An Anthology of Anthologies

Up until recently, I thought I hated anthologies. I mean, I should like them – it’s just a bunch of short stories. I like short stories. The big problem for me about anthologies is that the stories in them tend to vary so greatly in quality. There are usually one or two great stories, a few okay stories, and one or two really boring or terrible stories. But recently, I read a few anthologies that were pretty consistent in quality, and it was good quality too. But what made these ones different?

All the stories in them were written by the same person! That’s right, they weren’t a collection of fantasy stories or detective stories, they were a collection of a particular author’s works. (And they were all not appropriate for the kiddies. You’ve been warned!)

The first one I read was Tomorrow I Die by Mickey Spillane (edited by Max Allan Collins). If you’re a fan of Spillane’s stuff, it’s pretty good. The stories are varied, but all interesting and just as lethal as you’d expect from the guy that wrote all those Mike Hammer stories.

The other two I read were both by the same writer, Sarah Monette. Somewhere Beneath Those Waves was a collection of many stories, most of them fantasy or horror. What really got me was the title – I’m a sucker for long titles and ones that tie in the sea. This one did both! The stories spanned a huge spectrum in terms of subject matter, length, style, and how adult they were, but they were all good stories. Of course, I liked some more than others. My favorites were Katabasis: Seraphic Trains, The Séance at Chisholm End, and The World Without Sleep.

The main character of The World Without Sleep is a man named Kyle Murchison Booth, who also stars in The Bone Key, the other anthology I read by Monette. This is a less eclectic collection of stories, in that there is one main character in every story, so that it feels somewhat like a novel. Although, it is obviously not a novel – the stories are too diverse to fit together in that way, but that’s not a bad thing. If you’re a fan of H.P. Lovecraft, you’ll probably like The Bone Key. The way that Booth reacted to some of the supernatural things in the stories reminded me of when I played Call of Cthulhu, and someone would see something completely unexplainable, and then immediately pass a sanity check so that the GM had to come up with an explanation. You decide that it wasn’t an eldritch horror you just saw… you were just… so drunk that you forgot you were drunk and you were hallucinating but you’re not worried and everything’s fine or It was just a really big dog or something. It only looked like a winged beast with no head because you were at a weird angle. At times, Booth did the same kind of irrational justification, even when he knew what was up because to acknowledge the truth would be worse than feigning ignorance.

As I write this, I am reminded of one of my favorite Agatha Christie books. It too is essentially a collection of short stories all about one character. But this isn’t a Poirot (who I like) or Miss Marple (who I don’t like) kind of Agatha Christie book. It’s got mystery, sure, but it’s something else, something different. But it deserves its own post, I think. I’ll give you the title, but that’s it. The Mysterious Mr. Quin. It is awesome. Go read it. Or don’t, but either way, this isn’t the last you’ve heard about it from me.

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