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The Monstrous – Ellen Datlow

I have to admit to some trepidation when I first received this collection of short stories in the mail from Tachyon. Granted, I asked for this book, but I was still wary of the genre. You see, I had read almost no horror fiction prior to this collection. I respond very viscerally to frightening visual media, regardless of if it’s gory, psychologically thrilling, or suspenseful. I assumed that reading horror would prove an analogous experience.

I am so glad I read this anthology.

Ellen Datlow has an remarkable CV. A sci-fi, fantasy, and short fiction editor of 30+ years, she is considered one of the best (if not the best) horror editors in the business. Among other awards, she’s won Hugos, Stokers, Locuses, Horror Guild awards, and a lifetime achievement award from the Horror Writers association. She’s pretty serious about horror fiction.

The Monstrous was an excellent introduction to Horror, as the collection of shorts runs the gamut from the more “classic” horror tale (as I imagine it) involving supernatural monstrosities, to the subtler, psychologically horrifying, to the straight-up gruesome stuff that makes you ill as you read it. Somehow, you can’t turn away.

Some of the stories stuck out more than others:

  • “Giants in the Earth” — What impressed me most about this story was how, despite the limiting setting (a mineshaft), I felt like the world was much bigger in the periphery. Not only that, but the supernatural element was chilling and fascinating. I could have read so much more of this world, but was very happy to be left wanting more.
  • “Ashputtle” — A memorable story, and excellent exercise in the terror of the unmentioned. The unspeakable acts committed by the protagonist are never directly mentioned, but an image builds alongside the (equally visceral and gut-punching) acknowledged ills.
  • “Jenny Come to Play” — I happened to be reading this while a friend was watching the first season of True Detective. Magnificent story, chilling read, action-packed conclusion. Simply excellent.

Honestly, every story in this anthology is excellent. It’s really a testament to Datlow’s wealth of experience in the genre, and her masterful touch in editing and compiling the best stories around. What’s more, I was inspired by this collection, remembering that several shorts I had begun writing felt like they were going nowhere. After reading The Monstrous, I realized they are perfect setups for horror. I am invigorated and excited by this foray into a new genre.

I devoured this anthology, and was immediately hungry for more. I guess I’ll go pick up my Lovecraft collection.

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