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Thursday, October 22, 2015

NEW ANTHOLOGY: "Seize the Night"

Title:  Seize the Night: New Tales of Vampiric Terror
Editor:  Christopher Golden  
Publisher:  Gallery Books (9/2015)
Plot Type:  Vampire Horror   

     Whew! This is a door-stopper of a book525 pages with 20 storiesand it took me all week to get through all of them. It always takes longer to read an anthology because, unlike a novel, there is no long-term build-up of suspense and character development to pull you forward. Reading a novel is like driving on the open road, but reading an anthology is like driving in stop-and-go traffic. By the time you digest all of the world-building, characterization, and plot details, you've reached the endthe STOP signand then you have to go through the same process for the next story. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy reading anthologies. It's just more time consuming.

     And now to the book: In his introduction, Christopher Golden provides the theme of this anthology: "Once upon a time, vampires were figures of terror...And they can be again." Yes, the vampires in this book are not glittery or chivalrous or love-struck. They are old-school, traditional vampiric monsters who are hungry for human blood. In preparing for this book, Golden challenged the authors "to strike back against the notion that the vampire has lost its ability to inspire fear." Golden explains that he doesn't have anything against vampire romances or vampiric heroes in urban fantasy, but "In Seize the Night…what matters is the terror."

THE BLOODSUCKERS: In addition to "normal" vampires, here are some of the nontraditional monsters you will meet in these stories:

     psychic vampire 
      skadegamutch (aka skad

THE RATINGS: I have tagged each story with my usual "violence" ratings. In addition, I have awarded quality ratings"thumbs up" and "thumb's down" iconsto the best and worst of the stories. The two types of ratings are explained in greater detail below:

 > Violence Ratings: 
          1: Minor arguments
          2: Yelling and shouting
          3: Fistfights, slapping, and hitting
          4: Injuries and fatalities with some details
          5: Bloodthirsty brutality, including beheadings, with lots of details

   > Quality Ratings (Thumbs Up or Down): If the story does not have a "thumbs" icon, it is of average quality. Otherwise, look for these icons:

Great storyThis one is definitely worth reading. 

Not so greatYou could skip over this one.

                                 THE STORIES                                  

Scott Smith:  "Up in Old Vermont"
Violence Rating: 4  

Final Sentences: "Ally hugged herself, shivering. All around her, the light was fading fast. Night was coming. And with the night, an answer to the child's cries."

Summary: When a desperate young woman takes a job as caretaker to an elderly couple in rural Vermont, she finds herself inexorably entangled in the horrific ancient history of the town. 

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Seanan McGuire:  "Something Lost, Something Gained"
Violence Rating: 4 

These sentences set the tone: "Indiana summers are alight with storms and fireflies, the sky always the color of a bruise, from the angry green of the impending twister to the acid yellow tainting the edges of an otherwise perfect blue. Indiana summers never let anyone forget that they are wounds carved out of the flesh of the calendar, warm not because of the presence of the sun, but because they are still bleeding."

Summary: While catching fireflies in a jar, a 13-year-old girl gets caught in a fierce summer storm, with tragic results for herself and her family. Another great story from McGuire.

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Michael Kortya:  "On the Dark Side of Sunlight Basin"
Violence Rating: 4 

Always listen to the locals: Jim tells a local man that he plans to photograph abandoned silver mines: "You know, right at dusk. When they look good and spooky." The man warns him, "They're spooky enough. Just be careful which ones you pick…Some are damned dangerous. There are gates up for a reason, you know."

Summary: The first few pages are a prologue that tells the origin tale of the creature that serves as the scary monster in the main story, in which Jim and Kristen head into the Wyoming mountains on an ill-fated photography hike.

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Sherrilyn Kenyon:  "The Neighbors"
Violence Rating: 1 

Jamie gets suspicious: "He gaped at the sight of his neighbor carrying a strange shaped baggie out of his detached garage and tossing it into the trunk of his car…which, now that he thought about it, was never parked in the garage…Was that a body?"

Summary: A short, short story (just 6 pages) with a huge twist at the end. With a serial killer at large in the city, a teenager suspects that his new neighbors are up to no good and decides to investigate, with shocking results. In this story, Kenyon pays homage to the end-with-a-twist style of O. Henry and Rod Serling.

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Gary A. Braunbeck:  "Paper Cuts"
Violence Rating: 4 

First Sentence: "They came for us, as they always did, when the sun shone high in the safe daytime sky."

Summary: In this story that combines vampires, books, and the Holocaust, a young woman stops at a strange bookstore that sells books that you'll never find on Amazon.comnot that you'd want to. Braunbeck does a masterful job of gradually slipping the mythology into the story line (using italicized paragraphs) until the reader gets a jolting "Aha" moment and figures out exactly what's going on.

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Charlaine Harris:  "Miss Fondevant"
Violence Rating: 3 

The titular character: "Miss Fondevant didn't threaten. She gave you one warning. If that warning was not heeded, she'd walk by the offender's desk, kind of casual, and grip the child's shoulder, and after that, she'd be obeyed."

Summary: After a boy dies under mysterious circumstances, a sixth-grade girl does some sleuthing and figures out that her teacher was involved in that death and others. Then, she and a classmate decide to do something about it. The premise has potential, but the story-telling is uneven, and Susan's improbably sophisticated epiphanies are not believable.

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Laird Barron:  "In a Cavern, in a Canyon"
Violence Rating: 4 

First paragraph—the narrator introduces herself: "Husband number one fondly referred to me as the Good Samaritan. Anything from a kid lost in the neighborhood to a countywide search-and-rescue effort, I got involved. If we drove past a fender bender, I had to stop and lend a hand or snap a few pictures…A major crash? Forget about it—I'd haunt the site until the...cops shooed me away. Took the better part of a decade for the lightbulb to flash over my hubby's bald head. He realized I wasn't a Samaritan so much as a fetishist."

Summary: In this rambling tale, a woman looks back on her misspent life, lamenting the unluckiness of her family and wondering fearfully whether the monster from her childhood is still lying in wait. 

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Dana Cameron: "Whiskey and Light" 
Violence Rating: 4 

Description of the Monster: "Some said it was a serpent, or a great worm, and others said it was a beast more like a lion or a giant boar, but teeth figured in all the stories, and everyone agreed that the demon craved live flesh, live blood." 

Summary: A young girl longs to escape from her village, which is forced to make an annual animal sacrifice to appease the demon who lives in/on/under the desolate, rocky mound beyond their farmland. This year, the priest does not arrive in time to bless the sacrifice, so the townsfolk make an appalling, merciless decision on how to satisfy the monster's gruesome hunger.

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Kelley Armstrong: "We Are All Monsters Here"
Violence Rating: 4 

Popular opinion about the cause of the vampire plague: "Two years since the first outbreak, and no one knew what actually caused vampirism….Of course, some people blamed the government. It was in the vaccinations or the water or the genetically modified food. What was the trigger? No one knew and frankly, it seemed like no one cared."

Summary: A female college student struggles to survive in a post-apocalyptic world that has been decimated by a vampire pandemic. Although the story is very dark and violent, the ending is quite satisfying, in a "revenge is best served cold" kind of way. This young lady would fit right in with Rick Grimes and his team. 

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Tim Lebbon:  "May the End Be Good"
Violence Rating: 4 

First Sentence: "As dawn broke, it started snowing again, and Winfrid saw a body hanging from a tree."

Summary: During the uprisings that occurred in Medieval England during the reign of William the Conqueror (aka William the Bastard), a monk stumbles through snowy fields and forests and comes upon something much more dangerous than an army of human soldiers. This is one of the darkest and most violent of the stories.

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Dan Chaon and Lynda Barry:  "Mrs. Popkin"
Violence Rating: 4 

Teen-aged Todd describes an encounter with his neighbor, Mrs. Popkin: "She puts the ham of her foot up on the edge of the table and flexes out her toes. 'Don't tell your mother you saw me putting my foot up on the table like this,' she says. Smiles. Unscrews the cap of her nail polish…I don't say anything. In the kitchen doorway stands the girl Cecilia, with her weird small mouth and staring eyes."

Summary: This dark, hallucinatory story is a puzzlerwritten in a surreal style that moves back and forth in its point of view. Perhaps I missed something, but I'm not exactly sure how it fits into an anthology of vampire tales. The story involves two crazy mothers and their weird children. Also…rabbits. 

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Leigh Perry (aka Toni L. P. Kellner): "Direct Report"
Violence Rating: 4 

First Sentence: "Another morning, another rape."

Summary: When a desperate, unemployed corporate manager seeks a job with an exotic South American wheeler-dealer, her life changes forever. This one starts out stark and hopeless but keep reading for the vindictive twist at the end. This is an inventive take on the relationship between vampire sires and their "children." 

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John Langan: "Shadow and Thirst"
Violence Rating: 4 

Lines from the poem that inspired the story, Robert Browning's "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came": "What in the midst lay but the Tower itself?
 / The round squat turret, blind as the fool's heart
 / Built of brown stone, without a counterpart
 / In the whole world."

Summary: A son follows his father into a mysterious tower that appears on their land and finds himself in the middle of a horrifying nightmare…or is it real? There is an inventive story here, but you have to slog through a deluge of exposition and a torrent of literary quotations to get to the heart or it. 

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Joe McKinney:  "Mother"
Violence Rating: 4 

First Sentences: "The cruiser fell in behind him as soon as he crossed the DeWitt County line. Ed Drinker glanced at the cop car in his rearview mirror, then at the white envelope on the passenger seat, and prayed he wasn't about to make the worst mistake of his life."

Summary: Dr. Drinker, a professional cryptozoologist, gets more than he bargains for when he tries to outmaneuver his rival, a celebrity monster hunter who once stole Ed's research and palmed it off as his own work. 

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Robert Shearman: "Blood" 
Violence Rating: 2 

The Spookiest Passage: "The door opened. For all its weight, for all its age, the hinges were silent. Maybe that was what horrified him, that it could just swing open so stealthily, like a beast that had only been pretending to sleepand the blackness of the door was replaced by an altogether thicker blackness pouring out from within." 

Summary: This is a story of forbidden lovea somewhat platonic affair between a secondary school teacher and his 16-year-old student. Unfortunately, the mythology is so undeveloped that I wasn't able to find a link between their Paris adventures and the vampire theme of this anthology.

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Lucy A. Snyder: "The Yellow Death" 
Violence Rating: 4 

Description of a person infected by the yellow death: "The creature my boyfriend had become was curled up in the corner by the washer, asleep…Its hairless skin was a dark yellow, and its body was practically skeletal. I remembered that birds have hollow bones so they can fly. His spindly arms hadn't quite transformed into batlike wings yet. There was a little of Joe left in the thing's distorted face…but not enough to make me pause before I blew its head off." 

Summary: Two years after the onset of a vampire plague, Louise's sister shows up to bring her back to her family. But what Louise discovers back at the family mansion is more horrific than anything she has seen during her years on the run. Great story. (NOTE: Click HERE to learn more about the connections between this story's King of Carcosaaka the yellow king, H. P. Lovecraft, and Season 1 of True Detective.) 

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Brian Keene: "The Last Supper" 
Violence Rating: 3 

Only the lonely / Know the way I feel tonight: "He was, as far as he knew, the last living human on the planet, except that he wasn't alive and he wasn't human." 

Summary: In this short, short story, Carter trudges through the post-apocalyptic Pacific Northwest in the wake of a plague that appears to have killed everyone else in the world. He'd give anything just to have someone to talk to. Immortality can be very lonely. (Not that it has anything to do with the story, but you can click HERE to hear Roy Orbison sing about loneliness.)

               /\/\       /\/\/\       /\/\/\/\       /\/\/\/\/\       /\/\/\/\       /\/\/\       /\/\                
Rio Youers: "Separator" 
Violence Rating: 5+ 

David Payne's first meeting with the woman he must evict: "The shawl covered her face, dropped to her waist. The same gray fabric that blanked the windows. She was hunched, slightly twisted. Some spinal malady, David thought. She wore a long black skirt beneath the shawl. Her feet were bare, dusted with dirt." The woman's first words to him are these: "Putang in a mo." (Click HERE for a translation.) 

Summary: A jaded Toronto businessman tries to persuade a Filipino woman to vacate her property so that his company can build a huge complex on her hurricane-damaged forestland. What happens next is too horrific to describe here. This story has the highest violence rating and the highest sensuality rating. The ending is somewhat ambiguous, but I am pessimistic about David's wife's future. This is a fine example of Youers' top-notch horror fiction.

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John Ajvide Lindqvist: "What Kept You So Long?" 
Violence Rating: 3 

First Sentences: "The woman standing by the side of the road wasn't a typical hitchhiker…She was wearing an expensive quilted jacket suitable for use in the mountains, and designer boots…It was this discrepancy in her appearance and my curiosity rather than the thirst for blood that made me slow down." 

Summary: Two peoplea truck driver and a hitchhikermeet by chance, both driven by undeniable compulsions to fulfill separate tasks. A bleak Scandinavian horror story with an inventive take on the traditional vampire mythology.

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David Wellington: "Blue Hell" 
Violence Rating: 3 

First Sentences: "They bathed her and perfumed her body, perfecting her for the god. Then she could hear it, the sound of a drum." 

Summary: After being painted blue and pushed into the Sacred Cenote (aka Sacred Well) as a sacrifice to Chaac, the rain god, a young girl faces a fate that is far worse than she ever imagined.

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