least favorite of the collection, but that isn’t to say I didn’t like it—but the idea explored in it was an interesting one. “The Inside and the Outside” by Katherine Crighton was a work of art, and probably had the best opener of the bunch. (“There’s a bear on the other side of the lake. It’s a small lake, more of a pond, a mirror mouth with teeth made of reflected trees that line the banks up to the water’s edge.”) And check out this line: “That’s the difference between stories and the woods. Real danger comes from the inside.” That’s the good shit.
Then we had “It Feels Better Biting Down” by Livia Llewellyn, a disturbing twin story. That brings us to Joyce Carol Oates’ holy fucking shit creepy work of wonder and horror and geezus fuck what the fuck? It’s a work of art but I kind of wish I wasn’t going to have nightmares about the shit that happens in it for the rest of my life. “Martyrdom” is perhaps the most literary and the most masterful of the collection, and certainly the most disturbing, it deals with, at a very, very basic level, marriage and rats. Holy fucking shit. If you like horror (even if you don’t, if you like literature you’ll be fine too) read this story right now. The whole issue would be worth it just for this disturbing collection of words, but since everything else in it is of such good quality, I’d reckon you’ll have more than a few good reasons to buy this issue of Nightmare by the end of this review.
Tanith Lee’s “Black and White Sky” didn’t grab me at first, but by the end of this strange story about magpies and the birdocalypse, I was throughly intrigued. “… Warmer” by A.R. Morlan was unexpected, but also enjoyable. The fiction section ended with an excerpt from Catherine Cavendish’s novella “Linden Manor” which I *cough* didn’t read because I can’t stand reading excerpts, ever.
The rest of the issue was filled with essays about the history of horror as a genre, the experience of women artists and writers working in the field, and author spotlights on each of the creators involved. Thanks to Nightmare Magazine, I’m back on the horror. Rest of Shirley Jackson’s lifework, here I come.
Nineteen out of 21 falling magpies.
Where I got it: Received the epub from the publisher
Where you can get it: At the Nightmare Magazine website, where the stories will all become free to read online one by one over the next few weeks