I love horror anthologies. With so many authors out there, a well-curated anthology is a favorite way to find new artists and stories that push and twist the genre and BORDERLANDS, VOLUME ONE is a wonderful collection boasting 24 authors all writing from the border of weird fiction. I’ve read many anthologies, usually with a specific theme like religious allegories or zombie rom-com (ok, that one I haven’t found yet but I have hope). BORDERLANDS is the first I’ve read in a long time where the pieces range from the horror of reality to existentialist poetic themes with each entry taking you on a new journey through the many twists the horror genre can offer.
Honestly from BORDERLANDS opening piece, The Calling by David B. Silva, I wasn’t sure if this would be a collection I’d enjoy. The Calling is well-written and devastating in relating the horrific experience of a loved one succumbing to cancer. Especially now, horror stories are mostly represented in literal monsters. Even a story based in a grounded fear like death or disease, an other-worldly presence personifies the fear allowing the reader to maintain a sense of separation from true terror. With The Calling, the monster is real and the experience relatable. And it’s scary. Small moments such as the simple sound of a whistle growing weaker as the owner expires is enough to tighten the chest and I wasn’t sure if I’d have the stamina to invest deeper in that realism.
But the common theme in this anthology became little details as they appeared in very different set-ups. His Mouth Will Taste of Wormwood by Poppy Z. Brite waxed poetic with the tale of two men attempting to assuage their bacchanalian ennui through objects and practices of the occult in New Orleans. Creepy with a sense of emotional distance, His Mouth Will Taste of Wormwood is filled with beautifully devastating lines that roll around in my mind still. A description of absinthe, “The absinthe cauterized my throat with its flavor, part pepper, part licorice, part rot“, simply stated and yet powerful, a perfect example of Brite’s short work and of the horrific lyrical pieces in the entire anthology.
And then we have existentialist entries such as The Pounding Room by Bentley Little. A white-collar nightmare wherein a new hire finds that his position is to sit upon a throne as shirtless men with brown paper bags over their heads bang stones on a conference table in gloom. Weird with a dry wit, The Pounding Room introduces a low hum of dread and the plot grows stranger and stranger despite the setting being one of the most familiar environments, corporate America. The ending itself seems to give a sardonic little nod to the reader in regards to other written trips into metaphor that finish to an ending left for the audience’s interpretation (we’ve all read them and we’ve all acted like we got it).
BORDERLANDS is not without its flaws. Having been first printed in 1999, some language and cultural references are a bit archaic by current standards. I don’t remember the last time the term “bimbo” was used in any seriousness and referring to people of asian-descent as “Oriental” has not been in vogue since the 90’s. But, if reruns of Friends has taught us anything, you can’t judge an entire work outside the time it was created. Regardless the anthology is very well curated with every entry boasting beautiful moments and tiny details that build fear in an array of different styles and approaches. There wasn’t one piece in BORDERLANDS that didn’t have me struggling not to speed read through to reach that satisfying ending.
When seeking a horror anthology that will both challenge and entertain, I highly suggest giving BORDERLANDS, VOLUME ONE a read. Even if you don’t enjoy it, you can still brag you’ve read 24 new authors in a week.