This anthology takes the theme ‘people who are awake at night’ and collects a real variety of stories, most of which are horror-tinged. It’s a mixed bag, as many anthologies are, but there are a few gems in there…
Book: The Outcast Hours ed. Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin
Read before? No
Ownership: E-ARC provided by NetGalley for fair review.
The good: My favourite story was the first one in the collection – “This Book Will Find You” by Sam Beckbissinger, Lauren Beukes, and Dale Halvorsen. It was a great one to set the tone for the rest of the collection, combining an interesting voice with a slowly dawning horror at what the protagonist is actually doing. I also really enjoyed Frances Hardinge’s “Blind Eye”, about a babysitter who takes jobs for rather difficult clients, and ends up in over her head. Will Hill’s “It Was a Different Time” was a really compelling read which resonated strongly with me, since it focuses on a film director accused of inappropriate behaviour with women – deeply creepy and deeply relevant. For a breath of humour, I liked the peek into the Tooth Fairy business with “The Dental Gig” by SL Grey. It reminded me of some of the classic 70s sci-fi in those yellow-spined “best of year” collections.
The meh: I surprised myself by not particularly liking Marina Warner’s story, as normally I’m a big fan of hers – I just found it a little bit boring. Daniel Polansky’s “Swipe Left” was well-written, but entirely predictable. We’ve been pulling off that particular twist since the first minutes of Buffy. “The Night Mountain”, by Jeffrey Alan Love, seemed pulled directly from r/creepypasta – I’ve very much enjoyed scaring myself with the stories there about national parks which aren’t what they seem, and this could easily have been posted there. This isn’t exactly a criticism, as a lot of those stories have great writing, but it just felt a little samey. I really, really disliked the inclusion of China Mieville’s micro-fictions between the stories. I couldn’t work out if they were meant to be linked; very few of them seemed to have a point, and they just distracted from the other stories for me.
The rest of the anthology was pretty forgettable to me. None of the other stories held my attention once I’d finished them – but then, that’s not unusual for anthologies. There are gems to be found, but you have to dig for them. I never thought I’d say this, but I would have preferred a little more horror, to counteract the dreariness of some of the stories. So, overall, The Outcast Hours started strong, but failed to grip me. I’ll be looking for more of Will Hill and SL Grey’s work, though. I think three out of five cats is fair – you may well find you love some of the stories that didn’t grab me, or hate my favourites. You have to prepare for a mixed bag!