The Best Horror of the Year, Vol. 4 (Night Shade, 2012) is an anthology of stories published in 2011, selected by editor Ellen Datlow. In the 2014 audiobook edition from Blackstone Audio, the stories are read by various narrators, all experienced, apparently, but new to me; each narrator was well matched to the stories he/she read.
For someone looking to dip a toe into the world of audiobooks and/or horror, this anthology (and the other volumes in the series) is a good way to go. I only read horror occasionally, so The Best Horror of the Year, Vol. 4 serves as a reminder that horror is a wide genre, encompassing dark fantasy and psychological thrillers, as well as Gothic fiction and classics like Dracula by Bram Stoker. Non-fans tend to pigeonhole horror as slice & dice, but the thematic variety and literary quality of the stories in this collection will probably make you think twice about lumping all horror stories into a single category. There are no zombies, vampires, or werewolves here – although monsters of other sorts, human and inhuman, do make appearances.
The print edition of The Best Horror of the Year, Vol. 4 has a long introduction by editor Ellen Datlow, citing numerous short stories, novellas, novels, and other works of horror that she also recommends from the current year’s publications, including naming stories she wishes she had had space to include in this volume. Listing all award winners, etc., the introduction is really an overview of notable publications in the horror genre over the previous year. Since the introduction doesn’t elaborate on the stories that are in the volume or on the editor’s selection process, it makes sense that it is left out of the audiobook edition.
At the end of the print edition, however, there is also a list of Honorable Mentions and mini bios of the writers whose stories were selected for the current volume. It would have been nice to have the bios included at the end of the audiobook edition, at least, because I was curious about the authors, most of whom I was unfamiliar with. Also, I would have liked the audiobook narrators to identify themselves along with the title and author of each story, because I didn’t have any packaging that included this information, so I didn’t know who was reading what.
The lead-off story in this volume is by Stephen King, who needs no introduction. His chilling story, The Little Green God of Agony, is about a man in chronic pain over a year after a plane crash and his live-in physical therapist, during a last-ditch attempt to conquer the pain. Like most readers probably will, I wondered how much of this story came to him as he lay in agony after being hit by a car and coming close to death himself. In the beginning, I thought The Little Green God of Agony wasn’t especially scary and wondered how much drama the author could possibly squeeze out of a story that takes place in a few hours around a man lying in a home hospital bed. But the answer turned out to be – quite a lot!
Although all of the stories in this collection are very good, these memorable stories seemed especially well suited to audio:
The Moraine by English writer Simon Bestwick – A middle-aged husband and wife on a hike in the mountains in the Lake District of England choose a challenging trail, ignoring the warnings of the locals. This story is written in the first-person with the frightened husband telling the story, and is read really well by a narrator with an English accent.
Looker by Canadian writer David Nickle – Told by a guy talking in his head to his ex-girlfriend, this story’s perfect for audio, because a reader isn’t sure how reliable the narrator is. It starts with his meeting a new girl on the beach that he’s walked down to to escape the party that his ex is also attending – with her new boyfriend.
Little Pig by English writer Anna Taborska – A horrifying description of a family’s horse-drawn carriage flight through the woods in Poland during wartime.
Omphalos by American writer Livia Llewellyn – The author of this story writes in the sub-genre of “dark erotica;” this story about a family vacation is highly disturbing and strange, told in the second-person from the point of view of the family’s daughter.
All in all, there are 18 stories in the collection, touching on a variety of phobias (from spiders to dogs to monsters); taboos; secret insecurities; and buried childhood memories. Something for everyone, but these are definitely stories for adults!
The Best Horror of the Year, Vol. 4
Datlow, Ellen, ed.
Blackstone Audio, 2014
Disclosure: I received a free download of this audiobook for review purposes from the publisher, Blackstone Audio, through Audiobook Jukebox.