Plenty of reaffirmation for all the freaks and geeks sulking in the back of the classroom.
Given the plethora of anthologies in the fantasy and horror field, it’s nice that editors Holder and Kilpatrick have at least compiled theirs around the easily identifiable theme of loners, introverts and outcasts: “scarred human beings … spiritually twisted,” as they put it. (Unlike all those well-adjusted people just like everyone else in most fantasy stories.) The couple of marquee names here don’t necessarily offer the book’s best material. Neil Gaiman’s short, ghostly poem doesn’t resonate much, though it helps set the tone nicely, while Tanith Lee materializes with a selection from the next volume of her Scarabae series: the usual over-the-top adolescent vampire goofiness. Many of the scenarios are chilling but familiar variations on horror fiction tropes: DVD players that do unearthly things, men who enact nasty vengeance on their loved ones after listening to the shadows outside the house. More interesting are pieces like John Shirley’s “Miss Singularity,” in which a teenaged girl whose father just happens to be a physicist—lucky for genre writers that their characters have such easy access to experimental technologies—accidentally projects her suicidal worldview onto everyone else in the neighborhood via a device that he’s developing. Even better is Poppy Z. Brite’s “The Working Slob’s Prayer,” which contains not a single festering corpse or otherworldly evil. Instead, Brite situates her outsider world in a New Orleans restaurant run by an Anthony Bourdain–like chef who presides over the late-hours staff bacchanal: “lines of cocaine laid out on the long copper bar, boxes of nitrous oxide chargers that whipped cooks’ brains instead of cream.” It’s a potent slice-of-kitchen-life that will ring true to food professionals, outsiders all.
Fresh-baked evil in sinful slices, some thick and hearty, others thin and wispy.