The Derelict Of Death & Other Stories edited by Steve Lines and John B. Ford

(Rainfall Books pb £7.99 (Rainfall Books, 22 Woodland Park, Calne, Wilts, SN11 0JX)

Reviewed by Gary McMahon

In his enthusiastic introduction to The Derelict Of Death & Other Stories, editor John B. Ford states that he and Simon Clark's intention with the title story was to create a homage to the horror tales of William Hope Hodgson. Hence, the style of this tale - and most of the others in the collection - is almost reassuringly old fashioned.

First up is a Lovecraftian poem, The Worms Remember by Anne K. Schwader, which I found a little cliched but still quite enjoyable.

The title story, by editor Ford and the prolific Simon Clark, takes the form of an anecdotal warning, which is essential to this kind of sea-fairing horror. The tale itself is a good one, and our narrator cranks up the tension as he and his shipmates discover a seemingly derelict ship called Death, and prepare to board her in search of bounty. However, I was left wanting something more: the visionary aspects of Hodgson's best work are sadly missing here, and the secret of the floating coffin that is The Derelict Of Death, when finally revealed, is ever-so-slightly disappointing. Yes, the story is a homage, but personally I prefer this kind of intertextual story to blend modern concerns with old thematic devices.

Paul Kane's offering, Astral, does indeed strive for the cosmic visionary horror of Hodgson's finest tales (or perhaps those of Clark Ashton Smith?), and just about succeeds. This story of a man blessed with the gift of astral projection, and his subsequent spiritual adventures into increasingly distant realms other than our own, has, at it's dark core, a bleak message about humanity. Depressing stuff, but well written and with a highly original vision and some quite startling imagery.

Mark Samuels' atmospheric Dedicated To The Weird does not disappoint in its tense narrative, and updates an old theme by employing the modern equivalent of Arthur Machen's usual device of letters, news clippings and anecdotes - the email. When a mediocre horror writer is marooned in a strange, isolated town he discovers dark terrors beneath the surface and relates his discoveries via said emails to a disbelieving correspondent. The theme may be familiar, but the execution certainly isn't, and Samuels finds something new--and somehow bleakly comic - in an old idea. I enjoyed this story immensely, and its maggots, copious bloated flies, and monosyllabic undead inhabitants stayed with me for a long time afterwards.

The Dark Mirror by Sue Phillips is an engaging enough tale of unrequited love, other worlds, and a strange and ancient mirror, but lacks any real bite.

I Once Possessed A Fragile Vase by Joseph S. Pulver, sr is a slight story about a very odd collector. Little more than a poetic mood piece, this is nevertheless an intriguing addition to the anthology.

Eddie M. Angerhuber's splendidly titled The Nocturnal Product reads as perhaps too much of tribute to Thomas Ligotti, but still manages to produce some striking imagery and smooth prose in it's story of a visit to an extremely odd cinema, and the obscure documentary that is viewed there. Initially I wasn't too fond of this tale, but after I put the book down it began to strike a chord. A strangely resonant slice of nihilistic horror fiction.

The Curiosity Piece by Michael Pendragon is a blackly comic conte cruel that is pitched at just the right tone. The story comes across as a riff on Poe's The Facts In The Case Of M. Valdemar, and has a deliciously appropriate sick ending.

Editors John Ford and Steve Lines (who also provides the book's very fine artwork) collaborate to good effect on Siren Of The Silent Sea. This is a ripping yarn of a tale, and keeps things nice and taut. I was expecting more from the ending, but that's not to say that it's a particularly bad one.

It falls to the reliable Paul Finch to provide the highlight of the collection. His superb effort, Shadows In The Rafters, stands head and shoulders above everything else here; its period setting is brought to life through a painstaking attention to detail, and this tale of something unnameable stalking the children of a rundown, poverty-stricken Wigan mining community sent shivers down my spine. The story is worth the price of the anthology alone. I found it incredibly creepy, compelling, and believable--and the writing is first rate.

The final two contributions--a sub Clark Ashton Smith poem by Steve Lines called Behind The Mask, and a fragment called The Fire Of Insanity by Matt Hewitt--don't really add anything to the collection.

In conclusion, I found The Derelict Of Death & Other Stories to be an enjoyable collection of tales that provided few surprises - apart from the two or three pieces that really shone. I would recommend the book to any reader in search of traditional fireside horror stories to read on a rainy winter's day.


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