I’ve read Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volumes 1 and 2, and in reviewing each one, I alluded to the difficulty of defining “hardcore” in the context of horror. What does it mean? Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume 3 has horror in it, and some of the stories are kind of horrible, but is it hardcore?
More to the point, is it hardcore enough for you?
Whether it is or not, a number of the stories don’t tell a story as much as they spray descriptive passages of grotesquerie onto the page. Other tales make more sense to the author, no doubt, than the reader; perhaps your humble reviewer is just too stupid to get them. I (almost) always hold that possibility out.
With that in mind, I didn’t get Annie Neugebauer’s So Sings the Siren. I gather it meant something deep, as it started with a Kafka quote, but I lacked the wit to grasp it. The reader can comfortably accuse me of sexism and hence disregard all future opinions by my addition of The Better Part of Drowning by Octavia Cade to the less-comprehensible pile. The Watcher by Douglas Ford wasn’t as much a story as a strangled, tedious narrative focusing on racism and a sick, PTSD-suffering veteran (military vets aren’t part of a protected class like other minorities, so they make good antagonists).
In the imagery over plot pile, Tim Curran’s Scratching from the Outer Darkness goes to the Cthulhupocalypse, which is always welcome; unfortunately, there’s quite a lot of unnecessary description that drags down the narrative. Nathan Ballingrud’s The Maw posited a different kind of apocalypse, but it ladled on the imagery in big, indigestible dollops to cover a familiar story. Brian Hodge’s West of Matamoros, North of Hell ended up being extremely top-heavy without a satisfying conclusion, though it sure was hard-core enough. For me.
Ryan Harding’s Junk was entertainingly disgusting; I liked how he got into the head of an unlikable protagonist. The Cenacle by Robert Levy was very, very long and I lost interest in the last quarter. Luciano Marano’s Burnt did an admirable job of making me squirm. Fans of Matt Shaw’s brand of horror fiction will enjoy Letter from Hell, which is the best thing I can say about it. Readers who enjoy stories of priests who are less priestly than, say, Charlie Sheen will dig R. Perez de Pereda’s Bernadette. Adramelech by Sean Patrick Hazlett was a decent story told in Lovecraftian style sans tentacles. Tree Huggers by Nathan Robinson was a fun sci-fi horror tale that achieves what it sets out to do. The Social Justice crowd will grow warm and tingly over Daniel Marc Chant’s Ultra. Normal people will roll their eyes.
Tim Waggoner’s Til Death is one of my favorites. Holy cow, is it horrific and disturbing. Glenn Gray’s Break had me skipping breakfast that day. Adam Howe’s Foreign Bodies was both hysterically funny and disgusting, which he’s pretty much cornered the market on. The Dogs by Scott Smith is one of those rare stories you will find hard to forget days after you read it. Which is kind of a problem, because it’s pretty damned horrific.
The tremendous highs outweigh the mild lows in this third volume of the Year’s Best Hardcore Horror series, so I’m happy to recommend it to horror fans. Give it a look and let me know what you think.