Christopher Golden, The Secret Backs of Things (Cemetery Dance, 2009)
Carpet sharks. The Wild Hunt. Human skin framed as a canvas in a painting. Really old Scottish manors with very odd monsters. The Norns. Hellboy. And that's but a sampling of the things that are to be found in this massive collection of short fiction from Christopher Golden, one of the best contemporary writers of both dark fantasy and good old-fashioned horror.
(Yes, carpet sharks. Really. Truly. It's a terribly funny story. Sort of.)
Iain Nicholas Mackenzie, our Librarian, once noted that:
I don't know about you, but I don't see enough short fiction each year to have a feel for what's the very best which has been published. Novels I see by the hundreds, single author collections, quite a few, but much of the really interesting short fiction appears in publications, both digital and hardcopy, that one never, ever would be expected to know about.
The same holds true for me: I prefer my fiction in novel form so that I can really sink my teeth into it for nights on end. The only short fiction I routinely read was the now defunct Year's Best Fantasy & Horror anthology as the editors did a damn fine job of selecting the best fantasy, dark fantasy, and horror that has been published in the previous year. Indeed it was good enough that I'd love to see it come out in a deluxe hardcover edition.
So I was interested in seeing how Golden fares as regards short fiction. After requesting The Secret Backs of Things, Cemetery Dance sent me a very large package containing the design proof of this forthcoming hardcover collection. It's also true that I don't read much horror, so perhaps I wasn't the ideal reviewer for The Secret Backs of Things. I am, however, a great fan of Golden, with his The Veil trilogy having very much been worth the time that I spent reading it!
So how were the stories in this collection?
Quite good indeed, which is amazing, given that he really hasn't done all that much short form writing during his career. He's certainly as good as Stephen King, a rare ability among horror writers these days. Bravo! He's also better than most novelists at handling what is an admittedly constraining form. (I think it is more difficult to write a great short story than a great novel, due to the writer needing to tell the story quickly. Even a novella allows the writer to stretch a bit when need be.)
Oh, you want to know what my favorite things are here? Now admittedly there is nothing at all even marginal here as everything is quite good. Making Myths, An Introduction by Tim Lebbon is a loving look at Golden by a man who is co-authored several novels with him. As for stories (each of which has a brief afterword by Golden, which are nicely done), I liked the title story, which was an interesting take on blackmail, as well as 'Pyre', 'The Nuckelavee', and 'The Mournful Cry of Owls'.