Pete's Picks for 2011 - Part One
Okay, it's that time of the year when I get to hand out a few bouquets to those whose literary endeavours impressed me the most in the preceding twelve months, so that they can tell all their friends what an intelligent and insightful person I am, while hundreds of others shake their heads and mutter 'Buffoon' under their breath.
I should emphasise that, given how far behind I am with actually reviewing books and other demands on my time, I haven't read everything that was published in the horror genre in 2011, in fact only a fraction of it. If you're looking for a more comprehensive summary, check out the introductions given by Ellen Datlow and Stephen Jones in their respective Year Best anthologies. The works named here are simply those I consider the best of what I personally have read - Pete's picks are not meant to be definitive.
And this year, almost as if it was a proper awards ceremony, but without the excruciatingly embarrassing acceptance speeches, I've decided to give pats on the back in a variety of different categories.
Best Novel - The Third Section by Jasper Kent
It's been a great year for horror novels, with strong work from Lee Thomas, Gary McMahon, Adam Nevill, Tim Lees, Reggie Oliver, Daniel Mills, Tom Fletcher and Conrad Williams, to name just a few. Kent's work trails behind some of those others in terms of prose, atmosphere and meaningful subtext, but it is an intricately plotted and beautifully characterised novel, capturing perfectly on the page the milieu in which it is set. And, over and above all that, it is a gripping story that is pure, bloody fun.
Best Novella - Barbed Wire Hearts by Cate Gardner
Women dominated in this category. Carol Guest's Homeschooling was simply stunning, but first published in 2010 and so not a contender. Eat Your Heart Out by Dayna Ingram impressed me, as did Old Albert - An Epilogue by Brian J. Showers, while Gardner's other 2011 novella, Theatre of Curious Acts, put in a strong challenge, but it was this Burtonesque fable that won my heart. And I'll say no more, as I'll be reviewing the novella in the next issue of Black Static.
Best Short Story - 'The Apoplexy of Beelzebub' by Colin Insole
And this category should be called 'Best Short Story Not Published in Black Static' as obviously even our worst is better than anyone else's best, but it would be reprehensible and self-evidentially biased to take BS stories into consideration. Honourable mentions for 'Lexicon' by Christopher Burns, 'What They Hear in the Dark' by Gary McMahon and 'The Naked Goddess' by Daniel Mills, all of which came close, but no cigar. Insole's story, published in the Des Lewis edited The Horror Anthology of Horror Anthologies, took the prize with its invention, grimy atmosphere and minatory subtext.
Best Collection - I Wonder What Human Flesh Tastes Like by Justin Isis & I Smell Blood by Ralph Robert Moore
Ladies and gentlemen, we have a tie. Though neither author featured in the previous category, if I were to do a 'Top Thirty Short Stories of 2011' list, they would dominate it. Each is a superb stylist and each has a unique voice. Isis writes weird, obliquely despairing stories of a Japan that probably seems as alien to the inhabitants of that island nation as it does to us outsiders. Moore crafts tales that bristle with attitude and energy, whizzing off in all directions like Catherine Wheels agogo, with in your face sex and violence as side orders to his insights into the (in)human condition. The only other 2011 collection that came close for me was Livia Llewellyn's Engines of Desire.
Best Anthology - Delicate Toxins edited by John Hirschhorn-Smith
Yes, when I reviewed this anthology in Black Static I gave it a mauling for poor proof-reading and I stand by that, but all the same this is an impressive assemblage of stories. The only serious rival was The Horror Anthology of Horror Anthologies edited by Des Lewis, but Toxins seemed the more cohesive volume of the two, with stories that worked individually and yet played well against each other, an intoxicating air of decadence wafting through the enterprise.
Best UK Small Press - Chômu Press
Other than TTA, it goes without saying. After testing the water in 2010 with Quentin Crisp's "Remember You're a One-Ball!" Chômu's first full year in business saw them release a staggering thirteen titles. That alone would be impressive, but when you consider that their list includes first novels by Reggie Oliver, Daniel Mills and Des Lewis, collections by Justin Isis and Brendan Connell, work by Michael Cisco, Joe Pulver and Rhys Hughes, the length and breadth of their achievement seems to me truly remarkable. And I'm also very taken with their philosophy. At a time when the UK Small Press often seems to be veering towards boutique publishers accepting work by invitation only and selling limited editions to a guaranteed audience, their open door submission policy, combined with the release of work in competitively priced PoD and e-formats, is like a breath of fresh air. To my mind this is what a small press is supposed to look like; this is what a small press is supposed to do.
Kudos also to Tartarus, Gray Friar, Eibonvale, Pendragon, Screaming Dreams and all the others who have kept the horror flag aloft through a difficult twelve months, publishing work that can stand head and shoulders with much of that produced by 'professional' publishers.
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