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Edited by Al Sarantonio

999: Twenty-nine Original Tales of Horror and Suspense

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999: Twenty-nine Original Tales of Horror and Suspense
Edited By Al Sarantonio

999: Twenty-nine Original Tales of Horror and Suspense is a consistently solid collection of short stories, never published before being included in this book. More than one made best of collections in the year it was published. Al Sarrantonio set out to collect only high quality stories, and even had the rather lofty goal of starting another upsurge in horror sales. While he didn’t necessarily succeed at all he set out to do, this IS an extremely solid collection that belongs on the shelf of all serious horror fans. Joe Lansdale’s “Mad Dog Summer” is the best of a very impressive lot, and I also greatly enjoyed William Peter Blatty’s short novel Elsewhere. Oddly enough, I wasn’t as impressed with several stories by authors who I am a fan of, including T. E. D. Klein’s “Growing Things” and Thomas Ligotti’s “The Shadow, The Darkness”, though I’m sure a lot of you will disagree with me as to the quality of those and other tales in the list below.


"Amerikanski Dead at the Moscow Morgue"
By Kim Newman
Rating: 7/10
Quote: "It was important, apparently, that the spike entirely transfix the skull and break ground, binding the dead to the earth, allowing the last of the spirit to leave the carcass."

Comments: What do Rasputin’s skull, dead tourists come back to life, and a prominent member of the Soviet government have to do with one another in an apocalyptic future? One whole hell of a lot apparently!


"The Ruins of Contracoeur"
By Joyce Carol Oates
Rating: 8/10
Quote: "I can't believe it! I know it must be true."

Comments: The Matheson family, especially the children, are paying for past crimes of their family. These crimes only become clear after a long, lonely, somehow OFF summer at rural Cross Hill, ancestral home of the Mathesons.


"The Owl and the Pussycat"
By Thomas M. Disch
Rating: 7/10
Quote: "But you know he didn't kill Mrs. Fairfield."

Comments: At first I didn't like this one much, but the ending is a nice little shocker.


"The Road Virus Heads North"
By Stephen King
Rating: 8/10
Quote: "Survivors and visitors."

Comments: Famous horror author Richard Kinnell quickly enough comes to regret buying a painting with certain, shall we say, DISTURBING properties.


"Keepsakes and Treasures: A Love Story"
By Neil Gaiman
Rating: 9/10
Quote: "Not my cup of tea."

Comments: The narrator is one cold-hearted bastard...and that's being nice!


"Growing Things"
By T. E. D. Klein
Rating: 5/10
Quote: "Before it was just one bulge."

Comments: I've heard many good things about Klein, but I didn't particularly care for this one. The reader is forced to jump to too many conclusions for this house to be the one which appears in the home improvement magazines.


"Good Friday"
By F. Paul Wilson
Rating: 7/10
Quote: "It's too late for me, but not for you."

Comments: I've heard of cheerleaders becoming vampire hunters, but nuns? I like it.


"Excerpts from the Records of the New Zodiac and the Diaries of Henry Wilson Fairfax"
By Chet Williamson
Rating: 9/10
Quote: "…it has been easy to buy them out and swallow them up in their weakened condition."

Comments: Brother Capricorn’s New Zodiac Club isn’t showing the civility he had desired in his club members. And to make matters worse, their eating habits are a bit peculiar as well…


"An Exaltation of Termagants"
By Eric Van Lustbader
Rating: 7/10
Quote: "But I was so cruel to you."

Comments: William gets a chance to look over his life from an unlikely source.

"Itinerary"
By Tim Powers
Rating: 5/10
Quote: "Is Doug Olney there?...He just left."

Comments: I didn’t really get this one. It apparently involves a man trying to warn himself of impending disaster through a phone call.

"Catfish Gal Blues"
By Nancy A. Collins
Rating: 8/10
Quote: "Lit'l Fishie--is that you?"

Comments: Hop Armstrong has a way with the ladies, even non-human ladies. He should've made sure she didn't have a boyfriend first though.


"The Entertainment"
By Ramsey Campbell
Rating: 6/10
Quote: "You've been caught, you have to play. If you don't it won't be fair."

Comments: Tom Shone (Thompson) arrives in town too late to find a normal hotel. Instead he finds something out of a nightmare...


"ICU"
By Edward Lee
Rating: 8/10
Quote: "What the hell kind of hospital is this!"

Comments: Frankie Paone pays for his sins through an unlikely source.


"The Grave"
By P. D. Cacek
Rating: 6/10
Quote: "My Precious One."

Comments: Elizabeth is bound and determined to be a good mother, unlike her own. But it's going to take time and probably more than one body...


"The Shadow, The Darkness"
By Thomas Ligotti
Rating: 5/10
Quote: "In other words, I became aware of what in reality was activating my body."

Comments: This one is VERY Lovecraftian in tone and outlook, something I normally enjoy. In other words, mere human beings do not stand a chance against the cosmic forces arrayed against us, and there is no use trying. However, I just didn't like the actual story very much.


"Knocking"
By Rick Hautala
Rating: 5/10
Quote: "Let...me...out!"

Comments: This story of a human mind gone wrong wasn't my cup of tea.


"Rio Grande Gothic"
By David Morrell
Rating: 8/10
Quote: "I hate him."

Comments: Officer Romero can't shake the feeling that things aren't quite right with the Parsons brothers. He's the only one who suspects them, and his efforts uncover a dark secret.


"Des Saucisses, Sans Doute"
By Peter Schneider
Rating: 4/10
Quote: "My God! Did I do that?"

Comments: This was a shorter than short story, and it wasn't very good.


"Angie"
By Ed Gorman
Rating: 7/10
Quote: "You know if there's a river around here somewhere?"

Comments: Angie at first looks like a sort of heroine, but this IS a horror story, after all.


"The Ropy Thing"
By Al Sarrantonio
Rating: 6/10
Quote: "I don't love you anymore."

Comments: If you believe in something hard enough, it just might come true.


"The Tree Is My Hat"
By Gene Wolfe
Rating: 5/10
Quote: "The tree is my hat."

Comments: Baden is sent to the end of the earth, an island in the Pacific, where he sees and hears strange things.


"Styx and Bones"
By Edward Bryant
Rating: 6/10
Quote: "Danny, I'll love you forever. I couldn't let her injure you."

Comments: Danny is living proof, if painful proof, that you had better not get caught cheating.


"Hemophage"
By Steven Spruill
Rating: 4/10
Quote: "You got what you came for."

Comments: I guess I need to read the other novels the characters in this story appear in, because without those novels, this story didn't make much sense.


"The Book of Irrational Numbers"
By Michael Marshall Smith
Rating: 7/10
Quote: "There's no way back. It's tainted."

Comments: A serial killer chooses his victims based on the digital root of their age. He likes 17 year olds...


"Mad Dog Summer"
By Joe R. Lansdale
Rating: 10/10
Quote: "We thought you were our friend."

Comments: This excellent novella from Joe Lansdale had me thinking equal parts To Kill A Mockingbird, Where the Red Fern Grows, and straight horror. I cannot recommend this one highly enough.


“The Theater”
By Bentley Little
Rating: 7/10
Quote: “You didn’t go up there, did you?”

Comments: The theater at the tops of a set of stairs behind a locked door holds some horrifying secrets, secrets which Putnam learns only too well.


“Rehearsals”
By Thomas F. Monteleone
Rating: 8/10
Quote: “Winners and Losers—and his son was definitely in the second group.”

Comments: Dominic Kazan gets a chance to go back and stand up to his father, improving his current life many times over in the process. Al Sarrantonio says this reminds him of a Twilight Zone episode, and I have to very much agree.


“Darkness”
By Dennis L. McKiernan
Rating: 9/10
Quote: “My God, it’s behind me!”

Comments: Harlow Winton has gone from an orphan to a wealthy man overnight. His great-uncle left everything to him…including his peculiar house where SOMETHING lurked in the darkness. I like the way McKiernan keeps the monster vague. My imagination runs wild when I read a story like this.


“Elsewhere”
By William Peter Blatty
Rating: 9/10
Quote: “You’re not Gabriel Case!”

Comments: The author of The Exorcist penned this excellent short novel of a haunted house and the efforts of a group of people to spend five days there. As I read this one, I found myself sharing in the protagonists’ growing sense of dread and confusion. I guessed the twist rather early on, but it made no difference as far as the story’s effectiveness went.

 

666 pp.

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