Also started in on this years recommended short story reading with the Stoker prelim ballot. Still waiting on a few books before starting the "Long Fiction" category, but finished up the "Short Fiction".
First up were Michael Bailey's "It Tears Away" and Gene O'Neill's "Graffiti Sonata", both in The Shadow of the Unknown (though the O'Neill is apparently a reprint from an out-of-print issue of Dark Discoveries). The best part of these two stories is that they're very short. O'Neill's story at least shows some ambition in its attempt to marry a musical sonata form to the plot development, but it doesn't quite work. The editor's forward notes that "neither myself or any of the talented writers adorning these pages received any payment or compensation." I know lots of small-press horror doesn't make much money, but this isn't something to boast about in the forward. At least these two stories read like trunk stories that should have just stayed there. Not everything in this anthology is bad, though; I read Gary A. Braunbeck's "The Music of Bleak Entrainment", which has a great narrative voice that grabbed me immediately and made for a very enjoyable technological musical Lovecraft pastiche. The Braunbeck was apparently commissioned for a pro anthology edited by John Pelan for Darkside Press that never actually came out (though Camelot Books still optimistically lists it for pre-order).
Next was “Hypergraphia” by Ken Lillie-Paetz, published in the iPad-exclusive publication The Uninvited, which seems to me like a bizarrely limited way to distribute a publication. I don't have an iPad, but there was a PDF of this story floating around on the author's web site. Based on that, The Uninvited does have some fantastic graphic design for its stories. The story itself is a decent tale of an author who can't stop writing and tragic consequences.
John Palisano contributes an entry for "X" in M Is for Monster, featuring a nasty parasitic monster named Xyx. A disturbing little story.
Next is Kaaron Warren's "All You Can Do Is Breathe" (Blood and Other Cravings), a fresh take on a vampire story in which a miner survives a cave-in only to lose everything to a mysterious creature. A very good story that nicely captures the roller-coaster of emotions as the miner is saved, only to lose everything.
Moving on to the jury's picks, next up are two stories from The New Yorker, "Atria" by Ramona Ausubel and "Home" by George Saunders. I'm not sure I'd really classify either of these stories as horror, though they touch on horrific events. "Atria" is very much a New Yorker story about rape that takes itself far too seriously and just comes off as trite. George Saunders writes great humor and satire, but in "Home" he takes on the consequences of war for the survivors in a more serious way and falls flat. I didn't much care for either of these.
In a similar vein, Stephen King continues to strive for Literary Respectability with "Herman Wouk Is Still Alive" in The Atlantic, which riffs off a terrible minivan crash while trying to capture some insight into class in America, but somehow it just ends up being rather boring. I wish King would leave the sex-crazy poetry professors to Houellebecq, et al, and get back to the horror he's good at.
Getting beyond what I can only assume is the Stoker jury's questionable attempt to gain some sort of mainstream respectability for the award, the final two selections are actually good. Nathan Ballingrud's "Sunbleached" (Teeth) is another vampire story, set in a hurricane-ravaged Mississippi. Joshua thinks he can protect his family while gaining the gift of immortality when a vampire is trapped under his house, but things come to an inevitable nasty conclusion. Not the most original premise, but very nicely done.
Finally, the best of the "Short Fiction" on this year's ballot, Adam-Troy Castro's "Her Husband's Hands" from Lightspeed Magazine. Set after a future war when soldiers come home as salvaged body parts with their memories in attached devices, this story has some of the most unsettling scenes I've read in a long time, and the ending is one I don't think I'll ever be able to forget. Unlike the Saunders story, Castro really captures the horrible consequences of war.